Ethiopia: Behind the World Food Programme resignations

2023-06-10 13:10:07 Written by  Martin Plaut Published in English Articles Read 428 times


Martin Plaut posted: " On Monday the New Humanitarian broke the story of the resignation of the two most senior World Food Programme (WFP) staff in Ethiopia. The crux of the story was this: "WFP country director Claude Jibidar and his deputy, Jennifer Bitonde, tendered" Martin Plaut



Martin Plaut

Jun 6

On Monday the New Humanitarian broke the story of the resignation of the two most senior World Food Programme (WFP) staff in Ethiopia.

The crux of the story was this:

"WFP country director Claude Jibidar and his deputy, Jennifer Bitonde, tendered their resignations at an all-staff meeting on 2 June, sources present at Friday’s 'emotional' gathering told The New Humanitarian, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information. The move followed an internal investigation launched last month over reports that significant amounts of food meant for hungry people in Ethiopia’s war-affected northern Tigray region had been sold on the commercial market."

Why the resignations?

What I hear from a source in Ethiopia is that the USAID found aid on local markets, first in Tigray (Alamata) but later across Ethiopia, including Gambella and the Somali region. The majority of this diversion of aid was said to have taken place since the January ceasefire in Tigray.

The WFP tried to blame the beneficiaries or the NGO's they had been working with. Others suggested some was looted by Eritreans or by agencies working with local governments. These arguments were not regarded as credible, since there was evidence of aid being taken directly from government warehouses or sold by millers.

USAID demanded a halt and a full explanation. USAID administrator Samantha Power made the announcement in a statement on 3rd of May, explaining that the aid had been intended “for the people of Tigray suffering under famine-like conditions”. “We have made the difficult decision to pause all USAID-supported food assistance in the Tigray region until further notice,” Power said.

The Americans believed the Tigrayan authorities and Federal authorities were trying to defraud the US taxpayers. Investigations in Tigray and by the Federal government are now said to be close to being finalised.

Another source commented: "It’s a scale of aid diversion I have never seen before and it implicates the governments at regional and federal level. The Ethiopian and the Tigrayans military were caught on camera taking wheat from mills. Worse still, they had contracts signed by the mills. Although this was first detected in Tigray it implicates at least 8 regions."

"My friend a diplomat confirms the food aid corruption information. As of today, it seems an ‘open secret’ in diplomatic circles," a further source explained.

What does it amount to?

This must be among the most serious cases of aid diversion in many years and could lead to wholesale cuts in Ethiopian food aid, upon which many Ethiopians depend.

Everyone knows that some aid is sold on local markets by ordinary people, but this is on a quite different scale.

What has been uncovered goes way beyond this and amounts to officially sanctioned corruption. And with footage of troops taking food from warehouses and mills it could no longer be denied.

USAID knew if the true scale came out and they had not acted then they would be blamed and heads would roll.

Hence the dramatic decision to cut aid flows to Tigray, which has left the poorest of the poor without the assistance they so badly require.

As the WFP said on 3rd of May 2023:

The World Food Programme (WFP) is deeply concerned by the recent reports of significant diversion of humanitarian food assistance in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. WFP takes this issue extremely seriously and will not tolerate any interference in its distribution of critical food aid to the most vulnerable women, men and children.

WFP immediately launched a comprehensive investigation upon learning of the food diversion reports and has taken swift action to establish all the facts and further strengthen our controls.

WFP has paused food distributions in Tigray, which will not resume until WFP can ensure that vital aid will reach its intended recipients.

WFP is working closely with the regional authorities to identify any individuals involved in these activities, and to close any loopholes in the process of identifying and registering beneficiaries.

WFP is also strongly reiterating to our cooperating partners that they monitor and report any illicit activities, and that they are enforcing the agreed controls. 

WFP prides itself on ensuring the proper use of donor contributions - with the most stringent controls and processes in order to best serve the millions of the hungry who depend on WFP’s lifesaving and life-changing assistance.

The people of Tigray are still recovering from the impacts of a two-year conflict, which has left 84 per cent of the region in a food crisis. WFP is resolutely committed to ensure life-saving food assistance reaches those most in need efficiently and effectively.

Word Food Programme Statement, 3 May 2023

Last modified on Saturday, 10 June 2023 15:12