Last week all internet access in Ethiopia was intentionally shut down by the government. #trynottodie #ijustdied

This is because it was national exams week and there were concerns about student cheating via leaked tests, as some did in 2017. Of course, my only chance of passing any national school exam in Ethiopia would be cheating, since all questions and answers are in Amharic and look like this: ይህንን ማንበብ አልችልም

Fortunately for me, I need not take any such exams while I am here. However, the internet shutdown (which continued all week) had a significant impact on my life and work – not least of which because I then had to use my phone to actually talk to people. (Who does THAT anymore!?!)

Worse still, if my team members did not answer the phone then I had to set out on foot to find them – in the hotel lobby, restaurant, cafe, office, road to the office, dirt road shortcuts, fruit stands, coffee shops, etc. – and sadly, no one bothered to leave me a trail of breadcrumbs.

International teams often use apps like WhatsApp or Skype to communicate rather than trying to work out how many cents per minute it will be to call a French, British or Kenyan number from a US phone in Ethiopia. While I do have an AT&T “Passport Plan” to make such calls, I only have that because it sounds cool, not because I really want to use it.

Or rather, I want to use it if I am in the middle of nowhere on a 2G network because the smartphone apps do not work at all -and then I would actually have to make a phone call. Or if I have to deal with a real, unfortunate and justifiable emergency.

As inconvenient as this temporary shutdown was, it is equally important to note that the overall internet access situation is much improved over my last stay here in Addis in 2014 – when unlimited data plans were not an option, phone lines were much less reliable, and the internet was shut down both intentionally and unintentionally much more frequently – with and without reason. That, and the reliability and speed of the connection itself was often much worse. It has been five years since I experienced this in Ethiopia, and the amount of progress in terms of internet and phone access has been tremendous.

Online access was my biggest concern about returning here for a work role given that so much of my life and success as a business and IT consultant depend on it.  Thus, I remain pleasantly surprised to find that (last week withstanding) the online access as a whole is much improved since 2014, which put me at greater ease than expected on arrival. At least that’s one test Ethiopia passed – and without cheating!

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