Posted on November 7, 2010

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The Ethiopian government has demanded the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to officially apologize for false accusations of abusing aid money raised by The Band Aid Trustee during the 1985 famine. “They owe an apology to Ethiopia and its people,” Bereket Simon, head of the Government Communications Affairs Office, told Capital.

Ethiopia’s request follows excuses made by the BBC to The Band Aid Trust and its initiator Bob Geldof over their report claiming that rebels of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) misused millions of pounds raised to fight famine in Ethiopia in 1985.

In a report released last March, the BBC claimed that the Tigray rebels used the Band Aid money to purchase arms for their struggle against the military regime led by Mengistu Hailemariam. Media all over the world adopted the “news”.

No evidence
The claims in the report that was initiated by the BBC World Service’s Africa desk gave a “misleading and unfair impression,” the BBC says in an official statement. “We had no evidence for these statements, and they shouldn’t have been broadcast.” Although the report didn’t directly mention Band Aid, various programs indicated that Band Aid money was involved.

The BBC says to regret this, but fails to mention Ethiopia and the former TPLF rebels, who are the direct subject of the accusations. The BBC reported the supposed aid abuse a few weeks before the national elections in Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian government at that time said it was done intentionally to discredit the incumbent government. “It was an irrelevant and inaccurate report,” says Bereket. “That’s why we expect an official excuse.” Ethiopia’s request hasn’t been granted yet.

The mea culpa of the international renowned news network towards Band Aid and its Western donors follows an investigation on several complaints, one of them by The Band Aid Trust denying any of their charity money being diverted.

Damage done
After releasing the report, the BBC announced that “Band Aid Trustee” and singer Bob Geldof, who organized the world famous Band Aid concerts to collect donations to fight the 1985 famine, declined to be interviewed because he thought the subject was “too sensitive to be discussed openly”.

They now recall that statement and apologize to Geldof, who has accepted the BBC’s excuse and says: “We welcome the BBC’s apologies and hope that the public corrections can begin to repair some of the appalling damage done, and move forward.”

According to the singer BBC reports on famine in Ethiopia prompted him to establish Band Aid in the first place. “I recognize the important journalistic and humanitarian role the BBC has played in our story.”

No guarantee
At the time of the Ethiopian famine in 1984 and 1985, one of the biggest challenges was getting aid safely to people who needed it in the parts of Ethiopia controlled by Tigrayan and Eritrean rebel groups.

Because the Ethiopian military regime led by communist dictator Mengistu Hailemariam couldn’t guarantee a safe passage for aid convoys into rebel areas and, more importantly, a successful distribution of aid, most Western governments and NGOs decided not to bring aid to those areas at all. Most people suffering from famine moved to feeding centers in Derg-controlled areas for help as a result.

A small number of NGOs did actually attempt to deliver aid in rebel-controlled areas, mostly crossing the border from Sudan. These convoys were assisted by the Relief Society of Tigray (REST), which presented itself as the humanitarian arm of the rebel groups.

The BBC report alleges that some of this aid may have been diverted to support the Tigrayan and Eritrean fighters. The claim that “95 percent” of the money given to REST was diverted was based on a single claim in an interview with Tigrayan separatist Aregawi Behre. Investigation shows that this claim was unfounded. In fact, until today, there’s no evidence that any aid was diverted.

Capital, 7 November 2010

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