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Ethiopia: Activists use new media to ensure free and fair election

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia, Citizen Media, Elections, Technology

As Ethiopians are preparing themselves for parliamentary election [1] scheduled for May 23, 2010, two organisations are using new media to ensure free and fair elections. Ethiopia CommonBorders [2], a community-based organisation, uses social networking site, Facebook, as part of its campaign while Ethiopia Vote Monitor [3], a pilot project by Ethiopian civil society organisations uses a web-based platform to collect and visualise election information on a map.

CommonBorders Facebook page is called, “Support a Free and Fair Election in Ethiopia.” [4] Its page already has 2,904 members and 23 topics [5]for discussion have been posted so far.

This is how the organisation describes its mission [6] on its official website [7]:

Ethiopia CommonBorders is a community-based, non-partisan, non-profit society that coordinates electoral observer delegations. Ethiopia CommonBorders provides its members with the unique opportunity to experience and learn about democratic processes and the political environment in Ethiopia while serving as electoral observers.


Do you expect free and fair election with existing poletical system and channel?
, the group asks its Facebook members.

A sample of responses from its members:

True indeed, we are under the control of a stalinist tribal junta with no tolerance for the will and wish of the people – here is a link regarding the 2010 “elections”

there's a clear definition of democracy and the concept is simple! The TPLF version instilled in Ethiopia is a fascism – nothin like democracy.

There won't be a free and fair election for a bit long time, and there wasn't any. The miracle is one- we have to push all oppositions to go participate and show us what they dreamed for us, with all the fraudulent vote count they get. then after our question will begin– we will tell them to fuck off. but till then it is not time for us to side to any of them. For example, OLF had around 60% of the paliament's seats in 93, but when “One nation One Army” was signed they left the parliament hence they wanted their military unit to be active and that was not allowed. Just telling you– this illusion that they brought in the past 4 decades has to be analyzed before we react to ideas.

But in Ethiopia particularly, the current regime continues to be buttressed by the support of the US in their war against an ideology so to see a change in government isn't likely right now. It's going to take the people fighting against this establishment.

I look at this Ethiopian government in disgust personally, dismantling the ICU in Somalia and justifying it with fear mongering propaganda when it was a fear of conflict over Ogaden. Bottomline is that there can't possibly be free and fair elections if this system isn't even inclusive to all it's people.

Ethiopia Vote Monitor [3] intends to use citizens reporting for a more transparent and accountable democracy:

Its About Us [8] page reads in part:

Thanks to the power of free and open source technology we can gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map and timeline.

Ethiopia Vote Monitor is a pilot project led by Ethiopian civil society organizations, with technical support from Digital Democracy utilizing the Ushahidi.com system.

The project intends to disseminate key information and messages to field workers, facilitate communication between groups, collect data that can be mapped on a public site, rapidly spread news of violence and abuses to the international community, advocacy groups, and key actors on the ground through new media.

Ethiopia Vote Monitor uses Ushahidi [9] platform. Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, is a website that was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. The platform is free for any person or organization who want to collect and visualize information.

Citizens can report election related incidents to Ethiopia Vote Monitor by sending an email to ethiopia@digital-democracy.org, by sending a tweet with the hashtag/s ethiopia or ethiopiavotereport or by filling a form at the website.

The project is also [10] on the popular microblogging site, Twitter [11].

The last elections in 2005 were followed by bloody clashes [12] between riot police and opposition supporters and arbitrary arrest of opposition politicians. There are fears that the situation might be even worse this year. An opposition candidate, Gebru Asrat, was stabbed to death [13] in March this year. Opposition politicians claimed that his killing was part of politics of intimidation and harassment before election day.