Tigray, the Conflict and the Blurring of the Truth
Dr Ibrahim Srour*
This paper presents how the news about the Tigray war has been manipulated and how the facts concerning this war have been distorted. The paper discusses particular news reporting of the Tigray war in order to expose how news can be geared in a specific way. Concerning the articles and reports discussed herein, the detailed accounts of media and the so called ‘experts’ entrenched news analysis show that either their pen was corrupted, or they were working for the agenda of external forces to have a Trojan horse in Ethiopia, for allegiance to global competitors in the Horn of Africa, and thereby the Red Sea.
Key Terms: Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Tigray war
Africa is a live and vivid continent and so are its territories. Since this is the case, Africa resembles a body which is full of life. In all of its countries such as Ethiopia, various cultural diversities and ethnicities reside where all work harmoniously. The ethnic variety in Ethiopia forms the tight quilt of the country. However, for many decades there has been a destabilization of the country because of the interference of foreign regimes where the hands of the West have tarnished the social, economic as well as the political situation of the country. So, Ethiopia has become a wounded country where Tigray is the place drenching the country in every aspect. As it is said, a body must heal itself by itself. This saying becomes true only when several outside elements are obliterated in addition to some internal plotters.
Subjecting a country to poverty through the siphoning of its economic assets (corruption), nourishing rebels with artillery, and masquerading the malicious intents of controlling the country by humanitarian acts (providing food and safety), all are what lead to a torn country. When someone looks at these and reads what is in the media, one thinks that the country is really in an abyss which could not be salvaged except at the hands of foreign troops and external intrusion in the affairs of the country. However, one must not take everything at face value because news is misleading. Media has always been a tool to serve the powerful, whether politicians or anyone in a control position. According to van Dijk (1996), media is a tool for mind control, in particular, the control of the public or the masses. As such, media acts as the mouthpiece of those in power and screens the news which suits the powerful. Also, media does everything in order to brainwash the public so as to influence as much population as possible in order to gear the opinion of the masses ____________________
*(PhD) Associate Professor Lebanese University Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences Department of English Language and Literature (First Branch)
in a specific direction. In fact, this is what happened in the broadcasting of the Tigray war and reporting it to the world. Several agencies manipulated the news about the war in order to reveal the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as one which is responsible for the atrocities committed in Ethiopia, whether the poverty, the killings, and the economic as well as the social downfall of the country.
Such news agencies neglect the root of the problem which is the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). It is a political party that dominated the political, economic and security affairs of the Country for the last three decades. When it lost its dominance in politics in 2018, after popular protests throughout the Country that brought Dr. Abiy Ahmed to the premiership, its senior leaders who were sought after for their human right abuse and corruption including their role in developing deep state structures, they pulled to their stronghold region-Tigray. And, they started to build and strengthen the special regional army and local Militia in order to attack the Federal Military Command stationed in that region. They even blocked the replacement of new military leaders to the Northern Command, which was a blow to the new Prime Minister. They didn’t stop there. They went further to attack the Northern Command of Ethiopian Defense Forces on the 4th of Nov. 2020. It was said to be building its arms and arsenal each year for any eventualities. Unfortunately, it is this party and its Military that has been supported with all the necessary tools such as communication technologies and finance in order to contribute in creating destability in the country and the downfall of Ethiopia’s government.
To begin with, in a report for the United States Institute of Peace, Verjee (2020) believes that the political order of Ethiopia cannot be settled even if the war ends. This is because of the broader region effect of the war. Verjee states that the Prime Minister has promised that the war will soon end in a week or two, but this was not fulfilled. This is because, according to Verjee, the TPLF has “inflicted significant casualties on federal forces in Raya and to have repulsed federal forces in Mehoni and Zalambessa”. This quote is a declarative with two powerful verbs “inflict” and “repulse”. Such a use portrays the Ethiopian legitimate forces as weak. It also sends a decisive message to the readers that the government is unable to get hold of the situation. Moreover, in his reporting of the government’s strategies concerning the war, Verjee posits that “it is unclear what a successful strategy for the federal government will be if it is able to capture Tigray’s urban centers but cannot command the widespread acceptance of Tigray’s people”. This statement also undermines the power of the government and presents it as a hesitant government. What supports this is the use of the lexical items: the negation ‘unclear’, ‘cannot command’, and the verb ‘widespread’. In his use of the negative expression “cannot command” Verjee implies that the government’s efforts in subduing the TPLF is futile. Also, this holds an implicature that the TPLF is beyond the control of the State and as such it can be a power which can root its existence in the country.
Furthermore, Verjee continues to spread skepticism about the ability of the Ethiopian government to dismantle the war fuse and control the TPLF:
“…it is unlikely that the federal government can entirely subdue the TPLF as a political entity, which retains the support of a substantial number of Tigrayans. Further, the TPLF’s historic capacity to wage guerrilla warfare from the rural mountains of Tigray may not be definitively eroded.”
These words manifest Verjee’s intentions to portray the TPLF not only as a powerful force, but also as a rising political player in the country which could shackle the control of the government.
Verjee also believes that the violence in the country is the result of the government’s inability to spread its domination over the TPLF. As a consequence, this will affect the elections in the country. However, he ends his report by suggesting that there should be negotiations between the TPLF and the government. He even goes further in his suggestion to propose that “discussions must include many more political and civil actors beyond those now in conflict”. Although Verjee introduces such a proposition, he still reveals that the TPLF is equal to the government. In fact, the issue of ‘dialogue’ should not be there in the first place because it shows that the government does not have the basic task force to subdue the TPLF, and as a result, it needs to ‘negotiate’ with the TPLF. Such a use of terms by Verjee, shifts the power from the government forces to the TPLF, and accordingly, the readers of the report will have the mental picture that Ethiopia is governed by a weak political party and because of this, the war is engulfing Ethiopia. In fact, this is a true blurring of the news and a deviation of what is taking place in favour of the TPLF. Such a news is reported in this manner in order to suit the foreign agenda of the West and reveal Ethiopia as a tormented country.
A report on the Tigray war by Forbes, written by Posner (2021), unfortunately portrays the government of Ethiopia as a loose government whose
“…forces have routinely committed rape and other forms of sexual violence against Tigrayan women. The government also has engaged in the widespread forced displacement of the civilian population, and blocked humanitarian assistance to the region, using the denial of food as a weapon of war”.
From the beginning of the news report, the writer reports what the Amnesty International has observed. In this quotation, the government is revealed as the sole perpetrator who is rampaging its own country and resources. This tarnishing of the government is conducted through the use of adverbs such as ‘routinely’. This projects the notion that the government is not new to the committed atrocities, and as such, they are normal acts. Moreover, there is a ‘listing’ of the brutal actions like “rape, sexual violence, forced displacement, blocking of the humanitarian assistance, and denial of food”.
Among these acts, the ‘blocking’ of the assistance and the ‘denial of food’ are harmful notions which play against the government. They besmear it and reveal it as a government which does not abide by the National/International Human Rights and humanitarian laws and violates its citizens’ rights to safety and access to food. Accordingly, this implies that something must be done in order to stop the government from committing these foul deeds. In fact, the purpose of such a news shifts the violent acts from the TPLF to the government to send a hidden message: foreign interference is needed to topple the current government. In addition, what magnifies the war in the eye of the masses is the reporting by Posner that President Biden will pose sanction on the government. The result is that “Ethiopia will lose its duty-free market status” if no measures were taken by the government to halt the “gross human rights violations”. Such a statement carries an implicature which condemns the government by Biden. The implication is that the government had a chance at uprooting this phenomenon but it did not do anything. Also, another implication is that the government does not take corrective measures unless a foreign nation interferes to rectify the situation by force. From the above statement of Biden the hidden message to the reading masses and the world is that the Ethiopian government is not independent and the country itself is not a sovereign country. Accordingly, the purpose of such news manipulation is to convince the rest of the world that the USA cares for the well-being of Ethiopia, more than Ethiopia itself. This, in fact, is political hypocrisy for the purpose of US hegemony and domination over the Ethiopian vital resources. Furthermore, in order to widen the gap among the Ethiopians on the one hand and the Ethiopian government on the other, the US Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa warned that such a conflict will affect the country drastically by tearing apart its unity as well as destroying its integrity and stability. Such a statement conveys the notion that the government is sitting cross-handed doing nothing to uplift the country from such a demise. And what escalates the foreign interference is the use of the verb “warned” which means that some measures will be taken against the Ethiopian government. In terms of implicatures, such a warning means that the foreign interference in the internal Ethiopian affairs will increase. This use portrays USA once again as the guardian of nations, where in fact it is a sheer interference in the affairs of a sovereign and an independent nation, Ethiopia. What is unjust is that Posner (2021) also tries to besmear the Ethiopian government by stating that: “Today, government forces are deliberately obstructing the delivery of outside humanitarian aid. The United Nations recently reported that a de facto blockade of aid deliveries has driven some 400,000 people to the brink of famine”.
In this quotation, the government is revealed as a careless government which is responsible for the famine in the whole country. The irony is that the UN report does not mention the atrocities committed by the TPLF and does not condemn it. We don’t find these same media exposing more than 1000 UN trucks which have been blocked to return after they have delivered basic humanitarian assistance to the region, either. So, instead of the UN supporting the government, the responsibility of the country’s downfall is solely saddled on the shoulders of the government, without a mere mention of the TPLF’s responsibility in the county’s deterioration.
Posner’s report ends on a note that the escalated situation must be solved by peace talks form both parts: the TPLF and the government. However, no real solution is presented and the exaggerated portrayal of the economic and social warfare as well as poverty has a malicious intent. The intention of the report is convey a message to international corporate leaders in the country to close its factories and leave. Such an action is an indirect sanction on the country, whose results will be more devastating on the country’s economy.
In addition to the above news blurring examples, there are many more other reports such as those in the Foreign Policy (FP) (2021) and the Congressional Research Service (CRS) (Sept. 2021). The report in the FP magnifies the Tigrayan war and blames the government for not having a close grip on the TPLF. As a result, the FP report claims that the famine and extreme poor social and economic situation rests on the government’s shoulders, without mentioning that it is the government’s duty to oppose the TPLF and defend its territories in order to stop the insurgence and prevent the situation from escalating. Moreover, the report praises the TPLF for fighting the government forces, claiming that it is the TPLF responsibility to protect Tigray. Such allegations in the FP report reveal that Tigray is already an independent region which is trying to assert its sovereignty inside Ethiopia. This in turn pictures the TPLF as the legitimate rulers of Ethiopia instead of Prime Minister Ahmed’s legitimate forces. In line with the FP report, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report claims that it is nonpartisan. However, the report on the Tigray war proves otherwise. The report praises the US administration and its effort in saving Ethiopia by sending massive humanitarian aids and by urging the opposing parties to negotiation which puts an end to the atrocities in the country. Moreover, the report portrays the official government as that which is responsible for the deaths of its citizens by famine. The report states that the government is preventing any attempt at rectifying the situation in the country, that the TPLF is rebelling in order to defend its constitutional right in governing the country, and that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has disappointed the US by not allowing the TPLF to still share in the government and rule Tigray. The afore-detailed accounts on the Tigray war are representatives of how the media distorts the news in any way possible. In all of these news reports, the West (the UN, the USA, and Amnesty International) and other Western officials are portrayed as the caring ones. They are revealed as carriers of the emblem of humanity through their insistence on humanitarian aids to Ethiopia. In fact, this interest is superficial because no basic solutions were presented to stop the war. Also, the UN is supposed to protect the Ethiopian borders and prevent any rebellious surge. However, all what these reports do is to blame the government and the Prime Minister. Despite the false reporting of the news in terms of what is actually happening, there are still some decent reports which pinpoint how the West is interfering in gearing the news to its own interest, in order to blind the public from seeing the real threat of the West. As such, the West will become more able to loot the resources of Ethiopia by playing a role in dividing the citizens and supporting an ethnic group over another. In this way, the West will keep its dominant upper hand.
Contrary to the untrue news reporting, there are people who really strive to give the true picture and expose the workings of the West in the media. One of those reports is that written by Jon Abbink (2021). In his article, Abbink discusses how the foreign policy makers of the US, the UN, and the EU have presented hastily written accounts of the ongoing war, where the contextual details, the nature of the conflict and the participants, as well the reasons of the conflict have been downsized. According to Abbink, in reporting the conflict arising in Ethiopia, the policy makers direct their news cannons to target the official government and not the TPLF. Furthermore, he reveals that many news agencies such as Reuters, AFP, and AP, as well as other global news agencies have “… supported the insurgent TPLF, despite its appalling human rights record and its devastating campaigns against civilian populations” (p. 1). As such, the omissions of news and the fake reporting of the conflict have serious consequences on Ethiopia. Accordingly, the global Western media and the International Community always blame the Ethiopian federal government since the outbreak of the armed conflict and its sequential events.
Abbink posits that the attitude of the policy makers towards the war in Tigray is that they ‘de facto’ prefer the illegitimate and undemocratic TPLF over the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Thus, Abbink’s main argument is that the media approach to reporting the conflict reveals the feebleness of the international system and the policy makers. As such, the media reporting of the Tigrayan war has been inadequate and it is based on untested ‘normative’ notions as well as lack of complete factual evaluation of the situation. These, in addition to the superficial humanitarian interest, have led to the augmentation and the prolonging of the conflict as well as the citizens’ suffering, which in turn will incur further hazards on the Ethiopian state in the future.
In a recent article published on December 28, 2021 by Foreign Policy (FP), the authors Bruton Fitz-Gerald believe that the Tigray war escalated because of a prime reason, which is the one-sided US approach to the war. This procured the necessary cover for the TPLF insurgence and did not support the official government. As such, it reveals that there was a conspiracy from the US on the Prime Minister’s government. Among the destructive acts of the TPLF, the authors report that the TPLF looted billions of dollars so as to “frustrate meaningful change throughout the country”. However, upon the control of the government over the TPLF today and the end of the conflict, the authors believe that the conditions are set for Washington to create a solid ground for peace in the country. In a Reuters’ special report on December 28, 2021, author Stephen Grey states that Tigrayan former rulers face new abuse charges. The report documents the atrocities committed by the TPLF such as mass killing and rape. The documentation took place after the Ethiopian troops defeated the TPLF. For example, “Amnesty International reported accusations that Tigrayan fighters committed rapes, looting and assaults in Nifas Mewcha”. What is interesting about the report is that most of the focus is on what the TPLF committed, where “across much of Ethiopia, many blame the political leadership of Tigray – the TPLF – for the bloodshed”. Furthermore, the authors of the Reuters report have interviewed a former TPLF leader who has parted from the Front long ago. This leader condemns the TPLF for what its brutal acts and has labelled its now-defeated leaders as “corrupt, degenerate goons”. The report concludes on a note that the New York-based human Rights Watch documented and attested to the hundreds of civilians executed by the TPLF. As such, the report does not, in any way, support what the TPLF have done, but it concludes by quoting the Amhara deacon, Betsiha who “hopes communal wounds will heal”.
Korybko (2021) believes that there are many lessons to be learned after the “crushing defeat” of the TPLF. Actually, his article does the Ethiopian government and people much justice, and highlights the US interference in Ethiopia’s affairs, pointing the fingers of accusations to the false US foreign policy in Africa, in general, and Tigray in particular. The article points to the notion that the TPLF “was assisted by the US-led West’s information warfare campaign”. Thus, among the lessons learned are the following: political conflicts can be settled by political means, conspiring with a foreign power is an act of treason against Ethiopia, the US has punished Ethiopia, because of the Ethiopian government’s balanced foreign policy. These are some of the lessons. Accordingly, it is clear that the US had a hidden agenda by supporting the TPLF. The US planned to topple Ahmed’s government, handle the country to the TPLF in order to control the vital resources of Ethiopia. However, because “The Ethiopian People Proudly Support Their Civilization-State’s Unity” as well as “The Ethiopian Government Embodies the Will of its People” (Korybko, 2021), all the US malicious attempts were futile. To conclude with, it is noteworthy to say that none of the mentioned reports (Verjee, Posner, FP, and CRS) mentioned that the Tigray party was defeated on November, 28, 2020. The news about taking up of the leadership by the official forces has been completely excluded. The focus was only on what occurred either during or after the fight has finished, i.e. the aftermath. Such a focus moves the attention of the masses to what happened to the people as well as the TPLF, to portray the TPLF as the ‘victims’ of the government’s brutality. This blurring of news and shift of focus enables the Western media to gear the news to serve the interests of the western politicians. The TPLF is a regional party that built its special forces and regional militia. Although it was one of coalition member of four regional parties, its senior members controlled foreign security, and defense as well as the economy. Also, its members were accused of big scale embezzlement of the economic resources and discrimination; all of which resulted in political unrest and brought down their grip on power which, as a consequence, brought Abiy Ahmed to the helm of premiership. Hence, we conclude this article with Abbink’s (2021) strong remark, that the “…global system of international relations is in crisis, is often susceptible to propaganda and cyber-space warfare, has…a neo-imperialist bias towards weaker (African) countries, lacks evidence-based background research or evaluations, and does not respond adequately to new challenges.” (p. 4) Thus, after the devastating conflict has ended, “the entire world will now associate Ethiopia and its people with proud resilience in the face of unprecedented pressure.” (Korybko, 2021)
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