Why Ethiopia will not be swept by the current Maghreb initiated social media driven revolution: A pragmatic Analysis

Over the past few weeks there are initiatives of regime changes  in at least two Northern  African countries — Tunisia  and Egypt — while miniature youth movements are being instigated in the Sudan.  Insurrections rooted from the social media networks are not uncommon in Egypt and some other countries forced by local issues like rigged elections and social groups, and it is not clear whether these latest waves of Northern Africa revolutions will sweep the countries like Ethiopia and do raise the threat to a new election 2005 sort of uprising to Melese Zenawi’s government at least in Addis Ababa. There is a strong case to be made against the idea that Ethiopia will be caught by the flames of Maghreb initiated social media driven revolutionary fires.

But for sure there is striking similarities of economic predicament in the form of hyper inflation in all current revolutionary countries like Tunisia, Egypt and the Sudan with Ethiopia( though there is a an effort to curb it). I am also struck by the similar nature of these nations’ an age old despotic regimes. Certainly, Ethiopia’s government will be concerned of these changes in any of Africa’s countries.  While there have been previous social media network revolution in Egypt in 2008, it has not been as significant as the current one and its focus was not a change in regime. If there is any upheaval in Addis it will be like a social media generated insurrection of 2008 Egypt in its kind because Ethiopian social network and social media culture will not manage to evade detection by Ethiopian telecommunications intelligence services in their infancy. They will get caught and crushed through blocking and filtering when they start to bud. Offline measures will not be ruled out as well.

This is an approximate guess of mine. But it is clear that Ethiopia fears that one day when the states of internet connectivity are completed at least in most urban regions of Ethiopia the social media could turn against the government. Therefore, Ethiopian government will prepare itself for social media generated threats to reduce facebook and blogs menaces that are developing at an unprecedented rate on the regimes of Mubarak, Ben Ali and may be Omar Hassan Ahmad alBashir.

Though Ethiopia is claimed to be the fastest growing nation in telecom services it has been relatively quiet in terms of facebook users and number of bloggers and there have been few facebook activists and facebook groups in recent period.

And Ethiopian bloggers are so divided. It is apparent even the responses to this piece of my blog will confirm what is known a long time ago:  Ethiopian bloggers are still very, very divided society. And the divisions are mainly along ethnic lines, almost 7 years after we used to blog on Ethiopian issues. Besides the Ethiopian government has been effective in ruthlessly suppressing the private press let alone the social media.


Students’ riots and its historical significance in Ethiopia’s revolution

In modern history of Ethiopia, universities and colleges had been the historic center of revolutionary cultures and served as the engine shaping the 1974 Ethiopian revolution and resulted in the collapse of the Solomon dynasty. More than any other Ethiopian society students especially university students matter to instigate revolutions. When they are forceful they frame the country’s politics. When they are obsessed with themselves and with trivial matters the country becomes prey to governments. I believe now they are not capable of political revolutions. To put in nut shell- sorry for my being so pessimist – for the time being I do think Ethiopians have Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad Bouazizi.

Ethiopia‘s Current Climate

Ethiopia’s government is getting on and by some accounts the ruling party is suffering from high number of party members with great desire for a position in the government posts. But every political cell and military apparatus in the country supports the government. Beside this the regime has the support of some of the population in both urban and rural regions of Ethiopia, particularly government workers who make their living from it. Yes there are countless Ethiopians who want to see a regime change but we are really, really far to see new, coordinated nationwide initiatives of social media driven revolutions. Simply put we are not yet there. If we look at the heart of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, it is clear that the economy and many multifaceted factors are stirring beneath the surface of Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. It is apparent that there are similar situations in Ethiopia. And social media initiated revolutions in these countries have caught the imagination of people in Ethiopia and it is unreasonable to assume that it has passed Ethiopia by. Indeed, it was very much there until the government suppressed it for example the post 2005 election protest of Addis Ababa, and it is unlikely to have gone away.

As a conclusion

Some form of free access to internet specifically to facebook and other social media is as important as other economic problems; if the uprising like that of Egypt and Tunisia is to be taken seriously. It is certainly not clear how significant the present, little facebook users in Addis Ababa, whether they are using facebook or other social media for political activism. At this point, however, anything out of the ordinary on social media of Ethiopians must be taken seriously, if for no other reason than because this is a period of social media revolutions , social media currently matters more than most form of traditional media, and Ethiopians are changing in using social media.

Therefore, the uprising in Egypt and Tunisia is significant for no other reason than that it happened and represents despotic leaderships, hyper inflation, unemployment and more importantly the emergence of the social media to communicate public frustrations and coordinate public demonstrations. While such feature will be inevitable in prospect in Ethiopia but not possible in foreseeable future. This is rather a warning, for the ruling government. I strongly believe social media increases the possibility of coordinated actions in the future.


ETV’S white foreigners’ interview on occasions like “Timket” epitomizes nothing but messed up identities

Anyone who reads this post please tell me what has interviewing white foreigners got to do with building “brand new image” of Ethiopia. What is so pleasant about asking a certain white dude on primarily Ethiopian festivity? If you have noticed some of the questions from ETVjournalists” goes like “Is this your first time to be in Ethiopia?” “What did you observe?” “What difference did you see if this is your second time in Ethiopia?” Year in year out same questions with several white interviewees. By the way, I have nothing against white interviewees.

OK, we are distinct country in our traditions, cultures and history but every country is different on their own. And I know, media houses like ETV may have interview with whomever they want, but come now, after all it was “Timket” and many of Addis dwellers dress up to symbolize their cultural heritages and pledged their allegiance to– the Red, Yellow & Green flag of Ethiopia and surely they must at least have a chance to reflect their passion on their holiday on the national television not tourists.

I believe the essence of presenting white peoples interview on the national television on the occasions like “Timket” is an exhibit of admiration of what is foreign. For me it is an exertion of journalists who want to identify themselves with something that is regarded as “better testimony for good image of Ethiopia”. Here the biggest challenge comes to the picture: What is better? Better than what?  “Who can be the witness for our own holiday other than ourselves” These journalists give a lame reason of building brand new image of Ethiopia for interviewing white people. I am boldly labeling this as an attempt to adopt confused methods of image building and confusing foreign identities and cannot relate to any of public relation activities that would help to build a brand new image of Ethiopia. The journey for brand new image of Ethiopia is a long trip that will have to take many factors.

I have observed that there is a movement (though it looks artificial) towards appreciating what is local, what is ethnic and what is indigenous, and this is observed on a public occasions like “Timket”. ETV should take the advantage of this movement to capitalize on its quest for brand new image of Ethiopia.

I do not think brand new image of Ethiopia will be built by something trivial — such as asking opinions of white foreigners about “friendly people of Ethiopia”, or “the good weather of Ethiopia” or interviewing foreigners about ethnic, indigenous or religious celebrations such as “Meskel” or “Timket”. For me these acts are indications of messed up identities and adoration of white witnesses. What do you think?


A Program on BBC 4 regarding amazing methods of Ethiopian calculation ends up making a glorious mess

The story of amazing methods of ancient Ethiopian calculation first broke on BBC 4, and this story led Addis Admass to write a story titled ‘’Ethiopians claimed to be the inventors of computers,” but a genuine look at the documentary can construct magnificently different conclusion

The writer took a brief conclusion of a four minuet report which reads as follows “It is this system (methods of Ethiopian calculation) that powers today’s’ computers…… The solution they (Ethiopians) came up with is central to the way we live today. The ways they perform that calculation is almost exactly the same with the working method of a computer. Amazingly it seems centuries before the invention of computers Ethiopian traders crack the code that lies behind the modern the age

The article in the newspaper has tried to present this brief conclusion of a four minute documentary in a positive light, or distract the reader from the fact that we Ethiopians never invented computer. Here is the video for those who have not seen the video.

This is a classic example of how popular science is often triumphalist, presenting simple facts as a set of completed answers, when in reality much of what gets published makes mess,

For me this report is just spin. But I am not saying that this method of ancient Ethiopian calculation is not appreciable. I am saying claiming to have invented computer however requires a bigger research and some serious investigation.

I believe there is no enforcement to believe for any of this claims, everyone is free to ignore it, and commonly enough – as with newspapers, politicians, and quacks – uncomfortable facts are cheerfully spun away. But how long will Ethiopians continue to be the first in every innovation?


How much do you care for your online friends?

Just on the Ethiopian Charismas day, while checking my facebook page I recognized that a certain prominent Ethiopian figure was online on facebook and I wished him merry charismas but he did not reply I tried him one more time but he never said thank you. This made me ponder the following questions

Why would I come to be a friend of people whom I have never met? Do I really care for my online friends?  Can online friendship is as meaningful as one in the offline world?

For me online friendships can carry great weight though I have come across with some discourteous online friends as the one I encountered last Friday. Basically internet has revolutionized the nature of friendship, certainly in my experience. Now, the vast majority of my social interactions (be it with closer or distant friends or work colleagues) are electronic, via email, text, chat, Skype or Facebook.

Actuality, right now, apart from going to classroom or to my bed all of my interactions with other human beings are in electronic form. Whenever I walk I listen music or downloaded podcasts trough my earphones. I watch soccer on television. Or enjoy some movie on my laptop. My days are dominated with screens of many kinds. IPod, laptop or a television.

As an academician who has some understanding  on theories of interpersonal communication I know  there are times when a face-to-face conversation would be nice, but in the case of friends who live in the Netherlands or USA, that’s  impossible at least for our age. Who knows in the future?

However many people are critical of this kind of screen dominated life. Some have gone to the extent of arguing against social media like facebook. These people consider the likes of facebook as nothing but  e-gossip. They usually cite facebook users as e-gossipers and lovers of mubo jumbo. I admit I sporadically find myself going through my list of online friends and thinking who the hell is this person. I might spend some time by chatting some petty staff with someone who is in the other corner of the planet. But these people’s presence in my world has a deep value.

I think it is very dreadful to completely rule out the possibility of having online friends. How many of us judge others, not on the opinions they express, but on their physical appearance? Online interactions may occasionally be suggestive of street irritation in the way that the cover of anonymity permits some to throw basic courtesy out of the window like the one I mentioned on my anecdote, but they also free us from the burden of judgment according to race, age, weight, sex, dress, and accent and, by extension, social class. On what do you base your online friendships?


Who cares about dead newspapers’ websites?

Reading news contents amongst Ethiopian online newspapers is a nuisance. The local dailies and weeklies printed newspapers are in even bigger mess as they never update their content regularly. I know this because I am a news groupie and I would rather buy or rent the likes of Addis Admass and Sub-Saharan Informer on street from vendors than reading them online. I haven’t found similar progress of news on the newspaper and on their online version in ages.  I even cancelled some of the papers from my favorite pages and I am sucker for convenience. But do not be misguided that I am not requiring them to do some shovelware journalism.

My relation with online newspapers went something like this: on 2006 I started to read some Ethiopian newspaper online I used to have a fleeting look at some of the pages and their headlines. When these newspapers went online, they used to inform me some good staff right there (Addis Admass is an example)  or they used to refer to something covered on other websites, radio and or television. Sometimes, they used to have some attention grabbing headlines, which had cause me to go to the next links for details.

But these days when I go to the main Ethiopian newspapers sites (with the exception of the Reporter and Addis Fortune) and browse through what interests me it is becoming tough to get some new info on their sites. It is rather easy to get the breaking news via facebook or my RSS feed. When I find an interesting story online which has something to with Ethiopia, I can read it and click through immediately to read other sources of information not Ethiopian newspapers websites.

On the rare occasion I do check on the websites of a newspaper like Addis Admas, I am always left feeling disappointed. The quality of the website and their online reporting is shocking, I don’t like their story mix, their news is not news as it is not updated at least in accordance with their weekly edition and there isn’t much else. Most importantly news is never updated online as often as the story requires .Beside these I cannot get every single piece of relevant information online that is available in a newspaper.

I am not asking to get every content for free and I do understand the pressure of operating a newspaper in Ethiopia but there must be some sort of standard for carry on their online presence. I think this is an adequate amount of problem not to click on local online newspapers. I do believe these local online newspapers will not manage a click. If they do only because internet usage is low in Ethiopia and because people living outside Ethiopia are really interested in Ethiopia’s matter even it is old. But consider this: the people who read the paper are the people who are most likely going to become internet users, if they are not ones already. Do you think these pages will manage a click? I do not think so.

I do urge you local online newspapers the next generation of potential newspaper readers is growing up with facebook as their main communication forum. You’d better start adapting it.

Online newspapers can be used to create a very targeted, efficient and result-driven campaign that would bring measurable and clear results, spread over days. And, once again, just because the target audience does not yet have access to the internet, it does not mean that it never will.

On every Saturdays I remember how people were hungry for well-reported and relevant news of Addis Neger.

I believe that never change for http://www.addisnegeronline.com/ Addis Neger folks are smart to divert their newspaper readers to online readers.

Though it is tough to access addisnegeronline.com from Ethiopia I have enjoyed reading it along with other blogs because I know the way of opening the can. Do you want me to tell you this?  No, no, I am not going to tell you these ways as I do not know who is reading this piece.

Anyway to get back to my point: just because local online newspaper readers are not as many as newspapers readers offline does not mean that the media company needs to holdup updating their websites . But this must change. It must get online, build strong presence and grab markets share there while it still can. What do you think?

Blogs Vs.Facebook

There were exiting news of blossoming of blogging in Ethiopia but new statistics show that the big bang of blogging activity that began in Ethiopia around 2005 is in the stage of dying away.

Thanks to Afrigator, a South African based blogging aggregator; it is now possible to measure the concentration of blogging in Ethiopia though all blogs are required to be registered on the aggregator.

The total number of Ethiopian blogs linking to Afrigator this time around (January 1 2011) is only 16. Except a blog of myself and few others almost all of them are- blogs from outside Ethiopia. Comparatively during this period more than four thousand blogs linked to Afrigator — with more than 99% being from the rest of Africa. This suggests that, while the rest of Africa mainly South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya are frontrunners in blogging Ethiopia lags far behind in the number of blogs. Beside this there are indications that access to these few blogs is far more limited to Diasporas living in Europe and the United States. Though I found it difficult to substantiate it with statistics it quite evident that Ethiopian blogs recorded less page views in 2010, compared with the rest of Africa. Given that Ethiopia represent only two percent of the blogs the fact that it represents less traffic is a clear pointer to the much-debated digital divide between Ethiopia and the rest of the continent.

During 2005 seemingly from nowhere, in the middle of the year, the number of blogs and media attention around those blogs exploded into the mainstream consciousness. It was all so sudden; it naturally carried all the lightweight baggage of a new fashion. A snapshot of this blossoming of Ethiopian blogosphere neatly captured in a BBC News article entitled African bloggers finds their voice.

At beginning the majority of Ethiopian blogs seem to stay clear of tackling hard-hitting issues of politics, but other kinds of blogs like travel and adoption blogs start to converse nowadays. During 2005 election it was not surprising to see one major overriding theme in Ethiopian blogs. But slowly, slowly Ethiopian bloggers come to terminate their enterprise in blogging. What could be the reason? I suspect facebook

Though facebook dominated by plethora of personal information is growingly become the favorite online forum for most Ethiopians. The November-December tipping point for facebook in Ethiopia, chronicled in this blog, also appeared to be the period during which facebook began to gain grip in the urban society of Ethiopia. Of course facebook does not offer a broadened option to write but it is growing very fast It is rather dominated by posting information on oneself on facebook in the form of selected photographs and textual descriptions of likes and dislikes regarding movies, clothes, cosmetics, friends, food, books and more. There are no as such serious issues on facebook for the time being at least. I am sure they will appear in their multitude forms: party, ethnic and other forms of politics. Of course there are some already.

Do we really have an Ethiopian “Fashion Industry?”

I do not think so! And I am always puzzled to comprehend the cultural dynamics of what is called the fashion industry particularly the idea of having beauty contest to recover the image of our country.

I believe there is nothing new in saying that the so-called Ethiopian fashion scene constitutes the minutest percentage of the population who are residing mainly in Addis Ababa. If we look at designers, models, ‘fashion journalists,’ and audience members for fashion shows and beauty contests in this country they have nothing in common but money. I am daring to say that their activities carry not a bit of social relevance whatsoever. Once I remember a journalist called Gezahegn Kera has told them in public that they cannot create a good image of a country with fashion, modeling and beauty contest. He told them that their actions are nonsense in this regard.

For me as well they’re quite a useless bunch and I am sure after reading this they would be thinking the same way about me as well. Fair enough.

Whatever they might have labeled me as they did to Gezahegn Kera, I do have the right to raise a few questions when the enthusiastic fashionestas – who entirely exist in quixotic conditions   – go on to make statements to the effect that they are ‘defying an Ethiopian image of poverty and famine how their events have more to do with matters of business and economics than mere entertainment.

Well, in no way are these flashy events, that enjoying heavy coverage in Ethiopian print media, similar to a bunch of cosmetic ladies and nowadays even men are joining them in standing up to an Ethiopian image of poverty. But the reality is this image of poverty and famine has always been around.

These stylish city dwellers, about whom we are forced to read and see so much of in our magazines  like’ Kumneger’Tsegereda’ or ‘Rose’ and on ETV as well, are actually quite a miniature lot. Their existence in the public eye is mainly due to the fact that our media is the duplicate of western cheap media culture. A media culture which focuses on life of super stars of many kind of entertainment.

I’m afraid   these fashionistas   have always been around even during the imperial regime though I am not sure about Derg regime and never have they managed to exhibit the kind of relevant image that is required for reviving the country’s cultural health.

I believe this can only be done through the aggressive encouragement of things like popular theatre and cinema, indigenous folk music of all the languages that are spoken in this country (I believe this is going forward  in a right direction with some exceptions), literature that clearly reflects the political, economic and social challenges of the times, and debates on national identity involving accomplished intellectuals, historians, politicians (living here and abroad) and the masses, and not papaya-faced and mango headed cranks camouflaging as talk show hosts or ‘experts’ on TV. What do you think?