We are delighted to announce the launch of the second report of the Mechachal project, which explores the nature and significance online debates in Ethiopia.
The report examines how social media have been used in the build up of the 2015 elections, highlighting how different parties, as well as the general public, have engaged in electoral politics online. Contrary to expectations, and to what had been the case in other electoral contests in Africa, as the voting day drew nearer, the tone of the debate became less, rather than more, antagonistic. This result may also be due to the little expectations the elections would have brought any significant change in the political landscape.
The second part of the report explores how an historical event, the Battle of Adwa fought in 1896 against the Italian invasion, and which became a symbol of African resistance against colonialism, was remembered and discussed in social media. The analysis highlighted the deep-rooted tensions and antagonism in a multi-ethnic society. Adwa triggered the reactivation of fault-lines such as the divide between Northerners and Southerners, as well as between Amhara and Tigrayans. While antagonistic statements remained a minority, their proportion increased, when compared with average conversations on Facebook. Also, despite that Facebook allows for a plurality of voices to coexist, this does not appear to have led to greater efforts towards understanding competing claims and interpretations. On the contrary, historical memory was often bent to serve existing ideological positions.