By Jeff Pearce
If you’re an ally of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people, you might feel pretty frustrated about now. I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re wasting time on the wrong battles.
The TPLF has managed to play the Western media like a fiddle. It began the conflict, boasting through its sock puppets like Kjetil Tronvoll that “battle hardened troops” would make for a long fight. And the media ate that up. Those same troops were humiliated in a couple of months, but then the spin masters moved the conversation to “When would the Abiy government sit down and talk? Why wouldn’t it sit down and talk? And wasn’t that the decent thing to do? To sit down and talk? You heartless meanies!” Blah, blah, blah.
The word went forth of a massive humanitarian crisis, and now it was all the fault of the war and the Abiy government. Forget those who were already suffering while the TPLF were in power. Never mind that no Western reporter has bothered to sit down and do basic math — Lawrence Freeman has had to do that for them.
So on February 13, influential New York Times columnist quote-tweeted Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, claiming, “The government is starving the Tigray population and refusing to allow humanitarian access. It’s an appalling situation.”
This guy won the Pulitzer Prize twice, but I guess success has made him lazy, as he can’t bust his ass to check the simplest facts. No, that was done for him by Ethiopians who quickly fired back with the video made by David Beasley of the World Food Programme. Hey, look! Food aid is coming in. Yes, the WFP and others are working with the Ethiopian government. Yes, there are issues on scaling up aid and logistical problems, but that does not give you the right to toss around an accusation that a government is deliberately starving a people.
Consider the phrasing in this story from The New Humanitarian: “The UN has tried to negotiate response procedures, to little effect, and Ethiopia so far has brushed off diplomatic demands for unhindered access, leaving dozens of aid agencies at a near-standstill on the sidelines of an unfolding humanitarian disaster.”
This story also went online days after Beasley was phone-camming himself in front of trucks being unloaded.
We are fighting the wrong fight. Ethiopians and their allies are wasting their time with bickering back-and-forths on Twitter and other platforms, with even sending out posts in the vain hope that they’ll get noticed by Jake Tapper at CNN.
It’s time to take away the weapons and the toys of the TPLF’s shadow army in the diaspora communities. It’s time to go after what they use and how they use it.
Black Lives Matter didn’t just change the world by casting a spotlight on systemic police violence. In the great tidal wave of its movement came “Defund the police,” which challenged our whole way of thinking about law enforcement. It’s high time we did that with human rights organizations. Challenge the assumptions underlying those groups.
I’m saying it loud. I’m screaming it: Defund Human Rights Watch. Defund Crisis Group. Defund Amnesty International.
Because this is the new colonialism for Africa. This is the new, liberal-lite white supremacy.
Oh, you’re a white person reading this, and it sounds extreme? Got your attention? Good. About flippin’ time. And I think I can make my case.
Consider that we’re dealing with organizations that will tweet about Ethiopia but use old photos of Iraq and Somalia. We have Amnesty International, who had to apologize last year for a blatantly biased tweet, which was even noticed by BBC News. We have Human Rights Watch, with Kenneth Roth who will blame Ethiopian forces for massacres while posting articles that actually contradict his message. We have Crisis Group, which likes to lecture African governments over crushing dissent, but has more than one senior analyst who likes to engage in cyber-bullying of those who don’t agree with their narratives. Trust me, Human Resources at Crisis Group has been busy lately, rapping knuckles.
Why am I mentioning social media so much? Because this is how they build their brand. That, and being ready and willing mouth pieces for network news.
But we need to look beyond the secondary platforms of social media to the major platforms of big media. I would love to know why it’s standard practice for Reuters, Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN and others to talk to the likes of Kenneth Roth and Letitia Bader in the first place when you can directly interview Africans.
Let’s please cut the bullshit. No one elected these organizations to be the moral arbiters of the world.
Human Rights Watch, for instance, gets its money from regular fundraising drives and foundations. That doesn’t make them accountable to you, especially if you’re in Africa. Crisis Group is not accountable to you — it’s getting its money from other governments outside Africa. Yet they feel entitled to tell Africa how to conduct its business.
Western media have given them the power of moral authority because they are convenient. And because these organizations need that gravy train still flowing, the analysts will never be shy of a camera.
Go on, please tell me why a white guy who once served as a U.S. federal prosecutor and is a failed politician has a view that’s worth more than say, the head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission?
Is it because he speaks fluent English and is articulate? Plenty of Ethiopians for that. Are you going to sell me that he’s objective? Really? So… your logic is that somehow Africans can’t be objective about their own political situations?
When you put them on camera, when you quote them in articles, you are automatically buying their message that their version of morality supersedes that of a sovereign state. In some cases, yes, that can be true. But in others, as with Ethiopia, it can be disastrous. And no group should have that much moral power. Especially when it’s so shamelessly hypocritical and outright racist.
Let’s rewind the clock a little. Here is Human Rights Watch racking up the crimes and inhumanities of the Trump administration. We are still only a few weeks after a brazen attack on the Capitol building and a coup attempt by extremist elements. But funny, I’ve never seen repeated, daily calls by Human Rights Watch or any other human rights organization for complete “unfettered” access to the United States and for independent international investigations.
But somehow Ethiopia should surrender its sovereignty because human rights groups demand it?
Deport their people immediately. Out of Ethiopia. Out of South Africa. Out of other spots on the continent.
Oh? You’re going to tell me what a wonderful investigative job they’re doing, right? Except that the same watchdog functions they supposedly do so well — oh, except for their current shameless bias against Addis Ababa — could be done by responsible journalists. Journalists who are at least accountable to the public according to the traditional ethics of the business, which are supposed to include objectivity.
If we take groups such as Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch out of the system, reporters would no longer have the easy fallback device of talking heads (usually white). They would have to get off their asses once in a while and analyze things for themselves. You know… genuinely report on a country.
Which brings us to Alex de Waal. And Mulugeta Gebrehiwot of the TPLF… and an interesting bit of radio drama they played recently. Mulugeta just happened to work with de Waal at Tufts University’s World Peace Foundation where de Waal has been the director.
So when de Waal got his amazing, dramatic phone call from Mulugeta “somewhere in rural Tigray,” recounting dramatic tales of the conflict, I guess we’re not supposed to recall that cozy relationship. On the World Peace Foundation site, it was reported that Mulugeta supposedly “evacuated from the city to the mountains.” And in his interview, he claimed, “I have an old radio transistor which I bought it from a militia [laughs]. That’s what connects me to the rest of the world.”
Well, that’s a neat trick. Having worked in radio way back when it was fully analog, I would love to know more about the technical details that resulted in such clear and generally consistent reception and how it interfaced with modern tech. I smell a rat, especially given that sources strongly doubt that he was in rural Tigray at all.
Mulugeta’s own assertions undermine his credibility. He mentions 42 divisions of Eritrean troops. Really? What, is Eritrea planning on storming Normandy?
Military experts will tell you that even from 1998 to 2000, Eritrea had at most 28 divisions made up of four light brigades, and downsized in the years after that. So this is a gigantic whopper that no one should be falling for.
It’s no secret that Mulugeta was with the TPLF back in its earlier days and his sympathies are with the TPLF now. In that same “interview,” he tells de Waal that the mood of the people is “Angry, angry, extremely angry, extremely angry. They are left with one option: just fighting…The TPLF doesn’t have any shortage of manpower when it wants to mobilize.”
Left with one option… Who talks like this? It is the phrasing of a propagandist, not an objective academic, let alone a reporter. It is not journalism. It’s certainly not field research. And there is a strong possibility that de Waal was at the very least duped by his old colleague. Yet de Waal has recycled material from this interview with the Irish Times, and he is another go-to source for BBC News, the Guardian, et. al.
Only a day before the WPF posted the Mulugeta interview on its page, Canada’s Globe and Mail ran an Op-Ed piece that infuriated many Ethiopians with its one-sidedness and its blatant disregard for facts. It was written by Robert Rotberg. And who the hell, you might ask is Robert Rotberg? Another one of de Waal’s cronies and past president of the World Peace Foundation.
The game is rigged, friends. It stinks to high heaven. The same old talking heads like de Waal and Tronvoll, pushing only one narrative. Venting on Twitter won’t change it. Writing Letters to the Editor won’t change it. Ethiopian diplomats and community activists sent letters in response to the Globe and Mail — they were ignored.
And the pathetic irony of all this is that even if the TPLF got its way — let’s say tomorrow, by some miracle, they rose from the ashes, won all their battles and carved out an independent Tigray state by force. They think the tail is wagging the dog. I promise you: the Western media would turn on them in a finger snap. They would immediately find themselves the new villains.
Because the media enjoys watching Africa fail. It’s great for TV. Network news and online newspapers need the constant drama of conflict. Ever notice how damn few positive stories there are about Africa? Think that isn’t deliberate?
A changing of the guard, a change of values, is damn overdue. Let’s fight for bigger stakes.
It’s time to go full Adwa and kick the ferenji back beyond the line. It’s time to call out what is, in effect, white supremacy in journalism, in human rights work, in the insular and shamelessly corrupt system of international “analysis.”
Take action now.
Call the bastards out. Demand to know why human rights groups are appropriating the voices of Ethiopians.
Tell news operations that Ethiopia does not need the white filters of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty or Crisis Group to explain its problems.
Make the rest of Africa your ally. Because you can just bet that in some countries, with ordinary people, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty wore out their welcome long ago.
Forget Twitter. Forget Facebook. Get mad. Flood the damn newsroom phone lines at the BBC in London, at Turkish TV news operations, Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the New York Times, all of them.
It’s easy to ignore a tweet, let a post on Facebook sink below the tide of fresh content — not so easy for them to ignore you when you’re clogging their phone lines again and again and again. Make their damn lives miserable until they agree to change.
You want to protest? Forget your city hall or public square. Go outside news media offices and demand they change how they’re telling your story.
Demand to get the Ethiopian voices that speak for you in articles and on television NOT the ones they’ve carefully selected who align with the narrative they’ve picked out for your country.
Ask: Why is it in the era of Black Lives Matter, that an organization like Human Rights Watch with a bunch of white executives in New York City are setting the moral agenda for Africa?
Ask: Hey, you guys in the media! Why are you relying on the same voices with the same single viewpoint over and over and over and over again? Alex de Waal, William Davison, Kjetil Tronvoll, Robert Rotberg, et. al.? Why?
Gee, I wonder what all these guys have in common. Hmm, something to do with complexion. No, no, wait, it’ll come to me…
Ask: “Why are you talking to these white American people about African problems? About Ethiopia’s problems? We’ll let you know who are our white allies are that you should talk to, thanks.”
The ferenji have figured out a new game for how to invade. Don’t let them. This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Adwa. Show Africa and the world the same spirit as at Adwa, that you and your country do not answer to the political agenda and convenient moralizing of a rigged system.