Ethiopia: Menace of Hate Speech in Ethiopian Politics

"Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law" states the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that entered into force in March 1976.

The world that witnessed a number of discriminatory practices and hate speech and some have gone beyond and ended up as genocide. The genocide against the Jews during World War II, which led to the massacre of six million Jews and the 1994 Rwandan genocide that took the lives of an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis within 100 days are a showcase to the extent where hate speech could lead.

Hate and dangerous speech is a serious and growing problem in Ethiopia. It has contributed to the growing ethnic tensions and conflicts across the country that have created more than 1.4 million new internally displaced people in the first half of 2018 alone.

What are the basic causes for the inception of hate speech in Ethiopia?

Bekele Gerba,Vice President of Oromo Federalist Congress and Lecturer at Addis Ababa University said that narrations that aimed at using diversity for political purpose is the main cause.

"Hate speech emanates from the nature of political system that prevailed in the country over a period of 50 years. It is interrelated with the question of identity that prevailed in the country for decades."

He noted that "instead of opening a dialogue based on ideas, policy and related issues, hate speech is based on the dichotomy between polarized identification of "us" and "them". It is based on seeking support on various political issues for unhealthy public mobilization."

The social media particularly facebook has become a battleground for these polarized opinions.

Bekele noted that those who use the social media clandestinely use the outlet to spread the spirit of hatred.

Engineer Yilikal Getinet former Chairman of Semayawei Party, recognizes the proliferation of hate speech in Ethiopia and said " hate speech on any media or forum will do a great disservice to the unity of the country and relations among the peoples of Ethiopia."

He said "the members of the political system including the government, the media and civil society organizations have a greater responsibility to curb hate speech of any form"

Speaking to ENA on the socio-psychological origins of hate speech, Dr. Abebaw Minaye, Chairman of the Institute of Psychology at Addis Ababa University identifies several sources of the origin of hate speech, "from the perspectives of Social Psychology, hate speech originates from prejudices, stereotypes, categorization, biases, labeling and brainwashing and framing"

Dr. Abebaw specifically mentioned group categorization and the "us" and "them" divisive outlook among the peoples of Ethiopia as one of the causes of the social origin of hate speech.

Scare resources, land in most cases also contributed for the escalation of hate speech in Ethiopia, Dr. Abebaw said.

"The competition among communities on scares resources in administrative border areas for instance tend to trigger hate and hate speech among members of different communities and peoples," she said.

Hate speech according to Dr. Abebaw, is systematically organized for manipulative purposes.

Engineer Yilkal and Dr, Abebaw share similar views on the manipulative nature of social media in either spreading false information or distorting available information.

Dr. Abebaw also suggests some solutions to the proliferation of hate and hate speech. He noted "The government and all media outlets need to proactively disseminate verified information to the public before the social media as frequently as possible. The government should also come up with media policy and law as a means of checking hate speech. Checks and balances should be maintained in disseminating information to the public."

In one of the public speeches he made on a dialogue called Addis Wog Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged the benefits of social media in disseminating information. However, Abiy said responsible use should be promoted in order to curb hate speech and fake information.

Considering the increased danger from irresponsible use of facebook, the Prime Minister said the government is discussing with facebook Co on the issue.

The country has formulated a bill aimed to control hate speech on social media and has tabled for discussion. Along with the fight against hate speech, it is important to open platforms and opportunities for the public to express their grievances and discuss critical issues, beyond social media.

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