Propagation of Fake-News and Its Debilitating Impact on Mutual Trust Among Ethiopians

Aklog Birara (Dr)
January 28, 2021
“Information is only as reliable as the people who are receiving it. If readers do not change or improve their ability to seek-out and identify reliable information sources, the information environment will not improve.”
Julia Keller, Pew Research Center
“A country’s soul is more than its borders, its current government, its debt and exports. You will not kill its soul with false narratives, academic journal articles and insults on social media.
Ethiopia is ancient, bigger than the whispers and the noise, replenished by its own resources and faiths, its people’s remarkable ingenuity and courage, its diversity, and its unity. Ethiopia goes on because its people believe in it.”
Jeff Pearce, “Ethiopia, Without Shame”
If you are unwilling to consider the above, please do not read this commentary. Regardless of fake blogs and fake historical narratives on Ethiopia, the country will go on. However, it will take it much longer to flourish. This is because there are tens of millions of Ethiopians who believe in this ancient and promising land. Ethiopia will thrive if it overhauls tribal politics.

Propagation of Fake-News and Its Debilitating Impact on Mutual Trust Among Ethiopians…

I know for sure that I cannot convince fake bloggers such as Martin Plaut or ethno-nationalists or religious fundamentalists or Egyptian plants and agents or Jawar’s followers or the remnants of the TPLF that Ethiopia’s destiny is non-negotiable. For more than a decade and each Western X-Mas evening, I have tried to dialogue with Tigrean-Ethiopians that the TPLF model posed an imminent danger for the country and for Tigrean-Ethiopians. None was convinced then and none is convinced now. The most plausible option is to ignore TPLF remnants and to move on.
We must, instead, focus on Ethiopia as one country; push for a shared unity of purpose among the country’s diverse, courageous, and patriotic population; for unfettered inclusion; for the deepening the democratization process; for the strengthening of central or federal institutions; and push each one of us to serve as a tireless advocate for rapid, sustained, and equitable development. A poor and dependent Ethiopia will always be vulnerable.

Government failures

Ethiopian Government failure to transform and strengthen national institutions and to accelerate equitable development feed to the cycle of fake news and blogs that in turn undermine mutual trust. Equally, Ethiopian Federal Government dismal failures in diplomacy, the void of consistent and clear messaging of the cause of the war in Tigray; opaque policies and actions; and official reluctance to apply transparency also feed into the international community’s utter disbelief and confusion. Compounding this is recurring targeted ethnic cleansing and genocide on which the Government has also failed.
Today, the costs and benefits associated with social media are being assessed across the globe. Some argue that the global community must initiate standards that will govern actions and behaviors. Others prefer to leave things as they are—let the marketplace of ideas govern, so to speak. However, there is consensus that the propagation of unchecked and non-verified fake news and false information via social media is lethal. This is the reason why Twitter and Facebook banned QAnon and its leaders from using their tools. This recognition that fake-news and false narratives have debilitating impacts in Western democracies suggests that, poor and ethnically polarized nations such as Ethiopia are in dire straits. Among other things, they lack institutions and competent personnel including diplomats that can mitigate the risks of false narratives.

How do Ethiopian propagators of fake-news and false narratives carryout their damage?

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Oromo Liberation Front military wing Shine (OLF-Shine), the Gumuz Liberation Front, Oromo Jihadists financed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia etc. dominate the false and misleading narratives on Ethiopia. The tools they deploy are used to fuel inter-ethnic and religious violence; and to instill mistrust in Government authorities and national institutions. The political and strategic objective is to weaken and, ultimately to disintegrate the Ethiopian State. The equivalent phenomenon that occurred is Yugoslavia.
National institutions matter for any country. Among these are a strong central Government and a National Defense Force. The sole purpose of the latter is to preserve and to defend the country’s national security, territorial integrity, and sovereignty. This is where unbridled loyalty to national interest must always drive selection and appointment to this institution.

I would take them to court

The propagation of fake news and false narratives concerning Ethiopia’s Defense Forces is a defamation of national character. If there was an international court to adjudicate defamation of national character, I would lodge a complaint on behalf of Ethiopia’s Defense Forces. Their defamation is the same as defamation of Ethiopia. It is a form of institutional character assassination. Specifically, because Ethiopia’s Defense Forces have a celebrated and unassailable track record serving in peacekeeping operations in the Korean Peninsula, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, and South Sudan. In every case, they have demonstrated unmatched discipline, honor, dignity, professional competence, and personal integrity. These attributes emanate from values, namely, their inherent commitment to represent their country and the Ethiopian people. Reported and documented incidents of rape, sexual violence against females, theft, corruption, and other crimes among Ethiopian Defense Forces are rarely, if ever, reported by the UN or the AU.
So, the motive behind the relentless defamation campaign targeting Ethiopia’s Defense Forces is deliberate and intentional. It is to flip and obscure the issues; and to then paint a dark and foreboding image to the international community, one that attacks the integrity of the Ethiopian Defense Forces, especially to Western audiences, by diminishing the successful peacekeeping and security operation against the TPLF junta.
Put differently, the TPLF and its supporters have now become the victims; and Ethiopian Defense Forces have become the oppressors.
This reversal is designed to exonerate the TPLF, its ardent supporters and its internal and external sponsors of any liability regarding targeted ethnic massacres of non-Tigrean Officers and soldiers in Mekele, wholesale massacres of Amhara in Mai Kadra, the Amhara region, ethnic cleansing and genocide in Beni-Shangul Gumuz (particularly Metekel), in Gambella, in Oromia etc. and extrajudicial killings throughout Ethiopia during the 27 years of TPLF masterful and crushing rule; the massive plunder and bleeding of Ethiopia’s economy by the TPLF; as well as the siphoning off and illicit outflow of more than $40 billion that continues to fund TPLF’s global propaganda machine. These monies must revert to the Ethiopian poor; and the West has an obligation in restoring them.
The TPLF did all these and more with impunity and with tacit approval of Western powers and their global institutions. Among other things, the TPLF served their national and strategic interests with aplomb.

For them, the TPLF is a loss; for 116 million Ethiopians it is a blessing.

I shall illustrate how defamation of Ethiopian institutions and national character is done. The TPLF plundered Ethiopian society to the hilt. It amassed more than $40 billion during 27 years of crushing governance. It conducted extrajudicial murders, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Some of the reserves hidden in Western banks are now being deployed to attack Ethiopia.
More relevant to this assessment, the TPLF managed to establish a network of advocates, digital TPLF, agents, and lobbyists across the globe. Most of the top leadership of the TPLF is now dead. However, its global infrastructure including its digital weapon is still alive and kicking. Bloggers such as Martin Plaut, a South African and currently Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, in the UK is an ardent supporter of the TPLF. I do not know whether he is paid. His historical record confirms his partisanship to the TPLF and Tigrean elites.
Plaut is currently the global cheer leader in the blogosphere against Ethiopia. He chooses his emotive terms carefully to attract international attention. The touchy terms to which the Western world responds include “looming hunger, genocide, sexual violence and rape in Tigray.” These, he blogs ad infinitum, are “perpetrated by the Ethiopian Defense Forces.”
I read a chilling article by this blogger concerning an unfounded information strengthening the false assertion that “750 Christian worshippers” were massacred at the celebrated and sacred Aksum Tsion Church. This is intentional and targeted. This false portrayal is intended to draw the attention of the Christian world against Ethiopia, among the founders of early Christianity. The blogger ignores the fact that tens of millions of Ethiopian Christians including devoted Tigrean-Ethiopians would have known if such a horrific incident took place in their own homeland. Either he ignores them or dismisses them as Westerners used to do with all Black Africans.
The motive behind is simple. It is to add to the menu of lies on Ethiopia; and further bolster the international community’s anger that Tigray, a cradle of Ethiopian Christianity, is being assaulted by Ethiopian “savages.” To support his false narrative, Plaut understands he must appeal to emotions and bolster the audience’s ease into making unfounded judgements with respect to the Ethiopian Federal Defense Forces’ extraordinary advancement against TPLF domestic terrorists within such a shot time.
In African Arguments posted on January 8, 2021, Martin Plaut accused the Eritrean Government of siding with Ethiopia and of conducting atrocities. “For Eritrea, the war already appears to be going badly. Having allegedly looted religious sites, homes and factories, Eritrean forces are reportedly bogged down and vulnerable to ambushes.” As intended, the “looting of goods” phenomenon went viral and was shared repeatedly more than a million times. Cyber TPLF or Woyanne feasted on it.
Plaut did this to reinforce the assertion in the West that the war in Tigray involved a third party, Eritrea. The intent is to diminish the capabilities off Ethiopia’s Defense Forces; and to assert the misleading claim that the war is against the people of Tigray.

The best response to this diatribe is to pose a set of questions to Martin Plaut and to demand response:
  1. Can Mr. Plaut inform the children, spouses, and relatives of more than 1,000 innocent Amhara, most of them daily laborers, massacred by TPLF in Mai Kadra and the unknown number of non-Tigrean soldiers and officers murdered by the same group in Mekele last November to explain the criteria he is using in describing human atrocities in Ethiopia?


  1. Can Mr. Plaut tell his readers the independent sources he is using in framing his incredible and unfounded smear campaign against Eritrea as well as Ethiopia’s Defense Forces who purportedly “killed 750 Christian worshippers” at Aksum Tsion? Can he explain the reason why he did not have the decency to ask the leadership of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church or Synod if such desecration took place?


  1. Can Mr. Plaut explain what would motivate Ethiopian Defense Forces who are in Tigray to restore peace and security to massacre innocent worshippers or to steal property or rape Tigrean women on whose behalf the war started by the TPLF is being fought and the purported victims who are potential allies of non-Tigrean Ethiopians? Can he provide concrete evidence gained from unassailable and independent sources?


  1. Is Mr. Plaut at all concerned about the lasting adverse impacts of his fake blogs on the very people he is presumably defending? And or about his inducement of permanent conflict among Ethiopians?


  1. If Mr. Plaut is motived by genuine commitment to humanity and human rights, why did he fail to report on the killing of non-Tigrean officers and soldiers by TPLF Special Forces in Mekele followed by wholesale massacres of innocent Amhara civilians, most of them day laborers in Mai Kadra by the TPLF?


  1. Why did Martin Plaut ignore recurrent extrajudicial killings, rapes, murders, and other human rights abuses perpetrated by the TPLF in the Amhara, Gambella, Oromia, Somali regions for more than 27 years? These crimes are all well documented and reported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Genocide Watch, Freedom House.


  1. Is not Martin Plaut deliberately negligent of the rapes of girls and women in Setit-Humera, Wolkait-Tegede, Telemt and other locations by TPLF soldiers; and of the sterilization campaign of Amhara females when Tewodros Adhanom, current Chief of WHO and former member of the TPLF Politburo was Minister of Health in Ethiopia? Are the victims not worthy of his penmanship?


  1. Is not Martin Plaut deliberately ignorant of the fact that members of the TPLF Politburo are among the richest men in the world, with Seyoum Mesfin that Plaut vouches for as a martyr is among Ethiopia’s top state thieves and billionaires identified by Forbes Magazine? Is corruption or illicit outflow of funds not a crime?


  1. Can Plaut explain what Seyoum Mesfin was doing that led to his death? Was he, for instance, convening a conflict resolution forum in his hide out in his capacity as a diplomat? Is not the role of an accomplished diplomat to use his or her talent to mediate rather than revert to guerrilla warfare?


  1. Can Martin Plaut tell his Western readers, UN entities and others who read the Guardian, African Arguments and the one million readers who read and recycle his fake blogs to explain the ultimate purpose of his anti-Ethiopian and anti-Eritrean campaign? I should also ask Western audiences why they subscribe to and or permit fake news on Ethiopia?
Part II of this commentary will follow soon.

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January 28, 2021

1 Comment

  1. @Aklog Birara,
    Thank you for your excellent and well-written article – though I have a slightly different take on some things. Still, I have great respect for you, and I believe it is the great tragedy of Ethiopia that you and others like you have not been given opportunities by Ethiopian government to contribute more effectively and positively towards solving our country’s myriad problems – political, economic and social.
    In any case, so many have written about Ethiopia winning the war in the field but losing the public relationship war against the TPLF and its mercenaries such as Alex de Waal, Martin Plaut and others. In that, they have expressed difficulties for the country that arise because of the west’s including the US buying and amplifying of these lies, distortions and fabrications.
    I believe the continued loss of the public relations war is the result of the lopsidedness and the total mismatching of the forces battling and advocating for the two different sides in public relations arena. Specifically, the incompetent and corrupt ultra-ethno nationalists appointed to various diplomatic posts and given high level government positions purely on the basis of their ethnicity and loyalty to Abiy Ahmed are no match to the smarter and more educated mercenaries bought and cultivated by the TPLF during its almost three decades in power.
    We could have change in the current state of affairs only when the government of Abiy Ahmed changes its approach and starts appointing and using competent professionals who believe in the country and work to advance its interest. As such, since coming to power, Abiy Ahmed has been busy emptying out every government bureaucracies and institutions and diplomatic posts and filling them up with know-nothing ultra-ethno nationalists selected on the basis of their ethnicity alone – without regard to their competence or professionalism.
    Well, there was very, very little professionalism in those serving in various diplomatic posts and in other government positions before – there is now even less. Moreover, Abiy Ahmed’s ultra-ethno nationalists are not only spectacularly incompetent, they have also very little or no interest at all in defending the country and its interest – there is so much evidence for that; e.g., the recent interview of Military Chief of Staff, Birhanu Jula, in which he seems to defend and advocate for Sudan rather than Ethiopia as the dim-wit was meant to.
    With that and more, the question is how is it possible for anyone to defend a country, any country, that is being led by a schizophrenic government hellbent on undermining and sabotaging the very country it is ruling? TPLF ruled Ethiopia as a foreign occupying force, ruthlessly exploiting, undermining and sabotaging it in every way it can during its almost three decades in power. And that tradition is continued by Abiy Ahmed’s government who seems dead set to outdo TPLF – and so far, it is.
    Immediately upon coming to power, Abiy Ahmed made a peace agreement with Eritrea; largely, as an insurance policy against the TPLF. Other than that, he wanted to keep the TPLF intact in order to use them against the Amhara. As such, it was Abiy Ahmed’s and his radical ethno nationalists fervent hope that the TPLF will attack the Amhara Region – in which case, the Federal government that Abiy Ahmed leads will do nothing or even provide cover for the TPLF.
    Abiy Ahmed and his ultra-ethno nationalists cohorts were simply busy dreaming of and waiting for the slaughter of the Amharas by the well-trained and well-armed TPLF – they were all caught totally unprepared when the TPLF attacked the federal government instead. Thus Abiy Ahmed completely missed the continuous warning light including the TPLF’s quite open and extensive preparations to steal Ethiopia’s advanced weapon systems and equipment and more.
    In the end the TPLF lost the war only because of and thanks to the great sacrifice and selfless dedications to country and people shown by both the ENDF and the Amhara Special Forces – not because of Abiy Ahmed’s wise leadership. If there were actions taken against the TPLF long before it was in the position to do all the damage it did to the country, as many advised – only to be rubbished by the arrogant, sociopath Abiy Ahmed – Ethiopia wouldn’t have lost so much, greatly weakened, and invaded by an emboldened Sudan. In general, Ethiopia has payed a high price, and will also continue to pay a high price because of lack of wise leadership.
    It is interesting, since the completion of the war, Abiy Ahmed has been trying to pay back the Amhara for their sacrifice by orchestrating continued, out and out anti-Amhara sentiments everywhere and by allowing the intensification and continuation of the killing, the genocide of the Amara in Metekel, in Oromo region and more.
    Well, their wretched plan to get the Amhara slaughtered by the TPLF failed, they have been very busy trying to achieve the same end through other means. In that, Abiy Ahmed’s gofers, the ultra-ethno nationalists, embarrassing collection of idiots including Taye Dendea, Shimeles Abdisa, Aba Dula Gemeda, Lencho Bati, and others are at the forefront of demonizing the Amhara including NAMA (ABN) – when not busy instilling chaos and strife and corruption in Addis Ababa and everywhere in the country.
    With all that and more, one wonders why we are focused so much on the negative PR the government of Ethiopia is getting – however, much of that related to the war with TPLF obviously unfair. In that regard, the lies and distortions and fabrications of the remnants of TPLF and their mercenaries aside, and though caught napping, the Ethiopian government was absolutely within its rights and obligations to respond to the despicable inhumanity, the arrogant, naked aggression of the TPLF.
    In any case, the TPLF is dead or almost dead now. Hooray! It would never come back as a political force, no matter what their supporter in the west and their mercenaries who haven’t got that message yet will say and do.
    What should worry us now most are those who are trying to be the very reincarnation of the TPLF – Abiy Ahmed and ultra-ethno nationalists who employ the worst of the methods of the TPLF, those who are extremely greedy, corrupt and who wants everything for themselves including Addis Ababa who should be for all Ethiopians.
    We shouldn’t waste our energy defending these idiots – TPLF reincarnations. We will be better advised to use the opportunity the media attention and focus on the country to better use. We must bring to forefront and continue to highlight Abiy Ahmed’s phony accusations and indefinite detentions of innocent Ethiopian leaders such as Eskinder Nega, Sentayehu Chekol, Aster Seyum and others.
    It is a forgone conclusion that the upcoming election in Ethiopia will be unfair and rigged. Moreover, right now, the only rally, demonstrations and public expression of any kind is allowed only for those supporting Abiy Ahmed.
    We have elections, but competing political partys are not allowed to hold rallies and demonstrations.
    In Addis Ababa many groups wanted to demonstrate to express their sadness at the killing of many in Metekel, Oromo region, but they have been denied. It is now a crime to have the green, yellow and red Ethiopian, the police will confiscate and harass those who dare to show it in public anywhere in Addis Ababa.
    Balderas party was denied to conduct mass demonstrations repeatedly – that is on top of their leader, Eskinder Nega, an innocent man, continuing to languish in prison. We have also a huge campaign conducted and led by Taye Dendea and others against NAMA and others who are hoping in the upcoming election.
    With all that and more being manifestations of the Abiy Ahmed’s government leadership of the country, which part of it is defensible?
    We will be better advised to use the opportunity that the media attention and focus on the country given us to make the upcoming election to be a bit more fair.
    In order to continue to exist, Ethiopia will need to check and constrain Abiy Ahmed and the ultra-ethno nationalists that he almost exclusively collects, empowers and give large megaphones to.
    Well, as they say, when the gods give you lemon, make lemonade!

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