Ethiopia: Government rejects politicized food aid claims

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The Ethiopian government has vehemently rejected accusations that it has excluded some opposition supporters from a food-for-work programme, charges that are the focus of growing international concern in the run-up to elections in 2010.

“Such complaints are totally baseless! Totally baseless,” said State Minister for Disaster Management and Food Security Mitiku Kasa, adding that he had investigated the matter.

“Government has no intention to discriminate [against] the poor based on such grounds. After all, it is the community [that] is mandated to select who should be involved in the [productive safety net, or food-for-work] programme,” he said.

“The programme targets the community and government doesn’t get involved in the selection process. It has nothing to do with politics or political ideology. It’s all absolutely owned by the community. It is the community [that] has a say in this programme,” he said.

One of the government’s chief accusers is Medrek Gebru Asrat, spokesman for the Forum for Democratic Dialogue in Ethiopia, a coalition of eight parties that analysts say is well placed to challenge the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.

“The government is trying to control which party people join. Food aid should not be used as a political weapon,” Gebru said.

Earlier this month, Britain’s State Minister for Development Gareth Thomas called on Ethiopian authorities to look into the charges that food aid had been withheld from opposition supporters to force them to back the ruling party.

“I have heard allegations from the international community about distribution of food aid and the [food-for-work] programme and I have already raised those accusations with the deputy prime minister,” Thomas told reporters in Addis Ababa.

Thomas said Britain had made no decision to suspend aid to Ethiopia but that it could take “tough decisions” if necessary.

Britain donated 71 million pounds (US$119 million) to the food-for-work scheme this year, making it the second-largest donor after the World Bank.

The United States has also raised similar concerns that its humanitarian aid does reach all those most in need.

“The US Government is aware of the recent complaints. USAID personnel in Ethiopia are increasing field visits to observe distribution dynamics with specific attention to these allegations,” read the statement from the US government.

Some 6.2 million people in Ethiopia are deemed by the UN to need relief food, while another seven million benefit from the government-administered productive safety net programme.

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