How to Con a Superpower and Make the Media Your Accomplice
May 13, 2021
The idea of a proxy war is fairly basic, and you don’t need to have a degree in International Studies to grasp the concept. You’re the U.S., Russia or China, and you back a side fighting a civil war or insurrection in a foreign country, supplying arms, military advisors, whatever’s needed. Syria comes to mind. Then there’s hybrid war, which uses a combination of conventional military resources with propaganda, cyber-attacks and proxies. Russia has used all of these in Ukraine, backing its separatist elements.
What is truly scary about Ethiopia is that maybe in the first time in history, the tangible stakes for a war happening in the real world might be decided, or at least severely affected, by the narrative progressing on the digital battlefield.
The Russians screwed with perception in terms of Ukraine, but ultimately what decided things in the real world was still military might. But in Ethiopia, the federal army crushed the conventional forces of the TPLF and humiliated their supposedly “battle-hardened troops” in under a month. And yet as we all know, the digital warriors — or, as I like to call them now, the Zombie Army (rising from Debretsion Gebremichael pathetically flat-line remnants) — insist that the conflict isn’t over.
In this horrible scenario where a nation’s fate is at risk, a terrorist oligarchy is using the United States and EU as its proxies.
As much as the TPLF is clinging by its fingernails to its guerrilla war in the real world, the more crucial territory to win right now is the digital one. Even if Debretsion was dragged out of a cave tomorrow, the fight would go on because the new screeching would be that “Debretsion can’t get a fair trial!” or “Look how Debretsion is being mistreated!” Despite the fact that the U.S. has preferred to put its terrorist enemies in a Supermax and did a neat little invasion on a dubious ally to kill Osama bin Laden.
Noam Chomsky gave us Manufacturing Consent. Ethiopia is now stuck in the limbo of Manufacturing Outrage.
It’s why the TPLF trolls are so desperate to shout down and shut up anyone who dares defy their public narrative. And as I’ve asked many times, if you’re so damn righteous and on the side of the angels, why is that you can’t tolerate anyone who disagrees with your version of events? Why are you so desperate to keep certain facts from coming to light?
The fake outrage will go on and on, until we stop playing the game. Until we stop reacting to every new outrage they release on their schedule.
But first we need to recognize what’s going on and take away their weapons. And weapon number one is the news brigade, which salivates like Pavlov’s dog whenever it hears the sound of gunfire. For instance —
In a nauseatingly manipulative piece that just recently aired, CNN’s Nima Elbagir says, “The conflict for control of Tigray blazes on.” Well, no, it doesn’t. Any “blaze” is getting gradually snuffed out by a federal army that beat up the TPLF conventional forces in under a month, and unless you’re actually there during a firefight, there’s not much “blazing” to see.
But then Elbagir says something fascinating: “Days earlier, these Tigrayan forces [guys in the distance walking through a field away from the camera] fighting for regional autonomy pushed out Eritrean troops from this town. As we arrive, one young man, Kassa, wants to show us where his father, brother and cousin were executed…”
Notice the huge assumption packed in there: Fighting for regional autonomy. But of course! What American living in the Home of the Brave with States’ Rights and watching CNN could surely object to that? Except Ethiopians know better — that there are other issues involved, only Nima doesn’t bother to go into those. Too complicated, I guess. Not visual. Can’t get a good enough grip to jerk those tears.
Now check the line again:
“Days earlier, these Tigrayan forces fighting for regional autonomy pushed out Eritrean troops from this town.”
Oh, really? Well, then why aren’t you interviewing them? Why don’t we see on camera a single TPLF commander or officer?
Did the TPLF forces just casually move on instead of holding the town? Because if they’re not holding it, what was the point of pushing the Eritreans out in the first place? The only reason to fight in a town and capture it is because you need it for some tactical or strategic purpose, so that implies they’re still there. But funny, we don’t see them securing the town.
Or does Nima just take her fixer’s word for it?
And if they got pushed out in turn, why aren’t you mentioning that?
Ethiopians have already noticed that a sleazy double standard is at work here. When the TPLF tells the story, those plucky underdogs fight Ethiopian soldiers and their sinister main villain, the Eritrean army. Yet every time the federal forces kill someone, they’re never a guerrilla fighter, they’re automatically a civilian death or casualty.
The first thing you want to do as a correspondent in a war zone is to talk to whoever the military big cheese is and get them on camera, on the record. And yet… Nima Elbagir is strangely uninterested in talking to the TPLF forces, assuming they are still holding that town.
She and her crew travelled outside Mekelle, she tells us, to see “if the Ethiopian government has kept its promises to the world.” Why no interest in holding the TPLF to the same high standard of conduct? Especially given the reports of their slaughter of federal forces, innocents at Mai Kadra and looting of aid packages? Later, she calls allegedly Eritrean troops a “ragtag army…”
And here, something occurred to me. Now I can’t possibly monitor every major news broadcast in America or Europe, but can anyone out there remember even one TV correspondent’s package in which he or she accompanies a TPLF unit behind the lines and interviews their officers on camera?
I don’t mean a radio address with Debretsion Gerbremichael or Getachew Reda in a Zoom call, I mean an actual Western crew watching our oh-so-noble TPLF guerrillas — who have allegedly killed thousands before the war even began and thousands since — fight for their “regional autonomy” on camera. You know, fighting.
I mean come on. Only a few days ago, I watched a BBC reporter file a story while accompanying Karen guerrillas fighting the Tatmadaw in Myanmar. We’ve seen reporters cross over to get the different perspectives of the belligerents in almost every conflict from Bosnia in the Nineties to Syria and Yemen today. I can remember Dan Rather sneaking through the night to hang out with the Mujahideen fighting the Russians in the Soviet-Afghan War.
And yet this is a war in which the only time we’ve ever seen anything close to fighting is when someone wants to doctor a photo for Twitter or when Tigrai Media House calls up CNN or the BBC to plant a video of almost laughable “evidence” to spark outrage.
The federal side has chosen not to let Western reporters be embedded with their forces. Debate that as you like, and I’m not so sure it was the right decision either.
But doesn’t anyone find it very strange that the TPLF can:
Easily get a statement from Debretsion out to the media
Their network contacts can steer you towards a safe house for rape victims to inspire shock and empathy
There’s no trouble at all in getting the warning out that priceless church relics are in danger of being destroyed (even though this makes no sense, since most Ethiopians, whatever their political affiliation, are profoundly devout)
We don’t hear of them bringing along a Western news crew as they make a raid or attack the Ethiopian or Eritrean forces?
Peculiar, isn’t it? I have a theory about that.
The TPLF are either very clever or very desperate, maybe a bit of both. To show them on camera as they wage the war that they, in fact, started would be a reminder there are two sides to a conflict. And unlike Nima Elbagir’s throwaway sneer about Eritrean soldiers, we would get a look at a real ragtag army. Guerrillas who no longer have their big guns and heavy weaponry anymore, reduced to living off the land and hiding in caves.
So much for the over-the-top claims of success in the field they offered us last November. That would be shot right to hell. But then again, the Western media was collectively stupid enough to forget the TPLF claimed they took Axum while a massacre was going on in the same period.
So Elbagir’s language in her report is very telling. The Ethiopians and Eritreans are the villains of her story, but the defenders are conveniently missing. They can’t be seen to fight because the more useful props for the narrative are apparent victims.
It’s a hell of a balancing act, they have going on. The Ethiopian and Eritrean armies are supposedly all-powerful: stealing church relics, committing mass rape, blocking humanitarian aid, BUT —
Consider these casualty reports from the Europe External Programme with Africa from Belgium. For its May 12 report, it claimed that “in recent weeks, over 6,300 Ethiopian and Eritrean forces were killed and wounded by Tigray defense forces. Only 34 soldiers were captured.” The source provided is Dimitsi Weyane International. And where did this Mekelle-based media outlet get its figures from? Especially since no federal losses have been formally published.
At all. Since the very start of the conflict.
Again, you can debate the correctness of withholding this information, but are we supposed to believe some diligent Mekelle reporter was out counting bodies in the mountains?
Oh, and notice anything missing? Maybe you’ll catch it in this next entry:
From May 3 to May 5, we’re told in the same report that there was “heavy fighting” between the Tigray Defense Forces and the ENDF areas near Yechilay, Shawa’ta-Hegum and Finariwa, Kola Tembien Woreda. “In three days of fierce fighting, over 2,605 (1,088 killed and 1,517 wounded) Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers were incapacitated. In addition, many weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment were also captured.”
Notice it now?
Whoever the source is for this second entry, just like the first, can’t bring themselves to offer any killed or wounded on the TPLF side, not even a low figure to make things plausible. Apparently, we’re expected to believe that Ethiopian federal forces managed okay through November, but suddenly developed a bad case of Star Wars Storm Trooper aim.
Oh, while at the same time, being all powerful as they steal priceless church relics, commit mass rape and atrocities, block aid from coming into the region, blah, blah, blah.
Other common sense perspectives should tip you off that these numbers are coming out of somebody’s ass.
For weeks now, we’ve seen reports by Western correspondents — Britain’s Channel 4 and CNN come to mind — of visiting hospitals in Tigray, often Mekelle, to interview alleged rape victims. Now here’s the thing. If you were losing more than 2,600 guys in only two days of fighting, the losses from just this action alone would be devastating and couldn’t be hidden. You’d see it at the hospitals.
I live in a city of millions which panicked when its Covid cases put more than 600 patients into intensive care beds.
Now imagine the hospital facilities available in Tigray, and if more than 1,500 wounded soldiers needed medical care. Now wouldn’t that be a huge story for any news media operation? It would be at the top of the foreign news that very night: “War is going horribly wrong for Ethiopia and Abiy’s government…”
And that hasn’t happened.
How can there be these contradictions? Because the propaganda machine takes you for an idiot. And you as an ordinary person are not their real audience anyway. You are a means to an end, a tool.
If you’re a thinking person and question the media, no problem — because it’s enough that respectable major media say it’s so. If CNN’s ridiculous video gets criticized online for its numerous discrepancies, no worries, we’ll send out Nima Elbagir to find a fresh outrage. I’ve found conclusive, irrefutable proof that the Axum Massacre didn’t happen the way it was first sold, but Laetitia Bader of the respectable, much lauded Human Rights Watch would like to rewrite the chronology of events because the circus tent is collapsing. No matter how hard she tries, though, it won’t make that video of peaceful worshippers on November 30 go away.
Oh, is that a problem? But the UN says this and that and something else about Tigray, and surely, they wouldn’t lie — only it turns out they would. Besides lying and threatening aid workers in Ethiopia, it turns out their senior staff will lie about sex abuse in Congo.
But again, you, the ordinary individual, are not their real target. All of this noise, all this relentless theatre, is to create enough momentum to persuade the political office holders that you do support their narrative, because there needs to be a mandate, which is a fancy word for an excuse, and the excuse is to intervene, which is another fancy word for interfere.
This is why the outrages don’t stop. Because they can’t be allowed to stop. Until they either win or we stop playing their game.
Some people on Twitter asked me with understandable consternation, Why? Why would the United Nations betray its own values and Ethiopia this way? Because in the end, like any group, it has its dominant players, just as the League of Nations did when its big kids bullied all the others to abandon Ethiopia in 1935.
What does Ethiopia have that everyone will want in the future? Hint: Check your kitchen faucet. What better way to control the future than to keep the locals squabbling among themselves?
So how do we get off the merry-go-round? Frankly, the times call for radical measures.
We can start by deporting several major Western news media organizations.
That will sound extreme to many — even ludicrous to a certain smug clique. But frankly, if you are from The Economist or CNN, it is not your God-given right to report from inside an African nation. You are there as a guest, and it is a privilege to be in the country, and if you abuse your privileges during a time of war by spreading misinformation passed along from a terrorist group, that nation has every right to put your ass on a plane. So pack your bags.
It’s not throwing you in prison. It’s not stopping you from writing. You can simply write your bullshit outside the country, that’s all. And you can play the journalistic martyr all you like — just go away and do it in London or New York. The U.S. and Britain do not think twice about expelling diplomats or even foreign journalists when they break rules of conduct or engage in espionage. You are giving comfort and aid to the enemy. So get out.
Why are you more entitled to report on Ethiopia than say reporters from Botswana or Ghana? Why do you presume you’re entitled at all? Goodbye.
No, I’m not suggesting a mass purge. But some of you got to go. And from a practical point of view, what has Ethiopia lost by getting rid of you? You’ll keep doing your shamelessly unethical “open source investigations” with fuzzy satellite photos. And hey, you can make your dubious source long-distance calls from London as easily as you can from Addis.
But at least now you won’t get to pull those stunts with the veil of legitimacy of being inside the country. And the tap will be turned off for the raw info that aids that wafer-thin credibility. If anything, qualified scholars, as well as reporters with a less Eurocentric and more African perspective on the news, would be more welcome in Addis about now.
Let’s face it, you’ll run a stupid headline claiming Ethiopia is turning into North Korea whether you stay or not. So goodbye.
One day, things may be stable enough for reporters for those Western media organizations to be allowed back in, but for now many of you are doing serious damage to the stability of the nation. So… Buh-bye.
Next, given the revelations of the colonial conduct of UN officials and their partisan collusion with the TPLF, Ethiopia should have more say over the operational aspects of incoming aid.
Especially given that the TPLF is still hard at work, trying to destroy basic infrastructure. A source informs me that CNN availed itself of the power grid — restored by the federal government — three times but didn’t feel like mentioning that. Nor has CNN and other media bothered to mention that the alleged rape victims who stepped forward are now under the protection of the state and not getting any help from outside agencies.
So Ethiopia should get more say under a revised deal. If you don’t like it, UN, there’s the door. You know, Russia and China would love to invest more in Africa, and as much as Putin’s despicable regime turns my stomach, I’m beginning to think Russian condescension can’t be any worse than the U.S. and UK brands.
In the past, the non-aligned nations, Ethiopia included, had the Cold War sides take turns, but in our new geopolitical landscape, why must it be an either-or? More players mean the U.S. and Britain no longer get to try to strong-arm Ethiopia over any ceasefire wishes or election postponements.
And finally, if the U.S. grants itself the right to hunt down terrorists wherever they are, an African nation is surely entitled to do the same. Not through the sinister extrajudicial methods the U.S. has used in the past and likely still uses covertly today, but by enlisting the help of its allies.
The TPLF has proved so successful because it morphed into an international criminal oligarchy, funding its leadership’s children abroad, U.S. election campaigns, and yes, Twitter accounts, insinuating its operatives and supporters into positions of power. In many ways, it is as dangerous today as ISIS once was.
Ethiopia’s friends in Europe and elsewhere should help it uncover its hidden bank accounts, its media networks spreading hate messages against minorities, its criminal operations and help shut it down.
High time the rest of the world saw the enemy for who it really is. Like all hatemongers and terrorists, they are ultimately afraid of the light. And all their phony, noisy outrage, so full of hate and bile, can at last be reduced to a defeated whimper.