Skype me? Indeed | Text of Ethiopia’s draft Telecom Law

Jun 17 2012

The world wide web was awash with news reports of alleged ban of VOIP services by Ethiopian in the past week.

One of those was Al-Jazeera’s news brief that stated:

A new law in Ethiopia has criminalized the use of VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services such as Skype. Users could face up to 15 years of jail time. The law was passed May 24th, but the story wasn’t picked up by international media until recently.

The story was erroneous, however.

To begin with, the said ‘law’ – A Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offences – is only a draft and only passed the first reading stage of the legislative process to date. This stage is more of procedural and hardly deals with the contents of a draft legislation.

Secondly, the closest thing to a prohibition of Skype in this draft law is found in Article 10 sub-article (3) and (4) that state:

Article 10(3) – Whosoever provides Telephone call or fax services through the internet commits an offence and shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment from 3 to 8 years and with fine equal to five times the revenue estimated to have been earned by him during the period of time he provided the service.

Article 10(4) – Whosoever intentionally or by negligence obtains the service stipulated under sub-article (3) of this article commits an offence and shall be punishable with imprisonment from 3 months to 3 years and  with fine from Birr 2,500 to Birr 20,000.

I tell you, with my lawyer hat, that these two articles concern a business entity providing telephone call (to a landline or mobile phone) and fax services using the internet. And, also, individuals using that business service.

A related noteworthy thing is that there is a 2002 legislation which states: ‘The use or provision of voice communication or fax services through the internet are prohibited [punishable with imprisonments]’.

I consider that legislation as prohibiting PC to PC communications even between private users via Skype, Google-Talk and the like. (as indicated in a previous post 6 months ago (here)). However, others argue that it concerns only calls made to a telephone line.

Either way, there has been no reports of prosecutions based on that legislation to date. In fact, internet cafes in the Capital provide these services. Though, several businesses providing international calls using various technologies, unauthorized by Ethio Telecom, have faced closure and criminal charges in the past decade.  

On top of that, the wording/phrasing of the VOIP related articles in the current draft law is narrower than that of the 2002. This can not be accidental.

At any rate, I say: A law banning the personal use of Skype would be as frivolous as a jaywalking law. So, Skype me? Indeed!

That is assuming I will manage to download Skype – which is blocked – and be able to afford the high tariff charged by Ethio Telecom. Not to forget, the poor connection that makes Skype-ing no better than e-mail correspondences.

Of course, the legislation has other concerning elements; such as, a prohibition on possession of Telecommunication equipment, including software and accessories, without permit – except those ‘types of Telecommunication equipment’ exempted by the list to-be-drawn by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. There is also a vague provision on ‘Offences related to interception and access’.

It is expected these and other provisions to be clarified and/or modified by the parliamentary Standing Committee currently reviewing the draft legislation. A thorough discussion will be provided in this blog based of the version of the draft legislation that the Committee releases for public deliberation (or before that if it fails to do in a few weeks time).

Deferring a thorough review of the draft law, until the parliamentary committee releases an official version of the draft, is prudent, as the draft legislation was apparently a few weeks work – following EthioTelecom’s recent petition to the Ministry of Justice for a stronger measure against telecom frauds. Well, unless it could be shown that Ethio-Telecom’s petition was a Trojan Horse to push a harsh legislation long in the making. It is also likely that it was rushed in the hope of tabling it before the parliament recesses for about three months around July 6. Moreover, most of the things punishable under the draft legislation has already been so in prior laws.

Though the media rush to make unverified claims, which is obviously based on remarks from some local politicians/activists, is disturbing, it is the Ethiopian government’s inability and unwillingness to provide info mainly to be blamed. Strangely, officials in Addis were as informed as the guy on the street regarding the matter in the past week.

* To download the draft legislation – A Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offences Law – (sealed by the Prime Mini
ster’s office) click here
[PDF | Size: 653 kb]


Updated on June 18 – 11 pm
* A few grammatical corrections  have been made to the text above.


Check the Human Rights archive or the Ethio Telecom archive for related posts.

  1. gemechu

    Daniel, you seem to indicate that there is a law from 2002, that prohibits online voice communication? In that case, then it is allready illegal now. And the fact that the current law is only a draft is irrelevant (and weird as it seems to overlap). Furthermore, the fact that no one has been prosecuted yet, doesn’t mean much, nor is it particularly comforting, as this means that if they feel like it or if you piss them off, the government can prosecute you at anytime (and in this case they dont even need trumped up charges).

    This as an isolated case is of lesser significant, it should however be seen in the general framework of press and freedom of speech in general. By any indicators Ethiopia is at the very bottom (bottom five) of African countries when it comes to access to internett and newspapaers (ca. 40 000 circulated for 80 mil people), and also one of theworst in the world when it comes to persecuting journalists (EPRDF have chased out more journalists than most countries in the world). The current law should be viewed in this broader context of suffocating the population of information and diversity of oppinion.

    I am myself a a moderate EPRDF supporter, but I find it hard to see them dumb down my people by increasingly refusing them access to information and debate, and constantly hammering them with unreflective soviet-style development propoganda on ETV.

    What are your views on access to information, frredom of speech and political debate (or the lack of it) in Ethiopia?

  2. eweket

    Daniel, probably this blog post is the only place which i could manage to find out the real situations what is going on using VoIP services in Ethiopia.

    Few things to add up or comment on this is that, the draft law needs to be revised. (1) The first thing people don’t only use skype only from PC-to-PC call but also from PC to phone calls. This is purely a no go. Even though it is legal even in China, and helpful for citizens — i don’t understand why the government wants to restrict that

    (2). I think before drafting such regulations, there are long way to go for telecom services. with less than 1% of internet penetration and hugely costly access with extremely BAD service from the monopoly service provider – this should be the 10th top priority unless there is a hidden agenda behind it.

    (3) Before everything else: the government needs to start using internet for God’s sake. this is another prove that the government fails to react in such actions properly using internet and of course, such failure on PR costs a lot. Especially, considering the fact that there are so many bad laws are passing all over the world, but nicely presented (like ACTA – which is still bad even after great PR from the governments)

    (4) the draft law discourage researches and innovation on telecommunications. There is a no go for importing/ assembling (probably, manufacturing or making ) telecommunications services and software. This is probably, the biggest failure of the law even worse than banning skype. The reason is, we are discouraging any innovation when it comes to telecommunications – just to protect Ethio-telecom’s “unethical” income.

    (5) This is link is blocked in Ethiopia now. Please update your link.,42735.html

  3. Governement Whip_Communication

    “…it is the Ethiopian government’s inability and unwillingness to provide info mainly to be blamed. Strangely, officials in Addis were as informed as the guy on the street regarding the matter in the past week.”

    The has been the modus operandi of this governemnt. Be it land lease policy or development projects. Shame, shame, shame on this government!!! After 21 years it still doesn’t know how to manage information. We are in a time where information flows instantineously all over the world, and our government has not yet mastered managing and using it to its advantage. One reason, I think, is because positions are filled with incompetent political cronies instead of skillful and capable professionals.

    I heard about this issue from my American coworkers and were embarrassed not to be able to give them adequate explanation.

  4. mercha board

    so where shall the people get appropriate information ,on ETV 1,2,3? (hahaha )…and how can the people compare the truth while the government is hiding all the legislation that is going to pass? Dnt criticize other medias first and most this government is blocking ,jamming and it is against free information flowing.

    1. Daniel Berhane

      I have questions on the constitutionality of jamming foreign based media, as indicated in my previous analyses on internet filetring(click here) and also as will be presented in my upcoming post in the coming weeks.

      However, in this case(theSkype confusion), the foreign media was the source of misinformation.
      So….I can’t see how the blocked sites would have helped you know the truth.

      Thanx for sharing your view. Keep in touch.

  5. tsedu

    The law is full of vague sentences which could make it to be used to attack individuals as well as organizations. And from the blog post what I am reading also confirms this. The blogger is positive thinker, if all are like what he is thinking, we all are happy. But from what we see in the country it is not for such purpose. Every body accepts that we need the anti terrorism law, but we are facing problems by ourselves because of this terrorism law since it is designed to attack opposition parties rather than terrorists. The same will happen for this telecom law too. We know the opposition parties are using skype to have meetings with the members abroad. Am sure the law will be applied at the first place on these parties. Vague laws are always used in a harmful way. One question for the blogger: why you omit Article 10(2)-a: “whosoever by connecting any equipment to a public telephone or by using any other means obtains services which are not normally available through the public pay telephone……” I am sure any lay man could understand where to use this sub article let alone the government…

  6. Eyob Fitwi Abraham

    Constant media misinformation is a thing Ethiopia will have to deal with, but the government’s inability to correspond properly with media outlets and provide relevant information is unbelievable. No wonder such prejudices are being held against the country. I’m living in the country and foreign media managed to misguide me, but the government which is supposedly “on top of me” just sits there doing nothing to clear the fog. Incompetent!

  7. DAWIT

    I read the Los Angels Times, and it is heart breaking the author seems directly to send message to tourists, it scares them off, and believe foreigners will take the advise into account….all this damage happened because the government has not communicated properly nor did address the allegation timely, If they have come now with the explanation that tries to settle the issue am afraid it is TOO late…..BBC, LATimes,AlJeezera, imagine the sphere they cover…..and this is not the only case, this happens time and again and the government seems not to take any lesson from its mistake

      1. raf

        What has god got to do with it? Families who plan to spend some time in Ethiopia (and specially those who leave their child(ren) behind) want to make sure that they have a means of communication like skype. An article in BBC or.. about getting a jail sentences of 15 years scares off anyone including myself!