A recent document released by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has revealed that millions of dollars, allocated for victims of the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85, went into buying weapons for rebellions. However, Robert Gates – President Obama’s Secretary of Defense said the suggestion cannot be ruled out that the CIA not only knew about, but supported, the diversion of aid funds to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The document printed by CIAs Michael Burke’s in 1984, dated April 1985, and entitled: Ethiopia: Political and Security Impact of the Drought, concluded that: “Some funds that insurgent organizations are raising for relief operations, as a result of increased world publicity, are almost certainly being diverted for military purposes.”
According to the BBC, this report is also supported by former senior US diplomat in Ethiopia, chargé d’affaires Robert Houdek. In his account, Houdek said rebels of the TPLF and the Eritrean rebel movement – the EPLF – had told him of aid being diverted in Sudan. Most of the aid money was made available by Christian aid group, and delivered to the rebel’s relief organization, Relief Society of Tigray.
“It was sold for cash, and of course with money you can buy weapons, you can buy fuel. That was going on. There was no question about that.”
In November 2009, current U.S Secretary of Defense who was Secretary of Defense for President Reagan in the 80s described how President Reagan’s approach was to “impose ever stiffer costs on the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union poured over $4 billion into Ethiopia, and provided Soviet officers to direct Ethiopia battles against the rebels.
Under President Reagan, Ethiopia was put among nations like Nicaragua and Afghanistan that were courted by the Soviets. In January 1983, President Reagan issued National Security Directive 75, which aimed to confront the Soviet Union across the developing world.
Mr. Gates stated that since there were only a limited number of rebel movements, the suggestion cannot be ruled out that the CIA not only knew about, but supported, the diversion of aid funds to the TPLF in order to battle the Soviet supported government of Ethiopia.
According to analysts, the evidences given in these reports were consistent with the confessions of exiled former fighters of the rebel movement, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), known as Mr. Gebremedhin Araya and Mr. Aregawi Berhe, who fell out with the TPLF leadership and fled from the country.
In Mr. Araya’s testimony, he said: “I was given clothes to make me look like a Muslim merchant. This was a trick for the NGOs. They didn’t know me. Underneath the sacks of grain I sold were sacks filled with sand. And I handed over the money I received to TPLF leaders, including Meles Zenawi [the man who went on to become Ethiopia’s prime minister in 1991].”
Former commander of the TPLF’s army, Mr. Aregawi Berhe, who is now living in exile in a Dutch town, told reporters that the rebels put on what he describes as a “drama” to get the money. “The aid workers were fooled,” Berhe is quoted. According to Berhe, in 1985, of the $100 million that went through the hands of the TPLF, 95% was allocated either to buy weapons or to build the hardline party within the rebel movement – the Marxist Leninist League of Tigray
However, the Ethiopian prime minister’s office has refused an interview with Meles Zenawi to clarify the events.
In 1974 Haile Selassie was toppled from government because millions of Ethiopians were at the brink of starvation in the 1970s and 1980s. His government was replaced by a self-proclaimed Marxist junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam under which many thousands of opponents were purged or brutally killed, property was confiscated and defense spending spiraled. The overthrow of the junta in 1991 saw political and economic conditions stabilize, but not enough to restore investors’ confidence.
Ethiopia has been plagued with periodic droughts and famines, a long civil conflict and a border war with Eritrea. Secessionist groups maintain a low-level armed struggle.