Post falsely claims to show video of Ethiopian rebel leader commenting on potential reconciliation

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A Facebook post shared in Ethiopia claims to link to a video of the rebel commander of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in which he purportedly comments on a call for reconciliation made by the Oromia regional state president. However, this post is clickbait: the link does not lead to any video, but rather a website with unrelated text about the government. While OLA did respond to the call for reconciliation, this took the form of a press release.

The post in Afaan Oromoo translates in part to: “The commander of OLA has responded to a call for reconciliation made by Shemalis Abdisa and delivered a message to the Oromo people as well as fighters operating across Oromia.”

It adds: “Please watch the urgent message that the commander of OLA delivered to the Oromo people and OLA using the attached link and also share it with friends.”

Published on February 16, 2023, and shared more than 150 times, the post includes an image of two men posing with rifles on their shoulders.

Screenshot of the clickbait post, taken on March 7, 2023

Although the war between the government and Tigray forces in the northern part of Ethiopia ended with a peace deal signed in November 2022, the country is now facing another deadly conflict in Oromia between government forces and OLA rebel fighters. In January 2023, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) announced an operation against OLA, according to local media reports.

Moreover, AFP reported on February 15, 2023, that at least 50 people were killed in ethnic conflicts in the Oromia region, according to the Ethiopian Human Right Commission. International media have reported on mounting tensions between the Oromo and Amhara, the two major ethnic groups in Ethiopia.

Call for reconciliation

On February 17, 2023, Shimelis Abdisa, president of Oromia regional state, called for reconciliation with OLA in a gesture meant to settle the deadly conflict.

OLA responded the same day via a press statement shared on its official website, in which it welcomed the move to end fighting in Oromia, but asked for clarity on conditions for such peace talks, including the involvement of international mediators. No more announcements about a potential deal have been made since.

According to a UN report published on February 28, 2023, the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country from drought coupled with armed conflict in Oromia and other regions has already put 20 million people in need of aid.

The link shared in the post, however, does not lead to a video message from OLA’s commander.

Clickbait post

Instead, it directs to a website with unrelated text. The page has a headline in Afaan Oromoo that reads, “Breaking news: urgent message to all Oromos”.

It is accompanied by a photo collage featuring images of Shimelis and Jaal Marroo, OLA’s commander.

Screenshot of the website, taken on March 7, 2023

The rest of the text, written in English, consists of commentary on the Ethiopian government and its Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed.

The Facebook post’s edit history shows that its caption was edited once. It initially included the same photo of the two men with rifles, but with different text – in English – reading “Today’s Best photo” and included a long list of photography-related hashtags.

Clickbait surge in Ethiopia

AFP Fact Check has noticed a recent trend of misleading clickbait shared on Facebook in Ethiopia, mainly in Afaan Oromoo, which is spoken by more than 40 million people in the country. We have debunked several such posts, like here and here.

These posts usually feature photos of artists or of young people in military uniform, seemingly to capture attention. They claim to provide links to videos relating to various current events, but the links direct to unrelated text stories – which usually comment on the history of Ethiopia and Oromia.

March 9, 2023 File updated to amend header size