The entire nation of Ethiopia -- a corrupt, oligarchic state with the distinction of being "the world's first turnkey surveillance state" where spy technology from the "free world" is used to spy on the whole country -- just dropped off the internet.
The ruling clique says it turned off the country's internet to prevent Ethiopian students from accessing final exam questions via Facebook groups run by the global Ethiopian diaspora, and indeed, last year's exams were spoiled by early-circulated exam questions.
But Ethiopia routinely disappears from the world's internet in response to dissent and protest, and these are never far from the surface in Ethiopia, so the exams might just be a convenient excuse.
It's an interesting counter to the idea that even authoritarian regimes struggle to turn off their national internet systems, because these are vital to maintaining the elites' business interests, as well as extractive industries like oil, or other industries like tourism. In Burma and Egypt, totalitarian regimes have wrestled with the question of when and whether to shut down the internet, often pulling the switch after it was too late (for them).
But apparently in Ethiopia, the elites can survive without the internet.
The gravity of this move begs the question: Are authorities really just trying to prevent students from cheating on exams, or is there more to it? Indeed, this is just one among various reasons that Ethiopian authorities have used to justify censorship and shutdowns in recent years.
Ethiopia has blocked the Internet on three occasions since huge anti-government protests exploded in November 2015. Mobile and landline phone networks are also crippled in much of the country’s two biggest regions, Oromia and Amhara, where anti-government protesters have become common over the last two years.
When Ethiopian authorities declared a state of emergency in October 2016 they officially blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and popular messaging apps such as Viber and IMO. Since Internet speeds are already incredibly slow, data-heavy video platforms such as YouTube have been rendered inaccessible even though they are not officially blocked.
Ethiopia Imposes Nationwide Internet Blackout
(Image: David Holt. CC BY 2.0)