World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) opens in Turkey, with little glitz & vision

23 May

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

I share the concern and worries of the global medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which is enraged by the possibility of participants in the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) being pressed to “a consensus on non-specific, good intentions to ‘uphold norms’ and ‘end needs’, adding that the summit has become a fig-leaf of good intentions, allowing these systematic violations, by states above all, to be ignored.”

On account of that, in early May MSF announced its withdrawal from the preparatory processes of the summit, after putting efforts for 18 months.

In thinking of this summit, what comes to my mind is suppose we assume for a moment that there existed no United Nations Charter. I am strongly persuaded that today’s international community is in no position to draft and adopt such a robust and sensible document as that which was adopted at San Francisco, USA, on 26 June 1945 by 50 of the 51 original member countries that included my country Ethiopia.

Similarly, for an imperfect world, I believe, the humanitarian efforts by the international community has been somewhat working, mostly thanks to civil society organizations and humanitarian individuals in the developed world. They deserve recognition for acting as enforcers of the human protection dimension.

For instance, it is civil society that restrained some European governments from totally going in the direction of right wingers as far as the huge refugee flows, some say, unseen since World War II. Both pro-and anti-refugee blocks made their views known in different countries. In the end, that made governments to stay in the middle in most cases of course some seen to be seen doing something, while others bore a huge burden.

Consequently, reopening the existing ‘humanitarianism’ and its mechanisms, as we know them, without being sure we have something to replace it with, it is possible that we may give rise to more problems with a broken system into whose throats will be pushed so many incoherent issues and agendas.

On the other hand, for instance, we cannot call upon China on this issue to do something, although it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with huge responsibilities for international peace and security.

While China is a major actor in Africa in the 21st century, especially in the economic sector and through it is shaping and chaperoning the region’s destiny, I regret to state that Beijing has been least interested in contributing to the stability of African nations, instead of repressive regimes.

Even in the case of the drought in Ethiopia, Chinese hands have proved rather shorter than their capacities and their ideas unclear. During this period, China has irresponsibly extended generous loans to Ethiopia, without ensuring its ability to pay, thereby burdening future generations. It may serve China’s interest in both short- and long-term. I state this not because I reject aid to developing countries. Nonetheless, aid should not deny their countries and few freedoms and elbow rooms to try their ideas in the interests of their developmental needs.

Certainly, since the onset of drought and more so lately, the TPLF regime in Ethiopia has started going around the world for humanitarian aid with empty bowl on hand and no new ideas how to end drought and famine in Ethiopia. As a major power, with huge reservers, China has been less forthcoming.

It is also unfortunate that documents prepared by the United Nations for the summit present in some respects Ethiopia as a model for safety net. What we know as Productive Safety Net Prgramme (PSNP) is operationalized with Western nations’ ideas and the World Bank given responsibilities to operationalize them. However, the bank and its evaluation section do not see eye to eye on this matter.

Political as it is, the Bank loves to exaggerated PSNP’s contributions. But the fact of the matter is that, it may have saved some people from dying by hunger and famine. Its original promises of helping rehabilitating lands whose carrying capacities have been exhausted or giving independent existence to people that have become chronically dependent on international humanitarian aid has not been leveraged.

I recall that I was aghast in 2011 in connection with that terrible drought that in East Africa that had killed a couple of hundreds and thousands, especially in Somalia alone. Documents prepared for the Istanbul Summit credit PSNP in Ethiopia to have spared our citizens from similar fate and a repeat of the 1984 deaths by famine and its consequences.

Those who prepared that document ignore or are not aware that, crafty as the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was, he had already claimed the credit, stating Ethiopia had not seen single deaths from the 2011 drought and famine simply because his government had taken the right policy measures in terms of agricultural development.

Contemptible as that was, the question is, if true, where has that mechanism gone today, while drought continues in Ethiopia and the nation remains still dependent on international food aid that is also either tired or short-handed?

The United Nations reported Monday that opening the World Humanitarian Summit United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined the President of Turkey, relief activists and international celebrities to urge the global community to shape a different future for the world.

I grant my former boss that there is such real need. However, I gather that there has been little open consultations amongst states members of the Organization, non-governmental actors and the United Nations itself to foster clearer idea of what is needed and how the international community could get there as one. The togetherness aspect, in my view, is very important for humanitarian operations, with the world that in the coming decade would be forced to mount a lot of them.

One could see that there is little interest even in the international media. BBC described its opening as Leaders gather for controversial World Humanitarian Summit. The Huff Post limited itself to publishing a brief sketch through dispatches from the world.

The Washington Post limited itself to one-piece article on the eve of the summit that was penned by a guest writer, a doctoral candidate, who rightly thought “Far from just an agenda of technical reforms, the summit represents the struggle for power and influence in the humanitarian system. And while it likely won’t culminate in a grand declaration or an entirely new aid system for tomorrow, it is certainly the beginning of something new.”

The United Nations expected 65 leaders to attend it; yet the list of speakers in Track 1 on day one shows only 22 presidents and 19 prime ministers; not even the Holy Father Pope Francis could make it in person.

The pope’s message is potent. He concretely put the blame for the international humanitarian system on the competing interests and “military, economic and geo-political strategies” that displace persons and “impose the god of money, the god of power.”

There is concern in all corners. Therefore, not only the international community should be concerned by the broken international humanitarian system. But also, as it happens, after the EU-Turkey deal on refugees and the EU-Sudan deal to seal Europe, instead of addressing the root causes of refugee problems, everyone that cares for a safer world need to be concerned, find the means to get out of this dark hole.

That is why I fell hard put to see what Secretary-General Ban sees, when he says: “We are here to shape a different future…Today we declare: We are one humanity, with a shared responsibility.”

I wish I could be as optimistic as he seems to be!


All odds against the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS)

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