BY FITSUM GETACHEW
During the thirteen months conflict in northern Ethiopia, we have observed many interesting, curious and sad things. We have observed how the international community reacted to it. We have observed what and how the international media reported it and we have also observed how the other media, particularly the African media, reported this huge but sad event with all its follow ups. But we have also been able to see the kind of partisanship taken on this conflict. In fact it gave us the opportunity to find out who was on the side of Ethiopia and who was not. We observed a number of expert analysis and extensive explanations in the conflict boldly forwarded by so many self-appointed intellectuals as well as researchers.
Basically, we have observed that there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation as well as misconception on it, and consequently, the reactions that followed have been based on erroneous or biased information on the sides involved in the conflict. A very sad development in this conflict has been how many governments and equally media outfits tried little to dig into what exactly caused the conflict, what is the background scenario of the conflict, who are exactly the main actors of the conflict and what factors or interests lie behind the conflict. The context mattered a lot but few bothered to go deep in this situation also probably because of their fundamental bias on African issues.
Ethiopia is a country of more than 110 million people, according to recent estimates. At the same time, Ethiopia is also a mosaic of nations and nationalities where more than eighty languages are spoken. For ages Ethiopia has been run by a monarchy which was abolished in 1974 when a group of military officers made a putsch replacing the emperor and his aristocracy with young officers (mostly junior and medium level) and declared some sort of socialism. They repudiated the old system by abolishing the monarchy.
It is also good to note here that Ethiopia being a country that was never colonized, it has fought for the liberation of the entire African continent inspiring them with a spirit of victory that it had recorded against colonial invasion in 1896. That was when almost all of Africa was under colonial rule. This ‘spirit of victory’ was later on extended to the entire black world contributing to the formation of the pan African movement. After a few years of deliberations among independent African leaders, this movement developed into a pan African organization called the Organization of African Unity, OAU, now renamed the African Union or AU.
All this shows that Ethiopia is a very influential country in Africa. Besides, it was one of the founders of the League of Nations and subsequently the United Nations Organization, UN. It has also been a major force in the non-aligned movement when there was what was called the Cold War dividing the East from the West. Furthermore, it has always contributed to the major peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts of the UN and AU contributing thousands of troops in multiple engagements including the famous Korean War in 1953 with all the necessary sacrifices paid. Another one was the crisis in Congo with the Katanga issue in 1960. What is more, Ethiopia is also reputed for being a safe haven for about a million refugees fleeing conflict situations from neighboring countries and this makes it one of the major recipients of refugees in the entire world.
Hence, Ethiopia’s name or reputation in the international sphere is equaled by few other countries and one must say this has given it a special status not only in Africa but also in the wider world. However, Ethiopia is also in ‘the eye of the cyclone’ due to its peculiar geographic position in the Horn of Africa. It is the origin of the Blue Nile or Abay River which contributes to 85 % of the Nile that flows to downstream countries Sudan and Egypt. And that constitutes their life line. It has very close ties with Djibouti. The fact that the Horn of Africa is a crucial geopolitical area makes Ethiopia a centre of attraction. Whatsoever takes place in it could potentially reflect in its relations with all these countries. But, Ethiopia is also the key in the fight against terrorism and extremism, international illegal activities such as human trafficking and even drug trafficking.
Multiple times the Ethiopian government has sided with the West in its fight against all these negative developments. More significantly, Ethiopian troops have paid enormous sacrifices in Somalia for the sake of fighting al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda etc. Moreover, Ethiopian troops have been commended for their professional commitment in all places where they were dispatched and deployed to assist in peacekeeping campaigns. And yet, Ethiopia has always had its internal issues such as struggling to maintain a certain rate of growth so that millions manage to come out of abject poverty or try to develop a democratic system.
Hence, all these factors give special status to Ethiopia but lately, as the TPLF led government was deposed by a reformist group, certain alliances began to shake creating some sort of suspicion about what exactly had been happening during the twenty seven years rule of the deposed government. The current Ethiopian government is straight forward in its approach of dealing with foreign powers.
The government of Dr. Abiy Ahmed has stated clearly that it gives priority to the national interest of Ethiopia rather than the strategic interests of the major big powers as the former government was criticized of doing. The premier said openly that his government will deal with its internal problems using internal means and methods and will not take any suggestions or orders
from the big alien powers who do not refrain from using their economic and military clouts on it. Here began the major source of controversy and the fact that these alien forces seemed to side with the TPLF leaders has given these forces the extra belief and impetus to push for a return to power!
Many say that the TPLF forces would never have dared to attack the Northern Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces in November 2020 if it were not for the perception or conviction, if not direct support, of these alien forces who used to work with it when it was on power. They say the apparently tacit approval of these forces may have induced the TPLF leaders to attempt to unseat by force the Addis Ababa government. One of the points in favor of the above theory is the continuous propaganda media campaign that advocated for the point of view of the TPLF forces intended to try and help them in their Endeavour. In fact, it was also because of this and other logistic and technological assistance that the TPLF appeared to have run down all the cities along the route to Addis reaching about two hundred kilometers only!
For days, the entire western media propagated the imminent fall of Addis. What is worse even those media with solid reputation of neutrality and impartiality joined the campaign disseminating the same false stories! What is sure is that these reports have tarnished the image of not only Abiy Ahmed’s government, but also of the country. Western diplomats were urged to leave Addis as it was not safe anymore according to these reports. They anticipated a spell of disaster in the country, but it was all a cynical strategy that failed!
Fortunately, for Ethiopians this did not happen because 1991 could not be repeated in 2021! The fake news campaign launched and persistently carried out against Ethiopia was shameful and in the end many have been forced to embarrassment. During the entire duration of the conflict, millions of people even in Africa have been taking at face value what these international media outlets were reporting. The priority to note now after this experience is that Africa and the world in general is under the spell of the narratives that these powerful nations and their media outlets write and propagate!
But the question now is ‘why didn’t any African media outlet challenge seriously the narratives of these media institutions’? Why did all the non western media outlets just parrot what the western media said without looking more closely what exactly was happening on the ground? This has now resulted to be scandalous because what these media outlets reported and what exactly happened were two completely worlds apart! And in the meantime, an emboldened TPLF managed to carry out absolutely heinous crimes in all the places it occupied for months. Doubtless Ethiopians suffered tremendous physical and psychological losses and the pain could last for years. Is it possible to exempt western governments and their media establishments from
complicity in all these atrocities, in all this damage? This is what Africans in general and Ethiopians in particular should begin to ask. That is where we all need to sit down a bit and ponder how all this could take place without the complicity of all those who were involved in the false media campaign.
After the dust has begun to settle down many African observers, particularly intellectuals, observers and academics have questioned why Africans simply limited themselves to duplicating what the western media fabricated and disseminated. They deplored the stance of these African media who just limited themselves to parroting them without any genuine attempts to make their own inquiry and find out about the real facts on the ground.
Some influential pan-Africanists asserted that it is time that Africans tell their own story and not accept passively what others say about them. It is good to remember at this point that some years ago the famous US based Ethiopian film maker Professor Haile Gerima, used to assert that Africans and black people in general should start writing and narrating their own story and not accept as truth what others write about them with all their bias and misrepresentations, at times deliberately made to denigrate the black peoples’ culture and traditions but also without trying to have a real, deep insight into the culture, psychology and forma mentis of these people. He used to say Africans need to write their own story, make their own films from their own perspective and not from the perspective of the western cultural values that they like to rate as ‘superior’! He said this is what we must refute and say what are our values and what is our history like. For instance; Adwa, from the perspective of the Italians is a different story than the one from an Ethiopian stand point.
Professor Haile used say “we need to reconsider all the literature and films of western or non African narrations from our own perspective”. It is we who should tell our stories, not foreigners who do it for their own advantage and strategic interests. What we observed in the recent conflict in Ethiopia is what has reflected these ideas. Our minds have been mortgaged by the western culture and values and that is deeply wrong and we must come out of such dominion, the academics underline. We must begin to value our culture, tradition, history and creeds.
There is no way we must hand over every story that concerns us to western writers and commentators who present themselves as the exclusive owners or authorities of the truth. If we do not give enough respect, attention and focus to our own history and tradition and narrate them ourselves, how can we expect others to do it properly? That is why we must take full control of our stories and not let others mishandle the way they prefer or the way it suits their purposes. If there is anything the recent conflict in Northern Ethiopia has shown us is that the narratives of the west have always been partisan depending where their interests lie.
The January 19/2022