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Ethiopia elections: The misinformation circulating online

Ethiopia elections: The misinformation circulating online

Woman holding a scarf

As Ethiopia prepares for Monday’s parliamentary elections, some online users have posted misleading content and allegations.

Access to social media in Ethiopia is relatively low compared to elsewhere on the continent, but its use is increasing rapidly, especially during events such as national elections.

Just days before the vote, Facebook closed accounts it said were posting false information.

Prime Minister did not say he “would rather die” than cede power

This is one of the most widely shared forgeries during the election campaign – an audio recording, apparently of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, was allegedly leaked during a high-level meeting of the ruling party.

The Prime Minister can be heard saying that he “would rather die” than leave office.

Screenshot of Kello Media's Facebook post with allegedly leaked audio
Screenshot of Kello Media’s Facebook post with allegedly leaked audio

The recording was originally posted by Kello Media, an online news service based in the United States, claiming it was genuine.

My Abiy’s office later issued a statement claiming that the audio was fake and that it was “made up based on various unrelated remarks made by the prime minister.”

The BBC’s Amharic language service analyzed the audio and identified distinct jumps, as well as variations in volume and audio quality, strongly suggesting it had been manipulated.

Three separate sections of the audio dated back to earlier public recordings of Mr. Abiy.

Ethiopia does not plan nuclear attack on Egypt

It’s a slightly more outlandish statement but it highlights the tensions between Ethiopia and its neighbors over a vast new dam being built on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia.

Facebook article accusing Ethiopia of planning nuclear attack on Egypt
Facebook article accusing Ethiopia of planning nuclear attack on Egypt

This is one of Abiy Ahmed’s proudest achievements, but the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and its impact on downstream water flow has been very controversial.

A Facebook page operating from Egypt posted unverified claims about the dispute, including one that Ethiopia is planning a nuclear attack on Egypt.

“It’s very strange that there are dozens of news [stories] which has started to escalate over Ethiopia’s willingness to launch a nuclear strike against Egypt, especially after the Renaissance Dam crisis escalated at an unprecedented rate, ”the post said. .

Construction worker by the dam
Ethiopia sees the dam as a vital source of hydropower, but Egypt sees it as a threat to downstream livelihoods

But Ethiopia does not have nuclear weapons. In fact, no African state currently possesses nuclear weapons.

Most African countries are part of the UN nuclear-weapon-free zones, in which they have pledged not to possess nuclear weapons and have agreed to verify their compliance.

Have voter registration numbers been inflated?

In a country made up of many regions competing for political influence, the number of registered voters in each zone is a very sensitive issue.

Man explaining voting rules
The accuracy of electoral rolls is a very controversial issue

A series of messages were shared questioning official enrollment figures released by the National Electoral Council of Ethiopia (NEBE).

While we cannot confirm whether the numbers given by NEBE accurately reflect voter populations (the last census was taken in Ethiopia in 2007), the messages shared provide no evidence to support their allegations of manipulation.

Tweet text calling for inflated voter registration
Tweet text calling for inflated voter registration

Frustrations are expressed in some posts that specific ethnic communities likely to support the ruling party are intentionally inflated.

A message from an opposition campaign based outside Ethiopia claims that “every aspect of this election is corrupt”, again without proof.

The data this article refers to was a set of preliminary figures released in early May. They were then revised downwards after the commission concluded that there had been registration irregularities in some areas.

But that hasn’t stopped people from retweeting claims with outdated numbers.

A census was due to take place in 2017 but has been postponed several times, first for security reasons and more recently because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Did the Prime Minister campaign in a UN vehicle?

The relationship between the United Nations and the Ethiopian government is particularly sensitive.

Some opposition groups have questioned the neutrality of the UN on the conflict in the Tigray region and accused the international body of failing to adequately recognize human rights violations in that region.

In particular, opponents highlighted an interview given by the UN Resident Coordinator in Ethiopia, Catherine Sozi, in which she described the conflict in Tigray as a “law enforcement operation”.

So when a photo was posted on social media of the prime minister apparently campaigning in a vehicle with blue UN number plates, it was widely shared.

Screenshot of a Tweet claiming Abiy was driving a UN vehicle
Screenshot of a Tweet claiming Abiy was driving a UN vehicle

The image was taken during Mr. Abiy’s campaign in the Oromia region. The UN blue plaques also appear in a tweet from the Prime Minister’s personal account.

Although the images appear to be authentic, it is not known if the car was provided by the United Nations or why it had United Nations plates on it.

Oddly enough, there is a photo posted by the Prime Minister’s official photographer later that same day of the same vehicle, but now with license plate removed.

A UN spokesperson told the BBC: “It is common practice in Ethiopia for the UN to give cars to government ministers at the federal and regional levels.”

He went on to say that sometimes these vehicles keep United Nations license plates for tax reasons, even though they were no longer part of a United Nations program.

“We are checking what may have happened in this case.”

We have written to the Prime Minister’s office, but have not yet received a response.

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