Doing good less badly
Learning from human rights and humanitarian crises in Africa
For the past half century international humanitarian and human rights organisations have responded to recurrent emergencies—in Africa and elsewhere—involving political instability, nutritional crisis, large-scale displacement and unconstrained violence against civilians. Humanitarian actors stress ethical purpose and operational effectiveness, yet the norm for humanitarian operations is, in most respects, failure.
Although emergency response has been professionalised and the effects of disasters mitigated, crises have become more frequent and protracted, and the extent of suffering and displacement has grown. In most affected countries space for civil society is diminishing; and basic freedoms are under threat. Humanitarian workers, civil society activists and human rights defenders have become targets.
The political dimensions of complex emergencies have been well documented. They include misgovernment, corruption and militarisation in affected countries; inequity and exploitation in the global economy; and misconceived or maleficent interventions on the part of external powers. Are humanitarians, civil society activists and proponents of human rights helpless in the face of these forces? Are there useful lessons to be learned, truths to be told?
This course will examine the idea that closer attention to historical and cultural realities and local understanding of external interventions can explain some of the intractable aspects of current crises. It will be informed both by on-the-ground experience and by anthropological research, with the principal focus on narratives and case studies drawn from African countries—including abduction and slavery in the Sudans, local peace processes in the wider eastern African region, female genital cutting (FGC), the global landmine ban campaign, and the current acceleration of out-migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe.
• Deepen understanding of challenges facing humanitarian interventions, civil society activism and human rights advocacy, in Africa and elsewhere.
• Increase knowledge of real-world problems in Eastern Africa and attempts to address these.
• Acquire tools for a critical approach to human rights and humanitarian operations, informed by insights drawn from practice and research.