Thursday, July 13, 2017

Dictates of Conscience and the Humanitarian System

From my forthcoming review essay for Humanity of two recent books on humanitarian action, Hugo Slim's Humanitarian Ethics and Liisa Malkki's The Need to Help:

"Like its charitable precursors in previous eras, today’s humanitarianism is born of a privileged asymmetry of resources. Then as now, the compassionate own the terms of assistance: they determine who deserves what, when and how. Program design, financial accountability and ownership are all largely extrinsic to the disasters where humanitarians intervene. While aid agencies may not explicitly pursue political empire or capitalist expansion, the self-justifying rationale that compassion and solidarity are universal goods is born neither of consent nor dialog with afflicted populations.

Researchers across the spectrum—political scientists to anthropologists—have in the last thirty years begun scrutinizing humanitarian action as an expression of the West’s moral universalism, revealing its asymmetries, Eurocentric projections, and neo-colonial qualities. This field of critique includes many aid veterans and current practitioners, and is in no way a purely scholastic exercise. Yet defenders of humanitarianism appear in print less often than critics because as field practitioners their performance metrics do not involve the peer-review publications common to academia."

Reclaiming Adventure in the Kenai Fjords

New article out in Ocean Paddler #59, Britain's best glossy mag devoted to sea kayaking.

"Rising early for our put-in at Seward, I checked the forecast for 30-knot winds and 6-foot swells. Frothy whitecaps and promising winds were building. Yes, the real Alaska was on its way. But only hours later, pulling on drysuits and ferrying loaded boats to the waterline, the throbbing seas had gone flat, the wind-blasted treetops motionless. It was rejection, the rebuke of a lover, and my mind scrambled in denial. I didn’t come for this. Calm seas and postcard-perfect scenery would get boring fast. 

One pristine, clear day led to the next. Where was my Alaskan adventure? While I ruminated, moody and petulant, Kenai’s incandescent beauty surpassed itself daily. Caves, rock arches and pour-overs were common at the base of high cliffs, and riding incoming swell as it fired into narrow slots required total absorption in body, boat and blade. On open water and in rocky coves, surprise encounters with marine life were frequent. Sea lions, seals and otters, each with bright personalities reminiscent of Archie BunkerSanford and Son; the gambit of 70s sitcoms."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Diffa Region quietly piloting a Boko Haram amnesty policy

In mid-December 2016, in rural Diffa region on Niger’s southern border with Nigeria, fourteen men gave themselves up to authorities. The group said that they were former fighters of Boko Haram and that they had abandoned their weapons in the bush.

News of this impromptu surrender from the Islamist militant group responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and millions of displacements came as a surprise to most in the area. But not to regional authorities.

Since late last year, they had been quietly testing a tactic of asking families whose children have joined Boko Haram to spread word of an amnesty. If they surrendered, fighters were told, they would be pardoned and assisted in rejoining their communities.

Read the rest of my analysis for African Arguments

Friday, March 31, 2017

Cameroon's Far North: Responding to Boko Haram

“With Boko Haram, we joined your club,” mused Mdjiyawa Bakari, the governor of Cameroon’s Far North Region (Extrême-Nord), when we met at his home in Kousseri. The ‘club’ consists of liberal democracies bound by a common dilemma: defeating terrorist insurgencies at home while respecting the laws of war, including civic and human rights. From his veranda we gazed across the Logone River at the dusty skyline of N’djamena, capital of Chad. I was visiting to understand exactly how civilians were coping with the threat—forced displacement, pervasive suspicion of strangers, neighbours, even friends, and a near collapsed economy – posed by this West African affiliate of the Islamic State to this most peripheral region of Cameroon. “Asymmetric war means an invisible enemy playing by other rules,” he continued. “It’s turned our lives upside down.”

Read the rest of my analysis for Oxford Policy Group here