Monday, March 08, 2010

BBC reports that Ethiopian humanitarian aid diverted for arms


BBC News: Bob, Band Aid and how the rebels bought their arms

BBC News: Bob Geldof demands proof of BBC Ethiopia aid report

BBC News: On the trail of Ethiopia aid and guns

BBC News: Ethiopia famine aid 'spent on weapons'

Ethiopian Recycler: Live Aid money did pay for weapons

AOL News: Live Aid Famine Cash Bought Guns, Not Grain

A recent BBC World Service report alleged that rebel groups in Ethiopia diverted aid money intended for humanitarian famine relief and used it to purchase arms during the 1980s. The story has been met with strong criticism in Ethiopia and in Great Britain.

The Ethiopian famine in the 1980s gripped the world like few before or after have. Even today, the images of men who look like walking skeletons and sad faced children with bulging distended stomachs are etched in the minds of millions of Westerners. Those in the developed world felt with their heart, and acted with their checkbooks, donating large sums of money through many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and events such as Live Aid. The cause of so much misery was the lack of food crops. But it was exacerbated by another horseman of the apocalypse—war. During this conflict, the Tigrinya People's Liberation Front (TPLF) was fighting the Ethiopian army, and had control over the Tigray region.

Aid planners found that the only way to provide needed supplies to people living in rebel-held areas like Tigray was to direct the money to the Relief Society of Tigray (Rest). Two key members of the TPLF have claimed they diverted the funds, with one claiming no more than 5 percent were used for humanitarian purposes. Robert Houdek, a former senior U.S. diplomat to Ethiopia in the 1980’s states that TPLF members at the time hinted at the diversions, while a CIA document collaborates the story. While the truth of these claims are disputed by some, such as former TPLF leader and current Ethiopian Prime Minister Mêlées Zenawi, the many signs found by the BBC point to at least some funds being diverted.

Despite strong evidence, this report has lead to a strong backlash from many aid organizations in England. The founder of the wildly successful Live Aid event, Sir Bob Geldof, has been a vocal critic. He has said there is "not a shred of evidence” that funds from those events were used to buy arms. He has said that if credible claims were brought forward, he would sue the Ethiopian government to reclaim the misspent funds. He has described some of the sources used by the BBC as “not credible,” and along with many other charities is writing a letter of complaint to the BBC Trust.

The veracity of these charges will do little to change the current reality in Ethiopia. No one has yet called for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to step down. No one has also charged that any charity or NGO was complacent in these events, even the rebel leaders talk of using “tricks.” However, this will be of little comfort to Ethiopians who could have been saved by aid money, or Westerners whose donations unwittingly went to buy guns.


1) Does the risk that aid could be misused mean that it should not be given?

2) To what extend should governments and NGO’s try to take back their misappropriated funds?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...