Aid agencies in Ethiopia demonised online


USAID donates food relief in Ethiopia. File photo by USAID

from ADANE BIKILA in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Ethiopia Bureau
ADDIS ABABA, (CAJ News) – A SOCIAL media disinformation campaign targeting aid organisations, which are portrayed as financing militant groups, risks worsening the conflict in northern Ethiopia.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have mainly been targeted by the misinformation campaigns on social media.

The European Union (EU) and the US have not been spared amid revelations by politicians the disinformation online had incurred hatred on the bloc and country respectively.

This the aftermath of an incident in August this year when members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forcibly broke into a WFP warehouse and looted 12 full fuel tankers loaded with 570 000 litres of fuel meant for relief operations.

This incident was exploited in a social media disinformation campaign that suggested that the WFP had deliberately aided the TPLF with food and arms supplies.

TPLF is classified as a terrorist organisation.

Insecurity Insight outlined how social media statements and images were created to spread disinformation about aid agencies.

“The false information shared via social media is a contributing factor to the shrinking of the humanitarian space in Ethiopia,” the think-tank stated.

It added, “The disinformation campaign undermined trust in the neutrality, impartiality and independence of the aid sector.”

An example is that of a Twitter post of a propaganda-style image ostensibly showing a handshake between a TPLF and WFP representative.

It was retweeted more than 400 times.

A Twitter post that has been retweeted nearly 1 000 times takes aim at the US government and alleges that the WFP has delivered arms to the TPLF on its behalf.

An image consists of a manipulated version of the WFP’s logo that makes the abbreviation WFP mean “Weapons Funneling Program.” The symbolic wheat stalks and corncob in the normal WFP logo are replaced with weapons, including a grenade, an axe, a dagger, a machine gun and a military two-way radio.

Hanging from the laurel wreath are the flags of the US and EU, implying that the WFP is their agent.

One social media user alleged WFP and USAID are the main sponsors of TPLF.

“Neocolonialism at its highest through these western organizations must end,” the user stated.

Another accused WFP of providing support for the TPFL and USAID of supplying food to the Tigrayan armed forces.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organisation (WHO) head, a native of Tigray, has also been the target of a systematic campaign on Twitter in Ethiopia alleging that he is supporting and abetting the Tigrayans.

An analysis of the social media online users spreading disinformation indicate the individuals online activists who post extremely regularly on topics related to the civil war from a pro-government perspective.

A minority of the profiles can be described as being those of online “influencers.”

The social media users are predominantly male of Ethiopian nationality.

“The fact that many of these tweets are in English suggests they are aimed at an international, not local audience,” Insecurity Insight stated.

The conflict started in late 2020 when the regional Tigray administration defied the federal government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

– CAJ News


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