Al Jazeera appears to lend itself to TPLF disinformation

Robert Crowe

The signing of the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia on 9th July 2018 in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, brought to an end twenty years of hostility between the two countries. One would think that peace after so long would be welcome by all, but the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) — former ruling party in Ethiopia  made it its life ambition to reverse the new found peace and revert back to the previous state of war.

The attempts by the TPLF to reignite the hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia is well known, with even serving Ethiopian generals attesting to this fact. To those that have followed the politics of the Horn of Africa, especially since the first quarter of 2018 when the TPLF was ousted from power in Ethiopia, will no doubt have noted that the TPLF had shunned the hand of peace that the new Ethiopian leader, Dr. Abiy Ahmed and the Eritrean leader, President Isaias Afewerki had offered it, choosing instead to incessantly beat the drums of war .

In the intervening years between the signing of the peace deal in July 2018 and the TPLF’s attack on the Ethiopian army on 4th November 2020, the TPLF had played a dangerous game of spinning different stories depending on who it thought its audience was. To the world the TPLF had tried to portray itself as the guardian of democracy and the keeper of the Ethiopian constitution, when in reality it was neither. To the Ethiopian people the TPLF projected an image of militarily might, to try and terrify and intimidated them as it had done for the past 30 years or so. To Eritreans the message was: to overthrow their government, in the misplaced hope of weakening Eritrea and turn it into the TPLF’s playground.

For over two and half years, the TPLF did not stop beating its war drums, goading PM Abiy at every opportunity and spurning any attempt to make peace. Under the guise of different celebrations, the TPLF had paraded very young children armed with AK 47s and had made old women and men dance to its tune of war. In all this, both leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia had tried their utmost to avert war and had pleaded with the TPLF to change course, but the TPLF rather than stop and contemplate about the dire consequences of its miscalculated misadventure, thought it smelt weakness on the part of the two countries.

While the TPLF was boasting, goading, provoking and intimidating to its heart’s content, none of the western media, including Al Jazeera, criticised it neither did they warn their readers of the potential pitfalls of the dangerous stance that the TPLF had chosen to take  in defiance of all common sense. In short, the media made no attempt to avert war by exposing the TPLF’s belligerence, aggression and hostility towards all those who had the misfortune to live next to it.

The TPLF emboldened by the silence of the Western press and Al Jazeera about its sabre rattling and having made the fateful mistake of believing its own hype, launched in the early hours of 4th November 2020, what has been labelled as, a heinous and barbaric, attack on the Ethiopian army bases in the region that it controlled.

One would be hard pressed to find the testimonies of the soldiers that had been stripped naked and made to walk barefoot into Eritrea featured in any of the western media and Al Jazeera. Neither is there any trace in these media of the accounts of Ethiopian soldiers that had witnessed their colleagues being shot to death. And of course it comes as no surprise that western media has chosen to ignore the video clip released by the TPLF of Ethiopian soldiers being paraded bare foot by the TPLF forces as crowds shouted ‘thieves’ at the these soldiers. Are not these soldiers humans too?

While Al Jazeera and the other media outlets ignore factual news backed by video and other evidence, these outlets have chosen instead to dedicate copious amounts of  column inches to supposed stories of rape and massacres by Ethiopian and non-existent Eritrean soldiers.

One such story is of an 18 year old girl featured in an article by Al Jazeera entitled Trauma, anger as Tigrayans recount Eritrea troops’ ‘grave crimes’  published on the 1st March 2021. The article claims that Mona Lisa Abraha, an 18 year old girl in the city of Tembien, was shot in the arm by Eritrean soldiers who had tried to rape her. As a result of her injury she says, that she had had to have her arm amputated. The story goes on to say how Mona Lisa had been left to bleed for hours. What was not made clear in the article was how Mona Lisa was able to survive after being shot several times in the hand and arm, then left to bleed for several hours.

Of course if those at AL Jazeera had done a little bit of research on the subject, they would have realised that the BBC in an article entitled Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: ‘I lost my hand when a soldier tried to rape me  and published on 15th February 2021,  BBC had featured a similar story to theirs, with some significant differences.

While the BBC on 15th of February was at pains to tell us that they were not naming the girl, presumably out of concern for her security, Al Jazeera in its article published some two weeks later has no such qualms and names the girl as Mona Lisa Abraha. It is not clear whether the BBC takes the security of its subjects more seriously than Al Jazeera, or whether whatever had posed a security threat to the girl in mid February was no longer a threat two weeks later when she spoke to Al Jazeera.

Then comes the issue of the date that this alleged attempted rape is said to have happened. In the BBC version of events, the incident is said to have happened on the 3rd of December, while Al Jazeera tells us that it was on the 4th of December, and in the clip that Al Jazeera broadcasted the girl is heard to say  without any hesitation  that the incident had happened on the 5th of December ( 26 Hedar). So we have now three dates for one incident, or were there three incidents?

In the BBC article, the soldier that tried to rape the girl is described as having been dressed in an Ethiopian soldier uniform, while in the Al Jazeera report the soldiers were identified as Eritreans. Neither of the reports state the language used by the soldiers, which under the circumstances  is quite a significant omission.

In the BBC version of accounts the girl was with her grandfather and the soldiers had shot both her and her grandfather. While the BBC says that the girl had remained in her house for two days without receiving any medical care, Al Jazeera tells us that she bled for several hours, not days.

Al Jazeera and its western counterparts have been trying to push the story about the massacre in the city of Axum, basing their claims on an Amnesty report dated 25th February 2021.

Again, as anyone who had been following events in the region would have known that a day after the alleged killing of nearly a thousand people in Axum, there had been a TV report from the very grounds that is supposed to be awash with blood and strewn with  dead bodies with the air thick with the stench of rotting corpses. However, the TV footage of the people attending the annual celebrations of  St Mary of Zion on 30th November 2020, stated that all was well in Axum, albeit quiet as compared to previous years for obvious reasons. Judging by the expressions of the interviewees, it is quite clear to see that the air is not filled with the pungent smell of death, as the reports of the alleged massacre would have us believe.

Be it Al Jazeera or any other news media, it is clear that they have a responsibility to report the truth, and should try very hard to avoid presenting hearsay and politically tainted false news as facts on the ground. Now that the Ethiopian government has allowed the western media unfettered access to the Tigray region in Ethiopia, the international press must prove to everyone that it is only beholden to the truth and does not have any ulterior motive of its own.

Eritreans, Ethiopians and the rest of Africans are closely watching how western media will be reporting about events in Ethiopia. The international media should report on the truth, no matter how bitter it may be, and refrain from making wild unfounded allegations with the potential to lead to severe consequences in the Horn region and the world at large,

What we need now is a media that will call a spade a spade. A  good staring point is to clearly identify the TPLF as the perpetrator and not as the victim in all this. To try and absolve the TPLF of the role it played in to bring about the disaster in Tigray, is to add insult to injury to the many thousand victims of the folly of the TPLF.