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close this bookInformation Technology in Selected Countries (UNU, 1994, 148 pages)
close this folder2: Information technology in Ethiopia
View the document(introductory text...)
View the document1. Introduction
View the document2. Historical perspective
View the document3. Government policy and the role of key institutions
View the document4. Telecommunication infrastructure
View the document5. IT applications in the service sector
View the document6. Education and training in IT
View the documentAppendix: Computer courses
View the documentReferences

2. Historical perspective

The application of computers, and thereby the development and awareness of mechanization, is closely related to the introduction of computers into Ethiopia by foreign suppliers. In this report an attempt is therefore made to show how computer usage started in Ethiopia in relation to the major suppliers, namely IBM, NCR, SERIC Ethiopia, and Burroughs.

IBM in Ethiopia

The introduction of IBM products dates back to 1962. The first IBM numerical accounting machine introduced in that year was model 1421/814. A very slow printer was attached to it. Programming was done using wiring panel, which needed a qualified engineer.

In 1963 IBM introduced a semi-mechanical accounting machine, model 407, at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Progress was made by introducing an IBM computer, model 1440, which was an auto code. One of the institutions that installed this computer was the Ethiopian Electric Light and Power Authority.

Although the exact date is not known, it was between 1965 and 1970 that an electronic data-processing system, an IBM model 360/20, a punched card system, was installed in Ethiopia. It had a memory capacity of 8-16 KB.

A transition from card to tape-disk system was made in the 1970s with the introduction of system 3/10. This system involved a monolithic capacity ranging from 32 KB to 64 KB, the magnetic tape reading speed was equivalent to 1,000 cards per minute as compared with 250 cards per minute of system 360/20. The major software language was Report Program Generator. It was the longest-used computer in Ethiopia and was in operation in some organizations until 1986.

As a result of competition between suppliers in Ethiopia, changes in the technology were brought to the attention of users. Demand for more efficient systems began to be felt. To this end, IBM introduced system 34,36 model 4361 between 1981 and 1986, a transition from a card system to a fully magnetic system.

NCR in Ethiopia

As with IBM, the history of NCR began with the introduction of cash registers and, later, mechanical accounting machines (NCR models 2000 and 3000), with major applications such as payroll and building. NCR introduced electronic systems, like the 399 and 499, for the same purpose. The first NCR Model 8200 minicomputer was installed in 1976. It had 64 KB of main memory and 9.6 MB of hard disk. NCR also installed its 850 minicomputer between 1977 and 1984. Since then a number of installations have been made.

SERIC in Ethiopia

Société d'études réalisation, information et de conseil (SERIC) is a representative of Hewlett-Packard Computers in Ethiopia.

The introduction of HP computers in Ethiopia is a recent phenomenon, starting from 1980. However, SERIC has shown a rapid growth in the number of computer installations in a short period as compared with the other suppliers. HP systems are now widespread, and include those in international and regional organizations located in Addis Ababa. The HP 3000 series used to be very common but now personal computers (PCs) have been installed in many organizations.

Burroughs in Ethiopia

Burroughs introduced its products with desktop calculators and Model 1500 accounting machines in 1968. Its first computer was installed in Ethiopian Airlines. Late in the 1970s it introduced the Model B80 minicomputer in a few government organizations. Although Burroughs closed its office in 1981, a number of its installations have been made in government organizations by BURCO Systems.

Electronic Usage in Ethiopia

As an industrial activity, electronics has yet to start in Ethiopia, though some efforts have been initiated towards assembling radio receiver sets.

Sophisticated systems are in operation in the fields of mass media, radio communication, telecommunication, and communication and navigational aids for civil aviation. The data-processing sector, which was practically nonexistent about 30 years ago, is now within reach of many operational areas.

The earliest use of electronics in Ethiopia was in the mass communication subsector, followed by telecommunication and radio communication. Table 2.1 shows imports of electronic products other than computers in 1980. Total value amounts to US$13.54 million. As from 1980 imports began to increase. It was reported in 1983 that 63 per cent of such imports were of telecommunication and broadcasting equipment. In 1988, some 280 computers were imported, mostly PCs, and in 1989 the figure rose to 345.

Table 2.1. Imports of electronics products, 1980

Product and other details

Quantity No.

Value Birr

Calculating machine

BTN :84.52



SITC :751.210

Duty: 30%

Cash register

BTN: 84.52



SITC: 751.230

Duty: 30%

Accounting machine

BTN: 84.52



SITC: 751.220

Duty: 30%

Automatic data processing

BTN :84.53



SITC: 752.00

Duty: Free

TV broadcast receiver

BTN : 85.15



SITC: 761.110

Duty: 50%

Radio receiver

BTN :85.15



SITC: 762.110

Duty: 25%

Other radio receiver including radiograms and cassette recorders

BTN: 85.15



SITC: 762.111

Duty: 50%


BTN: 92.11



SITC: 763.110

Duty: 50%

Record player, tape or wire recorder and deck

BTN: 92.11



SITC: 763.180

Duty: 50%

Other sound recorders and reproducers

BTN :92.11



SITC: 763.800

Duty: 50%

Electronic line telephone and telegraphic apparatus

BTN: 85.13



SITC: 764.110

Duty: Free

Microphones and loudspeakers

BTN: 85.14



SITC :764.210

Duty: 25%

Other radio broadcasting apparatus

BTN : 85.25



SITC :764.310

Duty: Free/15%

Other television transmission apparatus

BTN: 85.15



SITC :764.311

Duty: Free

Other television video cameras

BTN: 85.15



SITC: 764.820

Duty: 50%

Radio navigational aid apparatus

BTN: 85.15



SITC: 764.331

Duty: Free

Other radio navigational apparatus, radar, etc.

BTN :85.15



SITC :764.832

Duty: Free (when imported by government)

Parts n.e.s. of the apparatus falling within heading 764.110

BTN :85.13



SITC: 764.910

Duty: Free

Parts n.e.s. of the apparatus falling within heading 764.210

BTN :85.14



SITC: 764.920

Duty: 25%

Radio spare parts

BTN :85.10



SITC: 764.931

Duty: 25%

Parts n.e.s. of the apparatus and equipment falling within 763

BTN: 92.11



SITC: 764.900

Duty: 50%

Radio valves, tubes and transistors

BTN :85.21



SITC: 776.000

Duty: 35%

Source: Ref. 2.