Sunday, August 10, 2008


The case of stolen relief food is not new.

Aid workers are selling relief food meant for refugees at Dadaab camp, The Standard on Sunday can confirm.

The workers are diverting the food in collaboration with business people. After a series of muted complaints from the refugees, The Standard on Sunday pitched tent at Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagardera camps to investigate the claims. And true to the complaints, their crew captured on camera the said sale of relief supplies. They traced aid workers as they loaded bags of wheat flour from the stores to deliver the same to a local businessman in Hagardera.

The picture on the left shows food being offloaded from one of the vehicles belonging to a relief agency.
One of the vehicles, a Land Rover, registration number KAD 950R belonging to an aid agency, left the agency’s stores on July 25 at noon and sped to section A at Block A1, where it offloaded sacks of wheat flour before speeding back to base.

Refugees say sale of relief food is the norm. On the eve of every distribution day, it is understood that sacks of food donations are smuggled into traders’ dwellings in a flourishing trade that nets extra pay cheques right under the noses of refugees.

It is an irony of sorts since the mission statement of some of the agencies reads: "…in the service of suffering individuals and families in the poorest communities in the world" and "in the service of the wretched".

Food distribution at Dadaab camps is done twice a month, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The supplies include maize, wheat flour, cooking oil and nutritional porridge.

Every refugee registered with the aid agencies gets 3kg of maize, 3kg of wheat flour and a cup of cooking oil. Those with children get an additional 3kg of nutritious porridge. Food ration has significantly reduced due to changes in the way aid, from rich countries, is financed and delivered to Africa. Some donor nations were dissatisfied with the way the food was distributed.

The United States, top aid donor to Africa for decades, has diverted most of its aid fund to war on terrorism and reconstruction of battered Iraq. However, the little that it donates is often diverted to satisfy self-interests.

"Many are times we are intimidated for raising a finger over the diversion. Some have even threatened to deny us our monthly relief supply if we dare question them," a refugee who sought anonymity at Hagardera said.

At the camp, the illegal sale of relief food by aid workers is referred to as ‘Burmudo’, Somali for "stealing from the poor".

"Some of these aid workers you are seeing have conspired with business people to torment us. They even direct medicines to private clinics and chemists in the refugee camps. And they say they are helping us," mourned another refugee. "Some of the aid workers are good but their silence over the issue makes them accomplices."

Some of the diverted food and medicine have ready market in the larger North-Eastern Province and across the borders in Ethiopia. The supplies are sold locally, including in hotels, with some clearly labelled "Not for sale. From the American people".

A trader whom we asked why he was selling relief food told us it was normal.

To reduce suspicion, the food is sneaked from the stores using the aid agencies’ vehicles to the traders’ homes. It is then ferried to the shops using donkey carts.
The officials in charge of the distribution, as well as the security personnel, are soothed with cash to keep the cartel bonded. With every delivery, the traders repackage the foods to conceal the aid agencies’ trademark. The sacks used are from local manufacturing companies, particularly the National Cereals and Produce Board and Mumias Sugar Company.

In an apparent move to cash in on the current food crisis, the food is transported to Ethiopia, via Wajir, through the Moyale border town. A 90kg bag of maize from the refugee camps is sold at Sh4,000 in Ethiopia, investigation revealed.

Ironically, to prove that Government agencies are not doing their work, The food passes several police roadblocks without the police impounding the consignment.

"We don’t farm here in the refugee camps to produce wheat, maize in such large quantities, yet the Kenyan police allow the consignment to pass through the numerous road blocks without questioning the source," said a refugee.

The supplies are also loaded onto buses that commute between the refugee camps and Garissa town. Refugees claimed some officials use names of colleagues and relatives who were relocated to Europe or US to divert the ration for sale.

CARE officials at the camp, contacted over their personnel who were caught on camera, referred us to their headquarters in Nairobi, as they were not allowed to talk to the press.

However, the UNHCR spokesman, Emmanuel Nyabera, said aid workers are bound by a code of conducts that requires them not to discriminate in aid distribution or engage in corrupt activities.
"We are often vigilant," said Nyabera. "In the event people are found to have gone against the stipulated codes of conduct, action will be taken against the culprit."

Contacted over their personnel caught on camera CARE Country Director Mr Bud Crandall said the organisations had launched investigation.

"We take the allegations seriously and will address the issue seriously," Crandall said.

"At the same time we have to acknowledge that there could be a number of people from other aid agencies involved in the deal and in the event people are found to have gone against the stipulated codes of conduct action will be taken against the culprit".

"Aid workers are guided by a code of conducts that requires them not to discriminate in aid distribution or engage in corrupt activities that could jeopardise their objectives," said Crandall.