Aid millions for Ethiopia may have been used for arms purchases | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 11.03.2010
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Aid millions for Ethiopia may have been used for arms purchases

Allegations implicating the Ethiopian government say that aid money intended to help the starving, including funds from the 1985 Live Aid Concert, was used to buy weapons and finance an attempted coup in the 1980s.

Image of a Red Cross feeding camp in the 1984 Ethiopian famine.

A Red Cross feeding camp in the 1984 Ethiopian famine - as many as 120 people died daily as a result of starvation

No one can forget the vivid images of the 1985 Live Aid Concert. The huge event organized by Bob Geldof raised more than 100 million euros ($136 million) for Ethiopia's starving population. Governments around the world and countless aid organizations initiated an enormous amount of humanitarian response to help the hungry in the Horn of Africa.

But now the statement of a former high-ranking rebel commander alleges that some of the aid money was used to purchase arms by a former rebel group, which was fighting against the communist military junta leader at the time, Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Given the upcoming elections in May, the allegations which implicate current Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, come at an extremely volatile time.

In the mid-1980s, the CIA reported that western aid money for Ethiopia's starving population was more than likely being diverted for other purposes by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). At the time, the communist military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam was fighting several rebel groups, including the TPLF which was led by Meles Zenawi, the current prime minister.

Image of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi

The statement of a Netherlands-based high-ranking TPLF commander living in exile confirms old rumors. Dr. Aregawi Berhe told Deutsche Welle that "the rebel movement, TPFL, had received the money under false pretences - through its development arm, the so-called 'Aid Association of Tigray' (MARET). But MARET belonged to the party. So after the aid from donors and aid charities was collected, it was made available through the budget of the party's central committee - for logistics and financing of the resistance."

Reactions to the allegations

Those implicated in the TPLF aid scandal include key members of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) - a coalition that has ruled Ethiopia since 1991. Their spokesman, Sekuture Getachew, categorically denies the allegations.

"We should not forget that at the time the TPLF had asked for help from donor countries and aid organizations and therefore saved hundreds of thousands of people in the Tigray Region from starvation."

"The ruling EPRDF, to which TPLF belongs, has a lengthy and internationally recognized reputation for dealing with aid money and the appropriate implementation. That is generally known. Incidentally, we know that the people smearing us are those who were excluded from the party as a result of their scheming," he said.

However, the statement of the former TPFL commander, Aregawi, is supported by a fellow rebel, Gebremedhin Araya, who described to the BBC how the rebels deceived western aid workers disguised as Muslim merchants and sold sacks of grain which were in part filled with sand: "I was given clothes to make me look like a Muslim merchant. This was a trick for the NGOs," he said.

Sarah Wilson, spokeswoman for Christian Aid, one of the leading charities in the 1984/85 famine, distances the organization from the allegations: "We definitely assume that donations, which Christian Aid and others obtained, were spent on food and used for the benefit of the poor," she told Deutsche Welle.

Image of students protesting in Adis Ababa.

The last elections in Ethiopia resulted in protests which led to bloodshed

Ethiopia's stability at stake

Former TPFL officers Aregawi and Gebremedhin, the two chief witnesses, have fallen out with Meles for some time and gone into exile. Their statements, true or not, three months prior to the elections also appear like a PR-coup against the administration.

Shimeles Kemal, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government, says that these revelations are not a coincidence. In May, Ethiopians will be going to the polls, and the ruling coalition and opposition are positioning themselves for the elections. The last ones, in 2005, ended in bloodshed, so the situation is very tense.

"It does not surprise me that allegations made of thin air should come up in the approach to the primaries. The attempt to take down the name of the party and all the Ethiopian people who gave their lives for peace and benefit of the Ethiopian people is a disgrace," he said.

Author: Ludger Schadomsky (cc)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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