Dealing with Aid Providers, Handling the Media, and Laughing at the Devil
Dear Prime Minister Abiy:
Hi! How are you doing? I know you’re busy, and we don’t talk much, but I thought I’d drop you a line. I’ve tried writing other people, but I didn’t get many responses. For instance, when I wrote to Dennis Wadley, his people got back to me that I would have to use a pool skimmer to, you know, bat away at the cloud he lives on to try to get his attention, because he’s so, soooo much better than the rest of us down here on Earth.
And I called up Alula Solomon over at Tigrai Media House — do you know him? But it was a weird conversation. He kept trying to tell me that he only punches dolphins on the street because they owe him money, and I said, Come on, Alula, there can’t be that many dolphins that owe you money, man — seriously. And he said, No lie, it’s true! And that Alex de Waal had personally “extrapolated from limited data” that 5.2 million dolphins might owe him money based on the five dolphins he’s done business with so far.
Anyway, Alula started talking again about how he loves rolling around in salad bars at restaurants, singing “I’m a little teapot, short and stout” in a falsetto voice, and I began to feel very uncomfortable, and I know you don’t want to hear about that either, but if CNN thinks it’s okay to use TMH’s stuff, then all of it must be true, including the stories about those large wheels of Gouda that keep getting delivered to Alula Solomon’s office, along with fresh sets of underwear. Hey, anything goes these days, right?
Tigray. Can we talk about that?
I get these weird thoughts, Mr. Prime Minister. Things occur to me. I keep reading these stories like this one about U.S.-EU calling for “unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of Tigray,” and I thought, Well, why? If someone asked these guys to surrender access to their sovereign territory, without any checks or restraints, I’m sure they would each blow a gasket and outright refuse.
“Unfettered access?” Who’s got them in fetters? And I keep wondering why no one points out that last December, a UN convoy ignored warnings, barged past checkpoints and then lied about having authorization. As I wrote in another article, Ethiopia’s Minister of Peace Muferihat Kamil demanded to see it, and of course, it turned out they never had any authorization. She wouldn’t put up with their nonsense. And the UN had to publicly apologize.
Both Billene Seyoum of the Press Secretariat Unit and one of your own ambassadors have mentioned how at least one NGO has tried to smuggle in weapons instead of aid. So I’m wondering why at this point, your team simply doesn’t name them?
Is it because you’re worried about the damage to diplomatic relations with the UN?
To be quite honest, Mr. Abiy, what would be the downside anymore of unmasking their duplicity?
If you think they might pack up their tents and go home, I can assure you they won’t. Dragged into the light, shamed with the truth, they would, in fact, be forced to actually deliver what they claimed they brought in the first place. Aid, proper, aid — not aid with weapons smuggled in for their TPLF pals. They would have to scrupulously follow the rules they’ve been trying to flout.
So please, sir, go ahead and unmask them.
In fact, no one has yet to explain why they need “unfettered access” at all.
They want to provide aid? Great. Terrific. Fly it into the airport at Mekelle, park the skiffs loaded with food and medical supplies on the tarmac, and then —
“Thanks, we’ll take it from here.”
Ask them: why do you need to deliver the aid yourselves?
Because no one has explained to my satisfaction, in any way that makes sense, why foreigners need to accompany these shipments. Hell, why do they even need to be there to unload the stuff?
Ethiopians can rightly say: We have trucks. We have staff. We know our own country. We can deliver it fine. Really appreciate it, thanks, but see ya.
Now if they really care, it won’t make a difference how the aid gets to those who need it, as long as it does, and I find it highly improbable that any Western European nation suffering a crisis would shrug and say, “Okay, ignore our security protocols, just wander on in wherever you like — even if this might endanger your own safety.”
And if they raise bullshit objections of, We need to make sure it gets to people, you’d be within your rights to reply, “I see, so you think you are entitled to inspect how Africans use your gifts. The next time China loans you money, do you plan to have them over and let them walk into your financial offices and look through your budgets?”
And then you can bring up what every Ethiopian now knows, and Ms Power forgets, how a CIA source told journalist Jack Anderson about using food aid to smuggle in weapons for the TPLF to fight the Derg. And Martin Plaut’s gem, which will never get old, of how the TPLF robbed their own people and handed over sacks of sand. Weird that Martin keeps asking for urgency over the “famine” yet forgets his own story for the BBC.
Come to think of it, why is that none of these aid agencies have asked their TPLF buddies what really did happen with all that aid given to Tigray between the late 1990s and 2018?
So please kick them to the curb, Mr. Prime Minister.
These days, quite frankly, it seems you’re better off sometimes being one of America’s enemies than one of its friends.
While there was lots of talk when Putin’s forces rolled into Crimea, I don’t remember the U.S. and EU doing a damn thing that forced Russia out. America will soon abandon Afghanistan and leave it vulnerable to the Taliban, yet it somehow feels entitled to lecture Ethiopia on how it handles the internal threat of a terrorist organization. The U.S/EU does not disrespect North Korea this way. It doesn’t show this amount of contempt towards Turkey.
For crying out loud, the Saudis assassinated one of America’s own prominent journalists in a consulate in Turkey, carved up his body on the spot, and the Turks got more upset than the U.S.! And the Biden administration let that one skate by, just as Trump’s regime did.
The U.S., UK and the EU are not Ethiopia’s friends. Not anymore. They’re proving it every day. Weeks ago, I suggested Ethiopia pick up the phone and start dialing Moscow and Beijing. And yea, it looks like you did! I’m no fan of Putin, even less of the authoritarian regime in China that’s currently trying to remake Hong Kong into its freakish, wind-up zombie doll. But if the West wants to cloak its realpolitik in hypocritical sanctimony, I suppose you could find worse friends than Russia and China.
China, as it’s already been doing anyway, will be happy to invest, and it really doesn’t give a shit about your country’s internal affairs. Yes, there will be some who are concerned over the risk of so-called “debt-trap diplomacy,” but there are others who claims it’s a myth (while to be fair, putting what might be a too-rosy spin on their counter-argument).
As for the U.S/EU, I still suggest you tell them: Thanks for the aid and leave it at the airport. Then go away.
I guarantee, Mr. Prime Minister, unless you start taking a new hard line now, they will not stop. As the saying goes, “Nice guys finish last.”
Which brings us to the next phase of the Western hatchet job. I can almost guarantee that we’ll soon get on network television the traditionally somber voice narrating, “These are the faces of famine…” Over shots of Tigrayans — all in a very tight shot — who are probably, yes, genuinely suffering. Exploiting them in the most disgustingly cynical way as props.
Only that still won’t confirm famine. Because yes, there is a damn difference between a cluster of folks in a refugee camp who desperately need more food and what is technically defined as famine in a medical/humanitarian aid context.
This is why, sir, Ethiopia television crews need to go directly to the very places the Western media plans to shoot their video, such as the refugee camps and the hospitals, and have them take footage. Lots of it.
But make sure their camera people take wide angle shots that can show scale. The whole damn camp, and its size and limits.
Please make sure that Ethiopian reporters speak to qualified physicians who have diagnosed IDPs before the correspondents stampede in with their oh-so-helpful TPLF agent/fixers to lead them to their poster-ready orphans.
Let’s face it. Nima Elbagir and her camera person could shoot a bunch of guys with rifles moving away from the camera and with their backs to us, and she then informed everyone that the TPLF fighters pushed Eritreans out of the town… which is really odd, because we never got to see these fighters talk on camera. But as we’ve also just learned, VICE has the ethics of pond scum and will use irrelevant footage from more than 20 years ago to help Amnesty’s Vanessa Tsehaye sell the narrative of Eritrean atrocities. And even when this despicable sham was outed, she still defended the end product. In their world, the ends justify the means.
I’m sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, it is long overdue for your communications folks to stop being so polite and start kicking ass.
Instead of just representatives sitting at a table, reading out statements, SHOW US THE EVIDENCE. Show us photos. Show us video. There are these things that we like to call “visual aids.”
Give us dates, times, details of incidents. And if it embarrasses certain Western NGOs and/or the UN operations which still want to operate in the country, again, I say, too damn bad.
Believe me, they actually need you more than you need them. They are putting on a show for the world, for what is now clearly coming into focus as a carefully mapped-out campaign to destabilize a region. And while yes, the exigencies of the situation mean that you don’t want to turn down food supplies or medical aid, their relentless bullshit is obscuring the fact that your government has been providing most of the aid in the region.
Time to get the truth out in a more compelling fashion.
Part and parcel of that effort should be flipping the script and outright identifying reporters by name at weekly press briefings, pointing out how they’ve either deliberately left out pertinent information in their stories or have engaged in misleading narratives.
So far, those of us across the waters, as allies and in the diaspora community, have been doing the heavy lifting on this chore. But your team likely has way more specifics, and it’s time to hold these journalists accountable.
If Ana Cara of the AP is willing to spin bullshit over ID cards, put her under the spotlight.
On Twitter, Tom Gardner of The Economist is now willing to shamelessly promote the rag of William Davison — whose own conflict of interest in being an analyst for Crisis Group never seems to earn any comment by the Western outlets that rely on his blathering.
I strongly suggest you ask Gardner right in public why he’s promoting a website that routinely publishes propaganda screeds seeking to destabilize your country and pits individuals of different ethnic origin against each other.
Sorry, but your administration and others need to recognize that the second front to this war is in the digital realm. People nod impatiently and think they understand this when they don’t. At all.
They think a mere reply is fighting the war. The TPLF Zombie Army on Twitter, Instagram, Clubhouse, Facebook all get it. This stuff needs to be tactical, surgical.
The battles on this second front include social media, of course, but also the Op-Ed pages and the academic research forums, where relentless yet inane opinion articles are shoveled out by the likes of Cameron Hudson and Alex de Waal. De Waal just showed his hand by singing the famine anthem on a Qatar media outlet, and he also wants to jerk tears from the more gullible this week in the London Review of Books (that one, you can go find yourself, I refuse to give Mango the clicks).
We’ve already talked a little about the battle front in the Western media, which now completely refuses to allow what used to be known as the “right of reply” or to publish a contrary opinion. Which is why you’re reading this letter on Medium.
To be candid, on all these fronts, we’re the ones fighting the guerrilla war, Mr. Prime Minister. We’re the Resistance. Because the TPLF Nazis have no problem with calling faculty boards for academics, threatening publishers online, and trying to deplatform celebrities like Tiffany Haddish who dare hold a view different from their narrative.
They even threaten to video folks who take part in a public protest, which is a right in a democracy.
I’d really like to know why that doesn’t merit attention in The New York Times and The Guardian.
Laugh at the Devil
My own personal opinion is that we can do better. The one wonderful thing about the enemy is that they can be cunning, and yet paradoxically, they have no shortage of idiots.
We have @Tseday, one of the major TPLF propagandist “nodes” in Canada, who is now at war with her own movement as she conflates the Tigray situation with the multi-layered, complicated, steaming mess of what’s going on in Israel and with Palestinians. Embroiled in an ugly defamation suit herself (to be fair, she got sued by a horrible human being), she recently accused two respected academics of being intelligence assets.
A lawyer really should explain to her how libel works.
I have no idea why spies would need to publish articles out in the open to get the attention of policymakers — couldn’t they just, you know, email ‘em? If they’re spies, hey, I’m sure they also have Snapchat. Either way, I think of @Tseday as the gift that keeps on giving.
Then we have Alula Solomon of Tigrai Media House, who was quite willing to endanger the lives of commercial pilots by slandering them as “foreign military experts.”
I had something of an epiphany when I saw this tweet. By any standard of journalism ethics, by any measure of simple decency towards people who have nothing directly to do with all this, it’s utterly contemptible. But there’s no point in going after each of his ridiculous lies, and I realized that we need to laugh at the Devil.
There’s a story in George Steer’s book about the Ethiopian Liberation, Sealed and Delivered (great book, by the way). He ran the propaganda operations for the liberation effort, and the British divisional command didn’t like how he mocked certain Italian officers. But as Steer wrote, “Where does truth or untruth lie in saying boo to a goose?” He had a great whopper in mind about a Fascist colonel, and if his story could have passed a British censor, “I would have announced that he had been shot in the back by a deserting Eritrean askari.”
Now I see no reason to lie, especially when the TPLF constantly lie. I mean so far Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers have been accused of multiple crimes:
Killing combatants and tossing them off cliffs (fake video supplied by TMH)
Massacres (the Axum Massacre narrative keeps changing and the body count has gone down)
Mass rapes (possible, but still needs to be investigated, as well as TPLF rapes)
Looting (again, why is the accusation one-sided?)
Theft of church relics (not proven)
Use of Russian mercenaries (this is one of my favorites — where are they?)
Use of a ship in the Black Sea to send weapons (not proven, but Ethiopia can import whatever it likes anyway)
Use of white phosphorus (not proven)
Starvation used as a weapon of war (neither famine nor the tactic has been proven)
Farmers supposedly prevented from farming (not proven)
A “final push” of some kind of vague major offensive (not proven)
I mean, Wow! Your guys are supermen, Mr. Abiy! Where do they find the time for all this? How does the schedule break down? Is it working with Russian mercs in the morning and a little light church theft in the late afternoon or what?
Of course, a lot of this BS is coming from the Lie Factory of Tigrai Media House. Clearly, its CEO is willing to throw anything at the wall to see what sticks, to see just how gullible the likes of Will Brown of The Telegraph and others can be. Because it’s not as if they bother to check their work.
It’s absurd. So we might as well embrace the absurd. I say if Alula Solomon wants so hard to look ridiculous, I can help him with that.
When he writes that there’s “Breaking” news or a “Report” on the latest fabricated atrocity, yes, I will report that Alula Solomon picks his nose in public. Worse, he’s been caught picking other people’s noses in public. I believe it’s important to discuss how Alula Solomon has instructed the TPLF membership to worship a hedgehog named Biff. Hey, he told me on the phone it’s a “strength” and “stealth” thing. “Quills, Jeff!” he said. “Quills!” Like that was supposed to mean something to me. Yeesh.
Hey, I don’t understand it either. Apparently, it’s part of Debretsion Gebremichael’s “restructuring” thing. Go, newly rebranded terrorism! Go, TDF, go hedgehogs!
And yes, I think Dennis Wadley is fair game. This guy’s sanctimonious posturing could drive weeping angel statues at a nearby cathedral to lose their stone minds and go on a killing spree of all the actors at the Friends reunion (starting with Joey). I believe his pious, double-talking ass needs satire.
I believe people have a right to know that Dennis Wadley only found Jesus after years of psychiatric therapy; this is because he was convinced that his mother’s Hyundai was a Transformer.
All these responses, I think, can be good for morale. And I think it’s high time your Communications team pointed out in news briefings how utterly preposterous some of the claims are by these idiots, both in media and in the TPLF activist army. Because the Devil loses his power when he’s laughed at.
Consider that the big media brands — The New York Times, the Economist, CNN — are insisting that their versions of reality are the only ones that matter. Not just for America, but for the rest of the freakin’ world. That’s intolerable (and it’s never been sustainable; again, as I mentioned in my last article, one word: WMDs).
Maybe if the rest of the world finally points and laughs, the Devil will realize his con job is over. You had a good run, but please go away now.
Sorry, I went on so long, Mr. Prime Minister, but all of us out here are just asking your team to be a little more aggressive and creative in their responses.
Ooooh, oooh! One last thing. I think Ethiopia should launch its own version of The Daily Show on one of its television channels. I’m sure you guys have your own brilliant versions of Jon Stewart or Trevor Noah. Do both Amharic and English language versions, preferably in front of a studio audience if possible. I mean the show practically writes itself with the nonsense being put out lately.
But if you do, just please have someone cut me a check for coming up the idea and a tiny royalty percentage. The trolls claim I’m on your payroll anyway.
I think that hedgehog ratted on me or something.
All the best,