Date: Wednesday, 12 May 2021
The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray state, one of Ethiopia’s ten regional states, is an irredentist, ethnic secessionist war led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) against the multiethnic federal government. Although the conflict officially started on November 4, 2020 after TPLF attacked the federal government’s Northern Command based in Tigray, this showdown had been brewing for many years—decades, actually.
Following the fall of the previous regime in 1991, TPLF assumed power and created a system of “ethnic federalism” in which newly delineated regional states were created on the basis of ethnicity. TPLF, which governed Ethiopia through corruption and ethnocentric policies with US support, fell from power in 2018 following mass protests that brought to power a new Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali. Though PM Abiy has inherited a poisoned chalice, he has worked to end Ethiopia’s era of ethnicity-based politics.
The US and EU, which provided TPLF support during its 27-year reign, continued to lend support to TPLF after 2018 even as it was greatly weakened and forced to retreat from Addis Ababa to its regional capital, Mekelle. Emboldened by the Western media, NGOs and governments, TPLF, by its own admission, started the conflict in November with secessionist and irredentist aims. Federal forces quickly captured Tigray’s capital city in little over three weeks and TPLF was forced to retreat.
Since the start of the conflict until the present moment, the majority of coverage on Tigray has been marked by massive levels disinformation. This report shows in detail why and how the disinformation is propagated—via print and social media—by predominantly Western sources.
Ultimately, the disinformation serves to manufacture consent for an unpopular irredentist, ethnic secessionist war that could not be justified in the eyes of the international public through honest reporting. This publication shows how a “communications blackout” is used as a justification by the media to accept and forward information of poor integrity.
With the fall of TPLF in late November came the consequent failure of US policy in the Horn of Africa. Since then, the Western media has, retroactively and proactively, forwarded a number of allegations of crimes against the people of Tigray perpetrated by the Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries. Eritrea has served as the primary scapegoat.
Alleged crimes include massacres, mass rape and sexual violence, looting, extrajudicial killings, genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crimes. Much of the reporting of these crimes, devoid of evidence and context, has proven sensational and racist with simplistic savage-like portrayals of Eritreans and Ethiopians that draw on old colonial tropes of Africans. This report looks beyond the gaudy headlines and provides sober, evidence- based analysis of the major allegations. Significant focus is given to social media as most disinformation about Tigray originates there.
Additionally, this report assesses the nature of and problems with Western media’s overall coverage of the Tigray conflict. Lastly, it provides analysis of the actions by Western governments and likely consequences of those actions to encourage better policy decisions in the Horn of Africa moving forward.
New York/Asmara, May 9, 2021