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 has said.
Ethiopia has been engulfed for the past 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. The government wants its local platform to replace Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Zoom, Shumete Gizaw, the director general of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), said.
Shumete accused Facebook of deleting posts and user accounts he said were “disseminating the true reality about Ethiopia“.
International human rights groups have criticised the Ethiopian government for unexplained shutdowns of social media services including Facebook and WhatsApp in the past year.
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 that 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 request for comment.
Shumete declined to specify a timeline, budget and other details, but told Reuters: “The rationale behind developing technology with local capacity is clear … Why do you think China is using WeChat?“
He said Ethiopia had the local expertise to develop the platforms and would not hire outsiders to help.
The social messaging app WeChat, owned by Tencent Holdings, which has its headquarters in China, is widely used in the country, and is considered to be a strong tool by Chinese authorities for monitoring its population.
Shumete also 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 had already been completed of a soon-to-be-operational platform to replace WhatsApp and Zoom.