Following Probe finding, senior leadership of the World Food Programme in Ethiopia have resigned
On June 5, 2023, a report by The New Humanitarian confirmed the resignation of senior leadership of WFP in Ethiopia, shortly before the findings of a probe into the misappropriation of food aid in the country are due to be made public, according to several sources who witnessed the resignations.
This long running story had its genesis on May 4, 2023, when a report by Reuters showed, The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) has paused food distribution in Ethiopia’s war-ravaged Tigray region in response to findings that significant amounts of aid were being diverted, the agency said.
This announcement followed immediately after the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) suspended its operation in the Tigray region due to a similar discovery in its operations.
On Wednesday May 3, 2023, WFP released a statement, and added it was “strongly reiterating to our cooperating partners that they monitor and report any illicit activities, and that they are enforcing the agreed controls”. However, both organizations refrained from giving further details at the time. WFP or USAID did not say who was responsible for the diversions or when they had taken place. This confusion raised many suspicions among the Ethiopia public.
In response to aid suspension by both organizations, interim titular head of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Mr. Getachew Reda, said the move “hurt our people who are facing grave challenges.”
According to the report, “WFP country director Claude Jibidar and his deputy, Jennifer Bitonde, tendered their resignations at an all-staff meeting on 2nd June, sources present at Friday’s “emotional” gathering told The New Humanitarian, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.”
Furthermore, the now resigned Jibidar told The New Humanitarian that numbers in need had “been inflated”. This corresponds with earlier assertions made by Maureen Achieng, a United Nation’s Ethiopia Migration Agency chief administrative officer, who was put on administrative leave citing “unauthorized interviews” in which she complained of humanitarian aid embezzlement in September 2021. UN higher-ups she claimed “were sympathetic to Tigrayan rebels.”
The departure of Maureen Achieng, confirmed in a letter dated November 8, 2021, went relatively unnoticed my media coverage of Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis. Nonetheless, it was viewed by Ethiopian authorities as vindication of their long suspension that aid was being deliberately diverted towards feeding rebel combatants. This time however, the international aid agencies are blaming both the government of Ethiopia (GoE) and the Tigray regional administration for aid diversion. The sudden addition of the GoE to the list perpetrators has come as a surprise.
A month before Achieng’s reveal, the government had expelled seven other senior UN officials on similar grounds, and for allegedly “meddling” in its affairs. The mainstream media in the West largely vilified the government’s actions as hampering aid efforts, while ignoring the underlying real corruption within the UN aid agencies.
While WFP-Ethiopia continues to be immersed in its own internal controversy, it has also been a victim of blatant theft by armed groups in Ethiopia. A previous report by Abren details how authorities in the Tigray region orchestrated the theft of fuel from WFP warehouses in Mekelle. Trucks used to distribute aid have also been taken by rebel forces.
The suspension of aid as well as resignations of top officials at WFP-Ethiopia are indicative of systemic corruption. There is no doubt the continued and repeated controversy within the humanitarian aid community in northern Ethiopia is undermining the delivery of life saving aid to a people in need. Public trust in international aid agencies is at an all-time low, as organizations are increasingly seen to be politicized.