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Greg Dorey


Part of UK in Ethiopia

29th September 2015

Social Media & Ethiopia: a discussion with some top ‘influencers’

Digital Diplomacy is a key part of our work in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We are encouraged to use social media and become closer to our audiences, to engage with and listen to them – it helps us reach a much wider range of stakeholders than through traditional methods of diplomacy. I started using Twitter last October and it’s been a great learning experience for me. My account @GregDoreyFCO has approaching 2,000 followers, to whom I am grateful, most of them from Ethiopia. I have very much enjoyed the conversations (even the slightly less friendly ones!) with people who have got in touch with me on Twitter.

Two weeks ago, I invited a few tweeps (some of those who interact with me most regularly) to the Embassy to discuss the social media trends in Ethiopia and to meet them in person (I had meet a few of them previously), which resulted in a stimulating conversation (of the sort that can never fully be replicated by Twitter). I sensed the popularity of social media now in Ethiopia, and people’s excitement about the possibilities it brings. One thing that is gradually changing is that people are posting or tweeting for a specific purpose rather than just issuing the first things that comes into their mind – such as what they are having for breakfast (though plenty of people still do that too and occasionally it’s eye-catching!). They want to create awareness about what really matters to them – or make points about politics, economics and development. Social media also provides an opportunity for people who might otherwise be unable to do so to interact with an international audience. Sometimes these two things have combined and we have seen various Ethiopia issues attract international interest, whether its images like the new Addis Ababa Light Rail that show Ethiopia’s impressive development progress, #JusticeforHanna, or the Zone 9 bloggers case.

One of the issues we discussed is the extent to which conversation on social media can and should be civilised! Unfortunately of course the anonymity of the internet means sometimes people feel they can be rude, nasty or offensive – and many of us had experienced this at some point or another. However, I have to say that generally speaking those who engage with me, are at least polite, even if they disagree with me. To my mind one of the biggest problems with Ethiopian politics is the fact that the debate has often been highly polarised. This is still the case on social media, but perhaps not as much as you would think (we have funded some relevant research by Oxford University and Addis Ababa University to look at this – more on that for another blog). The more we can do to encourage constructive debate, the better.

Although internet penetration has traditionally been a challenge in Ethiopia, there are now 3 million Ethiopian based Facebook and Twitter accounts and 400,000 Ethiopian based LinkedIn accounts according to one of my followers. That is only going to increase further as the economy continues to grow and more and more people have the disposable income to buy computers and smart phones. We also talked about future social media possibilities for Ethiopia – most of us thought these might focus on E-Commerce or online marketing (some entrepreneurs have already started setting up such platforms).

It was a great pleasure meeting these top tweeps. It helped me understand the social media trends, challenges and opportunities in Ethiopia through these platforms much better. Thank you for your time @FrehiwotNG @Hailemelekot @Blena @Tsedale @Elshaday and @eestehiwot and I hope we, and all my other followers, will continue engaging.