Inspiring Stories from South Sudan

A survey of 1,200 South Sudanese from different tribes was carried out over five days during the first week of the crisis. It recorded the opinion of South Sudanese civilians on the crisis to influence the conflicting parties to resolve their political difference in a peaceful manner. This blog draws on the interviews and group discussions from this survey.  They may not be worthy of the mainstream news (as they don’t involve western evacuations, American helicopters being shot at, or scenes reminiscent of Rwanda in 1994), but they are full of information, facts and emotions that help us to piece together a picture of what is going on in the world’s youngest state.

In the current climate of violence, where ‘returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars‘, we need to break the cycle of ethnic violence. To give a voice to the many South Sudanese who are upholding humanity in a crisis. To fuel hope for South Sudan and restore confidence in one another.

Here are some reports from different areas of Juba:

  • An old Nuer man who was left alone when the violence started was taken in by his Dinka neighbours, where he has been looked after ever since as one more family member.
  •  A Juba suburb has organised community patrols comprising of Nuer and Dinka men tasked with protecting all members of their community.
  • Dinka soldiers intervened to rescue Nuer civilians from attacks and escorted them to the relative safety of UNMISS. Another group of Dinka soldiers escorted students from Juba University to the UN compound.
  • To remind outside observers that there are other ethnic groups in South Sudan, two students from Juba University (one Nuer and one Dinka) took refuge in the house of a man from the Bari tribe, where they stayed peacefully for two nights.

In all conflict locations there are reports of Nuer and Dinka people hiding and protecting the other from ethnically motivated killers. In some cases people are risking their lives for one another. In some cases, people have been killed trying to save the lives of others. A pastor from Akobo reported: ‘I lost two members of my previous Church in Akobo when they tried to protect Dinka friends. They were killed by their Nuer clansmen because they wanted to protect two Dinka soldiers who are members of my church’

For an analysis of the current crisis, I turn briefly to a group of women recently interviewed in Juba. When asked what they thought were the reasons for the crisis, they responded with a song by Emmanuel Kembe: “Kulu Zol Azu kun Beny” (Everyone wants to become a Chief and Boss). They are ultimately right: this crisis is a political crisis. Many theorists of civil war talk of power and greed as the overarching fuel for violence. New nations and newly independent nations often suffer periods of great instability and violence due to invested interests, changing power dynamics, the potential wealth that can be garnered from natural resources and responses to previous or new oppressions.

The civilians of South Sudan have much to fear right now. Many who fled the violence have lost their homes and don’t yet feel safe to return. We should be mindful that even if the current crisis is quickly resolved through negotiation, the profound rifts in the South Sudanese society will require much work and time to heal. But the stories above provide some hope for the future of South Sudan civilians in a country which desperately needs some good news.

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References and further reading:

  • The survey which informed this report was carried out by ‘Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) from the 17th to the 21st of December in Juba. Another survey is being conducted in Bor, and a third is planned for Malakal if the security situation allows it.
  • Thinking outside the ethnic box in S Sudan: great blog by @PeterGreste (who is currently being held in Cairo)
  • Want more inspiring stories? Read our post ‘How I learnt to stop worrying and trust the moneylender

Crisis in CAR: Did public awareness of CAR increase during recent violence?

This month violence in Bangui, Central African Republic, led to a UN mandated French military force intervening and media interested spiked. For those of us who kept up to date on the goings on in CAR we were now seeing it actually in printed newspapers and not just online, on prime-time news and not just the World Service. For someone who tweets about CAR often this was also accompanied by a hashtag that people were using to talk about the violence: in was #CARCrisis, out was the ambiguous #CAR and the character eating #CentralAfricanRepublic. Though for the francophones #RCA seemed to remain the same.

I was interested to know if increased activity on Twitter around an issue that is usually ignored transfers into increased awareness in the wider world. One potential source for an answer to this lies with Google Trends.

Google Trends is a Google tool that gives a tracking measurement of interest in any word or phrase over time. This interest is measured by the volume of searches on Google. You don’t get the total number but you can see a 1-100 scale – with 1 representing the fewest searches and 100 the most. Simply put, you get a chart which tells how many people have looked something up on Google since 2004 and you can compare two terms. Like this one for searches of Nelson Mandela and Miley Cyrus over 2013 (yes Miley’s highest point, from twerking on MTV, is double Mandela’s).

Graph 1: Nelson Mandela vs. Miley Cyrus
CAR-Chart-1

I’m a big fan of Google Trends. The size of Google means it can tell you a lot if you use it right. When we crossed it with the Failed State Index we could see just how forgotten CAR was in comparison with other countries affected by conflict and under-development.

Graph 2: Public Interest in Top 10 Failed States
CAR-Chart-2

This chart shows the level of global interest in 2013 up until 20 November and you can read it as one search for CAR was matched by the numbers above for other countries, so South Sudan was googled 22 times for every 1 search of CAR.

A more recent search seems to confirm that recent public interest in CAR has never been higher. For partial December data we can see a record spike.

Graph 3: Public Interest in CAR
CAR-chart-3

Since we already knew CAR was well behind other failed states what’s its popularity relative to the starting point we measured in late November?

Graph 4: Public Interest in Top 10 Failed States Dec 2013
CAR-Chart-4

Even at the extreme where the pre-November average was 45 Afghanistan searches for every 1 of CAR, December saw that fall to 8 for every 1 CAR search. A significant increase which will hopefully lead to a sustained growth in awareness for a forgotten country but Google Trends sadly can’t tell us if this interest is going to lead to any better support for the people of CAR.

A final word of warning for Google Trends is that you’re only as good as your search terms, for example Chad had to be missed out because of searches for people called Chad, the data on DRC won’t be perfect because of the many ways you can look it up and the sizeable French interest in CAR is missed because we’ve not searched ‘centrafrique’. Still a great tool for giving an insight into the nations and causes and celebs that are capturing the public’s interest at any given time.

Click on the graph headings to get the original data sets

Reflection on 2013: Merci beaucoup

thankyou
Today it is 9 months since we started Aid Leap. In that time we have gathered over 1,000 followers on twitter, posted 46 blogs which were viewed nearly 15,000 times by people based in 146 countries, received nearly 100 comments and hopefully stimulated debate around the world on a variety of topics.

We would like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who’s got involved – those who’ve followed us, criticised our blogs, supported our musings, shared our insights, provided us with good news stories and amusing links.

Summary of key issues of 2013:

In 2014 we hope to continue stirring things up, engaging with you, hearing your thoughts, providing updates and telling things from interesting perspectives.

We are big advocates for, and fans of, feedback (in many of its guises) so please send your thoughts, suggestions, comments, complaints to aidleap@gmail.com . . . .

South Sudan – #JubaCrisis sitrep

Juba, South Sudan, Tuesday 17th December 2013, 15:00 local time.

This blog post will be of interest to those in Juba/South Sudan or those monitoring the situation closely. As a situation report, it will be out of date within hours. Please note it’s a sitrep, not an analysis of root causes of the instability. It’s written on the 2nd day of a lockdown.

The origins of the fighting are still a matter of debate. There is a growing consensus there was no attempted coup (see this accurate analysis piece from the Economist). Security sources with access are still unclear on the origins of the violence: whether there was a rumour of an arrest or whether there was an actual attempt to arrest the ex VP. In any case, violence and instability spread quickly. The very strong response by the government security forces in turn caused more groups to seize arms and protest/defend themselves. The result is a very tense situation which is projected to continue in the weeks to come even if the current levels of fighting decrease.

There is heavy fighting ongoing in the SPLA base in Bilpam which is near the airport. The airport is closed down and all flights have been cancelled (though there have been three small planes in late morning/early afternoon of Tuesday 17th of December, presumed carrying government staff). There is no information as to when the airport may re-open. The bridge out of Juba is closed as well: it’s currently not possible to leave Juba.

The instability has already spread to Jonglei. There are rumours of heavy fighting reported in Pibor and the situation in Bor is very tense: deaths have been reported and large numbers are seeking refuge at UNMISS in Bor.

There are over 13,000 people who have sought refuge inside the UNMISS bases in Juba. They have received water but no food over the last two days. Many of those who fled are reporting brutal attacks.

The security situation in Juba is very tense. There is open fighting throughout the entire city, with occasional heavy fighting flaring up in certain areas. The house of the sacked ex-VP, Riek Machar, was assaulted with heavy artillery for several hours in mid morning of the 17th of December: no figures of casualties but all inside presumed dead. There is a 6pm to 6am official curfew, but most people are staying home at all times. There are also unconfirmed reports of civilians being armed, as well as of government forces warning civilians not to accept arms.

Twitter is currently the best source of information, with an active community sharing information on areas where violence flares up. For official information, @USMissionJuba is the most active and responsive of all the consular tweeter feeds.

The Risks of Complexity

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Turn left for Development

There’s a new cool kid on the development block. Complexity theory has delivered a devastating critique of existing development programmes, and offered a promising, shiny alternative. With momentum from Ben Ramalingam’s book ’Aid on the Edge of Chaos’, as well as the backing of intellectual heavyweights such as Owen Barder and Duncan Green, there are great opportunities to improve the way that the international development sector functions.

This blog outlines three potential pitfalls facing ‘complex programmes’. While a complex programme could take multiple approaches, this blog focuses on development programmes which spurn direct delivery of assistance in favour of attempts to change the systems that the poor work in, whether private sector, public sector, or civil society.

1) Complex programmes can ignore the poor. All the literature on complexity theory stresses the need to consult with and understand the views, attitudes and potential of the poor. But then again, so do manuals on logical framework analysis, illustrating the potential gulf between rhetoric and practice. There are several reasons why a complex programme might be difficult to reconcile with a participatory approach.

Firstly, the jargon of complexity theory is often impenetrable. Even the clear-thinking (and writing) Ben Ramalingam didn’t manage to avoid getting bogged down in terminology like agent-based modelling, ruggedness, and fitness landscapes. Even the phrase ‘aid on the edge of chaos’ means little more to me after reading the book than it did before. This potentially restricts the design and implementation of complex programmes to ‘experts’ with an academic background in complexity theory, or at least the nerve to bluff their way through.

Secondly, a programme which aims to change systems, rather than directly provide assistance, may have no contact with the poor at all. For example, rather than providing agricultural inputs directly to farmers, a complex programme might facilitate the efforts of businesses, business advocacy groups, farmers associations, and politicians. Since the direct recipient of assistance is the intermediary players rather than farmers themselves, you could run an entire programme without ever meeting with or talking with an actual farmer. Obviously this isn’t how any development programme should be run – but as a complex programme focuses on the system level, it could end up ignoring those who use the system.

2) Complex programmes might find nothing to do. Facilitation, supporting champions, and creating an enabling environment for change often seem to require holding meetings. The trouble is, there is a limit to the number of meetings you can arrange, and relevant stakeholders only have a limited amount of time in which to receive your support, before they spend more time being supported than doing anything useful. A programme which takes a genuinely facilitative approach may simply find that it doesn’t have much to do. There is certainly a place for a small-scale, patient hub that tries to bring people together and deploys expertise strategically – but that is never going to be more than a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the development budget. Putting more money into complex programmes (the donors preferred approach) could just end up reducing their impact.

3) Complex programmes are extremely hard to monitor and evaluate. It’s very difficult to see a system changing, and even harder to tell what part of that change you contributed to. Owen Barder is right to stress the need for better data, and Duncan Green is correct to emphasise flexible, iterative monitoring. Even so, if a programme isn’t delivering tangible outputs, it’s very difficult to judge success. To put it another way – it’s challenging to tell the difference between a transformative organisation facilitating change in complex systems, and a load of people sitting around writing reports and holding meetings. It’s a challenge for evaluators, and a nightmare for donors who want to spend their money wisely. To link to the first point above, an M&E system for a complex programme is likely to be more reliant on ‘expert opinion’ and less reliant on the views of the poor, who will probably never have heard of the programme and may be ill placed to judge its efficacy.

All three points are illustrated by the case of TradeMark Southern Africa, which was recently closed following a red rating from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. TradeMark Southern Africa aimed to improve Southern African trade performance for the benefit of the poor. Although not explicitly influenced by complexity theory, it worked in a complex environment, primarily through intermediaries rather than directly with the poor. The ICAI evaluation found that it displayed all of the above issues. With such a big distance between operations and beneficiaries, the programme had “inadequate focus on the poor”. Difficulty in spending money led to “wasteful spending that contributes little to overall goals.” And they had difficulty in monitoring their impact; for example, TMSA monitored average traffic crossing times across a border, rather than the more challenging (and difficult to attribute) price of transport and goods.

None of the above points dismiss the many insights that complexity theory has brought to development. However, it should be recognised that there are real dangers in consciously trying to work in complex environments, as well as opportunities. As complexity changes (as I hope it will) from the latest exciting buzzword to a practical approach to implementing development programmes, I believe some of these challenges are addressed.  

Future of Humanitarianism through Crowd Sourcing

HALO_by_MilitaryPhotos

The Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies (CBHA) has rebranded as the Start Network. Several (I think four) new INGOs have joined and the focus is no longer just British aid agencies. On Tuesday (10 December) at a launch event the topic of discussion was the future of NGOs (#futureofngos trended for a while). In order to answer this question we have to first grapple with the future of humanitarianism. As mentioned in an earlier post, Humanitarianism: threatened or business as usual, we hinted at the importance of this question: asking if humanitarianism was dead?

As part of the launch Dr Randolph Kent, the Director of the Humanitarian Futures Programme at Kings College London, presented the ideas behind a recent joint paper called The Future of NGOs in the Humanitarian Sector.

The second interesting collaboration that the Start Network had recently initiated was with a new organisation called FutureScaper. FutureScaper was set up by Noah Raford and Nathen Koren whilst studying at MIT. The concept behind the company is crowd sourced scenario planning. In plain English, I think this means asking lots of people their opinion on an issue through surveys and social media and getting an overview of opinion including proposed solutions to specific issues, for almost $0.

On behalf of the Start Network they had asked 152 humanitarians from around the globe what they thought the future of NGOs was in this sector. The answers were presented in a whizzy Prezzi which either intentionally or unintentionally clearly showed the technological divide between the humanitarian and the entrepreneurial sector. Can we turn this oil tanker round with the existing drivers? The conclusions were not surprising and during the Q&A a member of the audience suggested it was describing today and not tomorrow. Later on twitter someone (Linda Poteat of ECB) suggested it was actually describing the situation in Somalia 20 years ago. But the interesting piece was the picture of the future that was described and the subsequent recommendations.

The findings were:

  • Aid will be more heavily politicised
  • Crises will be longer and more drawn out
  • NGOs would no longer be perceived as neutral
  • Physical access would increasingly be denied to INGOs
  • Aid workers, particularly expats, would be increasingly targeted
  • Demonstrating the impact of aid would be more difficult
  • Donors’ confidence in INGOs would decrease.

This would mean:

  • A decrease in the resources available to and legitimacy of NGOs
  • A need for NGOs to rely on volunteers and/or locals.

The recommendations extrapolated from this were, for INGOs to:

  • Be more participatory
  • Broaden their portfolio and use pre-staging of equipment, staff and training
  • Improve their ability to coordinate and work remotely.

The picture presented was of two types of humanitarians: the special forces and the professional amateur local civil defence groups. In some places, it could be argued this is already the case. In fact, in certain areas of the Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda affected areas of the Philippines, there is clear evidence that some communities were prepared and able to cope/respond due to the capacity and understanding of community based organisations.

Christina Bennett (ex UN) asked where the NGOs sat on this spectrum. The panellists didn’t respond. I don’t think this picture is of a spectrum. It’s two distinct groups and the bit in the middle is the State or authorities, potentially the military and maybe even the private sector. But government, military and private sector can, and should, be represented in both groups too.

This is just one answer to the question ‘what is the future of humanitarianism’? The debate continues today (12 December) in New York at the Humanitarian Symposium organised by UN OCHA. Follow #aid2025 on twitter for details of the discussion and keep linking to #futureofngos.

Round up on Crisis in Central African Republic/Republique Centrale d’Afrique (CAR/RCA)

Saturday’s blog is slightly out of date already, as hoped. Things still seem to be grim in CAR/RCA and we don’t expect it to change overnight. For those of you advocating, trying to affect policy, raising funds, raising awareness, educating friends/family/colleagues or trying to learn yourself, here is a quick round up of the latest stories. This is not comprehensive or in any specific order – do add extras in the comment section.

BBC World reports US logistical support to Burundian troops to beef up the African peacekeeping mission – 9 Dec
IRC reports the bustling capital has become a ghost town. Bodies still in the street this morning. Some clashes as French troops arrived in Bangui to disarm soldiers. – 9 Dec
Journal of Bangui reports CAR’s President claiming that the French support him – 9 Dec
Infosdefense.com reports confirmation by the Pentagon that it will send planes – 9 Dec
Press statement by Permanent Representative of France to the UN and UN Security Council claiming French forces had reinstated order in Bangui though looting continued. – 9 Dec
El Pais reports the French troops impose calm, with video – 8 Dec
Daily Nation reports French troops trade fire in CAR – 9 Dec
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that France believes the EU will pay for some of their mission in CAR, though this isn’t so clear in Brussels – 9 Dec
MSF Canada reports hospitals becoming overcrowded with injured – 9 Dec. MSF New York/Paris calls for violence and attacks in hospitals to end immediately – 9 Dec.
Huffington Post argues that the French intervention in CAR may prove radically different than Mali mission – 9 Dec
Christoph Vogel warns that using inflammatory terms like genocide or religious war could be damaging – 9 Dec
Aljazeera reports new clashes in the capital as foreign troops begin to disarm militia – 9 Dec
IRIN’s video testimonies in ‘a failed state implodes’
Reuters reports shooting erupting near the airport today – 9 Dec
Laura Jepson’s piece on sexual violence in CAR – 5 Dec
Amnesty International tells international community that it must provide effective protection – 9 Dec
Video report by CNN’s Nima Elbagir who is on the ground in Bossangoa – 9 Dec
Susanna Flood reports for CNN on the lack of easy answers to this crisis. ‘Conditions are desperate and people are very afraid’. Though law and order is first priority, the people also need justice – 9 Dec
France 24 has a video – 9 Dec
Short piece from freelance reporter Melissa: NGOs on the ground now struggle to bring help to hundreds of thousands – 9 Dec
Statement by the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor: concern expressed and all parties asked to abide by international law or risk being investigated – 9 Dec
Louisa Lombard on whether a genocide was likely – 5 Dec
Radio interview with MSF France: MSF remains skeptical despite arrival of French troops – 9 Dec
Alex Thomson for Channel 4 News explains how many fled to the airport for safety – 8 Dec
Marcus Manuel for Guardian draws lessons from Sierra Leone for creating peace in CAR – 9 Dec

A big thank you/merci beaucoup to those working on the ground. Your information is much appreciated but we hope twitter etc doesn’t distract you from the work!
@laurajepson_IMC – International Medical Corps
@susannaflood – Amnesty International
@bouckap – Human Rights Watch
@mk8284 – Save the Children

And to those reporting.
@bbcfessy – BBC World
@worldwidewebb1 – Channel 4 cameraman
@alextomo – Channel 4
@marcusbleasdale – photojournalist
@tristanaje – Al Jazeera
@adrienjaulmes – Le Figaro reporter
@klarsonafrica – Associated Press
@NimaCNN – CNN
@nazaninemoshiri – Al Jazeera

Not promising this every day and hoping that the situation improves but keen to raise awareness on this often forgotten country.