It is not lost on anyone that, unfortunately, the Horn of Africa is fragile and fractured as a result of highly polarized and complex inter-relationships amongst the various peoples inhabiting the region. International organizations that seek to understand and analyze this region in any meaningful manner need to not only be aware of important nuances but also navigate carefully to ensure that biases and prejudices arising from polarised perspectives are not introduced into what are expected to be neutral and independent assessments.
This week, the International Crisis Group (ICG) announced it has appointed Meron Elias as its new East and Southern Africa Analyst. As concerned Tigrayans aware of her social media activities, we are writing this letter to express our alarm at the content she has been promoting on Twitter.
In these Twitter activities, Elias has shown extensive and consistent public support for intolerant and strongly biased views on the ongoing war and humanitarian crisis in Tigray. Some of the content promoted by her fits the bill of hate speech against a protected characteristic – ethnicity. When concerned Tigrayans raised a red flag at this problematic record, Elias went on a spree of blocking all Tigrayan accounts, most of which have not even engaged with her at all.
The role that social media has played in fueling conflict and intercommunal violence in Ethiopia is widely recognized. In light of this, it is even more alarming to see a person with such a problematic record be affiliated with an international body that is deeply involved in the developments in Ethiopia. Reckless engagement to this degree signals both the depth of personal commitment to these views by the individual and an utter disregard for the basic tenets of professionalism.
Appointing someone with such prejudiced views as a neutral observer and analyst for a region currently defined by the ongoing conflict in Tigray is detrimental to any organization. It is even more so for ICG, given that it aims to offer insight into preventing and resolving deadly conflicts. As such we would like to believe that impartiality and respect for target communities are values that are central to what ICG has set out to do.
ICG has a responsibility of ensuring its staff members are independent, balanced and sensitive to the nuances and complexities influencing events on the ground. It is with this responsibility in mind that we would like to urge in the strongest possible terms that ICG take the following actions urgently:
- Make a public statement disavowing the viewpoints expressed or supported by Elias and affirming that the organization remains committed to principles of neutrality and impartiality;
- Reassure affected populations that the viewpoints expressed or supported by Elias haven’t influenced the work ICG has done on the Horn thus far;
- Take corrective actions that reflect what ICG stands for;
- Publicly explain the mechanisms by which ICG aims to mitigate the bias introduced by its new appointee