Fake narratives of Tigray genocide and universities’ demise

It has been a daunting exercise to keep track of and neutralise the well-oiled and well-funded propaganda machinery of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – which, until 2018, ruled Ethiopia with brute force and systematic torture, maiming, killing and displacing an untold number of Ethiopians, and looted and siphoned off an estimated US$30 billion over its 27 years of dictatorial rule.

In an attempt to respond to this wave of distortions and fabrications, let us draw from a study entitled “The Premeditated ‘Tigray-Genocide’ Cyberwarfare Against Ethiopia in the Age of Social Media”.

This study, which closely analysed the social media in the context of the conflict in Ethiopia, said the data that revealed a piece of shocking information indicates that non-military actors outside Ethiopia were coordinating the #TigrayGenocide cyber campaign linked to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front military command’s pre-planned military attack or “pre-emptive strike” on the Ethiopian military base.

According to the findings, on the night of 3 November 2020, (the day TPLF launched the pre-emptive strike), 17 twitter accounts were created and the first #TigrayGenocide tweet began on Tuesday, 3 November, at 19:46 from one of these accounts. This is considered the genesis of the #TigrayGenocide hashtag, and it was never used before this day.

This is the work of a team of scientists and data analysts who investigated social media data to find the origin and trending of the hashtag that popularised the Tigray genocide narrative worldwide, which has been playing a key part in the international community’s response to Ethiopia, including that of United States’ foreign policy. This is how the story of #TigrayGenocide, “weaponised rapes, forced famine and massacre”, was concocted and effectively executed – duping both discerning and gullible entities alike, including major media houses, think tanks, academic institutions, governments and NGOs, among others.

Responding to Dr Kiros Guesh

Dr Kiros Guesh, the key source of the information for the University World News article about how the civil war is devastating Tigray’s universities, is, by his own admission, a “current member of the Tigray State Council and the central committee of the TPLF”.

The credibility of the allegations in the article, thus, may need to be read in the context of the behaviour of an organisation once designated as a terrorist organisation by the US government.

Considering the actions of the TPLF

In the past two years, the TPLF has launched three major attacks on Ethiopian forces – with a suicidal intent to overthrow the duly elected government – but was badly crushed; and as we speak is on the back foot running to its regional capital.

During these three adventures, it has systematically and ruthlessly looted, destroyed and burned everything on its path including schools, universities, hospitals, factories, telecoms, museums, roads, bridges – as it massacred hundreds of civilians, including women and children; even went as far as shooting cattle grazing in the fields.

The TPLF invaded and occupied areas of the Amhara and Afar regions; 32 heavy industries in Wello and four in Afar were totally ransacked and systematically destroyed.

Over 7,000 schools were ransacked and deliberately destroyed. The estimated cost of damage to Wello University, alone, is estimated to be more than US$200 million.

Forty hospitals, in the Amhara area, 453 health centres and 1,700 health posts were massively looted and the rest destroyed. In Afar region, 60 health facilities were ransacked and purposely destroyed.

TPLF also looted the National Museum of Dessie with its treasures of immeasurable value. It also looted and destroyed 1.5 million hectares of farmland in Amhara and Afar regions, including agricultural equipment, supplies and cattle.

The looting was done so systematically by deploying Tigrayan engineers and experts – a sizeable volume of the loot, for instance, from the universities in the invaded regions ended up in institutions in Tigray that were claimed to have been “devastated” by the war.

The destruction, according to the recent study conducted by Gondar University, is estimated at nearly Br300 billion (about US$5.7 billion) (nearly half of Ethiopia’s national budget).

Guesh accuses the government of starving the universities by not financing them, but he is mute on the Br100 billion (which amounts to a 10-year budget for Tigray) that the government injected into the reconstruction of Tigray while the TPLF was recklessly destroying it – in a twisted scheme to delegitimise the Ethiopian government when it controlled much of the region following the counterattack. TPLF has been strangely demanding money from the very government it wishes to topple.

Debunking allegations

It would be a monumental task to debunk all the allegations and claims that have been made by Guesh and many others who have served in a similar capacity.

He blatantly claimed that Tigrayan students “have been subjected to humiliating experiences such as being arrested and then paraded as prisoners of war [PoWs]”. He is, however, silent on quite a sizeable number of Tigrayan academics and students who fought the Ethiopian government with TPLF – who were, in the process, either captured or killed.

We conclude by drawing attention to reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on the behaviour of this organisation and its entities.

According to Amnesty International (February 16, 2022 Index Number: AFR 25/5218/2022): “Tigrayan fighters affiliated with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) deliberately killed civilians, raped and sexually assaulted women and girls, and looted homes, shops, schools and medical clinics in two localities they controlled for a period of several weeks last year in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region.

“Amnesty International is calling on Tigrayan forces to put an immediate end to such violations and to investigate and remove from its forces anyone suspected of involvement in such crimes. It is also urging the African Union to step up its engagement in the crisis, and the relevant United Nations bodies to send experts to the region to investigate the violations.”

The Human Rights Watch report quoting Lama Fakih, a crisis and conflict director at the organisation, said: “Tigrayan forces showed brutal disregard for human life and the laws of war by executing people in their custody.

“These killings and other atrocities by all sides to the conflict underscore the need for an independent international inquiry into alleged war crimes in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Amhara regions.”

Lastly, we wish to quote what the former Israeli Ambassador Avi Granot was reported as saying: “I served as an Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia 17 years ago, and one of the things I learned from the Tigray officials is that lying is a justified means to achieve greater opportunities.”

It is no easy task to tussle with an organisation such as the TPLF and its entities that can be likened to a pathological liar infamous for their brutality, mendacity and corruption.

The mission of the Global Ethiopian Scholars Initiative, or GESI is to generate evidence about Ethiopia, with particular reference to external public opinion and internal policy initiatives.

University World News requested GESI to write a commentary in response to the article ‘War is devastating universities, says Tigray HE leader’ because it has been unable to solicit comment from sources other than Dr Kiros Guesh. – Editor.