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  • Writer's pictureNicoletta Fagiolo

Ethiopia, a deliberately misunderstood war

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

Political scientist Aster Carpanelli together with Fabio Massimo Vernillo, regional secretary of the Communist Party and Matteo Di Cocco, communication manager of the Communist Party present at the conference, 20 November 2022, Rome, Italy,

The Amhara community committee based in Italy held a conference on the 20 of November 2022 in Rome on the theme Updates and reflections on contemporary Ethiopian politics, followed by an Ethiopian lunch and a market to raise funds to meet the urgent needs of hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the Amhara region, some uprooted from their homes since November 2020, when this recent war began.

The event was organized by jurist Melash Zeleke and international relations expert Aster Carpanelli, both members of the organizing committee, together with Dhorror Wondosen Kebede, Frehiwet Girma and Zerihun Gebre.

Journalist for Affari Italiani (Italian affairs) and expert on Ethiopia Marilena Dolce together with Aster Carpanelli opened the conference by recalling the historical context of the current war and the role of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPFL) in the last three decades of the country's history.

In 1991 Mengistu Haile Mariam was overthrown by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnically based political movements within which the TPLF assumed a dominant position.

For nearly three decades, from 1991 to 2018, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPFL) maintained a dictatorial stronghold in Ethiopia, best described as ethnic federalism or ethno-fascism, an oppressive, violent system that Eritrean journalist Elias Amare equated with the South African bantustans.

Abiy Ahmed inherited a poisoned chalice, yet vowed to end Ethiopia’s era of ethnicity-based politics: in December 2019 the parties based on regional ethnicities – the 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.

Numerous attempts to establish dialogue with the TPFL were undertaken in vain by the government of Abiy Ahmed following their rejection of the reform agenda.

The new premier launched political and economic reforms with remarkable zeal and record speed, invoking a synergistic unity – medemer in Amharic – which is now part of the daily lexicon of Ethiopians. Regionally, Abiy has established peace with Eritrea and a rapprochement with Somalia.

The TPLF ruling elite, despite its 30-year history of human rights crimes, was largely left alone and retreated to the Tigray region in 2018. The Tigray Regional Council therefore surprised the Ethiopian government when it announced it would hold regional parliamentary elections in 2020, despite the fact that the federal government and electoral council had already postponed the elections for up to 12 months due to the health crisis.

On 9 September 2020, the Tigray Regional Council went ahead and organized elections for the 190-seat regional parliament. The TPFL was declared the winner and later said it would no longer recognize the federal government.

On 3 November, the TPFL opened fire on the military barracks of the Ethiopian national army, in Mekelle, where the most important arsenal of the federal army was located, but also attacked the national army barracks in Adigrat, Agula, Dansha and Sero, also in the Tigray region.

A BBC article on Ethiopia's crisis at the time How a soldier survived an 11-hour firefight gives a harrowing account of the fate of the soldiers of the country's national army, the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) attacked and places up to 10,000 the number of political prisoners. Many soldiers were sent across the regional border into the Amhara region to join internally displaced people (IDPs) camps, thousands more were killed or held captive to serve the TPLF war effort.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, having so far rejected the use of military intervention, sent troops to Tigray on 4 November 2020.

"Ethiopia has taken legitimate military action in its Tigray province to preserve the country's unity and stability," African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said following an Intergovernmental Authority meeting for Development (IGAD) in December 2020, noting that Ethiopia's military campaign in its Tigray province was "legitimate for all states."

Despite these statements by the AU and IGAD following the attack on the barracks by the TPLF, the press and Western diplomacy, reversing the facts, will instead present the situation as an attack by the Abiy government against the Tigray region. A relentless defamation campaign of the government of Abiy and Eritrea begins by the TPLF.

This misleading narrative on the origins of the conflict has also led to the adoption of an ineffective policy in the subsequent peace processes: Marilena Dolce recalls in this regard in Ethiopia, Tigray: a clash that the West struggles to understand from April 2021 an anonymous testimony from a European Union diplomat: “Of course Italy could have been more present on the issue of Tigray. But abandoning the mainstream is not easy... not even the European Union has done it. Instead, they said that to stop the massacre in Tigray, the parties (ed., TPLF and federal government) would have to sit around a table and discuss. Without understanding that it was like asking the Madrid government, under military attack from Catalonia, to sit down and negotiate. Then it must also be said that in the EU there are many people who know well the old TPLF guard who were in government with Meles Zenawi (ed, Ethiopian prime minister, from 1991 to his death, 2012). People considered as being the intelligentsia of the country from which it is difficult for many Europeans to distance themselves."

Marilena Dolce, also an expert in the analysis of primary sources such as photos or audio recordings, has revealed outright forgery in more than one piece of news about this war: "sensational is the case of the young "Monna Liza", for the Western press victim and symbol of abuse by soldiers Ethiopians, who later turned out to be a TPLF fighter wounded during the 4 of November attack on the northern command.”

According to the TPFL Axum was a scene of a massacre in November 2020 which cost the lives of more than a hundred civilians, but according to Marilena Dolce, even if it was reported by Amnesty International, it is fake news, : "A video from local television, broadcast during the celebration shows many people in front of the church of Santa Maria di Sion in Axum, precisely on the 30 November, the day following that of the alleged massacre; not to mention the Orthodox priest, the alleged eyewitness of the massacres of Axum and the burning of his own church, who was not a priest but actually a gentleman from Boston hired for playing the role. (...) Furthermore, the image posted on social media, which says it is depicting the dead of Axum lined up on the ground, is actually a photo that refers to a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria."

Francesca Ronchin, author of the recent book HypocriSea, The hidden truths behind the clichés about immigration and NGOs, journalist, reporter and contributor to Panorama recalled the many examples of disinformation surrounding this war, ranging from unfounded accusations that the government of Ethiopia was blocking all communications, humanitarian aid or the entry of journalists into the Tigray region; the reversal of perpetrators and victims in the Mai Kandra massacre; the role of Eritrea which was also attacked by the TPLF in November 2020; the omission on the historic role of 27 years of TPLF government.

Francesca Ronchin then underlined the incorrect role current Director of the World Health Organization, Tedoros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is playing. In one of her recent articles on the subject, Ronchin writes: «One of the main supporters of this narrative has been for two years now Dr. Tedros, as he is commonly called despite being the first person to have a top position in health care and yet not have a degree in medicine. Fixated only on the Tigray, which for months has been so close to his heart as to openly declare on several occasions that the issue "touches him personally", to include it in the course of press conferences dedicated to Ukraine, even resorting to the theme of racism to divert media attention to the region. His concern could be legitimate if the role he holds did not impose absolute impartiality. In fact, the World Health Organization's code of ethics requires its independent employees to be completely impartial, to refrain from expressing their opinions and from taking part in political actions capable of interfering with government policies and affairs (section 5.8, part 94 , pp.33-34).»

Ronchin continues: "Worse. After crying out to the world that it is the victim of ethnic cleansing and a humanitarian crisis, the TPFL curiously found the resources and energy to attack the regions surrounding Amhara and Afar, causing thousands of deaths and millions of internally displaced people. The statements of the UN agencies also confirmed the suspicion that the main perpetrators of the humanitarian crisis in Tigray are the alleged victims. The head of USAID in Ethiopia Sean Jones has also admitted in September 2021 that entire warehouses of humanitarian aid intended for civilians had been looted by the TPFL rebels and last August, the UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric repeatedly accused the TPLF of having stolen 570 thousand liters of essential fuel for the World Food Program humanitarian operations in Tigray. Yet, there was practically no mention of this in the international media."

On a recent trip to Ethiopia last July Francesca Ronchin was able to verify the forced recruitment of children on the part of the TPLF and the extreme devastation in the Afar and Amhara areas, areas of the conflict ignored by most of the main stream media.

Francesca Ronchin also developed the theme of the misuse of the word genocide by the TPLF, noting that the hashtag # Tigray genocide had already gone viral on twitter on the 4th of November, 2020, when the conflict had not yet begun.

Researcher and documentary filmmaker Nicoletta Fagiolo underlined a recurring blueprint in the actions and means used by imperialist states best described using the term coined in 2018 by the former CIA agent and now activist Ray McGovern, of MICIMATT - the Military-Industrial-Congress-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank Complex. A gigantic network at the disposal of the US and other imperialist states which has grown disproportionately from the MIC (military industrial complex) that US President Dwight D. Eisenhower denounced as a growing danger to democracy in his 1961 farewell address.

Fagiolo noted a recent exemple: the unsubstantiated allegation in October 2022 by Pramila Patten, the United Nations Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict, that Vladimir Putin was giving viagra to his soldiers so as to use rape as a weapon of war in Ukraine is the same script that was used by the Obama administration in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi.

#nomore demonstration in Washington D.C., USA, December 11, 2021.

Fagiolo recalled that during the recent Ethiopian crisis the #nomore movement was born to counter the disruptive disinformation campaign against the Abiy government, and cited the report of the Eritrean American doctor and activist Simon Tesfamariam, released in May 2021 Disinformation in Tigray, Manufacturing consensus for a secessionist war: here Tesfamariam identifies the main protagonists, journalists and academics, pushing for regime change policies and their respective think tanks / media they work for: Alex de Waal (World Peace Foundation), William Davison (International Crisis Group), Matt Bryden (Sahan Research), Martin Plaut (Eritrea Hub) or Mirjam van Reisen (EEPA, (Europe External Program with Africa) are some amongst a long list.

Fagiolo evoked that 10 million Congolese died under the colonial reign of the Belgian King Leopold II. Instead, since 1996, from the first invasion by Uganda and Rwanda of the Congo (at the time Zaire) to today, from 10 to 12 million Congolese have died and the massacres continue on a weekly basis in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country also has 5.5 million internally displaced people.

In a recent interview by Ethiopian activist Hermela Aregawi with Rwandan activist and writer Claude Gatebuke, Gatebuke draws a compelling parallel between the Ethiopian and Democratic Republic of the Congo crisis: Paul Kagame's Rwanda and his party the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) plays in central Africa the same role that the TPFL, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray, had and to some degree still has in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Like the TPFL also Paul Kagame's Rwanda is a puppet regime which wages proxy wars for the United States of America, and recently also for France where in Mozambique Rwandan soldiers are present in Cabo Delgado (against the opinion of the SADC, the Southern African Development Community), in Sudan, in Central Africa, but above all in the occupation of eastern Congo since 1996 via fake rebellions, from the first in 1996, the AFDL, which was disguised as a Congolese rebellion against Mobutu and later changing acronyms : RCD-Goma, CNDP, M23, ADF. These Rwandan attacks (and Ugandan ones, Uganda in fact was condemned by the International Court of Justice for its first attacks) are widely documented by the reports of the UN Panel of Experts since 2001.

The massacres continue every week in eastern Congo but the Rwandan aggression and occupation is concealed by the MICIMATT, instead there is talk of community strife, ethnic clashes, dozens of armed groups and recently, since 2014, also a manufactured yet improbable jihadist danger, as main causes of this war, which has now been going on for a quarter of a century.

Paul Kagame’s dictatorship and its Tutsi extremists in Rwanda today, before attacking Congo in 1996 (at the time Zaire), invaded Rwanda in 1990 from Uganda. This US-UK-Ugandan backed coup in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994 was sold to the world as a Tutsi genocide: this false narrative, but hegemonic and institutionalized for 25 years now, is today collapsing in the face of revelations from historical archives, sociological studies, testimonies, historical and juridical reconstructions. Therefore, anyone today who reveals inconvenient historical facts about the Kigali regime and/or its supporters is branded a "genocide denier": recently in France a complaint was filed by three renowned NGOs against the French-Cameroonian historian and geopolitical expert of the Great Lakes region Charles Onana. A petition has been launched in English and French in support of Charles Onana's freedom in historical research.

The jurist Melash Zeleke, recalling that Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa with over 117 million inhabitants, where over 80 languages ​​are spoken, focused his speech on the systematic genocide of the Amhara and the extreme violence suffered by the Amhara especially in the last couple of years.

Zeleke evoked the peaceful history Amhara communities have had with other Ethiopian communities before the advent of the TPLF regime and calls for the politicization of tribal identity to cease in the name of a multi-ethnic and peaceful country. The seed of tribalism, and therefore the cause of today's widespread ethnic conflicts, was planted in Ethiopia with the coming to power of the EPRDF in 1991 and the adoption of an ethnically based constitution.

According to Zeleke, the state is administered by an ethnolinguistic federalist system that has fueled tensions and clashes, generating a repressive policy. Zeleke quotes Addis Ababa Professor Belaku Atnafu Taye who underlines how it is not federalism per se that is at the root of the problem, but the forms of the federal structure (on an ethnic basis) combined with the politicization of tribal identity: "Three African countries ( Ethiopia, South Africa and Nigeria) have chosen a federal form of government to accommodate ethnic diversity. The federal structure of Nigeria is to give legitimacy to the territory with respect to ethnicity by distributing the core population of each ethnic group into different states and thus the federal structure of Nigeria helps to avoid crystallization of ethnic identity around a particular territory. South African constituents have rejected the claims of some ethnic groups to self-governing status on the basis of their distinctive ethnic identity, while the organization of the Ethiopian state is founded on ethnic federalism, which uses ethnic groups as a unit of self-government. (…) Ethnicity itself (or our natural difference) cannot be a source of conflict. Similarly, the Ghanaian constitution strictly prohibits any political party organized on the basis of ethnic identity. “

The talks held at the conference all showed the damage that a simplified geopolitical narrative, or worse, a deliberately falsified one, can cause to justice and peace. The recent peace agreements -between the federal government of Ethiopia and the TPLF, signed on 2 November 2022 in Pretoria, South Africa, and the meeting between the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi with Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta in Luanda in Angola this end of November 20022 to reach a ceasefire- risks providing recipes for a race against peace , by allowing armed groups to dialogue on an equal footing with legitimate governments.

At the back of the conference hall hang photos of three Ethiopian journalists: Gobze Sisay and Temesgen Desalegn recently repeatedly arrested under brutal conditions and released only by paying high sums of money and the elderly historian and journalist Tadiuos Tantu still held in detention today, persecuted only because they relentlessly alerted on the fate of the Amhara people in the current crisis. They are not the only civilians to suffer such abuses under the current Abiy government, but clear examples of individuals who work to hand down facts, analyzes and opinions on events they experienced, starting points for drawing a more truthful history, and thus also the basis for a lasting peace.

Nicoletta Fagiolo


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