Short Article on CLA’s

Indian commander

In October Forced Migration Review – “the most widely read publication on forced migration; available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic, and free of charge in print and online” – published it’s latest issue on community-based protection. I contributed a short article on UN Peacekeeping’s Community Liaison Assistants (CLAs) that you can find online here and the printed PDF here (the latter is visually more appealing). CLAs are a great instrument and deserve more attention and support. I have worked on  CLAs since 2013 and wrote MONUSCO’s CLA Best Practice Review, which is available here. Get in touch, if you want to get more into the subject.

In addition,  the Policy and Best Practice Section in DPKO’s & DFS’ joint Policy, Evaluation and Training Division (DPET) should soon release a review on the global implementation of CLAs. It is not yet clear whether that will be made publically available.

On the run

Yesterday, I finished Alice Goffman’s captivating ethnography about the lives of young black men that are bound up with the American criminal justice system from their childhood onwards. Most of us don’t realize it, but prisons in the US are a scary thing. They are a humongous and ugly industry, incarcerating five to nine times more people than western European countries and, far more than the authoritarian regimes of China and Russia. Approximately 3 percent of adult Americans are either in prison, jail or on parole. And what makes these numbers even scarier is that black men, and especially ‘poor’ black men, are much more likely to go to prison and suffer the life-alternating consequences.

But while the statistics are shocking, Goffman provides a powerful highly-readable account of the realities for a group of young men and their loved ones and family, living around Philadelphia’s 6th Street. From her vivid descriptions, the reader comes to understand that entanglement with the law is not just a couple of guys making bad choices, nor does it affect only their lives alone. Rather, the criminal justice system has a central role in shaping poor, urban black communities by pressing young black men into detention and functioning as organizing principles for their communities. Like Goffman during her impressive 6 years of fieldwork for this project, we come to sympathize with the described individuals, and maybe more importantly, we come to feel the injustice.

It is therefore bewildering, that much attention has been drawn to mild inaccuracies and the possibility that the author might have committed a crime during her ethnographic research. After reading the book, I am furious about these accusations, not because I think they are necessarily incorrect, but because they certainly derail the conversation. There is a point in discussing the methods and ethics of Goffman’s research process, for instance, during an anthropology course, but not in the public dialogue about her book, which should be on… you guessed it… its pressing content.

Wold Humanitarian Summit: What results

Last week (May 23-24) the World Humanitarian Summit was organized. The first of its kind and a product of long preparation, the event brought together some 9000 participants from 173 of the UN’s 193 member states, as well as civil society organizations and NGOs. Some of the Successes were:
– The even itself: everybody (or their representatives) coming together and giving public attention to the pressing issues
– 1500 individual commitments and lots of exciting initiatives
– An education fund for children in emergencies with 90$ million already pledged
– A “Grand Bargain” for humanitarian financing, with donors and aid organizations pledging that 25% percent of aid will be given directly to local NGOs (giving them a bigger share of the cake); complexity of report will be cut and more aid will be given in the form of cash transfers, meaning that affected population will get money instead of aid organizations deciding what to buy for them.
On the other hand there were also a number of shortcomings:
– Despite the recognition of the need for political leadership, no real commitments were made and the world’s most powerful leaders were frustratingly absent
– The over 1500 individual commitments are mostly fragmented, a lot of small initiatives have been launched; individual actors committing to individual action thus no consistent commitments.
– Finally, there is no action plan of how to move all the debated issues forward.
For more information and analysis, see the following blogs that I found quite insightful: IRIN, ODI, GPPI and some expert voices.

 

 

Timothy Raeymaekers’ Violent Capitalism and Hybrid Identity in the Eastern Congo Power to the margins

Editor’s note: This review will be published slightly differently in the near future.

Timothy Raeymaekers’ assesses that stereotypical and simplistic understandings about state failure and chronic violence in central Africa, such as the thesis of economic greed, have not led to great insights about either the mechanisms at work, or the emerging orders. As a consequence, Raeymaekers approaches the “constant crisis” in eastern Congo through investigating every day decision-making and its long-term consequences in an “ethnography of critical life worlds” (P.4). Specifically, he focuses on a seemingly marginal group of transnational trader networks in northeastern DRC. He describes how these businessmen of the Nande community have dealt with uncertainty and insecurity over the last century, and how these coping strategies have increasingly appropriated the state.

Raeymaekers explains that the Nande played a central role for the capitalist expansion into eastern Congo’s borderland since 1900. He describes how a combination of political marginalization and protestant work ethic led to the development of a high degree of self-reliance and a strong commercial tradition in the Nande community. Nande traders continuously expanded their successful commercial activities and increasingly asserted themselves against colonial domination. They were subsequently able to use Congo’s post-independence turmoil as a business opportunity, thus riding “the wave of the crisis and bending it to their personal advantage (P.66). This capacity seemed to characterize Nande elites through Mobuto’s reign and the international conflicts of the 1990s and early 2000s, particularly during the second Congo war. While most of the East was plagued by violence, the Nande managed to maintain relative peace and stability through paying off armed actors and engaging in de facto governance.

Through the historical descriptions and detailed examples, Raeymaekers argues convincingly that the informal arrangements of Nande businessmen, concerning for example cross-border trade taxation or the provision of security, became increasingly formalized, in this way transforming local political institutions and unexpectedly leading to new forms of hybrid governance. The description cautions, however, that the “broker” role of Nande businessman also made them complicit as “to avoid redundancy, they have to simultaneously maintain the tension” (P.145). Raeymaekers specifies that as much as Nande businessmen stabilized and developed their heartland during the armed rebellion, they also instigated violence and terror in order to maintain the upper hand in the standoff between political institutions after 2003 (P.133-137). This leads to the question of Nande involvement in the mysterious mass killings in Beni territory between October 2014 and December 2015, which arguably give Raeymaekers research and argument an unsolicited actuality. Although the book is mainly based on fieldwork between 2000 and 2008 and therefore not addressing these issues directly, the provided analysis is very useful for making sense of the more recent killings.

A glimpse on the predatory state

 

Perception Taxe Kopie

The Congolese state, from its colonial origins through the Mobuto dictatorship to Kabila’s regime, has widely been described as „exploitative“ and „predatory“ (e.g. here). In practice, this means that power is used arbitrarily and abusively to squeeze resources out of common people. As an expat working for an international organization you miss most of that. Your special status and the bubble you live in safely shield you from being confronted with such inconvenience. You don’t pay any of the creative “taxes” and quickly pass, for example, the checkpoints which are used to extract money form the population. Seeing these things through the lens of the legal-rational (Weberian) state, you come to think of them as normal regulatory and security measures.

During recent fieldwork in the Congolese countryside, however, I was able to catch a glimpse of reality. Without the “carte de service” that identified me as belonging to a powerful international organization, all kinds of semi-officials and authorities laid claim on my freedoms and ultimately my money. Roadblocks became real obstructions and in every location, I had to register with the administration, the immigration service (DGM), the security forces (FARDC & PNC) and the intelligence service (ANR). Such situations represent ample opportunities for establishing “infractions” and subsequent demands. The difference to normal Congolese people is that I remain privileged and never really feel vulnerable. I am aware of my special status, which protects me from abuses, and increasingly use it in negotiations. As a consequence, these situations are more annoyances – costing me time, energy and money – than they are threats. However, by the behavior of those “agents”, you get an idea of what it would be like to have no power at all and be completely at the mercy of such agents. This is probably an exaggeration as ordinary citizens have agency and negotiations always take place, but it leaves me wondering, if experiencing such a sporadic glimpse of reality is necessary to understand governance and coping strategies. Timothy Raeymaekers writes in this regard that “one should always remain aware of the often intricate ways in which daily attempts to avoid risks, increase predictability, and make a living profoundly inform political rule systems” (2015, P.151). It follows that such an understanding might be needed to successfully work on any kind of reform in this country. If that’s true, could such experiences be made part of a cheap and effective introductory course for new arrivals?

 

Article in German Development Magazine

Im November hat das entwicklungspolitische Magazin Welt-Sichten eine Ausgabe zu UN Friedensmissionen veröffentlicht. Die ganze Ausgabe kann hier runtergeladen werden, mein Artikel zu der Situation im Kongo ist hier einsehbar. Lustigerweise ist unter den ausgesuchten Bildern mein indischer Arzt vertreten. Viel Spaß bei der Lektüre, Feedback und Kommentare sind wie immer Willkommen.

UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians

Open debate

Last week I watched the 18th “Open Debate on Protection of Civilians” in armed conflict at the UN Security council. This event takes place once a year and represents an important forum for member states, i.e. the world’s governments, to discuss the issue and position themselves. As this month’s president of the Security Council, Uruguay chaired the debate, and UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, the ICRC’s Vice President Christine Beerli and Oxfam Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor Eveline Rooijmans provided briefings. Subsequently, many member states’ representatives, including Iran, Montenegro and the Holy See, gave their respective statements. As usual, these statements expressed great concern for civilian victims of today’s armed conflicts, but there also seemed to be a sense that “civilians in conflict are in greater risk now than at any time in the UN’s history” (New Zealand), which is reflected by the record high of 60 million displaced people. Statements also referred to this year’s worrying trends. Virtually every speaker condemned the attacks on hospitals in Afghanistan and Yemen, the use of starvation as a weapon of war in Madaya and 14 other areas in Syria, the increasing attacks against journalists and the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas.

Speakers were also in agreement concerning the solutions to civilian’s plight in armed conflict, again, referring to the above mentioned documents. Accordingly, they stressed the need for political solutions, specifically for dedicating more attention to preventing and meditating violent conflict. Burundi was often mentioned as a case in point, as the Security Council mission left for the country the next day – quite late but hopefully able to avoid worse. Speakers agreed that compliance to International Humanitarian Law needs to be ensured through applying and reinforcing the existing accountability tools of (international) criminal justice. Statements also referred to a number of operational issues for UN peacekeeping, such as the need for realistic and clear mandates, more engagement with local communities and regional organizations, well-equipped and quickly deployable peacekeepers, and a commitment to zero tolerance for sexual abuse and exploitation by UN staff. Speakers expressed hope that the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (May 23/24) would lead to fruitful discussions.

As someone who is interested in practice-theory, I am also trying to make sense of the event on the basis of what actually happened. First, as Jan Eliasson remarked, the high number of speakers suggests that the topic is important for many of the world’s governments. Actually, there were so many registered speakers that the chair urged orators to keep their statements brief and provide longer versions online. Second, this was not a “debate” in the classical sense. Rather statements were given about the same topic but without referring to each other. The Uruguayan delegation had provided a briefing note beforehand, which obviously guided the statements alongside three other documents: the Secretary General’s report on the protection of civilians, the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) report and the SG’s report on the implementation of its recommendations. Consequently, statements mirrored each other. What was more interesting and differentiated the statements from each other was when speakers took the opportunity to connect PoC to their country’s history and interests. For example, Rwanda focused on the FDLR, Israel mentioned that Hezbollah was responsible for much of the violence in Syria, China stressed the neutrality and impartiality of UN peacekeeping, India talked about its experience in PoC since ONUC, Ukraine described Russian aggression and South Africa underlined the success of the FIB, etc.                Third, speakers obviously adhered to a set of shared norms, spending a good portion of their limited time to thank everyone and subsequently acknowledge previously stated facts and generally agreed-upon points of reference. Finally, the debate was a bit lengthy and repetitive. Some speakers made more relevant connections or, like Samantha Powers, depicted situations skilfully, but you were getting the gist of it after a couple statements. I must be one of the only people that followed it from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and quite frankly that wasn’t necessary. Many of the diplomats just came in for their statement and even the chair rotated several times.

It can be concluded that the “debate” did not seem to be about rethinking PoC or exchanging information, but should be seen more as a political process where member states expressed their commitment to the protection of civilians and broadly agreed to an agenda. While falling short of committing to tangible steps, the strong condemnation of the practice of starvation, for instance, will increase the pressure on Assad. Nevertheless, it should be taken with a grain of salt when many of the member states’ representatives ended by pointing to the forthcoming Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (May 23/24) as “an excellent opportunity to address the issue in a more in depth and comprehensive manner”.