Ethiopia: Manufacturing More Outrage

Jeff Pearce
11 min readMay 24, 2021

You can’t smell the chemical weapons, but that scent of manure is coming from the West…

Here is how Lucy Kassa tweeted yesterday about her story in UK’s Telegraph about alleged chemical weapon use in Tigray: “Ethiopian and Eritrean armies may have used powerful incendiary weapons in civilian areas.” I quote-tweeted this to observe dryly, “I may have had fried chicken for dinner last night.”

But it took only a few hours for the Zombie Army of trolls to achieve their goal, for the allegation to move from may to supposedly established fact.

Here is Faisal Roble, who bills himself as a “widely read essayist” and a member of the Horn of Africa Journal editorial board (and gawd help us over that): “Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers used white phosphorous in Tigray, an internationally banned chemical. Unforgivable crime against humanity.” Except the crime hasn’t been proved yet. Once upon a time, I admired Zecharias Zelalem, whom I naively thought was the bright future of Ethiopian journalism, but… ugh. Even he rushed to shill for his “friends” (his word) Brown and Kassa, claiming they “unearthed a whole new horror of a despicable war.”

Again, suggesting this is already proved. Only it isn’t. And we’re bloody far from anything proven.

Let us take on good faith that yes, we have burn victims. And Brown was not above exploiting emotion to promote his article: “We cannot publish the videos as they are far too graphic and distressing. But please take it from me, the sounds of little Kisanet screaming as nurses try to help her… will stay with me for a very long time.”

Okay, you watched a video. You know what? I’ve known a burn victim personally. Years ago. A friend of mine at J-school. I heard her screams in agony. Helped her wash her hair in the hospital ward, her legs horribly burnt, and you will not forget that unique sickly-sweet odor of cooked flesh for the rest of your life, trust me. So no, I am not going to get suckered into the troll army’s game of “How dare you question our victims?” and attempt to invalidate their injuries or even their accounts of their suffering.

But if you bother to read the story, the victim accounts don’t do anything really to support its accusations, and while others are stampeding to register their horror, it would be far more useful if they stopped to think.

First of all, we’re back on tediously familiar ground. Brown is based out of Nairobi, and the story tells us that no, neither he nor Lucy Kassa met the victims face-to-face but only interviewed them by phone and relied on videos.

Instead of going there. And meeting them in person. Because apparently in journalism these days, you don’t even have to get off your ass anymore and verify what’s going on.

I mean hey, look how well that worked out with the Axum “Massacre.” You remember that one? When the story first broke, the death toll was estimated at around 750 people, but months later, with Amnesty International changing their chronology, and video coming out proving the original version was bullshit, those like the human fungus on Ethiopian current affairs, William Davison, want to run a victory lap because the country’s Attorney General’s Office concluded that Eritrean soldiers murdered 40 civilians. A far cry from 750.

But an allegation these days is apparently good enough. Early in the Telegraph story, we’re informed, “The incendiary chemical lies in a legal grey zone. It can be used legally to illuminate the battlefield at night or to provide tactical smoke screens.” So already there’s a concession that there’s a military reason to use this kind of thing.

Brown and Kassa, however, don’t want to even explore the possibility of an accident or negligence. Instead, an expert weighs in that the injuries are “very similar” to those of casualties in Syria. It looks like white phosphorous, says the expert. Keep an eye on the wording in all these accusations. We’re reminded about Vietnam. We still don’t have any substantial proof, but hey, let’s bring up examples from other theatres of war that have nothing to do with Ethiopia.

Their expert opines: “…I expect every dictator and rogue state believed that they could use these horrifically effective munitions with impunity. And this seems to be the case in Tigray.” Well, that’s cute — so a) Abiy is now implied to be a dictator; b) Ethiopia is now implied to be a rogue state.

And as long as we’re in mid-slander, let’s rewrite history as well: “The images come six months after Ethiopia’s… Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s… Isias Afwerki launched a massive offensive to destroy the powerful ruling party in Tigray…” No, Mr. Brown and Ms Kassa, the offensive came after a terrorist group chose to slaughter Ethiopian soldiers in the middle of the night at various outposts on November 3, something their spokesman bragged about on television. You guys just can’t help yourselves, can you?

We then get a casual reference to famine, which will surely make Alex “Mango” de Waal happy, since this is his shtick, for which he also likes to lie about the TPLF’s record on hunger and aid, except that Lawrence Freeman debunked this nonsense months ago, pointing out how the numbers mentioned are absolutely ridiculous.

But let’s get back to the chemical weapons. The logic of the allegation makes no sense if you give it even 30 seconds of serious thought. Let’s say you have two innocent burn victims. Their injuries look the same, as they were suffered in fires using the same type of accelerant. But one fire is from an accident, the other is arson. Do you look at the injuries and then conclude both were arson? In the same vein, suppose you have an episode of casualties from friendly fire. Do we automatically conclude that this incident means there’s a conspiracy to frag all the soldiers on one side?

The story goes on: “‘It is possible that high explosive munitions caused some fires. But this seems more like an incendiary weapon like white phosphorus,’ said Dan Kaszeta, a chemical and biological specialist…”

So wait, we can’t even be sure? “Seems more like?” If it is possible to be something else, why the rush to judgment of a war crime? Great for headlines, yes, but so far, you have nothing concrete. You have the opinions of two experts, and even one of them had the good sense to allow for another possibility.

The story claims, “Eritrean troops are known to be blocking food aid from reaching civilians in the area of central Tigray where they live.” And your proof of this is what, exactly?

No links, no evidence provided for this either. What we do hear about is that Ethiopian soldiers are trying to prevent aid of any kind — food, medical aid, etc. — from falling into the hands of TPLF guerillas, who can frequently be dressed as civilians. Oh, I suppose the journalists forgot about that crucial detail. You know, the fact that a war is still going on.

Then it tells us, “Ms Asmelash said there was no fighting in the area, and it was daylight when the shell struck.” Well, I’m sure she knows when it’s daytime, but given that she’s a civilian, how could she know about the whole region? The story quotes another victim saying that “both Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers were in control of the area… and there was no ongoing fighting.” But again, this is a civilian. Why not consult a military source to confirm? Or like so much else, did the reporters just take this on faith?

If anything, this also suggests the equally plausible explanation that some kind of military accident occurred. If so, it’s still horrible, and the casualties still need proper care and reparations. But again, we have no conclusive proof that the federal military was at fault. You haven’t even confirmed that the federal army held the area. Because you like to do your journalism by phone and by watching a video monitor.

Where did the story come from? Well, it didn’t start with the plucky investigative initiative of Will Brown and Lucy Kassa. The first report of young little Kisanet’s agony was in a tweet on May 18 by an account named Sudan Motion, which offers a genuinely horrifying photo and tells us, “She is suspected to have sustained internationally prohibited chemical attacks by Ethiopian and Eritrean armies in Tigray.”

The second tweet in the brief thread reads: “The physical signs of chemical attacks are there. The international community investigate this grave crime.”

And that’s all we get. But in two tweets, we’re given a victim we can honestly feel genuine sympathy for, even anguish, and we get an accusation and the suggested culprits. So where did Sudan Motion get its facts from and how does it know this?

The very next day, one of the top Twitter warriors for #TigrayGenocide, Meaza, with an impressive 34,500 followers, quote-tweeted Sudan Motion’s tweet about Kisanet, saying in part, “Not enough ground for the UN to intervene militarily and save whatever is left of Tigray?” Which, of course, has always been the goal: throw out any accusation — anything — to get the UN to rescue Debretsion Gebremichael’s sad little guerrilla force hiding in caves and restore the TPLF’s political power.

That was May 19. The fix was in. By May 23, surprise! A wonderful “exclusive” for Will Brown and Lucy Kassa in The Telegraph. And just so that no one connects the dots too quickly, Meaza deleted her tweet that gave the original source of Sudan Motion.

Journalism is so easy when someone feeds you virtually everything they want you to write.

Nor is that even the end of the story. It can be no coincidence that we’re hearing about white phosphorous as the chemical being used. The TPLF know only too well how damning such an accusation can be.

Because they’re the ones who used it more than a decade ago when they fought in Somalia. Back in 2007, the United Nations arms monitors accused the Ethiopian army of using white phosphorus in a battle in Mogadishu. What’s also interesting is that the UN didn’t just sit in an office and call a hospital, it went there to look. You know… gather physical evidence. The UN monitors “provided bomb scene photographs and soil sample evidence indicating that the soil at the impact area had 117 times the normal amount of phosphorus.”

Hey, TPLF guys, I bet if you hurry now, you can rush to an appropriate site and screw around with the dirt and chemicals to make your story fit.

And it gets better. Zecharias Zelalem, who made a point yesterday of promoting the story, neglected to mention how Ethiopia under the TPLF was once accused of using white phosphorous. Yet he should know, because he wrote a long thread last November on the arrest warrant put out for Colonel Gebregziabher Alemseged, accused of war crimes in Somalia, one of which obviously included the use of white phosphorous. He even wrote what he called himself “something of a bio” of Gebre, and a very good article it is, too. This part below, I especially like and consider worth quoting, even though it takes us off on a tangent, but I can’t resist.

“According to a Wikileaks cable, at the meeting between Seyoum Mesfin and senior Somali [Transitional Federal Government] officials including President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the President requested Colonel Gebregziabher’s removal from the country. But Seyoum scoffed at the request and instead slammed the President for his governing inadequacies, threatening to halt Ethiopia’s support of the TFG.”

As the song says, everything is everything, and maybe the next time Alex Mango wants to nauseate us with a disgusting tribute to Seyoum as a “peacemaker,” we can all remind him how there’s proof of Seyoum having no problem at all with foisting a thug guilty of atrocities on to a foreign country.

But to return to the chemical weapons story, the obvious agenda here is to trump up a charge that can act as an excuse for intervention. Brown and Kassa make a point of mentioning, “Ethiopia is a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the use of weapons like mustard gas, while Eritrea is not. Neither country has signed the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which bans using incendiary weapons like white phosphorous on people.”

Hey, you know who else never signed that Convention? The United States. It used white phosphorus in Fallujah, Iraq back in 2004, denying it for a year and a half until a Pentagon spokesperson had to cop to it to the BBC.

So, my suggestion is that if Blinken or the Brits or the UN would like to run with this specious allegation based on the dubious “evidence” so far, and either threaten intervention or a war crimes trial over the use of white phosphorus, then Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry might suggest George W. Bush and certain generals, either retired or still active, can take their places as well in the courtroom.

The problem, as I have now stated several times, is that nobody learns anything here.

Not the journalists who are like Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at every inflammatory bullshit charge offered up by the TPLF trolls. Not the policy makers or politicians, who are reading this crap and won’t do their proper homework or listen to alternative views. And not even us, defending Ethiopia, because we’re stuck in a continual “reactive” mode instead of changing the conversation. We should be working on breaking the cycle.

The good news is that this puppet show can’t last. All of us are not cursed with goldfish memory. Sooner or later, it’s going to add up. There was Mona Lisa Abraha, whose story changed at least three times and who was contradicted by her own father — a tragic victim herself in being exploited by the TPLF. We’re still waiting on the proof of “Russian mercenaries.” Funny how we never did hear anything more about them, isn’t it?

And no one forgets the clown in Boston who masqueraded as a priest over the bogus Axum Massacre. Oh, wait, he was just “portraying” a priest in a re-enactment, and we’re all supposed to forget that the tweets went out with video the first time with absolutely no labeling of re-enactment — those hasty edits came later. How do I know this? Because I saw the tweets when they went out the first time. And so did many others.

But keep feeding the goldfish. And when they notice, distract them with something else.

Only sooner or later, all the baggage of the manufactured outrage will collapse under its own weight. It’s not sustainable — because it was always built on lies.

The TPLF and its Zombie Army in the digital world are trying desperately to race against time before actual reality catches up with them, before the last pitiful child soldiers surrender and the old men have to walk with their hands up out of their caves. Hence the increasingly shrill insistence that more be done, that the election be stopped or delayed, that someone else’s army roll in — for God’s sake, someone please, please stop Ethiopia!

Because we can’t let folks see that —

Ethiopia has moved on. Ethiopia saved Tigray, and now it’s rebuilding Tigray. And it doesn’t want you TPLF trolls or these bitter, corrupt old men anymore. Like an abusive spouse, you scream a self-serving lie in one breath and in the next one, claim Ethiopia can’t live without you. “Go on, who needs ya? We’ll make our own country!” (Once we torch yours to the ground.)

And the problem is that you’re such a good con artist, you persuaded the “neighbors” to buy your lies.

Only the act is getting tired and sad. The country you once beat up and humiliated and abused will stand tall again.

And soon, it won’t have to think about you anymore. Ever. Except to warn its children, this is what abuse looks like, never let it back into your house.



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.