Fletcher Foundation for World Peace director responds to online backlash over Ethiopia comments

Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition calling on Tufts to remove Alex de Waal from his post as director of the Fletcher School’s Foundation for Global Peace, alleging that his comments on the crisis in northern Ethiopia “directly [promote] violation of human rights and atrocities” and violate international law. De Waal says the comments come from Ethiopian war propagandists. Executive Director of Media Relations Patrick Collins confirmed that the university has no plans to remove de Waal.

The Tigray war, now in its second year, has caused famine, sexual violence and massacres in northern Ethiopia. Both sides are said to have committed atrocities, with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken accusing Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of “ethnic cleansing” in Tigray. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front continues to struggle against the Ethiopian and Eritrean central governments after the states’ armed forces launched an operation in November 2020 to invade the Tigray region.

De Waal, who has studied the region since the 1980s, called the violence against the Tigrayan people a genocide orchestrated by the federal government. De Waal said the charges against him in the petition are the result of the Ethiopian government’s war propaganda machine, which has included an “international social media campaign”.

“If you look at those who are committing mass atrocities, crimes against humanity, genocide, they have a propaganda public information machine to target those they don’t like,” de Waal said of calls for its withdrawal.

“Tufts University is committed to the principle of academic freedom and to the exploration of ideas and varied opinions and experiences, even on controversial topics. We support Professor de Waal’s right to express his views,” Collins wrote in an email to The Daily.

The humanitarian crisis has probably claimed the lives of more than 500,000 people, according to a study by Ghent University in Belgium. De Waal says the Ethiopian-Eritrean coalition is guilty of unleashing a starvation siege against the Tigrayans, who are an ethnic minority.

“I think the violence we will see against Tigrayans will be genocidal,” de Waal said. “I was very hesitant to use that word.”

He says Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is perpetuating the war to destabilize Ethiopia and that Eritrea directly controls around half of Ethiopia’s military, and called the country a “vassal of Eritrea”.

“It’s as bad as Rwanda. And then the repercussions of that, it’s all of Ethiopia that will be destabilized [and] the state will actually collapse,” de Waal told The Daily. “It’s basically already collapsed…and a state of 100 million people collapsing, we haven’t seen that.”

Similar comments by de Waal about the collapse of Ethiopia during a November 2021 interview sparked an online campaign calling on Tufts to remove de Waal from his teaching positions at the Fletcher School, as well as its executive director. of the World Peace Foundation.

“To the angry and defrauded citizens of what is still today the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, including those who dreamed of becoming subjects of a resurrected great Ethiopian empire, face your day of reckoning. Face the collapse of those dreams, the exposure of those lies…and repudiate the toxic untruths that have been told to you,” de Waal said in the interview that the petitioners highlighted as including hate speech towards the Ethiopians.

Critics have responded to de Waal’s attacks on Ethiopian forces by accusing him of being linked to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which is fighting against the Ethiopian federal government and which the petitioners call a “terrorist insurgent group “.

“We, Africans and friends of Africa, and the signatories of this petition, would like to call on the Foundation for World Peace and Tufts University to remove Alex de Waal as Executive Director for the above reasons, which , we hope, do not meet the standards of an organization ‘charged with educating about the evils of war and promoting international peace,'” the petition reads. “Alex de Waal has been a retrograde, divisive, damaging to peacebuilding and inciting tribalist violence with his comments at a tense and defining moment for the Ethiopian people, their democracy and their sovereignty.”

Hamel Haile, social media president of the Ethiopian Eritrean Students Association at Tufts University, believes de Waal is inappropriately taking sides in a complicated dispute.

“It is interesting to note that the TPLF does not act only in Addis [Ababa], the capital of Ethiopia, and in the northern regions of Tigray, but also across the border,” said Haile, a sophomore. “And I think that shows how dangerous a group like the TPLF can be, especially with the support of Western scholars like Alex de Waal.”

Abigail Henok, the EESA secretary, said the TPLF had committed atrocities during its decades in power.

“There are so many other tribes across Ethiopia who are also facing a humanitarian crisis…during the TPLF era…The Ahmara disappeared during this period, whether they were put in jail or killed, literally no one knows where they went,” Enok said. “I think the TPLF has a very good understanding of western media that other tribes don’t.”

The TPLF, de Waal says, has played an important role in economic growth and poverty reduction in Ethiopia. He notes that the decision to “crush” Tigray is the result of a secret political pact between Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

“There was a joint military operation launched by Eritrea and Ethiopia which invaded Tigray and for eight months, from November 2020 to June 2021, Tigray was the scene of the most horrific massacres and mass rapes , looting, starvation, torture,” de Wall said. “I haven’t seen anything so bad.”

He also commented on claims that he was involved in the TPLF.

“I have spent my career working on human rights, on the principles of peace and security in Africa,” de Waal said. “What they’re saying is just a joke, but they have their trolls and their apologists. … They think the only reason I could say these things is because I’m being paid … by the TPLF.

“I personally feel that there are obviously extremists in this whole movement against the TPLF,” Henok said of de Waal’s response. “But I feel like being criticized is something you’d expect if you make very biased comments against a certain group.”

Haile and Henok believe that de Waal should be removed from office.

“He is the executive director of World Peace [Foundation] … there is undoubtedly a lot going on and … it can be very destabilizing politically,” Haile said. “It’s very clear where his interests lie on this, the petition didn’t get 29,000 signatures for nothing,” Haile said.

De Waal continues to call for international inaction in the face of the crisis, referring to commitments made by former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to address atrocities against the human rights.

“[Power] saying, ‘this will never happen on my watch,’ said de Waal. “Blinken was saying the same thing… ‘this will never happen under my watch.’ It’s happening on your watch.

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