Why Telegram Became The Go To Platform in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is among the very few countries where telegram is more popular than other apps. How did this happen?
In a recent survey concerning social media use in Africa, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger (both owned by meta) were the most widely used social media applications. Ethiopia, however, seems to have taken a contrarian stance. Its 110 million-plus population, of which roughly 45% has access to the internet, prefer to use telegram over other social media applications. Along with Iran and Uzbekistan, Ethiopia stands among the very few countries where telegram is more popular than other apps. With more than half a billion users, Telegram has been actively growing over the past 5 years or so. Its appeal, however, seems to be stronger in countries like Ethiopia. So, what’s behind the popularity of Telegram in Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is a country where internet access is low and network infrastructure is weak. Considering the average income of an Ethiopian, internet services are also expensive. Facing such circumstances, Ethiopians need a social media app that can connect them with the world while consuming very little data. Telegram delivers exactly that. On average, telegram consumes close to 400MB of data per hour, which is significantly smaller than Whatsapp, which uses up to 600 MB per hour. This has allowed Ethiopians to surf more on telegram at a lesser cost. Telegram also makes use of an open API. This means that telegram can be "iterated" by developers from around the world to suit their requirements. Telegram Plus and Mobogram are among the most well-known. Such iterations of the app have invited many users to create a telegram account.
Perhaps one of telegram's most admired features is its security. Telegram uses end-to-end encryption that guarantees a secure chat for users. Its appeal has also been boosted by a number of features including hidden chats and account self-destruct timers.
One thing to notice here, however, is that telegram’s secure feature is a double-edged sword. Although it provides users with a protected platform that safeguards their privacy, it has also served as a save-heaven for covert and often criminal activity. Many fringe, extremist groups (including ISIS) have used the platform to spread propaganda. If you don’t navigate the app carefully, chances are you might run into reprehensible content.
A hole in the paywall
Nowadays, nothing is free. If you wish to own a copy of anything, from academic journals to books, movies, and music, you must pay. In a nation like Ethiopia, where residents are unable to conduct foreign transactions, this is an issue. Even if they do find a way to pay for these services, the prices are out of reach for the vast majority of Ethiopians. Telegram fills this gap in two ways. Firstly, telegram’s security has allowed the opening of numerous channels that share pirated content for free. Whether it's best-selling books, the latest versions of software, or blockbuster movies, Telegram has the channel. Telegram doesn’t endorse these activities as it has strong copyright policies and channels are often shut down due to infringement. The platform has, however, given rise to a "guerilla" movement where channels and bots that freely disseminate paywalled material are thriving.
It's all about convenience
Secondly, in a country where online transaction platforms are in their infancy, Telegram is serving as a de facto e-commerce application. There are numerous channels through which customers can buy different kinds of goods. Many small businesses have taken advantage of this phenomenon, and now Telegram is addressing the lack of online transaction platforms for many Ethiopians.
In addition, there are various channels in Telegram where Ethiopians can access a variety of services. News channels like Tikvah, job finding platforms like Freelance Ethiopia, educational channels like ATC, and many others have made telegram an all-in-one place for many Ethiopians. Furthermore, Telegram has found its way into the professional lives of Ethiopians. Workplaces are creating groups for their employees to communicate, while universities now have Telegram channels to share information and resources. Even government institutions like the Ministry of Education have created Telegram bots where students can view their national exam results. The increased usage of Telegram is by itself inviting even more users to the platform, creating a kind of circular pattern.
Wherever there are people, politics is bound to be there
Much like the rest of the world, politics plays an important role in the lives of Ethiopians. Political topics often attract large audiences, while activists and commentators rely on social media platforms to reach their audience. On a platform as popular as Telegram in Ethiopia, political content manages to find its way to people. This, in turn, attracts more people to the platform, increasing its reach. As a result, Telegram is among the primary targets of social-media restrictions in Ethiopia.
Telegram’s accessibility and its ability to address the needs of Ethiopians have made it the go-to application. As internet access in the country is growing, it is likely that Telegram users will continue to grow. With its plan to liberalize its market and allow international transactions, Ethiopia has an immense potential to generate revenue for the company.