View Full Version : Medecins Sans Fontieres is 40 years old in 2010

M-A Lagrange
12-21-2009, 10:21 AM
I know, they are a pain in the @#$$#*%%$ for most of military, but they are also the ones, with ICRC, we are just glade and happy they do the job. :cool:

The French doctors have opened doors, many doors…
- They left Ethiopia to denounce internal mass deportations of civilian population in Africa and raised the attention of the world.
- They explained in front of the US congress how they did enter Afghanistan while CIA was just stock in Pakistan.
- They received a Nobel price but took that very opportunity to demonstrate against Chechnya war.
- They have been kicked out of Sudan because they did pass all their medical reports to the ICC and Bashir is now on the wanted list.

The list is long and without them wars would be worst. But everything has a price:
- MSF national and expatriates staff are being killed every years,
- MSF national and international staff are taken hostage every years,

As they say, the world is our emergency room.

Most of us hate them but we are just happy they exist. To know more about them:
Médecins Sans Frontières - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I just would like to take this as an opportunity to look at how NGO and military do in fact collaborate.
And how, by becoming more performent, NGO have become an actor inside the battle field now days.

Tom Odom
12-21-2009, 11:14 AM
They also actively take sides. I saw them do it in Zaire and Rwanda at the same time.

Not my favorite NGO by any means; when killers have weapons inside an MSF facility like happened in Kibeho something is wrong.


M-A Lagrange
12-21-2009, 12:08 PM

I cannot disagree with you. But they are a keyplayer in wars nowadays.
NGOs, including CARE, Save The Children, CRS, IRC, IMC... All of them in fact would not be what they are today if MSF did not conduct a logistic revolution in humanitarian action implementation.
MSF logistic has nothing to envy to a military logistic. If NGO are in the battle field, even part of the battle field, it's because of MSF.

they have many defaults but...

William F. Owen
12-21-2009, 12:35 PM
NGO's are not neutral. Almost all all have agendas and policies. Almost all are involved in conflicts to promote political positions. Almost all are political in nature.

Non-government does not mean neutral and it does not mean good guys. Not carrying a gun, does not mean military force cannot be applied against them.

... but good luck to MSF. Very brave stuff.

12-21-2009, 02:39 PM
NGO's are not neutral.

Wilf, only too true. Not quite sure who it was back then, but I remember biting my tongue when Tom explained to a young relief worker the realities of Goma...

Ignoring the political and ethical ramifications of YOUR actions here is putting the people you are trying to help at risk.

12-23-2009, 08:22 PM
The dumb lawyer is attempting to get a little bit smarter about Africa - going back and reading excerpts from the African revolutionaries of the 60s and 70s.

One still alive and carrying the torch is Issa G. Shivji (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Issa_G._Shivji), who wrote a short 2005 piece about NGOs in Africa (http://www.pambazuka.org/en/publications/pz_sr_14.pdf), which suggests that they are on the wrong side of the "struggle".

By way of a preface

This paper is an attempt to examine critically the role and future of the NGO in Africa in the light of its self-perception as a non-governmental, non-political, non-partisan, non-ideological, non-academic, non-theoretical, not-for-profit association of well intentioned individuals dedicated to changing the world to make it a better place for the poor, the marginalised and the downcast. It is the argument of the paper that the role of NGOs in Africa cannot be understood without a clear characterisation of the current historical moment.

On a canvass of broad strokes, I depict Africa at the crossroads of the defeat of the national project and the rehabilitation of the imperial project. In the face of the avalanche of ‘end of history’ diatribe, I find it necessary, albeit briefly, to reiterate the history of Africa’s enslavement from the first contacts with the Europeans five centuries ago through the slave trade to colonialism and now globalisation. The aim of this historical detour is to demonstrate the fundamental anti-thesis between the national and the imperial projects so as to identify correctly the place and role of the NGOs in it.

I locate the rise, the prominence and the privileging of the NGO sector in the womb of the neoliberal offensive, whose aim is as much ideological as economic and political. I argue that the NGO discourse, or more correctly the non-discourse, is predicated on the philosophical and political premises of the neoliberalism / globalisation paradigm. It is in this context that I go on to discuss the ‘five silences’ or blind-spots in the NGO discourse. I draw out the implications of these silences on the contemporary and future role of the NGO sector in Africa.

At the outset, I must make two confessions. First, the paper is undoubtedly critical, sometimes ruthlessly so, but not cynical. Secondly, the criticism is also a self-criticism since the author has been involved in NGO activism for the last 15 years or so. And, finally, I must make it clear that I do not doubt the noble motivations and the good intentions of NGO leaders and activists. But one does not judge the outcome of a process by the intentions of its authors; one analyses the objective effect of actions regardless of intentions. Hopefully, that is what I have done.
(from last page of main text)
If the NGOs are to play that role they have to fundamentally re-examine their silences and their discourses; they must scrutinise the philosophical and political premises that underpin their activities; they must investigate the credentials of their development partners and the motives of their financial benefactors; they must distance themselves from oppressive African states and compradorial ruling elites. NGOs must refuse to legitimise, rationalise and provide a veneer of respectability and morality to global pillage by voracious transnationals under the guise of creating a global village.

I dare say that if in the NGO world we understood well the history of poverty and enslavement in Africa; if we did scrutinise the credentials of the so-called development partners; if we did distance ourselves from the oppressive African state; if we did refuse to lend our names to ‘poverty reduction polices and strategies’ which are meant to legitimise the filthy rich; if, indeed, we vowed to be a catalyst of change and refused to be a catechist of charity, we would have been toyi-toyi-ing at the doorsteps of Blair and his commissioners, beating our tom-toms and singing ‘Make imperialism history’ instead of jumping on the bandwagon of Sir Bob Geldof’s Band Aid.

I'd be interested in what the Africa pros here think of Shivji's arguments, etc.

Merry Christmas


M-A Lagrange
12-24-2009, 12:56 PM
Mike, you are far from being a dummy lawyer as you just came with one of the very last theoretical discussion about Ngo in political anthropology, at least in the French school.

Wilf and Stan are both right and wrong about the evolution of NGOs influence on War (as a concept and not an event or a practice).
The text JMM came from echoes with the work of two anthropologists, Laetitia Atlanie Duault (Au Bonheure des Autre) and Michel Agier (Des Camps de Refugiers au Gouvernement Humanitaire) which are unfortunately not yet translated in English (as far as I know).
It also echoes the work of Theodor Trefon, a Belgian researcher on DRC, and his work on NGOs in Kinshasa.

What Atlanie-Duault demonstrate in her work is that the concept of civil society, and therefore NGOs as key if not main partner, in Nation Building is linked and bound to Cold War US strategy to undermine former Soviet Union by creating a civilian counter power and basically prepare a civilian based new elite meant to replace former communist elite.
The second point is that civil society legitimacy has been established as a universal reality under the purpose to support and make the post Cold War consensus on Democracy inattackable. Anyone who does not support the idea of civil society as the legitimacy of the power (in opposition to power based on force) is then a dictator supporter. The theory of the clash of civilizations is a good illustration of this, as is the rejection of Shia conception of Nation as the core object of the State.

If Atlani-Duault reflection is based on the former Soviet Union States, Agier reflection is directly based on the practice of Humanitarian action and most precisely on the Refugees question. What he points out is that now, the civil society has found, through Human Rights a legal basement to some understanding of NGO role/legitimacy into war. By putting the Human Rights above all as the corner stone of Humanitarism, some NGO, mainly Anglo-Saxon NGOs as Oxfam, found or established themselves as a moral warrant of warfare and War in general. What Agier calls the Humanitarian Global Government. As war is being compared to a criminal act and no more as a legitimate ultimate resource into State relationships, International NGOs are basically trying to make civil society (based on their understanding of it, driven by Cold War strategy in fact) as the only legitimate representation of the people and then challenge States as representation of Nation legitimacy.
If I am not that clear, please tell me.

So, in fact, what Wilf and Stan are evaluating through a 1907 War Law definition of Neutrality is this competition between States and NGOs to be the moral and legitimate body to regulate war.
What is interesting is that Humanitarian action which in fact founds it legitimacy into Geneva Conventions is based on the 1907 War Law definition of neutrality. But actually, NGO do not respect that definition of neutrality because they place Human Right as their first source of legitimacy. On that subject, there is an excellent book A Bed for the Night from David Rieff (http://www.amazon.com/Bed-Night-Humanitarianism-Crisis/dp/074325211X)
What is also interesting is that MSF has been part of the very first organization to challenge this definition of Humanitarian Neutrality (it was created against it in fact) and is now coming back to it. MSF likes to think that ICRC is becoming more like them while, from an external eye, they are become more and more like ICRC.
It would be interesting to have Marct point of view on this as he definitively is much more familiar than me with US and Anglo-Saxon approach of the question.

About the African NGOs, I will come later with a post, time for me to organize some thoughts and find English sources on the subject.

Merry Christmas