Ethiopia: Lies, Damn Lies, Axum and the West

Jeff Pearce
13 min readMar 4, 2021
The sculpture titled “Tito Minniti, Hero of Africa” by Arturo Martini.

I want to tell you about Tito Minniti. An Italian pilot during the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia.

The short version of the story goes like this: In late December of 1935, somewhere around the Harar region, Minniti’s plane went down in the desert. Some Ethiopians found and dragged him to a village called Bir, and then they tied him to a tree. They cut off his fingers, and as he endured this agony, they stripped and castrated him. Then they let him bleed to death, after which they cut up his body and put his head on a bayonet.

There were witnesses. One told a version that Emperor Haile Selassie was in the area when Minniti was captured and did nothing to prevent what was done to him.. The Fascists announced to the world the savage conduct of Ethiopians, and Minniti’s martyrdom inspired a famous sculpture by an Italian artist, and Minniti even got his own airport bearing his name for decades.

And all the stories, all the propaganda, the sculpture and the airport named in his honor were based on bullshit.

The witnesses lied. None of the lurid stuff probably ever happened. We can be fairly confident of this for several reasons, but the main one is that in time, Minniti’s corpse, along with that of his single passenger, were eventually discovered more than 650 feet from the plane wreckage.

But the damage was done. The Fascists made a huge noise over this gruesome case, and oh, by the way, you know who raised the biggest, most self-righteous stink and tantrum over Minniti’s alleged torture and murder? General Rodolfo Graziani. And I don’t need to explain to any Ethiopian who that is.

So let’s chat about Axum, and I want you to think about Tito Minniti. And liars. And stupidly gullible politicians, policymakers, and intelligence officials in Washington, London, Ottawa and elsewhere.

This will be a loooong one, kids, but it’s necessary. Buckle in, we’re headed for some mountains and some deep gorges that boast a whole lotta nothin’.


I spoke yesterday for a few minutes by phone with Seife Deribe, the CEO of the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), who insists there was no massacre and calls Amnesty’s report a “barrage of misinformation.”

He says reporters for the ENA were in Axum from November 29–30 and saw no signs of fighting, let alone widespread, indiscriminate killing. In fact, they spoke to servants for the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. According to them, things were subdued, with folks enjoying the celebration of St. Mary peacefully.

There was fighting between the TPLF and the federal army weeks before, says Seife, with the TPLF heavily attacking Axum Airport before being pushed out by government forces.

I asked him how the two versions of events could be so wildly different. “I think this is full of politics,” he replied.

And sure, you might dismiss the Ethiopian News Agency as a government operation. Of course, they’d deny it, wouldn’t they? Only they don’t need to lie to you. Here’s footage taken on November 30 by TV crews and sent to me by Seife Deribe. I’ve uploaded it to YouTube to make it easier for folks to see.

Does it look to you like these people are fleeing for their lives or dealing with the aftermath of bodies in the streets?

And here’s an edited version of footage with an English voiceover translation of individuals quoted.

Yes, this second video was uploaded March 2, but even if you want to somehow claim this was a put-up job, staged, made-up… how do you account for the fact that it was originally uploaded to YouTube on December 4?

There are other things about Amnesty’s report that simply don’t add up. Does anyone else find this next bit awfully strange? On the day that a horrible massacre supposedly took place in the middle of the town, Debretsion Gebremichael was bold enough to send text messages to Reuters, claiming the TPLF had not only downed a federal military plane and captured its pilot, but that it had retaken Axum.

Reuters posted its story November 29, and note the time stamp: 12:40 a.m. Now a good reporter can knock out copy like this — especially when he or she doesn’t have to transcribe interview quotes and info, but just use text messages — in 10 to 15 minutes, maybe a little longer.

But hang on. The reporter would have placed at least one or two calls (hopefully) to try to verify what Debretsion told them. So let’s be generous and say Reuters staff maybe tried to check this material for a couple of hours and then ran with it. That easily pushes back the text messages to say, the evening of November 28 at the latest. Reuters wouldn’t want to sit on this stuff, it would run the story as soon as possible. That’s what wire services do.

Well, then we still have a problem. Because Amnesty’s witnesses claim TPLF fighters were attacking Eritreans on the mountain of Mai Koho that morning. Oh, and some “local youth rallied, joining the fight with improvised weapons, such as knives, sticks, and stones.” Notice how heroic this all sounds?

It also sounds insane and completely implausible: young men thinking they could take on modern machine guns with a stick or a knife. But hey, make sure you get in the angle that there’s supposedly local backing for your side.

But now we come to the obstacle. For there to be a massacre, the TPLF has to lose this skirmish. Because by 3 to 4 p.m., we’re told, Eritrean trucks entered Axum and their soldiers “went on a rampage.”

Okay. So which kind of liar do you choose Debretsion Gebremichael to be?

Let’s say the skirmish at Mai Koho really happened, but the TPLF lost as in the Amnesty report. That means Debretsion lied to Reuters months ago about retaking Axum.

If they did retake Axum, when did it happen? Because by 3 to 4 p.m. Eritrean tanks and trucks were supposed to be entering the city, and one of Amnesty’s witnesses claims the killing “began around 4 pm, was carried out on a large scale and continued until the evening.”

Now if the TPLF had retaken Axum but were pushed out by Eritrean forces, they presumably would have seen this alleged wholesale slaughter being carried out even as they retreated. Because according to the report, it happened almost immediately.

So are we supposed to believe these horrors somehow slipped Debretsion’s mind when he texted Reuters? And worse, that they left the people in Axum to their fate?

Or if they fled before it started, that none of his valiant local youths who liked to go up against machine guns with sticks managed to slip out and catch up to TPLF forces in retreat and say, “Oh, my God, you need to know what’s happening!”

So I ask again: which kind of liar do you choose Debretsion Gebremichael to be? Because he’s a liar either way.

And he has company. By now, everyone’s heard the bizarre tale of “Priest Woldemariam” who claimed in a video, speaking in perfect English, that he witnessed the massacre — only he isn’t a priest but some goofball from Boston who doesn’t even belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

These, of course, are not just lies, but stupid lies at that. A machine gun is a spray weapon — you fire away, you won’t always hit what you aim at. That means when investigators and reporters finally get a close look at Axum, we’ll find the holes and damage caused by the machine guns. Hell, we’ll find damn bullets sunk into stone and wood, etc. We’ll find these alleged mass graves.

But will we?

The problem for those of us still using our common sense lies in proving a negative. Who in our modern age wants to stand up and deny a massacre? You are instantly labelled a villain if you dare question the accusation.

I have personally studied the Graziani Massacre, from the photos to the account of a living witness to newspaper coverage at the time — and yes, the Fascist denials. Those denials were sickening. Watch a Netflix documentary some time about the knuckle draggers who want to erase the Holocaust. You’ll boil with rage.

But there is one thing more despicable than such denials, and that’s the complete fabrication of a tragedy.

Which is how I started thinking about Tito Minniti.

Last summer, there were those of us who practically screamed at the top of our lungs over repeated massacres of Amhara people. We didn’t face denial — too often, we were just ignored.

But we have photos of the grisly evidence, we have names, ages, dates, towns where they lived, etc. And the ethnic cleansing still goes on.

What these victims lack is a sophisticated and efficient-to-the-point-of-sinister PR machine. And the troll army of the TPLF has now seemingly convinced half the world that the victims of Mai Kadra were Tigrayans, even though it was correctly reported when the story first broke that the perpetrators “specifically targeted ethnic Amharas and Wolkaits based, among other things, on their identification cards.”

You know who else backed that up? Amnesty. “A man who [helped] to clear the bodies from the streets told Amnesty International that he had looked at the state-issued identification cards of some victims, and most were Amhara.”

Amnesty, however, seems to want to do their investigations lately by autopilot. I made some international calls to consult a leading academic in African politics. This expert was appalled at “the lack of an appropriate methodological approach, particularly surrounding issues concerning allegations on atrocities.” Since I’m a community college graduate, and a lot of this stuff goes over my very dim, smooth head, let’s just say Amnesty clearly thought they could throw darts and hit gold.

Research 101. What are your sample profiles? What are the ages of the respondents, their locations in the town and the nearby community, how do the people you interviewed break down in terms of gender? And oh, while we’re at it, just how and when did they arrive in Hamdayet?

Because refugee camps keep good records of arrivals, so did Amnesty even bother to check with them? After all, that sure is a neat trick, escaping a massacre and making it all the way on foot to the refugee camp in Sudan. From Axum to Hamdayet is 350 kilometres, which would take at the very least three days on foot, not even taking into account stops along the way.

But the Ethiopian authorities had reportedly blocked the busiest border crossing at least by December 3.

So, someone please explain to me the magical teleportation skills of Tigrayan witnesses for Amnesty. When exactly did these specific witnesses arrive?

Also, someone please explain the magical phone system in Axum. Amnesty, for instance, claims it had a conversation with a witness in Axum on February 6. But the telecom service was down for several days, including the 6th, and service wasn’t restored until February 8.

Okay, let’s say they somehow managed to reach their witnesses in Axum and Hamdayet.

Did it ever occur to the report’s authors and interviewers that the notorious “1 in 5” system still has a tight grip on many people in Tigray?

That residents still dread that the TPLF might come back and worry because their operatives have already promised reprisals?

As other folks in Mekelle have corroborated, it’s a system that “grooms people all over the region to become collective ‘spokespeople’ for the TPLF. In this context, it is shocking that Amnesty would publish this piece without verifying evidence and sources.”

Another big flaw was in “Taking telephone numbers from individuals in Hamdayet, a community where members of the Samri wing of the Tigrayan militia have been observed, and neither verifying the individuals nor the location from which the individuals were speaking.”

The result “is a strong possibility that Axum was used as an experimental ground to create a massacre and target vulnerable analysts such as Amnesty.”

Behind that experiment is the strategy of a sociopath — and the sociopathic henchmen hiding with him. They move on to a new lie by the time you debunk the one they’ve already tossed at you. Meanwhile, they continue to deprive Tigrayans of the stability and prosperity they deserve. As another international public policy scholar informed me recently: “Don’t people see the alignment between their claims and the strategic policy agenda of leading donor countries? Since when has the TPLF cared about the humanitarian situation in Tigray?”

The truth is that Debretsion Gebremichael doesn’t give a damn about the people of Tigray. He told CNN in a phone interview, “All sorts of acts of genocide have been committed in Tigray. So, the most important thing is that an investigation must be conducted.” It sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? Until you examine the logic.

The region must be safe for investigators to do their jobs. That means both belligerents must stop military action. Funny how CNN seemingly didn’t bother to ask him if he were willing to surrender. You know… Because of that important investigation into genocide.


You’ve heard the tired, old Edmund Burke line: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Except we are living in a time when the “good men” are so profoundly gullible they will grin like idiots and open the door for Evil.

We are probably due soon for another instalment of the radio serial drama being played out by Alex de Waal and his buddy Mulugeta Gebrehiwot, a TPLF stalwart who somehow wants us to believe that Eritrea has the impossible figure of 42 divisions (even as they lose). Yet de Waal will lap up every dubious assertion and more disturbingly, is probably listened to in turn by people making policy decisions in DC and London.

The Good and the Gullible in the West have learned nothing from their college scavenger hunt days of “Let’s find WMDs!” They have learned nothing from their years of giving a lift to walking colostomy bags such as Saddam Hussein and Mobuto Sese Seko.

The Biden administration, in wanting to turn the page and look like the good guys, is eager to back what it mistakenly thinks is an underdog. For all the sighs and happy gasps that smart people have allegedly replaced the Trump Cabinet of ghouls and idiots, it is starting to look like those coming in have not done their homework.

Twenty-seven years of TPLF rule. But no one at the U.S. State Department or in Brussels thinks they ought to look into that.

Hey, you! Yes, you, working in Washington and in London, in Ottawa and in the corridors of power in the EU. Are you ever going to realize that you are being played?

Doesn’t it bother you at all that all your information is coming from one side? That major news outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail in Canada are not even bothering to print responses from Ethiopian ambassadors?

That they don’t even bother to perform their due diligence to walk over to an embassy or consulate or pick up a phone to get a quote?

Think. Stop and think about a bogus “priest” who turns up in Boston, a self-proclaimed “army of the Tigrayan people” that brags on television about attacking federal soldiers in the middle of the night, and the constant, relentless lobbying. Hour after hour. Every day.

How is it that the underdogs, the victims of this supposed “genocide” have such a powerful infrastructure in place outside of Ethiopia and with such deep pockets to make their case?

Look closer at who’s johnny on the spot, supplying you information.

Diaspora Patriots, if they still won’t listen, we need to get smarter for them.

Last article I wrote on Medium, I pushed for Deport. Defund. Deplatform Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and Crisis Group. I suggested parking protesters right outside the front offices of the NY Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, BBC so that they have to see you and can’t ignore you. Not the public square, not city hall — news offices. Socially distance. Mask up. But get in front of their friggin’ doors.

Still waiting for someone to get that happening.

And let’s do more. Now I am suggesting Out the Oligarchy. We have to show where the tentacles go. The TPLF sunk millions into investments abroad and padded the nice comfy penthouses of their children. As the expression goes, “Do I need to draw you a map?”

Yes. Yes, you do. If there’s a creepy reporter in LA for a major news network affiliate abusing their position of influence, find the trail. Dig up their anti-Amhara comments and other dirty secrets. We out them. If they have wormed their way into the crisis merchant offices and human rights orgs — we out them.

They will fire back with the BS excuse, “You’re targeting Tigrayans.” No. We’re not. No more than Russian lobbyists were exposed sidling up to Trump. And there are scores of people of Tigrayan heritage who still love Ethiopia.

Ethnicity is not the issue. Conduct is. And what they are doing represents not only a threat to Ethiopia’s sovereignty but to U.S., British, Canadian, and Europeans interests in furthering peace and stability.

We take. Them. Down.

I’m not talking about those ridiculous “wanted posters” on social media that demonized figures such as Martin Plaut, Kjetil Tronvoll, Tom Gardner, et. al. Whatever your criticism of these individuals’ work, etc. those posts were vicious, often libelous and stupidly petty. Not to mention, they achieved absolutely zip.

Keep your eye on the main goal. Affecting real change in terms of attitude and policy in Washington, London and the EU.

I’m talking about doing proper checks on facts, verifying what you find and then holding people accountable for abusing their influence. Don’t just toss out an accusation against someone you don’t like. Instead of spreading this stuff on social media, send it in private DMs to those leading the fight to evaluate. This stuff needs to be checked, then organized and then brought to the attention of American members of Congress, State Department officials and others like authorities in the EU, etc.

The TPLF troll army has done a brilliant job of intimidation for months against its chosen targets. It’s time to make their secret army in the diaspora community know what it’s like to be afraid.

Because I don’t know about you, but we don’t need an airport named after Debretsion Gebremichael or a damn sculpture of him put up one day in an art gallery in Chicago or Minneapolis.

Or worse, Mekelle.



Jeff Pearce

Writer person. Books - Prevail, The Karma Booth, Gangs in Canada; in June 2021, Winged Bull, a bio of Henry Layard, the Victorian era’s Indiana Jones.