Ethiopia has begun developing its own social media platform in order to compete with digital giants such as Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, according to the country’s national communications security office. The country has no intentions to limit international services. Ethiopia has been embroiled in an armed conflict since last year, pitting the federal government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.
On social media, both sides’ supporters have launched a verbal battle.
The government wants its local platform to “replace” Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook, and Zoom, according to Shumete Gizaw, director-general of the Information Network Security Agency.
Shumete said that Facebook has removed postings and user accounts that were “disseminating the true reality of Ethiopia.” International human rights organizations have chastised Ethiopia’s government for shutting down social media services such as Facebook and WhatsApp without explanation in the last year. The government has been silent about the shutdowns.
Kezia Anim-Addo, Facebook’s Africa representative, declined to comment on Ethiopia’s intentions and did not immediately reply to a question regarding Shumete’s claims. According to Statista, Ethiopia, which has a population of around 115 million people, has about 6 million Facebook members.
However, in June, just days before the national elections, Facebook announced that it had taken down a network of false accounts in Ethiopia aimed at local users, which is linked to persons involved with the INSA, the country’s telecommunications and internet surveillance agency.
Twitter did not respond to requests for comment. Zoom did not respond to a request for comment right away.
Shumete would not provide a timetable, budget, or other specifics, but told Reuters: “It’s easy to see why creating technologies with local capabilities is a good idea… Why do you believe China uses WeChat?”
Ethiopia, he claimed, has the indigenous ability to create the platforms and would not enlist the help of outsiders.
WeChat, a popular social messaging software owned by Tencent Holdings in China, is extensively used in the nation and is seen as a powerful tool by Chinese authorities for monitoring its citizens.
Shumete also told Reuters about statements he made to a local language news site on Friday, in which he accused Facebook of banning people who were “preaching national unity and peace.”
He also informed Al-Ain Amharic that officials were working on a platform to replace Facebook and Twitter, and that a trial of a platform to replace WhatsApp and Zoom had already been finished and that the platform will be online shortly.