Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics: PM Abiy Ahmed’s Q&A Session in Parliament
It is people like Abiy Ahmed who seem to uphold the poor reputation of the science of statistics as encapsulated in the expression attributed by Mark Twain to Benjamin Disraeli, British statesman who twice served as Prime Minister of the UK. The latter once warned his parliamentary colleagues that ‘there are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics’.
Any one who endured to listen to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s long-winded question and answer session last Tuesday, 14 June 2022, would find all three in plenty. Skipping his amateurish parable about the seed, tree, forest country and his ‘philosophizing’ about space and time, let’s try to unpack some of the lies, damned lies and statistics.
Abiy Ahmed told the parliament that his government has made unbelievable achievements: “… unbelievable not only for you, but even for me … amazing things are happening through our reform,” he said. When he wanted to nudge the Parliament to embrace the peace talks that he is pressured to accept, Abiy forgets what he said minutes ago, contradicts himself and tells the same parliament session about “an economy that has collapsed, an increase in impoverished population and a soaring inflation”.
Abiy stated that Ethio Telecom’s customer has increased from 37.9 million to 65.5 million while its revenue boosted from 33.5 billion Birr to 55 billion Birr showing a 21.5 billion Birr increase. Abiy didn’t want to talk about the loss brought about by the closing down of services in north Gondar, north wollo, and partially in Afar regional state for many months due to the war and Upto now in Tigray. He wants us to believe his inflated figures despite the fact that Ethio Telecom had admitted earlier on to losing 1.9 billion Birr in revenue due to the conflict in the northern part of the country resulting in its revenue for the first quarter of 2021/22 Ethiopian fiscal year falling 12 percent short of its planned 15.4 billion Birr.
If he is liberally throwing these figures regarding one institution, one can imagine how easily he can manufacture the performance for the whole country, bringing the total revenue boost from $3.3 billion to $4.8 billion. It is in this line that Abiy continues to boast of having constructed more than 2,150 schools, 470 km cobblestone roads, over 4000km tarmac roads, 116 km wide pedestrian roads, and overpasses over the last four years, 151km of asphalt road having been constructed in Addis Ababa in three years, not to forget the capacity to produce 3 million breads in a day.
In that parliamentary session, Abiy painted himself as a paragon of peace. “On matters of peace, everybody from the church to the world stage has recognized us. The whole world knows we are peace lovers,” says Abiy in apparent reference to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which mistook a military pact against Trigrayans for a peace deal and awarded Abiy the 2019 Nobel Prize. The Nobel Committee came later under pressure to take the unprecedented step of stripping a laureate off the Peace Prize, forcing the Committee to issue a statement saying Abiy Ahmed “had a special responsibility to end the bloodshed in Tigray”. This was considered by many observers as tacit admission of blunder on the part of the Nobel Prize Committee.
Abiy Ahmed said he and his group “had never wanted war yesterday”, adding that they “don’t want to engage in war with anyone today or even tomorrow”. But, not long ago, the specter that his Prosperity Party Ethiopia oversees compelled Tariku Gankisi, a popular singer widely known for his song Dishta Gina, to apologize on government affiliated national TV for calling for peace.
Abiy Ahmed never admitted his ignominious defeat in Tigray. Thus he still sticks to his “unilateral withdrawal”: He claimed, “So, we said why engage in the wrangling – if they are not comfortable with our presence, we said we will meet when they need us and thus we withdrew. But, they wanted to take the opportunity and like […] you know it. They waged war”. One almost hears him say the word “locust” in that pause – a reminder to former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Hailemariam’s blanket accusation of the Tigray people as stabbing in the back.
Abiy is notorious for harping ethnic undertones and defaming Tigrayans as “traitors” as seen during the start of the Tigray war when he accused the Tigray forces of stabbing the Ethiopian Defence Force’s Northern Command, a claim laid bare by CNN’s exposé of a premeditated and long planned war by Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afeworki. “Even after we defended ourselves and sent them back to their region, we stopped to prevent displacement and famine,” Abiy added. Abiy has no compunction to say this despite the man-made famine that he is presiding over.
Abiy accused the TPLF of financing, training and planning conflicts elsewhere in Ethiopia even before the start of the Tigray war. He particularly talked of TPLF’s financing, training and unleashing of “Shene” – an improper naming by Abiy’s Prosperity Party of the Oromo Liberation Army. “The so-called Shene had barely four or five thousand [troops] before the reform. Now, between 1000 to 2000 of its forces are being killed and captured every month. What is the source of all this mobilization? Where is the resource coming from?” he asked, implicating the Tigray forces. But, a few minutes later he makes a statement contradictory to this when his urge to bash the few critics in the otherwise rubber-stamp Parliament gets the better of him. He admonishes the critics for not trying to understand if the people have grievances rather than pointing a finger at the opposition in Oromia.
Talking of his regime’s continued crackdown on journalists, Abiy Ahmed claimed the US arrested more than 100 journalists and activists due to Jan 6 capitol riot. “I don’t know if you haven’t heard this but due to last year’s problem, more than 100 journalists and activists were arrested in the US,” the Ethiopian Prime Minister said. Of course, he cannot corroborate his claim with evidence.
Abiy is also adept at telling half truths. “The rumors going around of meeting in Nigeria, Somalia, Australia or Syria are just rumors,” Abiy said. The fact that there is a smidgen of truth attached to this claim does not mean it is true. By bringing unlikely venues like – of all places – Syria, Somalia and Australia, Abiy does not tell us about other places where the talks have been going on. Abiy disclosed that a committee has been established to study how “we will conduct talks”. He then went on to complain that people don’t trust him. “The thing is usually people don’t believe us when we talk about wheat. Rather, they believe when Dr. Akena ………. talks about it. That is typical of Ethiopians,” he lamented. Well, it seems to elude Abiy that trust is to be earned and not to be demanded.
Given Abiy’s weapons shopping spree and mass mobilization and training of new recruits, here is the damning lie that crowned the day: “The bullet that is fired is bought with dollars, it is the young people who are productive, not elders who get killed, no matter which side they happen to be fighting for”.