[Rough translation from a Norwegian magazine]

One of the world's leading experts on Ethiopia, Professor Kjetil Tronvoll, is being called upon by Ethiopian authorities and threatened with death by Ethiopians in exile.

Tronvoll is a professor of peace and conflict studies at Bjørknes University College in Oslo and has been researching Ethiopia and Eritrea since the early 1990s.

He also has a background as a professor of human rights at the University of Oslo and has been associated with the London School of Economics, Columbia University and the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia as a researcher.

The ethnic and political divides are strong in Ethiopia, and Tronvoll is not unfamiliar with incitement and threats.

However, when Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, launched a major military offensive against the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) in November last year, it took off completely.
The Joint Council of Africa recently had to cancel an event focusing on Ethiopia, after the participants, including Professor Kjetil Tronvoll, were threatened with death.
Smear campaign
The Norwegian professor's analysis of the offensive was not well received in Addis Ababa, where the authorities launched what Tronvoll describes as a well-organized smear campaign.

The head of the Ethiopian intelligence service INSA, Shumete Gizaw, accused Tronvoll, among others, of being paid by TPLF to spread misinformation about the war in the Tigray region.

The accusations, which Tronvoll firmly rejects, were disseminated by Ethiopia's state news agency ENA and were quickly picked up by Ethiopians in exile, also in Norway. It triggered a stream of threats, including death threats.
Asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for help
At the end of December, Tronvoll contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked for assistance.

"There is an active coordinated hate campaign against me from Ethiopian activists spreading untruths and unfounded accusations, which are apparently coordinated with Ethiopian government agencies," he said.

Tronvoll requested that the case be brought with Ethiopian authorities and demanded that the accusation from the INSA chief be withdrawn.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that they took the matter seriously and promised in mid-January that the Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa would "take up the matter on a general basis with the Ethiopian authorities".
Ethiopian government forces’ military offensive in the Tigray region has claimed the lives of an unknown number of people and forced tens of thousands to flee (pictured) to neighboring Sudan. PHOTO: AP / NTB
Request from Abiy
However, the anger did not subside with that, something Tronvoll made the ministry aware of.

"I can inform you that the formal "campaign" against me in state media, where unfounded accusations are made, continues," he wrote in a new inquiry to the ministry.

Statements by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also do not suggest that the Ethiopian regime will stop its attempts to smear scientists like Tronvoll.

At the beginning of this month, Ethiopia's prime minister in a Twitter message urged Ethiopians abroad to "fight back against" those who criticize developments in the country.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, but has garnered strong international criticism for the military offensive he ordered last fall in the Tigray region. Recently, he urged compatriots abroad to “strike back” at those who criticize him. PHOTO: STIAN LYSBERG SOLUM / NTB
Had to cancel
There is little doubt that the message was followed up. A few days later, Tronvoll, together with experts from Egypt and Somalia, was to take part in a debate under the auspices of the Joint Council for Africa, where the topic was the conflict that has arisen between Ethiopia and neighboring countries as a result of the country's large dam project in the Nile.

That event resulted in new death threats against Tronvoll, allegedly from Ethiopian nationalists and Amhara activists, and the Joint Council therefore found it safest to cancel.

"We had to prioritize the initiators' own safety and experience of the situation," the Joint Council's general manager Aurora Nereid told The Norwegian Council on Foreign Relations.

Norwegian partner country
"Receiving threats when analyzing war and human rights violations is an experience I have lived with for many years. However, the fact that activists encouraged by the government in one of Norway's partner countries manage to restrict freedom of expression in this country is remarkable," Tronvoll states. 

"I hope that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice and Emergency Services will take this issue seriously," he adds.

Ethiopia is one of ten countries that are referred to as partners in the long-term development of Norway and has in the last 20 years received around NOK 6.3 billion in Norwegian development assistance, according to figures from NORAD.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the assistance was around NOK 500 million last year and the year before at around NOK 700 million.

No transparency
NTB has asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for access to the communication that has taken place between the Norwegian embassy in Addis Ababa and the Ethiopian authorities about the campaign and the threats Tronvoll is subjected to, but has not received a response to the request.

In a general response, State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte (H) urges Tronvoll to report the threats he has received to the police.

"Defense of freedom of expression is an important part of the government's foreign policy. In connection with the conflict in Tigray, we have unfortunately seen that dissidents meet with threats. Freedom of expression is also restricted in other ways through the arrest, deportation or harassment of journalists and analysts", he told NTB.

Hopeless encouragement
 "Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (H) has expressed concern about hate speech and raised respect for human rights in talks with ethiopian authorities. We will continue to do this. Serious threats made on social media constitute police cases and should be reported," says Frølich Holte.

A hopeless encouragement, Tronvoll believes, and points out that such a review will with, a high degree of probability, end in dismissal.

"That's why I sent a message of concern to the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) in November last year and asked them to do a risk assessment of my situation, which they dismissed as beyond their "mandate"," tronvoll says.

Not familiar with
The Ethiopian embassy in Stockholm, which is side-accredited to Norway, informs NTB that they are not aware that Tronvoll has received death threats.

In an unsigned email, the embassy writes that they are also not familiar with the accusations by the Ethiopian intelligence service INSA that Tronvoll receives money from the TPFL to spread propaganda.

"What we are familiar with, however, is Professor Kjetil Tronvoll's repeated and unfounded criticism and baseless serious accusations against the Ethiopian government," the email states.

Published: February 9, 2021 7:28 AM