By Alem Mamo
The year was 1984. A famine of unimaginable proportions was ravaging the northern region of
The tragic famine of 1984-85 understandably pierced the consciousness of all citizens of the world, prompting a massive fundraising mobilization that managed to collect millions of dollars from around the world in a very short period of time. In the spirit of human solidarity, people of all ages pitched in to assist their fellow human beings in a far away land. Here in Canada, for example, school children launched a 30 hour famine campaign, donating their allowances and cost of food for thirty hours, which they could have spent otherwise. It was a demonstration of remarkable human solidarity and connectedness in a time of suffering and anguish.
Obviously, in circumstances such as the 1984-85 famine in
Unfortunately, this is where things get murky and perplexing because to our surprise there are spectacular failures by aid agencies and organizers of aid efforts to carefully account for and monitor the spending. Particularly, questions such as how is the accounting and transparency of aid delivery monitored? What are the mechanisms used to prevent aid money intended to save lives potentially being used to purchase weapons used to slaughter innocent civilians? These and other relevant questions have been often avoided and even ignored in the process of emergency food aid delivery in a conflict situation. While such emergency aid certainly did save countless lives, there is also a growing body of evidence that it is also prone to abuse and could be diverted for non-humanitarian purposes. Particularly for the purpose of purchasing military hardware and building of a repressive political machine, such as the one built by the TPLF to brutalise the people of Ethiopia for the last 18 years.
The recent investigative report by Martin Plaut of the BBC has hit a nerve among all parties involved in the food aid delivery of the 1984-85 famine in
The investigative report of Mr. Plaut may have startled those who were moved by the images of 1984-85 famine because they never imagined money they donated to feed a starving child could be used to buy weapons. The fact is that, for the majority of Ethiopians and others who know the political and military dynamics of the last 30 years in
To put things into perspective, when the famine hit northern Ethiopia, the TPLF as an organization was less than 9 years old; an infant in any political and military measure. However, TPLFs political and military growth rate began to dramatically accelerate during and immediately following the 1984- 85 famine. The nourishment of TPLF as a political and military organization came on the back of tens of thousands of starving children, men and women. In effect this catastrophic famine became political, military, propaganda, financial and diplomatic gold mine for the TPLF.
Politically, TPLF asserted itself as a player on the international stage dealing with international aid groups and gaining recognition by the agencies as a viable force qualified to participate in the process of aid delivery, and in the process gaining access to international diplomats and heads of NGOs and charitable organizations. Before the famine, TPLF was little known in the international arena. Militarily, TPLF incorporated the food aid operation as part-and-parcel of its military strategy. By claiming that the Ethiopian government was hampering the aid delivery, TPLF frequently appealed to the international community to pressure the Ethiopian government for a safe relief passage so that it could use such arrangements to regroup and launch military operations. Propaganda-wise, the TPLF portrayed itself as a strong political group, capable of delivering food aid and collaborating with other stakeholders. Furthermore, the famine provided a propaganda niche for TPLF to admonish its opponent (the military regime) and claim that the famine was partially a result of a repressive political and economic policy of the military regime, which it clearly was.
Obviously, the most valuable fortune TPLF extracted from the famine was the financial wealth that it managed to access during the famine and in the subsequent years. As stated above, exploiting the international focus on the famine, TPLF began to assert itself as a reliable and trustworthy partner. Hence aid agencies decided to hand large sums of money so that the TPLF could purchase and distribute local grain to the starving people. In truth, this was in fact a jackpot for TPLF. A little known organization up until the famine was now basking in the glory of dealing with international aid agencies.
In the chaos and urgency of humanitarian catastrophe, aid agencies pumped a huge sum of money directly to the TPLF. This from the part of aid agencies, I believe, was a genuine effort to find a quick and practical channel to assist the needy. However, it was also naïve and to a certain extent lacks a long sighted reflection of responsibility, and it was simply driven by raw emotion, rather than a systematic and deliberate mechanism that promises not to do harm in the short and long term.
For almost two decades, the famine military complex in
In the end, the highlight shouldnt be about Sir Bob Geldof or any other celebrity saint. This most certainly is about more than 80 million Ethiopians suffering under the tyrannical rule of TPLF, partly because of the aid money that built the political machinery of one of the most ruthless regimes in
As for Sir Bob Geldof, with all due respect, his characterization of TPLF as a brilliant organization is a clear demonstration of the celebrity saints interpretation of the real world. What if someone in
TPLF diverted the aid money to buy military hardware during the guerrilla war. Since becoming the government, administering the entire country, the regime has used food aid as a political weapon. In his recent report, the former member of TPLF and the first defence minister outlines his findings on how the government determines who gets food aid depending on the political loyalty, voting record and affiliation with the TPLF http://www.ethiomedia.com/course/5155.html. This clearly indicates the fact that TPLF never stopped using food aid for its own political and military objectives.
Finally, as the May 2010 national election approaches, people in
The writer could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org