Authorities shut Internet access in eastern Ethiopia amid an outbreak of violence, residents said, a sign of challenges facing reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in containing ethnic tensions in parts of the country.
Residents, one speaking from Oromia region and the other from Harar, said the connection had been down for three days — the first time access has been cut off since parliament lifted a state of emergency in June.
Ethiopian government spokesman Ahmed Shide did not immediately respond to a phone call and a text message seeking comment on the shutdown, reported on Tuesday by digital rights group Access Now.
Violence broke out on Saturday in Jijiga, capital of Ethiopia’s Somali region, with mobs looting properties owned by ethnic minorities. Security officials shot dead four people, a witness told Reuters.
Government said unrest was stoked by regional officials.
Residents in Oromia and Harar were concerned violence could spread into other parts of eastern Ethiopia, in part because tit-for-tat ethnic reprisals were part of the unrest in the country for three years until the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in February.
Government imposed emergency rule in February, a day after Hailemariam’s resignation after three years of street protests and violent unrest.
Since replacing Desalegn in April, Abiy turned politics and the economy on its head in the country of 100 million people but continuing ethnic violence poses a challenge to his reform drive.
Nearly a million Ethiopians are currently displaced due to ethnic violence in the Somali and Oromia regions and elsewhere, according to the United Nations.
Government’s move to shut down the Internet amid the latest violence suggests continuation of a knee-jerk reaction to unrest in recent years.
Abiy, a 41-year-old former army officer, pledged greater freedoms. In the four months since he took office, government released political prisoners and lifted a ban on opposition groups.
During protests before Abiy took office, government frequently switched off the Internet, sometimes for several months at a time, in Oromia, surrounding Addis Ababa and extending to the Somali region.
Halting the ability of young people to organise demonstrations or strikes online or on social media using smartphones, was a strategy to contain protests.
Ethiopia is one of the few countries in the world with a state telecoms monopoly, which makes shutting off the internet simpler than if there were multiple telecoms providers.