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Telecom, Terror and Digital Economy in Ethiopia

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06/22/12

  12:48:25 am, by admin, 904 words  
Categories: Samuel Gebru

Telecom, Terror and Digital Economy in Ethiopia

Internet Cafe sign in Mojo, Ethiopia photo Hobotraveler.com

Telecom, Terror and Digital Economy in Ethiopia: Part I

By: Samuel M. Gebru (@SMGebru)

Cambridge, MA, United States

Author’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series entitled Telecom, Terror and Digital Economy in Ethiopia. In this part, I highlight what the proposed Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offenses states. In part two, I will provide my direct opinions on Ethiopia’s digital economy and suggest ways to move forward by following the lead of other African economies.

There has been a recent buzz through news and social media networks lately on a plan, as initially reported by Al Jazeera, which would criminalize Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services such as Google Talk and Skype in Ethiopia.

But the story is a half-truth.

The “law” is nothing more than a proposed proclamation that has not yet been called for a vote in the House of People’s Representatives. Theoretically, there is room for edits.

Formally known as the Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offenses of 2012, it identifies telecom fraud as a “serious threat to the national security” beyond negative economic impacts. The proclamation also mentions that the current legislations on telecom fraud are not sufficient enough to curb the issue.

Telecom equipment, as identified in the document, includes any and all equipment that is used for telecommunication purposes, including accessories and software. Further, the document states that it is illegal to provide telecommunication services without a permit. The offense for this is punishable by 7-15 years.

Interestingly, the law uses the words “license” and “permit” on numerous occasions. What is not immediately clear with the wording is whether or not the Parliament intends on or implies legalizing licensed non-state telecommunication services and equipment.

Article Six of the proposed proclamation deals with anti-terrorism and organized crime. This is on some levels an extension of Ethiopia’s controversial anti-terrorism law passed in 2009. Article Six is perfectly understandable considering the very rough neighborhood that Ethiopia is in and the rise of al Qaeda’s fundamentalist activities in Somalia with al Shabaab. Ethiopia’s national security is very important and cannot be compromised but the government must also wane its power so as to not infringe on the individual rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

The issue in regards to VOIP services such as Skype and Google Talk must be put into context. Ethio Telecom (formerly the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation) is the oldest telecom provider in Africa and has always been owned by the Government of Ethiopia. With over 100 years of history, Ethio Telecom has always held a monopoly on Ethiopia’s digital economy as the sole telecom provider in Ethiopia. Therefore, the government is the sole service provider, operator and regulator.

VOIP was never legal to begin with because it has always been a telecommunication service that was outside of the control of the Government of Ethiopia and Ethio Telecom. Thus, Skype was not “just banned” as foreign news outlets and social media networks have suggested, but it was rather never allowed.

The draft proclamation also seeks the ban of callback services, which is not uncommon in other countries (see Article Eight). Many countries have banned callback services because they deprive local telecom profits. In Ethiopia’s case, Ethiopians do use foreign callback services such as those based in North America and Europe that are much cheaper than the services provided by Ethio Telecom. Consequently, Ethio Telecom loses profits.

VOIP is a solution to the high cost of international dialing. In some cases, VOIP services are free or may charge a nominal fee for usage. On many levels, it bypasses the old callback system.

The question now becomes whether or not Skype and other VOIP services are considered callback. If so, then they are illegal. However, the draft proclamation and other previous legislation certainly imply that Skype, Google Talk, etc., is already illegal (if not already criminalized) since it is a service that is not provided by Ethio Telecom.

The draft proclamation targets owners of Internet cafés and other establishments that allow usage of non-state telecom services (see Article Four) as well as individual users of those services (see Article Seven).

Perhaps where Al Jazeera and other media networks generated the news on a 15-year prison sentence of violating the proclamation is from Article Nine. This article covers offenses that are related to illegal telecom operators, which implies VOIP services. The first section state, “Whosoever bypasses the telecommunication infrastructure…commits an offense…with rigorous imprisonment from 10 to 20 years.” The second section further states, “Whosoever intentionally or by negligence obtains any telecommunication service [this can be interpreted as including VOIP] from an illegal operator…commits an offense.” Article Ten carries on and makes it illegal to provide or obtain telephone calls or fax services through the Internet.

The draft proclamation proposes the establishment of a Technical Taskforce to oversee its implementation, assumedly under the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. It also allows the Ministry, through the Federal Police, to confiscate illegal items. Additionally, sections of the Telecommunication Proclamation of 1996 and 2002 are repealed if the 2012 proclamation is enacted.

So, about the half-truth: Skype was already illegal and this proclamation that seeks to (further) criminalize it is not a law yet, remaining a draft in the House of People’s Representatives. As usual, foreign media gets it wrong on Ethiopia.

Samuel M. Gebru is Chief Executive Officer of the Ethiopian Global Initiative. The thoughts articulated here are his own and not reflective of the Initiative.

18 comments

Comment from: Addis [Visitor]
Addis

Thanks for the detailed reading of the law, but it does not change the fact that it is alarming and the latest assault on the human rights of the people by the current none-democratic and autocratic regime. The way to solve the problem is to privatize the 100 year old telcome industry. Why should tele rip all the profit by force while the people can choose through free market competition? But that’s the concet the regime’s apologist don’t seem to get. The young writer needs to get on the boat because Ethiopian kids of his age are five- step a head right now around the world from arts, music, science, politics you name it!

06/22/12 @ 01:45
Comment from: tech-familiar [Visitor]
tech-familiar

Even though the law is technically making its way around parliament as we speak, I don’t think the media got it wrong.

Parliament is effectively a one-party entity so the chances that a lively internal debate would occur around this is highly unlikely (esp. as many parliament members may not be experts in technology, they would likely defer to knowledge of MCIT). The increased attention around this bill from foreign media is necessary to help spur that greatly needed debate when it comes down to the final hours of passing.

Simply put, it’s best to treat draft laws (such as this one) as actual laws because chances are that’s exactly what it could be come.

Plus, it’s MUCH harder to change a law once it’s been ratified than it is when it’s in draft form.

Decent article but it misses the mark on how important it is to act now vs. once a final decision is made.

06/22/12 @ 06:00
Comment from: germognal [Visitor]
germognal

Mr. Gebru! What is your point in writing this article? In my opinion, you just wanted to say something in order to please your master Mr. Meles Zenawi.

I can’t even call you a regime apologist because you sound like you don’t qualify to be one since all your ideas are so flimsy and lacking in substance.

I said this because there is absolutely no substance in your article except that you provided shallow descriptions of the law indicating it is simply a proposal and not yet a law. Does it really matter whether it is a proposal or a law? You also sound like you really don’t have any strong opinion about anything at all indicating a lack of depth in your knowledge of what is at stake in the country.

What is at stake here is that the regime is depriving of all Ethiopians their basic freedom of expressions; and that is wrong by any standard! That is why international human right organizations are alarmed by what is going on in Ethiopia. Do you understand that?

There is really no need for Part II of your article because there are no substances in them.

06/22/12 @ 08:51
Comment from: Berhan [Visitor]
Berhan

The article basically written to confuse people who are alarmed by the continuous human right violations in the country. Mr Gebru’s insistence that the so called proposal is open for discussion is nothing but laughable. As we know well the TPLF parliament neither have the intention nor the knowledge to oppose anything that presented by the regime. All these so called parliament members are nothing but ignorants who live in a cloud cuckoo land. In addition to that even if telecommunication service provided by Ethio telcom,
I don’t how that makes it illegal to use Skype! I use Skype on a daily basis and no one telecom provider said to me I can’t use it. It’s an absurd argument presented by some one like you who don’t have any idea. My home or mobile phone provider ever said to me that you can’t use Skype or any other VoIP providers. I use a calling card to call back home to by pass my telephone providers charge. Have ever said to me I can’t use their line? Never!!! What the regime essentially doing is trying to control the society but it is a futile attempt. You can’t stop change!!! We don’t live in the 1970’s world, trust me change is coming, you better be ready!!!

06/22/12 @ 09:20
Comment from: kul [Visitor]
kul

@Ato Samuel Gebru (gilgel woyane)

We know you told us previously that Meles Zenawi is your role model. You even told us that you want to be a successor of Meles Zenawi. You want to be Ethiopia’s prime minister after 20 years if Meles is kind enough to pass the throne to you. So, I knew you will try to defend at any cost whatever your role model says or does. You have no shame to argue that “ VOIP was never legal to begin with because it has always been a telecommunication service that was outside of the control of the Government of Ethiopia and Ethio Telecom.” Really???? You are in effect saying that anything outside the control of Woyane is Illegal. Maferia!!!!

06/22/12 @ 10:33
Comment from: woldeyesus [Visitor]
woldeyesus

Ato Samuel Gebru,
you are right about the ‘half-truth’ tag you gave about the news report on this issue. You also present to us the half truth of it. Meaning the whole truth is what you wrote added with what has been reported. You are guilty of presenting half truth just like those who do not like this decision by the government.

The key question is: Why is the government taking these draconian measures? It is obvious to everyone with a clear conscious that the dictator of Addis Ababa is finding every excuse to throw as many people asking for their freedom as possible in his jail. The Tigre People Liberation Front led by Meles Zenawi and wife are doing everything they can to muffle the voice of the people. It is tough to be in their position.

They (TPLF and company) knew that the flood is coming. The same flood that engulfed and swallowed Haileselassie’s kingdom as well as Dergue’s dictatorship. It is only natural to act the way TPLF and company act. The inevitable is coming.

Ato Samuel, TPLF is not worried about the economics of communication outside of the state run institute. Although woyane wanted every cent from the poor like a leech sucking every drop of blood, this wasn’t about the money. Had it been about the money, they have several ways of regulating the internet cafes to tax or individual importers of devices to pay the needful. This is about attempting to stifle the people’s march towards establishing a better governance, elongating the life of TPLF even if it means keeping it in life support.

Ato Samuel, you should ask yourself what would you write if this was being done by another government, say one run by the real winners of the 2005 election (I am talking about the Kinjit team in case you start to believe TPLF’s lies).


06/22/12 @ 11:04
Comment from: Trum [Visitor]
Trum

The earlier tplf laws regarding telecommunication do not mention Voip. Does that mean that old law criminalizes the use of all future advances in IT? I have never read such absurd argument before. Internet is one of the fast evolving that is being applied to virtually every aspect of the economy, culture and beyond. All such activity is criminalized because tplf had a law in place a few years ago regarding illegal phone calls? Give me a break! That should sound ridiculous even to a woyane.

06/22/12 @ 11:15
Comment from: Dembi [Visitor]
Dembi

Dear Samuel M. Gebru,

Thanks for your insightful discussion on this issue. The Diaspora despots will never appreciate anything done by the current regime as they are the losers of the whole game. More than that they claim Woyane is racist; but the Diaspora despots are the worst racists on Earth who day dream of bringing back the good old aristocrats to life. To their dismay the Woyane regime is readily-harping a Minjar Melody that goes as below:

እስካይፕ ነው ያላችሁ:
እስኪ እንያችሁ::
ዘመድ ነን ያላችሁ:
ኑና እንያችሁ::
15-ያማራችሁ
ተያዩ ባካችሁ::

So Samuel, please never give-up to these Diaspora despots who stand for Shaabia and Issayas Afeworki loyal servitude.

06/22/12 @ 12:50
Comment from: Tulu [Visitor]
Tulu

Ato Samuel Gebru; It seems your article is nothing more than a stupid mental exercise or deliberate misrepresentation of facts or incoherent analysis by a delusional mind. First, why did Mellesse and his Woyane/TPLF criminalize technologies such as VOIP meant to improve digital communications and decrease cost of operation instead of indorsing it, nurturing it, and facilitate its expansion through opening up the telecommunication business? Second, as our last twenty years of experience show all deliberations of the fake parliament are nothing more than pretentions and public shows of deceptions. Everything in the laws and its provisions including the wordings come from Mellesse’s office for the signature of rubber stamp parliament. Not even once did the so called deliberations went through critical discussions, honest dialogues, and passed the test of legal viabilities. Third, almost all Ethiopians know that the laws and constitutional provisions enacted by the rubber stamp parliament are useless and harmful to them because these laws don’t protect and give them security. Rather, almost all articles of the fake constitutions, its provisions, and laws are only tailored to protect, empower, and enable Mellesse and his Woyane/TPLF terrorists to form and perpetuate a terrorizing mafia group pretending as a fake government. Almost all Ethiopians know that Mellesse and his Woyane/TPLF terrorists don’t respect, abide by, and take seriously the fake constitution, laws, and its provisions they enacted.

Ato Samuel, you seem to continue living in complete delusions. Ethiopians know that Mellesse Zenawi and his Woyane/TPLF terrorists are criminals of the highest order who committed acts of high treasons when they fought the Ethiopian people siding with EPLF for the secession of Eritrea. Mellesse and his Woyane/TPLF thugs planned, coordinated, and perpetuated crimes of kidnapping, murderers, and state sponsored terrors against Ethiopians. Mellesse and his Woyane/TPLF thugs facilitated and coordinated ethnic cleansings, genocides, and violence against Ethiopia and Ethiopians for the last twenty years. As far as Ethiopians are concerned, Mellesse Zenawi is a psychopathic murderer, a terrorist leader, and a high level criminal. These are the facts and the realities that Ethiopians from Tigray to Borena and from Gambella to Ogaden know and lived thru since the inception of Woyane/TPLF.

06/22/12 @ 13:06
Comment from: kul [Visitor]
kul

Skype and Google Talk are VOIP services. For obvious reason Woyane is scared of VOIP. That’s why Ethio telecom is not providing VIOP service. Rather than upgrading its service to modern technology, Woyane prefers to make it illegal which practically means the following:

…..we run the horse and buggy industry here and anyone who uses a car will get 15 years in jail….

06/22/12 @ 13:51
Comment from: Taharka [Visitor]
Taharka

This article uses legalistic technical speak to make a stupid law sound sensible, Ethiopia is now a laughing stock when it comes to Internet. I don’t see what security threat some narcissistic type talking about the colour of their underwear on Skype, has anything to do with Ethiopia’s security. Ethiopia’s Internet population penetration is very bad the Internet in Ethiopia is also extremely slow a five minute wait to read your email is not impressive even the tiny country of Gambia has far superior Internet than Ethiopia. The writer of the article has got it totally wrong on what the rest of the world thinks of this very odd law are they going to jail investors who may probably be using Skype? I suppose Sir Bob will be doing another song about Ethiopia having no Internet connection this Xmas.

06/22/12 @ 14:18
Comment from: smart mind [Visitor]
smart mind

Taharka: the author doesn’t use any language that is not already in the law. Have you read it?

Also, are you all stupid or what? He said he’s writing a second part that will show his opinions. Let’s wait to see what Ato Samuel thinks.

Aye agere!!!

06/22/12 @ 15:42
Comment from: Ex-EPRDF [Visitor]
Ex-EPRDF

Please leave this kid alone …he is fighting for his interest. He’s families are rubbing the entire country in broad day light and when they cough like the dear in head light this is the least he can do for his country …oops for his mofo’s. Kid go ahead give us the three round.

06/22/12 @ 16:58
Comment from: Cambridge, MA, United States [Visitor]
Cambridge, MA, United States

Taharka,

Stop complain you connection is slow and when you open your email. Hey, Samuel cousin’s has to read it first before it get to you. Chill out…

06/22/12 @ 17:08
Comment from: Seattle [Visitor]
Seattle

Skype was not “just banned” as foreign news outlets and social media networks have suggested, but it was rather never allowed.

KKK
That will be the joke of the week.
This “future Meles” is trying to play with the semanitics.
Like someone saying Democracy is not just banned in Ethiopia but rather never allowed.

Wusha lebelalet yechohal new yemibalew.

06/22/12 @ 19:09
Comment from: Gemede kassa [Visitor]
Gemede kassa

Why is it easy for most of you guys to corner the writer’s identity, You don’t have the gut to challenge idea with idea. Be truthful for yourself at least once in life, Show some respect to yourself,it is ok to present your opposing view in a plain language, people appreciate good manners.Being emotional may not reflect your true inner self.I don’t think there is a price to pay for being a gentelman/women.

06/22/12 @ 22:08
Comment from: Bogale [Visitor]
Bogale

Dembi,

I like that:

እስካይፕ ነው ያላችሁ:
እስኪ እንያችሁ::
ዘመድ ነን ያላችሁ:
ኑና እንያችሁ::
15-ያማራችሁ
ተያዩ ባካችሁ::

06/23/12 @ 12:09
Comment from: BilisummaaTV [Visitor]  
BilisummaaTV

For those of you who don’t know Samuel the writer of this crap
Samuel is part of TPLF ruling family.Samuel gets a pay check from TPLF gang members.Samuel was told to write this crap by his step father(the TPLF).In Ethiopia the TPLF police have been known for the last 5 years for picking up students from internet cafe for using internet.whereabout some of the students nobody knows.In Ethiopia Paltalk,skype,google,and viop are banned if you break TPLF laws you will be jailed.

06/25/12 @ 16:58

rebtel

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