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Abiy Ahmed’s Playbook for Dealing with Ferenjis (Foreigners): Lie and Then Lie Again

Abiy Ahmed’s Playbook for Dealing with Ferenjis (Foreigners): Lie and Then Lie Again


By Elias Dawit 01-09-22


Buddha says there are three things that cannot be hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.



Beginning with his declaration of victory over Tigrayan Defense Forces (TDF) just weeks after the fighting began in November 2020, Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed has mastered the art of dealing with ferenjis (foreigners). He lies and then he lies again.


This is the fundamental misunderstanding of the international community when dealing with Ethiopia’s leadership, particularly Abiy Ahmed. How many months did Abiy Ahmed deny the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray? How many times did he tell the international community that he would allow humanitarian assistance to enter Tigray? How many times did Abiy Ahmed tell the West that that Tigrayan forces started the war by attacking the northern command? From accusing U.N. staff belonging to Tigrayan ethnic identity of inflating figures of alleged victims, inventing famine deaths and inviting Tigrayan soldiers into UN compounds, Abiy Ahmed and his government have strained the credulity of the international community.


Just this week, Abiy has released Sebhat Nega, Jawar Mohamed, Bekele Gerba and other prominent leaders of opposition groups from prison. Why? It appears as if outgoing U.S. Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman demanded a gesture from the Ethiopian Government to match Tigray’s withdrawal from the Amhara and Afar regions and agreement not to enter Addis Ababa.


In a recent interview with U.S. Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. expressed its position on TDF’s withdrawal from the Amhara and Afar Region and what should come next. According to Feltman:

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The Tigrayan Defense Forces - these are the forces that moved within 200 kilometers of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, a few weeks ago - those forces are back in their home sttate of Tigray. That was the demand of the government and, frankly, was the demand of United States, as well. That should trigger an end to the conflict. That should trigger a shift to negotiations. That should trigger an end to the human rights abuses and full humanitarian access to those who need food, medicine, fuel, cash, et cetera. So right now, that's what we are pushing for - is to push for the reality that the Tigray Defense Forces are back in Tigray to end this war.


Yet, Abiy still refuses to sit at the negotiation table with the Tigrayan Government. Was that promised to Feltman as well?


It is no secret that the international community has been subjected to the lies of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, again and again.


Abiy Ahmed also has announced that Ethiopian troops will not enter Tigray.


On the face of it, if Abiy Ahmed was trustworthy, it would be positive news that he made the decision not to enter Tigray. His pattern of lies, however, cast doubt—more like total disbelief—on his questionable veracity.


It is clear that the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) have taken massive casualties since June of this year. The fact that Abiy has stepped up his drone assault on Tigray lays bare the state of his army. It is also clear that the Tigrayan Defense Forces. (TDF) is not the same military it was in November 2020. Strategically, it would be a huge mistake for Abiy to send what is left of his troops back into Tigray.


Instead, Abiy has coupled his so-called magnanimous gesture with increased drone bombings in Tigray. This week he targeted a camp for displaced people killing over fifty people—men, women and children.


This was done to try and appease the vehement Amhara elite who have called for his head by releasing Sebhat Nega, an octogenarian whose defiance even while being held in prison was a symbol of Tigrayan resistance.


It is difficult to understand all of the forces working to either end this unnecessary bloodbath or continue it—even expanding it outside Ethiopia’s borders. The political actors in this highly volatile region of the Horn of Africa—Abiy Ahmed, Isayas Afewerki, and Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo—do not have the political imagination to end the madness.


The efficacy of the international community is complicated by this naivety, whether real or inauthentic, about the veracity of the region’s leadership. Time and again, Abiy Ahmed has matched the unrepentant lies of his neighbors to the north and east in a stunning display of audacity and hubris.


Does the international community believe the boldface untruths of this trio or is it playing some sort of diplomatic game to pretend the contrary?


Special Envoy Feltman is an experienced diplomat who cut his teeth on the ragged edges of Middle East conflict. He has met with Abiy Ahmed now on a number of occasions. He has borne Abiy’s public insults and shabby braggadocio against the United States. His successor, Ambassador David Satterfield, the outgoing Ambassador to Turkey, no easy post, has served in Iraq and Lebanon. Both of these American diplomats have dealt with the worst of the world’s autocrats. But they seem to be no match for the craven ruthlessness of the Horn of Africa’s trio of narcissists.


The Tigrayan leadership, as of today, have played by the rules of diplomacy. They have kept the door open to efforts to negotiate a phased peace to the bloodshed, despite what must be an in insatiable thirst to bring down the architects of the genocide. In a letter dated December 20, 2021 to the United Nations Security Council, Tigray’s leader Debretsion Gebremichael has clearly and unambiguously laid out its political objectives having withdrawn the military from outside the borders of Tigray.


Debretsion, speaking on behalf of the people of Tigray, has never lied to the international community. In contrast, Abiy Ahmed has rarely spoke the truth.


As an active and interested partner in attempting to end this war and bring all of the parties to the table, how does the U.S. go forward?


First, the U.S. diplomatic team, now under Special Envoy David Satterfield, must verify all statements that come out of the Office of the Prime Minister. In this context, equivalency is fair. Check and verify the statements made by the Tigray Government as well.


When statements of either side don’t match the reality, the U.S. Government needs to publicly call out the lie. At a minimum, this holds the governments accountable.


Second, and I have argued this in previous articles, the U.S. government needs to publicly acknowledge the legitimacy of the Tigrayan Government and the TPLF. However, it is a core element of Abiy Ahmed’s narrative—from who started the war to his “law enforcement operation”. The TPLF has been identified as a “terrorist organization” inside Ethiopia, therefore de-legitimizing the government that represents of the people of Tigray. The U.S. needs to make clear that it does not consider the TPLF a “terrorist organization” and it is the elected government of the Tigrayan people.


Third, the recent removal of Ethiopia from AGOA was a welcome consequence of Abiy’s intractability. However, this move falls far short of more meaningful steps to hold Abiy and his government accountable. In Debretsion’s November 20th letter to the Security Council, he extends cooperation to the UN Human Rights’ Council’s International Commission of Human Rights Experts to investigate human rights abuses and war crimes committed in this war. The U.S. should provide resolute and unfettered political support for the Commission’s work in an effort to construct a more truthful and honest narrative for the international community—more importantly, however, for the Ethiopian community.


Tigray’s genocide in full view of the international community is an inconvenient truth that historians will struggle to explain. A fourth-rate despot takes power in Africa’s second most populous country and the international community responds rapturously with a Nobel Peace Prize for joining forces with another fourth-rate despot. Africa responds to a genocidal war by pretending Tigray is not part of Africa. Around the world we have watched the Tigrayan people murdered, raped, starved, bombed and displaced livestreamed on our mobile phones.


Truth has become inconvenient, so Ethiopia’s leader constructs a narrative based on falsehood after falsehood. The West nods its head in agreement while Africa stretches the lies even further. And while Abiy Ahmed lies and lies again, the madness continues.




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