Former Boomtown Rat Sir Bob Geldof don't like Wednesday's report from the BBC alleging that essentially all of the money raised during 1985's Live Aid/Band Aid rock extravaganzas—including the big cash generated by best-selling tunes ("Do they know it's Christmas?", "We are the world") associated with the globally popular effort to relieve the suffering of war and famine victims in Ethiopia—was stolen by rebels and diverted to weapons purchases and graft.
The BBC quotes former rebel leaders who claim to have posed as merchants in meetings with charity workers to get aid money during the 1984-85 famine. They used the cash to fund attempts to overthrow the government, according to the report, and later to personal and political use. According to the BBC: "One rebel leader estimated that $95m (£63m) - from Western governments and charities, including Band Aid - had been used for military purposes." The BBC report is accompanied by a declassified CIA brief from 1985 which notes the likelihood of aid diversion to funding the ongoing conflict.
Geldof dismissed the charges. He told The UK Times that “it would be a . . . . tragedy” if the British people stopped giving to charity because of allegations made by the same broadcaster that inspired him to fight poverty and hunger in Africa.
Christian Aid, one of the charities allegedly duped, for its part responded vigorously to the BBC allegations:
“On 3 March, the BBC published a story in which Christian Aid is mentioned alongside claims that aid for the 1984 famine was diverted to buy weapons. This is against all of Christian Aid’s principles and our investigations do not correspond to the BBC’s version of events. Christian Aid is disappointed that a story from more than 25 years ago, solely based on the testimony of a former rebel leader has been published by the BBC. Christian Aid has robust systems in place to monitor all emergency relief donations and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches the most vulnerable, regardless of any political, ethnic or religious affiliations they may have.”
The BBC reports how the rebel agents deceived Western aid workers:
"I was given clothes to make me look like a Muslim merchant. This was a trick for the NGOs," said Gebremedhin Araya. Underneath the sacks of grain he sold, he says, were sacks filled with sand. He said he had handed over the money he received to TPLF leaders, including Mr Zenawi.
Mr Gebremedhin's version of events was supported by the TPLF's former commander, Aregawi Berhe.
Now living in exile in the Netherlands, he said the rebels had put on what he described as a "drama" to get the money.
"The aid workers were fooled," he said.
He said that some $100m had gone through the hands of the TPLF and affiliated groups.
Some 95% of it was allocated to buying weapons and building up a hard-line Marxist political party within the rebel movement. Both Mr Aregawi and Mr Gebremedhin fell out with the TPLF leadership and fled the country.