Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Humanitarianism in Africa

Thoughts on Returning from a conference at University of California Irvine: Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa

The following points touch on what I’m thinking now but are in no way a summary of what was actually presented at the conference, where numerous viewpoints and opinions were expressed. I believe you can get copies of the actual papers from the Center for Global Peace and Conflict in a few months. More than anything I became cautioned to be conscious of my actions and how they affect others, and to be conscious of my motives and of my expectations.

1. Story is Powerful. Stories create definitions, meanings. What does it mean to be human? What are “Human Rights”? What do caring, assistance, aide, mean to us and to The Other? Who “owns” children- parents, the state- who defines children’s rights? Can we really see The Other or can we only see our story of them? We shouldn’t assume our definitions are the same as The Other’s and that our memories or meanings are the same. As I use it here, “The Other” could be anyone across the table from us, or across the world.

2. Image is Powerful. Will we continue to see The Other’s age, gender, and race? What assumptions do I make on these fault lines? Am I really blind in any of these areas? Do attributes that we can "see" dominante because they are easier than digging beneath the surface to get to know an individual?

3. Duality of interest can create danger. Dualities of interest can exist on many fronts: Government Interests vs. Individual Human Rights, Religious Conformity vs. Individual Human Rights, Corporate Profits vs. Human Rights, Economics vs. Human Rights, NGO Sustainability vs. Community Self-sustainability, World Bank Business Principals vs. Human Rights Agendas, The Press Release Sound Bite vs. Real Time to make an Impact, Measurable Return on Investment vs. Immeasurable Needs, and the Collective vs. the Individual. Much lack of progress and outright harm seems to be tied to these dual agendas. Our own agendas are sometimes hidden, even from ourselves, and need to be examined carefully before we take action that will impact others.

4. Solutions for Africa are solutions for everywhere. Victims are everywhere and so are perpetrators and rescuers. The focus of NGOs and Foreign Aide is usually on the victims, but don’t we also need to focus on rehabilitation and education of the perpetrators? Approaching a perpetrator with force and use of International Law may be critical to stop the victimization, but what then? For example, how do child soldiers or violent gang members go on from there? How does a country go on without a leader? How does a victim reclaim power without becoming the next perpetrator? How do we break the eye-for-an-eye cycle of violence before an umanageable majority end up in prison?

5. It takes cooperation and resources from every player to progress human rights. The State, the individual, the NGOs, foreign aide, academics, religious organizations, international leaders, and community leaders all have to contribute.

6. None of these thoughts is meant to imply anyone should give up. It is critical each and every one of us realizes and hones our unique skills, then finds the world’s greatest need for those skills. Answering the call to follow our passion will hopefully empower others to do the same.

1 comment:

sam said...

I think that to change things it always has to start with the mind. One has to wonder if our own beliefs and culture hinders our ability to make progress in countries where we don't understand their culture - I mean truly understand, not from books or spending a few years there in humanitarian efforts... just wondering, not pretending to have any answers here, just wondering