Screenshot shows former Ethiopian minister defending doctoral thesis online, not BBC interview

·2 min read

Facebook posts have shared an image of a man talking onscreen with claims that it shows Lemma Megersa, the high-profile leader of Ethiopia's largest ethnic group in the Oromia region, during a recent BBC interview. Users implied that this was one of his first public appearances since his sacking in 2020 as defence minister by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a fellow ethnic Oromo and former close ally. But the claim is false: the picture is a screengrab from a video showing Lemma defending his thesis online with Leiden University in 2020.

“The former Oromia regional state president Lema Megersa was live on BBC News after three and half years of keeping off the limelight (sic),” reads a Facebook post published on September 15, 2022, in Afaan Oromoo.

Screenshot showing the false post, taken on September 19, 2022

The post, shared more than 150 times, contains a screenshot of Lemma with the BBC News logo in the bottom right corner. It also includes a link to a video of Lemma purportedly being interviewed by the broadcaster.

Lemma was sacked by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2020.

The relationship between the former allies began faltering after Lemma openly criticised some of Abiy’s political reforms.

The same claim also appeared here on Facebook.

However, the footage does not show Lemma being interviewed by the BBC.

Lemma’s dissertation

Using the video verification tool InVID-WeVerify, AFP Fact Check found the original video on Ethiopian YouTube channel, Media for All, where it was uploaded on December 8, 2020.

The caption reads: Dr Lemma Magarsa Wako's PhD dissertation entitled 'Women Trafficking in Ethiopia and its Mitigation.'

In the footage, which is nearly 30 minutes long, Lemma is questioned about his thesis on human trafficking. Speaking in English, he starts off by thanking the “highly learned members of the committee” and proceeds to discuss the content of his dissertation.

In the background is a panel of three people dressed in academic robes, some of whom can be heard asking him questions.

Screenshot showing the people dressed in academic regalia in the footage

The image in the false posts was taken from this footage, with the BBC News logo added to it. The original clip, however, does not have the logo.

Lemma was a PhD candidate at the Dutch-based Leiden University and successfully defended his thesis on the same day the video was uploaded to YouTube.

The BBC denied the video was one of theirs.

“The image is fake; it has not been lifted from a BBC news video,” BBC spokesman Ekene Oboko told AFP Fact Check. “The video also does not show Lemma’s interview with the BBC.”