(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Top Picks: From Unfairy Tales to Great Expectations

Men in the back of a truck
Tom Wescott/IRIN

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.

Four to read:

Great Expectations in Tunisia

This week, African security expert Abdelkader Abderrahmane argued that a military intervention to oust the so-called Islamic State from Libya would have a dangerous spillover, with Tunisia and its fragile democracy the first hit. In this paper, Maha Yahya, acting director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, details the state of that democracy and finds that the socioeconomic policies that led to Tunisia’s 2010 public uprising haven’t changed, leaving many in the country disenchanted with the revolution. The ouster of Zin El Abidine Ben Ali after 24 years was followed by peaceful elections and a new constitution: so far, so good. But then came a widening disparity between the rich and poor, high unemployment, and youth poverty. Marginalised groups in regions like Kasserine – ignored by Ben Ali – still feel left on the sidelines and continue to protest. To avoid further fragmentation, Yahya believes the country needs to rethink its development model and become a more inclusive democracy. Tunisians want to participate, but many still haven’t been given the chance.

How jogging in Burundi became an act of war

The tone may occasionally grate, but this long read is a wonderfully original take on the Burundi crisis. It explores Bujumbura’s hugely popular running clubs, in a country where going for a jog can be a political statement. First you have to join a club and register with the government. Then you must choose one of nine approved venues. After that, the police may have some questions. How many people will be there? When? Give us their names.

“When I first heard about President Pierre Nkurunziza’s ban on jogging, it seemed like the work of a crackpot dictator, much like North Korea’s ban on blue jeans, China’s ban on unlicensed reincarnation, or any of a number of decrees out of Turkmenistan, where the former president once outlawed lip-syncing, gold teeth, and beards,” writes Peter Frick-Wright.

Afghanistan’s landless returnees

People returning to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban make up about 20 percent of the country’s population, but most were unable to reclaim the homes and land they fled. That’s largely because the government’s plan to redistribute land to returnees has been “corrupt and ineffective”, according to this new study by the Afghanistan Analyst Network, as well as other reports. The AAN traces the history of the decade-old scheme and exposes the byzantine process for returnees to claim land. After nine years, at the end of 2014, only 21,000 plots distributed were actually occupied. Figures from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, suggest that more than two million people should be eligible to receive land under the redistribution programme.

Challenges to Peacekeeping in the 21st Century

Peacekeeping is one of the cornerstones of the UN and the international order it upholds. But it’s under strain – new mandates, new actors, new problems. Can it evolve? This series by the United Nations University promises to “bring innovative analysis and offer solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing peacekeeping today”. The articles culminate on 29 May, International Day of UN Peacekeepers.

One to listen to:

Securing humitarian access in insecure settings

Recurring violence against civilians and workers affects both the quantity and quality of assistance and protection reaching vulnerable populations. It also requires a reassessment of how humanitarian professionals plan and strategically implement aid delivery in insecure environments. This podcast by ATHA – the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative – discusses the issues, and then looks at the case study of South Sudan.

One to watch:

“Unfairy tales” of refugee and migrant children

Conceived by aid agency 180LA, these animations are the true stories of children who have fled conflict. No need to add to the words of those behind the project, Rafael Rizuto and Eduardo Marques: “The Unfairy Tales picture with heartbreaking detail what it’s really like to be a child in that situation, showing that some stories were never meant for children. We needed to tell these stories to make everyone think about it.”

One from IRIN:

Inside southern Libya’s lawless people-smuggling hub

Fearless reporting from IRIN contributor Tom Westcott exposes the true horror of what’s happening right now in Sabha, in southern Libya. After a gruelling journey across the Sahara, migrants are imprisoned by people smugglers in their hundreds and held for ransom. Men are often forced into labour to pay for their passage, while women prostitute themselves for as little as $10. Those whose families don’t stump up the cash or refuse their captors demands are brutally beaten. What about the authorities; what do they do? Nothing. The senior police officer in Sabha tells IRIN he sleeps in a different place every night just to avoid being killed.

Coming up:

Complementarity in humanitarian action

Tuesday, 5 April at the Centre International de Conférences Genève in Geneva

Global NGO network ICVA holds its annual conference in Geneva. The focus of this year’s gathering is complementarity. What does it mean? What does it look like? What are the risks and the benefits? With the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul lurking just around the corner, how the myriad branches of the aid community can better work together is a topic ripe for exploration.

Can drones save lives?

Thursday, 14 April at 5:00 PM, Moffett Field NASA Research Campus, CA, United States

Love it or hate it, the use of drones to humanitarian ends is booming these days. From Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines to cyclone-hit Vanuatu and quake-struck Nepal, each new disaster provides a testing ground for advancing the technology and its application.

Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank, will gather leading technologists and humanitarians on 14 April for a networking and presentation event that asks the most important question: Can drones save lives?

The debate over drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as non-military users prefer to call them, is raging. Some worry about ethical implications, others doubt their efficacy. Register, go along, and join in.


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