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$6m fraud enquiry at centre of AfDB staff assault in Addis Ababa

Premier lender African Development Bank (AfDB) on Wednesday announced that it was pulling out international staff from Ethiopia, after a “serious diplomatic incident” in which its employees were attacked by security officers.

The Abidjan-headquartered lender said that existing Ethiopian staff will continue working under its employment contracts and their Ethiopian office manned by an officer-in-charge. International staff will work remotely in the meantime.

The AfDB’s decision followed what it called a “breach of diplomatic protocol and assault” by Ethiopian security officers on two of its international members of staff, who have diplomatic immunity, in Addis Ababa on October 31, 2023. In addition to the assault, they were arrested, and detained for hours without charge or any official explanation, the bank said. The assault was carried out by security officers at Ethiopia’s Ministry of Finance, during a visit there by the AFDB’s Deputy Director General of the East Africa region also Country Manager Dr Abdul Kamara and another bank staffer.

AFDB’s Deputy Director General of the East Africa region also Country Manager Dr Abdul Kamaran before and after the assault

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had to personally intervene to have the two freed. Various reports say the attacks were engineered by a senior government official at the Ministry of Finance, who was annoyed with the nagging of the AfDB staff over accountability for some disbursed funds.

Many aspects of the incident remain shrouded in mystery. With snooping around, more details are beginning to emerge. The second AfDB official who was beaten up, is John Bosco Bukenya, who was Principal Country Programme Officer.

One of the most revealing accounts of the incident was by @neby_G . – “The arrest and attack was done by the security guards of the @MoF_Ethiopia after the 5.2 million dollars of Ethiopia’s yearly contribution to the bank was never deposited to the bank instead ended up in a bank account in Panama. When the Ethiopian director of @AfDB_Group made it clear that the bank still hadn’t received the funds, he was arrested and physically attacked. When he decided to take all his foreign staff and leave the country out of safety concerns, @AbiyAhmedAli and the finance minister Ahmed Shide showed up at his house to convince to stay only for him to recognise the Finance minister’s security guards as the perpetrators of his arrest and attack. He refused to stay and has left the country. An “investigation” has been opened by the @MoF_Ethiopia to find the whereabouts of the 5.2 million dollars”, he wrote.

New information now suggests that Kamara and Bukenya committed the sin of being diligent and persistent. The two had been sending regular reminders to the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance to pay capital share contributions that Ethiopia had pledged in 2019.

However, the Ministry of Finance had been making the payments, except not to AfDB. It was making disbursements to an account listed in an email purported to be from the AfDB. It had wired $6 million (not $5.2 million) to that account. It turns out, according to these claims, that the account was somewhere in Mexico (not Panama). In any event, whether in Mexico or Panama, the money ended up in central/south America.

The beating of Kamara and Bukenya, therefore, wasn’t a result of an argument in the lift. It was premeditated. As the good folks of East Africa say, they had stepped on some big people’s plates, and needed to be discouraged from pursuing the matter further. It was, ultimately, a fool’s endeavour for the crooked Ethiopian officials, because the money wasn’t owed to Kamara and Bukenya’s private estates. Many fellows in Abidjan would see that it hadn’t landed on their account.

The latest accounts also allege that the incident didn’t happen at the Ministry of Finance. Kamara was reportedly waylaid at his gate in the dusk of Addis Ababa as he arrived home after work. He was roughed up there, blindfolded, and thrown into a car full of armed men. They drove away with him, and after about 30 minutes, dumped him in a dungeon. Shortly after, Bukenya, who had been subjected to the same treatment, was also brought to the dungeon. Bukenya would likely have recognised it quickly as what Ugandan official torturers euphemistically and contradictorily call a “safe house” back home.

Bukenya was allegedly later taken to his home, where his captors carried out a thorough search, and confiscated laptops and phones. All the receipts, as it were.

Because they were in a dark hole, not at some police station in Addis Ababa, there was an alarm once they couldn’t be traced. The beleaguered AfDB fellows called their chief, Akinwumi Adesina. He is a man who has direct lines to presidents, so he called Abiy and the two were released.

African Development Bank President Dr Akinwumi Adesina with PM Abiy in Addis Ababa

They were taken to a UN clinic for treatment and days later evacuated out of Addis Ababa. This latter story of their abduction, being blindfolded, and thrown into a dungeon is likely the truth, because it rises to the level of the traumatic experience that would lead the victims to want out of Addis on the next plane, and to scare the AfDB enough into withdrawing its international staff.

These pan-African institutions like AfDB, the African Union, and others, have a high pain threshold working on the continent. It is called the “This is Africa thick skin”. You have to work very hard to send them into flight.

The incident also gave an unexpected glimpse into PM Abiy’s fragility. That something like that could happen, and he could only intervene after the fact, suggests that he might not be the undisputed king of the Ethiopian hill.

Source: The East African

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