Writing a False Narrative: How Mainstream Media is Rewriting Incontrovertible Facts about Ethiopia.

Ermias Mengesha and Tilahun Emiru

One prominent facet of the war in northern Ethiopia is the misguided and biased approach the Biden Administration and the European Union chose to follow. This approach not only puts TPLF, which is a terrorist group, and the federal government of Ethiopia on the same legal pedestal but it also alludes to propagate TPLF’s talking points and pressure the federal government. This pressure on the Ethiopian government was strategically supported by information warfare that often went to great lengths to rewrite facts.

One such fact is how the current war broke out in the early morning of November 4, 2020. As a senior TPLF official admitted on TV, the TPLF mounted a coordinated attack on the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) stationed in Tigray, leaving the federal government with no choice but to respond militarily. Unfortunately, mainstream liberal media, such as the New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, and BBC, have often preferred to gloss over this crucial fact and sometimes rewrite it, painting the federal government as the aggressor in this war.

A screenshot from the video of the television channel discussion that Sekou Toure Getachew admitted the broke out of the war was an anticipatory attack against ENDF.

Despite TPLF’s admission of the attack on the ENDF, a “pre-emptive strike” as the aforementioned official called it, western mainstream media keep producing reports in an attempt to put a question mark over this fact in what looks to be a concerted attempt to write a false narrative. In an article on August 23, 2021, the New York Times claimed:

The roots of the conflict can be traced to last November when Mr. Abiy ordered a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, onetime rebels who led Ethiopia with an iron fist from 1991 until Mr. Abiy’s ascent in 2018.

The roots of the conflict can be traced back to the bold and suicidal TPLF attack on the ENDF, not to the counterattack by the ENDF. However, the narration by New York Times portrays the federal government as the party that attempted to militarily depose a “peace-loving” TPLF. This narration disregards how the TPLF attacked national military bases stationed in Tigray with the apparent motive of staging a military coup.

Sekou Toure Getachew, a mouthpiece of the TPLF, has boldly admitted on live TV that they (the TPLF) have taken “anticipatory self-defense” against the Ethiopian government forces stationed in the Tigray region. It is to be recalled that these forces have been deployed in the region for over two decades following the Ethio-Eritrean war. The TPLF and some media outlets that echo TPLF’s talking points have also tried to depict the ENDF forces as invaders due to the military response they gave to TPLF’s attack, much like accusing the U.S federal government of invading Virginia for stationing its Naval base in that state.

The New York Times piece also has another claim about the Oromo Liberation Army, an outgrowth of the Oromo Liberation Front, previously designated as a terrorist group by the TPLF-led government. The article claims:

This month, the Oromo Liberation Army, designated a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government, declared an alliance with the Tigrayan forces, raising the prospect of other splinter groups or regional governments becoming involved in the fighting.

There is a malicious allusion in this assertion. It intends to pass on two wrong messages: (1) Multiple parties fight against ENDF, and (2) OLA controls a regional government. While it is true that the OLA has engaged in terrorist activities, often attacking defenseless innocent civilians, mainly ethnic Amharas, and vandalizing properties in some parts of Oromia where these bandits set foot, these attacks were allegedly supported and funded by the TPLF.

As a secessionist political entity, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has been fighting the Ethiopian government for over five decades. When the TPLF was the dominant party in the coalition party that led Ethiopia for the past three decades, OLF was designated as a terrorist party. It based itself on neighboring countries to militarily fight and destabilize Ethiopia. It was upon the ascent of Mr. Abiy Ahmed to the premiership that its terrorist designation was dropped. It was then invited, along with other political parties that were outlawed in Ethiopia, to return home and participate in peaceful and electoral politics. The OLA, as the military wing of the OLF, took advantage of this invitation to come home.

After returning home, the OLA refused to disarm its fighters, and since then, there have been skirmishes in parts of Oromia. That being said, OLA does not control or administer a single Kebele, a minor administrative subdivision, let alone a region. Thus, NYT’s statement of “regional governments becoming involved in the fighting” is a patently false and reckless misrepresentation of facts on the ground, and this will mislead its reader base who may not know much about the current situation in Ethiopia.

The NYT also tried to give credence to its claims by citing a so-called analyst without revealing that the analyst it refers to is a TPLF mouthpiece. This is a pattern the NYT has been known for in its reporting of African issues. We are told “Experts” about a certain African country was interviewed, but the “expert” only knows that country on YouTube. In the past, the NYT invited biased pseudo analysts and used their claims. However, most of these analysts have deep relationships with the TPLF.

Image of child soldiers in Tigay taken by Finbarr O’Reilly.

Moreover, the NYT’s erratic assertion that “Ethiopia is a patchwork of at least 80 ethnic groups and 10 regional governments” is misleading and is part of the relentless attack on the Ethiopian social fabric. One clear proof of its malice is its claim that “Ethiopia’s injection of fresh recruits into the fighting will lead to more bloodshed.” Remember, this same newspaper has published a front-page story bearing TPLF’s child soldiers with the caption “highly motivated young recruits.” Yet, when the federal government recruits adult fighters to defend and neutralize the TPLF force advancing south to the Amhara and Afar regions, the NYT accuses the Ethiopian government of creating “bad blood for generations.”

Such hypocrisy and intentional lopsided reporting will not do justice to the actual events that are happening on the ground nor to the innocent civilians that are suffering due to this war. It does not help bring an end to the war either, it only escalates it.