By Dawit Endeshaw and Samuel Getachew
“We have never seen such crowd,” Claus Steiner, general manager of Hilton Addis Ababa, said.
The German-born hotel manager, who recently moved from Seychelles Hilton, seems surprised to see such a large number of guests visiting his Hotel. However, these guests were there for one purpose – internet access.
Though there was a nationwide shutdown of internet access, Hilton was one of the small number of places that people can access the internet.
The lobby of the hotel was almost full with people scrambling to get an access. Yet again, its business center was congested with a long line of people waiting for their turn.
Unlike Hilton, many businesses have been paralyzed throughout the week as they have not been able to do their activities. And this is the result of an unprecedented action by the government to shutdown internet access.
This is not the first time that Ethiopia is experiencing such a series of internet blackout. Last year, following a wide political unrest in Amhara and Oromia regional states, Ethiopia have experienced the same trend. In fact, social media was very instrumental which finally forced the government to block it.
Last year, it was reported that US-based activists were said to be behind the leak of national exam papers before the official exam date.
These activists have then leaked the exam papers on Facebook.
By that time, around 246, 452 grade 12 students sat for the national exam and 1,029,782 grade 10 students took higher education leaving exam. The government has spent close to 250 million birr for the whole preparation of the exam.
The leaks have created havoc across the nation. The government was forced to prepare a second exam.
So far no one was held accountable for the leak.
This time around the government has decided to cut the internet access without any prior notification which resulted in a wide outcry across the country.
Business institutions such as banks, IT firms, hotels and travel agencies are among the many that are hugely affected by the action taken by the government, not to mention personal communication that was interrupted.
Modern Eth Cyber Intel Consultancy is among those many business institutions which is hugely suffering the brunt of the blackout. The company, which mainly deals with IT outsourcing activities, has a partnership with a number of international IT firms.
“The sad thing is because of the internet blackout our partner, which has worked in Ethiopia for the past nine years, have decided to move its work to Dubai, UAE, just in search of internet access,” Michael Tesfaye, manager partner of Modern, told The Reporter.
“This is really frustrating,” he said.
Apart from IT companies, hotels are also amongst those affected by the internet shutdown.
“Close to 25 percent of our hotels booking is done online,” a senior manager of a five star hotel said. “However the breach of communication with our customers made everything very difficult for us.”
The hotel, which has an international brand, has been unable to verify online bookings, payments and to do inter department communications among its staff members.
“This will surely have an impact on our image as a country,” the manager said.
The Reporter learnt that except Hilton Addis, most of the hotels in Addis have experienced the problem.
The shutdown came just weeks after a declaration by hotel owners association about the negative impact the state of emergency brought.
They requested support from the government to mitigate the damage they incurred as a result of the political unrest the country experienced last year.
It was said that the hotels have suffered a revenue decline amounting 380 million birr. In addition, the occupancy rate has declined by 17 percent.
Days after the internet shutdown, few Hotels such as Ramada Addis and Capital Hotel and Spa managed to get their internet back.
Besides hotels, travel agencies, which most of their activities relay on internet, were limited.
Jumia Travel is an anecdotal example of similar agencies that are facing the problem. The company which was established two years ago employees close to 26 workers.
“Because of the internet almost all of our staff is not doing anything,” Eden Sahle, PR head of Jumia told The Reporter.
The company, as part of its business area, is involved in online bookings. On a weekly basis, the company on average receives 60 up to 80 online hotel bookings.
“Though it is difficult to quantify the financial cost we are incurring, what we know is we are not doing anything,” she said.
Financial institutions are also affected by the incident.
The major activities of banks are paralyzed because of it. Activities including, money transfer, swift account, import-export activities are also hugely affected, according to bankers approached by The Reporter.
“We have a promotion campaign which includes awarding our customers when they use our channels to get their money transferred from abroad,” said a manager of a private bank.
This, however, stopped because of the internet, he said.
The National Lottery Administration gave the permission for the bank to conduct the campaign. The months old campaign was left with a week.
“We have spent a lot for this promotion campaign,” the manager said. “I don’t think the Administration will extend us the lottery campaign to reimburse the one week.”
The blackout has also affected the import-export activity of the country.
“It is difficult for us to access the SWIFT,” said an IT manger of a private bank.
The internet shutdown, which has caused frustration across all sectors of economic as well as social activities, will likely continue for a week to come.
“We have decided to shutdown the internet to protect the national exam from any possible leaking,” Negri Lencho (PhD), minister of Government Communication Affairs told The Reporter.
“There is no complete internet shutdown. As far as we know the only thing that is blocked are social media sites,” Mohamed Seid, general director of Public and Media Relations, told The Reporter.