Monday's official confirmation of Ethiopia’s Prime Minster Meles Zenawi's death, sparked reactions among social media users in Tanzania, especially after tweets started appearing from what some thought was Zenawi's official Twitter account.
In all started when Zitto Zuberi Kabwe, a Member of Parliament from Tanzania, sent this tweet:
@zittokabwe: My condolences to the people of #Ethiopia following the death of Prime Minister #MelesZenawi Hope for a democratic developmental Abbysinia
Susan Mashibe replied:
@iMashibe: @zittokabwe is this really true this time? Cc @SwahiliStreet
And Swahili Street concluded:
@iMashibe announced on ETV. It's official @zittokabwe
Chambi Chachage tweeted a blog post titled ‘Meles Zenawi's Farewell to Young African Leaders‘ from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) on 16 November 2006, which was retweeted by others.
And then suddenly @PMMelesZenawi intervened, apparently ‘tweeting after death’ to Tanzania's Member of Parliament Zitto Kabwe:
@PMMelesZenawi: @zittokabwe please be better than I was. Not fun up here I am preparing 2 pay for some of this http://www.ethiopianreview.net/index/?p=42267
This tweet to Zitto Kabwe, who has more than 29,000 followers, caused a stir, setting off speculation- was @PMMelesZenawi hacked by opponents?
@zittokabwe: @hmgeleka this account seems not to be genuine of recent @pmmeleszenawi
Zitto Zuberi Kabwe concluded, and continued:
@zittokabwe: @AnnieTANZANIA tweets by @PMMelesZenawi not genuine. Ignore them. Account hacked by his opponents
Omar Ilyas backed it:
@omarilyas: This account is fake from the begining @PMMelesZenawi – a parody type like that one of @Julius_S_Malema @zittokabwe
However, the debate on Meles Zenawi’s legacy continued ranging from both admiration for Meles ability to ‘get the job done’ to the widespread awareness that Meles was not a democrat:
The fake (supposedly hacked) @PMMelesZenawi Twitter account, which managed to set off the debate mentioned above, also raises the question of why many public figures and politicians in Africa haven’t had their Twitter accounts verified.
Reportedly, in many cases Twitter takes too long, or simply never respond to requests for verifying accounts.
Twitter is extremely popular in Tanzania as a tool for exchanging views and debate and also as a platform for breaking news. Twitter, however, can easily be abused as in @PMMelesZenawi case, and can also cause confusion and suspicion with regard to authenticity and reliability of sources.
Meles Zenawi was President of Ethiopia from 1991 to 1995 and later became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 1995 following the general elections that year.