A quarter of a century ago, the BBC’s Michael Buerk achieved something very rare – he not only reported the world, but changed it a little bit. His vivid on-the-spot coverage of a famine “of biblical proportions” in Tigray in Northern Ethiopia pricked the conscience of the richer part of the world. The money came pouring in. Bob Geldof’s Band Aid and Live Aid led the way in galvanising public attention, raising cash and mobilising a huge relief effort.
As a result, many thousands of lives were saved – and tens of thousands of those facing starvation received food.
In the past week, the BBC World Service has broadcast an Assignment documentary – you can listen to it here – based on the testimony of key figures on the ground in and around Tigray in the mid-1980s. It presents evidence, compelling evidence, that some of the famine relief donations were diverted by a powerful rebel group to buy weapons. The documentary has revealed some uncomfortable facts and provoked a strong response. This morning a British newspaper, The Independent, gives over its front page to complaints from Bob Geldof and several leading charities. They accuse the BBC of “disgracefully poor reporting”.
The documentary did not say that most famine relief money was used to buy weapons – it did not suggest that any relief agencies were complicit in the diversion of funds – it explicitly stated that “whatever the levels of deception, much aid did reach the starving”. But there is a clear public interest in determining whether some money given as famine relief ended up buying guns and bullets.
There follows a number of views expressed by Ethiopians themselves. They add value to Andrew Whiteheads report. Evidently Sir Bob has business outstanding to resolve. Instead of berating the Scot’s, pleading with them to remain part of his family he might be better employed seeking and providing answers to the many matters of contention raised by Ethiopians who feel angry, isolated and alone.
1. A View
It’s a foregone conclusion that any aid going to Third World countries, for whatever reason, becomes a prey to corrupt leaders and organizers. And we should thank BBC for doing some investigative journalism. In fact we could use a review of all aid programs and how the money is spent in order to better organise it any next time.
But it is easy to understand Sir Bob’s outright condemnation, pop stars have big egos, add to that a messianic complex, and you are on your way to infallible sainthood. A terrible blow to Bob’s achievement, but the altruistic motive remains untarnished.
This is not to deny the genuine humanitarian work done by Geldof and others but anyone familiar with Africa knows that a huge slice of aid inevitably gets diverted to suspect causes and lines the pockets of the powerful. The unwritten rule among the left is you can’t talk about it. The BBC has broken this rule and that, of course, is what the fuss is all about.
This is what the Ethiopian people have known for years. It is not just Band Aid money that has been used for arms, other forms of aid from different organisations has gone to sustain the rebels and corruption.
2. A View
Ethiopia has received more food aid than any other African country in the past 10-20 years, but yet its agricultural production has declined in the past 10 years, this is a direct result of reliance and dependency on aid and improper use of aid by the TPLF. Maybe other solutions should be looked at (e.g. Dambisa Moyo- ‘Dead Aid’)
I would like to thank the BBC for exposing such a despicable act by the former rebels. I believe it is a true story, it is in the nature of these rebel groups to commit such crime against humanity. The Ethiopian people know this truth for more than 20 years, the same kind of looting and embezzlement is going on today too. It is good that it has been brought to the attention of the the world people through this report.
Bob Geldof your aid money was given to the tyrant Meles Zenawi who killed many Ethiopians and continues to kill many Ethiopians its sad to see you supporting the tyrant Meles Zenawi I strongly believe its very wrong to support the tyrant Meles its time to clear your conscious, and support the people of Ethiopia,and I thank the BBC Marthin Plaut for such a great investigation, it is clear that BBC report was based on credible evidence of top TPLF exiled leaders. god will avenge the poor Ethiopians blood. I say Mr Geldof stop supporting the tyrant Meles Zenawi thanks BBC.
3. A View
But Geldof’s absence is also about pride. The Irish singer raised $100 million through Band Aid, a super-group of British pop stars that set the mold for charity records to come, and Live Aid, which did the same for worldwide charity concerts. The money was to help alleviate the devastating Ethiopian famine of 1984-5, in which more than a million people are thought to have died.
But Ethiopia, a nation of nearly 80 million people, now boasts consistent economic growth of 10%, and in that context the famine, and Geldof, are remembered with more than a tinge of humiliation. Two years ago, Geldof stirred the pot more when, in a television interview, he told Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to “grow up” and “behave” when Ethiopian police shot dead 36 dead opposition protesters.
It was the cue for the release of long pent-up anger among Ethiopian patriots. Men such as Mulugeta Aserate Kassa. “People like me are still absolutely furious about what he said,” says Mulugeta over breakfast. “What right has he got to be so paternalistic as to tell African leaders how to behave? My God, if he wants to ever come back here, he’ll have to apologize.”
Mulugeta is a distinguished looking 56-year-old, with an exemplary Oxford English accent to match his pinstripe suit. He is also one of the organizers of the millennium celebrations. When he says of Geldof, “I don’t think we’ll be seeing him,” that’s more policy than wish.
Mulugeta says it’s not that he’s a stranger to suffering himself. He is a distant relation of the former emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 — with a five-year break from 1936 to 1941 when Italy occupied the country. When the Derg military regime deposed Selassie, Mulugeta’s father was executed and Mulugeta himself spent nine years in jail before being released to 20 years of exile in London.
But he is convinced the new millennium will restore Ethiopia and the day will soon arrive when Ethiopians no longer need outside assistance. “Nobody denies we have had famines and drought,” he says. “We have been through that. We feel it in our bones. But we have picked up the pieces. The third millennium will be a re-birth for Ethiopia.” And something to achieve without Bob.
4. A View
This is investigative journalism – the result of which makes a number of charities and Bob Geldof outraged. I have heard nothing by anyone properly describing how the charities ensured that money went to the correct places but a lot of shouting and gnashing of teeth from vested interests – me thinks they protest too much!
The BBC sources may be indeed be unreliable but to flatly deny that any corruption took place is laughable so in the interest of the truth these nay sayers need to engage with the BBC journalist and their sources and properly investigate in unison – not act like a lot of brainless yobs just shouting off.
As in all life those at the bottom of the heap are crushed further into the ground – be it black Africans or white British – there will always be someone at the top getting fat on their plight, be it exploitation of labour or diverting of aid. It is the sad fact of human existence.
5. A View
Your report on this particular issue is not only supported by the facts and figures on the ground but can also be witnessed by several millions of Ethiopians who are still alive. If BBC digs further they will uncover a lot of things such as the money that people gave at that time was also used to start companies affiliated to the TPLF party under the Endowment Fund of Tigray (EFFORT). http://www.effortgroup.org/index.htm One just wonders when their lies and cheating will end.
Kudos to the BBC for taking this allegation seriously and reporting on it. I hope the BBC will stay the course and do all the necessary follow ups to this story. Most Ethiopians feel this story is just a tip of the iceberg as far as TPLF’s shady finances are concerned and how it relates to food and development aid. Many commentators have already correctly pointed out about the need to look into the financial books of REST, and its successor EFFORT, to get to the bottom of this story.
6. A View
I think this story deserves full investigation not only by the BBC, but also by other news outlets, because it is very much relevant to what is happening to aid money in Ethiopia today. There are consistent and credible reports of aid money still being used to gain political support by the regime currently in power. This must be stopped. What better way to do that to take a serious look at what happened to aid money in the 80s and how the diversion of aid money transformed the TPLF into a formidable player which it was not prior to 1985?
7. A View
Wake up Sir Bob…”THIS IS AFRICA”…I worked for a charity in Uganda for 5 months in 1994. Everyone there, “ex pats” blacks, whites, knew the Ethiopian, “band aid” project was well intentioned but monies went missing, corruption was rife, seed corn for next years crops was eaten by the hungry (understandably)!!! many people involved in the project on the ground were well aware of the corruption and the diverting of monies AND the corruption was on a GLOBAL scale…your effort to save these poor people was one of noble intention…but maybe you were unaware what you were dealing with…..” THIS IS AFRICA”….(sadly not much has changed in the world to-day !!!!!!!!)
8. A View
I couldn’t understand the logic behind defending a voluntary confession made by the person who was one of the responsible persons to decide the fate of the donation delivered to his rebel commanding unit. Simply when someone admits that he made a mistake, no reasonable person would tell him that he didn’t make any mistake.
As per my knowledge, Sir Bob Geldof only delivered the money to those who were in charge (Sebehat Nega, and Meles Zenawi). Other than that I don’t know If he was able to witness the purchase and distribution of food to the concerned people in hunger. If he was not there, what made him certain to argue on behalf of a fair distribution of the donation?
The person whom he disgraced by saying “a man in exile in Holland” was the commander in chief of the rebels in that time. However, the way he described him shows that he knows who is who among the rebels.
He inquired evidence for the allegation, however he didn’t take time to realize that Doctor Aregawi Berhe is a living witness of the scenario as a person in charge of the army, and he confessed his involvement in the activity already.
9. A View
Unless and otherwise a person is involved in the activity of corruption with the rest of the thieves, he/ she won’t have a say on people’s confession, in my understanding.
Thank you BBC for reporting the truth. Wake up kind people of the world. Do not send money without asking,”who is using my money” Do not go by what you see on TV. Direct help is the only way in Ethiopia.
Ask where the coffee from Ethiopia you are drinking in Starbucks or any coffee shop coming from. “Fair Trade Certified” ??? Ask for the names of the owners of the farms. Fair trade organizations do not know the owners. This is the truth. They do not know if the owner has taken the farm by force or they are helping the real owner. Farms, businesses were confiscated by the gov. officials. There is no private ownership of farms.
The government of Ethiopia is in charge. Recently coffee was confiscated from exporters. Ask how can you call it Fair trade certified in a country where coffee is confiscated by government officials who are holding on to confiscated farms taken from refugees who live in Ethiopia and all over the world. Refugees were ignored by charity organization to report the truth. Their excuse “According to international law charity organization cannot get involved or say anything negative about Ethiopian government” Keep telling the kind people around the world the truth.
Sir Geldof only knows what he is told. Refugees thank him for what he tried to do. The way to help the poor has to change. Charity organization are not allowed to tell you the truth because of the “International Law” If they did they will be asked to leave as it has happened in the past.This is a fact. Thank BBC for making you question what is going on there.
10. A View
We Ethiopians have respect for Sir Bob Geldof, but after these allegations he still wants to defend his hero Meles. Sir Bob, I think you should listen to these allegations and trying to investigate and finally to prosecute the so called Ethiopian Government as you promised. The evidence you want is what BBC reported to you and those former rebel leaders, they are live witnesses, so what do you want anymore go on Sir, for the sake of Ethiopian people.
Because you collected the Aid money in the name of Ethiopian people, but it ended up to buy weapons to kill each other. Finally my country has got dictators who are still stealing not only the aid money, but also a peoples’ vote. Sir Bob don’t forget what happened in year 2005 in Ethiopia of course if you know about it. We still waiting for justice for this corruption and different genocide made by Meles and his group.
Please Sir be with Ethiopian people not with dictators. If you really this allegations made you angry and be available for further evidence and to start your own investigations now. Otherwise the future aid not only for Ethiopia but for other poor nations will be in jeopardy. The rest of charities also should start their own investigation instead of reacting angrily for the BBC report. Don’t rush the truth is bitter, but go to find it. Well done BBC and Matin Plaut.
11. A View
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 multi billion 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.
It is all obvious how he fool them in the name of democracy and makes them do exactly what he wants them to do when it comes to aid even at the present day. The then rebel leader who diverted the money to buy weapons is today’s prime minister of Ethiopia who is a close friend of Tony Blair and close ally of Gordon Brown.
He represents Africa in climate negotiations and is very often invited to G8 summits because he is an important ally in the war on terror in the Horn of Africa, though all he is doing is causing havoc in that part of Africa and terrorizing his own people. He is getting millions from the western donors.
12 A View
It is important and yet astonishing to listen to Bob Geldof every time he speaks about saving the hungry in Africa. Ethiopians are grateful to the donors and Geldof’s intention to help the poor. But, those of us who admire his passion and enthusiasm to help the poor, just wonder sometimes whether he is just a naive man who just listens to himself and throw tantrums when he hears things that do not fit his line of thinking.
BBC’s investigation about what happened 25 years ago in Ethiopia is just the tip of the iceberg. The Western governments’ stance, when it comes to former rebels (or leaders as they are now in Ethiopia and in many African countries), no matter how ruthless they are, they are either condemned (like Robert Mugabe) or supported as friendly dictators (Meles Zenawi) depending on the national interest of countries particularly that of US and the UK.
It is incomprehensible why many in the West think, given the size of aid money they pour in Ethiopia; Economic miracle is achieved by such dictators. Emergency food aid is important when the lives of millions in danger. Other economic and military aid should be tied to good governance. It has worked even in Africa. Look at the democracy that is flourishing in Ghana. The key to development is democracy.