Noise and Policy: Another Advocacy Debate
Another interesting advocacy debate is conducted at www.bechamilton.com, specifically on a series of three questions posed by the convenor, Bec Hamilton, on “the promise of engagement“:
Question I: Can pressure from citizens ever add a foreign policy issue to the list of traditional national interests? Or can citizens only impact the sense of urgency around an issue that was already a traditional national interest to start with?
Question II: Is citizen advocacy at its most effective when it generates maximum “noise” on an issue, or do citizen advocates need to attach particular policy prescriptions to the noise they make?
Question III: What are the costs/benefits of single issue advocacy? Does the focus on a single issue crowd out the potential to focus on structural changes that would be required to deal with both the single issue and other related issues?
I contributed short postings, discussing the landmines campaign and HIV/AIDS advocacy, but most of the discussion was about Darfur. I hope that this discussion will develop, to include more comparative analyses, for example with the Anti-Apartheid movement, the campaign for nuclear disarmament, the Helsinki Accords, the rights of indigenous minorities, etc. It would also be interesting to relate it to some of the more theoretical/academic approaches to how human rights advocacy can have a practical impact, for example the work of Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders.
Jill Savitt makes the point that “citizen advocacy is most effective when it generates maximum noise about an issue about which there exists a community-supported policy prescription.” I think that’s spot on.
There’s some clarification needed to Erin Mazursky’s posting on May 20, in which she opens:
“In April 2006, 75,000 people assembled on the Washington Mall calling for “peace in Darfur.” The message was simple, and perhaps too simple because a few weeks later the Abuja Accords were signed, fostering an unstable peace in Darfur and a false perception of accomplishment from uninformed activists in the U.S.”
One point is that, it was not a peace rally. In fact, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer was booed when she spoke about the peace negotiations. It was an intervention rally. And it was timed on the very day that the UN Security Council had, earlier in the month, set its deadline for the completion of the Darfur peace talks in Abuja. The U.S. delegation headed by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick left for Abuja the next day and the agreement was concluded, with only one rebel signature, on May 5. Second, immediately after the rally one of Abdel Wahid al Nur’s advisors, who was in north America at the time, called to tell him not to sign the peace agreement because a better deal could be secured, based on an intervention. Abdel Wahid upped his demands for NATO troops for Darfur and refused to sign. From the viewpoint of Abuja, where I was at the time, this was an example of noise attached to the wrong policy prescription, which made a solution more difficult.
Interesting anecdote about the phone call to Abdel Wahid. Presumably that advisor is now fired! But still, I don’t quite get Alex’s point. Suppose it had been the Embassy of Sudan calling the Khartoum negotiators, saying “Better agree to what Abdel-Wahid wants- he really has U.S. public opinion mobilized!” Would that then have meant that the Save Darfur rally was really effective in bringing about peace?
Recounting anecdotes is a poor way of arriving at a generalization. But I suppose we all do it.
Another thing unsettles me. Alex writes,
“Jill Savitt makes the point that â€œcitizen advocacy is most effective when it generates maximum noise about an issue about which there exists a community-supported policy prescription.â€ I think thatâ€™s spot on.”
I don’t again understand the implication. Is the implication that Darfur IDPs did not want a “maximum noise” about their continued displacement? I understand there is some attempt to do polling of IDPs in Chad. But as with polling everywhere, it is largely a matter of how questions are asked. So how does Jillalex propose to arrive at the community-supported policy prescription when the camps are in lock-down? And just to take the argument to the extreme, which “community-supported policy prescription”, even in the benefit of hindsight, should advocacy movements have been pursuing in Rwanda, or during the Holocaust?
And again, to pursue the extreme case, should Czech nationals not have advocated against the Rwanda genocide in 1994 because they did not know any Rwandans and so their advocacy would be very ineffective? Should American not do advocacy against the Iraq war because they are not in touch with any civil society Iraq groups and so their advocacy will not be very effective? Are you setting a sort of an impossible threshold of effectiveness, recommending instead people to stay local and leave international incidents to Condi Rice and John Prendergast, who “know best” because of their jet-setting meetings with prominent civil society figures from foreign lands? Can’t advocates read books and papers and blogs and thoughtful journalists and arrive at conclusions and then act pretty effectively accordingly to influence whomever they are advocating to?
If Jillalex’s statements are to be anything more than platitudes or tautologies (doing better is always better) or rhetoric (I know more than you, so I am more effective than you), there has to be some way of measuring effectiveness (means- mobilizing 100,000 people, and ends- influencing events), and some way of measuring the thing that is supposed to make an advocacy more effective (what the movement “knows”, who it “includes”, how it “sets goals”, and how it operates). My brothers and sisters, we are not very close to having such an understanding.
But as I said before, there is a termite over there that I should now follow.
A critical decision taken at the turning point of a peace negotiation is rather more than an anecdote. The adviser in question continues to be very influential. In addition, at every stage since 2006 if not earlier, the Darfur rebel groups have been rewarded for their intransigence rather than for their readiness to negotiate and compromise.
I am not sure what “lock down” means in terms of consulting with IDPs about what they want. I have been in several camps in the last few weeks and the IDPs had no difficulty in articulating what they wanted. (Not always the same thing.) I don’t think you should read a whole manifesto for action into a single remark.
De Waal is correct. After the SLA leaders became reliant on the rents derived from their global platform including advocacy rents (the lecture fees of their backers, the plane tickets and hotel rooms and publicity for their cause) and negotiation rents (the per diems and cash handouts paid for simply turning up) while those like Minni Arkoy who cut a deal receive only a fraction of that from the NCP, the incentives for signing a peace agreement have been inverted. The NCP will sign anything and doesn’t need anyone to call telling them about protests in the Washington Mall.
Mini minawi after signing the Abuja agrrement was shunned by his former backers,his forces with out external support have gone from beeing the biggest and strongest rebel group in Darfur to one that can be easily pushed aside by JEM as we so in muhajeria. As well as loosing military might sighning a peace deal means giving up your comfortable life style in the west, loosing the glamour of beeing a rebel and be put in an office in Sudan and beeing expected to work. Frankly there is no personal incentive for these rebels to sighn a peace deal with the government,and Abdul Wahid al Nur and others have never struck me as people who will be moved to do the right thing, with out making sure that they benefit.
So until the rebels backers see fit to pressure them to join peace talks I see no way forward.
This is all just like Kerubino Bol… he lived the life in his Kenya hotel room… oh but wait, then he died in a pool of his own blood in Mankien. Or how about that rebel leader Mah. Moh. Taha… he sure did have a life of luxury… maybe you are really thinking of Daoud Bolad- what a faker! But wait, let’s go back in history- I know- these guys are just like Ali Abdel Latif! Or Mohamed Ahmed “al-Mahdi”… or Khalifa Abdullahi! They just sat around in hotel rooms too, holding press conferences and earning per diems (from the Bayt al mal!). They should have joined the British government and done some *real* work. Thanks for helping us understand that rebels should always sign peace deals and join governments and be put in an office- I’ll remind al-Bashir of that when he is planning his next coup!
Ana majnun your prejudices towards the government are stopping you from looking at this conflict with any objectivity what so ever,you suggest that the rebels continue rejecting peace as to spite the government. What about the people have they not had enough of this conflict, do they not deserve peace?
The sudanese government is not a forighn entity for you to try and draw a comparison between it and the British colonial government.
Also your attmept to compare the likes of abdul wahid who is an over hyped bandit,who forments war in sudan from a comfortable distance to Al mahadi,is beyond ludicrouse.
Again the unsubtle sarcasm and pathetic attempts to mock seriouse debate does nothing to help your argument.
“Iâ€™ll remind al-Bashir of that when he is planning his next coup!”
Also you make no sense why would al bashir plan a coup when hes in power? if thats the best attempt you can muster at beeing witty then you should be seriously embarrased.