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Afghan peace marches, TED talks for refugees, and whatever happened to those aid reforms? The Cheat Sheet

(Zakeria Hashimi/AFP)

Every Friday, IRIN’s team of specialist editors offers a round-up of humanitarian trends and developments from around the globe.


On our radar:


Europe’s migration NIMBYism


This week saw a particularly egregious case of Not In My Back Yard syndrome. Both Italy and Malta refused to allow a boat carrying 629 people rescued in the Mediterranean off Libya to dock. Médecins Sans Frontières said some patients on the over-capacity Aquarius were in critical condition after nearly drowning or suffering from hypothermia, while others had severe chemical burns from the mixture of fuel and sea water. While they remained stranded, politicians used the opportunity to score political points – Italy summoned France’s ambassador after Emmanuel Macron criticised the country’s “cynicism and irresponsibility”, then Italy’s prime minister called Macron a hypocrite. Spain finally offered to take the Aquarius and it headed to Valencia, although some people made the final leg of the trip on, ironically, Italian Navy ships.


New UN scrutiny on Kashmir


Decades of upheaval in Kashmir will come under the microscope on 18 June as the Human Rights Council opens a new session. The UN’s top rights official, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is calling for a commission of inquiry into abuses in the divided region. Protests and crackdowns have escalated in Indian-administered Kashmir over the past two years. Civil society groups say Indian security forces killed at least 130 civilians between July 2016 and March 2018, and injured thousands more – particularly through the highly criticised use of pellet guns. On 14 June, Zeid’s office released its first rights report on Kashmir, calling for an investigation into abuses by all sides. Zeid reserved his strongest rebukes for India’s security forces, which he said were responsible for an “excessive use of force” against civilians (India called the report “fallacious” and “tendentious”). It’s unlikely either India or Pakistan will allow a UN-backed investigation on their respective sides; both countries previously barred Zeid’s office from setting foot in Kashmir, forcing the rights watchdog to conduct “remote monitoring” for the report.


Surprising marches for peace in Afghanistan


It’s a rare opportunity for optimism amid the horrors of war: a growing group of protesters is marching from Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province to the capital, Kabul, demanding an end to conflict. What started as a handful of people has swelled to a few dozen. After a trek of more than 600 kilometres, the group is set to reach Kabul in time for Eid – the celebrations that mark the end of Ramadan. The peace march is just one example of the public demonstrations that have cropped up in half the country’s provinces in recent weeks, drawing in women and men from across ethnic lines who are fed up with the bloodshed. These are no minor feats in Afghanistan, where moderate imams have come under attack and civilians themselves are often the direct target of suicide blasts. If peace is possible in Afghanistan, the next week may prove a crucial stepping stone: the government and the Taliban are both observing temporary Eid ceasefires. “If the respective leaderships can enforce the ceasefire, this week could prove an important trust-building exercise that contributes to future peace-making,” notes the International Crisis Group.



Ethiopia/Eritrea: The hidden danger of reconciliation

A few Cheat Sheets ago we wondered whether Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, would make good on his promise to reconcile with neighbouring dictatorship Eritrea 18 years after the two states fought a devastating border war. The answer, so far, seems to be ‘yes’. Abiy has earned considerable kudos since coming to power for lifting a state of emergency and releasing political prisoners and, earlier this month, he publicly accepted a border demarcation ruling his predecessors had long ignored. Careful what you wish for, cautions journalist and author Michela Wrong. “The much-awaited, much-desired normalisation of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia could prove more destabilising to the Horn of Africa in the long term than its ‘Cold War’ ever was,” she wrote in The New York Times. This is because it would remove Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s key justification for maintaining his “iron rule”. Eritrea has yet to respond to Abiy’s announcement, but Afwerki is now in a tough spot. If Ethiopia follows through, “it's doubtful that Eritreans would accept any further fearmongering from the Afwerki administration,” writes Abraham Zere, exiled executive director of PEN Eritrea. But if “Afwerki attempts to dismiss or undermine this long-awaited gesture from its neighbour, the population may openly turn against the regime,” he adds.


Two years on, what’s happened to aid reform?


The 59 donors and aid agencies who signed up to the May 2016 "Grand Bargain" reforms are doing well on some things – like increasing the proportion of aid delivered as cash (which some say was well underway anyway) – but they're doing less well on others, such as how to reduce conditions on aid grants. A complicated apparatus has also built up around the reform process and demonstrating impact and needs a rethink. This is according to the Overseas Development Institute, whose researchers have combed through reports and data to produce a thorough progress report.


An inner circle of big donors and relief agencies made the pact, which contains 51 reform commitments across 10 thematic areas. On the one hand, donors would wean themselves off some bad habits (short-term funding, attaching too many conditions to grants, excessive paperwork). On the other, aid agencies (those who spend the donors' money) would reduce overlaps, share more resources, and be more transparent. According to IRIN's analysis, the Grand Bargain donors command nearly 90 percent of the world's formal emergency aid spending.


A flurry of reports mark the pact’s two-year anniversary. While ODI provides a detailed progress overview, a related report on transparency (one of the Grand Bargain thematic "work-streams") says that three quarters of the signatories are now publishing at least some data in the format agreed as the basis for more openness – the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). However, this report, by Development Initiatives, does reveal some major gaps: the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have so far published no IATI data whatsoever. The ICRC says it will start in 2018, but UNCHR has not yet committed to use the rich but complex IATI format. Together the agencies handle over $3.5 billion in humanitarian funding. Both had raised objections to the suitability of the format and its compliance dashboard – on which they currently score zero out of 100.


Our weekend read:


Cameroon’s anglophone war, part 1: A rifle as the only way out


When we began reporting on emerging discord in Cameroon’s anglophone regions in December 2016, it was hard to imagine the situation could disintegrate this fast. At the end of that first article (one of six we’ve done on the brewing crisis over the past 18 months), we quoted from anglophone MP Wirba Joseph’s impassioned speech to the Cameroonian National Assembly (paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson): “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” It’s this sense of injustice that pervades our weekend read this week: “A rifle as the only way out”. Emmanuel Freudenthal became the first journalist to embed with the separatist forces, and his tale of farmers-turned-soldiers arming themselves with hunting rifles to take on the might of the US-trained Cameroonian army offers vital insights into a nascent rebellion. “Until they kill me, I’ll do my best to fight, until I get my independence,” says one fighter. “I’m not alone, we are many.” Look out for Part 2 soon.


And finally:

Taking aim at TED

TED-branded talkfests tend to be held in big cities and feature clever, inspirational speakers discussing issues of science, philosophy, and technology. It’s a powerful brand, so it was an eyeopener when UNHCR ran a series of presentations last week by some of the 150,000 residents of one of the oldest refugee camps in the world under the banner of its “local-level” spin-off TEDx. The “stories of resilience, of contribution, of creativity” from Kenya’s Kakuma camp earned widespread positive news coverage. But not everyone was impressed. Ethnographer Hanno Brankamp, who has spent years studying life at Kakuma, lamented that the “neoliberal,” TED-ish “rhetoric of resilience and entrepreneurship” currently espoused by the humanitarian system “makes false promises and diverts attention away from structural inequalities, discrimination and policies of containment.” Behind the event’s messages of hope, he said, lies a daily life of curfews, police brutality, and ever-dwindling food rations. As much as the refugees in Kakuma deserve to be given a global platform, Brankamp argues, “no amount of individual positive thinking is enough to escape these realities.”

(TOP PHOTO: Afghan peace activists demand an end to the war as they start their march from Helmand to Kabul in Ghazni Province on 8 June 2018. CREDIT: Zakeria Hashimi/AFP)



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