I have worked with quite a good number of countries in Africa on humanitarian aid issues in the last 12 years, and I am increasingly left with the unease that many countries in Africa with long term international humanitarian presence are not fully briefed of what the presence of international footprint in their countries mean. This lack of clarity plays out often in the public domain with national actors disputing assessments results and positions taken by international humanitarian actors. To avoid this public display of discord, it is important that we have a clear and mutual understanding of the modus operandi of international humanitarian assistance, footprint and presence in a country.
For 2019, 14 of the 21 countries appealing for international humanitarian aid/assistance are from Africa. The humanitarian budget for Ethiopia is $1.20 billion USD, a 34 percent increase from 2018; Sudan is $1.00 billion USD the same as 2018; DRC is $1.65 billion USD, a 2 percent increase from 2018; Somalia is $1.08 billion USD, a 28 percent increase from 2018; and Nigeria is $847.7 million USD, a 35 percent increase from 2018.
These funds are not yet available, they will have to be raised and for that to happen humanitarian actors must make the case to donors that these “crises” are big enough to warrant the budget. Daniel J. Clarke and Stefan Darcon in Dull Disasters? How Planning Ahead Will Make a Difference refer to this as the `begging-bowl’ financing model. This `begging bowl’ model involves international humanitarian actors launching public information, communication and media appeals and campaigns to draw attention to these `crises’, and the higher the budget the louder the drums for aid. Dull Disaster? explains this aptly as encouraging `reasonable people and organizations to play the part of a beggar’.
Clarke and Darcon call for more predictable funding for humanitarian needs noting rightly in Dull Disasters? that the ‘begging bowl financing’ model is a `funding model based on voluntary contributions and appeals’ which `also creates serious distortions and `strong incentives’ among the implementing agencies to exaggerate crises and appeals.
What this means for countries with international humanitarian footprint with repeated unending annual appeals is that the humanitarian narrative dominates other development and economic growth and aspirations in the country. When governments complain about the exaggerated media image of their countries that is being publicized by international humanitarian agencies, they must understand that by endorsing a humanitarian appeal and/or budget in the first place they have agreed that they indeed have a problem that is beyond the national capacity warrants international aid, and by default “public begging” campaigns.
This brings me to the next point. The bases of having an international humanitarian foot print or presence in a country is that the government cannot cope with the crisis or the government is complicit in the root cause of the crisis. So, part of raising funds internationally is to explain the incapacity or complicity of the government or the national authorities.
A third point to note is that humanitarian assistance is different from development assistance. As the humanitarian presence expanded three years ago in Nigeria, I noted that many national authorities and governments referred to humanitarian actors as development partners. Many national authorities are not fully aware that these roles are very different because the same agreement and processes are not entered into in the case of an international humanitarian footprint and presence in a country.
A development assistance usually operates as an agreement, including a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between a donor country or agency and the government. This is not so for humanitarian assistance. For example, the 1.2 billion USD that has been budgeted for the humanitarian appeal in Nigeria will not be fully raised. The most successful appeals are funded to about 70 percent. Most appeals are funding to an average of 50 to 60 percent. Whatever amount is raised for Nigeria will be disbursed by international actors in Nigeria and on behalf of Nigeria. International humanitarian actors are not accountable to national authorities for the use of funds raised for humanitarian assistance.
While a government approves and reviews the appointment of a United Nations Resident coordinator(RC), this does not apply for a humanitarian coordinator (HC) who leads the humanitarian response in a country although, the RC becomes the humanitarian coordinator. The approval required for the RC’s role and appointment is not required for the HC’s appointment. The level of partnership required in the RC’s role is very different with the HC. While collaboration is a core requirement in the RC’s role, the opposite is priced in the humanitarian role for some international humanitarian organizations and actors where distance from national authorities and governments is interpreted as being a principled and independent humanitarian actor.
The rules, Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) or processes governing international humanitarian presence and assistance is different, very different from a development assistance. A development assistance does not carry the large number of international actors in a recipient country as is the case with a humanitarian assistance or footprint.
According to the 2019 Global Humanitarian Overview, the `majority of humanitarian needs occur in long-lasting crises in which there has been limited progress in addressing root causes. It is paramount that political solutions top the agenda for 2019.’ Very true.
Former Director of OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Yvette Stevens a decade ago bemoaned the passivity of African leaders in the face of recurring humanitarian needs. Hear her; “The silence of African voices in the dialogue on humanitarian issues is most disturbing. The voices of African leaders are decidedly silent when it comes to talking about humanitarian issues that directly affect their people.” It is true that the UN Humanitarian Chief can speak about the looming disaster in Niger and elsewhere and appeal for the action of the international community she says; “But in crises in Africa, we do not often hear the voices of the African Heads of State,” she concludes.
African countries that have had annual humanitarian appeals for at least 5 – 10 years should engage more robustly in addressing the root causes of its protracted humanitarian need. At a minimum, in the context of slow onset disasters we must start asking why recovery is not happening. It is not enough to be a docile recipient of repeated humanitarian assistance. The presence of humanitarian assistance and the process of raising funds dominates other critical sectors of many countries facing repeated appeals.
It is no coincidence that the top 13 African countries that ranked above Nigeria in the Forbes 2019 best countries to do business are not on the list of African countries appealing for annual humanitarian aid. The countries that beat Nigeria include: South Africa at 59 place, Morocco 62, Tunisia 82, Botswana 83, Rwanda 90, Kenya 93, Ghana 94, Egypt 95, Namibia 96, Senegal 100 and Cape Verde 104. Nigeria the giant of Africa is placed at 110, Nigeria started sliding down the list with its entry into the countries appealing for annual humanitarian aid. In the case of international humanitarian assistance, African countries that have depended on long term annual appeals cannot have their cakes and eat too.