On this morning’s BBC Radio 4 broadcast Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, talked about the situation in Somalia.
Presenter – But as long as there is no effective government in Somalia, it’s very difficult to see how it will be sorted out […] and I quote ‘ Britain is going to deepen its involvement in Somalia’ is that right?
Mitchell – Well it’s right that we should deepen our involvement because Somalia is a very direct threat to the security of the UK.
Not content with explaining Britain’s commitment to saving lives in Somalia, Mitchell thought it important to scare us with this factoid: there are probably more British passport holders in Somalia training to be terrorists than in any other country in the world.
What?! Security used to justify aid? OK. Cue it up. Here comes another pissy rant about “blurring of the lines”. About how if something like food aid is in the interests of British national security then it will be in Al Shabab’s interest to block it. About the ultimate arch villian of all aid workers, the dreaded “erosion of humanitarian space”. (Note for you blog fans who are not insiders: we’ve easily passed the million mark on publications, conferences, workshops and papers discussing the erosion of humanitarian space. My research has shown that any actual erosion is the consequence not of aid’s politicization but of all the people who left aid work on the ground – you know, giving stuff to victims – in order to talk incessantly about why they can’t give stuff to people.).
Anyway, you guessed wrong. I’m going cold turkey. No more banging on about the fact that the military is building schools to win hearts and minds. Here’s a quote from my reflections on MSF’s 40th birthday, posted yesterday: It is now, in middle age, that we acquire the maturity to accept what has always been true: it is ridiculous to expect governments, rebel groups, insurgents, criminal syndicates or national armies to adopt the benevolent positioning of a charitable organisation, and that the abuse of humanitarian aid is an enduring and inevitable component of the landscape in which we operate.
You should read the full piece, here at the Huffington Post (UK edition). Shameless plugging. Here’s another. MSF published a new book, called Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed, which the French think is a catchy title. The book delves into MSF’s compromise, the well-hidden part of our work where we “angels of virtue” (my favorite Paul Theroux term) sacrifice principles like independence and integrity at the altar of access, in order to deliver aid in perverted landscapes like Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Congo (or, more cynically, to ensure our own institutional relevance).
You want proof of the book’s quality? They didn’t accept my proposed submission.
Happy holidays to everyone. Have a great new year. We’ll be back, bigger and badder and funnier and more provocative than ever in 2012. Sound familiar. That’s right friends, I have become aid itself, promising to finally get it right if you please please please keep believing in us.