ETHIOPIA |The Ethiopian Blogosphere
By Katherine Jacobsen
Mohammed Ademo was imprisoned for political activism during his college years in Ethiopia. He left the country in late 2002 to study at the University of Minnesota-Duluth; he’s currently a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
In 2008, Ademo began the blog OPride which aggregates news about Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa and the ethnic Oromo community in Ethiopia and the diaspora. The blog also carries original reporting from sources inside Ethiopia. One recent story based on local sources described a fire that has burned in an Ethiopian coffee forest for weeks, sparking charges by diaspora activists that the government set the blaze to clear land for development projects. OPride’s articles, published in English and Afaan Oromo, are blocked by government controls and are accessed via proxies.
Daniel Berhane is a lawyer in Addis Ababa. He started his blog, danielberhane.com, in April 2010, which boasts at the top of the home page that it is “The leading blog in Ethiopia.” Three other writers are listed as contributors, two inside Ethiopia and one in Canada. The site aggregates news and creates original content about the Horn of Africa, as well as Kenya and Egypt. In an interview, Berhane said it is important to cover issues that do not appear in Ethiopia’s mainstream media. But he said he is frustrated by many of Ethiopia’s diaspora bloggers, whom he believes are overly critical of the government. On his own blog, he says he “aspires to provide rational viewpoints and inputs for constructive dialogue under the theme ‘the truth lies between the extremes.’
Eskinder Nega, former newspaper editor and frequent blogger, is serving an 18-year prison sentence in Ethiopia for alleged terrorist activities. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called the case against him a “travesty of justice.” Eskinder has been a steady critic of the Ethiopian government for years. His most recent imprisonment came after he compared Ethiopia’s 2005 pro-democracy protests with the Egyptian uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. According to an open letter from CPJ to the head of the African Union, “the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Ethiopia has violated international law by imprisoning Eskinder for the ‘peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression.’”
The Ethiopian press community created a blog, http://www.freeeskindernega.com/, to campaign for Nega’s freedom.
Jawar Mohammed is the creator of Gulèlè Post, published in Afaan Oromo and Amharic as well as English. The blog primarily aggregates articles in these languages; it is blocked in Ethiopia.
Mohammed grew up in Ethiopia and moved to the United States in 2005 to attend college. He is currently a graduate student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Mohammed started Gulèlè Post, because he wanted to edit his own content. Gulèlè Post takes content from news organizations for breaking news and also uses original content. Mohammed said he distributes his content using primarily through Google Feed Burner. While the vast majority of Ethiopians do not have access to the Internet, Mohammed hopes to reach both dissidents in his country and foreign policy makers inside the United States. He cited the example of a recent Ethiopian protest against forced displacement of the ethnic Amhara, which took place in Washington D.C. as an example of the way in which blogs can mobilize the diaspora community.
Ephrem Eshete is a Washington D.C.-based Ethiopian journalist who writes for Adebabay, an Amharic language blog that focuses on politics. Eshete, an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, also runs a blog on religion. Both blogs are in Amharic, rather than English. Eshete says he want to reach an audience beyond the educated elite — though like other diaspora blogs, his are blocked in Ethiopia. Eshete posts some of his material on his Facebook page, which he says is viewable within Ethiopia, and thus gets around government censors.
Eshete was a journalist for an Orthodox newspaper in Ethiopia, Semea Tsidk, until 2002, when he moved to Germany to work on a doctorate in classical Ethiopian literature. In an interview Eshete said that his stay in Germany was the first time he had easy access to the Internet. He began to blog on religious topics. He returned home briefly in 2006 and was struck by growing tensions between Christians and Muslims in western Ethiopia. In his writings about the tensions, he faulted the government for not adequately responding. Eshete returned to Germany, then went to the United States to seek political asylum. He published a book in Amharic, “The Rise of Muslim Extremism in Ethiopia,” and continues to blog on the subject.
Eshete’s political blog includes reports from correspondents inside Ethiopia, as well as other diaspora bloggers. He also publishes pieces that he writes, with no byline, for Addis Guday, a magazine based in Addis Ababa. Much of the content is opinionated. Eshete says Ethiopian media are highly polarized now, with government outlets at one end and diaspora bloggers at the other — a self-defeating situation, he says, but one that isn’t likely to change soon.
Elias Kifle is the publisher and editor of Ethiopian Review, an English and Amharic language blog that is currently blocked in Ethiopia. He left Ethiopia in the 1980s to continue his higher education in the United States. Kifle currently works as a writer.
In 1992, Kifle founded the Ethiopian Review, a print publication published in both the United States and Ethiopia. In an interview, Kifle said the goal was to create an exiled publication that would seek to report independently, something that was not possible inside Ethiopia’s restricted media regime. In 2000, the Ethiopian Review ceased print publication and went completely online.
The Ethiopian government has convicted Kifle of terrorism with a sentence of life in prison in 2007 and again in 2011; in both cases, Kifle said that the government was trying to discredit his work as a journalist and pro-democracy advocate. Kifle said the government has arrested some of his family members still living in Ethiopia, as a way to get back at him. At least five Ethiopian Review reporters working insdie Ethiopia have been brutalized or imprisoned for their work, and many other members of Kifle’s staff have stopped writing over the years out of fear of government retaliation.
“It is very difficult to be just a journalist in the Ethiopian community because you are working for freedom of the press and for your human rights,” Kifle said. As a result, the line between advocate and journalist in Ethiopia is frequently blurred, he said.
Jefferson Mok, Katherine Jacobsen, Ngozi Onouha and Alexandra Katsoulis reported on Ethiopia