detail - Media Programme Sub-Saharan Africa
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Ethiopia, home to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, has had a long history of dictatorship. Censorship was the order of the day. It was only until recently that political bloggers were viewed and treated as enemies of the state with some of them even being arrested for terrorism. That was then, until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power.
Said Christoph Plate, director of KAS Media Africa: “Ethiopia is very important for us, much here reminds us of the democratic awakening in the rest of Africa in the 1990s.”
Discussing the evolution of political blogging in Ethiopia, Zone 9 Collective co-founder Befekadu Hailu, said at the fifth #AfricaBlogging conference, that was organized by KAS Media Africa and brought bloggers from 11 African countries to Addis Ababa in November, that though things have changed a great deal, censorship was still a reality in Ethiopia. The history and mission of Zone 9 is encapsulated in its motto: “We blog because we care!”
Today, Ethiopia stands out for having a blogosphere that is stronger than mainstream media.
Hailu also spoke about his journey as a political blogger – something that earned him a place behind bars where government sought to “re-educate” him (euphemism for brainwashing). #AfricaBlogging members, hailing from English- and French-speaking countries, also got an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of history when they visited Maekelawi investigation centre where Hailu and other political activists were held for speaking out against injustices or chronicling them.
Hailu re-lived the four months he spent at the hellish Maekelawi – where prisoners were tortured and allowed to see sunlight just 10 minutes a day – before being sent to the “re-education centre”.