Central African Republic (CAR): Explaining the crisis

TCARflagonight at a public event in the UK Parliament there was a panel debate chaired by Lord McConnell with speeches from Peteris Ustubs – European External Action Service (EEAS), Dr Jose Bastos – MSF Spain and MSF International, and Caesar Poblicks – Conciliation Resources.

According to panellists the total population (4.5 million) in CAR are in need of some humanitarian aid and 25% of them are internally displaced, many of whom are in the bush and inaccessible.

To move from this to stabilisation four things are needed:

  1. The presence of troops
  2. Humanitarian assistance
  3. A restart of state activities
  4. The reestablishment of constitutional rule

MSF blasted numerous stakeholders including the UN agencies who’s response was slow and inefficient. And all highlighted the fact that even before the violence started, CAR was one of the worst off countries in the world, with every individual contracting malaria on an annual basis (IMC have since confirmed that malaria accounted for up to 50% of cases at their clinics during the rainy season).

Poblicks argued that this conflict was by no means due to religion. The misunderstanding, he said, is partly due to lazy reporting, but also the confusion of language with religion. Seleka commanders do not speak the local language, nor much French, and so they converse in Arabic. It was claimed some are from Chad. Therefore, they were perceived as Muslims and associated with Muslim groups in CAR. The extreme violence witnessed, according to Poblicks, is not simple retaliation, but rather a manifestation of identity politics. Where there is no legitimate political process, identity politics is known to be used to fill the void and garner support.

The political void and complete erosion of public services contributed to the breakdown of law and order. For instance, Poblicks told how in August 2013 a Government minister was stopped in Bangui on his way to work by a Seleka Commander. The Commander confiscated his car and made the minister walk to his office. Ustubs claimed that Seleka commanders had no political agenda of their own. Their proposal was a combination of no rule of law, no public services, an army that doesn’t obey the politicians and an increasingly nervous population: not a carefully planned massacre of one religion by another.

In 2003, the anti-Balaka group formed as a community vigilante group. With the lack of investment in the policy and army, this group received a lot of support until it became strong. But this group is not based on particular religious beliefs.

So where’s the hope? Catherine Samba-Panza has been called ‘a god given mother’. The panel asked the international community to ensure that the mother does not fail (or be perceived to fail) by supporting the establishment of a capable governing authority before they once again forget about CAR. The alternative, it was threatened, is a slow version of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

But as the audience asked, with other big crises taking place in the world (South Sudan, Syria, Philippines) how do we raise the profile of the crisis in CAR and improve the currently insufficient response? Several people have already tried to use the spectre of genocide to increase awareness of the crisis. As the panel said today this has the potential to divide and confuse the debate rather than galvanise stronger response. A legal discussion into whether or not the situation in CAR meets the definition of genocide as laid out in the Geneva Convention will distract from the real issue at hand. Whether or not the situation is genocide or even pre-genocidal: it’s terrible, a crime and many people are suffering and even dying as we speak. We need to act regardless.

Sadly there are some corners of the world that seem to fail to capture attention and CAR has long been one of them. Kristina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, and Valerie Amos, Head of UNOCHA, visited the country together taking the media with them. A donors’ conference on 20 January in Brussels raised 380m EUR (nothing in comparison to what was raised in Kuwait for the Syria response). But still the media take the easy option and fail to understand that violence has not broken out in every community, as one audience member said ‘not all of CAR is like Bossangoa’.

We need to all keep talking about and raising awareness of CAR.

Finally, the panel discussed the importance of a national reconciliation process. Anger exists as many feel abandoned and many more are left homeless and/or jobless. By reaching out to those communities, like in south Bangui, where people are living side by side and working together to protect themselves regardless of their religious affiliation, peaceful solutions can be found. And for that peace to be sustainable, it needs to be an inclusive process that allows for reconciliation, reconstruction and ultimately stability.

As Lord McConnell said in his closing remarks, it was ‘an outstanding hour and a half’.

This debate was hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Africa, the APPG for the African Great Lakes Region and the Royal African Society

For previous blogs by Aid Leap on the crisis in CAR, please see:

Seeds of Genocide

G1Today, 27 January, is the International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust: a day designated by the UN General Assembly resolution 60/7 on 1 November 2005. It’s important that we remember those who suffered, died and lost loved ones during the Holocaust. And it’s also important, that we remember the actions that have been taken by the international community to prevent and punish any future attempts at genocide.

This particular date was chosen as the day in 1945 when Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet troops. Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp under the Nazis, where at least 1.1 million prisoners died. Resolution 60/7 urges the remembrance of Holocaust victims along with the development of educational programmes about the Holocaust and genocide more generally. The purpose behind this is the belief that education and understanding will help to prevent future genocides.

As I write there are no genocides officially taking place. However, events in the Central African Republic (CAR) were described by John Ging, UN OCHA’s Director of Operations as having: “all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia (…). The elements are there, the seeds are there, for a genocide. There’s no question about that.”

And there are those who would describe the targeted killing seen in the current South Sudan conflict as acts of genocide. Journalists are reporting civil war, along sectarian and tribal lines. And many aid workers still there and human rights organisations are reporting numerous atrocities.

But what is the difference between atrocities, human rights abuses and genocide? Does genocide require large concentration camps like those witnessed during the Holocaust?

G2The United Nation’s General Assembly Resolution 260 ushered into being the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on 9 December 1948. But the Convention did not enter into force until 12 January 1951 after twenty members states ratified the convention and instituted it in their domestic law. The word genocide was first used by Rapheal Lemkin in 1944. Lemkin had searched for a unique word to describe the barbarity he had witnessed during the Holocaust: a word that described ‘a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves’. This was later more clearly defined in Article 2 of the Convention as ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group’.

The Genocide Convention introduced the idea that sovereignty included a sense of responsibility. This was a fundamental change to the ‘constitution’ of the international community: the new legal situation said that a state’s rights did not trump the rights of individuals. No longer were state authorities allowed to inflict human rights abuses against a group of citizens without expecting repercussions. As the opening paragraph to the Convention states: ‘Recognising that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity, and Being convinced that, in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international co-operation is required’.

Article 1 of the Convention makes it clear that genocide ‘is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish’. Ratification of the convention took a while as some states were worried that either this could be used against their citizens, particularly members of the armed forces, or that it would bind them to act and interfere in foreign states.

To some the concept of genocide is very clear but there are always degrees of what something can mean in law, and often it isn’t until precedent is set that the precise meaning can be defined. Since the ratification of the Convention, only two episodes have been defined as genocide: Rwanda in 1994 and the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. There have been many accusations, but these are the only two that have been found to be the case in an international court.

But what about Darfur, Cambodia, the recent massacre in Rakhine State, the Tamils in northern Sri Lanka, East Timor, the DRC, the Guatemalen Civil War, the Bangledesh War of 1971, Burundi, Argentina’s disappeared . . . And before the Convention came into being, there was the massacre of the Kurds, Trujillo’s execution of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, the plight of the Armenians . . .

Returning to today, is the sectarian violence we are witnessing in CAR slipping in to genocide? Targeted killings of individuals due to their religious belief have been witnessed and filmed on several occasions. But the question remains whether these are opportunistic individuals or an organised mass. Even if the events in CAR could be described as acts of genocide, it would be difficult, at this stage in the conflict, to indict a particular individual or group of individuals for planning a genocide. Mob massacres have not yet been proven to constitute genocide. State sovereignty may no longer protect perpetrators of genocide, but there is little precedent for acts of genocide when the state is destroyed as in the case of CAR. Perhaps the main hindrance of the Genocide Convention, and international law more generally, is the difficulty of taking action when a state authority is not leading the acts .


For further reading on the topic, try:

South Sudan Cessation of Hostilities Agreement

Here is the full text of the signed agreement on cessation of hostilities between the two sides in the South Sudan Conflict (click on the image for the full document):

South Sudan Cessation of Hostilities Agreement - Signed

This is just the first step and a great deal of work involving civil society in South Sudan will be required to make this agreement the first step towards peace.

There was also an agreement on the status of the detainees. Here is a pdf of the signed agreement:

Agreement on Status of Detainees

Analysis of changes in the agreements from previous drafts:

  • There were 8 numbered drafts, plus a 9th final draft which was signed. Most changes between drafts were small.
  • The cessation of hostilities agreement has seen a number of changes. The most notable has been dropping the demand that foreign armies (that means you, Uganda) leave South Sudan.
  • The language on the release of detainees has been weakened repeatedly to the point the signed agreement doesn’t appear to add much to the cessation of hostilities agreement. The signed draft was weakened even from the previously weakened draft which  said ‘the parties agree to urge the President of the Republic of South Sudan to use his Constitutional Prerogatives to grant pardon and release the detainees to allow them to participate in the dialogue’. That confusing section in which the president’s representatives were urging the president to do things disappeared from the signed agreement entirely.

These changes provide an insight into what were the stumbling blocks to reach an agreement (assuming it wasn’t just the delegates wanting to milk the Sheraton holiday- see this study on the effects of perks on peace talks if you think we’re joking).

For previous blogs on South Sudan, see:
Understanding the Suicidal War in South Sudan
Inspiring Stories from South Sudan
South Sudan – #JubaCrisis sitrep
Aid Workers and Risk Part 3: South Sudan Danger

Is the “Book of Mormon – the Musical” racist?

BMThe musical ‘The Book of Mormon’ is hilarious, outrageous, and brilliant. It was one of the best nights out that I’ve had for a long time. So it was real regret that I concluded that the gleeful depiction of traditional stereotypes about Africa (dead babies, warlord, HIV, etc) reinforced rather than challenged general preconceptions.

The Book of Mormon is written and directed by the team who made South Park and Team America, and features many of the same traits; shocking, deliberately offensive humour, great songs, and a biting, clever, laugh-out-loud wit. It follows a mismatched pair of young Mormons who are sent to Northern Uganda to convert the natives and spread the word of Mormonism. They encounter warlords, beautiful women, a doctor with maggots in his scrotum, and eventually prevail, learning a few moral messages along the way.

Newspaper coverage has focused on the fact that the musical is ‘offensive’. I don’t have a problem with that. Of course the creators of South Park are offensive – that’s their stock in trade. So if you don’t want to hear jokes about female genital mutilation, aids, and dead children then don’t go to the show. It may be tasteless, but it’s certainly not racist – these are generic jokes which the authors have made many times before, and will make many times again.

The issue I had was with the depiction of Africa as a backwards hellhole filled with warlords and disease. It ticked off so many racist stereotypes that I could barely keep count. The natives were spiritually empty – the first song they sing is an African phrase that translates as ‘Fuck You God! One ongoing joke revolved around the fact that an African used a typewriter to text her friends – ironic given the innovation around mobile phones in East Africa. Overall, the Africans are just a background to the emotional development of the Mormons. When someone is shot by a warlord, this is primarily important because it makes one Mormon decide he should go home.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone are clever people, so I looked hard for irony. Perhaps they were mocking our image of Africa, rather than Africa itself? If so, there was no sign of it. With the exception of a clever joke towards the end (which mocked an on-stage character – and implicitly us – for assuming that the Africans didn’t understand a metaphor) there wasn’t anything which suggested that the jokes should be taken at anything less than face value.

I have spoken to others who felt differently; and argued that the Book of Mormon is a clever satire. I suppose it’s difficult to tell the difference between ironic racist stereotypes and real ones. However, I think the key question is whether the average member of the public – who probably does believe, sadly, in much of the caricature that the Book of Mormon portrays – would come away with a different opinion, or with their views challenged in any way. Quite simply, the answer is no. There was almost nothing challenging in the play; the stereotypes were played for laughs, and little more.

In conclusion, the Book of Mormon is one of the funniest, liveliest, best produced shows around – and I strongly recommend that you don’t go to see it.

Comment intégrer le secteur humanitair​e

“A quel type de formations puis-je m’ inscrire pour intégrer le secteur?”
“Est-ce que ne pas avoir de Master m’ empêchera de progresser dans ma carrière?”
“Je ne parle que anglais, est-ce que ca veut dire que je ne pourrais jamais entrer dans le secteur?”
“Je n’ai pas les moyens de vivre a Genève sans être salarié(e), comment faire?”

Toute discussion sur les moyens d’intégrer le secteur humanitaire entraine inéluctablement ce type de questionnement. C’est une industrie difficile à percer et il y a de nombreuses versions des procédures à suivre pour y arriver. Beaucoup sont fausses; d’autres, malheureusement, sont fondées.

Si je pouvais dessiner un nouveau secteur humanitaire, l’une de mes priorités absolues serait de créer des chemins de carrière plus clairs. Ca peut paraitre dérisoire au sein d’une industrie dont l’objectif principal est de venir en aide a ceux qui en ont le plus besoin. Au contraire. Je pense qu’il est impératif que le secteur démontre une prise de responsabilité, qu’il soit transparent et qu’il favorise l’autonomie. L’un des meilleurs moyens pour cela serait d’en faire un modèle depuis la source et donc d’appliquer ces principes aux modalités même d’entrée dans le secteur. Si ses membres sont encadrés par ce type de comportement, il va de soi que cela se manifestera dans leur façon de travailler. Les hommes, de par leur nature, imitent et sont le produit de l’environnement dans lequel ils résident.

Aujourd’hui il y a peu de tracés directs pour travailler dans l’humanitaire. Ceux qui existent sont temporaires – l’ONU a récemment fermé son Programme Jeunes Administrateurs, pourtant connu comme l’un des principaux points d’entrée dans l’humanitaire pour de jeunes enthousiastes a travers le monde. Un programme similaire mis en place par Département du gouvernement britannique pour le développement international (DFID) vient quant a lui d’être réinstauré (DESA) mais n’a pas vu de sang neuf depuis cinq ans.

Pour les économistes, l’Overseas Development Institute a mis en place un programme de bourse offrant à des jeunes diplômés en économie et statistiques des expériences de travail rémunérées à l’étranger.

Pour les jeunes voulant intégrer le secteur humanitaire, la Commission européenne offre un programme de volontariat pour une expérience de court-terme au siège d’une OING suivie de deux expériences sur le terrain.

Aucun de ces programmes ne garantie un travail rémunéré – et je ne pense pas qu’ils le doivent – mais ils permettent d’obtenir une expérience de travail bien vue dans le secteur : un avantage non négligeable pour une future carrière dans l’industrie de l’aide.

Si je devais mettre en place une liste de ce que le secteur perçoit aujourd’hui comme étant le profil idéal, il serait fait un peu comme la liste de compétences ci-dessous. Notez que ce n’est pas ce que le secteur devrait attendre de ses nouveaux candidats (un tout autre débat), mais ce que l’industrie de l’aide humanitaire internationale aujourd’hui recherche comme qualifications chez les candidats au niveau international et régional (i.e. pas sur le terrain).

• Une qualification professionnelle (i.e. médecins, comptables, experts en ressources humaines, ingénieurs…) ou un diplôme de Master pertinent
• Un bilinguisme anglais et la possibilité de communiquer dans une autre langue
• Une expérience de vie/travail a l’étranger
• Une compréhension des problématiques principales liées au secteur
• Des compétences transférables telles que management budgétaire, management hiérarchique, management de projet, et des compétences en informatique.

Il s’agit, je le répète, d’un profil idéal – cela ne veut pas dire que s’il vous manque une ou plusieurs de ces compétences il vous sera impossible d’intégrer le secteur. Mais si vous cherchez a accroitre vos chances et avez le temps et les ressources nécessaires pour investir dans votre développement personnel, posséder certaines de ces compétences serait un très bon départ.

Malheureusement, beaucoup dépend de votre réseau, et/ou de chance. Bon nombre de mes collègues m’ont dit qu’il s’agissait souvent d’être au bon endroit au bon moment, ou qu’un ex-collègue leur avait plus tard donné un coup de main. Ce n’est pas juste et je trouve la pilule difficile a avaler mais cela reste néanmoins une réalité. Avant que nous ne perdions complètement espoir d’intégrer le secteur, considérons d’abord les différentes façons de gérer le problème.

En premier lieu, vous pourriez vous concentrer entièrement sur votre réseau: en vous mettant en avant sur LinkedIn, en passant du temps dans les pubs et bars a proximités des sièges d’OING, en participant a toutes les conférences ou débats avec des cartes de visite faites maison etc. Cela peut fonctionner mais c’est épuisant, et souvent très difficile de montrer ses compétences autour d’un verre de vin après un débat sur les leçons tirées de réponses d’urgence auxquelles vous n’avez pas participé. Sans parler du fait que beaucoup d’entre nous ne sommes pas forcément doués en networking.

D’autre part, vous pourriez passer votre temps à discuter avec et vous renseigner sur ceux qui font déjà partie de l’industrie. Il y a de nombreux mémoires écrits par ceux ayant expérimenté le terrain. Ces récits ne vous apportent pas d’expérience en soit, mais vous permettent de mieux comprendre les différents aspects du secteur. De même, discuter avec des amis, amis d’amis, ou amis d’amis d’amis, votre famille, des anciens élèves de votre école qui ont travaillé/travaillent dans le secteur, vous permet d’obtenir une perspective sur la réalité de l’industrie. Ceci devrait vous aider a prendre les bonnes décisions sur quelles positions briguer et a faire des candidatures réussies.

Enfin, demander l’avis de votre employeur ou ex-employeur sur votre CV pourrait faire toute la différence. Saviez-vous qu’en étant en charge du stock de barils de bière dans le sous-sol du pub, vous utilisiez des compétences similaires à celles requises pour contrôler les stocks ou être en charge des entrepôts sur le terrain? Certains mots ou façons d’exprimer votre expérience peut faire mettre votre CV sur la pile “à interviewer”.

Les trois derniers conseils (que vous aurez certainement déjà reçu) sont:
1. Allez chercher une expérience de terrain
2. Faites attention à bien choisir vos stages. Beaucoup d’OING et organisations internationales ont un large turnover de stagiaires suivi de très peu d’offres d’emploi.
3. Soyez flexibles dans ce que vous êtes prêts à faire et où vous êtes prêts a aller travailler.

Voila ce qu’on aurait voulu savoir avant d’integrer le secteur humanitaire (en anglais). A suivre d’autres blogs sur le professionalisme, le recrutement et les stages, par exemple, le recrutement humanitaire = élitiste? (en anglais).

This blog was originally published in English on 8 January 2014 and can be viewed here.

Humanitarian recruitment = elitist?

The drive to professionalise the humanitarian sector is widely heralded as a positive thing. But is the impact of professionalisation on recruitment practices creating an elitist sector, open only to those who can afford a postgraduate education, and lengthy periods of unpaid work?

Understanding what exactly is meant by ‘professionalisation’ within a humanitarian context is itself a challenge, as the word is often used as an umbrella term encompassing all manner of schemes. Broadly (and conceptually) speaking, it is the attempt to define and codify the set of knowledges required to create the ‘professional’ aid worker, with the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies (CBHA)* Core Competencies Framework as a prime example . This is in turn used to inform, limit and manage recruitment – constructing the required profile of a humanitarian, encompassing both professional ‘technical’ skills, as well as personal competencies.

Ultimately, the emphasis and overall intent of professionalisation is the improvement of the humanitarian enterprise, increased effectiveness and better management (at individual and organisational level). This is laudable, and I think necessary. However, the manner in which this is taking place is at times worrying and counterproductive – driven in part by the fragmentary and ambiguous nature of the humanitarian system.

Over-focus on qualifications, such as the increased expectation of postgraduate qualifications as a minimum for unpaid internships, drives a worrying trend towards elitism in the sector and an unnecessary narrowing of entry points. A competency based framework should allow for a wider recruitment approach, but is undermined by the reliance on ‘field experience’** or internships that essentially makes the sector accessible only to those who can afford a taught MA, or several months/years unpaid work.

How many internships or trainee programmes pay a living wage to their recruits? Most entry schemes demand Masters-level education, something that it is nigh on impossible to find funding for, at least in the UK, and significantly whittles the eligible pool of candidates to those who have been able to finance their way past an undergraduate degree.

The reality is that solid team management skills, the ability to function under extreme pressure, land on your feet in alien circumstances and communicate well are far, far more important skills than familiarity with the finer points of international relations theory. Excepting some of the technical sectors, I would suggest that a period working nightshifts in your local will probably equip you better for any length of time in the field than a postgraduate qualification in international politics, or a gap year jolly teaching English at an ‘African’ school.

Facetious points aside – study of humanitarian politics, IHL and human rights law are absolutely important, but their relevance is undermined if not combined with solid working experience. The concern is prioritisation of theoretical knowledge over direct, practical skills.

The professionalisation agenda presents an exciting opportunity for the sector to do something truly radical, especially given the current economic climate. As organisations with social objectives, humanitarian agencies could reach out beyond the largely Western, middle class demographic to explore recruitment from asylum populations, the European Eastern bloc, or pioneer paid, skills based/vocational apprenticeships for UK jobseekers. Yet how many HR departments pioneer an entry level scheme that actually supports people financially and is accessible to those without significant savings? Or actively recruit from UK jobcentres, or prioritise recruitment from poorer or disadvantaged areas? I seriously think we are missing a trick.

*The CBHA has been rebranded as the Start Network and now incorporates aid agencies outside of Britain.
**See J.’s recent blog on why ‘the field’ is becoming outdated.

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Understanding the Suicidal War in South Sudan

This is one of the best analysis of the South Sudan crisis we have seen. We liked it so much we are posting an English translation from the original French article as a guest blog.

Original article by Vincent Hugeux, published January 8, 2014 at 7:57 in the French newspaper L’Express.

Translated from the French for AidLeap by Abiol Deng.

Africa’s newest state, South Sudan, is the scene of a deadly conflict, the stakes of which Professor Gérard Prunier breaks down.

What do we know in our part of the world about South Sudan, with Juba as its capital? If truth be told, not much. Maybe those French who are familiar with Post-colonial African upheavals will remember that the newest sovereign state on the black continent, which is as large as France, inhabited by 11 million souls and endowed with an enviable abundance of oil, came to being in July 2011. They are probably aware that South Sudan was born of a separation between the Sudan of Islamist Field Marshall and President Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes perpetrated by his militias in Darfur, and the predominantly Christian and animist rebellious southern territories. This Separation was bitterly negotiated at the end of more than two decades of carnage. As for those “addicted” to Sub-Saharan current events, they will know that this frail newborn has been stricken since mid-December by a deadly conflict which opposes President Salva Kiir of the Dinka ethnic group and his Nuer ex-Vice President Riek Machar, who was fired five months earlier under the pretext that he had hatched a putsch attempt. The current result: several thousand dead and 200,000 displaced.

A former researcher at the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research), longtime director of the French Center for Ethiopian Studies and presently working as an independent consultant, Gérard Prunier bluntly breaks down the stakes and the hidden agendas of the confrontations that are setting ablaze five of the ten states which comprise the country. Moreover, it is from Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the African Union and, since Monday, the site of laborious peace talks, that Prunier answered our questions.

What are the chances of success for the Addis Ababa talks?

Zero. They are non-existent. This is war. The winner will be he who ousts the other militarily and diplomatically. Only intense international pressure convinced the two delegations to meet here, even if it’s only for show.

Announced as imminent, would the recapture of Bor, the capital of Jonglei State, by President Salva Kiir’s forces sound the death-knell of the insurrection?

No, quite the opposite: If government troops take back the key cities, they will only control the urban centers but certainly not the rural areas which are destined to interminable guerilla warfare. Put simply, Juba finds itself in the situation of Khartoum ten or twenty years ago, master of the cities but not of the rest. Incidentally, know that this “coup d’état” story is total garbage. Hunted down, Riek Machar is probably only alive thanks to his bodyguards, who hid him as he slipped through a fence.

 From a military standpoint, what are the power struggles?

Machar himself told me, he has more volunteers than needed but he lacks munitions and fuel. Put simply, if he doesn’t receive help from Ethiopia with the approval of the United States, he will be in a real bind. Thus, in the short term, the Bashir-Kiir team can prevail. In the long term this is out of the question.

Can the announced doubling of UNMISS troops (the United Nations contingent), meant to go from 6,000 to 12,500 men help to put out the fire?

By no means. In South Sudan the UN is useless.

What role does Omar al-Bashir, who has never recovered from the amputation of his “Sudan,” which was imposed by the international community, play on this chessboard?

Here’s what he said to a now very unpopular Kiir: “Salva, you’re hard up. I am coming to your rescue but in return give me back the oil wells. Don’t worry, I’ll leave you some crumbs, enough to buy yourself some apartments in London or some villas in Nairobi and to fill your bank accounts in the Virgin Islands or in Luxemburg.”

Is it truly the eviction of Riek Machar that sent the sparks flying?

Yes, even if the conflict began before that with the forced retirement of 170 officers who assisted the SPLM-North, a guerilla group of black Muslims who are hostile to Bashir. At the origin of this crisis, there is Salva Kiir’s realization that he had no chance of honestly winning the 2015 election. That’s why he bowed down to the master of Khartoum. Since the embraces of the two men on Monday, no more doubts are possible: Kiir has sold himself body and soul to the Arab enemy of yesteryear. This man is so stupid that he has managed by behaving thus to strengthen a fierce opposition against him.

What is the role of ethnicity in the current conflict which is marked by ethnic violence of Dinka against Nuer?

It is by no means an ethnic or clannish conflict. As often in Africa, war against the other is merely the collateral effect of a power struggle. The evidence here is that one finds Dinkas in the anti-Kiir camp.

Let’s now look at the position of the regional actors, starting with IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Very simple: IGAD doesn’t exist. It’s a “thing” to reprise the name that Charles de Gaulle gave the UN, but a very small thing. Uganda is sticking to its support of Salva Kiir. And for a reason: hovering in the entourage of President Yoweri Museveni, who thinks he is Bismarck, are many businessmen who have economically colonized South Sudan. It’s the same for Kenya, even if Uhuru Kenyatta does not think of himself as a great man. This being said, the wind is changing. Nairobi, overcome by the fear of chaos, has begun an operation of backpedaling. As for Eritrea, they are supporting Salva Kiir. Ethiopia, which hasn’t had a real government since the death of Zenawi, hesitates and procrastinates. The military in Addis know very well that a victory by the president in place would lead straight to a guerilla war without end, hence the stalemate. Nevertheless, without a green light from the political class they cannot make any decisions.

What is the role of Bejing, the largest international buyer of Sudanese oil and the number one investor that is apparently very active in the diplomatic arena?

Truthfully, the Chinese are a bit lost. They don’t have any ambition other than to preserve their energy and financial interests.

Does South Sudan’s fragility have historic roots?

Yes. We find them first in the British colonial policy. In the 1930s and 40s, London refrained from forming a local elite. Nevertheless, later on, remarkable personalities emerged. However John Garang (historic leader of the Southern rebellion, killed in a plane crash in July 2005) feared their talents and pushed them away, even if it meant killing some of them. Therefore, all of the educated diaspora remained at a distance. Hence the arrival of an actor as mediocre as Salva Kiir, ex-sergeant of the Sudanese army, with a greater interest in whisky and women than in nation building and whom Khartoum manipulates like a puppet.


Gérard Prunier is a French academic and historian specializing in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region.

Abiol Deng is an international development consultant based in Berlin, Germany.


Want to read more about South Sudan? Check some of our other blogs:

How to get in to the international aid sector

“What is the graduate programme that I can apply to for this sector?”
“Without a Masters will I be unable to progress at some point?”
“I only speak English, does this mean I have no chance?”
“I can’t afford to live in Geneva without a paid job, does that rule me out?”

Any discussion of how to get into the aid sector inevitably includes these kinds of questions. It’s a tough sector to crack in to and there are numerous stories about the rules of entry. Many of them are fiction; some however, are sadly true.

If I was designing a new aid sector, then one of my first priorities would be clear career pathways. It might not sound like a key element in a sector established to help those in desperate need. But I disagree. This is a sector that should showcase accountability, transparency and empowerment. One of the best ways to do so would be to role model it from the outset – entry to the sector. If its members are surrounded by these behaviours and values, then it’s inevitable that they will be manifested in how the work is undertaken. Human beings are known to imitate the environment they reside in.

Currently there are few career pathways for entry to the aid sector. And those that exist are not permanent – the UN recently closed its Youth Professional Programme, previously known as one of the entry points for young enthusiasts from around the globe. A similar DFID scheme, has just been reinstated (DESA) but for the past five or so years had no fresh intake.

For economists, the Overseas Development Institute runs a fellowship programme that gives graduates of economics and statistics an opportunity to get decent overseas work experience. For budding humanitarians, the EU Commission runs its volunteer programme based on a short period working in an INGO headquarters and then two stints of experience in the field. Neither of these programmes guarantee a job at the end – I don’t believe they should – however, they do provide respected work experience: one of the most treasured assets of those applying to the sector.

If I had to pull together a list of what the sector currently sees as ‘ideal must haves’, it would look something like the below. Please note, this is not what the aid sector should be looking for in new entrants (a completely different discussion), but what the international aid sector currently does look for in new entrants at international or regional level (i.e. not field level).

• A professional qualification (i.e. doctor, accountant, HR expert, engineer etc) or a relevant masters level degree
• Fluency in English and the ability to communicate in another language
• Experience of living and/or working abroad
• An understanding of the current issues in the sector
• Transferable skills such as budget management, people management, project management, computer literacy

Again, this is a list of ideals – this does not mean that if you are missing one or more of the list, you have no hope. Not at all. But if you are looking to improve your chances and have time and resources to invest in yourself, getting one of the above would be a great start.

Sadly, a lot falls down to who you know and/or luck. Many colleagues have told me they were in the right place at the right time, or that someone they knew from a previous job had helped them out. It’s wrong and I find it a very difficult pill to swallow, however, it is the reality. And before we throw away the whole idea of working in the sector, it’s important to distinguish between different possible approaches to this problem.

Firstly, you could focus entirely on networking – pimping yourself out on Linkedin, hanging around pubs near INGO headquarters, attending every talk or debate with homemade cards etc. This might work but it’s exhausting, and often difficult to demonstrate your skills and abilities over a glass of wine after a debate on lessons learned from an emergency response you weren’t part of. That’s setting aside the fact that many of us just aren’t any good at networking.

Secondly, you could spend time speaking to and reading about those who are already in the sector. There are numerous memoirs written by those who’ve worked ‘in the field’. These stories don’t give you experience but they do give you an insight into a sector with numerous facets. Similarly talking to and listening to friends, relatives, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, alumni from your school, who are or have worked in the sector, again gives you a chance to learn about what it looks like in reality. This knowledge should lead to better decisions about what positions to apply to, and to a greater success rate.
Finally, seeking advice from current or previous aid workers on your CV could make a serious difference. Did you know that when you were in charge of the number of barrels of beer in the basement of the pub, you were actually using similar skills as required for stock control or warehouse management in the field? Certain terms and ways of describing things can get your CV on the ‘to interview’ pile.

Ultimately, the top three tips (which you will have heard before) are:

1. Get field experience
2. Choose internships carefully, many INGOs and international organisations are churning through interns with little prospect of a job at the end
3. Be flexible in what you will do and where you’ll go

Here are the things we wish we’d known before we entered the aid sector. Look out for future blogs in this series on professionalism, recruitment and internships. For advice on getting in to the sector see ‘Aid Industry Career Advice‘ by @TalesfromtheHood and our ‘Ten Books To Read Before Becoming A Humanitarian‘.

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