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MFC’s top five lies of the year 2021: Focus on the war in Ethiopia

By MFC Staff

It is a cliché that politicians maximize lies over facts aimed at grabbing public attention by using it as a tool for indoctrination. Moreover, in times of war, the ‘lying price’ goes through the roof and reaches the level where politicians cannot anymore hide from the public. Fact might be hidden for a while behind the curtain but not forever. MFC looks at five top lies of the year 2021 by zooming-in on the conventional and unconventional war in Ethiopia. In researching the lies, MFC’s staff heeded a great deal of inquiry into the practical implications of distortions and consequences that followed the lies.  The staff would like to note that the sources we decide to use to identify the top list are ones which have already been fact-checked by trustable and credible external sources.  

Lie#1: On denying the death of civilians in the first month into the war

The Ethiopian officials were claiming that there were no single civilians killed by the Ethiopian military in the November 2020 offensive to the capture of Mekelle, the capital of Tigray Region. In his December 2020 address to the parliament, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that the military defeated TPLF forces and captured the Tigray Region capital Mekelle without a single civilian casualty.

Fact: However, several reports have indicated that dozens of civilians were killed and wounded by the Ethiopian military in the November 2020 offensive launched to capture Mekelle. Reuters, citing local sources, reported that “at least 27 people – including a 4-year-old, a 78-year-old and a family of four – had died in the offensive.” The New York Time report and investigation made by the Human Rights Watch have also revealed civilian causality as result of the army’s indiscriminate artillery barrages on civilian areas on November 28, 2020. According to the Human Rights Watch, “artillery fired after approximately 9:00 a.m. hit a residential compound in the Ayder sub-city area of Mekelle, near Hamza mosque, a market, and a school, killing a family of four, including two girls ages 4 and 13, and injuring six others, including a boy age 9.” The reports by these three sources consistently indicate the deaths of 27 people, and over 100 wounded as a result of the shelling on November 28.

Lie#2: On Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) involvement in Tigray war

As the war between Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) started in November 2020, the leader of TPLF alleged the involvement of Eritrean security forces in the war by supporting the ENDF side. However, the PM Abiy’s administration was quick to denounce the interference of any external forces in the war supporting ENDF. 

In his press conference held on November 11, 2020, the then Ethiopia’s Minister of Defence Kenea Yadeta told journalists the claim that the TPLF presents as if ENDF is fighting against Tigray people with support from ‘another country’ is not based on fact. To quote the Minister:

“On one hand, to get rid of this destruction group, the defense force does not need any additional forces. Period.  Leave alone this destruction group, which doesn’t have an aim for its people, if faced with more danger the defense force can carry on its mission without any support or additional forces. Thus, there is no ground for requesting additional support from outside. They are enough for this group. On the second point, the ENDF cannot fight back its own country along with external forces. That is not the aim of its formation. It is not a traitor as well.” 

Fact: However, early this year both Ethiopian officials admitted the involvement of Eritrean soldiers in Tigray’s war. Later on, the Eritrean government disclosed their involvement on the ground of national security. 

Ethiopia’s prime minister admitted for the first time that troops from neighboring Eritrea supported his nation’s army in a conflict against dissident leaders of its northern Tigray region.” – Bloomberg (March 23, 2021). 

“Eritrea has acknowledged for the first time its forces are taking part in the months-long war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and promised to pull them out in the face of mounting international pressure.” – Al Jazeera (April 17, 2021)

Lie#3: The alleged death of PM of Ethiopia and President of Tigray

It would not be a surprise if one claims that PM Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and Debretsion of Tigray were dead as both are at war and information on even minor incidents are not available to the public. However, in the age of social media and mis/disinformation such claims have surely a consequence on the deteriorating political stability of Ethiopia. AFP factcheckers quoted a social media post that claimed the state affiliated media has reported that Prime Minister Abiy “has been shot twice in the head by an unknown sniper while he was driving in his personal vehicle around Beherawi neighborhood” alleging the leader of Tigray might have hand in the assassination.

Fact: AFP verified the claim and concluded that it was not based on fact:

“However, the claim that Ethiopian state-owned media announced the death of Abiy is false; the prime minister has appeared in public at least twice since the Facebook post was published.” – AFP (June 15, 2021)

Almost after four months of the rumor regarding the PM Abiy’s death, came another claim that President Debretsion was killed by Amhara militia. The circulated video via social media contains images, and it shows Debretsion purportedly bleeding from a gunshot in the head”, according to an online based fact checking, PesaCheck. “However, the video does not provide any evidence regarding Debretsion’s death.”

Fact: PesaCheck debunked that the circulated video on social media claiming the death of Tigray leader was not based on fact:

“PesaCheck has looked into a video post shared on Facebook claiming that TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael was shot dead by Amhara militia at Kobo, and finds it to be FALSE.” – PesaCheck (October 29, 2021)

The war in the Oromia region, which precedes the Tigray region by not less than two years , has been mainly targeted against the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), whose leader is Jaal Marroo (a.k.a. Kumsa Diriba). Referring to security authorities in Oromia, local and foreign based media reported the death of Jaal Marro in Kellem Wollega zone of Oromia regional state. Borkena, a web-based outlet, echoed a report from Ahadu, both partisan media, stating “Kumsa Driba ( Jal Mero) died from a bullet wound he sustained from one of the latest military operations in the region. Police inspector of the Qelem District, Inspector Zelalem Nememsa is said to have confirmed that the rebel leader is dead.”

Fact: After three month of this claim, Jaal Marro appeared on Al Jazeera’s The Stream program.

On the program, the leader read a written statement where he started with the date when the statement was written, BBC Afaan Oromo  (March 30, 2021). He also appeared later on several radio programs.  

Lie#4: On China and Russia sending troops to protect Ethiopia from Western Powers

Following the war in Ethiopia, the US government and the European Union (EU) repeatedly called for a non-military political solution and access to humanitarian support in the affected areas, mainly in Tigray but also including Amhara and Afar regional states. As peace and security deteriorated, which were induced by the war, the US and EU continued issuing immediate departure of their citizens from the country. The latest statement from the US Embassy in Ethiopia reads “[the] security situation in Ethiopia remains concerning and can deteriorate without warning.”  On the other block of the political spectrum is China and Russia supporting the Ethiopian government with its war effort in the country. In March AP reported quoting a UN diplomat that “an attempt to get U.N. Security Council approval for a statement calling for an end to violence in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region and to spotlight the millions in need of humanitarian assistance was dropped Friday night after objections from India, Russia and especially China”. Looking at this power balance, social media users affiliated with the Ethiopian government have also engaged in mis/disinformation. Late this year, a social media page with the name BahirDar Daily reportedly posted China and Russia, along with anti-NATO countries, moved over 200,000 militaries onto Ethio-Djibouti border aimed at countering any attack aimed at Ethiopia by the US.

Fact: The AFP fact checked the statement which was posted with three extra images depicting the flag of China and Russia, armed soldiers, and military armament.

“However, the claim that Chinese and Russian soldiers were deployed in Djibouti to help Ethiopian troops is false.” AFP (December 8, 2021)

Lie#5: On TPLF Spokesman impersonated tweet alleging Tigray Force retreat

On November 5, a tweet masquerading as Getachew K Reda, TPLF’s Spokesman and advisor to the President of Tigray circulated on social media platforms. Tweet reads: “#Tigray Armed_Forces command Decided today #NOV_5_2021 that the TDF should tactically retreated [sic] from @dessie and @kombolcha cities to the northern wollo zones! we will control those cities, if it is necessary, back!! #the_regime _must go!” Among many who circulated the tweet include Addisu Arega Kitessa, Vice President for Social Affairs Cluster at Oromia Regional State.

Addisu posted on his Facebook (a.k.a Meta) page in Amharic which is loosely translated: “Following a hard hit on the terrorist junta group by the heroic defense forces, regional security forces and our people on all fronts, there were those dead, wounded and became prisoners of war, and those who survived run off to rescue their life.” And in reference to the impersonated tweet, Addisu stated that “this morning, the junta’s mouthpiece Getachew Reda deleted after posting ‘We have decided to make a strategic withdrawal from Dessie and Kombolcha’”

@reda_getachew reacted on the tweet in reaction to Addisu’s post stating “#Abiy’s lackeys are making up stories to make up for their losses in the battlefield. Here is yet another amateurish effort”.

Fact: The personated tweet which at the time received 3,000 likes and 2,500 retweets, according to Reuters. Reuters fact checkers have assessed the usage of poor grammar and punctuation, capitalized hashtag and the type of mobile phone used – iPhone rather than Android. And the verdict was:  

“A screenshot purportedly showing a tweet sent by the TPLF’s spokesman that says Tigrayan forces would retreat from two towns, is fabricated.Reuters (November 5, 2021)

These are what MFC put together from dozens of misleading and unfactual claims. Thus, it should be clear that these are neither the only lies, nor ranking which lies are better than the other. MFC belveis there is NO ‘small sin versus big sin’ when it comes to misinformation and disinformation. 

Finally, the entire MFC staff wishes all of our readers, affiliates and partners a Happy New Year; and we would like to assure all of you that we commit ourselves to fighting mis/disinformation with evidence based facts. 

 

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Ethiopian Lecturer Union (ሲተረጎም የኢትዮጵያ መምህራን ህብረት) የተባለ አንድ ግለሰብ በሌሎች ግለሰቦች የሚሰቃይበትን አሰቃቂ ቪዲዮ በማጋራት “የአማራ የዘር ማጥፋት [በአብይ አህመድ አማካይነት] በኢትዮጵያ እየተጠናከረ መሆኑን በመግለፅ መረጃውን አሰራጭቷል። ቪዲዮው አንድ ግለሰብ በሊቢያ የሕገወጥ የሰዎች አዘዋዋሪዎች እገታ ተፈፅሞበት እየተሰቃየ የሚታይበት በመሆኑ ልጥፉ ሐሰት ነው።

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(MFC) is an independent fact-checking organization which is launched to pin-point, track-down, scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, publish and distribute the factual accuracy of claims made by public figures. MFC’s project has geographical priorities. Our work mainly focuses on nations in the Horn of Africa and their diaspora community who reside abroad. We operates from various regions of Africa, Europe and North America. Through a multitude of professional proficiency, MFC deploys best practices of journalism, scholarship and expertise in order to flag, investigate and publish a fact.

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