Ethiopia in Facebook catch up, 27% up this month in two weeks

25 Nov

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

There is no doubt that Ethiopia’s Facebook (FB) users’ numbers are small and until recently their rate of growth lethargic. However, when seen in the scheme of things – the reasons are barely difficult to understand – (a) the country’s profound poverty, (b) underdevelopment of it’s information and communication technology (ICT) and (c) the unyielding official interest in mind control being the major impediments.

Nevertheless, the addition of 181,120 new users in just two weeks in November alone cannot be dismissed with indifference, according to Socialbakers.

What drives this growth may be bipolar interests. Therefore, on one hand FB is aggressively pushing its expansion worldwide, as market agent for goods and services, and on the other politics in Ethiopia and the search for new sources of information and opportunities created favorable conditions for marriage between the two.

There are also specific interest areas contributing to the growth. For instance, in a country huge unemployment – including of college graduates, there is a small number of job hunter relying on FB. For instance, been actively engaged in that service. What it does is to set up database of potential jobseekers and employers, with the aim of bridging the gap between the two. Its following is small, but people have begun tapping its services through FB.

FB journey in Ethiopia

Since the week of 24 September 2012, the overall number of Ethiopian FB users has arisen. Most notable, however, is the persistent push of this number since the week beginning on October 8 and ever since has witnessed significant increases.

In the past two weeks alone, the number of FB users in Ethiopia is reported to have grown by 27.5 percent, to reach where it now stands at 839,420. This represents an addition of 8,080 new users in the past one month alone, meantime placing the country penetration rate at 0.95 percent. This makes Ethiopia the 88th country on country ranking, out of 213 states and principalities around the world.

The largest age group of users in Ethiopia is within the 25 – 34 bracket, which boasts of 344,162 ‘members’ in its category. This is followed by the 18 – 24 group, which in the past three months has shown gusto and its prospects of becoming the major user group in the country in the future. Interestingly, there are users in all age groups, including in the 65 – 100 category, poking on at everyone’s expense – from poverty for which the country’s is a poster child to the world Bank’s average life expectancy of 59 (2011)…

Of the overall FB users in Ethiopia, 72 percent are male and 28 percent female. Unfortunately, in comparison with other countries, this number is on the low side.

In neighboring Kenya, which boasts of nearly two million FB users, women comprise 36 precent. In Tanzania, out of seven hundred users, women constitute 29 percent. Out of Uganda’s half a million users, women have 33 percent share.
Similarly, amongst Eritrea’s 23,000 users, 34 percent are women, while in Somalia they make up 26 percent 122,400 users.

ESAT commands largest fan base in Ethiopia

Of the pages frequently visited by FB users in Ethiopia, ESAT tops the list. It has been growing on average by 2,060 a month – with October seen as its page turner.

ESAT is followed by Ethio Bilal Tube, whose fans grow by 1,362 a month with no look back dash forward since early November.

ድምፃችን ይሰማ comes in as third, with 1,558 fans added on a monthly basis and November 20 being the beginning of its breakout moment in the upward direction. Then there is አዲስ ነገር, with its ups and downs – still its numbers in a wait a moment mood. I am Eritrean, with 485 monthly follow up.

While there is an unbelievably long list of brands of goods and services, competing for the attention and wallets of Ethiopian FB users, politics seems to be the dominant interest.

Worldwide, the US dominates the FB users list, with 169 million users; Brazil’s follows with its 62 million users. The African country appearing early on the list is Egypt, at the ranking of 20th and with 12 million users. The two next African countries are Nigeria and South Africa, at standings of 31st and 32nd, respectively, with a little over six million users each.

Ethiopia’s ICT development

In its annual report, Measuring the Information Society 2012, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) lays bare without any pretentions the state of ICT development in our country. With voluminous data to back its claim, the ITU places Ethiopia as 150th country out of 154 nations in its ICT development.

That report also points out that Ethiopia is 34th least connected country, among the 40 least connected countries of the world. This is shocking for citizens, for a country pioneering the use of the telegraph since 1897 and telecommunications beginning in 1890, albeit limited. This again underlines the importance of official accountability, holding officials why that is the case.

ITU’s report is not an aberration; nor could its officials be accused of sympathy to terrorists. In April this year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) also reached similar conclusions, as much detailed, if not more, in its Global Information Technology Report 2012. In comparison with 142 countries, Ethiopia has been found under-prepared in its telecommunications network readiness.

Here are some excerpts from that WEF data, comparing Ethiopia with 142 countries: (a) 130th in networked readiness, (b) 140th in the build up of ICT infrastructures, (c) 132nd in the affordability of access to information, (d) 132nd in the skills index of the population, and (e) 142nd and 136th, respectively, in individual and businesses usage indices.

On expansion of mobile phone services, among others, the USAID had made some efforts and provided some advices, including the use of some technologies from the US military. One of its notes in 2007 (Mobile Phones and Mobile Banking in Ethiopia), quoting Wireless Intelligence, regretted that, while the Ethiopian monopoly telecom was slumbering, in 2006 alone the rest of Africa registered 39 percent annual growth rate. As to Ethiopia’s sole concern resulting in its tortoise-paced progress, the report noted that then the seller of “Ethiomobile “underestimated the market for mobile services”, becoming its poison pill pushing in regressive direction.

In the thinking of the authorities, both today and yesterday, the constant excuse for their tight control on technology and progress has been their self interests. They pronounce the pretention that the country is not ready for this or that, or the political system cannot support this or that. Of course, they even have a softer way of putting this, as did the late prime minister during the World Economic Forum Africa session, held in Addis Abeba from May 9 – 11, 2012.

For instance, during the meeting pointblank Robyn Curnow of CNN asked the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, when he would allow private investors to be involved in Ethiopia’s telecom services. Meles responded by underlining his concerns about losing his political control as follows: “[If] they come in, they [will] use instruments we cannot control … Even the best of us do not understand [their instruments, so] how are we going to regulate these people?” (See Addis Fortune).

During his 22-23 November visit to Nairobi, Kenya, after ruling out any involvement by foreign banks in the Ethiopian economy, PM Hailemariam Dessalegn had a visit arranged for him at Safaricom, a Kenyan company well-recognized for its innovations in technology – especially its M-Pesa – the mobile banking services.

It is unlikely something would ever materialize from this; but time is ticking for Ethiopia before it has managed to remove the known obstacles to date to technological development and the free flow of information to citizens. If one looks at ESAT, it is the evidence that Ethiopia has run out of means to block citizens from uncovering the truth about what is taking place in the country.

This suggests that in the face of the inevitable better timely collaboration and cooperation between the state and citizens, instead of the hide and seek game that is costly to the nation’s forward movement.

TE – Transforming Ethiopia

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