SMS ban lifted in Ethiopia after two years


In Ethiopia the year 2000 has just dawned – some seven years after the rest of the world celebrated the new millennium. In Ethiopia the epoch-making event is being marked by the reinstatement of the country's text messaging services after a two-year long interruption.

The SMS ban was enforced during the political unrest that followed the highly contentious May 2005 elections. At that time, the Ethiopian government banned SMS because, it claimed, the opposition party, Kinijit was exploiting it to organise activities during the elections – just as it happens everywhere else.

In Ethiopia, Kinijit too was particularly effective at using text messaging to mobilise its supporters and get them to the polling booths. Then, when the election result was announced the government took fright, contested what had happened and then moved quickly to shut down the SMS service to ensure the opposition party couldn’t use it again.

Thus the last Ethiopian SMS message was sent on June 10, 2005. On its website, to this day, Kinijit maintains that the Ethiopian people were robbed of their democratic voice in the “rigged election of May 15, 2005.” Two weeks ago, the Ethiopian Telecom Corporation, the sole telecommunication service provider in the African country recommenced SMS out of so -called “goodwill” to mark Ethiopia’s millennium celebrations. As they say, "with friends like those......"

Ironically, the official ending of the ban was announced to the Ethiopian people by, (yes, you’ve guessed it) an SMS message! How bizarre is that? It read, "[Wishing] you [a] happy Ethiopian Millennium. And now the SMS service is launched." Not surprisingly, given the two-year hiatus, few people actually knew or bothered to check they’d received the news as SMS was, until that very second, a proscribed activity.