Hama Tuma

 Some people claim that Bob Geldof was a much more modest man, though a not so polite one, before the Queen knighted him and he became a Sir. These same quarters, it must be said, claim that Bono was a nice person before he succumbed to the delusion that he has indeed become the saviour of Africa. Delusions, as Napoleon should have said, are dangerous things.

The recent outburst by Bob Geldof against the BBC alarms only those who believed that self declared do gooders are indeed saints instead of cunning business people. Surprised are also those who naively believe that the very many NGOs claiming to help our continent have no ulterior motives whatsoever. The generous people of Ethiopia have, as I pointed out so many times before, continued to stage a famine every five or ten years to give employment to young westerners. Who really knew a group called Boomtown Rats and a hippie type fellow called Bob Geldof before the 1984 Ethiopian Famine? Very few people is the correct reply. How many NGOs were aching for funds before the 1984 Ethiopian famine came to their rescue so much so that some of them (like War on Want) had to deal later with messy embezzlement scandals? For example, George Galloway, War on Want General Secretary, was accused of misuse of funds and of living luxuriously at the charity’s expense. Let alone enlightened Westerners, even we Africans, usually taken to be naive and innocent savages, know that we live in a cruel and callous world. Sympathy and charity often hide self concern and greed. The Lords of Poverty are many and they are actually heartless. How many of the foreign NGO workers in the Sudan during the 1984 famine were accused of diverting money? How many used the NGO cover to engage in what one Sudanese prosecutor later called “big scale human trafficking”–Operation Solomon or the exodus of Bette Israelis through the Sudan to Israel? On the other hand, the victims of famines and disaster are not thankless people at all. Ethiopians for one have said thank you again and again to those who came to their rescue even though no less than a million people did perish from the 1984 famine not only because of the lack of food but because the famine aid or donation was diverted for other purposes by a trio of the military government in Addis Ababa, the Tigrean rebels in the jungle (who are now in power) and quite a few of the NGOs themselves. This is the truth that is choking Sir-Saint Bob Geldof and throwing him into a fit of frenzy.

Sir-Saint-tongue lashing Bob Geldof claims not on penny from the Band Aid money was misused or taken by the Tigrean rebels of Meles Zenawi for their own use. To affirm his point, Geldof has even stooped as low as attacking the former Tigrean front leaders who had and have exposed this unpalatable truth. The neighbours of Geldof, the Scots, say a fool when he has spoken has done all and let me add the Ashanti saying that says: by the time the fool has learned to play the game the players have disappeared. Obviously, no one really likes to be taken for a ride especially if one considers oneself the top intelligent dog and the cheating is being done by African nonentities. In other words, one understands the anger and denial of Geldof, Christian Aid and others duped by the sleek operators of the Tigrean front while other NGOs are joining the protest fray to cover up their conscious role as suppliers of money and grain and sugar and trucks to the Tigrean Front. What really happened?

What was really happening was exposed by other insurgent movements like the EPRP back then in 1984 but the Geldofs, sure of themselves, smugly refused to lend an ear. Saint Geldof was unable to see the sinners playing havoc with the Band Aid money as the truth is that most of the aid diverted by the Tigrean front came from Band Aid itself. What was really happening was the big scale diversion by the Meles Zenawi front (TPLF) of the aid to the famine victims in Tigrai and even parts of Wello (where the TPLF claimed its satellite group, the EPDM, had liberated vast territory of land and people and Oxfam UK, for one. secretly supplied cash to the said group). To get a full picture of the situation we have to go back to the vast operation planned by the CIA (with the full accord of British intelligence) to use the famine situation to destabilize and overthrow the totalitarian and pro Soviet regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. To launch the operation George Bush senior, then vice president, travelled to Khartoum, Sudan, and conferred with Jafar Nimeri, the then Sudanese president. As the wily Mengistu had restricted the presence and activities of the Western NGOs the decision was made to use the backdoor to “embarrass and destabilize” the regime. Meles Zenawi agreed to transport thousands of Tigrean famine victims to the Sudan so that the Western papers can claim people are fleeing from the “government side” and expose the Mengistu regime further. More importantly or ominously for Mengistu, the famine was to be used as a cover to strengthen the Tigrean and Eritrean fronts (the EPLF mainly which the Westerners described as Christian dominated). The operation of transporting thousands of emaciated famine victims from Tigrai down south to the Wedi Kewli camp in Gondar (near the Sudanese frontier) cost the lives of thousands of famine victims (the French MSF was in charge at Wedi Kewli) and brought millions to the Tigrean front.

This was the time of the cold war, the time of the Contras. The US administration had even set up its own Ethiopian Contra group–the EPDA–which, as expected seeing the inept personnel picked by the CIA, failed to take off. Already existing Western NGOs flocked to the Sudan, to Khartoum, Gedaref, Kassala, etc. New NGOs were also set up in haste (Sudan Aid and Grassroots International-come to mind) and a centre was set up in the Sudan to coordinate and channel all donations/aid to the Tigrean front. Norwegian Council of Churches, Swedish and German agencies played a critical role in this. Oxfam UK, Care, World Vision, Save the Children, IRC and some others started to knowingly channel the aid given by the USA, Britain, other western governments and the EU. The Tigrean front received hundreds of Scania, Volvo, Mercedes and Isuzu trucks and Toyota and other Japanese four wheel drives as well as cash. Thousands of tons of sugar that it received were sold as received in the Sudan itself. The same with grain (called Reagan’s wheat at the time). What was going was not secret. Most of the cash thus obtained was deposited in British banks, in the Saudi American bank in Jeddah and other banks in the USA (found in New York and Washington mostly). Again, this was not a secret to the CIA or to British intelligence, to the Sudan or to Ethiopians living in the Sudan at the time. The persistent call made NOT to give the aid directly to the Tigrean front or to the Mengistu regime as both would not distribute it to the famine victims was ignored. Ethiopians told the Geldofs and the BBC too “we know our crooked politicians and they will starve us to death” but cold war politics was played on the life of the Ethiopians and many perished as a result.

Sir Bob can justifiably ask the BBC why the revelation comes at this time, so many years later. But the fact remains that the Tigrean front diverted at least US$ 100 million and used most of the money to buy arms from China and others places using end user certificates signed by the Sudan and Somalia. It is not true that the Tigrean front had enough weapons at the time–everyone knows that had not the famine and money came it was on the verge of collapse. The Tigrean front gained military and economic muscle by diverting food and financial aid sent to the famine victims. Band Aid was one of those duped and robbed as was Christian Aid. Such is the fact that no insult and denial from Bob Geldof and others who abetted in the operation can cover up. This the fact that has been revealed now by former top leaders of the Tigrean front though Meles and others in league with him expectedly deny. Where did the money come to establish the various economic firms and corporations that, when the front took over power in 1991, turned into a conglomeration under EFFORT to dominate the Ethiopian economy? Saint Geldof’s furious denial also sounds hollow as almost anyone with some information knows that aid money has been, was and will be diverted as is happening right now in Somalia and also in Ethiopia (where unless you are a member of the ruling Tigrean front no food aid would be given to you). Geldof should cool down, muster up a mea culpa and learn from his mistake rather than hurling insults at those who, better late than ever, have exposed the truth.

I must confess to a strong aversion for those Westerners who appoint themselves our saviours, who become our spokesmen without our permission and who still hobnob with our tormentors only to call them cleaver, intelligent and democratic minded. Meles Zenawi is a scoundrel who sat and still sits on an ethnic mafia outfit. He was and still is a ruthless and cunning thief. I pity Bob Geldof as I fear he would never have the courage to admit he has been had by a street smart con man whom he considered to be a wise political leader. As the Scots (and Indian Tamils) like to say: confession of a fault is half amends. Unless British Knights never admit their mistakes.



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