In the media, we see one-sided media campaign against Ethiopia, where armed war has broken out between the central government and rebels in the northern province of Tigray. In the absence of knowledge of the content of the conflict, Western governments and the media choose to support the rebels’ narrative. Rebels who have strong friends in Washington. One is tempted to say – as usual. If you take a closer look at who advises Joe Biden in Washington, you better understand the confusion. These are people who were closely linked to the old regime in Addis Ababa, a regime dominated by the Tigray people of the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front).
The old guard
The ethnically based TPLF regime lost power in 2018 after ruling Ethiopia for 27 years. Popular protests and demonstrations resulted in losing power. Oppression of ethnic minorities and a brutal policy meant that people had enough of decades of oppression. In a desperate attempt to retain power and influence, the TPLF has attempted a coup-like attempt aimed at the newly elected government with President Abiy Ahmed. When the TPLF lost power, they withdrew to Tigray and went over to open struggle against the government. In this fight, they received support from Washington, and the United States has increasingly been hated through its support for the TPLF – which has switched to the use of open terror. The result is that the future prospects of the United States in Ethiopia have deteriorated, as the United States, through its actions, has strengthened the anti-colonialist and pan-African forces working for a more independent Africa. The EU has also chosen the same course and commented on the conflict in a way that lacks evidence and basis in what actually happened in the conflict.
The TPLF was formed in 1975 as a Marxist organization, and from the beginning there was a faction with plans to establish the province of Tigray as an independent state, as a “Great Tigray”. The TPLF actively participated in the fight against the military dictatorship of Mengistu, which was supported by the Soviet Union. The strongest factor, however, was the Eritrean liberation movement, the EPLF, which trained the TPLF militarily and which, through the use of guerrilla leadership and strategic advantages of Eritrea’s geography, crushed the Ethiopian army. Ethiopia had air support, but could not match the freedom fighters who had massive support in the population. With the support of the EPLF, the TPLF then conquered power over Ethiopia, a multi-ethnic country historically marked by a strong central power that has tried to oppress the minorities. For example through repression of unrest and denial of Eritrea’s independence. Changing regimes have thus waged war against Eritrea, whether under Emperor Haile Selassie, the Mengistu regime or the TPLF regime. After many years of war, the Mengistu regime collapsed. The EPLF liberated Eritrea, and the TPLF seized power in Ethiopia in 1991.
It was a government based on an ethnic minority of 6% of the population, and this minority from Tigray occupied key positions in the country. The TPLF changed Ethiopia’s regional division to follow ethnic and linguistic criteria. Ethiopia is otherwise a patchwork of ethnic groups with their own languages and with several religions that live close together. This division was fateful and laid the groundwork for growing conflicts between ethnic groups.
The regime became increasingly hated and developed into a kleptocratic regime that filled its own pockets and was good at gaining support from the West. Large sums could be transfered to the accounts of senior TPLF persons abroad. At the same time, Ethiopia continued to wage war against Eritrea – instead of focusing on development and cooperation in one of the world’s poorest regions.
The TPLF continued to have significant control over the military, and large sections of the country’s military were located in Tigray. Was it to plan to regain power – or was it to ensure a consolidation of their plans for a Big Tigray? Probably both.
TPLF starts the war
At night 4 Nov. In 2020, the TPLF attacked the military bases of the Northern Military Command, located in Tigray. It is reported that it was a brutal, unprovoked assault in which about 400 officers and soldiers were slaughtered while sleeping in their barracks. The TPLF seized munitions, including long-range missiles, in which 22 were fired at Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. TPLF also went on the offensive in neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, with great devastation as a result and mass exodus of people. Many were murdered as TPLF supporters went from house to house with machetes and knives. The city of Mai Kadra in particular was hit hard by massacres, and these brutal murders are well documented. There was extensive destruction of infrastructure as well as buildings as well as hospitals, clinics, colleges, bridges and roads. Tragic devastation where only the civilian population are losers. The TPLF has desperately thrown itself into a war to regain the power they have lost. As always in wars, truth is the first victim of war, and the TPLF has skillfully used its vast financial resources to portray itself as the victims through effective cyber-propaganda. The use of social media has led to a cascade of misinformation about what has actually happened.
US strategic mistake
Ethiopia has long been an “anchor” in the region in US foreign policy. Through control of Ethiopia, the United States was able to control the Red Sea, one of the world’s most important trade routes. During the feudal empire under Haile Selassie, Ethiopia was a secure partner, however interrupted by a military coup under Colonel Mengistu who allied with the Soviet Union. Colonel Mengistu imposed a brutal dictatorship and continued the struggle against Eritrea’s independence, which was a serious mistake. Although Ethiopia received massive military support from the Eastern Bloc, it was defeated by the Eritrean liberation movement, which had the advantage of a population that supported the rebels, and mountainous terrain ideal for guerrilla warfare.
In 1991, Eritrea became an independent nation, which broke with American foreign policy, which since decolonization in Africa and the Cold War had supported Ethiopia’s control of Eritrea. Eritrea had fought against both the great superpowers and took over a war-torn country after 30 years of armed freedom struggle. With Ethiopia’s defeat in Eritrea, it opened up for a takeover of Ethiopia by the Tigray group. It orientated itself towards the United States and, as before, had ambitions to control Eritrea. The TPLF proved to be a willing tool for the United States and during the Bush
administration’s “war on terror” the United States was able to send prisoners to torture prisons in Ethiopia. As a reward for this loyalty, Ethiopia was given free rein to continue its sabotage of the peace agreement with Eritrea. Ethiopia also attacked Somalia with the support of the West and committed serious war crimes in Ogaden, which is populated by a Somali-speaking population. Ogaden came under a total blockade, in which the abuses that took place were largely ignored by the West.
In the 1998-2000 war against Eritrea, in which the Ethiopian military massively attacked Eritrea and penetrated far into Eritrea, the United States played a passive role. It was a very bloody war, and hundreds of thousands of Eritreans had to flee north into Eritrea in order not to be captured inside the territories occupied by Ethiopia. A peace agreement is signed in Algiers in 2000, confirmed by the USA and the EU, with a detailed plan for marking the border, and a UN force (UNMEE) is deployed, to which Denmark also contributed. After the border was demarcated by an independent commission, Ethiopia refused to recognize it and was not sanctioned for this breach. Ethiopia did not withdraw its troops from territories allotted to Eritrea.
Where changing US governments and presidents had unconditionally supported the TPLF regime, and seen through fingers with the regime’s brutal repression, a change is happening with Trump, who shifted focus away from the region. New people came in office in Washington with responsibility for African policy, and the sanctions that had been imposed from 2009 – 2018 against Eritrea are lifted. With the Biden government, however, the old people return to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which had nurtured very close ties with the TPLF government and seen through fingers with the TPLF’s brutal rule. These are senior Democrats like Samantha Power and Susan Rice, who have also been very active in sanctioning Eritrea. There are also people who become very active in the media war, where one is passive in the face of the heinous crimes committed by the TPLF, and resulting in the Ethiopian government designates the TPLF as a terrorist organization.
Ahmed Abiy comes to power
The TPLF loses power in Addis Ababa in a reasonably peaceful transition in April 2018, with the opposition taking over. New prime minister is Abiy Ahmed, and the TPLF elite, who suddenly lose all their power, begins to fight the new government. A serious breach occurs when the TPLF decides to hold regional elections in Tigray, contrary to the government’s postponement of elections due to COVID-19. Abbink (2021) writes that the TPLF fought against being pushed aside, losing both military power and control of their business empire. As well as the risk of being held accountable for their crimes. Their history as an “avant-garde party” had shown that they had spared no means to crush their opponents. Their years of support from the US and the EU over 27 years had given them the belief of being self-described to power. Their strategy now became to control Tigray and present themselves as victims. A narrative they managed to sell to Western media and governments. There were no real social reasons for the uprising in Tigray, and it is described by Abbink (2021) as an elite “top-down” uprising after losing power. The people of Tigray and the neighboring provinces of Amhara and Afar were to pay a great price.
Abiy then surprises everyone by making peace with Eritrea and traveling to Asmara and meeting with great cheers. The President of Eritrea comes to Addis Ababa, and this thaw in the longtime frozen relations between the two countries surprises everyone, not least the West, which suddenly sees African leaders step into character with their own agenda. Abiy utters the famous words: “Isayas is leading us! ”. Shocking statement for
Washington and Brussels, which have been accustomed to seeing Ethiopia as a state that has not challenged imperialism.
The TPLF is declared a terrorist organization
In May 2021, the Ethiopian government declares the TPLF a terrorist organization. This is due to the massive atrocities that have taken place in Tigray and in the neighboring provinces of Amhara and Afar. Child soldiers are being used, ethnic killings, sexual abuse and rape take place, looting, destruction of hospitals, churches and infrastructure and not least massacres of civilians, which can in no way be military targets. TPLF opens prisons and thousands of criminals are released. TPLF emerges as an elite fighting for its own interests and taking an entire population hostage in their nationalist and ethnicized project. The future of an entire generation is being destroyed.
At the same time, the TPLF portrays it as being besieged and using hunger as a political weapon in their propaganda. Emergency transports and trucks are confiscated and do not return, but are used by the TPLF in their warfare. War in an agricultural country where people flee and are expelled causes great suffering, not least because it means that the peasants cannot cultivate their land. But the lack of condemnation from the West is causing great bitterness in Addis Ababa. Although overwhelming evidence is presented of the TPLF’s aggression, the United States and the West are passive, thus giving the TPLF hope that their uprising has support. It succeeds especially through a targeted campaign on social media with the support of TPLF-positive groups abroad.
All parties to the war have made abuses, but the TPLF surpasses all with their ethnic killings of innocent civilians in both Tigray and the neighboring provinces of Amhara and Afar. It caused a shock in the Ethiopian public, but was not the subject of publicity in the global media. On the contrary, Joe Biden imposed sanctions, and the European Parliament expressed support for the rebels in a resolution. It was widely seen in Ethiopia as a neocolonial policy.
TPLF have orchestrated a targeted propaganda in global media in a regular cyber war, that has affected world public opinion in a way that made it as important as their warfare on earth. This meant that media outlets such as CNN, the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph broadcast news based on TPLF propaganda. For example, New York Times referred to child soldiers as “highly motivated young recruits” (Abbink, 2021).
Through a narrative that the TPLF were the victims and were subjected to genocide and starvation, it managed for a period to influence the Western media and politicians. The government of Addis Ababa declared a unilateral ceasefire in June 2021, but the TPLF continued their mass killings and ravages. However, the large amount of information about their atrocities and war crimes, not least the brutal ethnic violence in the neighboring provinces, has meant that their image is crumbling.
Ethiopia is not bowing
The Ethiopian government has entered into character and has expelled UN staff who, contrary to their mandate, have supported the TPLF. It triggered automatic condemnations from the EU and the US, which otherwise do not refrain from expelling diplomats. Ethiopia has been subjected to a massive international campaign in which leading political forces in the United States and the European Union have not addressed “facts on the ground”. This has led to an unnecessary prolongation of the crisis in northern Ethiopia. There is a need for a more evidence-based policy that works with the Ethiopian federal government to stop ethnic-based violence and support peaceful development in the region. The current policy has the character of a neo-imperialist policy towards an independent country, Ethiopia, which has never been colonized. The protests in Africa against this policy are strong – they say #NoMore.
John Graversgaard is a political activist from Denmark
Translated from the internet magazine Kritisk Revy:
A fact bases source with great knowledge of Etriopia is professor Jon Abbink, Leiden University, Holland. And some of his articles are brought here:
Jon Abbink: The politics of conflict in Northern Ethiopia, 2020-2021: A study of war-making, media bias and policy struggle. African Studies Centre Leiden, The Netherlands. Working Paper 152/ 2021
‘The Ethiopia Conflict in International Relations and Global Media Discourse’, In E-International Relations 5 (2021), 6 p. (ISSN: 2053-8626, open access, https://www.e-ir.info/2021/11/21/the-ethiopia-conflict-in-international-relations-and-global-media-discourse/).
‘Getting things right on the Ethiopia conflict’ (29 August 2021). Reply on the website of African Arguments to: https://africanarguments.org/2021/08/an-open-call-by-african-intellectuals-for-urgent-action-on-ethiopia/
‘Tendency to demonise Ethiopia and give free pass to TPLF is false narrative’. In: Business Day newspaper (Johannesburg, ZA), 12 Nov. 2021.
‘Refocusing the Ethiopia conflict: grave doubts about the narratives of ‘humanitarian blockade’ and ‘Tigray genocide’.’ On https://medium.com/@JonAbbink/refocusing-the-ethiopia-conflict-grave-doubts-about-the-narratives-of-humanitarian-blockade-and-b1f0fb9dd4e5 (21-11-2021)
Blankspot( Homesite in Sweden with information on the conclict in Ethiopia)
Debatt: Ensidig journalistik om Etiopien när det gamla gardet försöker ta tillbaka makten – BlankspotText: Ahmed Ali. Ansvarig utgivare på Etiopiska Radion i Sverige.
Överlevare vittnar om en fruktansvärd massaker.https://blankspot.se/overlevare-vittnar-om-en-fruktansvard-massaker%ef%bf%bc/
Aregawi Berhe: Origins of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. African Affairs, 103/413, 569-592, 2004.