In his recent piece for the journal African Affairs, CGHR Associate Dr Iginio Gagliardone discusses the relationship between new media and the Ethiopian government's state- and nation-building efforts. The piece, 'New Media and the Developmental State in Ethiopia', is available to read online; the abstract can be found below.
The Ethiopian government, led by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has developed one of the most restrictive systems for the regulation of new media in Africa. So far, most discussion has focused on the measures employed by the EPRDF to prevent the Internet and mobile phones from becoming tools for opposition forces to challenge the regime. Much less attention has been paid to the strategies pursued in order to make new media work in support of the government's ambiguous but ambitious attempt to make Ethiopia a developmental state. Examining the period between 1991 and 2012, this article explores how the EPRDF gradually moved from a simple strategy of information control towards incorporating new media into its state- and nation-building efforts through large-scale projects such as Woredanet and Schoolnet. Larger trends at the international level, including the securitization of development and the growing significance of China in Africa, have legitimated the use of the media to serve development outcomes, and have facilitated the spread of the kind of ‘developmental media system’ that has emerged in Ethiopia. The article concludes that only by engaging with these systems on their own terms and “going with the grain” can we develop a better understanding of how they work and how to change them.