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  • Nicoletta Fagiolo

4.0 Imperialism and its over use of false equivalence in Ethiopia

7 November 2021 Ethiopians demonstrate in defense of Abiy Ahmed’s government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


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XXI century imperialism seems to be following policies dictated by a worn-out imperialist blue print which mimics similar regime change and balkanization policies world-wide from Libya to Ivory Coast, Syria, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Yemen, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, etc.

Black Agenda Report California-based journalist Ann Garrison writing on the recent Ethiopian crisis in Biden demands Ethiopia’s unconditional surrender on 20 October 2021 speaks of a hybrid warfare waged by the USA and its allies on Ethiopia in favor of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), a war waged through economic sanctions and widely orchestrated disinformation campaigns.[i]

A May 2021 report published by the New Africa Institute, Disinformation in Tigrai Manufacturing consent for a secessionist war, provides a detailed analyses of main stream international press coverage since the start of the war in November 2020, pointing to the many instances where easily verifiable information is instead either misquoted or outright falsified. [ii]

This relentless disinformation campaign, pushed by regime change advocates such as Alex de Waal, William Davison, Matt Bryden, Martin Plaut or Mirjam van Reisen - is then picked-up uncritically by a large part of the main stream media[iii].

Graphic of disinformation network in Disinformation in Tigrai Manufacturing consent for a secessionist war published by the New Africa Institute, 9 May 2021.

In 1991, Mengistu Haile Mariam was toppled by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnic-based political movements in which the TPLF assumed a dominant position. For nearly three decades, from 1991 to 2018, the TPLF maintained a stronghold dictatorship in Ethiopia, best described as ethnic federalism, an oppressive, violent and self-serving system which Eritrean journalist Elias Amare in a recent interview with The Grayzone, How US meddling in Ethiopia & Eritrea is destabilizing strategic Horn of Africa, compared to the South African bantustans.

Abiy Ahmed inherited a poisoned chalice, yet vowed to end Ethiopia’s era of ethnicity-based politics: in December 2019 parties based on regional ethnicities - three constituent parties of the EPRDF, the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), Amhara Democratic Party (ADP) and Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM) - merged into the new Prosperity Party. The TPLF declined to join the newly established party. Numerous attempts at establishing a dialogue with the TPFL were undertaken by the Abiy Ahmed government following their refusal of the reform agenda.[iv]

The new premier launched political and economic reforms with remarkable zeal and record speed, calling for synergic unity – medemer in Amharic –which is now part of the everyday lexicon of Ethiopians. Abiy Ahmed set a new precedent by negotiating the inclusion of former Ethiopian rebels into the national political process on the condition that they disarm.

The TPLF ruling elite, despite its three decades long record of human rights crimes, had been largely left alone to retire to the Tigray region in 2018; the Tigray Regional Council thus sent political shockwaves across Ethiopia when they announced that they would hold regional parliamentary elections, despite the federal government and electoral board having announced the postponement of all elections for a period of maximum 12 months due to the health crisis.[v] On 9 September 2020 the Tigray Regional Council went ahead and organized elections[vi] for the 190-seat regional parliament. The TPFL was declared the winner and subsequently stated it would no longer recognize the federal government.

On 3 November 2020 the TPFL attacked the Ethiopian National defense Force’s (ENDF) Northern Command headquarters in Mekelle, as well as army barracks in Adigrat, Agula, Dansha, and Sero in the Tigray Region. A BBC article, Ethiopia's Tigray crisis: How a soldier survived an 11-hour gun battle, gives a harrowing account of the fate of the Ethiopian National defense Force (ENDF) soldiers attacked and places the number held captive as high as 10,000. Many were sent across the regional border to the Amhara region to join the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, with thousands of others killed or kept in captivity to serve the TPLF war effort.

On 4 November 2020 Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, having up to this point refused the use of a military intervention despite the TPFL’s infringement of electoral due process,[vii] sent troops into Tigray.[viii]

“Ethiopia took legitimate military action in its Tigray province to preserve the country's unity and stability”, the chairman of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat stated following a meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in December 2020 underlying that Ethiopia’s military campaign in its Tigray province was “legitimate for all states.” Despite these pronouncements by the AU and IGAD to this day Ahmed’s military campaign is not read as a necessary law enforcement operation.

Photo reporter Jemal Countess, reporting on the ground recently and speaking to BreakThrough News journalist Rania Khalek in How U.S. Media Whitewashes TPLF Atrocities to Push Regime Change In Ethiopia calls the 3 November attack an outright attempted regime change on the part of the TPLF, which includes the attack and subsequent massacre at Mai Kandra in Amhara on the 9 and 10 November 2020 where hundreds were killed.

This armed aggression is to this day downplayed in main stream corporate media, legitimizing an armed take over as a means for addressing grievances.

The current phase of the war began last June after the government declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew its forces from Tigray. The TPLF, breaking the ceasefire in July, retook Tigray's capital Mekelle. Since the TPLF has continued to launch offensives into neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and triggering accusations of summary executions, the use of children as human shields, forced conscription, as well as ethnic cleansing and genocide.

“Why the US is insisting on this path is beyond me, but their immediate objective seems to be resuscitating or rescuing their longtime puppet and proxy, the TPLF”, comments Elias Amare.[ix]

“The TPLF has declared its intention to march on Addis Ababa, the capital, to overthrow the government. That makes those leaders of the TPLF, not the Tigrayan people, an enemy of the state,” says African political analyst Lawrence Freeman. Freeman, who has recently decided to move to Ethiopia to help counter the massive disinformation campaign against Ethiopia, explains that US and other western government warnings for leaving Addis Ababa in the beginning of November 2021 are a part of US psychological warfare to destabilize the Abiy government and weaken its resolve to fight. He hopes to debunk such operations in real time.

“The TPLF-backed militias do not equate to “Tigrayans”, explains Ethiopian-American and of Tigrayan origin journalist Hermela Aregawi. Aregawi, speaking to journalist from BreakThrough News Rania Khalek, reveals how she was totally disgusted by the brazen bias of mainstream media and took the courageous step of distancing herself from the tight Tigrayan diaspora network which seemed to follow pro-TPFL talking points without ever asking questions on basic facts or events. Aregawi was ostracized by a large part of the Tigrayan diaspora for asking questions.

Together with other leaders in the diaspora in November 2021 Aregawi launched a hashtag campaign #NoMore which has gone viral.[x] "They are calling for “no more” war, “no more” support for TPLF by the US, “no more” disinformation by the mainstream media and “no more” sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. (…)“Under #NoMore, millions of Africans are united on Twitter and ready to challenge deadly US militarism and the Western media narratives that manufacture consent for war on its behalf. We are essentially a roving digital army of peace”, writes Eritrean American medical doctor, writer and activist Simon Tesfamariam who was recently censored on Twitter.

7 November 2021 Ethiopians demonstrate in defense of Abiy Ahmed’s government and against western fake news in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

On 7 November 2021 hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Addis Ababa and other capital’s world-wide denouncing the ambiguous and often violent disinformation campaign by international main stream media targeting the Abiy government, which they perceive as a major factor in fueling divisiveness.

Perhaps the most dangerous tool of 4.0 imperialism is the bothsidesism, the false equivalence which underpins the dominant narrative around this war. Former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in a recent Foreign Policy article denounces this false equivalence and explains that the TPFL are “seeking to manipulate the international community into backing a power-sharing deal that grants it impunity for past crimes and gives it far more future influence over the country than it deserves.”

Jon Abbink, professor of politics and governance in Africa at Leiden University and chair of its Researchers' Assembly of the African Studies Centre, also calls for a shift away from this policy stance: “ demonizing Ethiopia and giving a free pass to the TPLF is doomed to fail because it is a false narrative, one that is prolonging the conflict and increasing the suffering.”(…) too many have still been taken in by the TPLF — mistaking an armed insurgency for a grass-roots movement. This has now led to what I refer to as dangerous and unproductive bothsideism.[xi]

“By embracing moral equivalency where none exists (by treating a terrorist organization as equal to a democratically elected and legitimate government) Western states have undermined their own position”, Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald writes in an article whose title is a warning: Failure to Stand for Democracy in Ethiopia Has Weakened Democracy Worldwide.[xii]

“The fact of the matter is that TPLF faces the united opposition of almost all Ethiopian nationalities. This is because the organization has such a dismal record of governance in the nearly three decades that it was in power (1991-2018). And they do not want a second edition of it”, writes Professor of history at Addis Ababa University and fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study Bahru Zewde.

Published in November 2021 the joint Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) investigation in the context of the conflict in Tigray, covering the period from 16 May to 30 August 2021 established [xiii] that there is no evidence that the Ethiopian government was responsible of genocide, has deliberately been denying humanitarian assistance to Tigray or used hunger as a weapon of war. Yet these unsubstantiated allegations are still repeated by main stream corporate media as well as United States and European Union policy statements.

Calls for an end to the use of false equivalence whose manufactured consent is historically untenable should be encouraged if a viable dialogue is to ensue between western interests and emerging African nation states. ­­


[i] In January 2021 the European Union suspended a budget support for Ethiopia worth 88 million euros ($107 million) giving as the reason the alleged inaccessibility of humanitarian aid for people in need in the northern Tigray region. Three areas of funding were put on hold: €60 million for a program entitled “Ethiopia’s Regional Connectivity and Competitiveness Sector Reform Performance Contract”; €17.5 million for health sector budget support; and €11 million for the “Ethiopia Job Compact Sector Reform and Performance Contract.” On 2 November 2021 President Biden threatened to terminate beginning next year Ethiopia’s access to AGOA-the African Growth and Opportunity Act, designed to allow African nations easier access to American markets. Conservative estimates are that 200,000 workers in Ethiopia, mostly women, directly benefit from AGOA provisions, plus another 800,000 employed indirectly. The EU also sanctioned Eritrea in March 2021. US executive order of 17 September 2021 and new US sanctions in November 2021 target mainly Eritrea for its alleged involvement in the war against the TPFL. The USA accused Eritrea’s army of committing human rights abuses in Ethiopia and on 12 November 2021 the US Treasury Department’s designations targeted the Eritrean Defense Forces and the ruling party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, as well as the Hidri Trust and the Red Sea Trading Corporation, which together run almost every facet of life in the long-isolated country. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed normalized relations with Eritrea after the signing of a peace agreement between the two countries in July 2018, thus ending a long-drawn-out conflict, a success for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

[ii] Main examples of disinformation range from unsubstantiated allegations that the Ethiopian government is blocking communications, humanitarian aid or journalists from entering the Tigray region; inverting perpetrator and victim in the Mai Kandra massacre; Eritrea’s role; omissions on the historical role of the TPFL’s 27-year-old rule and its human rights violations, political oppression, ethnic cleansing and systemic economic corruption or the origins, the casus belli, of the recent military battle.

[iii] Some of the main media outlets and respective names that spread disinformation: Associated Press (Cara Ann); AP (Elias Meseret); Mail & Guardian (Simon Allison); Council on Foreign Relations (Michelle Gavin); Al Jazeera (James Jeffrey) ; CNN (Nima Elbagir, Barbara Arvanitidis and Eoin McSweeney) Voice of America (Salem Solomon); Los Angeles Times (Lucy Kassa); AFP Agence France-Presse, (Robbie Corey-Boulet and Abdelmoneim Abu Idris Ali );The Daily Telegraph (Will Brown) ; New York Times (Declan Walsh); Europe External Programme with Africa (EEPA); daily “Situation Reports” on the Tigray by Eritrea Hub (Martin Plaut) ; BBC Monitoring ; The Africa Report (Patrick Smith); Foreign Policy (Nizar Manek and Mohamed Kheir Omer) International crisis group (Nairobi-based ICG analyst Rashid Abdi and Ethiopia-based ICG analyst William Davison as well as ICG’s staff Dinesh “Dino” Mahtani); Amnesty (Conner Fortune and Amnesty Director of Crisis Response Joanne Mariner) ; World Peace Foundation (Alex de Waal); Sahan Research (Director Matt Bryden and Rashid Abdi); HRW (Horn of Africa Director Laetitia Bader) Executive director of HRW Kenneth Roth stance is particularly disturbing as Roth went as far as blaming the Mai Kandra massacre on “pro-government militias” in multiple tweets before excusing himself for the mistake. cit. in Disinformation in Tigrai Manufacturing consent for a secessionist war New Africa Institute May 2021

[iv] Joint Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), November 2021. Ethiopian government remarks to UN joint inquiry cit. in Annex p 136-37: “As soon as it was clear that TPLF was unhappy with the reform agenda, several attempts were made to bring it on board, including: In December 2018, a call was made for the establishment of a National Reconciliation Commission to resolve simmering differences of national significance and to establish truth and justice through Ethiopia’s rich social capital and indigenous mechanisms of dispute resolution in its legal history; In January 2019, officials from the Ministry of Peace traveled to Mekelle with invitations to engage the Regional Administration in constructive dialogue on the future of our country. However, their attempts were rebuffed; Prime Minister H.E. Dr. Abiy Ahmed, in October of the same year, extended an invitation to the TPLF and its supporters to use the reform as an opportunity to work together, and to refrain from improper and destructive action for the sake of narrow political gains; In November 2019, a group of independent female ambassadors of peace, called “Mothers for Peace”, traveled to Mekelle to plead with the officials of the Regional Administration. Once again, their call was not heeded.; In June 2020, a body made up of 50 of the country’s most senior religious and community elders and representatives went to Mekelle with exactly the same mission as the mothers for peace. They held talks with the Tigray Regional Government and various political leaders in Mekelle. Regrettably, these most revered community and religious leaders were also rebuffed by the TPLF, treating them with the utmost contempt and sending them back with nothing.; In the same month, the same group of elders once again tried to set up a platform for dialogue between the leaderships of the TPLF and the Prosperity Party in Addis Ababa. Initially, both sides assigned their respective representatives to engage in the dialogue, but on the day the talks were scheduled to start, TPLF pulled out, stating that “We don’t want to engage in dialogue with the Prosperity Party and will not recognize the Federal Government after October 05, 2020, nor any laws, regulations, or directives that may be enacted by this Government. As of 5 October 2020, TPLF also recalled those members of the Federal House of Peoples’ Representatives and the House of Federation representing Tigray on grounds that the Region would not recognize any of the federal state organs.”

[v] In March 2020, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) indicated that it would not be able to conduct the elections scheduled for August 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On 6 May 2020, the House of Federation (HoF) sent a request to the Council of Constitutional Inquiries (CCI) seeking an interpretation of the 1995 Constitution regarding the possible postponement of the elections. The CCI proposed the government’s term extension stating that elections should be held within 9-12 months from the time the national and international health authorities and scientists confirm that COVID-19 is no more a public health threat. These recommendations were then adopted by the HoF on 10 June 2020. Timeline cit. in Joint Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), November 2021.

[vi] In addition to TPLF, there were four parties vying in these elections: the National Congress of Great Tigray (Baytona), Salsay Woyane Tigray, Tigray Independence Party (is calling for Tigray to secede and form its own country), and Assimba. However, two opposition parties: Arena Tigray, and Tigray Democratic Party did not participate in the regional election mentioning concerns over constitutionality.

[vii] Abiy Ahmed’s government in response to the unconstitutionality of the elections held cut federal funding, yet was still funding local Tigrayan institutions.

[viii] A United Nations security report dated 6 November 2020 reported by Reuters said Tigrayan forces had seized heavy weapons from several depots. The fighters included members of the national defense force, who killed fellow soldiers in their beds and seized their weapons, Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the government’s emergency task force on Tigray, told Reuters. Link:

[ix] Elias Amare, interview with Ben Norten and Max Blumenthal, The Grayzone,

[x] Websites such as those calling for a stop of the genocide in Tigray - eerily launched the same day the war began on 3 November 2020- which fuel the polarization along ethnic lines, are not censored by Twitter. The misuse of a heavily charged yet legal term such as genocide in this unsubstantiated way is regrettable. Instead, websites calling for an end of war in Ethiopia have been recently censored by Twitter.

[xiii] However, the joint investigation underlines that both sides of the conflict have committed several human rights violations, thus echoing the false equivalence denounced by so many actors on the ground, as well as regional experts mentioned above. Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel wrote in a tweet on the investigation: “it repeats a deceptive narrative about the origins of the conflict – (that the war was unleashed by the federal government!) If the Joint Investigative Team cannot get this fundamental fact right, the credibility of its report cannot be taken seriously by any measure.” Most reports leave out the November 2020 attack of the TPFL on Eritrea.


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