Ethiopia makes money on donated food aid
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
One of the biggest famine-relief operations of the century is reaching millions of people here. Yet behind the scenes two other dramas are being played out. The Ethiopian government is making what some Westerners here estimate at $28 million a year in hard currency by exacting some of the highest entry-port fees in Africa on each ton of grain given free by other governments and individuals.Skip to next paragraph
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The military, Marxist, and impoverished Ethiopian government charges the United States and all other grain donors a $12.60 port fee on every ton of donated grain sent here.
Since December the US alone has sent 400,000 tons of grain, on which it has had to pay an entry-port fee of $5.04 million. It costs the US about $170 per ton to buy and send the grain. If Ethiopia receives the full 1.2 million tons expected this year from all donors, it will garner more than $15 million in entry fees on grain alone.
It charges high duties on other food and non-food relief items as well.
Four-wheel-drive Land Rovers paid for by some of the millions of dollars raised in Europe by rock star Bob Geldorf and his all-star Band Aid record were still sitting outside customs sheds months after delivery because Ethiopian officials were demanding steep import duties.
Military men and ``civilian'' crews from 12 East- and West-bloc countries cooperate in flying grain inside Ethiopia -- but also maneuver to keep a sharp intelligence and security scrutiny on each other in a mini-version of cold war rivalries.
Military-trained crews on 12 Soviet Antonov transport planes and 22 Soviet helicopters strain to pick up intelligence, while guarding their own secrets, from British and West German Air Force planes and crews, and various planes and crews from Sweden, Belgium, France, Italy, and two civilian US charter planes.
Two big West German Air Force transports based at Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia are forbidden by Ethiopian officials to fly grain further east.
They must offload grain to East German planes to prevent Western crews from spotting Soviet military installations in the Ogaden region near the disputed Somali border.
``We talk to the East Germans and they talk to us,'' said one of the 45 West German military air and ground crew staff at Dire Dawa the other day. ``They certainly know a lot about our planes. Of course, we know a lot about theirs.''
The West German aircraft (Transalls, European-built versions of the US Hercules C-130 with two engines instead of four) pass and check out twice a day a runway hangar containing a large number of Soviet Flogger jet fighters. The Flogger is adapted to strafe troops on the ground.
Soviet Antonovs, together with Libyan planes, are regularly used to fly Eritreans and Tigreans from northern Ethiopia to the south in the government's massive re-settlement program for 900,000 people. When the planes return to Addis, they are washed out with hoses.
From an analysis of the water runoff it has been learned that: the Antonovs fly densely-packed loads of refugees without pressurization; many of the passengers become ill; and cholera is known to be present (thus confirming increasing reports from French and Swedish doctors despite denials by Ethiopian officials).
The Soviets permit no outsiders, even Ethiopian grain handlers, inside their craft at any time. Their biggest planes carry 20 Soviet handlers who run sacks in and out (greatly lengthening loading and unloading times).
Both these darker sides of the massive relief effort contrast with the humanitarian impulses of both government and individual donors abroad, Ethiopian relief workers, and many of the military men themselves.