The unrest in Oromia and the nationwide internet shutdown by the federal government in the aftermath of Hachalu Hundessa’s assassination, has severely impacted the livelihood of the Somali Region as trade and other business activities are disrupted, and travelling to and from Addis Ababa is only possible by air.
Mohamed Farah, a Jigjiga trader, told Ogaden.com that his business which was already ailing from the impact of Covid-19 is now under complete shutdown due to the unrest in Oromia, and the nationwide internet shutdown. Farah said that “businesses within the khat, beverages, and fruit and vegetable industries among others whose business supplies are from any other place in Ethiopia remain closed”.
He also said, “travelling people and goods are stranded in Addis Ababa and Jigjiga as Oromo protesters continue blocking the roads”. Mr Farah indicated fear about a repeat of “previous scenario” referring to the bloody violence of 2016–2018 in Oromia, and between communities in Ethiopia.
The internet shutdown also hindered the flow of remittance money from diaspora communities, which directly affects the lives of almost every household in Jigjiga. Ahmed Mohamed, a father of three, explained what his family in the US sends him to feed his children. He told Ogaden.com this morning “I didn’t receive my monthly bill even though my family sent it on the first of this month. The Hawalas told me their system is down, and I have to wait even longer”.
Ogaden.com learnt that many Jigjiga residents and other Somalis have resorted to travelling hundreds of miles to Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya to collect their remittance money, during the height of Covid-19.
Besides the disruption to businesses, internet blockage disrupts the flow of information, which is a vital part of basic day-to-day life, and even more so due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the current political upheaval in Ethiopia requiring families both domestic and abroad to stay connected.
In retrospect, the Ethiopian government used Internet shutdowns as a tool in its efforts to stop protests. Jigjiga, as the only city with normal internet service in Somali State, saw a targeted internet blockage during the Federal government’s August 2018 operation where the former president was removed. At the height of the 2016 to 2018 protests, the EPRDF regime repeatedly blocked internet services nationwide, and now Abiy’s government is doing the same in his battle to mitigate the Oromo uprising, which analysts believe, is a forceful threat to his government.
Jigjiga, the capital city of Somali State, and a business hub for Ethiopian traders from all regions, heavily depends on Oromia State not only for its important supplies, but also, for connecting to other parts of the country including the capital city. The Jigjiga-Harar route is the single most important (if not the only) gateway for the Somalis to the rest of the country and vice versa.
As per government announcements, Addis Ababa is expected to reopen slowly. However, it is very difficult and nearly impossible to get reliable information from Oromia as a result of the internet shutdown.