From the Media Capital, to the Global Ethiopian Community
Saturday July 22nd 2017

Ethiopia: Talking Telecom ‘Can you hear me now?’

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Posted From,  Afrinnovator: In this guest article, Bright Simons, founder of mPedigree, discusses the state of policy-making (the ‘softer’ side of technology) in promoting innovation in Africa within the context of the ever increasing counts of infrastructure development initiatives being run by African governments.

In Addis Ababa, you might as well turn in your dainty blackberry for a mug of tej.

In case you are wondering, tej is not some local electronic marvel designed to replicate the vital functions of your smartphone with native materials and seamless fidelity. Like the way bird beaks simulate gramophones with delightful perfection in the American cartoon show, the Flintstones.

Tej is Ethiopian wine (“mead” for the more finicky among you) made from honey, and to a recipe supposedly dating to biblical times. Yes, biblical times, just like so many things in Ethiopia.

So why in the name of the blessed seraphim would you want to trade in your blackberry for a gourd of yellow wine, however divine-tasting? Well, it might be because the damn gadget is, in Ethiopia, next to useless for enjoying the data services most folks take for granted in many other parts of Africa. The country’s ICT infrastructure, exaggerating only a little, is delightfully…biblical-era. Which is a shame given how intense the urge to blog and tweet and facebook can become in the ancient hills and valleys of this most exotic of countries.

The incongruity that hits you with full-force in the belly as you try to reconcile the hurrying feel of modernisation in Addis Ababa’s more fortunate thoroughfares with the hit and miss affair of the country’s telecommunications is like some antique tapestry waiting to be deciphered.

Standing outside the gleaming Sheraton, frustrated to bits by calls that dropped at will and futile attempts to sneak through a long-distance call back home, I couldn’t still help but marvel at how modern the surroundings seemed. I have paid double the Sheraton’s decidedly not inexpensive rates in Lagos and yet had to settle for something far less up-to-date than what was on display here.

It seemed very obvious therefore that the telecom quagmire was a situation requiring special explanation.

Foremost, unlike most African countries, Ethiopia has staunchly refused the join the bandwagon of telecom liberalisation galloping across the continent.

So important a badge of ideological honour has this attitude become that during my visit, as a member of a group of mostly African business people, a senior government minister himself felt obliged to emphasise the government’s utter conviction in this anti-liberalisation policy.

As far as he was concerned, the government’s ownership of the telecom infrastructure was a hallmark of the system akin to the country’s lack of a colonial heritage. He was sorry that this meant his well-heeled visitors couldn’t access their precious emails on their gilded little beeping machines, but he wasn’t apologising.

I didn’t feel sufficiently plucky to ask this genial, well-spoken, high-ranking politician how he justified the under- 3% penetration rate in his beautiful country when Africa as a whole is believed to have crossed the 50% threshold, nor did I consider it behaviour becoming of a guest to bring up the small affair of a few years ago when the government actually shut down the country’s SMS channel… Read the full article @ Afrinnovator


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One Response to “Ethiopia: Talking Telecom ‘Can you hear me now?’”

  1. Belay says:

    Nothing is expected from those illiterates of former Tigrean Gurella Fighters who are dragging down Ethiopians today!!!!!!!!!!!!

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