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 al–Bashir.
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.