Many liberals and even some leftists welcomed the removal of Twitter accounts for Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, Donald Trump, and other right-wing ideologues, but it was clear at the time that the left would be next, especially anyone particularly vocal in opposition to U.S. foreign policy.
Since November 3 and 4, when the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) started the ongoing civil war in Ethiopia by attacking a federal army base, Western policymakers and their stenographic press, especially in the U.S., have defended the TPLF, their former puppet, and maligned the Ethiopian government and its prime minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali. In December, Twitter began banning Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Somali activists who had created and built a Pan-African #NoMore movement. I spoke to Nebiyu Asfaw, founder of the Ethiopian American Development Council, who had his account permanently banned.
Ann Garrison: Nebiyu Asfaw, tell us when you were suspended from Twitter.
Nebiyu Asfaw: I was suspended on December 23, two days before Christmas, on the same day the #NoMoreHub account was suspended.
AG: And tell us what hashtag #NoMore is.
NA: Hashtag #NoMore is a movement, a social justice movement that started in November and has been trending globally since then. It's a Pan-African movement, pro-peace, anti-war movement. Its main theme is saying #NoMore to Western dominance and intervention in Africa.
That's probably enough to get you thrown off Twitter.
AG: What other accounts associated with you and #NoMore were suspended? I know you're only one of a number.
NA: Yeah, there have been several influential grassroots accounts, all of them related or promoting the #NoMore movement. The @HornOfAfricaHub, the New Africa Institute, and individuals like Dr. Simon Tesfamariam, Dr. Ir. Middle Lander, and others. The list goes on, and we were banned for no apparent reason.
The biggest ones taken down were the @HornOfAfricaHub, where the #NoMore movement was launched. And then the @NoMoreHub account. Those were the central places where the movement was being organized.
AG: Have you made any attempt to appeal this to Twitter?
NA: Many of the account holders or managers have submitted appeals disputing it. I didn’t do that, because I didn't think there was any point to it. From what I've heard, all of the appeals that have been submitted have been either ignored or denied by Twitter. I see this as an intentional silencing of African voices, an intentional silencing of pro-peace, anti-war, anti-intervention voices.
There have been a few accounts, maybe one or two Somali accounts and one Ethiopian account, that were restored, but a lot of influential accounts have not been. In fact, many of the people who have appealed are being told that they and/or accounts they manage are banned for life.
AG: I’ve seen that some have lost both personal accounts and movement accounts they managed. I believe Dr. Simon Tesfamariam lost four accounts, because he was managing two movement accounts, his personal account,, and one that he used for issues related to his profession as a medical doctor.
NA: Yeah, I believe that’s right. But Twitter doesn't have any rules against people having or managing multiple accounts, professional, personal, and organizational. People often use shared accounts, personal accounts, professional accounts, you know.
It’s disturbing that no accounts associated with the TPLF, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front have been banned, even though the TPLF started the civil war in Ethiopia by attacking a federal army base on November 3 and 4, 2020. The TPLF is a proxy for the Western nations, particularly the United States, and there are hundreds of pro-TPLF accounts that regularly incite violence against the democratically elected government of Ethiopia. These accounts have not been banned or suspended and some of them have even been getting verified by Twitter and getting those blue check marks. They include the rebel leader Getachew Reda, who was literally tweeting from the war zone in northern Ethiopia, talking about how they were about to shell a town—not an army detail, a town full of civilians. I don't know how much more violent than that you can get.
AG: Maybe if you drop cruise missiles on civilians or a nuclear bomb on the whole world.
NA: That might be worse, but this TPLF violence is way up on the scale that Twitter and Facebook keep saying they’re trying to protect with their community codes of conduct. And their accounts are getting verified, not disconnected.
AG: I saw a tweet from Getachew Reda some months back in which he talked about cleansing the bloodline, by which I assume he meant Tigrayan.
NA: Exactly. And that should tell you something.
It’s just really unfortunate, you know. I'm not saying the entire Twitter corporation is behind it. But there are certainly people within the company who are regulating these discussions related to the Horn of Africa. They appear to have taken a side and that side they've taken is for the insurgents, the armed insurgents that are backed by the Western nations.
And they're going against people like Dr. Tesfamariam and me and movement organizations that are advocating for peace. Anyone who goes through the archives of our tweets can see that we use robust language sometimes against the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, but there's no violence. It's pro-peace. It's about unity. It's about Pan-Africanism. You know, it's about respecting the sovereignty of African nations. It’s the voice of the marginalized people.
Western media, CNN especially, but the rest of the mainstream media, has completely shut our voices out, silenced our voices. They’re just telling one side of the story, the pro-war story justifying intervention, using a humanitarian cause as a pretext for foreign intervention.
And when we speak up about our truth, they're silent. So, you know, we're trying to tell our own story. We're trying to create awareness within the good American people.
I think the American people are good people, but are misled by the mainstream media. And we're using social media to make our voice heard. Because when the American people know the truth, they always stand with us. And this has been apparent in the dozens of protests we've had throughout the country, where Americans are coming out and standing with us for peace.
We've seen this movie before. We've seen it in Libya. We've seen it in Syria. We've seen it in Iraq, where they told us there were weapons of mass destruction. We've seen it in Libya, where they told us that Gaddafi’s soldiers were using Viagra to mass rape people, or that he was committing genocide. It all turned out to be false. In Syria they've been telling us that Assad is using chemical weapons. And now they're doing the same thing in Ethiopia because they want to intervene.
In Ethiopia, we actually have a government that is liked by the people, that was elected by the people. We have a Pan-Africanist leader who is trying to bring people together. But he and the Ethiopian government have refused to play proxy for the U.S., have refused to be a puppet regime like the TPLF. And that is really the only crime—what the U.S. considers a crime—that this government has committed. They have asserted their sovereignty and said that we will not be a proxy for anyone. We're going to stand for the benefit of the Ethiopian people. They're standing for African people. That’s the cause for the U.S. aggression, that Ethiopian people are trying to determine their own destiny.
Ann Garrison is a Black Agenda Report Contributing Editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace through her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes Region. She can be reached on Twitter @AnnGarrison and at ann(at)anngarrison(dot)com.
Nebiyu Asfaw is a social justice advocate based in Denver. He is the co-founder of the Ethiopian American Development Council and the viral #NoMore global movement. As a native of Ethiopia; he has a passion for all things Ethiopian and has served the African diaspora locally and globally for the past 15 years. Nebiyu received the “African Americans Who Make a Difference” award in 2019, from the Denver Urban Spectrum for promoting social justice. He can be reached at [email protected].