in addition to emboldening TPLF to continue its insurrection to increase Tigrayan suffering, only time will tell if Western pro-TPLF narratives would also lead to sparking a full-scale war between Ethiopia and the two downstream nations.
Awasa Guardian (AG) | In-Depth Analysis
The former United Nations (UN) relief chief Mark Lowcock has been accused of writing statements that go beyond criticizing the Ethiopian government, into pushing conspiracy theories advanced by the TPLF rebel group in Tigray. Some of his claims contradict even moderate rebel voices and independent observers, including the U.N. Development Program (UNDP). And it could also explain why recent Western policy influenced by such misinformation have failed to, both, stop the conflict and depict realities on the ground.
In a recent article, Mr Lowcock wrote “It was foolish to send Ethiopian Federal troops to Tigray last November in an attempt to resolve what was essentially a political argument.” His unusual claim seem to echo some hardliners of the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) who began to portray themselves as victims, soon after their rebellion to overthrow the central government failed. However, Lowcock’s comments contradict even early statements by senior TPLF leaders like Sekoture Getachew, who admitted in 2020 the TPLF engaging in a “pre-emptive strike” to spark the war.
During that pre-emptive strike by TPLF, hundreds of Ethiopian officers were killed by the rebels in early November. Lowcock’s statements even contradict 2020 statements by the US embassy in Ethiopia and the UN. Development Program (UNDP). On November 19, 2020, US State Department official Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy Jr recognized the Tigrayan rebels incited and began the war.
“From the first attacks on November 3rd by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, TPLF, on Ethiopian National Defense Force bases in the Tigray region, we have publicly and privately highlighted our grave concern” he said during a press conference.
The US Assistant Secretary also clearly defined the real motivation behind the Tigrayan insurrection, adding, “they were doing this more to depose the prime minister from power and to reassert themselves into the prominent position that they had atop the Ethiopian political spectrum for the last 27 years.”
Most of these basic facts about the genesis of the war were recognized by nearly all independent observers and even Lowcock’s senior colleagues in the United Nations. Early during the war, the leadership of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), published an in depth analysis based on their investigation, concluding that the TPLF were the aggressors who committed atrocities to trigger a response from the federal government. After massacring hundreds of federal officers in Tigray on November 3, the first recorded atrocity on civilians occurred on November 9 2020, when Tigrayan militia slaughtered over 900 Welkait-Amhara civilians in Maikadra town.
TPLF’s actions would be “an act of war everywhere in the world, and one that typically triggers military response in defense of any nation,” the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) statement said then.
These UN and US embassy conclusions were backed, not merely by government accusations, but both by statements from TPLF leaders themselves (who assumed they had the upper hand in 2020) as well as by international media reports. In a December 2020 Reuters report, one of the earliest from the conflict, even Tigrayan witnesses said the TPLF was planning out the military insurrection over seven months before it officially began in November 2020.
“The first sign of the conflict came seven months ago, when members of the Tigray Special Forces took over the village’s elementary school, which had been emptied because of the coronavirus pandemic. By early November, when the first shots were fired, some 250 pro-TPLF troops were encamped there, digging trenches behind classrooms and storing weapons in what was once the principal’s office,” Reuters reported.
In his bizarre article titled “How to Destroy a Country: Does Ethiopia Have a Future?,” Lowcock added more alternative facts that don’t stand up to scrutiny. “It was beyond reckless to invite the Eritrean army in to help,” he claimed, despite the TPLF being accused by US State Department of shooting rockets toward Eritrea. In 2020, US State Department statement said “The TPLF seeks to internationalize the conflict. The TPLF leadership has admitted responsibility for the November 13 missile launches at airports in Bahir Dar and Gondar, in the Amhara region, and the November 14 attack in Eritrea. These unacceptable attacks make the situation more dangerous, and the Secretary condemned them in his most recent statement. We have been in contact with Eritrean Government officials and are urging their continued restraint.“
In addition to the Tigrayans attacking Eritrea, the Ethiopian troops that survived the initial surprise ambush by the TPLF were forced to flee into Eritrea just to survive. These realities, together with the fact the TPLF controlling the majority of Ethiopia’s military arsenal for decades, forced Abiy’s government to accept Eritrean assistance. (multi-nation security alliance against rebellions & terrorist organizations is common strategy worldwide, including security collaboration among western nations) The decades old TPLF monopoly of the Ethiopian security sector and Abiy’s weakness perhaps explains why he spent nearly two years trying to appease TPLF, sending elders and celebrities to Mekelle, to deescalate tensions. In the first days of the conflict, Abiy’s government did not even have enough generals to carry out an effective response, therefore forcing him to recall several generals out of retirement.
In response to Lowcock’s latest statements, some Ethiopian diplomats so far suggested his wild allegations and alternative facts are not surprising, but it might be further evidence that confirms how high up the UN’s leadership in Western capitals has ignored and altered basic facts on the ground. It also matches with the recent leaked audio of UN officials inside Ethiopia, complaining about the abuse of power and the influence WHO Secretary-General Dr Tedros Adhanom (and his supporters inside UN agencies in Western capitals) had on top Western officials and foreign policy. According to the UN officials heard in the leaked audio and other instances, Dr. Tedros’s UN surrogates have violated the chain of command, bypassing UN authorities in Addis Ababa, as well as threatened to fire non-Ethiopian UN officials who don’t openly promote pro-TPLF narratives. This has created toxic work environment for Letty Chiwara, Maureen Achieng and other independent local UN officials. “You are safe, only if you are bashing the government,” the UN officials said in the leaked audio.
• UNKNOWN LONG-TERM IMPACT
What, if any, long-term impact Mr Lowcock’s controversial statements will have on the ground is still unknown. Most of his alternative facts, while shocking coming from such a high-level UN official, seem to be already baked-in or have already been consumed by western policy-makers. Most Ethiopian diplomats say his rogue statements are more expected from infamous TPLF surrogates like Alex Dewaal or WHO’s TPLF member Dr Tedros, but not from a high-level seemingly independent UN official. His words can also be used as more vindication of Ethiopia’s UN Ambassador’s statements in front of the Security Council, that partisanship is rife deep inside the UN bureaucracy. Nonetheless, western narratives had already turned against facts in Tigray and already led to EU’s reckless “arms embargo” against “all sides,” which in reality can only be applied against the Ethiopian government rather than on non-state (landlocked) actors like the TPLF rebels. Other-than air power, the TPLF has more than enough weapons (80% of federal arsenal according to some sources) which it stored over two decades, stealing from state coffers (new video of TPLF digging out massive ammunition stockpiles from underground storages was also documented last week.)
None of this will impact the war as the federal army will still likely recapture most towns in the next few weeks. However, the Western rhetoric and the false narrative portraying TPLF as a victim will continue to embolden and inspire Tigrayans to justify perpetuating their war (and later insurgency), instead of disarming, which unfortunately causes more carnage and casualties than ever imagined. This is why some Tigrayans have began to speak-out on the level of pro-TPLF misinformation, including famous California-based CBS journalist Hermela Aregawi who is also a human rights advocate. She said TPLF supporters plotted the “Tigray genocide” narrative since the beginning and they feed of this narrative to perpetuate the war and secure Tigrayan recruits and thus prolong the civilian suffering. But instead of being embraced, Ms Aregawi has been the subject of defamation and online bullying by TPLF rebel supporters globally. Therefore, similar to the failure of the President Joe Biden administration and western officials to pressure TPLF into accepting the government’s July ceasefire, Lowcock spreading TPLF talking points now could play a major role in perpetuating the war and causing thousands more unnecessary deaths. After some pause in conflict, last week, TPLF re-invaded the Berhale region of neighboring Afar state. This escalation of the conflict will thus lead to more obstruction on the movement of humanitarian aid. Whatever aid that manages to pass into Tigray will also continue to be diverted toward TPLF fighters, instead of Tigrayan civilians. Even the vehicles and fuel used for aid are being diverted as the United Nations admitted recently that most aid trucks that went into Tigray have not been returned.
Another possible impact of Lowcock and other Western officials peddling TPLF narratives is the dangerous signal it could send to Khartoum and Cairo. Sudan already took advantage of Ethiopia’s weakness and invaded western Ethiopia in November which it still occupies. The level of Sudan’s involvement became clear as UNHCR admitted it has no control of pro-TPLF refugees who continue to be recruited and armed to return back to Ethiopia for more war. Sudanese journalist working for CNN, Nima Elbagir, has also been instrumental in interviewing exclusively TPLF members (some even televised on CNN wearing TPLF membership hat) to disseminate pro-TPLF propaganda of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide,” which have yet to gain any independent corroboration, according to CNN itself. Meanwhile, both Sudan and Egypt have escalated the war rhetoric to maintain their monopoly over Nile resources and engaged in US-funded joint military drills targeting Ethiopia. US has spent billions and continues to spend more to build Egyptian airforce. Last week, Egypt’s top diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei urged the United Nations (UN) to pursue the “Responsibility to Protect (R2P)” doctrine against Ethiopia, which was notoriously last used by NATO to support rebels in Libya, leading to catastrophic destruction of that country, which led to US Republicans like Senator Rand Paul accuse Samantha Powers for causing the suffering of millions in the name of military intervention.
Ultimately, in addition to emboldening TPLF to continue its insurrection to increase Tigrayan suffering, only time will tell if Western pro-TPLF narratives would also lead to sparking a full-scale war between Ethiopia and the two downstream nations.