Mechachal is a collaborative project developed by the University of Oxford and Addis Ababa University to understand the nature and potential of online debates in Ethiopia. Mechachal can be translated from Amharic as “tolerance”, or as one’s awareness of their own social sphere and willingness to accommodate other social spheres that are different from a cultural and religious standpoint.
The project builds on a pilot that took place between October 2013 and February 2014 and focused on online hate speech. The pilot offered valuable insights on the nature and potential risks of messages inciting hatred online, but it also highlighted the limitations of an approach that focuses prevalently on the negative aspects of online communication, with the potential downside of further contributing to creating a sense of instability and insecurity.Taking stock of the experience accumulated in the pilot, Mechachal’s team developed methodology to analyse online debates that are emerging from and targeting Ethiopians in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora.
This report is the first of a seriees of three and examines some key aspects of this approach. In particular, it offers an empirically grounded illustration of how, despite the polarization that has characterized the political environment in Ethiopia, online debates tend to favour engagement across divides, rather than exacerbating existing tensions.