Allegations of Ethiopian relief aid diverted mislead the world: an up-date

On 4 March 2010 I described in a blog post how a misleading radio programme, broadcast that day in the BBC World Service, and the BBC’s even more misleading advance publicity for it, had predictably been almost universally misunderstood by the world’s media as evidence that a huge proportion — 95 per cent was even mentioned — of the relief aid given for famine victims in Ethiopia in the 1980s had been diverted for buying arms and ammunition for a Tigrayan rebel army then fighting the Ethiopian government in the north of the country.  (In fact the allegations reported in the radio programme referred only to the aid channelled into a small area of Tigray then controlled by the rebels, and not to the huge international relief operation in the rest of Ethiopia.)  In my blog post I expressed incomprehension of the BBC’s failure to issue an immediate and authoritative clarification as soon as it became clear that the programme and the BBC’s publicty for it was being generally portrayed as discrediting and denigrating the entire international relief effort in Ethiopia which in reality had saved many millions of lives, and which was anyway not the target of the allegations reported in the BBC programme.

Since then the controversy has continued to rage, with Bob Geldof angrily rebutting any suggestion that money raised by Band Aid and Live Aid for Ethiopia had been diverted in the way being reported all over the media (as a result of the impression given by the BBC, although no such allegation against Band Aid had been made in the original programme).  A couple of half-hearted clarifications were issued by the BBC, at least one of them almost as misleading as the original programme and its publicity.  But these were barely noticed in the media storm.

I have now tried to bring the story up to date in a new web page, here.  I have included a number of quotations to illustrate the way the wrong impression conveyed by the BBC’s original material,  never effectively clarified or corrected, spiralled out of control, the world’s media repeating their own misconceptions with further misinterpretations added at every stage, until it’s being confidently asserted in print, on radio and television, and in the blogosphere, that hardly any of the money given in response to Bob Geldof’s historic campaigns, and by numerous governments and other relief organisations for famine relief, ever reached the starving people whom it was meant for. 

It’s probably too late now to set the record straight, or to rescue the good name of one of the most successful and effective international disaster relief operations ever mounted.  The misconceptions are now in the clippings files of a thousand news desks around the world, and will be trotted out again whenever Ethiopian famine is mentioned.  But it seems worth while to make a record of what really happened, how limited in scope and questionable in substance the allegations reported by the BBC really are, and how a seriously misleading story, backed by the good name of the BBC, became what is by now little better than fiction.   So I hope that Googlers of the future will notice and have a look at

— or just click this:


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