The Troll in Us

The effort to make Ethiopia democratic and just to all is clouded with our inability to hold reasoned arguments with those that espouse differing views, writes Hanna Haile (, an Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker.

Our inability to hold discourses in a manner that can challenge one another is a reflection of what Ethiopia is and a feature of what it struggles to become.

I have been engaged in social media since my late teens. I found the possibility of sharing ideas outside of my realm fascinating. I remember a local social media outlet, exclusive to Ethiopians, that has since gone offline. The aim was to connect.

In one discourse about political reform, an older gentleman wanted to make a point. But the messages he would send to my inbox were full of obscenities and personal attacks. I had to stop responding. It was not an isolated incident; throughout the years, social media has become a breeding ground for people that hide behind a veil and post offensive and rude remarks. Too many of us Ethiopians have turned into trolls.

What happened to discourse, logic and the line between the personal and the impersonal?

Throughout the years, I have become less and less active on social media as I learnt there was no discourse to be had. Social media has made everyone feel like their voice matters yet, also made them believe they are always right.

How can there be discourse when we are all right? Where is the wiggle room for mistakes and growth?

With every like and share, each of us need to be more mindful. When the screen turns dark, we are left with our reflection staring back at us.

In the words of my idol James Baldwin, “people pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.”

This culture of non-constructive discourse goes beyond the realm of social media. We can see it in the conversations we have with strangers and in offices. We are rarely able to go far with conversations without getting clouded in personal affairs of individuals.

It is important to understand that disagreements are not personal attacks on us, and acting defensively is by no means an appropriate reaction.

Life often lands outside the borders of our comfort zone, which includes our ideology. Yet our lack of willingness to consider conflicting ideas and worldviews is a human tragedy.

This resistance is what will always prevent us from moving forward as a nation. It cripples our potential to reach for more.

The oxymoron is the constant conversation on the topic of the lack of democracy in our country and our prescription to laws that hamper the rights of individuals with differencing sexual orientation or political groups with opposing ideas.

Some argue that such beliefs are held by people who are less informed or have not had formal education. But such narrow-mindedness is espoused by PhD holders. We are starved for change, yet disregard the sort that should come from within.

The mentality of justice by mob has become prevalent and is dangerous. It is now more than at any time that the educational system has to stand tall to show us that logic and rationality is the best way forward.

As most of us are keen for a new Ethiopia, we must become the change we want to be. Our society is a reflection of who we are deep down. If we are the type not to feel concerned for the wellbeing of others, our community slowly becomes the same. If we are to successfully preach love, kindness, democracy and justice, we must embody all of that. This also means giving everyone an opportunity to speak with an open mind to listen, not for the sake of responses but for the sake of common understanding.


By Hanna Haile
An Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker.

Published on Jun 30,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 948]



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