November Monthly Disinformation Analysis: 2023

The November 2023 Disinformation Analysis highlights several examples of misleading and false information circulating online in Ethiopia. These claims touch upon various aspects of Ethiopia’s political and economic landscape, including the country’s GDP growth, troop movements, and the death of a journalist.

Misleading Claim: Ethiopia’s GDP Doubled in Five Years

In November 2023, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) made the claim that Ethiopia’s GDP had doubled within the preceding five years. This statement, however, is inaccurate and misleading.

GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, represents the total monetary value of goods and services produced within a country during a specific year. Economic growth, therefore, refers to an increase in the production of goods and services, not merely an inflation in prices. Consequently, real GDP, rather than nominal GDP, serves as the most accurate measure of economic growth, as it accounts for changes in the general price level.

An examination of economic data reveals that Ethiopia’s real GDP only increased from 1.7 trillion Birr in 2018 to 2.2 trillion Birr in 2022, falling short of doubling. Furthermore, Ethiopia’s nominal GDP, when converted to US dollars, did not double either.

Therefore, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s claim that “Ethiopia’s GDP doubled in five years” is misleading and does not accurately reflect the country’s economic growth trajectory.

False Claim: Blinken Called for ENDF Withdrawal from Amhara

A social media claim circulated that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had called for the withdrawal of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) from the Amhara regional state. This claim is false.

On November 2, 2023, Secretary Blinken issued a statement commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Pretoria Agreement, which brought an end to the two-year war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). In his statement, Blinken commended both sides for their commitment to the agreement and urged Ethiopia and Eritrea to refrain from provocative actions and respect the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all countries in the region.

Secretary Blinken also expressed concern about the ongoing internal conflicts within Ethiopia and called for dialogue to resolve the conflicts in the Amhara and Oromia regional states. However, a thorough review of his statement commemorating the Pretoria Agreement reveals no explicit demand for the withdrawal of the ENDF from Amhara.

However, a review of Blinken’s statement commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Pretoria Agreement found no explicit demand for ENDF withdrawal. Therefore, the claim that Blinken called for the withdrawal of the ENDF from Amhara was found to be false.

False Claim: Eritrea Deploying Troops to Ethiopian Border

Social media posts claimed that Eritrea was deploying troops to the Ethiopian border. The posts use two images to support this claim.

During the conflict between the TPLF and the Ethiopian government, Eritrea played a significant role in supporting the central government. Notably, despite its involvement in the conflict, Eritrea did not participate in the negotiations or the subsequent signing of the peace agreement that concluded the war a year ago.

Recent statements from the Ethiopian government have emphasized the country’s aspiration to secure its own access to the sea, either through the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean. The Eritrean government has expressed opposition to this statement.

Amidst this context, the social media claim regarding Eritrean troop deployments emerged.

However, the images used to support this claim were old and did not depict recent troop movements.

Manipulated Video: Chief of Staff Birhanu Jula Said ENDF Exhausted by Fano Militants

A viral TikTok video purported to show Ethiopian Chief of General Staff Field Marshal Birhanu Jula admitting that the ENDF was overwhelmed by Fano militants. However, this claim is based on a manipulated video that misrepresents General Jula’s original statement.

The Ethiopian government’s decision to disarm and integrate special police forces in regional states into regional police, federal police, and the Ethiopian military sparked armed conflict between Fano militants and the ENDF in the Amhara region. Against this backdrop, the misleading TikTok video emerged, suggesting that Fano militants were gaining the upper hand in the Amhara region, with General Birhanu Jula’s supposed statement seemingly confirming this.

However, the TikTok video was deliberately altered to create this false impression. The original speech, published on YouTube two weeks prior, did not contain any statement about the ENDF being overwhelmed by Fano militants. The TikTok video was created by splicing together phrases from the original speech to fabricate a misleading narrative.

Therefore, the claim that General Birhanu Jula admitted the ENDF’s struggle against Fano militants is false and based on a manipulated video.

False Claim: President Sahle-Work Zewde Sought Asylum in US

Social media claims alleged that Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde had traveled to the US and sought asylum there. These claims emerged against the backdrop of recent defections by several individuals, including journalists and an official from Ethiopia, who have sought political asylum in Europe and the United States.

Last month, Asemahegn Asres, a former Head of the Communication Bureau of the Amhara Region and vice chairman of the Parliament’s Standing Committee for Trade & Tourism Affairs, defected and sought political asylum abroad. Two weeks ago, reports indicated that Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Mekdes Tilahun, who had recently traveled to the United States with President Sahle-Work Zewde, had disappeared from the airport.

In October, during a joint parliamentary session, President Sahle-Work Zewde expressed her disappointment at the lack of unity and reconciliation in Ethiopia, which has led to recurring conflicts and violence.

It was within this context that the claim regarding President Sahlewerk Zewde’s supposed defection and asylum-seeking in the US surfaced. However, recent news reports and confirmations from the UN Peacebuilding Commission indicate that President Zewde is currently in Ethiopia. On November 14, she received a delegation from the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission in Addis Ababa. This news was confirmed by the UN Peacebuilding Commission itself.

Therefore, the claim that President Sahle-Work Zewde sought asylum in the US is false and lacks any credible evidence.

False Claim: Journalist Asfaw Meshesha Died

A YouTube video claimed that Ethiopian journalist Asfaw Meshesha had died after being hospitalized. The video used misleading clips and images of mourners to support this fabricated claim. However, EBS, the broadcaster where Meshesha works, confirmed that he is alive and well.

Asfaw Meshesha is a well-known journalist who co-hosts the popular EBS TV show, Ehudn be EBS. Media reports indicated that he recently suffered a stroke and was admitted to a hospital in Addis Ababa. Following this incident, he traveled to the United States to seek advanced medical treatment.

It was against this backdrop that the false claim regarding Meshesha’s death emerged. The YouTube video employed manipulative editing techniques to create an impression of grief and mourning, which was entirely fabricated. EBS has since confirmed that Meshesha is alive and recovering from his medical condition.

Therefore, the claim that Asfaw Meshesha passed away is false. EBS confirmed that Meshesha is alive.

False Claim: Ethiopia’s Economy Bigger than Neighbors Combined

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed that Ethiopia’s economy was bigger than those of its neighboring countries combined. However, an examination of economic data reveals that this claim is inaccurate.

Abiy Ahmed assumed power in April 2018, promising economic and political reforms to promote prosperity and democratization. The Ethiopian government, led by the Prosperity Party, maintains that these reforms have significantly improved the country’s economic performance.

Prime Minister Abiy has consistently emphasized Ethiopia’s positive economic trajectory and steady growth. Recently, he claimed that Ethiopia’s GDP had doubled within the past five years.

During an address to students, Prime Minister Abiy emphasized Ethiopia’s economic growth. He used a comparison of Ethiopia’s economy with its neighbors to support his assertion of the country’s economic progress.

Ethiopia’s economy, measured by nominal GDP, was the second largest in East Africa after Kenya five years ago. In 2018, Ethiopia’s nominal GDP stood at 84.4 billion USD, while Kenya’s nominal GDP was 91.2 billion USD.

In 2022, Ethiopia’s nominal GDP had increased to 126.8 billion USD, while Kenya’s nominal GDP stood at 119.5 billion USD. Consequently, Ethiopia’s economy, measured by nominal GDP, is the largest in East Africa.

However, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s claim that Ethiopia’s economy surpasses the combined GDP of its neighboring countries is inaccurate. Combining the nominal GDPs of Kenya and Sudan results in a figure significantly higher than that of Ethiopia.

Also, the combined nominal GDPs of Ethiopia’s five neighboring countries (excluding Eritrea and Somaliland) in 2022 amounted to 170 billion USD, exceeding Ethiopia’s 120.37 billion USD.

While Ethiopia has the largest nominal GDP in East Africa, a comparison of GDPs from its neighboring countries reveals that the combined GDP of Ethiopia’s neighbors exceeds Ethiopia’s.


HaqCheck urges social media users to adopt a critical approach when evaluating online information. Exercise caution and always verify claims from unknown or unverified sources before sharing them.

We encourage public institutions and other relevant entities to provide regular and timely updates to the public. Access to accurate information is crucial for minimizing the circulation of disinformation.

Social media content creators hold a significant responsibility in preventing the spread of misinformation. They must exercise caution and refrain from disseminating false or misleading information.

The government should uphold the public and media’s right to access information, ensuring that they have the necessary resources to verify and share accurate information.

Hagos is a senior fact-checker at HaqCheck. He has worked for Fortune as a reporter previously.

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