Politics of Aid in Darfur: The NGO Expulsions Seven Months On
When the 13 aid agencies were expelled from Darfur, about seven months ago, voices were raised about the possible humanitarian implications of this on the people of Darfur.
The Guardian on 5 March 2009 mentioned that “About 4.7 million people rely on food, medical or water aid in Darfur, including 2.7 million people displaced by fighting. The expelled organisations carry out at least 50 per cent of the work there. The article continued “The European Commission called on Sudan to immediately reverse the expulsion orders. “Let’s be very clear, the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are at stake,” said John Clancy, the EC’s spokesman for humanitarian aid.
He continued: “Without these 13 agencies, aid workers said, food aid deliveries for 700,000 people are jeopardized, water pumps could run dry and rust, refugee schools could close, vital medicines could run out, pregnant women could lack prenatal care “” and, in general, life in one of the most forbidding patches of Africa will become even more desperate”.
If these claims were said with a certain degree of accuracy we should be talking now about the death of around one million people in Darfur because of lack of food and other basic services that were solely and exclusively provided by these 13 aid agencies who manage over 60% of the total humanitarian aid funds to Darfur, as the media kept telling us….but…
I have mentioned in this forum that these crises have lots of political reasons rather than humanitarian ones, and that it was a mistake on the part of the NGOs and the policies they serve to try to mix humanitarianism with politics. We also argued that the West still needs to learn a lot about the culture of the corrupt and non-corrupt leaders of Africa. Simply coercion and threats won’t work here. The whole world witnessed Omer El-Bashir, within few hours from the ICC decision, smiling and dancing more than he ever did; over and above he made over five trips outside of the country, in a matter of few weeks in a daring sign of total defiance. That is how the leadership reacts to threats in this part of the world, the more you press them, the more they push you and strike back.
I mentioned in this blog that the government was determined to prove the NGOs are wrong, overrated and useless and that it (the Sudan government) is capable to prove this because it has the political determination and has the resources.
I also argued that the IDPs are not going to die because of the expulsion of the 13 aid agencies, and that life will go on, only with the missing opportunity of the 13 NGOs being (more rational, wise, and professional to stay) in Darfur and provide pure humanitarian services, leaving the politics and the conflict management to the human rights agencies, the advocacy groups and the foreign governments. I guess that is what I understand from humanitarian neutrality and the humanitarian code of conduct. I know also from practical experience of humanitarian program project development that when I start by developing a problem tree (analytical tool) and identify all the causes of the problem and start building my “smart” project objectives to address these causes, I know for sure that I do not and cannot address all the causes, because aid agencies projects, by definition, have limited scopes, resources, capacities, targets, and time frames.
Simply put also, when as an aid agency you are faced with the moral choice of providing much-needed life saving or basic needs services to people, and the choice of taking a controversial political advocacy position (to address the political causes of the problem) that could possibly result in kicking you out of the country of your operation, and hence prevent you from rendering those services to the people who need them, I guess you possibly become morally responsible for increasing those people’s suffering re-victimising them by taking that uncalculated risk. Approaches that attempted to bring together humanitarian and human rights, such as the rights-based approach to humanitarian interventions, faced and is facing serious criticism and dilemmas of clarity when tested at the policy and implementation levels as a result of basic questions of what type of rights to prioritize and emphasize and why (political, economic, civil, social, cultural…etc) mandates to protect these rights, and means of ensuring accountability many of which are beyond the capacity of any organization and will only lead to diversion and waste of efforts.
Dealing with humanitarian operations in conflict settings means we are dealing with complex systems, and there are divisions of roles in any complex system. There exist certain institutions that are mandated to do advocacy work while others do the relief and rehabilitation work and proceed to development when possible or leave that role to others. Political advocacy is not part of the original humanitarian charity work.
Humanitarian work during emergencies stems from the need to lift the immediate suffering of people by meeting their basic survival needs such as access to food, shelter, water, health…etc. This process cannot be political unless we “chose” to make it so. In complex and protracted emergencies, aid agencies has to respect their limits and mandates, while the situation requires a political solution at a different and non humanitarian level and by different players and stakeholders, unless of course we intentionally plan to use the humanitarian aid as a political pressure tool, and hence we take the moral risk of punishing and penalizing the victims with the possible consequences of our actions.
Since the Second World War, the humanitarian aid has gone through various developments necessitated internally by the needs to ensure quality, accountability, effectiveness and sustainability. However, it has also been subject to external influences by government and institutional donors with tendencies to link this purely humanitarian and charity endeavour to some political ends. The case of the pushing aid to take part in the complex formula of the north-south politics (marshal plan, migration prevention policies…etc) and to serve the donors specific political agenda and which evolved to encompass direct involvement by aid agencies in internal conflicts through advocacy and support of political actions, has greatly jeopardised the mission of aid agencies. What happened in Darfur stands as a case in point.
When these aid agencies accepted to take that role, accepted to transform their missions to the politics of interventions in a protracted political conflict, and when the international public propaganda was waged over their subsequent expulsion, it was just another proof that the back donor governments and institutions were merely concerned about the roles these agencies can play for them by being present in Darfur not only to give a political signal (hey we are here) but also to take active role in voicing the politically driven advocacy of these donors, and not actually out of concern about the well being of the IDPs in the camps or what relative humanitarian value these NGOs can bring. It was also, sadly, a proof and an indication of how aid agencies became donor-driven in transforming their own humanitarian agenda and principles.
I am not at all in support of the decision of the government to kick out the NGOs, I have actually called for leaving Luis Moreno-Ocampo to do his job, while aid agencies do their own jobs and focus on the humanitarian support for the IDPs and on the services that can build and bring local peace.
Seven months after the expulsion of the 13 NGOs, I am interested to see if there is any study that can provide evidence of the deterioration of the humanitarian situation of the IDPs that is proportional (in number of deaths and access to services) to the claimed over 50% reduction of aid funds and 80% reduction of services coverage as a result of the expulsion decision?
Simply, if the effect was not proportional to these percentages of funding and coverage, a very legitimate question should be raised: What were those largest 13 international aid agencies doing in Darfur if the loss of their huge funds was not significantly felt? A question that I hope they will ask themselves.