16 Mar 2021 – Shortly after the 03/13/2021 Black Alliance for Peace webinar on the Horn of Africa, I came across a radio broadcast featuring “Anarchists from the Horn of Africa.” They were presenting the rebellion of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as the struggle of a grassroots movement for autonomy being violently put down by the Ethiopian central government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, with the help of neighboring Eritrea. The show was produced by “The Final Straw, a weekly anarchist and anti-authoritarian radio show bringing you voices and ideas from struggle around the world” coming out of WSFM-LP, 103.3 FM in Asheville, North Carolina. The show is rebroadcast on several channels across the US, and the producers make it available to the several hundred stations in the Pacifica Radio Network by posting it to Audioport, Pacifica’s content sharing portal. I then spoke to Filmon Zerai, a blogger and a member of Horn of Africa Pan-Africans for Liberation & Solidarity (HOA-PALS), which is a member organization of the Black Alliance for Peace.
Ann Garrison: Filmon, I’ve just come across these “Anarchists from the Horn of Africa” on a Pacifica Radio broadcast and on Twitter, where their handle is “Horn_Anarchists.” They seem to exist to advocate for US/NATO intervention in the Horn of Africa, and their Twitter banner image is three #slogans: #EthiopiaOutOfTigray, #EritreaOutOfTigray, and #R2PTigray. They want Ethiopia and Eritrea out of Tigray and Western military in. “R2P” is an acronym for Western “Responsibility to Protect,” a doctrine promulgated by imperialists and relatively innocent do-gooders at the UN to justify military “interventions” that violate national sovereignty in the name of defending human rights.
Filmon Zerai: Yes, this is one of many social media campaigns for intervention in Tigray on many platforms: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, whatever. Even ClubHouse, the new all-audio social media network. All these campaigns have greatly intensified in the last few months.
The Washington Post even reported on the sophisticated Twitter campaign pushing for Western “intervention” in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and sanctions on Eritrea with emotionally driven campaigns about atrocities, very much like those used to campaign for military “intervention” in Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria. This is from the Washington Post’s November 17th report, “Ethiopia’s cracking down in Tigray. But activists are spreading the news.:
“So who’s tweeting about Tigray and why?
“Twitter data collected from Nov. 1 to 10 showed that 30 percent of tweets about Tigray and Abiy were from accounts created this year. Nearly half (47 percent) of these tweets were from accounts created in late October and early November. After Nov. 4, the number of new accounts created per day grew from an average of 21 to 245. Their tweets are overwhelmingly (although not exclusively) anti-government.
“Despite their single-issue focus and clustered creation dates, most of these accounts do not behave like bots. But they do seem coordinated.
“’It is an organized movement,’ a Tigrayan community organizer in Canada noted during an interview. ‘Documents, even an online webinar, taught people how to share materials on Twitter,’ he said. Like others in this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal. He described a loose networks of activists using WhatsApp to teach people how to set up accounts and promote hashtags like #StopTheWarOnTigray. Users are told to tweet in English, when possible.”
AG: Very interesting that the Washington Post would take such pains to point out that “most of these accounts do not behave like bots,” leaning on the unnamed “Tigrayan community organizer in Canada” who “spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal” to convince us that this is not propaganda, but a “legitimate organized movement.”
This Washington Post report looks like more sophisticated propaganda to me, and since those behind the new Twitter accounts are encouraged to tweet in English, I think we can assume that whoever’s behind them is trying to reach the Western Anglophone audience that might organize or support a Western managed “intervention” in Tigray.
FZ: That’s true and the article was published last November during a transition phase from the Trump administration to the Biden administration. Trump had added Eritrea and Somalia to his Muslim travel ban, and he was terrible for the US domestically, but during the Trump years, the Horn of Africa did have an opportunity to reset without the heavy pressure of sanctions and chaos management. Trump and his team’s incompetence and Trump’s quasi-isolationist views actually helped regardless of his intention.
Now, under Biden, we are seeing a return to intervention and chaos management with Susan Rice and the other Bush/Obama/Clinton personalities returning to powerful Cabinet and other top administrative posts.
AG: So Trump was not sanctioning or managing the chaos that the US creates as firmly as Obama had?
FZ: No, the Trump administration wasn’t. That’s not to say that Trump was advancing anything good in the Global South, but in certain states, we saw breathing room due to his and his advisors’ incompetence and/or more hands-off approach. They didn’t try to interfere with Mexico’s center-left government, their regime change operation failed in Bolivia after less than a year, and they failed to topple Maduro and the Bolivárian Revolution in Venezuela.
The Trump administration, while it maintained wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan and the drone bombing operation in Somalia, was more “hands off” than the Obama Administration in the Horn of Africa with regards to diplomatic pressure and all the usual hectoring. In 2018, Trump’s team lifted harmful UN sanctions on Eritrea, which US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice had put in place in 2009. Eritrea finally seemed to have breathing room without the usual suffocating Washington pressure and was able to pursue rapprochement with its neighbors Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and, to a certain extent, Djibouti.
During the Obama years, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) regime in Ethiopia had US diplomatic, military and developmental aid support due to UN Ambassador Susan Rice and USAID Administrator Gayle Smith, who were both personally close with former TPLF chairman Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian Prime Minister who died in 2012.
AG: I remember that. Susan Rice cried at Meles Zenawi’s funeral and said they had discussed one another’s children whenever they met.
FZ: Yes. Susan Rice and Gayle Smith both have long personal histories as neocolonial intelligence assets and handlers, not only in the Horn but elsewhere in Africa. That also defined their relationships with Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and others.
AG: The TPLF was a minority dictatorship in Ethiopia, wasn’t it? I believe that Tigrayans are just over 6% of the Ethiopian population, but the TPLF ruled the country with an iron fist and Washington’s support for decades.
FZ: The TPLF were protected proxy assets of Washington in the region from 1991 until their ouster in 2018, and the incoming Biden Administration did not bless Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s campaign against the TPLF. That’s why it’s pressuring Ethiopia and seeking to restore the sanctions on Eritrea.
For 28 years Washington foreign policy circles saw Ethiopia under TPLF domination as a model client state in Africa. Prime Minister Abiy, who came to power in April 2018, is learning the hard way that you can’t dispose of a key Washington proxy actor without Washington’s blessing; the Biden Administration is trying to throw the TPLF a lifeline.
AG: Do you think the Biden Administration is trying to put the TPLF back in power in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and sanction Eritrea again, restoring everything as it was before April 2018?
FZ:. The Biden Administration would rather Ethiopia revert back to be a more compliant US police force in the Horn, with more occupying forces in Somalia, destabilization and war on Eritrea, and resistance to the influence of China and other powers competing with Washington.
However, the political atmosphere in Ethiopia has changed since 2018, and the people won’t tolerate the TPLF’s return to its previous dominant role in Addis Ababa. The southern states have become more demanding, and they don’t intend to return to TPLF proxy rule on the periphery while TPLF rules from the center.
Sadly, sanctioning Eritrea again might happen, but it will be a challenge for the US because China and Russia are assertive in opposing unilateral sanctioning states. But it’s fluid and always changing.
AG: Eritrea is the only African nation still refusing to collaborate with AFRICOM, the US Africa Command, isn’t it?
FZ: Yes. There was this list that everyone would verbatim repeat a few years ago after NATO destroyed Libya: Eritrea, Sudan and Zimbabwe. These were the only African states who were not signatory to any AFRICOM agreements and still refused to cooperate. Sudan and Zimbabwe both have folded to Washington’s pressure, so Eritrea is the only one left resisting.
AG: Is there anything else we should understand about the military conflict between the Ethiopian Army commanded by President Abiy in Addis Ababa and the TPLF rebelling in Ethiopia’s Tigray State?
FZ: Yes, it’s important to understand that this is not a referendum on the demand for multinational federalism or self-determination. The TPLF struggles with Prime Minister Abiy are not the same as the struggles of the historically oppressed, non-Abyssinian nationalities in the south.
AG: This is particularly important in this context because these radio broadcasters at “The Final Straw” and other young American anarchist groups have been persuaded to conceive it as the TPLF’s battle for autonomy from the repressive central government, even though the TPLF was the repressive central government for nearly three decades.
FZ: Yes, but that’s an ahistorical reading of events echoing a particular narrative from the north.
AG: What does the TPLF actually say it wants?
FZ: TPLF centers itself as the only vanguard or the sole liberators of the oppressed nationalities who singlehandedly defeated the pseudo-Marxist, 13-year Derg regime in 1991, which is not historically valid. Its objectives are not about self-determination but its opposite: denying other nations’ sovereignty and right to exist as nations without their dominance. TPLF wants power and dominance as this has been clear by its track record over 28 years in power from 1991-2018.
AG: OK, as I understand it, since the ratification of its 1995 constitution, Ethiopia has been a multinational federation that is supposed to guarantee the self-determination, and even the right to secede, to each of its 10 member nations, which are for the most part distinct linguistic and cultural groups. Right? The 10 nations I find online are Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz, Southern Nations Nationalities and People Region (SNNPR), Gambella, Harari and Sidama.
FZ: Yes that’s correct on paper, but for the last 28 years, the TPLF in fact continued the centuries old, centralized tyranny of the Abyssinian rulers from the northern nations of Amhara and Tigray, who used European firearms to conquer the southern nations that are now among the federated nations of Ethiopia. There were no nation-states Ethiopia or Eritrea before European colonialism penetrated the Horn of Africa in the late 1800s. The historic development of Ethiopia is one of genocide, conquest and slavery of indigenous African nations similar to other settler states like America. This preceded the multinational federalism promised in Ethiopia’s 1995 constitution, which was written to solve the historical grievances of the southern states conquered by Abyssinian rulers.
While in power in Addis Ababa, the TPLF disguised the centralized system with tokenized language autonomy policies and regional political parties that they created and controlled, while benefiting from the centralized control to enrich themselves and their top officials, not the poor workers of Tigray. This enabled them to loot Oromia’s and other southern states’ natural resources, push people out to grab land, and let multinational corporations exploit cheap labor.
Ethiopia never became a fully realized multinational federation in which each state had political and economic autonomy, as promised in the constitution. The TPLF ruling oligarchy stole and looted on behalf of the good name of Tigray and its poor laboring class. Neither the Oromo Nation nor any of the other southern, colonized nations can be decolonized so long as Western actors stand in the way. They have not been willing to let Ethiopia transition into a state that is truly multinational, truly democratized and worker led.
The solution is a re-imagined state not founded on Abyssinian Fundamentalism but worker led and regionally integrated.
AG: Can you explain “Abyssinian Fundamentalism”?
FZ: Abyssinian Fundamentalism is an ideology that is an expression of settler-colonialism intertwined with an embellished Abrahamic storyline and white supremacy rationale in which the ruling class projects a pseudo, non-Black race origin story and suppression of Africanness. This ideology has been used to conquer, subjugate and colonize the southern states and create what we know as modern-day Ethiopia. Ethiopia is an African settler state created, much as America, Canada, and Australia were, by violence and white supremacy core ideology.
Opposition to Abyssinian Fundamentalism is not about the Amhara or Tigrayan people. The Amhara or Tigrayan are not the enemy; “Abyssinian” is a class- specific description of power. We specifically say Abyssinian not to ethnicize any group but to focus critical attention on the system and the historic ruling class core ideology. Critique of Abyssinian Fundamentalism is mainly targeted at the political, social, intellectual and cultural elites who propagated the belief system and mythology. It also layered critique of the class dynamic of Abyssinian Fundamentalism because the poor Amhara and Tigray people don’t know why they believe in the violent and racist Greater Ethiopia mythology—the myth of Ethiopia never being colonized, being a 3000-year-old independent state, and a symbol of Black resistance, despite its faux Solomon/Queen of Sheba lineage of a non-African Habesha pseudo race, etc.). So we must challenge Abyssinian Fundamentalism at its core from this standpoint on the framework of class struggle, anti-neocolonialism, and opposing white supremacy.
AG: OK, this white supremacist, Abrahamic origin myth sounds similar to the myth that Tutsis are the Jews of Africa who wandered south along the Nile to the African Great Lakes Region and became the ruling class of Rwanda and Burundi.
FZ: Yes, the mythology of Ethiopia has escaped many critical eyes and especially has disarmed the Black diaspora into admiring a European-created, neocolonial state that conquered other African nations by genocide, slavery, and violence with European backing.
So, again, TPLF’s political struggles should not be equated with the historically oppressed nationalities in the south and their internal struggles for autonomy. The current struggle between Prime Minister Abiy’s Prosperity Party and the TPLF is a continuation of the historic power struggle for dominance of the state between two competing Abyssinian political classes from the north.
Abiy, as an Oromo, is a clear example of Abyssinian Fundamentalism as an ideology because someone like him, a non-Orthodox Christian who speaks Oromo, can still believe in it. This is about maintaining the Ethiopian state image intact in the northern Amhara and Tigray region that projects non-African historic mythology with an embellished Solomonic bloodline and an anti-African belief system, which does not want to let the state transition towards a re-imagining of “Ethiopia” that unifies all nationalities. Presently, the Abyssinian ideological belief system is linked with the Menelikist base of PM Abiy’s Prosperity Party, and on the other side, the TPLF are more aligned with Yohannes IV, who was a Tigrayan Abyssinian ruler.
The Washington TPLF-backed regime were pressured out of power in 2018 from Addis Ababa to Mekelle, Tigray because of an internal party crisis; the grassroots, poor, and working-class movement of #OromoProtests; and shifting regional competition. The TPLF were an effective regional police force for Washington and the Western intelligence community that maintained the war of attrition between Eritrea and Ethiopia, invaded and occupied Somalia, and managed the partition of Sudan with troops in South Sudan. Plus Meles Zenawi was the African face that pushed the AID/NGO industrial complex and his friend Bill Gates’s type of interests at Davos and other Western institutions.
AG: OK, let’s go back for a minute to where we started, with these “Horn Anarchists” on Twitter who want “#R2PTigray.” R2P essentially means Western responsibility to protect African and other formerly colonized savages from killing and committing international crimes against one another. Its founding documents, like those of “interventionist” lobbies all over the world, cite the wars in the Balkans and the Rwandan Genocide as the tragedies that stirred them to action.
FZ: This is one of the many social media accounts that represent the same TPLF diaspora circles from North America, Europe, and Australia.
AG: They got this anarchist group with a show, “The Final Straw,” on a Pacifica station based in Asheville, NC, to interview them on the air. This seems to be an emerging pattern, probably because the spy state has noticed left support for Rojava. The Grayzone has reported on a pseudo-anarchist, “eco-socialist” front for ruling class interests in Ecuador.
FZ: Leftist support for Rojava and an “eco-socialist” front in Latin America always is a go-to intervention front. They are always on the same side of Washington and will always beg for military intervention against the Third World states targeted by imperialism, and this account is part of that trend. The propaganda used to lure First World leftists to imperialism against the Third World states is easy. Anyone can claim to be anarchist, Marxist, etc. online and get away with laundering pro-State Department objectives and imperialist instruments to punish the Third World.
This is not to present Abiy or even Isaias Afwerki as revolutionaries. I personally don’t like either of them, but on principle I oppose imperialism in all its forms in the Horn, regardless of which states or individual heads of state.
AG: Had you heard of these “Horn Anarchists” before? I hadn’t until the producers of this show announced that they’d interviewed them and made the interview available throughout the Pacifica Radio Network.
FZ: No, I hadn’t heard of them. They are recently created and fooled the radio producer.
AG: Do you think they’re worth exposing at this point?
FZ: Maybe not just that one Twitter account, but there are many and even BLM activists have been spewing pro-TPLF views and asking for intervention. The larger issue is propaganda reaching certain circles pushing for intervention in Ethiopia and sanctions on Eritrea. Here’s a March 9 Twitter post by Black Lives Matter Canada saying that they’re standing in solidarity with Tigray, with the hashtag #24hrsforTigray:
Black Lives Matter – Canada @blmcanada March 9
We join our voices with our Tigrayan comrades on Turtle Island and call for full humanitarian access to Tigray, now, and encourage our followers to support 24 Hours for Tigray, and other calls for solidarity from Tigray organizers. #24hrsforTigray
The Twitter page of Chivona Renee Newsome, a New York #BLM co-founder, is replete with tweets demonizing Ethiopia and Eritrea, many of which include video of her speaking at a rally in New York City to stop Tigrayan Genocide.
AG: An Eritrean-identified account angrily retweeted one of her videos:
A NY #BLM co-founder Chivona Renee Newsome calls #Eritreans monsters & making a threatening statement saying “I am coming for u” on the Tigray protest. Stop accusing & threatening #Eritreans. Get ur information right! #TPLFisaTerroristGroup #100DaysWithoutTPLF #Ethiopia #Eritrea
FZ: Many of the same US leftist circles now echo the imperialist line on Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, and China. It’s all propaganda to create a human rights pretense for US meddling, sanctions, bombing, and further military domination. The people of Tigray need peace and stability without Washington intervention or sanctions.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She attended Stanford University and is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. In 2014 she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at @AnnGarrison, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.