Saturday, January 21

Notes on the Information War

Normally, it would never occur to us to highlight the information outlets of the Ethiopian regime but this seems like a good time to encourage familiarity with them. What will result is either incredulous anthropological fascination at the reincarnation of Pravda and Tass as they were in 1982 or utter boredom. The two of the government's open news sources in question are Walta and the Ethiopian News Agency. They are really meant to be taken seriously.

Both essentially define news and reality as they are relentlessy presented to Ethiopians from monopoly official news sources and serve as primers for government supporters on the overall party line or provide them with daily talking points. In an Ethiopian environment with absolutely no freedom of press or opinion there is also the extra effort made to create a whole host of fake news sources and stories to defame, sow dissent and generally confuse.

The purpose of information is then not to inform but to serve the regime's will to power. There simply is no objective reality beyond that which makes opponents look bad, makes the government look good or that at least makes both look equally bad. That leaves a default preference for the government as a known quantity of disappointment in a world where no better can be expected from or for Ethiopians.

Classically, such information policies are predicated upon assumptions that people are a mindless herd liable to manipulation or distraction at every turn. The volume just has to be turned up loud enough or the ashattir (trickery) has to be clever enough and anyone who can't be directly imprisoned, killed or 'disappeared' can then be shut up.

Typically a degree of degenerate street credibility is obtained by virulent often violent and tribal attacks on the government that are then followed up with attacks on the opposition. As above this makes the opposition look bad or as least as bad as the government.

Increasingly the first part is wrapped in layers of concern and sincerity while the last bit of the formula is skipped in the interests of subtlety. Therefore the optimal (from the government's point of view anyway) reader is thought to have their resulting opinions reinforced by the idea that he or she arrived at the main point of the propaganda campaign somehow independently or just doesn't want to bother with the whole business anymore.

The purpose is not to convince (everyone, especially every government supporter) already knows the government is a fount of lies) but rather to make all regret discussion or thought of Ethiopian politics. If debating the government is like arguing with the armed and criminally minded denizens of a seedy waterfront bar then dissent is discouraged everywhere. In the same way if debate means hearing relentless repitition of government talking points it all seems equally pointless.

Another way to serve the same purpose is to play exactly the same game but with far deeper cover of sorts. Although in the end the regime sees that it has the guns at hand it takes the internet and even bloggers more seriously than they might imagine. The internet is now in its second generation or so of 'wolf in sheep's clothing' government blogs in a subtle variation of the purpose noted above - the theory being to sound just like the critics and to eventually drown them out with a twisted variation of their own voice.

When truth beyond what serves a particular purpose is not seen to exist the possibilities for deception become endless, tragic and comic. Take the government campaign against the Voice of America that has resulted on one hand in the arrest and possible death sentence for its employees in Ethiopia while in Washington a very tiny few of coerced unfortunates and government employees used the freedom of American democracy to protest the VOA's honesty.

It is well documented how brutally all in Ethiopia are treated for denying the reality that all Ethiopians, indeed all humans along with the very lillies of the fields and the birds of the sky - by definition love and absolutely support Meles Inc.

Meles Inc has millions of dollars at hand squeezed from peasants, siphoned from aid as well as all the profits of an entire economy of government monopolies and party owned businesses to get its points across. Those millions are also sent far abroad to veritable armies of lawyers, lobbyists, public relations firms, and varying degrees of pet or for rent specialists, academics and news sources.

Despite all of this, the thrust of informed common wisdom and generally perceived morality has turned against the government as it has made itself, ever red in tooth and claw, ever more transparent through its natural brutality and lies. This matters because the opposition and the tens of millions who support them from every region, ethnic group and religion represent an ultimately omnipotent moral force.

In the meantime the regime has the guns and sees itself set against a nation of seventy million counter-revolutionaries who can not be given an inch of space in which to make up their own minds without fear. The regime is beyond any civilized consideration of shame, regret or any sort of censure of its actions.

What matters is how long the bonds of guilty, bloody, fearful, selfish and very slippery hands reinforcing the pyramid of government power can be maintained by fear. Equally important is how long the only constituency of the government, namely Western aid donors, will continue to finance it.

Money and Fear.

They are the sinews, the blood and the very soul of Meles Inc. The Information War lies at the core of that power maintained by both money and fear. Read Walta and the Ethiopian News Agency for a clear view of the regime's desired version of reality and objectives. Beyond them take every source you come across critically and think critically of what they are saying, advocating and whose purposes are served in the end.

On the information front the government can continue to suffocate fact only if no one is paying attention. More on this in the future.

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