BY BILEH JELAN @BILEHJELAN
Addis Abeba, September 01/2021 – In an interview with Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) that was aired yesterday, Sean Jones, the USAID mission Director to Ethiopia, accused forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of looting food aid and causing intentional damage to its warehouses in Amhara regional state. He also blamed Ethiopian federal forces aligned with Eritrean forces of engaging in “in a lot of theft.”
“We now know, because again new facts have arisen, that in recent weeks some of our warehouses have been looted and emptied by advancing TPLF troops, especially in Amhara right now,” the director said.
But, in a segment that was edited out by the state broadcaster EBC and has since been released by the US Embassy in Addis Abeba, Mr. Jones first highlighted that “throughout nine months of conflict all of the warning parties have been stealing aid. Months ago, when the federal forces aligned with Eritrean forces were in Tigray, there was a lot of theft that was going on, that was occurring.”
The director answered questions on reasons behind the U.S.government issuing a statement denouncing accusations of collusion with TPLF levied against USAID. He said, “The United States government was very concerned about the recent misrepresentation and inaccurate reporting across some of the state run media about the USAID assistance in the country,”
He further explained that explanations were necessary before denying the involvement of USAID with TPLF and forces loyal to it. He said, “In no history of our humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia has the USAID ever given food, drugs or any other kind of assistance to TPLF or any other groups in the country.”
“IN ARMED CONFLICT, THERE ARE WAYS WHERE ARMED GROUPS GET FOOD AND NON FOOD ITEMS FROM HUMANITARIAN ACTORS.”
The director explained circumstances where the food aid delivered to Tigray regions might have fallen into the hands of TPLF. But defended his organization against government accusations that it was complicit in it. “In armed conflict, there are ways where armed groups get food and non food items from humanitarian actors,” he said, “we know that we haven’t delivered any high energy biscuits since February.”
He went on to add that in conflict zones, there were three possible ways where food aid could fall into the hands of armed groups. The first is “food is sold to soldiers. Maybe even to other citizens”, he mentioned common occurrences in Ethiopia where “everybody who travels around the country in Ethiopia, going to rural and even in the urban local markets, you see a lot of humanitarian supplies that are actually being sold.” Another way in which food aid ends up in the hands of armed groups is “some citizens are sympathetic to, in this case, the TPLF. Maybe they gave their food to the soldiers.” The third, which he described as “the worst thing that could happen,” is when “soldiers and armed groups come in and they steal that food, or non-food, from citizens.”
“WE KNOW FOR FACT, MUCH LIKE THE ERITREANS WERE DOING MONTHS AGO IN TIGRAY, IN AMHARA NOW, WE NOW KNOW THAT THE TPLF HAS, IN EVERY TOWN THEY’VE GONE INTO, THEY LOOTED THE WAREHOUSES ...”
Regardless, he accused the TPLF of looting USAID warehouses. “We know for fact, much like the Eritreans were doing months ago in Tigray, in Amhara now, we now know that the TPLF has, in every town they’ve gone into, they looted the warehouses, they’ve looted trucks and they have caused a great deal of destruction in all the villages they have visited.”
He further accused the TPLF of being “opportunistic,” and that “maybe they are stealing from citizens”, but said the USAID doesn’t “have a proof for this but what we know is that a couple of warehouses were emptied especially in the Amhara region.”
His criticism didn’t spare the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) where are aligned with Eritrean Forces. According to him, both have been engaged in theft of of food aid in Tigray. “To be honest throughout nine months of conflict all of the warning parties have been stealing aid. Months ago, when the federal forces aligned with Eritrean forces were in Tigray, there was a lot of theft that was going on, that was occurring.”
Such acts were causing “great concern for humanitarians”, he said. Humanitarians have fled for their lives. “Humanitarians are the ones at the center of the conflict. They are the first ones to go in and provide life-saving assistance, and only when their lives are threatened or when the things are stolen or when their building are looted or burned down are they the ones to leave. And unfortunately, we have also seen quite a few, I think it is fifteen now of our humanitarian brothers and sisters have lost their lives, in the past nine month of conflict.”
“WE ARE ALSO A BIG CONTRIBUTOR TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S PRODUCTIVE SOCIAL SAFETY NET PROGRAM, WE SUPPORT 1.6 MILLION PEOPLE WHO WANT TO ESCAPE POVERTY. IN ACTION WE PROVIDE FOOD AID TO 5 MILLION PEOPLE IN NORTHERN ETHIOPIA AS OF NOW IN TIGRAY, AMHARA AND AFAR.”
Highlighting USAID efforts to provide assistance to 7% of the population in Ethiopia, the mission director said, “In the past five years, we have invested 4.2 billion USD, some of it humanitarian assistance but a lot of it development assistance.” He explained that UAID operations expand across all regional states.
Moreover, the mission director highlighted current operations outside Tigray region, he said, “We are providing emergency aid to 3.5 million people in places like Benishengul Gumuz, Oromia, Somali and SNNP regions, where people are still struggling with conflict, drought, desert locust, floods and whatever it might be,” he added, “We are also a big contributor to the federal governor,ent Productive Social Safety Net program, we support 1.6 million people who want to escape poverty. In action we provide food aid to 5 million people in northern Ethiopia as of now in Tigray, Amhara and Afar.”
“AS A PARTNER SOMETIMES WE HAVE TO RAISE OUR VOICE ‘LIKE IN A GOOD MARRIAGE’, WE HAVE TO SAY WHAT WE ARE FEELING AT MOMENT, WE HAVE TO PROVIDE OUR ADVICE AND MAYBE WE SEE DECISION MADE ON THE PART OF OUR PARTNER THAT MIGHT BE IN ETHIOPIA’S BEST INTEREST.”
Speaking on the Ethio-US relations, the mission director said, “I think there is some strain or some stress in the relations right now,” he added, “As a partner sometimes we have to raise our voice ‘like in a good marriage’, we have to say what we are feeling at moment, we have to provide our advice and maybe we see decision made on the part of our partner that might be in Ethiopia’s best interest.” The mission director added that the relations with senior Ethiopian officials remain intact.
The director reiterated calls by the USAID chief to end hostilities and ensure the continuance of the aid operation to avoid catastrophic outcomes as result of food shortages. His interview came a week after Ethiopia and the US exchanged blame over the failure of the humanitarian operation in Tigray. AS
Editor’s Note: The headline and parts of this news was edited after the release of the full transcript of the interview by the US Embassy in Addis Abeba, which included parts omitted by he State broadcaster, EBC.AS