The New Lines Institute Report on “Tigray Genocide” is a Replay of Debunked Claims

AI generated abstract image of Alex De Waal and his Pinocchio nose.

The New Lines Institute’s 120-page report on the Ethiopia’s “Tigray war” portrays the conflict as stemming from deep-seated tribal tensions or what it termed “entrenched competition between ethnic factions”. Published on June 4, 2024, the account singles out Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as the catalyst for the conflict which broke out on November 4, 2020, purportedly in response to an attack on Ethiopian armed forces, though it swiftly dismisses this attack on the Northern Command as inconsequential in a footnote, citing Kjetil Tronvoll and Martin Plaut.

Downplaying or omitting the fact the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) instigated the war by attacking army bases on the Ethiopian National Defense Forces lays the foundations for manipulating the history and narrative of the entire conflict. 

U.S Secretary Mike Pompeo expressed his concern regarding attacks by the TPLF on Ethiopia’s army bases on the northern command.

The report then distills various accusations into their simplest forms to argue that the conflict was not about political power but rather a “genocide” against Tigrayans, advocating for the Ethiopia’s leadership to face charges at the International Criminal Court.

Predictably the report largely ignores the fact TPLF was an ethnically exclusively political organization that presided over a brutal authoritarian system of government in Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018, and that the “Tigray War” was largely about this group’s desperate attempt to come back to power again, after being ousted by a series of popular revolts from 2016 to 2018. 

Despite branding its findings as “ground-breaking,” The New Lines Institute acknowledges its study was primarily a desk-based research, summarizing previous reports from specialized NGOs, academic opinions, news articles, and blog posts. Upon closer enquiry however, the sources cited for the report are the same ones that were so thoroughly scrutinized by Danish Journalist Rasmus Sonderiis in Getting Ethiopia Dead Wrong, a comprehensive examination revealing the mainstream media’s detrimental misrepresentation of Ethiopia’s 2020-2022 conflict, perpetuating the stereotypical single story of Africa, as a continent of bestial animosity and genocide.

State Department’s Robert Codec testified to Congress that the TPLF initiated war by attacking Ethiopia’s army bases of the northern command on November 4, 2020.

While the likes of Tony Magaña and Mirjam van Reisen are omitted from the report, others who no less distorted narrative of the war, including Martin Plaut, Kjetil Tronvoll, Alex De Waal, Jan Nyssen, and Will Brown are frequently cited. Notably absent however are accurate predictions by Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald and Bronwyn Bruton, whose perspectives are not even considered for rebuttal. This selective referencing raises questions about the report’s objectivity, as it elevates certain experts while completely ignoring opposing viewpoints.

Of particular concern is the timing of the report’s release, coinciding with the TPLF’s latest violation of the Pretoria Peace Agreement in order to reclaim lost territories Raya-Alamata and Welkait, another name for the region referred to as “West Tigray” in the report. While justifying this violent breach as resistance to genocide may prove challenging, a concerted media effort could potentially frame it as vindicated retaliation or an effort to restore justice. The New Lines Institute seems to be laying the foundations for exactly that, but trying to violently reclaim territory will only bring more suffering. Not to mention it foils ongoing talks between conflicting parties to amenably resolve the issue. 

Ethiopians have become familiar with such cynical publicity stunts, of positioning false narratives as cover for a war of aggression. It is as sinister as it gets and consistent with Nazi propagandist Joseph Gobbles’ famed proclamation of “accuse your enemy of that which you are guilty of”. Intriguingly, the “Tigray Genocide” narrative first appeared within hours of the attack on the northern command, a fact signaling a coordinated and premeditated information operation. 

Cover of “Getting Ethiopia Dead Wrong” by Rasmus Sonderriis. “They rank among the great and the good of our media, academia, humanitarian work, politics and diplomacy. Yet they demonized a friendly people and fueled a big war with dire mispredictions and shocking lies. Who were they? How could they get away with it? What was the full picture that they so distorted? And why?

The ensuing war did claim the lives of many thousands, although the numbers frequently cited by media are overly exaggerated and cannot withstand introspection. Nevertheless, civilians did suffer tremendously, with all warring sides committing atrocities. Yet, it was a far cry from genocide. Little talked about by most Western accounts is the rampaging violence perpetrated by Tigray’s insurgency regime in the Amhara and Afar regions as well as a barrage of missile strikes on Eritrea’s capital Asmara. This period was documented in the timeline of the war published by Abren.

The United States State Department strongly condemned the attack carried out by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on the airport in Asmara, Eritrea, on November 14

The continued insistence on the “Tigray Genocide” narrative in media discourse, despite its inaccuracies and misjudgments is frustrating. Those perpetuating the story seem to enjoy unchecked access to mass communication channels, evading scrutiny of their errors. However, expecting these entities to self-reflect or apologize for their role in perpetuating falsehoods and fueling conflict is perhaps naive. Some may read this article, but genuine engagement in constructive dialogue seems unlikely, exemplified by instances like The Economist’s Tom Gardner blocking dissenting voices on social media rather than engaging in substantive debate. It seems that those who got Ethiopia so wrong are doubling down, revealing their conscious complicity in trying to manipulate public opinion with unfounded tales.

In an interview on November 5, 2020, TPLF official, Sekuture Getachew acknowledges “lightening preemptive strike” against Ethiopian federal troops stationed in the Tigray region.
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