Ethiopia: Social Media, Diaspora & State of Emergency Press Roundup

(Image from a study on social media use in Ethiopia and the Diaspora mapping frequency of hate and dangerous speech. Courtesy of the University of Oxford)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

February 25th, 2018

New York (TADIAS) — The significantly polarized social media environment regarding politics among Ethiopians in the Diaspora is receiving renewed press attention, perhaps as a contributing factor in Ethiopia’s current state of heightened ethnic politics. In a recent article published by the Open Democracy website Rene Lefort points out “a symptom of this odious climate: on websites accessible in Ethiopia, especially in the comments sections, overtly racist interethnic attacks, which would be an offense anywhere else, are flourishing as never before.”

“Social media users in America are stoking Ethiopia’s ethnic violence,” declared the title of another story by Public Radio International (PRI). “The Ethiopian Diaspora in the U.S. uses social media to great effect in shaping coverage of events back home, especially the protest movement that has pummeled Ethiopia for more than two years,” says freelance journalist James Jeffrey, author of the PRI piece. “During that time, social media has proved itself a double-edged sword in Ethiopia: It’s capable of filling a need for more information due to limited press freedom and frequent blanket shutdowns of mobile internet, but also of pushing the country toward even greater calamity.” Jeffrey adds: “Since 1995, Ethiopia has applied a distinct political model of ethnically based federalism to the country’s heterogeneous masses — about 100 million people who speak more than 80 dialects. In a country as diverse as Ethiopia, the cumulative effect of ethnic slander should not be underestimated, observers note, especially where historical grudges exist between main ethic groups.”

Meanwhile Ethiopia is back under another State of Emergency and as The Economist notes that: “the declaration appears at odds with recent signs that the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was willing to allow more democracy. In August it lifted a ten-month-long state of emergency, imposed after protests in 2016. The new state of emergency appears to have been triggered by the resignation the day before of Hailemariam Desalegn, the prime minister. Hailemariam said he was bowing out to allow for “reforms”, but his departure has opened up a succession struggle within the EPRDF, which has governed Ethiopia since it first seized power as a band of rebels in 1991.”

Last week the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia released a press statement that strongly objected to the decision to suspend normal constitutional procedures and urged its oldest Africa ally to instead focus on widening the democratic space by encouraging “greater freedom, not less.” The press release stated: “The challenges facing Ethiopia, whether to democratic reform, economic growth, or lasting stability, are best addressed through inclusive discourse and political processes, rather than through the imposition of restrictions…We strongly urge the government to rethink this approach and identify other means to protect lives and property while preserving, and indeed expanding, the space for meaningful dialogue and political participation that can pave the way to a lasting democracy.”

The EU has also issued a communiqué saying “only a constructive dialogue among all stakeholders – authorities, opposition, media, civil society – will allow for a peaceful and durable resolution of the crisis.”


Related:
Study on Social Media Use in Ethiopia Maps Frequency of Hate and Dangerous Speech

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