Disinformation in Tigray: Manufacturing Consent For a Secessionist War

TPLF leader Sebhat Nega captured by Ethiopian National Defense Forces on January 8, 2021. (Courtesy: Ethiopian News Agency)

Today, New Africa Institute publishes its Disinformation in Tigray report to provide an evidence-based analysis of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray Regional State, which is an irredentist, ethnic secessionist war led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) against the multiethnic federal government. Although the conflict officially started on November 4, 2020 after TPLF, by its own admission, attacked the federal government’s Northern Command based in Tigray, this showdown had been brewing for decades.

Since the start of hostilities, there has been an explosion of disinformation in the mainstream and social media. This report carefully analyzes the causes and methods of disinformation propagation. Ultimately, the disinformation serves to manufacture consent for an unpopular irredentist, ethnic secessionist war that could not be justified in the eyes of the international public through honest reporting.

The media, non-governmental organizations and Western governments have forwarded a number of allegations of crimes upon the people of Tigray perpetrated by the Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries. Eritrea has served as the primary scapegoat. Much of the reporting of these crimes, devoid of evidence and context, has proven sensational and racist with savage-like portrayals of Eritreans and Ethiopians that draw on old colonial tropes of Africans. This report looks beyond the gaudy headlines and provides sober, evidence-based analysis of the major allegations. Significant focus is given to social media as most disinformation about Tigray originates there.

Additionally, this report assesses the nature of and problems with Western media’s overall coverage of the Tigray conflict. Lastly, it provides analysis of the actions by Western governments and likely consequences of those actions to encourage better policy decisions in the Horn of Africa moving forward.

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