BBC did not name Ethiopia’s rebel commander the ‘African military leader of the year’

A post shared on Facebook in Ethiopia claims the BBC named General Tsadkan Gebretensae, the commander of the Tigrayan rebels, as the “Africa military leader of the year.” But the claim is misleading: the news organisation has not published any article or statement describing him in this way. The claim may have originated from an opinion piece published by the BBC in 2021 when Tsadkan was described as “one of the finest military strategists of his generation in Africa”.

The post was published on Facebook on April 20, 2022, and has since been shared more 100 times.

Screenshot showing the misleading post, taken on May 2, 2022

The post, written in Amharic, partly translates to: “General Tsadkan Gebretensae has been named the African military leader of the year by the BBC.”

It goes on to add: “General Tsadkan led an operation known as Alula Aba Nega which lasted 15 days. He also led Tigrayan rebels in the operations that earned them victories over Ethiopian Defense Forces, Amhara special forces, Fano and Eritrean military and drew them out from the areas they occupied in Tigray. The BBC has named him the best African military leader due to his heroic deeds.”

Tsadkan served in Ethiopia’s army for more than three decades before he was dismissed by former prime minister Meles Zenawi in 2001. He joined the rebellion when fighting broke out in November 2020 and now serves as its commander.

The Ethiopian conflict has sparked fears of famine in war-wracked Tigray, which has for months been under what the UN describes as a de facto blockade. The fighting has spread to the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

Map showing war-wracked northern Ethiopia regions of Tigray, Amhara and Afar

According to the UN, the war has driven thousands of Ethiopians to the brink of famine, displaced more than two million people and left more than nine million others in need of food aid.

But the claim that the BBC recently named Tsadkan “Africa military leader of the year” is misleading.

False report

AFP Fact Check found no such description of Tsadkan on the BBC’s website or social media pages.

“I can confirm that the BBC has not named Gen Tsadkan Gebretensae African military leader of the year,” said BBC Africa Editor Joseph Winter.

Winter added that the misconception could have originated from an opinion article published by the BBC in 2021. The piece, written by Alex de Waal, says that the general “is regarded by international security analysts as one of the finest military strategists of his generation in Africa”.

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