The Economist misrepresents news on Ethiopia again

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Latest report adds to repeated string of inconsistencies

A recent report by the Economist magazine alleges evidence of atrocities committed during Ethiopia’s civil war is being destroyed. The report is mainly based on previous Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the BBC claiming authorities from Ethiopia’s Amhara region systematically killed or evicted Tigrayans from the contested “Western Tigray” region. Furthermore, the article claims, satellite images from Vigil Monitor indicate disturbances at known burial sites and suspected burial grounds, potentially indicating evidence tampering.

The Economist says, witnesses in refugee camps located in eastern Sudan who come from this region of Ethiopia recount instances of bodies being left exposed to animals or loaded onto tractors for unknown destinations. However, by its own admission, the Economist says Journalists and aid-workers have been restricted from accessing this region of Ethiopia, hindering investigations. This begs the question how such big claims are still made relaying on remotely collected anonymous witness testimony.

Moreover, the Economist’s claim of satellite information showing ground burning is evidence of mass graves but fails to produce the images. Not sharing images cited as evidence, as a key component of the story, is quite bizarre. This mention becomes all the more strange considering, it is common in this part of Ethiopia for farmers to set fire to the remains of old crop fields to rid them of the leftover grasses and scrub. Something the economist aptly ignores, as it may contradict its narrative.

The said destruction of mass graves by The Economist is indeed quite fanciful. But the deeper deception lies in gaslighting of Amhara victims of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which ruled the area in question from the late 1980s up until November 2020. During that period the group carried out widespread atrocities and a campaign of ethnic, as well as cultural cleansing of the region’s Amhara natives, a historical fact never once mentioned in the annals of mainstream publication. This is indeed a classic case of worthy vs unworthy victims described in Noam Chomsky’s seminal work on propaganda, “Manufacturing Consent”.

In April 2022, Gonder Univeristy started excavating the remains of mass graves in which hundreds of political prisoners, mostly Amhara were buried in mass graves strung across Welkait, and Kafta Humera zones. Images of researchers carefully exhuming dated skeletons, one after the other was broadcast on local media. American photojournalist, Jamel Countess was there in person to photograph this event. His report was later published.

Unsurprisingly, this story never featured in the mainstream media, even though it appeared widely in Ethiopia. A report by Borkena news is one of the few English language coverage available. It was not only conveniently overlooked, but a day after the story was made public, HRW released a report analyzing atrocities committed on Tigrayans by Amhara authorities and Eritrean forces. The entire report depended on remotely sourced witness testimony and produced no tangible evidence. This was consciously done to overshadow the finding by the University of Gonder.

Addisu Mamaye Ayane stands over one of several large holes that mark the locations of mass graves all total containing the remains of 36 individuals murdered by the TPLF that are in the process of being excavated in the town of Adi Selam on April 07, 2022 in Welkait, Ethiopia. According to witnesses from the town the TPLF marched 36 members of the community to this location and executed them in approximately 1985. They were members of the Welkait-Tegede community who were murdered because of their ethnicity. The nearby torture camp at Gehennab began operating 37 years ago in 1985 when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) occupied Welkait as they fought against the Derg Regime before gaining control of the area in 1991. Photographed by Jemal Countess.

To bolster is claim, The Economist piece recalled an earlier report by CNN. This story described “corpses floating down the Tekeze river into next-door Sudan”, which first emerged early on the conflict, in September 2021. This story was broadcast on CNN that year, even though it had many inconsistencies, which included a silent edit of a critical piece of information days after its initial publication. A report by Abren pointed out the glaring holes in that story. The Economist resurrected this debunked story, but added, based on an unnamed human rights researcher, “after an international outcry, the tactic of dumbing bodies into rivers seems to have changed”.

Generally, this sort of clever obfuscation by mentioning something that may be nominally true, while omitting the back story has become quite common in traditional media coverage of the Ethiopia’s northern Tigray conflict. To this day the media continue to obscure facts regarding Ethiopia’s recently concluded conflict, and when questions arise about their claimed narrative, the tendency has been to ignore the story and move on to another fabricated story. By now, it is clear the media will never correct themselves or respond to critics pointing out contradictions.

Unfortunately, the same is true for HRW and other West based international human rights organizations, which have demonstrated clear politicization in their reporting. Ethiopia’s government, which stands accused of blocking efforts to “uncover the truth and punish perpetrators” continues to refuse an international investigation. An expected decision, given the very same tainted organizations and individuals, who discredit their independence are likely to be involved. Lack of a reputable and impartial truth and justice commission raises concerns about a weak foundation for lasting peace.

More importantly repeated misrepresentations and obfuscations of the horrible war in northern Ethiopia, that invariably categorizes Ethiopians into worthy and unworthy victim groups based on ethnicity have the tacit goal of perpetuating and making the conflict intractable. This will inevitably create an environment where truth and justice for all sides will be delayed, if not lost forever.

The skulls of three individuals recently exhumed by Gonder University researchers from a mass grave of ethnic Amhara’s murdered by the TPLF at the Torture camp of Gehenab in Welkait. A bullet hole can be seen in the skull in the foreground. Photographed by Jamel Countess.

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