Rumors, Misinformation Swirl After Federal, Regional Forces Clash in Ethiopia

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Saturday that Ethiopia would remain a unified country, despite what he characterized as “a lot of people talking” about secession with divisive rhetoric and false accusations.

Abiy said on state television that the suggestions of dissolving the federal state were connected to ongoing conversations with government officials in the Somali region to restore calm after the abrupt ouster of the regional president, Abdi Mohamoud Omar.

“The people have social connections and live among each other,” Abiy said. “And to think that the people will separate just like that is a wrong way of thinking,” he added, speaking in Amharic about violence in the region.

Rumors spread

On August 4, Ethiopian federal troops confronted regional forces in Jijiga, capital of the Somali region. That led to dozens of deaths, hundreds of displacements and Abdi’s resignation.

Residents in the region, more than 95 percent of whom are ethnic Somalis, are now sorting through the aftermath of the violent incident.

In the wake of the fighting, rumors and hearsay have spread quickly on social media.

In his remarks, Abiy acknowledged widespread rumors and misinformation online and within local communities and urged people to think carefully when presented with information that could be ideologically driven.

“It is important that Ethiopians deal with this with a calm spirit, and when some information comes, take their time to analyze it, and think about it and verify it, after asking questions about where the information comes from,” Abiy said.

Media access remains curtailed in Ethiopia, particularly in the Somali region, making it difficult to verify local reports and purported government statements.

Earlier this week, Addis Standard, an online, independent news organization focused on developments in Ethiopia, published a report about the federal army disarming the Liyu police, a special force based in the Somali region involved in the recent fighting, but then retracted the post after state TV said the information was based on an unsubstantiated rumor.

In a tweet, the news organization said its story came from a “senior military source.”

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