By Moses Khisa
There is no doubt Ethiopia is in a made place. War is bad business.
I am filing this column from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. I first arrived here eight years ago as a young PhD candidate trying to research and write a comparative doctoral project. Soon, I became deeply attached to this beautiful country.
Ethiopia is not only a geographic beauty, its people are the most warm and welcoming I have encountered in all my travels around the world.
For many of us with some attachment to this country, the past year has been utterly painful and emotionally draining.
Ethiopia has had long-running social tensions and violent episodes, but the speed and gravity of the conflict that broke out in the north, in Tigray region, which later spread to the regional states of Afar and Amhara, has been unprecedented and wrought enormous damage.
The events around this conflict, its genesis and the trajectory it took are too complex to be recounted here. In a previous column, I attempted a brief sketch of what I believed to be a critical component of the origins of the war, rooted in a power struggle. A lot will be written on this in the coming years.
I came to Addis Ababa primarily to speak to Ethiopians, get their assessment and insights, but also to express solidarity with the people of this great nation.
At the start of last month, there was a coordinated and relentless campaign of declaring the war in the north was over, the rebels (who formerly controlled the state) were marching on the capital unstoppable and that it was game over.
Almost all major western media outlets, both broadcast and print, sang from the same hymn book: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his government had lost the war, the only option left was to abandon Addis Ababa and flee into exile.
The influential American television network, CNN, carried a now famous screen flash saying ‘Tigrayan troops just outside Addis Ababa’ with a picture in the background of people ostensibly the ‘troops’ that were just outside the capital.
By the end of the month, only weeks later, it emerged that all the drumming up of an imminent fall of the capital and impending rebel victory was simply false and made up: the rebels were never within 200 kms to, let alone being just outside, Addis Ababa.
As it turns out, the campaign of a coordinated, syndicated and aggressive media projection of an impending collapse of the government was choreographed to create a stampede and cause regime change.
In all, over the past year the reporting on the conflict by the western media has been decidedly biased, skewed and shamelessly in favour of one side to the conflict – the rebels.
This set off a much more aggressive counter movement by Ethiopians (and other Africans) in support of the government, and with a new offensive against the rebels, inspired by the Prime Minister going to lead from the front, the Tigrayan forces that were reported to be advancing on the capital are now pushed back to the regional state of Tigray.
Some observers say the rebels were decisively routed in the neighbouring states of Afar and Amhara, while the rebels on their part have characterised the situation as a tactical retreat and withdrawal.
For most of last month, diplomatic missions of western nations, from the UK and US to EU countries, issued evacuation calls to their nations and advised against travel to Ethiopia. Together with the media, western governments through their diplomatic missions projected a situation of chaos and disintegration in Ethiopia.
This narrative got ably amplified by a group of western academics.
What is more, the media and academia consistently focused on war and destruction in the regional state of Tigray even as the conflict had shifted to Afar and Amhara regions.
Atrocities and devastation in the latter got almost no attention and media coverage. All this has fuelled an unprecedented anti-western sentiment among Ethiopians, seen on Twitter and among those I have talked to here in Addis Ababa.
A taxi driver told me, matter-of-factly: ‘if you want to know what’s happening here, don’t listen to western media.’
Ethiopians feel hard done and betrayed by the outside world that overtly or covertly rallied behind a former ruling elite that was unable to deal with losing power after almost three decades.
There is no doubt Ethiopia is in a made place. War is bad business. I have spoken directly to friends in the Amhara region who say the extent of destruction is unbelievable. Tigray has borne the brunt of the war from the start.
But Ethiopian people will rise from this tragedy. There is disappointment and devastation here, but there is also renewed feeling of pride and determination to right the wrongs of the past and rebuild a better country.
As with everything else, time will tell.
The writer is a Ugandan Citizen and assistant professor at North Carolina State University (USA).
This article appeared in the Daily Monitor on Saturday, December 25, 2021.