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IRIN’s Top Picks: African security, transparency and Istanbul’s outcomes

Flood waters in Madagascar after Cyclone Bingiza struck the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar on 14 February 2011 Hannah McNeish/IRIN
Flood waters in Madagascar after Cyclone Bingiza
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.

Five to read

What next for the African Standby Force?

In development for more than a decade, the African Standby Force is a pillar of the African Union’s security architecture and its ambition to “silence the guns” by 2020 without having to keep relying on troops from outside the continent. Jonathan Rees, a consultant with the Institute for Security Studies, used the occasion of recent field exercises in South Africa involving 6,000 soldiers, police and civilians from across Africa to take stock of the Force’s achievement’s to date and of the key challenges ahead.

Over recent years “There has been a significant rise in standards, knowledge and confidence, and Africa now has a rich pool of talent to draw on for ASF missions,” writes Rees. But, according to his ISS colleague Annette Leijenaar, “'The one critical shortfall with Africa's peace support operations experience is a lack of ability to manage itself at HQ and field level.”

Ranking transparency

BBC Media Action, Oxfam and Fairtrade International have come top of this year’s Transparency Review, published by industry body BOND and their Scottish counterparts NIDOS. The report, which grades 48 British NGOs across a range of communications-related indicators, also singled out ChildHope among the mid-sized organisations, and Population Matters as the best small NGO. The methodology involves looking at organisational websites and assessing how open they are about financing, impact and activities. The authors noted, however, that there was still plenty of room for improvement in NGOs of all sizes, with too few having a systematic approach to accountability and not all going public with their reports or sources of funding.

Heard the one about the novelist, the whistleblower and the actor…?

The game of picking your dream guests for the ultimate dinner party is a familiar one. If Edward Snowden, Arundhati Roy and actor John Cusack are on your list, though, then you should have been at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow. Specifically, in room 1001 (yes, really), when the three of them met up with Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers, which revealed the US government had misled the public about the Vietnam War. They gathered for an evening of kicking back, hanging out and discussing terrorism, surveillance, warfare, patriotism and the small matter of the future of the world. Snowdon talked about the dangers of sleepwalking into surveillance states, and the “propaganda” he himself fell for after 9/11. Recounting the tale of this extraordinary evening, Roy wonders if his self-imposed exile makes Snowden an entirely new form of refugee. It’s a lovely, lyrical piece of writing.

Istanbul outputs

When UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien addressed member states in New York at the end of November he shed some long-awaited light on what to expect from the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next May. The main concrete outcome will be be a Chair’s Summary of proceedings. And rather than requiring the summit’s administrators to produce a core call to action or set of goals, O’Brien placed responsibility squarely on attendees, who will be encouraged to announce their own commitments. “World leaders will be expected to announce and champion bold actions in support of the priority action areas,” he explained. O’Brien also reiterated that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expects actual Heads of State and Heads of Government to pitch up, not mere underlings. The document will do little to alter the views of pessimists who believe the summit failed as soon as it declined to address the issue of systemic reform – especially as he confirmed UN mandate changes were off the table – but IRIN hears there are some surprisingly productive and interesting plans being cooked up behind closed doors by donors and some agencies on specific thematic issues like displacement. Watch this space for more.

Talk about corruption

There’s ample evidence to show that corruption affects many aspects of humanitarian response. Aid agencies may take it seriously and try to root it out but are generally averse to discussing the subject openly, for fear of the impact both in donor countries and in theatres of operation. This silence is counterproductive, argues Paul Harvey in this blog post for the CHS Alliance. “Corruption undermines trust at multiple levels – disaster-affected people don’t trust aid agencies to provide assistance fairly, local authorities don’t trust principled rhetoric around impartiality, and donor publics don’t trust that their money is reaching people who need it most,” he writes. The blog post highlights a range of research papers on the effect of corruption on aid efficiency and on financing channels. Current anti-corruption initiatives, says Harvey, tend to take place within organisations, whereas a system-wide approach, with research and analysis carried out by independent bodies, would be a better way to reinforce trust.

One to watch:

Voices from Raqqa

Not much of the news about Raqqa, the Syrian headquarters of the self-styled Islamic State, emanates from the city itself; the media perspective tends be from far away, most recently from London, where British MPs this week voted to bomb the place in an effort to eradicate the murderous group. But Syrian citizen journalists do exist there, in the form of a group called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. A self-declared movement against extremism, it has developed ingenious ways of protecting its readers, such as disguising its publications with the same magazine covers as those produced by IS’ slick communications machine. The group has paid a heavy price for its work: reporters have been killed and family members kidnapped. Its team outside Syria gave a terrifying account its work to the BBC, after winning the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award.



Like 40,000 other activists, state leaders, reporters, environmentalists and general hangers-on, IRIN has been in Paris this week at the massive COP21 climate change conference. You can read our special analysis section here, with a special focus on what all of this means for the humanitarians so often left to mop up (sometimes literally) after climate change related crises. From what the discussions mean for Africa – the continent with the smallest carbon footprint but most in need of support – to our thoughts on whether migration is the elephant in the Parisian environmentalists’ front room, the section is being updated daily. An off-beat highlight is this selection of the most left-field, amusing and frankly baffling advertising and advocacy campaigns jumping on the COP21 bandwagon.

Coming up

32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, 8-10 December, Geneva

Held every four years, this event will bring together representatives of almost every country in the world and of 189 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from across the globe.

And finally….

An honourable mention this week to UN Peacekeeping for this very special series of tweets on how to build a Popemobile in the Central African Republic.

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