Ethiopian e-Journal for Research and Innovation Foresight (Ee-JRIF), Vol 5, No 1 (2013)

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The State Capture Onset in Ethiopia: Humanitarian Aid and Corruption

Seid Hassan


The first part of this paper shows that a substantial part of the money that aid agencies gave to feed the 1984-5 Ethiopian famine victims, including those raised by Band Aid and Live Aid were siphoned off by the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) to buy military weapons. I also use newly found evidences, interviews and testimonials accumulated over many years to show that famine aid scamming by the TPLF had gone beyond using humanitarian aid to purchase military weapons and feed the Front’s red army. I show how humanitarian aid, as a resource in the midst of extreme scarcity, has enriched some quarters, fuelled corruption and intensified and prolonged conflicts among the warring factions of Ethiopia and legitimized the rebel fronts’ operations. Humanitarian aid lured the Fronts, particularly the TPLF, to parade hundreds of thousands of peasants to Sudan, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of them (due to overcrowding, disease epidemics, lack of regular food supplies, poor water and sanitation problems, and from being exposed to targets for bombing). The documents I examined, the interviews that I conducted and the testimonials I have gathered over many years indicate that the refugees were abused by the TPLF both during their trek to the Ethio-Sudanese border which took 4-6 weeks and within the refugee camps. According to some ex-TPLF veterans, (and their claims to be indirectly proved by the written work of foreign nationals), a good portion of the humanitarian food aid was not made available to the starving peasants of Tigray. Their statements regarding this issue are indirectly corroborated by the field and research work of foreign nationals. By all these three counts, according to them, the TPLF has committed crimes against humanity. The documents I examined and the interviews and testimonials I gathered indicate that donors and aid agencies knew that the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) was the flip-side of the same coin- the TPLF and aid agency personnel knew a portion of the humanitarian aid that they were providing was being diverted for military purposes by the Fronts, indicating a violation of the principle of neutrality and impartiality. There are also indications suggesting that the cross-border interventions by donors and aid agencies were against the multilateral agreements such as the Lomé conventions (Duffield and Prendergast, 1994).  This shows that the provisions and delivery of humanitarian aid have been used to violate and perhaps diminish the sovereignty of Ethiopia. Looked in a different way, a good portion of the humanitarian aid provided by donor countries to the TPLF and other fronts fighting the Derg regime was in part for the advancement of the diplomatic and foreign policy goals as well as political and military tools of donor nations and aid agencies.  It may be for this reason why they cared less about how humanitarian aid was spent, abused or pocketed by the rebel forces.  The literature that I examined also provides reasons why the abuse of humanitarian aid would be inevitable in conflict ridden countries such as Ethiopia. And most importantly, the evidence gathered have allowed me to inductively test one of my fundamental hypotheses: that humanitarian aid resources were and still are the sources of predation and capture in Ethiopia and that the culture of corruption and political malaise that we observe in today’s Ethiopia is a byproduct of what the TPLF/EPRDF learned and adopted when it was a rebel front and such a culture of corruption was aided and abetted by humanitarian aid. 


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