What makes Eritrea the world’s most ‘offline’ nation?

Posted on May 3, 2017

 

With the internet making strides everywhere from Cuba to Kazakhstan, the number of people around the world who are unable to get onto the web is dropping by the day, but huge disparity remains in terms of how many people can venture online from one country to the next.

InternetLiveStats.com shows that in the UK, 92.6% of the population are classed as ‘internet users’, making us the world’s 12th most connected country per person, ahead of the likes of the US, Canada and Germany. Scandinavia leads the way, with literally everybody in Iceland recorded as being online, and Sweden, Denmark and Norway all in the top 10.

It might not surprise you to see that internet connectivity appears fairly reflective of quality of life around the world, with the top end of the Human Development Index (HDI) also containing a heavy Scandinavian representation. The bottom 19 nations on the HDI are all in Africa, and include Eritrea, which is the world’s least connected country.

Just 1.1% of Eritreans are ‘internet users’, equating to a mere 56,000 or so of the 5.3m living in the East African nation, but what’s making it such a disconnected country, even in comparison to similarly underdeveloped nations like Liberia (8.6%) and the Central African Republic (4.5%)?

Human rights

A 2015 UN report cites “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” for which the Eritrean government is responsible. The nation is a one-party state that has very limited freedom of the press. Situations like the ongoing famine in Eritrea are denied by the government and aid from other countries is largely refused.

It’s not difficult to understand a link between a government that wants to keep its population in the dark, and a slowness to embrace the internet. When a wave of protests swept through nations like Egypt and Tunisia in 2011, some observers noted the role that increased internet availability might have played in both educating these countries’ people and helping to actually organise the protests.

Infrastructure

Landline communications in Eritrea is operated entirely by one company – EriTel. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that this company is owned by the Eritrean government.

Wikipedia points out that EriTel is not the only internet service provider in the country, but internet remains expensive and scarce. A 2014 Bloomberg article states that dial-up internet in Eritrea cost about $200 (£155) per month at the time. The average annual income was just $504 (£390) – enough for the average Eritrean to enjoy dial-up internet for little more than 10 weeks.

Poverty

Of course, a significant barrier to internet access, and one that ties in with the above two points, is the lack of money available to the average Eritrean. A young nation having earned independence from Ethiopia, Eritrea is ravaged by war, drought and an oppressive government, leaving around half the population to be estimated at living below the poverty line.

Many digital experts have had a stab at guessing when the whole world will be online, with some predictions seeming a tad optimistic. The situation in countries like Eritrea shows that it’s certainly not as simple as planting a few phone masts in what’s known as the Horn of Africa.

John Murray

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] week, we looked at the internet in Eritrea, where just 1.1% of the population are internet users due to factors like poverty, oppression and […]

    Pingback by How has Iceland got everybody on the internet? Engage Web — May 8, 2017 @ 12:16 pm

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