The show must go on: aid as theater edition

During the 1980s, I had regular contact with guerrilla groups in the Horn of Africa, such as the TPLF (including its humanitarian wing, Rest), the EPLF and ELF. I also reported from the government side out of Addis. All did their best to dupe both aid workers and journalists.

Rest, for example, was extremely well organised. It provided impressive humanitarian surveys, such as the number of lactating mothers in specific villages and refugee camps. However, there was no way of verifying whether all the aid was actually going through or not. Inside the guerrilla zones Rest always controlled what you saw and where you travelled. The Ethiopian Dergue did exactly the same thing.

Everything was elaborate while the show was on, but the moment one left it was a different matter. Once I visited a bustling “government displaced centre” near the Sudanese border. Twenty minutes after leaving I returned because I had forgotten my jacket. The camp was empty. It had been a complete charade in a bid to solicit international sympathy and funding.

Journalist Edward Girardet recalls his reporting days in 1980s Ethiopia. He is responding to Bob Geldof’s rage that the BBC exaggerated the diversion of aid to arms.