- Yegna are a five-strong group that aim to empower women
- Is part of a £30million scheme called Girl Hub that also operates in Nigeria
- Have their own radio show but it only reaches half the population
- Group given £3.8m by the UK Department for International Development
UK taxpayers have picked up a £4million bill to fund Ethiopia’s own Spice Girls.
Yegna, a five-strong group, have launched a radio show and released a string of videos that aim to empower women in the African country.
But even Ethiopian critics of the project say the money is being wasted because the show reaches only a quarter of the population.
In Britain, the TaxPayers’ Alliance said the £10billion aid budget should not be squandered in this way.
Ethiopia has become one of the biggest recipients of British funds, despite being an autocratic one-party state. The new Yegna ‘entertainment brand’, established in April, is part of a £30million scheme called Girl Hub that also operates in Nigeria and Rwanda.
Like the original Spice Girls, the band members each have a nickname. Teref Kassahun, 26, plays the spoiled brat, Lemlem Hailemicheal, 26, a tomboy known as the defender, Zebiba Girma, 22, the mysterious character, Eyerusalem Kelemework, 27, is the genius and Rahel Getu, 22, the dependable one.
Lyrics to one of their songs, This House, included: ‘Women are sisters, women are mothers, women are wives. Let’s respect them. Tell that guy to respect girls and we will respect him.’
Yegna is behind a twice-weekly radio drama and talk show for adolescent girls. They have been given £3.8million by the Department for International Development and £800,000 by the Nike Foundation.
A DfID spokesman said girls in Ethiopia faced challenges such as forced marriage, violence, teen pregnancy and dropping out of school.
‘Yegna addresses these issues using role models to champion the potential of Ethiopian girls in ways which are accessible and relevant,’ said the spokesman. But the Yegna radio broadcasts on Sheger FM in Addis Ababa and on other radio stations in the Amhara region, reach only 20million of the country’s 80million people.
Last year the Girl Hub project was condemned by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. Its report warned of serious deficiencies in governance and told of an unacceptable lack of child protection policies. Girl Hub has also been accused of ‘poor budgeting and financial monitoring’.
Matthew Sinclair of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘Taxpayers are fed up of their hard-earned cash being spent on projects that don’t deliver meaningful aid to recipients.
‘It’s time to reassess DfID spending and focus money on things like disaster relief, so that taxpayers and recipients get a good deal.’
Tory MP Philip Davies described Girl Hub as ‘a complete waste of money’. ‘It can only reinforce the view that DfID have got far too much money,’ he said. ‘They have got so much that they are struggling to find ways to spend it and you end up with projects like this.’
A source told the Mail that Yegna had proved lucrative for the five young women: ‘They came from poor backgrounds, three of them worked for a theatre company. Now they are rich in comparison.’ Overseers of the three-year project allegedly spent £16,000 of the funding on having a famous singing star in one of the girls’ music videos. DfID has denied this claim.
The managing director of an Ethiopian media company working to empower women said he could run his project for 154 years at the same cost as the Yegna initiative. Moges Tafesse, from Synergy Habesha, said: ‘To me, the project does seem very expensive.’
Mr Tafesse said his show, Finote Heawan, will be broadcast on FM97 – a government-owned radio station the entire country can listen to.
A media commentator, who did not want to be named, said: ‘Putting on the radio show is nonsense.
This kind of empowering women has to be aimed at the people in the countryside – it is those girls who are abandoned.
Those girls who are in the city with access to the show have got their education and know about their rights.’
Lemlem told the Mail: ‘It is definitely worth the cost – it is an amazing issue. It means a lot to Ethiopia and we are using the money effectively. It is a big change.
‘We are like the Spice Girls except our music is not just for entertaining – it is educational.’