Friday, March 19, 2010

Ethiopia admits jamming VOA radio broadcasts in Amharic

Ethiopia's Prime Minister said Ethiopia had been testing jamming equipment.

Ethiopia admits jamming VOA radio broadcasts in Amharic
From BBC News Online at 08:32 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010:
Ethiopia has admitted it is jamming the Voice of America's (VOA) broadcasts in Amharic, accusing the radio station of engaging in "destabilising propaganda".

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Ethiopia had been testing jamming equipment, although there had been no formal decision to bloc the US station.

The Amharic Service has experienced interference since late February.

Mr Meles also compared the VOA's transmissions to broadcasts in Rwanda in the mid-1990s that incited genocide.

'Unfortunate' comments

"We have for some time now been trying to beef up our capacity to deal with this, including... jamming," Mr Meles said on Thursday.

In a statement, VOA director Danforth Austin said that any comparison of VOA programming to Rwandan broadcasts inciting genocide in the 1990s was "incorrect and unfortunate".

"The VOA deplores jamming as a form of media censorship wherever it may occur," he said, adding that the station's Amharic Service was required by law to provide accurate and objective information.

The VOA and other foreign media organisations say broadcasts in Amharic - the country's most widely spoken language - have been jammed around elections in the past.

The next polls in Ethiopia are in May and human rights groups say there has been a crackdown on the press.

The last elections saw opposition accusations of widespread rigging.

Thousands of opposition supporters were arrested after protests and some western countries reduced aid to Ethiopia.

Separately, Mr Meles again denied claims in a recent BBC report that he had ordered the diversion of food aid money to buy arms to fight the government in the 1980s.

"We did not need to [do it]. We were not short of ammunition or arms. That was never our problem. Our main problem was that we were operating in an environmentally very fragile area unable to feed itself," he said.
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

When feeding the hungry is political

Food aid for Africa
When feeding the hungry is political
A United Nations agency under attack
Mar 18th 2010 (NAIROBI)
From The Economist print edition
THE World Food Programme (WFP), created by the United Nations in 1962 to save lives, has since grown into the behemoth of the aid business, envied and disliked in almost equal measure by many of its smaller peers. It says it feeds 90m people a year in 73 countries. Yet some query whether it always fulfils the high ideals of its humanitarian mandate.

The WFP has had to get used to fierce criticism, particularly of its operations in Africa. The main complaint is that food aid creates a dependency culture among the poor. The WFP employs large numbers of press officers in its headquarters in Rome and elsewhere to jump to its defence. Even so, a recent scandal over its work in Somalia has pricked it. An internal UN report accuses the WFP of abjectly failing to get food to starving Somalis. The report says that systematic collusion between local WFP staffers, Islamist militants and food transporters has led to the diversion of up to half of the food it ships to Somalia, with some of it going to jihadists. The WFP has hotly denied the allegations of corruption, but it has ceased working with three transport contractors who are alleged to have been involved in arms trading.

The truth is hard to tell. Visiting Somalia is dangerous. The WFP’s operation there is run from Nairobi, capital of neighbouring Kenya. It has to contend with pirates at sea and armed groups on land. A spat with the militant Shabab group, now allied to al-Qaeda, means WFP is no longer supplying food to 1m of the 3m Somalis who need it.

The danger for the WFP is that the row over its work in Somalia will impede its massive operations in Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Congo and beyond by prompting calls for extra scrutiny there too. Sudan alone accounted for $635m of WFP’s $2.2 billion spent in sub-Saharan Africa in 2008. Diplomats there have long suspected that food aid has been siphoned off by officials in south Sudan and by armed groups in Sudan’s western region, Darfur.

The whole business of food aid to Africa has come under additional scrutiny recently after a BBC report alleged that up to 95% of the cash provided to buy food for rebel-controlled areas during Ethiopia’s horrendous famine in 1984-85 was in fact used to buy weapons. The WFP says it had little involvement in that episode: it was feeding government-held areas. International charities have denied the story. Bob Geldof, a musician and anti-poverty campaigner, worries that the claim will be exploited by those who want to cut aid.

But the rebels in question, who hail from Tigray, a northern province, have run Ethiopia since 1991. And the country’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, a rebel leader in 1984, faces charges that he is using food aid now to buy support before elections due on May 23rd. Human-rights investigators, including those of the American government, say they have documented the withholding of food and other benefits from opposition supporters. The Ethiopian government denies it, and says that the BBC allegations come from a political opponent of Mr Zenawi.

The WFP says it will welcome any investigation into its activities in Somalia. “The integrity of our organisation is paramount,” insists Josette Sheeran, a former State Department official now heading the outfit. About $2 billion of its $5 billion global budget is provided by America, most of it in sacks of surplus American food. But the WFP—and Somalia’s Shabab rebels—would prefer the American government to give cash, as the Europeans do, which can then be used to buy local food, rewarding farmers who produce surpluses. George Bush’s administration agreed but could not persuade Congress to concur.

Quite apart from the allegations over its role in Somalia, the WFP is failing to meet its target for donations this year. So school meals and other programmes will be cut. America is unlikely to be as generous with cash as it is in kind. Europe’s contribution of $1 billion may be slashed too. This year’s WFP budget of $2.6 billion for sub-Saharan Africa is $1.1 billion short. And the outlook for Africa’s own production is grim. Its food output will fall by a fifth over the next four decades, reckons the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. Climate change, it says, will make food even scarcer in semi-arid countries such as Sudan. The question of how to feed the starving will not go away.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Voice of America news broadcasts jammed in Ethiopia

Voice of America news broadcasts jammed in Ethiopia
From Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 05 March 2010 /via APO:
Voice of America (VOA) reported today that its transmissions to Ethiopia are being electronic jammed. The Ethiopian government denied responsibility.

VOA cited “international shortwave radio monitors” and complaints from listeners in Ethiopia since February 22 about static the U.S. government-funded station’s daily, hour-long shortwave broadcast from Washington in Amharic—the country’s main official language. CPJ independently collected widespread local accounts of interference exclusively on the Amharic service.

VOA’s half-hour broadcasts in the other two local languages, Afan Oromo and Tigrigna, were broadcasting normally, the sources said. David Borgida, a VOA spokesman told Bloomberg News the station had not identified the source of the interference.

“The Ethiopian government has long had a hostile relationship with VOA and that is why we view their denial of responsibility with some skepticism,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We note that the Ethiopian government has neither offered to investigate nor fix the problem.”

In media interviews today, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal denied any government involvement. “This is absolutely a sham,” he told CPJ, adding that “the Ethiopian government does not support the policy of restricting foreign broadcasting services in the country. Such practices are prohibited in our constitution.”

Kemal was the government prosecutor who charged 21 journalists, including five Washington-based VOA journalists, with anti-state crimes over their coverage of the aftermath of disputed elections in May 2005. Under his leadership, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, the governmental authority responsible for issuing print and broadcast licenses, in 2009 ordered private station Radio Sheger to drop VOA newscasts and briefly revoked the accreditations of two VOA stringers, according to CPJ research.

Kemal told CPJ the allegations were part of a “smear campaign” by “opposition Web sites in the diaspora” ahead of general elections in May.

VOA is one of a handful of foreign-based independent stations, including Deutsche Welle and Addis Dimts Radio, a station operated by the banned opposition movement Ginbot 7, that have reported ongoing or recurring interference of their broadcasts, according to CPJ research. Also in 2009, Meleskachew Amaha, a VOA stringer, was thrown into prison for three weeks on false tax charges that were later dismissed.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Geldof Slams BBC Over Ethiopia Weapons Claims

Geldof Slams BBC Over Ethiopia Weapons Claims
From Sky at 5:05pm UK, Saturday March 06, 2010
Julia Reid, Sky News Online
Bob Geldof and the Band Aid trust are set to make an official complaint to the BBC over its claims that millions of pounds in donated aid for Ethiopia was spent on weapons.

The complaint will be made jointly with agencies including Christian Aid, and will denounce the "false and dangerously misleading impression" created by the BBC World Service's Africa editor, Martin Plaut.

His report claimed that 95% of the aid which went to Ethiopia's northern province of Tigray during the famine of 1985 was diverted for military use by rebel forces.

Paul Brannen, Head of Advocacy and Influence at Christian Aid, confirmed that the charity would be signing up to the complaint to BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons.

"This affair is a good example of the old adage that a lie can be halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on," he said.

"In these days of rapid and international communications it is more important than ever that the BBC independently verifies every single fact that it intends to broadcast."

Oxfam says it will decide next week whether to sign up to the letter.

But campaigns and policy director Phil Bloomer said: "The British public, who in good faith donated money to help distressed, starving people, need to know that these allegations are preposterous.

"Aid distribution during this conflict held risks but it is indisputable that aid and the efforts of the humanitarian agencies saved many thousands of lives in Ethiopia.

Geldof, who raised $144m for Africa in the Live Aid concert in 1985, will also report the BBC to Ofcom.

Millions of pounds have been donated in aid to Ethiopia

"This story has gone around the world on the internet and created a totally false impression of what actually happened," he said.

"At the time of Live Aid we had journalists crawling all over everything we did trying to find something wrong - and they couldn't.

"And now, on the strength of one disgruntled soldier, the BBC has undermined the faith of ordinary people across the world in the effectiveness of giving to people in their hour of need.

"It is a disgrace."

The Independent newspaper claims a draft of the complaint to the BBC speaks of "disgracefully poor reporting" by the BBC and reliance on "dubious sources and rumour".

"There is not in fact a shred of credible evidence that this happened," it reads.

"There is overwhelming evidence that tens of thousands and even millions were saved by these efforts, which were in fact spurred by reporting by the BBC."

Mr Plaut's story was broadcast on the World Service, Radio 4 and via the BBC website.

It relies on accounts by two former senior Tigrean rebels, one of whom, Aregawi Berhe, was expelled from the guerilla movement in the summer of 1985.

Geldof said Berhe had a political axe to grind and could not have witnessed the alleged transactions.

There are fears that the BBC's report could undermine public generosity towards charity appeals for Haiti and Chile in the wake of the recent disasters.

A BBC spokesman says the corporation stands by the story and the documentary did not say that most famine relief money was used to buy weapons.