Ethiopia has begun developing its own social media platforms to rival Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Zoom, as per Reuters.

According to the state communications security agency on Monday, the government wants its local platform to “replace” existing platforms, although it does not plan to block the other services.

The director-general of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), Shumete Gizaw has accused Facebook of deleting posts and user accounts that he said were “disseminating the true reality about Ethiopia.”

In June, Facebook pulled down fake accounts targeting opposition figures ahead of Ethiopia’s House of Peoples’ Representatives election, a move that didn’t sit well with the incumbent Ethiopian government. In a local media outlet on Friday, Shumete accused Facebook of blocking users who were “preaching national unity and peace”. 

In the past year, the Ethiopian government has been criticized for shutting down access to internet and social media services, including Facebook and WhatsApp, due to unrest in the Tigray region and during the election. The government has not commented on those shutdowns.

Since November 2020, Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country with about 115 million people, has been engulfed in a civil war between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Tigray region in the country’s north.

Supporters of the different sides have taken the conversation over to social media.

To build these platforms, Ethiopia is relying solely on local expertise. While Shumete declined to share further details about its social media rival project, he proudly asserted that Ethiopia won’t be the first to rely on local talents to build its social networks. 

“The rationale behind developing technology with local capacity is clear … Why do you think China is using WeChat?” he said.

Drawing such a parallel with the social messaging app WeChat is a bit troubling. WeChat, which is owned by China-headquartered Tencent Holdings, is widely used in the country and is considered to be a strong tool by Chinese authorities for monitoring its population.

Affected by the pandemic, the Ethiopian government has a lot on its plate as it works towards economic recovery. It’s looking to raise money via sales of telecom licenses and obtaining an additional $1 billion debt.

This begs the question of whether investing in state-owned social network platforms should be on its list of priorities.

Daniel Adeyemi | Author

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