“A Morally Bankrupt Institution”: How the UN is Betraying Ethiopia

Jeff Pearce
12 min readMay 12, 2021

Lies, Intimidation, Threats — All to Help the Phony Tigray Genocide Narrative

We now know why you’re not learning the whole truth about Tigray. Because the United Nations doesn’t want you to know. And now the evidence is available that its senior officials have fabricated information and forced Ethiopians themselves in their own country to fall into line with a narrative agenda set by others.

According to multiple sources, officials for UN offices based in Addis Ababa and in Tigray are routinely intimidating, harassing and threatening Ethiopian staff, demanding they falsify data and help create fictional information — or they won’t be paid. The practice is happening across several UN agencies, and the Ethiopian staffers are “absolutely sick and living in fear, and some are looking for new jobs.”

“I know that the UN is a large bureaucratic organisation,” says one source. “But I always believed that it could still make a contribution in the world. Based on this experience in Tigray, I can say without hesitation that it is a morally bankrupt institution.”

An Ethiopian working for a UN agency in Mekelle has family members who are Tigrayan but claims that the TPLF have inserted themselves so far into the hierarchies of African organizations and UN agencies as to have a severe influence on policies and programs.

Experienced in working with the UN for years, he says that about three or four months ago, a senior UN official, a Westerner, threatened to have its New York bureau investigate local staffers because they wouldn’t deviate from the established protocols for disbursing development funds and “none of the staff are writing to release money to Tigray.”

Equally disturbing is how UNICEF is not working to help the Tigray region get back on its feet but is actively helping the TPLF keep it in a state of ruin and subjugation to the guerrilla force.

“When we were in Mekelle,” says one experienced worker for the education cluster of the aid initiative, “we were getting reports from UNICEF and other organizations that most of the schools were damaged and couldn’t be opened to hold [national] exams.”

USAID and UNICEF were supposed to help facilitate the exams. “So, we believed the reports that the schools were embezzled, people were getting hurt, and the schools were hosting IDPs [internally displaced persons].” He and others drove to Shire High School one morning where “absolutely nothing had happened.” Teachers confirmed that both they and the venue were ready for the exams. But UNICEF officials had told the regional education bureau workers that “the schools were all damaged, and that the IDPs were using the chairs to cook on… They were feeding the international community false information. Everything they were telling us was false.”

Liyu Hail — Special Forces within the Tigray militia — made a systematic effort to threaten young students from sitting for their exams, sending them letters that promised they would be killed if they tried. They also threatened teachers. Following the arrival of UNICEF, most teachers, in fact, refused to participate “because they said it wasn’t safe, and that the schools were being destroyed, and security was not good enough.” Nevertheless, many students were willing to accept the risk as passing the exams could greatly affect their future.

“So we went to Axum,” says the education cluster worker. “No IDPs, and the school’s fine. When we got to Shire on the [appointed] day, they [UNICEF officials] knew we were coming, so they brought in buses with IDPs and showed up just before we got there. So we had to rent a building and run the exam without using the school, which was in absolutely good condition.” The busloads of IDPs “were only for show, and they took them away.”

UNICEF could have arranged for all the schools to be opened, but “the international agencies and NGOs did not want this to happen. The students were crying because this is their future, they would have lost a year. They are 18- and 19-year-olds.” When they came to Shire, the proctors had to be flown in from Addis. “None of the [local] teachers participated.”

Twelve thousand students had originally been registered to take the exams in Tigray. In the end, only 812 students were able to sit for their examinations. One hundred and two students had to go to a rented building in Shire to take their exams.

According to its own website, UNICEF is an international charity that’s supposed to defend children’s rights and help them fulfil their potential. Every Christmas, you see in the West TV commercials for a UNICEF fundraising drive. It’s had goodwill ambassadors of famous names like Audrey Hepburn in the past to David Beckham and Serena Williams today.

But now UNICEF acts as an accomplice to a terrorist organization. It has deliberately tried to sabotage the education of thousands of young Ethiopians. So why should anyone believe a word out of the mouth of its spokesperson James Elder? And since he was there in Tigray, it would be interesting to know what Elder has to say about his organization’s conduct.

Open Contempt for Ethiopia’s Sovereignty

What emerges from these accounts is a systematic pattern of open contempt for Ethiopian sovereignty and Ethiopians themselves. A major incident showcases the trouble.

The understanding has been that both sides are supposed to follow the formal agreement for an “Enhanced Coordination Mechanism for Humanitarian Access,” for which the ink was barely dry, being worked out near the end of last November. It specifically states that the two sides must cooperate on clearance and access.

But last December, you’ll recall the headlines when a UN convoy ignored repeated warnings and pleas of security officers and barged past checkpoints where it wasn’t supposed to go. Federal soldiers fired on the vehicles and detained UN staff for breaking the deal worked out with the Addis government over humanitarian access.

A meeting was held between Ethiopia’s Minister of Peace Muferihat Kamil and UN officials on the ground. It did not go well.

According to a highly placed ministry source, when the UN officials were asked why they entered regions against the spirit and letter of the framework, they replied, “We had an authorization.”

Muferihat Kamil demanded to see it. The UN officials then hemmed and hawed and took their time, looking through papers, going through the motions with a great show of “Where did I put that?” The Ethiopians were not impressed. Show us the paperwork.

The UN officials couldn’t. Because it didn’t exist.

They had to admit that they didn’t have formal authorization and had trespassed into areas they had no business entering. They issued an apology, which got far less media attention than the initial story about the firing incident.

In this example, the UN officials were caught red-handed. What is more sinister is how the facts recorded in Tigray itself are being revised and re-engineered in New York.

Access to Tigray has been made available “for everyone,” i.e. the humanitarian organizations — all that’s needed is “an email notification from them to let us know when they would like to go and what organization.” Yet Western media continues to push the line that aid groups have limited or no access.

Last month, the head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs at the time, Mark Lowcock, told a closed-door meeting of the Security Council that 150 people had died from hunger in the Ofla district in Tigray. The report surprised Ethiopian officials, who asked, “Where are you getting this from? Where’s the evidence for this?” Interviews with numerous local managers suggest that no individuals there had died of starvation. In fact, the Commissioner of the National Disaster and Risk Management Commission challenged the media to show him or take him to a place where the UN claims of hunger could be verified.

No one in Western newsrooms, however, seems to have bothered to ask, What is the source for this damning accusation? The Commission has no record of it, nor did it even come from UN aid employees in Tigray — who have regular meetings with all the umbrella agencies. In fact, according to one source, they told Ethiopian officials:

“We apologise for this — it’s our offices in New York who feel they can ignore the real situation on the ground and publish whatever they want… We pleaded [with country managers]to tell the truth, and they said that we were not allowed to communicate these reports up the chain.”

Everything in this maze of deceit is, of course, connected. It can be no accident that Alex de Waal, BFF of TPLF hierarchy, ramped up his posts, articles, and interviews over alleged starvation tactics in March and April to push his personal research agenda to the UN at its March meeting on food insecurity, and a statement by the UN Secretary-General carries its own automatic validation. No international media outlet held de Waal accountable for circulating fabricated accounts of slain mango trees that Mulugeta Gebrehiwot provided to him. The tactical goals here are obvious: not only does this push the narrative that Ethiopia is “starving” Tigray — despite the fact that the TPLF was starving Tigray long before November 4 — it also increases pressure to give the UN and aid groups a blank check of access.

Open, unmonitored access will ensure aid goes right to TPLF guerrillas. Never forget, the TPLF were the ones who literally stole half a million dollars and gave aid workers bags of sand.

Maybe it’s already happening. According to one source, diversion of food “is being orchestrated by the UN agencies and people are very, very angry… Food meant for certain communities is not going there in some cases, so we are asking, where is it being diverted to?” Gone almost unnoticed, and with no follow-up at all, is the fact that the TPLF has already resorted to looting aid shipments, including medical supplies.

The lies, however, keep coming. The nutrition cluster of the aid initiative is chaired by the regional bureau of health and co-chaired by the regional hub of UNICEF. It came up with a screening process to take a sample of women and children under five at risk of malnutrition. But for a region that has 7 administrative zones and a population of close to 6 million, they decided on a sample size of only 200 people.

This study was used as evidence supporting USAID’s recent warning over Tigray being on the brink of famine — and is built on a house of cards. At the national level, Ethiopia has had a famine early warning system in place for years which works in coordination with the National Disaster and Risk Management Commission (NDRMC) — USAID is part of that shared network. To arrive at a conclusion of famine takes methodological rigour and analysis.

But another source reports that USAID completely ignored the network, came up with a long-term forecast based on old data from 1975, its paltry sample set, and inflated numbers. USAID officials then tried to get the state minister for the Ministry of Finance, Yasmin Wohabrebbi, to sign off on it, bypassing both nutrition cluster stakeholders and the NDRMC. But “she did not approve this and said it must go through the normal process and procedure to be approved.”

In the end, USAID went public with its forecast anyway. Ignoring coordination with their Ethiopian partners has become standard practice for UN agencies. Sources say officials for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs “continuously” upload information on the UN relief web website without bothering to check at all with the other coordinators of the group initiative. This is, by the way, how the OCHA included in its Situation Report of March 8 that the TPLF wrote a letter to the president of the UN Security Council and “expressed its readiness to facilitate humanitarian access to relief operations to areas under their control” — a statement that shocked many of their partners on the ground.

All the communications are supposed to have joint approval, “but they are not including any of us. This is against protocols. The system is that all reports should be approved by the National Disaster Risk Management Commission…but it is not happening.”

Ignoring and circumventing the Ethiopians can sometimes lead to situations that are not only needlessly divisive and inefficient but downright farcical. Tigray is not cattle country. It ain’t Wyoming — most of the livestock areas are in the pastoral regions. But that didn’t stop a UN official from developing a recovery plan of $250 million U.S. to support the agricultural sectors, with about half to be allocated for replenishing livestock.

Ethiopian aid workers asked him if he knew how many livestock had existed in Tigray before the law enforcement operation. The UN official couldn’t provide any data — which begs the question of what informed the significant budget supporting “livestock replacement.”

“They requested to declare an agricultural sector crisis on top of a state of emergency,” says the source. “Why do we need an agricultural sector crisis declared? This was all to create pressure by the international community and blame the government. They said that as long as the federal government did not take this money, it was not responding to our actions.”

Meanwhile, instead of caring for refugees, the UN seems to have gone into the human trafficking business.

Closing Doors and Aiding Terrorists

When Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, he asked the UN if refugee camps such as Hitsats and Shembelle could be moved further away from Eritrea. Fifty kilometres is international “good practice” — the camps were only about 20 kilometres from the border. In suggesting this, the Abiy government wanted to comply with UN policy and regulations, but it also made sense from a security standpoint. The TPLF then was anxious to infiltrate Eritrean territory, and the camps provided bases to do it. Eritrea’s President Isaias knew this, which was yet another inducement to break bread with Abiy and normalize relations.

But no, said the UN. It refused to move the camps. And just to make things cozier, UN workers have actively perpetrated fraud, helping the TPLF and its network — for a large per person fee — masquerade as Eritrean refugees seeking asylum abroad.

According to the rules, which aren’t unique by any means to Ethiopia, if refugees migrate to the capital or other communities, and if they don’t have family members or require prolonged assistance, they’re supposed to be transported back to the camps. But after the November attack on the ENDF, the UN made a point of stonewalling the federal government. Suddenly, UN transportation wasn’t available, and the government needed to use its own resources to relocate these individuals.

“We have one cluster called a ‘protection cluster’ co-chaired by the ministry of women and youth and co-chaired by UNHCR — to protect vulnerable people, elderly, women and children, marginalised, vulnerable — but most of the employees deployed from the UN side to support this cluster seem only interested in collecting evidence of human rights issues and are presiding as activists rather than focused on helping protecting the people.”

The UN seems to be treating Ethiopia as a de facto colony. One senior advisor says a constant request by Peace Minister Muferihat Kamil is for better coordination of media and communications management. UN agencies agreed several times with her to correct the problem. Each Friday in Mekelle, weekly meetings are held for all the stakeholders — education, humanitarian efforts, security, along with every ministry office and regional bureau office.

But it turns out that white, Western UN staff have been going into closed-door meetings and excluding Ethiopians and other African workers. “It is so non-transparent and also unethical,” says a source.

All of this is a huge tragedy for Ethiopia, a clear betrayal by what are supposed to be impartial agencies acting on behalf of the world’s highest political forum and arbiter of international law. If Ethiopians can’t count on the UN, who else is left? Worse, the U.S., the UK and the EU all take their cues from what the UN reports say is happening on the ground.

And now we know it’s lying. And it’s helping terrorists try to rip a nation apart.

And wherever you’re reading this, whatever country you’re in, you might well ask with grave concern: What else is being done in the UN’s name and with its resources? If it’s playing favorites in Ethiopia, can we trust what it’s doing in other conflicts?

This past weekend, a long catalogue of TPLF disinformation, along with the Western media’s complete failure to expose it, was published online. So far, none of the major news websites has even bothered to notice the report.

Will they pay attention to the UN’s corruption? In fact, will they acknowledge that staying oblivious leaves another stain on their journalistic integrity? Or does the rot need to happen in a conflict zone where the Americans can’t tolerate it, and where it runs counter to the interests of their friends and assets?

Ethiopians are still waiting for the truth to come out. So far, all they see on the horizon are more accomplices of their enemies.



Jeff Pearce

Writer person. Books - Prevail, The Karma Booth, Gangs in Canada; in June 2021, Winged Bull, a bio of Henry Layard, the Victorian era’s Indiana Jones.