Sunday, October 16, 2011

The long horn of Africa- Blog action day 2011

Somalia, food distribution recipients

 I was back home in the summer. My 8 year old niece was very concerned about the images  she was seeing coming out  from the horn on Africa on TV, so my sister asked me -the aid expert that had lived in Africa and worked in Somalia- to explain to her about the famine. It went something like this:

"well, it's really about power and politics. There’s a lot of different clans, clans are like families, and they all want the power, and so the people, mostly women and children, get crushed in the middle of it" 

I’m not sure either of them understood or believed me, but that’s my version of the affair.  And you can see how –from my perspective- no amount of food distribution is going to solve the problem.


Sometimes we (the aid community) just need to get the f*ck out. Sometimes not only are we not helping, but we are actually making things worse, maintaining a status quo that should be unsustainable. Making the powerful stronger. The rich richer.

When I say something like this out loud people often argue that it would be unethical to walk away. That it would mean penalising the poor not the rich. That hundreds might die before anything actually changes, and they are right, actually, they often use Somalia as an example that no matter how bad a situation gets, it IS sustainable,   and they've got a point.

So maybe it comes down to aid with accountability.

We hate the idea of enforcing our values because a) we've been wrong so many times and b) it feels like colonialism all over again. But lets face it, aid without accountability is not only unethical but simply irresponsible. The donors and aid agencies  need to bite the bullet and ensure that certain values are enforced, that the vulnerable benefit, like really benefit, and no, number of women that attended a workshop or received a bag of food does not count as a gender strategy, (for example). Especially if those same women have no control over what happens to that food once it gets home, or have no way of earning an income because it is deemed unacceptable for women to take a job outside the home. If you don’t address the root causes you are not helping, you are just putting a band aid over an infected wound. Maybe it’s time to  learn how to walk away when we see there is no change, but more importantly, when we know there is no will to change. Why? Because for the most part they know that no matter how unaccountable they are to the money that has been distributed, how little things change, the money will keep flowing in. And for the most part, they are right. We need to start making them accountable in order to be accountable ourselves. 

Maybe its time to look at laws and national budgets, see where the country’s money is going, making them participate (economically) whenever they want us to donate. If they think it is important enough for us (the development community) to invest in it… then they should too.

Because in a civil war situation, and Somalia is a type of civil war, handing out food is not any more neutral than handing out guns. We have a responsibility to know what we are doing, where it is going, and who’s really benefitting.

food distribution center

NOTE: This post was originally a reply to a post on Tales From the Hood: simple  it got so long I decided best to keep on ranting over here.


Kelly said...

Well written. Great addition to #BAD11!

Emily Suess said...

You shed some light on the complexities of the situation that many of us never understand. Thanks for adding this to the #BAD11 conversation today.

Diana said...

It makes more sense to give them the fishing net and teach them to fish than to give them the fish already cooked.
And you are absolutely right, the local authorities have to be willing to participate and the donors have the duty to make sure the money is used properly.