Ethiopia: How food aid destined for Tigray was diverted

In Ethiopia, the background to the diversion of part of humanitarian aid to the Tigray region is better known. An internal memo to foreign donors detailed a "coordinated and criminal plan" involving regional and federal military forces.

[Illustrative image] Volunteers at a camp for displaced people unloading sacks of wheat flour that are part of a USAID aid delivery, December 17, 2021. Getty Images - J. Countess

Text by: Léonard Vincent Follow


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Until recently, bags of flour bearing the logos of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Food Programme (WFP) were found in markets in Ethiopia. Federal and regional officials had diverted them in order to feed demobilized soldiers and combatants. They then sold them on the open market to millers, who then re-exported them to other states of the Federation. The money from the sale thus fed "military units across the country", with the complicity of "traders and private operators". It was a "plan orchestrated by federal and regional government entities," but unveiled by "monitoring visits to 63 flour mills in seven of Ethiopia's nine regions."

>> READ ALSO: Ethiopia: diversion of food aid sows trouble within humanitarian organizations

This is according to an internal note to the Humanitarian Resilience Development Donor Group (HRDDG). A note to foreign donors and quoted on June 8, 2023 by the Ethiopian website Addis Standard and the American daily Washington Post. In the Washington Post, an aid worker explained that it appeared that "local officials tasked with creating beneficiary lists had inflated the number of households in need and prevented food from reaching hungry families." This was wheat donated to Ethiopia, including Ukraine, France, Japan and the United States, as part of the war-torn Tigray assistance programme.

World Food Programme suspends part of its aid

Immediately, USAID on Thursday extended the suspension of its operations in the country, effective in reality since the first reports of this scandal of embezzlement, at the end of April. "We cannot continue the distribution of food aid until reforms are put in place," the US aid agency said. On 9 June, WFP took the same decision, with the exception of programmes to help children, pregnant women, mothers, and support farmers. "Our primary concern is the millions of hungry people who depend on our support, and our teams will work tirelessly with all partners to resume our operations as soon as we can ensure that food reaches the people who need it most," the agency said in a statement explaining its decision.

The heads of US and Ethiopian diplomacy, who met on Thursday, June 8 in Addis Ababa, expressed in a joint statement their "deep concern" and said they had launched "a full investigation" that would identify and punish "those responsible". "Both governments are committed to working together to establish an effective distribution system in Ethiopia that will protect aid from diversion."

The United States is Ethiopia's largest bilateral donor. Washington has released more than $3 billion in humanitarian aid since 2020 in a bid to mitigate the consequences of the war in Tigray and a historic drought that is hitting the entire Horn of Africa.

Discussed many important topics today with Ethiopian Foreign Minister @DemekeHasen: forging lasting peace, addressing diversion of U.S. food assistance, promoting human rights, advancing transitional justice, and resolving tensions in Amhara and Oromia.

— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) June 8, 2023

>> READ ALSO: Ethiopia: six months after the peace agreement in Tigray, significant challenges remain

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