De Paradox van Humanitaire Hulp

Voor een cursus aan de University of Cambridge getiteld ‘An introduction to international development: understanding contemporary issues and themes’, was een opdracht over hoe doeltreffend humanitaire hulp al dan niet is. Zijn de huidige methodes die gebruikt worden voor het toekennen van steun aan ontwikkelingslanden al dan niet voldoende, en hoe kunnen we in de toekomst beter doen? 

Ik deel hier mijn bijdrage in het kader van de opleiding (uiteraard in het Engels, op de University of Cambridge ligt Nederlands wat moeilijk). Kort gesteld levert hulp twee belangrijke paradoxen op:

  • Wanneer we humanitaire voorwaarden stellen aan de hulp, hopen we daarmee de situatie van de lokale bevolking te verbeteren. Maar veel van onze humanitaire voorwaarden zijn gestoeld op westerse, christelijke denkbeelden die zo diep in onze cultuur en ons wezen ingebakken zijn, dat we ze niet langer als culturele of christelijke waarden zien, maar als ‘algemeen geldende’ seculiere mensenrechten zijn gaan beschouwen. Er zijn inderdaad algemeen geldende mensenrechten vb. recht op leven, recht op menswaardig bestaan, folterverbod, enz. Maar andere rechten worden niet door alle culturen als basisrecht gezien, maar als een neo-kolonialistische inmenging in de lokale gebruiken en cultuur. Maar geld geven zonder humanitaire voorwaarden wordt dan snel weer gezien als een blanco cheque en maakt dat lokale regimes niet werken aan de verbetering van de levensomstandigheden van de lokale bevolking.
  • Humanitaire en ontwikkelingshulp kunnen enkel succesvolle resultaten bekomen indien ze in samenwerking zijn met en gesteund worden door de lokale machthebbers. Willen we samenwerken met dictatoriale regimes en tirannen die bloed aan de handen hebben? Uiteraard liever niet, maar laten we dan niet de bevolking die onze hulp het sterkst nodig heeft, aan hun lot en de willekeur van het regime over?
  • Humanitaire en ontwikkelingshulp kunnen enkel functioneren in veilige, stabiele gebieden. Het heeft weinig zin infrastructuur op te bouwen in gebieden waar deze toch opnieuw vernietigd wordt, of waar medewerkers vervolgd worden en moeten vluchten voor hun leven. Maar het afsnijden van hulp is eveneens geen optie, daar de bevolking in oorlogsgebied net bijzonder hulpbehoevend is.

In de tekst wordt gewerkt vanuit het voorbeeld van de Democratische Republiek Congo. Waarom is het dat net de landen die zichzelf ‘democratisch’ of een ‘volksrepubliek’ noemen, failed states zijn of dictatoriale regimes hebben?

Voor de leesbaarheid, zijn de referenties in deze tekst herwerkt als links naar de betrokken pagina’s.

Should aid as we know it continue?

As discussed in the topics above by other students, I question the effectiveness of humanitarian aid as it is donated today. Like Denmark has a humanitarian aid link to Tanzania, there is a similar link between Belgium and Congo. Difference is that Congo is a former colony and aid to the country is somewhat of a sensitive issue. Many Belgians believe it is our obligation to support Congo in any way we can to make up for wrongdoings in the past. Holding the aid funds for any reason is out of the question. No government however gives aid freely. It is either linked to projects (like China does in e.g. Ethiopia) or like most western countries do, linked to a number of provisions (mostly of humanitarian rights). However, President Kabila often deems these provisions for aid as ‘meddling’ and ‘hidden colonialism’. There are often diplomatic rows between Kabila and the Belgian State as he is easily offended when prominent Belgian politicians call the situation in Congo worrisome and call upon Kabila to use the donated funds for humanitarian relief.

Congo (DRC) has been plagued by civil war and rebellion since 1994 as a result of the genocide in the neighbouring countries Ruanda and Burundi, and later as a result of corruption, internal troubles between ethnical groups and the control of rich resources. Nowadays, especially the east of Congo (Kivu) is plagued by rebellious groups kidnapping children, forcing them to be either child soldiers or ‘to please the men.’ In Kivu alone, over 50 groups fight over control of the resources in the region. The situation is not clear-cut as resources, richness and power are not the only issues these armed groups fight over. After the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, Hutu’s fled from the conflict formed armed groups within Kivu. The region has large Tutsi tribes. The two ethnical groups took up arms against each other. Furthermore, the LRA of Joseph Kony has been reported in the region in 2015 (I found no more recent reports on the LRA movements). Rwanda claims large parts of Kivu and although it lost its case before the ICJ, the Rwandese government is suspected of supporting Rwandese insurgent groups in Kivu.

 In 2018, the humanitarian situation has severely deteriorated in the entire DRC. The EU has committed €60 m, “The humanitarian needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo are mounting. It has become the largest displacement crisis in Africa. The EU is stepping up its support with new funding to provide emergency food and water supplies, shelter and education for children, as well as health assistance against epidemics. There is no time to lose to help those most in need. It is now critical that all donors step up too their support to the people of DRC. At the same time, I ask the DRC authorities to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and facilitate humanitarian access throughout the country, so that assistance can reach all people in need,”said Commissioner Stylianides” (cited from the EU website). The country plagued by hunger, civil war and internal violence, has since then been confronted with the worst cholera outbreak in 15 years and soaring sexual violence numbers, including against children. The humanitarian crisis has caused has left 3.8 m people displaced according to OCHA. OCHA has several projects and aid programmes in place to alleviate people’s suffering.

The UNSC peace mission MONUSCO has been present in Congo since 1999 in an effort to protect the population against the violence and to provide basic healthcare. The Belgian Army has been present since 1997 to train the DRC army and police forces, in cooperation with MONUSCO. Yet, the DRC army missions to restore the control of the central government in the country fail time after time, resulting in more and more hardship for the local population and a further deteriorating humanitarian situation.

But in the middle of this accumulation of crises, President Kabila remains reluctant to humanitarian provisions and ‘meddling’ of Belgian (and European) politicians. State aid rarely reaches the needy population. Critics call the aid for Congo a black hole or the Barrel of the Danaids. The western type of aid obviously doesn’t work, the donated funds disappear, the situation keeps deteriorating and cholera, hunger, and violence keep spreading. Many western aid workers, bankers and industrials have left the region in fear of their lives. This means a vast reduction of access to healthcare, food providing programmes, knowledge, investments, funds and jobs. The local population is left behind.

In a previous case study, I referred to a programme to construct a series of dams on the Congo River to provide the region with green electricity and jobs. Many of these programs eventually fails as infrastructure is destroyed over and over again. Meaning that the project funded aid, as often provided by China, doesn’t do any good either. As we have seen, humanitarian assistance can only work properly if the phases of Response/Relief, Recovery and Development are followed. The latter two cannot engage if the first phase doesn’t succeed in stabilizing and securing the region. The central government in Kinshasa, their army, international armies (the African Union) and the UN Blue Helmets of MONUSCO do not succeed in stabilizing and securing the country. When a people in need is left behind by aid workers, investors and employers, this naturally feels as a wrong thing to do. But can one blame the westerners fleeing for their or their loved ones’ lives? Aid based on provisions and aid based on project implementation fail time after time. 

 It is obvious that the current aid donated to the DRC is rather useless as it rarely reaches the needy. But we cannot hold back aid as the people are in constant greater need and the situation keeps deteriorating. Humanitarian programmes cannot function properly as the country is not stabilized and secured. Aid funds ‘disappear’, humanitarian rights provisions are not met, project aided infrastructure destroyed time and time again. Donor fragmentation the unification or synergy of aid programmes- preferably under UN leadership as it is empowered to streamline state and NGO aid. 

But the only real conclusion I can offer is that I have no answer on how the accumulated crises in DRC can be countered and the distress of the people alleviated. It only shows a major paradox: military intervention, peace building and humanitarian aid are mostly needed in those countries where they ironically cannot make any significant difference.

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