On November 10, 2020, a 7-page report that discussed the potential unraveling of Ethiopia – due to outbreak of war between the Federal Military and TPLF – was concluded and forwarded to a carefully selected team of EU officials, who would then present it to the EU council. The scenario considered in the report was a potential deluge of refugees into Europe from a disturbed region, the Horn of Africa (HoA). The report cautiously analyzed the then 7-day-long armed conflict between ENDF and an alliance of Tigray armed groups, including Tigray Regional Forces and Special Police, and expressed concern about the cohesion of ENDF and possibility of spill-over of the conflict into Oromia region.
The report also cautioned against the tripartite alliance of Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, and Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed of Somalia. Additionally, the report noted the concerns of Saudi Arabia, which feared the crisis could negatively impact the Gulf region – a concern shared by United Arabs Emirate. Another notable prospect raised by the report was cutting off of the Ethiopia-Djibouti terrestrial transport corridor should the conflict continue unabated (ibid). In May 2021, Goitom Gebreluel opinionated that the HoA is falling under an axis of tyranny led by the 3 aforementioned leaders, and that the tripartite alliance was destabilizing the region.
Among the issues discussed in the West concerning the future of Ethiopia are if Ethiopia can be peacefully broken up if a rebel coalition takes power in Addis Ababa, and then allows the ethno-regional states to use referendum to vote for secession, which the central government will accept. This is to avoid the Somaliland-like limbo where the semi-autonomous state cannot gain full recognition as a republic unless the national government in Mogadishu consents to its secession. For USG and its European Allies, this will allow for a peaceful Yugoslavia-like breakup, while enabling the trial of Abiy Ahmed Ali for crimes against humanity in an international court just as it happened to the last President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic.
If Ethiopia accepts regime attenuation, then there will be need for a national dialogue supervised by a Government of National Unity that includes the TPLF (and even excludes Abiy Ahmed), which will oversee a constitutional review that will strengthen decentralization. So far, there has been no assessment of whether Abiy Ahmed can develop a strong personality or valor like Xi Jinping who defeated enhanced political warfare, or if Abiy can take bold decisive actions to survive political warfare. It also overlooks the fact that the Ethiopian people have not shown strong dislike for the government. Even so, popular perception can be changed using witful narrative management that is tailored to drive a wedge between the people and GoE.
Relatedly, how is the USG-EU alliance going to manage the crisis in Ethiopia, while promoting their agenda for Ethiopia?
Command and Control Fusion Center (C2FC) Running a Basma-like Campaign on Ethiopia
In a previous post, it was reported that C2FC “has delegated some of its tasks to disparate subsidiary fusion cells that enjoy some degree of operational autonomy but organizational dependence on the fusion center”. So, what are the functions of C2FC and who staffs these fusion cells?
The key functions of C2FC can be summarized as advisory, facilitation, capacitation, and intelligence operations. This post focuses on the information capacitance function of the C2FC and some intelligence operations of its allied military and intelligence organizations. The other functions of C2FC will be discussed in later posts.
Information capacitance is key to any propaganda campaign, and in the Ethiopian crisis, it involves moderating and controlling media coverage of the war in Tigray – and armed rebellion in Oromia – in a way that disadvantages GoE. This managed media coverage is quite helpful for fusion cells located in Kenya where they work with anti-Abiy elements in the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and National Intelligence Service (NIS) to shape public opinion in favor of supporting TPLF and Oromo secessionists. This clique in KDF and NIS has partnered with other national intelligence agencies and private intelligence firms to train media activists and promote the idea of 2 parallel governments-in-exile – the Oromia Regional National Transitional Government and the Government of the National State of Tigray.
As will be explained later, the current information capacitance operation uses methods and techniques developed in Project Basma, which was a regime change campaign conducted against the government of Syria. The same methods and techniques were then used against Xi Jinping as part of an enhanced political warfare campaign to weaken the Communist Party of China.
The staffs of these fusion cells are made up of popular media personalities, journalists, university-educated intellectuals, lawyers, democracy activists, humanitarian aid workers (HAW), private intelligence firms, non-governmental organizations (including the Europe External Programme with Africa [EEPA]), and researchers affiliated with Western humanitarian aid agencies and research institutions. The current conjecture by Geopolitics.Press is that Stratfor and Janes Information Group – which is owned by Montagu Private Equity – do aid the operations of these cells. Among the democracy activists working in, or with, these fusion cells are prominent democracy activists from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Uganda; as well as democracy activists based in Europe, Oceania, and North America.
The staff help to create narratives, repurpose description of events, and find ways to deny GoE media publicity. The narrative created by these cells is processed by C2FC before being issued to “media actors” for amplification. The most prized media actors are the multinational media agencies that have a global network of influence which can be leveraged in information warfare campaigns. Consider Reuters with its global network of about 4,000 journalists, and one can get an idea of how a created narrative can be popularized worldwide by these journalists, and even be made the vogue narrative. This was evident during the execution of Project Basma.
In 2014, it was revealed that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for International Development (DfID), and Ministry of Defence – which are all part of the Government of the United Kingdom (GUK) – have been running a joint program to capacitate information campaigns and kinetic operations in Syria. This joint program used the methods of “strategic communications, research, monitoring and evaluation, and operational support to Syrian opposition entities” to achieve its goals. The revelations also showed that FCO favored building of “local independent media platforms” to outbid the government in narrative management. This joint program is now known as Project Basma, and it fronted an entity called Basma (after which the project is named).
Basma was cloaked as a civil society group that provided a citizen journalism platform. This can be related to the obtuse civil society organization called Civil Society Reference Group, which is a front for the anti-Abiy clique in KDF and NIS to lobby the Kenyan government to support rebels fighting against GoE.
As a citizen journalism platform, Basma was able to plant stories in international media outlets and run a network of journalists who doubled as intelligence agents. It is still not clear if the Integrity Initiative and Institute for Statecraft played any roles in Project Basma.
Basma Program for Regime Change
In September 2020, leaked documents – which were later acknowledged – revealed that GUK has been funding a propaganda campaign to promote regime change in Syria, as well as buy public sympathy for the armed opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. To cultivate media activists who would serve as stringers in Syria, GUK used the Basma program to train these activists and deploy them to the field. These activists were paired with public relation (PR) firms, which edited and modified their reports before forwarding them to mainstream media outlets as journalistic pieces. The media agencies named in the expose are BBC, Al-Arabiya, Al-Jazeera, and Orient TV.
Private intelligence contractors that were involved in this Syrian campaign include The Global Strategy Network (TGSN), Albany, Analysis Research Knowledge (ARK), and Innovative Communication & Strategies (InCoStrat). InCoStrat and Albany helped the armed opposition to handle media relations. Albany even admitted that its core task was defined as “collecting and organising stories and content that support and reinforce the core narrative”.