Ethiopia: British official dismisses BBC's allegations [interview - text]
It is to be recalled that an allegation of aid misuse had been made last month by BBC’s Newsnight program and another British news outlet called ‘the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ)’ – the latter is financially linked with Human Rights Watch. The two outlets claimed to have conducted ‘a joint undercover investigative journalism’ and found evidences of politically motivated aid denial in Ethiopia.
However, the story was immediately dismissed by the Ethiopian government and aid agencies based in Ethiopia.
Notably, just less than 10 days after the BBC and TIBJ story, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commended Ethiopia for the ‘astonishing improvement in a relatively short period of time’ in terms of the scale of hunger, while FAO Director-General, Dr. Jacques Diouf, remarked that ‘Ethiopia has a good record of managing aid properly and using it for the intended purpose.’ Though neither directly mentioned the BBC/TIBJ story, the statements were nothing but a rejection of it.
Indeed, the story broadcasted on BBC Newsnight was refuted by an investigative report conducted by Ethiopianfirst.com. While the story published by TBIJ had been thoroughly reviewed and discredited in a research conducted by Danielberhane’s Blog.
Yet, the two British outlets chose to insist that the allegations are accurate and press for freezing aid to Ethiopia. Thus, Newsnight interviewed British Secretary of State for Development Aid, Andrew Mitchell by Jeremy Paxman on Wednesday, September 21, only to get further and even stronger refutation of the allegations.
Read the transcript of the interview.
Newsnight: Andrew Mitchell do you accept that British aid used for political purposes in Ethiopia?
Mitchell: No, I don’t – but I do accept that there are serious allegations made in your film and those allegations need to be answered. And I raise these allegations when I meet Ethiopian ministers, I’m going to meet one in a few minutes and when I see the Prime Minister Meles I always raise these allegations with him.
Newsnight: But you have never seen them proved?
Mitchell: Well one of the allegations which you mention is about the misuse of food support and we had that investigated by officials in some detail about six or seven months ago and they found no evidence at all of systemic misuse of food support. So I accept completely that these allegations must be looked at – that is the position of the British government, but they are allegations.
Newsnight: Just to be clear about that particular allegation which you say was investigated – did your investigators go to Ethiopia – to the places in question?
Mitchell: Yes, my investigators are the officials who are based in Ethiopia and run the British development programme there. And they investigated these allegations – and as I say they discovered that there was no systemic misuse of food support.
Newsnight: When you look at the assessments of the human rights record of the government of Ethiopia – the hanging of civilians, torture, mass rape, arbitrary imprisonment and the rest – one wonders why even one pound of British taxpayers money is being funnelled through them let alone £290 million pounds of it?
Mitchell: Well let us be clear. These allegations need to be investigated and the British government will press for them to be so, in an open and independent way. That is entirely separate from the issue of British development support – British aid going to Ethiopia – none of which goes through the government. And we should be clear that British development over recent years has made a huge difference in Ethiopia, saving literally millions of lives and you can see this now by looking at the way in which the desperate situation in the horn of Africa is affecting Somalia, where probably 400,000 children are at risk of dying later this year. Compare that to what has happened in Ethiopia where the international development effort has been hugely successful and we’ve probably cut the prevalence of malnutrition amongst children in the last 20 years by nearly 50 per cent. So British aid works.
Newsnight: Can I just clarify one point of fact here – you say development aid does not go through the government of Ethiopia – you’re absolutely certain about that are you?
Mitchell: Well there is no general budget support through the government of Ethiopia – that was stopped in 2005 after the election of Prime Minister Meles on that occasion. We have a very extensive social protection programme, which is administered by an independent government organisation which we monitor extremely closely and which gives protection and support to some 7.5million people in Ethiopia. Now that programme uses aspects of local government, but it does not go through the central government in Addis and it relies on regional implementation to deliver it. I’ve seen or myself, I’ve followed the way that programme works and I’ve seen how effective it is in saving lives.
Newsnight: Sure, but the accusation is that that aid itself is being manipulated for political ends?
Mitchell: Well the accusation is that food aid – which is a very small part of it – is being manipulated. And as I say British officials investigated that on the ground, and found that, you know we can’t be certain that it never happens, but we found no evidence of the systemic manipulation of food aid.
Newsnight: And do you also believe that this government won 99.6 per cent of the vote in the elections of 2005?
Mitchell: Well the independent analysis of the election was that it wasn’t perfect but it was in African terms quite good and better than the previous election.
Newsnight: How is it then that given your confidence in the legitimacy of the government there, that the Americans have come to such very different conclusions about the sort of regime that it is?
Mitchell: Well these are leaks through Wikileaks, they are quite dated – but I emphasise that all these allegations should be investigated independently, and we always press when these allegations are made, and they are allegations, that they should be properly investigated.
Newsnight: These allegations aren’t very dated, they date from 2009?
Mitchell: I think they refer to events that took place 2008, 2009, two years ago, since when we’ve made very strong representations and the investigations of my officials into the distortion of food aid were some six or seven months ago.
Newsnight: Andrew Mitchell thankyou
1. Reflections on BBC and TBIJ Media Onslaught – (in this blog) a detailed analysis of all the stories TBIJ posted on the issue last month.
2. Ethiopiafirst.com ‘s Investigative report (Video)
Related:(in this blog)