Fuel to the Flames: What if Humanitarian Aid Prolongs Conflict?

Fuel to the Flames: What if Humanitarian Aid Prolongs Conflict?
The first and foremost goal of humanitarian aid is to save lives. But what if humanitarian action unintentionally lengthens the duration or becomes part of a conflict? During this second edition of Hot Humanitarian Topics, we discuss the unintended consequences of humanitarian aid during the conflict in South-Sudan and other African countries with the South Sudanese scientist Jok Madut Jok.

In 2017 humanitarian organizations warned for a severe famine in South Sudan. In The Netherlands, Giro555 organized a campaign to raise money for the population of South Sudan. However, according to Jok Madut Jok, the activities of the international (humanitarian) organizations in South Sudan were prolonging the civil war in South Sudan, and therefore should stop. Aid provides the political leaders of South Sudan an alibi for their failure to take care of the welfare of their people. Additionally, the aid feeds the armies that fight with each other: “If the international community did not help, my assessment is that political leaders no longer allow people to die, and they would stop the war.”

During this edition of Humanitarian Hot Topics, Jok Madut Jok, the executive director of the South Sudanese think tank Sudd Institute, will give an introduction addressing the unintended consequences of humanitarian aid in South Sudan and other African countries. His keynote speech is followed by a discussion between him and speakers from the humanitarian sector.

Podcast about the event

About Jok Madut Jok

Jok Madut Jok is the executive director of the Sudd Institute, a public policy research centre based in South Sudan. Besides his work at the Sudd Institue, Jok is also a professor of anthropology at the University of Juba in South Sudan. He is a widely recognized specialist on the topics of security, conflict, humanitarian aid, and political violence.

Following the independence of South Sudan in 2011, Jok joined the government of South Sudan as undersecretary at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage for two years. Jok has also worked in the aid and development sector and is the author of various books including Breaking Sudan: The Search for Peace (2017) and Sudan: Race, Religion and Violence (2007). He also write numerous articles covering: humanitarian aid, gender, sexuality and reproductive health, ethnography of political violence, gender-based violence, and war and slavery and the politics of identity in South Sudan and Sudan.

Other Speakers

  • Ton Huijzer will give an introduction to the issue from a humanitarian perspective. Ton Huijzer is a consultant in the humanitarian aid sector. Prior to this he worked for the Red Cross, and the International Rescue Committee / Stichting Vluchteling.
  • Bram Jansen is assistant professor at Wageningen University and Research, on the topics of: refugees and forced migration, protracted refugee situations, and humanitarian aid. For his doctoral research (2004-2011) he spent two years in Kakuma, a refugee camp in Northern Kenya that receives people from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Congo and Uganda. For his post-doc he studied humanitarian decision-making and its effects in South Sudan.
  • Akke Boere studied to be a cultural anthropologist but has been Operational Manager at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Amsterdam for a long time. She is responsible for the medical and humanitarian projects in South Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. For the past 15 years, she also worked in India, Papua New Guinea, Chad and the Central African Republic and coordinated large-scale medical emergencies.

*UPDATE: Article Trouw*

At the evening of the debate, Jok Madut Jok was interviewed by Trouw. As during the event, he expressed his critical opinion on emergency aid provided in South Sudan: ‘emergency aid saves people, but in the end more people will die’. Arguments he presented were: emergency aid is just a temporary solution, distribution camps are breeding places for diseases, the food feeds the fighting parties, and the political elite is given an alibi for inaction and failure on their account. In his opinion, South Sudan has become dependable on cycle of aid flows and this aid should stop. Madut Jok remains cynical that these humanitarian organizations will leave the country. The solution: temporary relief aid must be substituted with development aid for sustainable local projects.

Link to the article on the website of Trouw (limited access)

KUNO organized the debate on South Sudan, to facilitate discussion and critical reflection from all perspectives. Jok Madut Joks critical opinion was most welcome, and this was captured by the article of Trouw. However, also opinions of humanitarian relief organizations were present during the debate. They had their  own story to tell. Therefore, KUNO submitted a response to the Trouw article, reflecting also other elements of the dilemmas discusses (in Dutch). Trouw did publish our reflections on 26 February 2019.

Humanitaire hulp is een morele plicht – ook als die misbruikt wordt (link)

OPINIE: Het is een dilemma: lokale machthebbers die humanitaire hulp gebruiken voor eigen gewin. Toch is er geen alternatief, benadrukt Arjan Hehenkamp, voorzitter van KUNO, platform voor kennisuitwisseling over noodhulp.

De Zuid-Soedanese academicus Jok ­Madut Jok heeft stevige kritiek op de noodhulp in zijn land (Trouw, 13 februari). Madut Jok was op uitnodiging van Kuno en Humanity House in Nederland, waar hij als onderdeel van onze debatserie ‘Hete humanitaire hangijzers’ in gesprek ging met mensen uit de noodhulpsector en het publiek. Zijn verhaal verdient het gehoord te worden, anders hadden we hem niet uitgenodigd.

De (lokale) machthebbers trachten noodhulp te gebruiken om hun eigen positie te versterken; Madut Jok bracht dit argument tijdens de bijeenkomst met verve naar voren.

Dit risico bestaat, en is van alle tijden. Feit is ook dat de humanitaire gemeenschap dit risico erkent en het zo verstandig mogelijk tracht te minimaliseren, zonder de bevolking om wie het ­allemaal draait, in de steek te laten.

In zijn gezaghebbende boek ‘Humanitarian Ethics’ benadrukt Hugo Slim dat de verantwoordelijkheid van de humanitaire gemeenschap niet overschat mag worden, omdat conflictsituaties geheel gecontroleerd worden door strijdende partijen. Hij betoogt dat op grond van hun beperkte capaciteit de verantwoordelijkheid van humanitaire organisaties niet verder kan reiken dan het beperken van de effecten van misbruik van hulp, bijvoorbeeld diefstal of buitensporige belastingen. Intussen, benadrukt Slim, hebben hulporganisaties de voortdurende plicht te zorgen dat ­levens worden gered en mensen worden beschermd tegen de gevolgen van oorlog.

Leiders buiten schot

Een tweede belangrijk argument van Madut Jok, dat in het interview slechts wordt aangestipt, betreft een ander effect: langdurige (nood)hulp ontneemt burgers de mogelijkheid om hun eigen leiders ter verantwoording te roepen. Deze leiders blijven buiten schot, omdat hulporganisaties jaar in, jaar uit de ergste noden ledigen.

Dit veronderstelt echter een burger­bevolking die bij machte is haar leiders ter verantwoording te roepen. Het tegenovergestelde is in Zuid-Soedan het geval. Als nationale leiders, en vervolgens de internationale politiek, de Zuid-Soedanese bevolking laten lijden en sterven, dan kan het noodhulpor­ganisaties niet kwalijk worden genomen dat zij wél in actie komen.

Het alternatief, niks doen, druist in ­tegen alle medemenselijkheid en komt vervaarlijk dichtbij dood door schuld.

About the series ‘Humanitarian Hot Topics’

KUNO & Humanity House organise the series ‘Humanitarian Hot Topics’. For each edition they invite a speaker with an outspoken vision on much discussed hot topics within the humanitarian sector, such as migration, #metoo and localisation. After a short plea, the speaker will go into dialogue with the speakers from the humanitarian sectors and the audience. These series are made possible through the financial support of ten different humanitarian emergency aid organisations.

To read more about Humanity House, click here.

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