Despite increasingly large scale social protection programmes in Africa, we have limited evidence on the political economy processes involved. We investigate community-based processes for food aid allocation and the role of political and social networks, using the case of Ethiopia in the aftermath of a serious drought. Local political authorities are in charge of food transfers, in terms of free food aid or via work programmes. We find that although targeting is clearly imperfect, free food aid is responsive to need, as well as targeted to households with less access to support from relatives or friends. We also find a strong correlation with political connections: households with close associates in official positions have more than 12 % higher probability of obtaining free food than households that are not well connected. This effect is large as it is equivalent to the impact of an increase in the initial living standard by 150 % on getting food aid. The correlation with political connections is specifically strong in the immediate aftermath of a drought. Payment for food-for-work is also about a third higher for those with political connections. Although these programmes appear to be responsive to need, in future it is crucial to look more closely at the local political economy of these programmes.