Post falsely claims Ethiopian PM ruled out possibility of disputed land returning to Tigray

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addressed parliament on February 6, 2024, about the prospects of resolving a territorial dispute between the Amhara and Tigray regions in the north of the country. A post shared on Facebook with an excerpt from his speech claims Abiy told parliament that the land in question would never be returned to Tigray. However, this is false: although Abiy acknowledged the issue was a tricky one, he said the matter should be resolved peacefully and through a referendum.

The Amharic post was published on February 8, 2024 and opens by asking: “What did Abiy Ahmed say about the referendum?”

It then adds: “Please watch an account of evidence in which he confirmed before the parliament that Tigray's occupied land will not be returned.”

<span>Screenshot of the false post, taken on February 9, 2024 </span>
Screenshot of the false post, taken on February 9, 2024

The post, viewed more than 2,400 times, contains eight minutes and 28 seconds of footage showing Abiy addressing members of parliament.

The footage begins with Abiy saying: “The third question relates to the territorial dispute. Territorial claims have been raised at various levels over the past 30 years.”

The Facebook page behind the claim frequently shares content related to the Tigray region and posts mostly in Tigrinya – a local Ethiopian language.

Territorial dispute 

Federal troops in Ethiopia fought a bloody two-year war (archived here) against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives before a peace deal ended the conflict in November 2022.

During the war, Amhara forces, loyal to the federal government at the time, took control of fertile land in western Tigray (archived here), which had previously been administered by Tigray but is also claimed by Amharas on ancestral grounds.

<span>Map of Ethiopia locating the Tigray and Amhara regions (KUN TIAN, JEAN-MICHEL CORNU, SYLVIE HUSSON / AFP) </span>
Map of Ethiopia locating the Tigray and Amhara regions (KUN TIAN, JEAN-MICHEL CORNU, SYLVIE HUSSON / AFP)

Human Rights Watch said ethnic cleansing followed and a campaign of “forced expulsions”.

In July 2023, a new armed conflict broke out between the former allies — the federal government and the Amhara militia known as Fano. The territorial dispute between Tigray and Amhara is still unresolved.

However, the footage does not show Abiy confirming to parliament that Tigay would not get back the disputed land.

Abiy’s speech 

AFP Fact Check used the video verification tool InVID-WeVerify to conduct reverse image searches on keyframes from the footage.

The search results established that the original version of the video was published (archived here) on the official YouTube channel of state-owned broadcaster Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) on February 6, 2024.

More than two hours long, the video covers a parliamentary session in which Abiy addressed questions and responded to the territorial dispute between the Amhara and Tigray regions.

The video is captioned  in Amharic as: “The FDRE House of Representatives 3rd year, 14th regular session.”

FDRE refers to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

AFP Fact Check reviewed the original video from EBC and the footage allegedly presented as evidence showing Abiy confirming Tigray would not get back the occupied land.

We established the footage in the false post is an excerpt from the original video and was shared without any alterations.

In the original video, from 1:34:10 to 1:34:55, Abiy says: “Regarding territorial claims, we believe that the issues should be resolved in a way that allows for a lasting solution and sustainable peace. We propose that, firstly, the people who have been displaced should return to their homes. Secondly, an environment should be created in which the local population elects its leaders and sets up provisional administrations. And finally, a thorough discussion with the affected population and the holding of a referendum that ensures the self-determination of the people."

In the clip on Facebook, the same words are spoken by Abiy from 1’55” to 2’41”.

Having watched both videos, AFP Fact Check can confirm that Abiy did not say at any point that the disputed territory would never be  returned to Tigray.