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The U.S. government is suspending food aid to Ethiopia due to widespread theft

 Food Aid theft in TIGRAY

The U.S. government is suspending food aid to Ethiopia after an investigation uncovered a widespread scheme to steal donated food, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said Thursday, a move that will affect millions of the world’s poorest people. Leaked documents given to donors and shared with The Washington Post indicate that the scheme was coordinated by elements within both the country’s federal and regional governments.

Officials have been diverting aid from those who need it to feed the military and ex-combatants, and selling it on the open market to millers who re-exported the flour, according to an investigation by USAID that was summarized to The Post by officials familiar with the investigation.

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“After a country-wide review, USAID determined, in coordination with the Government of Ethiopia, that a widespread and coordinated campaign is diverting food assistance,” USAID said in a statement to The Post on Thursday. “We cannot move forward with distribution of food assistance until reforms are in place.”

The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry later put out a statement saying that “the two governments are conducting investigations so that the perpetrators of such diversion are held to account.” The government spokesman did not respond to specific questions, but documents and interviews by The Post laid bare the extent of the scheme in one of the world’s poorest countries.

“Extensive monitoring indicates this diversion of donor-funded food assistance is a coordinated and criminal scheme, which has prevented life-saving assistance from reaching the most vulnerable,” said a report by the Humanitarian Resilience Development Donor Group, an organization of donors briefed by USAID. “The scheme appears to be orchestrated by federal and regional Government of Ethiopia (GoE) entities, with military units across the country benefiting from humanitarian assistance.”

The suspension comes as the Africa’s second most populous nation is struggling to feed about 20 million citizens — about a sixth of the population — following a civil war, drought and rampant inflation. The United States provides the vast majority of food aid to Ethiopia through two programs, one administered by aid groups and the other by the United Nations.

Stopping the aid will further roil the volatile Horn of Africa region, already hammered by a civil war in Sudan that has displaced more than 1.3 million people in six weeks and after constant fighting pushed drought-stricken Somalia to the edge of famine. It may also push Ethiopia further into the arms of Russia, after a period of icy relations with the United States over massive human rights abuses committed during a two-year civil war in the north. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch released a report saying ethnic cleansing was continuing in parts of the northern region of Tigray.

It’s unclear exactly what proportion of the food was stolen, but the donors’ report said the investigative team had visited 63 flour mills in seven of Ethiopia’s nine regions and found “significant diversion” across all seven regions. Food from the United States, Ukraine, Japan and France donated to the United Nations World Food Program has been stolen, the report said. It called on all donors who sent food aid to check how it is being used.

An aid worker with knowledge of the program said it appeared that local officials responsible for creating lists of beneficiaries had inflated the number of households in need and prevented food from reaching hungry families. The aid worker and other diplomats spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Yibrah Yemane Tesfay, who was forced to flee his home in the town of Humera to the capital of Tigray, said his family had received only one portion of aid since a peace deal in November that ended the civil war — 15 kilos of wheat for each member of his family. Sometimes he was able to work as a laborer, he said, and other times he begged in the street to feed his children, ages 2, 6 and 13. He said displaced families were angry about the theft of aid and took part in demonstrations last month.

“This is a matter of life and death for us,” he said. “We are very sad. We want the people to be held accountable. We see it as if they sentenced us to death.”

Haftu Hagos, a father of five who fled his home in western Tigray, said his family had received aid just twice since the peace deal. It has been five months since they received anything, he said, and they are sheltering in a vocational school in the town of Tembien. “We are dying and in desperate need of help,” he said. “My wife had a miscarriage due to malnutrition.”

Ethiopia is the largest recipient of U.S. food aid in the world. The revelations about the scale and ubiquity of the looting mean awkward questions will be asked about why the lists of beneficiaries, made by local governments, were not checked more carefully. Questions are also likely to arise about when U.N. partners detected the theft and what kind of third-party monitoring was in place to prevent such plunder.

USAID announced just over a month ago that it was suspending all aid to the northern region of Tigray, where a civil war killed hundreds of thousands of people. The May 3 statement from USAID chief Samantha Power said, “Food aid, intended for the people of Tigray suffering under famine-like conditions, was being diverted and sold on the local market.” But it did not apportion blame.

A day after USAID’s Tigray announcement, the World Food Program, whose former executive director David Beasley bonded with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed over their shared evangelism, said it had also suspended aid in Tigray last month over diversion concerns. WFP plans to carry out real-time needs assessments, strengthen its checks on beneficiary lists, reinforce centralized oversight and improve the tracking of commodities, spokeswoman Annabel Symington said.

The country director for WFP in Ethiopia, who had been in the post only a year, is on leave, she said. A colleague said he has stepped down. Symington did not respond to questions about whether the director would return to the role, and it was unclear if it was related to the investigation. She also did not respond to requests for comment about countrywide diversion.

One diplomat, who had knowledge of an investigation into the diversion, said that USAID found evidence that food aid was being used to feed both the military and former rebel fighters in Tigray. More than 90 percent of Tigrayans need food aid. The interim president of Tigray, Getachew Reda, did not respond to requests for comment.

Flour made from donated wheat was being exported to Kenya and Somalia even as Ethiopians starved, the diplomat said, adding that WFP was “negligent or complicit.”

In the Somali region, which has been grappling with the worst drought in generations, mill managers told the investigation team that they routinely bought bags of wheat in bulk that were branded with USAID and WFP logos, the diplomat said. The bags were unopened, indicating it was not middlemen buying from families who had sold part of their rations, said the diplomat. The border town of Dolo Ado in Ethiopia has two functioning flour mills even though the nearest wheat production is more than 300 miles away, he noted.

A witness who visited one of the mills in Dolo Ado this week sent The Post photos of 50-kilo bags labeled USAID and WFP stacked outside it.

The USAID investigation team witnessed the direct involvement of the Ethiopian National Defense Force in the diversion in the city of Harar, the diplomat said.

Ethiopia has a long had a rocky relationship with the United Nations. The top U.N. aid official accused the government of using starvation as a weapon and blockading food convoys from reaching Tigray during the height of the civil war there, a charge the government denied.

Reuters

3 thoughts on “The U.S. government is suspending food aid to Ethiopia due to widespread theft”

  1. What the authorities have been doing is not just shameful but outright criminal.
    However, the timing of the food aid suspension is very suspicious, to say the least. It is known that the TPLF has been plundering and misappropriating food aid for four decades. Two years ago, the TPLF upped its anti to include plundering of the delivery trucks along with the food aid. The US government and UN just kept whining about being unable to get more food aid to the TPLF, never bothering to criticized it let alone hold it accountable for thousands of delivery trucks that went missing.
    Prosperity Party has not only been diverting food aid, they were burning food aid stores to preclude Amhara IDPs in Metekel from receiving food aid donated by their compatriots. Food aid to Borena was being ‘given’ in the form of cash by the International Red Cross and yet 3 million cattle died and the people scattered everywhere. This supposedly drained the International Red Cross that it had nothing left for the millions of Amhara displaced by the terror of the OLF and PP from Benshangul and Oromia.
    It looks like there is a conspiracy to make the country implode on itself through terror, civil-war, sky-rocketing inflation and shock.

  2. This is what you get from the darasaas/deacons of the commie pioneers of the 1960’s and 70’s. Thieves who steal cans of sardines and this time sacks of lifesaving wheat. Some one may try to justify this abhorrent and cruel crime by telling us that the thieves are stealing to save themselves from starvation. I say my foot!!! Their predecessors used to steal from food supplies during the lethal famine of 1984-85. I did not make this up. One of their own former officials who was in the thick of it had told us how they were engaged in sophisticated pilfering of food aid and cash that sent be Good Ole USA and We Are The World charity group. And they were denying it then blaming that on the hated Mengistu and I bet you they will deny it now blaming it on Eritreans, Amharas, Afars, Kermit the Frog, Roger Rabbit and Popeye the Sailor. So the story goes with the commies and their by-products.

  3. Wait a minute, my phone is ringing.
    Hello, who is this?
    Hi Ittu. It’s me.
    Yes I recognize your voice. What’s up Af-Mishar?
    Same O, same O. Whadabe like?
    What it is man, what it is.
    That is good to know. So what is the latest?
    You might have heard it already. This high level official from the State Department sought me out and had a personal meeting with for more than two hours on May 14.
    Where?
    Here in my hood.
    Who is that?
    I don’t remember his name. I forgot what he told me his name was but was a big official.
    Af-mishar, you tend to forget or claim to forget the name of every high level official you met with.
    Ittu, I meet with hundreds of officials from here, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania everyday. It is almost impossible to remember the name of every high level official comes rushing to meet with me.
    Hundreds every day? How is that possible?
    As a seasoned and world renowned planner I have this unique gift/skill to come up with a workable schedule.
    How can you meet with hundred everyday?
    It starts at 05:00AM and wraps at 02:00AM.
    Even then it would be impossible to fit in hundreds within that time frame.
    You are questioning what I say here, Ittu. You must have been spending some time with the Neftegnas and Oromos those who refused to convert into Somalis.
    Are you still with this Somali Abo thing?
    I did not tell you this Ittu, but I have success in converting others into Somalis. 99.99% Amharas have agreed to convert to Somali Ante, Tigres to Somali Laloy, Afars to Somali Aika, Sidamas to Somali Sidas, Gambelas to Somali Gambels, Beni Shanguls to Somali Benis, Gurages to Somali Gurags and all the rest of the people have agreed to convert as Somali Wolays.
    Well congratulations Af-mishar in Lala land!
    Did I tell about my last trip to East Africa that included Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti?
    No you did not. When was that?
    Last summer. I took a first class trip to Nairobi. I had reserved the entire first class section and hired my own flight attendants.
    The whole section?
    Yes the whole section. Because everywhere I go I get surrounded by thousands of adoring fans. So that way nobody would come to my seat and bother me with selfie this and autograph that. But guess who came to my seat to bother me?
    Who was that?
    The captain of the flight came walking towards me from the cockpit. He asked me ‘Your Excellency Af-mishar, can we take off now?’
    The captain of the plane wanted your permission to take off?
    Yes. They just don’t want to leave me alone. I said to the captain ‘what are you guys doing? Call the tower and they are the ones who should give you the clearance to take off’.
    Af-mishar, you don’t have any privacy at all.
    This is going on and on and on. I have no privacy. During my trip to East Africa my arrival in Nairobi and Djibouti triggered huge traffic jams that brought every movement there to a standstill. The presidents of those countries had to declare state of emergency. I was not the only one there. Legends like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Messi and Usain Bolt were all there on a tour both in Nairobi and Djibouti. I had to be airlifted from the airports to my hotels where all these legends were also staying. There were millions of people surrounding the hotels just to take a glimpse of their idol. Not those famous athletes but me, the legend above legends.
    Wow. So did you meet with the leaders of those countries?
    Yes except the president of Djibouti.
    Why not?
    Because I hate him and that Mustafe with a passion.
    Why? What did they do to you?
    Because they speak in the languages I hate, Amhara and Oromo.
    Why? These are just as good as other languages. You speak fluent Amhara language too. Right?
    Yes I do. But I will never forget what these two people did to my Somalis at Karamara in 1978.
    What did they do?
    They massacred 2 million 9 hundred thousand(2,900,000) unarmed and peaceful Somalis there who sought refuge behind the pass.
    That is a lie, Af-Mishar. There were no civilians there. They were your late uncle’s soldiers dug in there for another fight. It was not Amharas and Oromos only who fought your uncle’s soldiers. There were Tigres, Afars, Somalis, from other ethnic groups and Cubans also.
    You are questioning what I am telling you once again, Ittu. You must have been spending too much time with the Neftegnas and Oromos who refused to convert to Somali Antes and Somali Abos. What about the massacres just happened?
    Which one, Af-mishar?
    Those Oromos who refused to convert to Somali Abos just massacred 3,656,000(3 million six hundred fifty six thousand) Muslims in Addis on one day alone.
    That is a lie. Who believes you telling such outrageous lies?
    Everyone else except you, Ittu. I was on CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox News the other night and I left all of them breaking into tears when I told them about the massacres.
    How come I did not see it? I watch those channels on daily basis.
    Cuz you don’t wanna see stories about me.

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