Akinwumi Adesina
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$6m fraud probe at centre of AfDB staff assault in Addis

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African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina during a past media briefing.

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

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 existing Ethiopian staff would continue working under its employment contracts, and the Ethiopian office manned by an officer-in-charge.

International staff will work remotely, in the meantime.

The AfDB’s decision followed a “breach of diplomatic protocol and assault” by Ethiopian security officers on two of its international members of staff who have diplomatic immunity in capital Addis Ababa on October 31, 2023

In addition to the assault, they were arrested and detained for hours without charge or official explanation, the Bank said in a statement.

Security officers are accused of assaulting and detaining AfDB’s Deputy Director-General of the East Africa region and Country Manager, Abdul Kamara, and another bank staffer, John Bosco Bukenya, who was principal country programme officer.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had to intervene to have the pair freed.

Reports say the attacks were engineered by a senior government official, who was annoyed with the nagging of the AfDB employees over accountability for some disbursed funds.

Many aspects of the incident remain shrouded in mystery, but some details are beginning to emerge.

One of the accounts of the incident was by a user on X – formerly Twitter – who uses the handle @neby_G:“The arrest and attack was by the security guards of the @MoF_Ethiopia after the $5.2 million 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 had not 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 finance minister Ahmed Shide showed up at his house to convince him to stay… He has left the country.

An “investigation” has been opened by the @MoF_Ethiopia to find the whereabouts of the $5.2 million.”

New information suggests that Kamara and Bukenya had been sending regular reminders to the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance to pay capital share contributions that the country pledged in 2019.

But the ministry had been making the payments, except not to the AfDB but to an account listed in an e-mail purported to be from the bank.

It had wired $6 million (not $5.2 million) to that account.

It turns out, according to these claims, that the account was in Mexico, not Panama.

The beating of Kamara and Bukenya, therefore, was not a result of an argument in the lift at the Ministry of Finance.

It was premeditated. The two had stepped on some big people’s plates, and needed to be discouraged from pursuing the matter.

The latest accounts also allege that the incident did not happen at the Ministry of Finance. Kamara was reportedly waylaid at his gate at dusk as he arrived home from work.

He was roughed up, blindfolded and thrown into a car that was 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 similar treatment, was also brought to the dungeon.

Bukenya was later taken home, where his captors carried out a thorough search and confiscated laptops and phones.

Because the two AfDB employees were at some police station in Addis Ababa, there was alarm once they could not be traced.

The beleaguered AfDB staff called Bank president Akinwumi Adesina, who called Prime Minister Abiy, and the two were freed.

They were taken to a United Nations clinic in Addis Ababa for treatment and days later evacuated from the capital city.

The incident gives a glimpse into Prime Minister 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.

The EastAfrican reached out to the Prime Minister’s office for comment but they had not responded by the time of going to press.