Ethiopian ‘aid for arms’ story sparks storm

The BBC sparked a storm this week with a story claiming millions of dollars sent to help starving people in Ethiopia's 1980s famine were used to buy arms by rebels.

The rebels, who now dominate Ethiopia's government, and some aid groups dismissed the story. Bob Geldof, the Irish rock star who helped raise a lot of the money in the 80s with his Live Aid campaign, said it was “simply not the case”. Britain's Independent newspaper published a blog saying the claim was a slur, cooked up by enemies of Ethiopia's government ahead of looming elections.

Ethiopian blog Ethiopian Recycler, clearly not fan of the country's current regime, begged to differ and defended the BBC story in two posts Aid money, arms, and Sir Bob Geldof and Live Aid money did pay for weapons:

Millions of aid money raised in the 1980s was indeed diverted to buy arms and had provided rebel leaders with a lifestyle that was inhuman and extravagant even by today's standards. That is no news. Thousands of the hungry from Tigray were forced to trek to the Sudan in the course of which many perished. And hundreds that were resettled in southwestern Ethiopia were returned to Tigray through the Sudan [hundreds of which perished en route]. That is no news either. The fact that yesterday's BBC report is followed by the question whether this scam ever took place is simply absurd.

“Why did it take a quarter of a century for the truth to be told publicly,” wondered Samuel Ketema at ABBAY Media: The Ethiopian Information Bank:

If there is one thing that people should be surprised about, it must be why it took a quarter of a century for the truth to be told publicly. Otherwise, particularly the deception of the TPLF is something that the Ethiopian public know them for. How REST (Relief Society of Tigray), which is a multibillion conglomerate today, was formed is not such a big secret to the Ethiopian public. Then there is also what the CIA knew from the beginning and the American government supported it.

The two former rebel commanders, who exposed this truth, mentioned this before in different interviews they gave in Amharic. Nothing is new about this. How did TPLF win the largest and well equipped army in sub-Saharan Africa then? Meles Zenawi, as many in the west, including Bob Geldof and Bono described him, is a very smart guy, actually much smarter than his admirers in the west can understand.

A reader at Ethiopian Curret Affairs Discussion Forum, Sarah, noted that Ethiopians were not surprised by the news:

Ethiopians who knows the nature of the ruling party in Ethiopia wasn’t surprised by the news at all what surprised them was how comes the western medias start talking? and Bob Geldof acting like the Ethiopian dictators lire cadres.

The central claims in the “aid for arms” story, argued Mebre, were already common knowledge across Ethiopia:

The story you mentioned is very well known all over Ethiopia but it gives a factual evidence for the West that a dictator that do not have a moral character for his own people can give peace prosperity and freedom to the nation.We all insist the West that don’t armed dictators….give support for the poor…the poor needs freedom than anything…..

Another aspect of Ethiopia's relationship with the aid industry came under the spotlight in an article highlighted by Addis Ababa-based blogger Owen Barder. Aid blog Hand Relief International cast an ironic eye over the difference between the luxury of the capital's Sheraton hotel, where many aid officials stay, and the visible poverty just outside its walls:

One of the meetings I attended last week was in Addis Ababa where my stay in the dignified Sheraton Hotel was slightly spoiled by the vista behind the reassuring fence, where people in rags seemed in general to be enjoying slightly less comfort … Thankfully, the local drought did not affect the water pressure at the fountain systems around the hotel where we took the edge off with regular dips in the heated pool, usually before high tea. The theme of the meeting was “Drought and Famine – HRI opportunities for 2010″


  • Pictures woth a thousand words. Mr Gebremdhin, the then financial cheif TPLF was seen in Merchant closing fooling the aid workers as if he was selling grains. He is the guy who has been telling this story. He is not allegdely accusing anybody but telling the truth about what he did as a TPLF fighter. The westeners have given blind eye to Zenawi because he their pet, otherwise one may not need to go cak to the days of the 1980s, while Zenawi is now runing a multi billion campany owned by his party uner the names of RUST, EFFORT etc. Zenawi is an ethnocentric dictator with zero regard to the ethiopian people and the wstern powers know it.

  • seble

    don’t you not that tplf/eprdf leading party as a goverment now using food aid for his supporters and resistricting food aid to those suspected will choose oppositions parties. a multibillionar party in a poorest country in the world.

  • Dawit

    All the quotations mentioned in the article are from the Internet savvy die hard opponents of Meles. I don’t believe them, I don’t believe the BBC report either.

    • dereje

      hahhahhah… it s difficult to wake up a guy pretending asleep. supporters of meles! it s ur time. enjoy, loot, kil,l jail… before it s a down

  • Tazabi

    Though late, too late, it is nice a bit truth about TPLF has come out in the western media. This is not news for the ethiopian public. they knew these long long ago

    What surprised me is Mr. Geldof’s cry. Comon, Mr. Geldof, first of all in a country like Ethiopia with poor infrastructure, corraption and excessive unaccountability, no wonder such scum happened. I rather expect you, Mr. Geldof, to stand with the BBC findings and encourage for further investigation…

  • habtu

    It seems that Bob and other aid groups are ready to make another mistake. They are spending their energy in the wrong direction, struggling to dismiss the report produced by the breliant BBC reporter.

    Truth is always truth. The fact that the BBC reporter has exposed to the world is true and an old story.

    Bob and other aid groups are rather extending the life of the dictatorial Meles Zenawi (non- intentionally or intentionally).

    Please, at least this time with the true information you have now, never attempt to make another mistake.

    Wheather you believe or not the exposed story is VERY TRUE

  • Yilma

    This is not a new facts for us, it is a well known issues such a long time, even still the Ethiopian dicatotors diverted charity only for thier supporter so what is new? but sir Geldof should sort of the facts instead of advocating the dictator.

  • David

    I bet you if someone said that TPLF/EPRDF is supporting Al Quaida and Osama Bin Laden, these government opponents would say “We told you so!”
    I am not surprised that these disgruntled, lazy and often talkative opposition members have no shame. They will do and say anything to discredit TPLF/EPRDF. I am not saying the government is faultless but let’s be real and accuse them when they need to be accused. Are people angry that Ethiopia didn’t end up like Somalia, without stable government for over twenty years? It is sad. And please don’t underestimate Bob Geldof and other aid agencies. They know better. And most of all please don’t underestimate the power of GOD.

  • abebe

    I think the story of BBC is something we knew long before.I could not understand why Geldof is barking.At least he has to understand that we Ethiopians know more about our government and the mafia clicque in power than the pop star.Geldof,, please shut up your mouth otherwise we assume that you might have some personal benefit from this story.

  • Rosie

    this blog gives an interesting perspective on the story, written by the then UK ambassador to Ethiopia

  • Kiros Girmay

    I am Ethiopian of Tigrean origin. This is old story the people of Tigray know it very well. Even now the current TPLF/EPRDF leaders use aid for political purpose. I can’t understand why the AID organizations and Bob Geldof are denying this? Nobody is claiming that the Christian AID, Oxfam, or others knowingly gave the money for arms. However, they were duped by TPLF leaders. That is with picture evidence when a top leadership member of TPLF sells sorghum as a merchant and receives money. How anyone can deny the picture?
    What would be Bob Geldof’s explanation?

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