I completely agree with Morealtitude that The Mass Media commentary on the Horn of Africa is irretrievably beset with dumbassery. (Yes, and thank you very much BBC and CNN. We would have never thought to ponder “long-term solutions” without your prompting.) And I am positively bored to the point of tears by yet another article banging on about how a “dysfunctional aid system” is the reason why things suck in The Horn. Seriously, AlertNet. You can do better. (By contrast, I love love LOVE the fact that in said article a bunch of UN and think-tank peeps, quoted as ‘experts’, decry the dysfunction of a bloated, donor-driven, bureaucracy. It’s a whole new spin on “working yourself out of a job.”)
But we’re losing the plot on the Horn of Africa. For once, I think it’s time to make this very simple: The Horn of Africa is in trouble.
The Horn of Africa is in trouble, but not at all because the aid system is dysfunctional (the aid system is dysfunctional – this is not news). Even so, it’s a sobering day for the aid community. It’s a sobering day because everything True about the situation, about what’s involved in a humanitarian response, and what a long-term solution might possibly look like in The Horn goes directly against everything that we, the INGOs, have spent the past thirty years miseducating our donors and ourselves to believe.
Aid marketing I’d love to see, originally written as satire, applies literally here: Your $20 or $20,000,000 won’t end hunger. It is almost certain that at least part of your donation will help terrorists. And three years from now The Horn is still gonna suck. There’s no happy ending here, folks. At least not one that aid organizations can influence or ever take credit for.
Because despite everything we’ve deluded ourselves into believing about our own influence and relevance and capacity and skill, none – not a single one – of the root causes of the current Horn of Africa crisis are in any way within the capability of the aid system as we currently know it to even begin to fix. (And not just in The Horn, either – remember, Aid does not really fix anything.)
Linda Polman correctly points out that famines are almost never caused by lack of food. And that is absolutely true in the Horn of Africa right now. Sure, INGOs can scale up or go in if they weren’t there before and distribute food, do WASH, run some cross-border ops into different parts of Somalia, beef up services to the long-established “refugee” camps in places like Dadaab…
But let’s be very clear: Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia have the collective power and resources to end the famine tomorrow. Moreover, the only real solution is for Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia (at an absolute minimum) to get their acts together acts together both individually and regionally, and engage the political will to make the necessary changes.
Anyone care to hazard a guess as to when that is going to happen?
While of course all of the isms of the aid blogosphere apply to The Horn (no magik bullets, no quick solutions, it’s about the land, it’s all very complicated and expensive…) the bigger message, really, for us in The Horn – as well as far, far more other places than we’d care to admit – is that we can’t fix it. I wrote once that it’s Haiti’s job to fix Haiti. And I’ll say it again, here. It’s the job of The Horn to fix The Horn. And only The Horn can fix The Horn.
We’re not building resilience. We’re not putting in place durable long-term solutions. We’re not enhancing local capacity (seriously, the local NGO with hands-down the best operational capacity in the entire region is Al-Shabaab). We’re not engaging grassroots stakeholders in participatory dialogue about co-envisioned preferred futures.
Until The Horn decides that it wants to sort itself out, we’re doing cyclical, unsustainable, expensive relief aid. Because this is our only real option. Simple as that.