A smear campaign waged by the TPLF aims to weaken the image and position of Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy ahead of the upcoming elections

by Guido Talarico

The smear campaign that in recent months has hit the President of Ethiopia, Ahmed Abiy, and with him two entire nations, namely Ethiopia itself and Eritrea, calls for a broader reflection that does not only concern the Horn of Africa. In order to understand what is happening, it is necessary to start from a term that has become obsolete: colonization. The common perception would have us think that colonialism, i.e. that foreign policy aimed at grabbing overseas territories rich in raw materials and labour, is a practice that disappeared in the last century. Not so. The United States, Europe as well as China and Russia itself have continued and continue to practice colonialist policies always and only for economic interests.

What has changed from before are the instruments of struggle. While up until the 20th century colonialists used weapons immediately to grab new territories, now the instruments of conquest follow a different path: they start with propaganda, then economic sanctions are applied and finally, if the “object of desire” countries should still resist, armies arrive. This is what happened in Libya, Iraq and Siria itself, to name but a few examples. Fomenting terrorism is another much-used tool for weakening younger democracies. But if in these cases it has been necessary to arrive at the ultimate solution, that of arms, in many other cases all that is needed to subjugate a country is financial leverage.

The Horn of Africa fits perfectly into this pattern. A false narrative appears in the international press, claiming two victims: the historical truth and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). This is very serious because historical truth is the one on which the political choices of individual nations and the international organizations that govern the planet are based. It is also serious because some of the parties involved use and exploit the NGOs, thereby causing these fundamental humanitarian structures to lose the neutrality that is at the root of their credibility. In the Horn of Africa, there is a tendency to subvert the historical truth of the facts with an intense propaganda activity.

The truth of the Horn of Africa, although simple to reconstruct, is constantly being misrepresented. The facts are these: a country of almost one hundred million inhabitants, Ethiopia, was ruled (and largely robbed) by the Tigrinya minority, which for twenty years was able to divide and control the other two majority ethnic groups, namely the Oromo and the Amhara, keeping them on the margins of the country’s management thanks to the control of the army. After 20 years of hegemony over Ethiopia and just as many years of war with their neighbour and former ally Eritrea, the Tigrinos lost power, thanks to the rise of Ahmed Abiy, a young and charismatic leader of Oromo birth, who in the space of a few months made peace with Eritrea, He found in President Isaias Afewerki a solid ally, pacified the entire area (thanks also to an agreement with Somalia) and indicated a path of prosperity and development for the entire Horn of Africa.

The problem lies here. This plan of Abiy’s has found a lot of external opposition starting with the Tigrayans, who having over the years placed most of the national armaments in their region (Tigray) and having accumulated huge economic fortunes, have started to make their moves. The first was that they did not want to accept the historic peace with Eritrea, which dated back 20 years, which Abiy again recognised, but which in fact the main Tigrayan party, the TPLF, never accepted. A bit like if, after the Second World War, France, despite having signed the 1947 Paris Peace Accords, had continued to attack Italy. Despite the fact that the Addis Ababa government had established its own policy of peace and development, and thanks to this its President Abiy had won the Nobel Peace Prize, despite all this the Tigrins continued to row against it, using all capital and dispositions and, unforgivably, beginning to use NGOs to denigrate both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments.

But not only this. Seeing themselves increasingly cornered, they tried the military route. In other words, they have tried to use all the armaments accumulated in their region (North Command) to resist the national government. Again, just to take a European example, it is as if France had left the running of Corsica to irredentist terrorists. At that point Abiy had no other option but to enter with the army into Tigray to re-establish law and order. It was a war that lasted a few weeks, but it was still a war and, like all wars, it brought death and atrocities. In the field, the Tigrayans always lose, even when they are better equipped militarily. And it is not a matter of courage, but simply because the Tigrinya population in fact knows that the TPLF leadership has always sent them to the brink, so they choose not to fight. Having lost everything, the Tigrinya elites had no choice but to play the propaganda weapon. And they have done so in the worst way, using the weakest and exploiting the NGOs.

The scene of the clashes, Tigray, is an Ethiopian region on the border with Eritrea. This territory is not easy to reach and remained inaccessible to the press during the conflict between government troops and Tigrayans. Most of those who have written in recent months have therefore done so on the basis of third- and fourth-hand accounts, almost all from Tigrinya. It is here that we have witnessed the usual gigantic propaganda action carried out using also the good faith of some NGOs.

After twenty years of Oromo, Amhara and Eritrean harassment, they legitimately want to put an end to Tigrinya rule. Let me be further clear. Oromo and Amhara and with them the Eritreans have been harassed for more than twenty years, not by the Tigrinya, but by the elites who governed them, so it is inevitable, and I would even say legitimate, that all these peoples wanted to end the game against the Tigrinya once and for all. Just as forcefully, it must be remembered that when you go to war, you face atrocities, abuse and the death of innocents. Tigray was no exception; the population suffered heavy casualties and was forced into mass evacuations. Unfortunately, I also take it for granted that there has been gratuitous violence by the Ethiopian army. Abiy himself has launched an enquiry to ascertain and possibly punish those responsible. But we must stop here.

In this matter, it must be said without hesitation that the historical truth is all on the side of Ethiopia and Eritrea and their respective leaders Ahmed Abiy and Isaias Afewerki. The side of the villains, those who for their own ambition and personal interests have sacrificed the lives and the future of the entire Horn of Africa were exclusively the leaders of the TPLF, people who for 20 years held in check and harassed the Oromo, Amharas, Eritreans and dozens of other ethnic groups, reducing them to hunger and poverty, preventing them from developing peacefully.

We were talking about the beginning of colonialism. The Tigrins were able to hold on to their power because for 20 years they had the support of the United States and Europe, which was happy to have stability in that area. The classic ‘divide and rule’ that imperialists of all times, from the Macedonians to the Romans to the French, have used and still use to break up local forces and control them. The TPLF has maintained its power with propaganda, the only weapon it has left today and which it continues to use ferociously with the sole aim of toppling Abiy. To paint him as a bloodthirsty tyrant, to tarnish his Nobel Prize, and with it his international credibility, and thus, once weakened, to put yet another puppet in power when the polls come around. This is the scenario, this is the pattern.

Almost all the chilling stories of recent months, of massacres and violence, have in many cases been created “ad hoc”. They are also fake news, almost all of which have been disproved by verification of the facts, by direct testimony. Let us look at some of these falsehoods spread by the Tigrinya people that have gone around the world. Let us take the case of the so-called “Monalisa”, an activist and militia member of the Tigray Liberation Army who was seriously injured in the clashes on 4 November during the capture of the Tigray-held North Command. They made her out to be a victim of the Ethiopians, but the story of the poor girl, who turned out to be a Tigrinya militia woman, was denied by her father who, during an interview with Tigrinya journalists, denounced the falsehood of the story told by his daughter, explaining that the wounds suffered were the result of the military clash and not torture. The so-called Axum massacre also seems to be a forgery put online by activists of the Tigrinya Liberation Front living in the West. Careful verification of the testimonies found in NGO reports, actually written by Tigrinya activists, seem to amply demonstrate this. Just as, on the other hand, no one talks about the massacre perpetrated in Mai Kadra, which is ignored perhaps because the victims there were all of Amhara origin.

Lots of fake news: 10.000 common criminals released from prison before Tigrinya elites fled Macallè and disguised as Eritrean soldiers Another example of blatant misinformation concerns the release of more than 10.000 common criminals from their prisons ordered by the TPLF leadership before leaving Macallè, the capital of Tigray. A sensational media trap: before being set free, these common criminals were dressed in Eritrean army uniforms made in a Tigray factory, armed and pushed to commit acts to be later attributed to Eritrean enemies. So it is they who have committed violence and theft, they are the ones who have been used to sling mud at the Eritreans. Fortunately, the people are speaking out, the common people know the truth, including the Tigrayans, so the reality of the facts is slowly emerging. But in the meantime, the international press, always on the lookout for the latest dirty war story, shoots what they are told.

There are many episodes. Almost every day one hears and reads about atrocities, but then denials arrive punctually. The latest is the one about violence against women, a horrendous issue. Stories of repeated torture of hundreds of women. Of course, at first everyone sided against the Ethiopian and Eritrean army, but then the truth gradually came out. In this regard, there are numerous studies and testimonies showing that the practice of torture of women among the Tigrayans is widespread. A historical plague, documented by various studies. Even a cursory glance at these documents shows how UN agencies such as WHO, UNFPA and others, and NGOs working in the Tigray region, as well as various European states funding their operations, have known about the rape crisis in the Tigray region for over two decades. Yet, today, they pretend that it is a problem related to law enforcement operations by the central government. Worse still, they point the finger at Eritrea, a nation where rape is practically non-existent.

In the study “Prevalence and factors related to gender-based violence among female students of higher education institutions in Mekelle town, Tigray, northern Ethiopia” we find for example the words of a scholar, Gebreyohannes, Yaynshet, who describes the phenomenon as follows: “…An institution-based cross-sectional survey, using an anonymous self- administered questionnaire and focus group discussion, was conducted among female college students in Mekelle, Northern Ethiopia, in March 2007 to determine the prevalence and factors associated with gender- based violence…A total of 1024 female students were involved in the study…the overall prevalence of GBV in the current lifetime and year was found to be 62%. 1% … GBV in the current year was associated with female students who had witnessed parental violence as children, who currently had a boyfriend, who where sexually active at the time of the survey, with a history of alcohol use and with drunken peers (male and/or female), whose childhood residence was in a rural area and with poor school performance. In focus group discussions in both the female and male groups, it was pointed out that officials’ tolerance, traditions that reward masculinity, and females’ loss of confidence in how to negotiate sexual relationships were also exposing girls to gender-based violence in colleges… Based on the survey results, it is concluded that gender-based violence is a common and serious problem among female college students in the study area. …”

Again, in a research dated January 2020 and entitled “Factors associated with sexual violence among female administrative staff at Mekelle University, Northern Ethiopia”, authored by Sara Bahta Galu, Ha]u Berhe Gebru, Yohannes Tesfay Abebe, Kahsu Gebrekirstos Gebrekidan, Atsede Fantahun Aregay, Kidane Gebremicheal Hailu, Gerezgiher Buruh Abera, the researchers illustrate the prevalence of gender-based violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. This study states, “…As part of Ethiopia, in Tigray, sexual violence is still high, for example, a research done in Adigrat hospital shows that 60.2% of rape cases occurred among children and adolescents…”

Historical truth says that Ethiopia and Eritrea have the right to claim their independence and defend themselves from the prodigal attacks of the TPLF. I have been three times to Eritrea and once to Ethiopia. But I was not there during the taking of Tigray, it was impossible to go there: because of the Covid and because the whole situation was very dangerous. No Westerners, as far as I know, were there, so we all speak through the accounts of our sources. So, you have to be very careful in deciphering the accounts. You have to have reliable sources, verified over time. One must not chase the biggest story to satisfy the irrepressible taste for the scoop. NGOs are fundamental structures for supporting the weakest populations, and their work is often decisive, which is why it is necessary to keep away from biased stories and interested scoops. We must stick to the facts. Even the reconstructions I have made here must be treated with caution. Because the truth belongs to those who saw it, not to those who tell it.

The facts are that Abiy is the elected president of Ethiopia, that the TPLF has refused to respond to the authority of the government in Addis Ababa by trying to break away from the country, that the TPLF has refused to respect the peace agreements with Eritrea, that the TPLF is using all the means in its possession to discredit and compromise the future of Abiy and with him the entire Horn of Africa. Starting from here, from the truth of the facts, it will be easier to see what are the real objectives at stake and who, for the colonialist interests we mentioned at the beginning, has an interest in having a Horn of Africa torn by ethnic disputes, divided and therefore weak.

(Associated Medias) – All rights reserved