From Manufactured Debts to Chronic Humanitarianism: Lessons from Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo A8re _Aerial_View.jpg

by Cilas Kemedjio

I was struck by the massive presence of NGOs in Haiti. Shortly after the 2010 earthquake, Former Alaskan Governor and US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin visited Haiti with a delegation of preacher Franklin Graham’s charity Samaritan Purse. Hollywood’s power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie also visited, and donated $1 million for relief work. Beyoncé visited to take stock of the progress made in the rebuilding effort. Sean Penn stayed in Haiti for months after the earthquake. He co-founded the J/P Relief Organization in 2010 in response to the earthquake and has visited several times since. Yele Haiti, the humanitarian foundation set up by Haitian-born Hip-Hop star Wyclef Jean, came under intense scrutiny at the time of the quake for what some perceived as his less than ethical management of the foundation. On the plane to and from Haiti, I noticed that an incredible number of passengers, identifiable with the logos on their t-shirts, were associated with Christian churches or charities. During a walk in Port-au-Prince, I stumbled on this massive humanitarian presence in Haiti. One sign read “Aide humanitaire et protection civile (humanitarian assistance and civil protection”, with a European Union flag indicating who was sponsoring the effort. Next was a small structure wrapped with USAID wallpaper and this unmistaken reminder: “From the American People”. On the same wallpaper, one could see the logo of GOAL, an Irish NGO dedicated to helping the poorest of the poor. If these charitable organizations cannot lead to paradise, there’s always the ubiquitous counter selling lottery tickets, even on Sunday morning. And if gambling cannot open the gates of happiness, there’s faith, there’s God as illustrated by the many churches I saw during my morning walk in this popular neighborhood. After witnessing all this misery, I came to the conclusion that writing about Haiti would be an exercise in futility because writing would never catch up with what late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu would call the misery of the world. Then Akosua insisted that I must write. I almost told her that it was impossible, then I waited and was finally able to see the wisdom of her intimation, or rather of her executive suggestion. I dedicate these notes to Akosua. Continue reading

In the News: Yet Another June 16?

Yet another June 16? A formidable day in the history of a country still grappling with a painful past, a rather uncertain present, but for many a promising future. Commemorated under the theme ‘Youth Moving South Africa forward’ this remarkable day recalls the 1976 Student uprising in Soweto that challenged the law imposing Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in Black schools. This was seen as a move by the Apartheid government to subjugate and annihilate Black history and identity through a highly controlled pedagogical framework that disregarded the educational agency of black South Africans.

Forty years down the road, enormous strides have so far been made. However, the country continues to encounter numerous challenges, some of which are inherited from this turbulent colonial past. CIHABlog’s Co-Editor Akosua Adomako’s article – #Black Lives Matter, #Rhodes Must Fall and Afro Knowledge posted on June 10th expounds upon some of these challenges and more. Brooks J. Spector in his article ‘Soweto, 16 June 1976: ‘Freedom Is Coming, Tomorrow published in the Daily Maverick at this year’s commemoration analyses the events of the 1976 uprising and its implication on the lives of South Africans today.

Soweto, 16 June 1976: ‘Freedom Is Coming, Tomorrow’                                             by J Brooks Spector for Daily Maverick 

On Angeline Jolie Pitt and William Hague Appointments at LSE’s Women Peace and Security Programme

Earlier this week, we posted our first of two pieces discussing the impact of Angelina Jolie’s appointment at the London School of Economics. Today, we post a second piece by Njoki Wamai who considers both Angelina Jolie and William Hague’s appointments at LSE and the implications for humanitarianism as it perpetuates unequal power relations. We look forward to your comments!

By Njoki Wamai

passport photo redOn May 23, 2016 the London School of Economics announced the appointment of four Visiting Professors in Practice to teach in their new one–year MSc in Women, Peace and Security. The visiting professors are: Jane Connors, a retired humanitarian careerist and academic; Madeleine Rees, a British lawyer and current Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Lord William Hague, a life peer,  former British foreign minister  and  the  co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), and Angelina Jolie Pitt,  the  Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI). The PSVI is a campaign based at the Foreign Commonwealth office and Department for International Development (DFID) hoping to address the culture of impunity that exists for crimes of sexual violence in conflict by increasing the number of perpetrators held to account and promoting international co-operation and increasing the political will and capacity of states to do more. Continue reading

#Black Lives Matter, #Rhodes Must Fall and Afro Knowledge [i]


UCT Students, and staff march for Transformation.

by Akosua Adomako Ampofo

This past year I have been a Visiting Scholar at Concordia University (CUI) in Irvine, California. CUI is a Lutheran school and generally provided me with a warm and welcoming environment.  While many of my students had never taken a class that focused on African or African-American studies, most were open to learning and indeed expressed appreciation for the paths we traveled in class.  One morning on my way to class I found myself behind a young man (not my student) wearing a T-shirt that read, “All lives matter”.  I was unprepared for the wave of sadness, frustration, anger and even despair that came over me.  How do people not get that saying “all lives matter” in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US in 2016 shows, at best, deep ignorance, and at worst, a total lack of concern for those at the receiving end of institutional racism? Continue reading

In the News: The Continuing Relevance of Biafra / the Nigerian Civil War

One of Nigerian Gov. Airforce War planes being captured and recovered after the Biafran War in Nigeria Presently located at the National War Museum, Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria

Nigerian Gov. Airforce War plane captured and recovered after the Biafran War in Nigeria.

Recently, The CIHA Blog posted two reflections from our conference on Biafra/the Nigerian Civil War:  The Problem of How to Enact Diakonia: The World Council of Churches and the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970 and Biafra Faith-Based Humanitarian Intervention: Basis in the World Council of Churches. Today, we post an ‘In the News’ piece that demonstrates how the relevance of this conflict persists to the present day. A recent editorial in the New York Times titled “Block the Sale of Warplanes to Nigeria” persuaded Dr Herbert Ekwe Ekwe to write a separate piece called “‘Block the Sale of Warplanes to Nigeria’: What is Missing in an Otherwise Excellent NYT Editorial.” Dr. Ekwe Ekwe praises the author for calling out for the prevention of the US government selling warplanes to the Nigerian government. However, Ekwe Ewke also critiques the editorial, positing that the current situation with Boko Haram and the Buhari regime is directly related to Biafra. The author’s perspectives demonstrate the continuing significance of Biafra/the Nigerian Civil War as the history of the conflict endures within the contemporary politics in Nigeria. Continue reading

Biafra Faith-Based Humanitarian Intervention: Basis in the World Council of Churches

Last week we posted the first of two reflections from our conference on Biafra/the Nigerian civil war. In this reflection, Mercy Oduyoye,  the director of the Institute of African Women in Religion and Culture at Trinity Theological Seminary in Ghana, discusses her personal experiences with the Biafra/Nigerian civil war and the involvement of the World of Churches in the conflict. Oduyoye leaves readers with a strong statement regarding the Christian base for humanitarian aid and the ecumenical diakonia service – a Christian witness to service that in turn challenges colonial paternalism and social structures that perpetuate poverty. 

by Prof. Mercy Oduyoye

Mercy Oduyoye IMG_2024_ce20I have offered to be on this panel in order to share a personal experience and call attention to the participation of the World Council of Churches-WCC in humanitarian interventions and the theories and theologies that inform its contribution.

In 1968, I married Modupe Oduyoye, a Nigerian, while working in Geneva with the WCC in its Youth Department. Because of our marriage, when I completed my three-year contract in 1970, I did not seek a renewal with the WCC but accepted another offer from the All Africa Conference of Churches-AACC, which made it possible for me to live with my husband and work from Ibadan.  Modupe had just moved from being the General Secretary of the Student Christian Movement-SCM of Nigeria, to the position of Literature Secretary of the Christian Council of Nigeria. At this time, the late lawyer/politician, Bola Ige, and the late medical doctor, Akanu Ibiam, formerly sir Francis Ibiam, were well known names in the Nigerian Student Christian Movement, the World Student Christian Federation and in the WCC. Continue reading

The Problem of How to Enact Diakonia: The World Council of Churches and the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970

We post this week two more reflections from our conference on Biafra/the Nigerian civil war. The first is by Hans von Ruette, the archivist of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, who explores the historical documentation of the WCC to argue that the Council found itself in an unresolvable predicament and experienced severe tensions between remaining apolitical and taking sides in the conflict. Von Ruette ends his post with an impassioned plea to consult archives whenever possible. The questions of what archives exist (written, oral, pictorial) and how to access and interpret them became a major theme of the conference.

By Hans von Rütte, Archivist of World Council of Churches, Geneva (Switzerland)

Abstract: The World Council of Churchesporträt hvr photo helga leibundgut 2015-12-25 ausschnitt 2 was one of the most active external actors in the Nigerian/Biafran war. But it faced an intractable dilemma, caught between enacting Christian ethics of providing relief, on one hand, and keeping a neutral position in order to broker peace, on the other. Different agendas, internal and external, interfered with the result that the WCC became largely unable to act. Ultimately, the dilemma between answering the humanitarian call and receiving and mediating political-diplomatic intelligence was unresolvable. My analysis uses WCC archives to make this argument. Continue reading

My Ghana! Reflections on a Biafran Workshop

Thus far, The CIHA Blog has posted a number of reflections on last October’s Biafra workshop, including Anthonia Kalu on our common humanity, Philip C. Aka on humanitarian integrity, and Helen Chukwuma on arms and welfare humanitarianism. Next in our series comes from Abene Kyere, one of the Blog’s editorial assistants.

by Abena Kyere

Abena Kyere

Abena Kyere

It is amazing how a Buchi Emechata book, Destination Biafra, and a workshop can keep you awake and pondering. A workshop keeps you awake when you are one of the organizers and wondering how tomorrow, the first day of the workshop, will turn out. Luckily for us (the Ghana team) the workshop on Rethinking the Origins of Humanitarian Action in Africa turned out well and very fulfilling, thanks to the enthusiasm of all participants and modern technology! Continue reading

In the News: Innovation, Yet Another Silver Bullet for Poverty

It’s not possible to innovate people out of poverty
by Tom Murphy for Humanosphere

commentary by Cilas Kemedjio

This article points out that “innovation” is the new path to paradise in Africa. Yet it also makes us question whether, when it comes to solving intractable problems on the continent as well as in poor communities around the world, the rich really want to find sustainable solutions. Here, since development, economic adjustment, good governance programs, democracy, respect for human rights, and other “solutions” have proved unsustainable, so-called experts are searching for a new fix. It’s always about the magic wand, and the next, and the next, with no accountability when it does not work.

commentary by Akosua Adomako Ampofo

It was the early 1990s. In Ghana we were about half a decade into the Structural Adjustment Program that was meant to place us back on even keel. The medicine introduced to heal our economy, some contended, was a lot more severe than the disease. This was the time when smiling, semi-naked black children graced the cover of a World Bank publication—here was poverty glorified for your coffee table. It was also the time when a World Bank memo asserting that it was best to shift support from Higher Education in Ghana to basic education was “leaked” to some of us at the University of Ghana. Poor people did not deserve higher education, or perhaps they simply didn’t know what to do with it. (The Bank subsequently intimated the memo was not the official viewpoint.) Continue reading