Potential of Social Media Toward Seasoned Oromo Political and Civic Engagement

 

Becoming Part of the Social Network Revolution

Social media usage in political and civic engagement in nations like the United States is at an all time high, as shown by the high volumes of tweets and Facebook updates during  the 2012 U.S presidential debates. The first U.S. presidential debate saw  over 10 million tweets, which is the highest of all the  debates. During the third debate on foreign policy, the number of  tweets fell to 6.5 million posts. The numbers tell us that Americans are using social media to support their most favorite candidate(s) and issues. The competition to tweet more among peers in a network was obviously visible.  There were also tens of Oromos in diaspora who cared to  tweet about the American presidential debates.

For clarity,  social media refers to interactive platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and numerous others by means of which individuals and communities create user-generated content or share content created by others.  Broadly speaking, social media are used for personal, professional and business purposes.

A report produced by Pew Research Center on the Internet indicates that the use of social media in political engagement is becoming a common practice in the United States. According to the survey,  4-in-10 American adults use social media for civic and political engagement.  Specifically, current trends show that Americans have put social media to the following specific uses:

…social media users have employed the platforms to post their thoughts about civic and political issues, react to others’ postings, press friends to act on issues and vote, follow candidates, ‘like’ and link to others’ content, and belong to groups formed on social networking sites.

Watch this video on the power of networked individuals and the three revolutions: Internet broadband revolution, the mobile connectivity revolution  and social networking revolution.
One cannot advocate that the Oromo and other Horn of African peoples use the Internet at the same rate or for the same purposes with Americans. The empirical reality such as the low level  penetration of the Internet and low level of literacy and human rights conditions, among other factors, will obviously limit our ability to employ these technologies to their fullest potentials in the homeland–Oromia. Internet penetration in the Ethiopian empire  stands at under one 1 percent –to be exact only 0.5 percent of Ethiopia’s population has access to the Internet. Unfortunately, due to the culture of pervasive surveillance and state’s fear of the Internet and media, beside economic reasons, Ethiopia is officially a technological laggard at the very tail of most African nations.
The rough estimates for Oromos with access to the Internet is  by far less than 0.5 percent because Internet access is limited to urban business, academic and political elites. The vast majority of Oromos live in the rural areas in Oromia and there is no way they can use Twitter or Facebook–they have not even heard about them. The urban Oromo are under constant surveillance even to use these communication technologies for personal networking reasons. The government restricts Oromo’s access to technologies for fear that they will use them in organizing a revolution. For that reason, one can estimate that Internet penetration in Oromia  can be the lowest of all the regions of the empire.  In other words, the Oromo are in digital darkness.

In the diaspora,  although exact figures don’t exist, it is clear that more and more Oromos are globally networked on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. The key questions are:

  • How effectively are  the Oromos in the transatlantic Diasporas using  the Internet to advocate on behalf of their people who suffer  oppression in Oromia-Ethiopia?
  •   To what extent are  social media used in social and civic engagement?
  • If not,  how are we going to try to bring the Oromo quest for freedom, justice and self-governance into the 21st century by motivating more and more people to engage online creatively not only within the group, but beyond with expatriates interested in the Horn of Africa?

Shortcomings in Diasporic Oromo Social Media Utilization 

A random quick key word search (# hashtags) on Twitter and Facebook may reveal that there are only a few Oromo voices on social media who use them for political and civic engagement.  A bulk of communication centers around personal usage, as opposed to professional. Approximately, the majority of young Oromo people don’t seem to be interested in politics or civic engagement for whatever reasons.  In contrast, a search under the key word “Ethiopia” reveals volumes of deliberate promotion of the current or past political status quo.

Strategies Going Forward

We cannot just lament the scarcity and immaturity of Oromo civic and political engagement on social media. There are ways we can increase Oromo presence on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Indeed the volume and quality of information we put out on our people is likely to contribute to making the plight of the Oromo people known to the world. The less we do that, the less we get international attention and the more the Habesha control and dominate  the social media landscape in disseminating their politics of distortion and misinformation. The following are enumerated strategies to raise our social media presence:
  1. More youth and adult need to create Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts;
  2. Youth and adults need to recognize that social media have global impact in opinion-making;
  3. Systematic use of social media is expected from Diaspora  Oromo youth and adults; Currently, key word postings of messages (or where hashtags serve as prefixes to key words in postings, e.g. #Oromo, #Ethiopia #HumanRights) show Oromo absence. When messages are hashtagged under issues such human rights or geographic areas such #Oromia, #Oromo #Ethiopia etc., other users interested in those key words are likely to find them globally and to build on them. If you want your tweets to be globally visible, using key words preceded by the symbol # (hashtag) is key. Examples of  hashtagged key words would be somethings like #Oromo #Oromia #Ethiopia #Africa #HumanRights #SocialMedia and so on. Hashtags help your posts to be stored under  key words of your choice. You can really take time and think of what key words will get your posts the most exposure and what key words are relevant to what you are tweeting or saying. If you are tweeting about puppies, you may put it under #puppy, instead of other irrelevant keywords such as #politics.
  4. Seasoned messaging is required in social media. Messaging is how you say what you say, which will make all the difference in the world in interesting or dis-interesting your audience. Stay on the positive and rational side of messaging where possible.  Combative and less substantive messaging don’t go far with readers of today. So,  one of the best ways Oromos should communicate on social media is to reasonably make their points by supporting it with evidence or argumentation. Oromos should also point out  flaws in others’ attacks on Oromo. Look for vulnerabilities in Abyssinian thinking and respond reasonably by refuting them. Sure there are plenty of those vulnerabilities specially knowing that Habesha elites thrive on fabrications.  We should provoke others with wrong ideas about Oromo into rethinking their positions, instead of always being provoked into anger  and going on the defense. We have the responsibility to correct wrongs;
  5. Youth groups in Oromia must take pictures/videos  of human rights abuses and share them with the media in the diaspora for further international exposure; Qeerroo, the National Youth Movement for Freedom and Democracy, for instance has done an extraordinary job in documenting the arrests of over 200 Oromos at many Irreecha sites in Oromia.  This is clearly a progress because Qeerroo documented human rights abuses in multiple media types: video, pictures,  text and audio mainly. This trend needs to be strengthened in Oromia. The youth in the Diaspora must help Qeerroo get information out by providing various forms of vetted assistance or resources. More work needs to be done in Oromia, where Oromo Muslims are also killed for peacefully standing up for their religious freedoms.
  6. Oromo students and intellectuals must come out and publish articles and opinions on the Internet, including submitting articles to reputable magazines, websites, and newspapers of the West.
  7. A concerted effort must be made to create a few media networks in addition to expanding and creating new blogs and websites.

Closing Notes

These are some thoughts on how to effectively use social media to effect social change. Obviously, the research done does not warrant making all those recommendations. But, it is high time that we turned social media to the Oromo advantage–to engage in civic and political issues creatively in the 21st century.  There is a lot we can learn from social media usage in political and civic engagement in the U.S.  It is hoped that this stimulates more thoughts, and more importantly sparks more actions from readers.   ——————————

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