Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Bringing perpetrators of food aid diversion to justice

Ethiopia, the beloved motherland of all Ethiopians, has been seriously ill for some time now. Ethiopia is a home, a haven for all Ethiopians regardless of ethnic background, faith, political persuasion, gender, wealth or station in life. It’s a sanctuary not only for its citizens, but also for those who flee their country on account of difficult circumstances of life. As such Ethiopians have a solemn duty to cherish and safeguard the national interest regardless of how aggrieved they may feel by the actions or inactions of their government, to do everything within their power to avert the menacing threat staring the nation squarely in the face. Failure to do so is bound to entail grim consequences for each and every one of us.

Ethiopians have long co-existed in peace and harmony thanks to the respect and tolerance they have demonstrated for each other. Nowadays, though, citizens who truly have the country’s interest at heart are frustrated and deeply troubled by the alarming developments presently rocking it. Attempts to stoke internecine conflicts between people that epitomize mutual love and solidarity as well as procure undue advantage for oneself at the expense of others are becoming all too common. True, Ethiopia is still beset with a raft of centuries-old challenges which have not been properly dealt with to date. These problems offer an opportunity that various actors intent on furthering their evil agenda are exploiting shamelessly. A fitting example of the length these elements go to was laid bare recently by a shocking news story that has enraged Ethiopians.

The United States Agency for International Aid (USAID) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) this week suspended food aid to Ethiopia due to the diversion of supplies from those in need. At a time when around a sixth of Ethiopia’s roughly 120 million people rely on food aid because of drought and conflict, the diversion of life-saving assistance is an unconscionable act that is tantamount to a death sentence for the needy. The Ethiopian government, WFP and USAID, however, did not identify who is behind the diversion. But a leaked memo that international news outlets say was prepared by an independent donor group accused Ethiopian government agencies and the military of orchestrating a “co-ordinated and criminal scheme” to divert the food aid. While USAID has pledged to resume the aid once it was “confident” that the assistance would be delivered to the intended recipient, WFP has said it is working closely with its UN and humanitarian partners and local stakeholders to reform the way assistance is delivered across Ethiopia.

Both USAID and WFP, which account for the bulk of food assistance to Ethiopia, have underlined the imperative to undertake a probe into the food aid diversion and hold liable those who are responsible. In a joint statement the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs USAID issued they vowed to address the deeply concerning revelations, adding the governments of Ethiopia and the U.S. were conducting investigations in order to hold the perpetrators to account and declared that they would work together toward an efficient aid distribution system in Ethiopia, which would safeguard assistance from diversion. WFP meanwhile has condemned the food diversion and welcomed the Ethiopian government’s expression of commitment to ensure accountability is upheld. While the government’s desire to shed light on the matter is a step in the right direction, time will tell if it will honor its avowed commitment and keep the public apprised of any and all developments.   

It’s quite unfathomable how the individuals implicated in such despicable act found it in themselves to exhibit utter callousness and condemn fellow citizens who look to them for help in their hour of need to certain starvation. Given the egregious disregard for human life and abuse of power that the food aid diversion represents, it is absolutely incumbent on the government to launch a comprehensive inquiry into how it could have taken place in the first place and bring the full force of the law to bear on anyone, no matter their station in life or public office they hold, involved in planning, executing or covering it up. Ensuring that these merchants of death are held answerable not only allows the victims of their wrongs to get justice, but also to learn lessons that help prevent a recurrence of a similar crime in the future.

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