Guest Blogger to De Birhan Media
21 June 2012
I learnt about the laws prohibiting the usage of Skype weeks before I learnt about Skype itself in 2005. Then it was a sort of regulation issued jointly by the Ethiopian Telecommunication and Corporation (ETC and the Federal and Regional Police). Not many people cared then saved the hundreds of expats and the halfhearted type of tourists whose body is in Ethiopia but spend three hours a day calling his girlfriend who cannot afford to travel with him. The cost of international calls originating from Ethiopia is unbelievably high and one can easily understand why these groups of people resort to Skype (economics, baby).
The same time I learnt about Skype, the sole telecom company cut text messaging service under the pretext of technical failures and it took them many years to fix that problem (Well, the technical problem proved to be politics). Political parties that started campaigning through bulk SMS methods went bankrupt due to the interruption of the service and we are told that they lost the election primarily due to that.
When I heard of the news that Ethiopia is criminalizing VoIP services, my first reaction was: ‘Is that even a news?” But when I read that this time around the issue has become so serious that the (all powerful) cabinet and the (even more all-powerful) parliament are involved I was like ‘what the [bleep] is that?’ Then you have the news all over the international media, often front page. A friend called me from Ontario and informed me that he and his crew of seven are cancelling their scheduled tour of Ethiopia and decided to go for a safari in Kenya. “Holly [bleep],” I said. “What am I going to tell my tour guide friend I convinced to cancel his 15 days business to guide my friend and his crew?” Three days later, another friend called me to inquire about the news saying that he could not believe whatever was happening in Ethiopia. [Bleep] happens,” I replied.
On a serious note, do you realize this single decision may have devastating effect on the tourism industry in the country given the kind of attention it receives in the West.
The common and core of the defense line revolves around how the law is ‘meant to prohibit the sale of VoIP services’ like Skype, by these little internet cafes and call centers. The message here is that if you have a laptop, desktop and the technical savvy, then the law does not affect you. Go on and use Skype. [After all the ministers and commissioners that have their kids in the West cannot afford to use ETC service to keep in contact with their loved ones. Find that article on Fortune which says that their allowance for calls is somewhere below 100 birr. Besides, you can’t make video to your kids in the West and China].
The law is meant to stop the trade of internet telephony, not its use. As long as you are not buying the service from a third party you are okay. That is the assurance from them. The thing is so if you do not have enough money to buy the computer and if you are not savvy enough to download and use the VoIP programs then you should not use it. Yes, if you are so poor, who can’t even afford to buy a laptop and so poor ignorant you can’t even know how to use Skype on your own, then you better forget skyping whatever cousin you may have outside Ethiopia.