The US Has Stopped Food Aid In Ethiopia Due To Government Theft

An investigation by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has discovered that the Ethiopian federal government has been systematically stealing international food donations and preventing them from reaching its people. The scheme was also planned in collaboration with various regional governments throughout the country.

AP News reported in early May that USAID initially suspended donations while the investigation was underway. Until then, the United States federal government had been providing aid to Ethiopia through food supplies. The United Nations World Food Program became suspicious after finding major food aid sales in local markets across Tigray and launched the investigation (per Bloomberg). Investigators visited 63 flour mills across nine regions in Ethiopia and found that a measurable proportion of food donations from the United States, Ukraine, Japan, and France were being redirected to non-humanitarian recipients, according to The Washington Post.

As USAID said in a statement to The Washington Post, "After a country-wide review, USAID determined, in coordination with the Government of Ethiopia, that a widespread and coordinated campaign is diverting food assistance ... We cannot move forward with distribution of food assistance until reforms are in place."

The motivation behind the scheme was twofold: redirect the donated food straight to military lines to feed soldiers, and sell the rest in private markets or export it abroad for profit. Donated wheat was turned into flour and exported to Kenya and Somalia; this is only one example. It remains unclear exactly how much food was stolen.

The people of Ethiopia are up against enough already

Ethiopia is home to over 116 million citizens, making it the largest and most populous country in the Horn of Africa, a region heavily affected by drought. In addition to the widespread climate disaster and pandemic-related supply chain issues affecting the entire world, Ethiopia specifically is recovering from two years of civil war in Tigray, which just ended in November. An estimated 1.3 million people were forced to flee Sudan in the span of six weeks, and hundreds of thousands were killed in the fallout. 

Currently, over 90% of Tigrayans are dangerously food insecure. Not only is the news of this coordinated criminal scheme deeply troubling in a humanitarian sense, but because the food was rerouted to support Ethiopian troops, it also carries potentially misleading implications of U.S. assistance in foreign military efforts.

Now that the United States is halting its food aid, it doesn't look good for the Ethiopian citizens betrayed by their government. Unsavory discussion about future policy revisions and enforcements might be in order to prevent a crisis like this from happening again. On June 2, the World Food Program's (WFP) Ethiopia director Claude Jibidar and deputy Jennifer Bitonde suddenly resigned, just before news of the scheme was made public, reports The New Humanitarian. WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain declared that those "found responsible must be held accountable," per the outlet. 

Mitiku Kassa, former head of the National Disaster Risk Management Commission of Ethiopia, was arrested by local law enforcement last month under corruption charges. According to the Ethiopian Monitor federal police say a "non-existent" non-governmental organization sold food and aid items it had received and used the profits to buy the former Commissioner a house.