Ethiopia to build local rival to Facebook, other platforms

This Sept 4, 2019 photo shows logos of US social networking websites Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, displayed on a smartphone screen in Lille, northern France. (DENIS CHARLET / AFP)

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia has begun developing its own social media platform to rival Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, though it does not plan to block the global services, the state communications security agency said on Monday.

Ethiopia has been engulfed since last year in an armed conflict pitting the federal government against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region in the country's north.

Supporters of both sides have waged a parallel war of words on social media.

Shumete Gizaw, director general of the Information Network Security Agency, said Ethiopia had the local expertise to develop the platforms and would not hire outsiders to help

The government wants its local platform to "replace" Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Zoom, the director general of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), Shumete Gizaw, said.

Shumete accused Facebook of deleting posts and user accounts which he said were "disseminating the true reality about Ethiopia".

Facebook's Africa spokesperson, Kezia Anim-Addo, declined to comment on Ethiopia's plans and did not respond immediately to a query about Shumete's accusations.

Ethiopia, a country of about 115 million, has about 6 million Facebook users according to Statista.

In June, days before national elections, Facebook said it had removed a network of fake accounts in Ethiopia targeting domestic users which it linked to individuals associated with INSA, which is responsible for monitoring telecommunications and the internet.

Twitter declined to comment. Zoom did not immediately reply to a comment request. 

Shumete declined to specify a timeline, budget and other details. He said Ethiopia had the local expertise to develop the platforms and would not hire outsiders to help.

Shumete referred Reuters to comments he made on Friday to a local language media outlet in which he accused Facebook of blocking users who were "preaching national unity and peace".

He also told Al-Ain Amharic that authorities were working on the platform to replace Facebook and Twitter, while a trial has already been completed of a platform to replace WhatsApp and Zoom and that platform will soon be operational.