Contested Space and Self-Determination: The Dynamics of Ethiopia's Digital Space

Item Type Journal paper
Abstract Government-to-people and people-to-people relationships are increasingly mediated and configured by emerging technologies, necessitating new ways of framing and understanding the role of government and digital technologies in the social order. Recent sociopolitical developments in Ethiopia demonstrate how digital platforms have become a space for contested narratives and a division of interests between socioeconomic policies and political views. By addressing the major technologically assisted counterpower movements in Ethiopia between 2015 and 2021, this article examines digitally mediated encounters and configurations that are struggling to produce a specific form of subjectivity. The article examines digitally mediated encounters and the patterns of the relationships among main actors in the digital space—users, the government, and platform technologies—through the lens of the network theory of power. The article problematizes the deployment of state surveillance, rulemaking and regulatory leverages, and the gatekeeping role of platform technologies in modulating and suppressing the emergence of a self-determined critical mass. As a remedial approach to addressing the risks inherent in intersecting state–corporate configuration and surveillance, the article proposes a broadly defined yet context-specific right to privacy that enables self-development, protects a socially and culturally constructed emergent self, and encourages the capacity for self-determination. To analyze the right to privacy as a remedy, the study uses a critical legal analysis of privacy rights with a focus on the 1995 Ethiopian Constitution. Throughout the analysis, it seeks to highlight three overarching arguments that have relevance beyond the specific case of Ethiopia. First, it challenges the assumption that the digital space is a neutral and free space. It argues that digital platforms provide venues for contested and rival narratives and interests, and that not every actor in the digital space has equal leverage over the digital infrastructure. The digital space, therefore, manifests an asymmetric power relationship. Second, it argues that the capacity of citizens for self-development and self-determination is increasingly modulated by expansive surveillance and the regulatory leverage of state and corporate power, which is used to suppress the emergence of critical mass. It, therefore, argues that third, there is a pressing need for the reinterpretation of legal protection for privacy rights as a protection for a socially and culturally constructed emergent self. By addressing this need, protection will be offered to the capacity for self-determination, critical subjectivity and democracy.
Authors Wodajo, Kebene Kejela
Journal or Publication Title Northeast African Studies
Language English
Subjects computer science
social sciences
political science
HSG Classification contribution to scientific community
Refereed Yes
Date 11 October 2022
Publisher Michigan State University Press
Volume 21
Number 2
Page Range 227-264
ISSN 1535-6574
ISSN-Digital 1535-6574
Official URL
Depositing User Kebene Kejela Wodajo
Date Deposited 13 Oct 2022 13:07
Last Modified 28 Feb 2023 12:40


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Wodajo, Kebene Kejela (2022) Contested Space and Self-Determination: The Dynamics of Ethiopia's Digital Space. Northeast African Studies, 21 (2). 227-264. ISSN 1535-6574

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