The Internet, the 20th-century invention that has businesses, states and societies craving for it. It was invented as early as the late 1960s for military purposes.
And if those very same technicians were told that the Internet would get this big, they would have laughed their heads off.
But the future has a strange and surprising way of working itself out. The Internet is now one of the most omnipresent entities on Earth – more ubiquitous than coffee, human beings and maybe someday even clean water itself.
Whoever has the most say over it runs the world, which is why the United States, Google and Facebook rule the world.
Fortunately, the world lives in a saner and more democratised time.
Had the Internet been created during the time of the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Dark Ages, or had the Soviet Union won the Cold War, politicians and corporations would have easily taken advantage. George Orwell’s post-apocalyptic book, 1984, is a worst case scenario fortune cookie.
The Internet is like a radioactive chemical element, which can either be used to power cities or blow them to kingdom come.
If used constructively, it can do us a lot of good. Like all other great inventions, it can make day-to-day inconveniences less obstructive, create jobs, make learning easier and even save lives.
And this is not just theory; many nations have proved that the Internet, economic growth, social well-being and political engagement go hand in hand.
It was Tuesday, two weeks ago, when Ethiopia signed off the World Wide Web. It was an unusually beautiful day – cloudy with a rare breeze.
Suddenly, I got a text which I imagine everyone else, at least in Addis Abeba, received.
It was the director general of the National Education Assessment and Examination Agency (NEAEA) wishing all 10th and 12th graders, who started to take the national exam the same day and lasted for over a week-and-a-half, good luck.
I was touched. We all want those high schoolers to do a great job. We want them to be creative and productive.
The better they perform, the better everyone else does, the more disposable income they acquire, the richer the nation becomes. That is not a utopian daydream; it is capitalism 101.
Not very long after the text though, I could not connect with my Viber account. I checked my balance; I had credit. I restarted my phone, and still no success.
It was the craziest thing ever. But then, it hit me. An ongoing national exam, the past year’s incidents where exam questions had been stolen and the ease with which data could reach millions of people on the Internet – it did not take a genius.
First, a little bit of context.
In 2016, 12th-grade exams, known as the National Higher Education Entrance Exams, were stolen. It has never been made clear if state departments were hacked or someone physically stole the exam papers.
But, reportedly, they were, together with answers, shared around on the Internet, mostly on social media sites. That caused the government to halt the examinations on the very day they were taking place, and postpone them all together.
Obviously, there were fears that the exams would get stolen this year too, and apparently, the state does not want a repeat of all the embarrassment and financial damage it had to go through last year.
The exam administering body is taking all the precautions to have a fair examination process, and what better way to do so than by cutting off the Internet.
And while this ensures that students would not have to go through the inconvenience that 12th graders went through last year, it leaves the rest of the country in the quagmire.
A reported one million 10th graders took the test, but what about the rest of Ethiopians?
Internet penetration in Ethiopia, according to sources, is at 15pc. This number, by any standards, is very small. But I also imagine that the percentage points would be significantly higher in Addis Abeba.
More than ever, people are dependent on the Internet for all types of day-to-day activities, be it for personal or business reasons.
Being siphoned off mobile data for such reasons just seems unfair and whoever took that decision should not make a scapegoat of citizens who are made to pay the price for the state’s inability to safeguard its property.
How would a private company fare if it punished its users every time it fears its data would be lost?
This is no way to treat customers. Ethio telecom, our state-run nationwide mobile and Internet service provider, would have found it hard to fare if there were any competition.
But what is the solution? It is easy to criticise, I should know since I am a film critic. I just sit there, eating popcorn, shaking my head every time I spot a cliché.
I have no idea what should be done to remedy this case either, but I also know that such a status quo could not subsist for long.
Next year, more people and businesses will be connected to the Internet – an inevitable fact.
Shutting down the Internet will get costlier, and when it comes to institutions such as hospitals, life threatening. There has got to be a less annoying alternative to keeping exam questions secure, and it is about due time.
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