There is “no timeline” for restoring internet access to the embattled Tigray region, the Associated Press reported a senior Ethiopian government official saying.
Tigray’s internet service will be restored along with its phone and electricity services, though no timeline has been set for those goals, Belete Molla, Ethiopia’s minister for innovation and technology, said on Tuesday at the UN’s annual Internet Governance Forum in Addis Ababa.
Tigray, home to more than 5 million people, has been mostly without internet, telecommunications and banking since war broke out between federal government troops and forces led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2020.
A ceasefire deal between the warring sides was signed in South Africa earlier this month. It commits Ethiopia’s government to restoring Tigray’s basic services, but the communications blackout has not yet been lifted.
Renewed fighting in August halted aid deliveries to Tigray, which is in the throes of a humanitarian crisis. Aid has now started reaching the region, but the World Food Programme said last week that access to parts of Tigray remains “constrained”.
With the Tigray blackout still in place, the UN’s decision to hold its flagship event on internet access in Ethiopia this week has drawn criticism. This year’s conference aims to build steps towards “universal, affordable and meaningful connectivity”, especially in Africa where 60 percent of the continent’s 1.3 billion people are offline.
Ethiopia has shut down the internet at least 22 times since 2016, according to internet rights group Access Now. The blackout affecting Tigray “is the world’s longest uninterrupted shutdown”, said Brett Solomon, Access Now’s executive director.
Aid workers and rights groups say the communications blackout has hampered the delivery of aid to Tigray and fuelled human rights abuses by fostering a culture of impunity among armed actors. UN investigators have accused all sides of abuses, including killings, rape and torture.
Addressing the forum’s opening ceremony on Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appeared to defend the shutdown in Tigray, saying the internet has “supported the spread of disinformation as Ethiopia dealt with an armed rebellion in the northern part of the country.”