Links & Contents I Liked 303

Hi all,

Happy weekend! Here's your reading list :) !

Development news: #AidToo, peacekeeping & African Union; Indonesia's palm oil environmental disaster; hipster colonialism from Germany; war hostel in Sarajevo; the image of charity ads; Westerners photographing poor children; Ghana develops Detroit; how to talk about a project gone wrong in Bangladesh; the limits of MSF work; do universities need to do better to engage with activists? Decolonizing the decolonization discourse!

Publications: Education in MENA; cost of child marriage; humanitarian evidence.

AI is doing your peer review!


New from aidnography
Outside the Asylum (book review)

Outside the Asylum adds important nuances to the aid worker memoir genre and I can recommend it highly to medical students and professionals who are thinking about leaving their Northern ‘asylums’ and engage in humanitarian work. Jones’ writing, at times marked with her frustrations of the global aid industry and an almost constant neglect of some of the most vulnerable people in crises, creates an important niche: As a professional closer to the end of her career, I enjoyed her positionality between a space often occupied by younger female aid workers starting their careers and older men who reflect on their live and work well into their retirement.
Perhaps not exactly a ‘stocking filler’, but a suitable gift for those who enjoy critical reflections on helping others, staying sane and the complexities of the aid industry!
Development news
Peacekeepers fathered more than 6,000 children in Liberia

AP reports that while some of the women were raped, most were in consensual relationships with the soldiers. Most of the children were therefore largely products of those relationships.
Even so, those relationships went against the code of ethics for both ECOWAS and the U.N., which forbid sexual contact with people under the peacekeepers’ protection because the potential for exploitation and abuse was high.
Jerry Omondi for CGTN Africa on yet another dimension of #AidToo and the impact of the peacekeeping industry on women and children.

African Union hit by sexual harassment claims

Most of the victims are short-term staff, youth volunteers and interns looking for jobs, the report said.
Those responsible "position themselves as 'gate-keepers' and 'king-makers'", it added.
BBC News on another large organization's #AidToo moment.

Fuel to the Fire

It may no longer be possible to slow the momentum behind Indonesia’s palm markets. Sitting in the lavish dining room of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Jakarta in July, over an awkward meal of mushroom consommé and blanched scallops, officials from Indonesia’s Palm Oil Development Fund made a case for their industry. I asked how important the American biofuels mandate has been, given that other countries buy more Indonesian palm oil than Americans do. The answer was unlustequivocal: It’s what got Indonesian palm off the ground. “The U.S. is not only a market,” said Ruddy Gobel, the chief political adviser to the director. “It also sets the global agenda.” Now, according to the Indonesian development officials, 80 million Indonesians depend economically on palm oil, and nearly half the industry consists of individual landowners like the people in Kotawaringin. “If you pull out biofuel, the whole system will collapse,” said Dono Boestami, the fund’s director.
In perhaps the final turn of the life cycle, Indonesia is now working to become its own largest customer. In 2016, it instituted a 20 percent biofuels mandate for its domestic fuels, and this August, it extended that mandate to cover railways and power generation, too. Then it upped the pressure further, simply making it compulsory that Indonesians buy and use biodiesel. Officials offer a simple justification for this push: Under the Paris climate accord, they say, converting Indonesia to renewable fuels is the only way the country can meet its own climate goals. The central problem, of course, is that the goals of Paris — slowing planetary warming just enough to allow humans time to adapt to excruciating and inevitable changes, including flooding coastlines, stronger hurricanes and perpetual famine and drought — are unlikely to ever be achieved without stopping deforestation.
Abrahm Lustgarten for ProPublica with a sobering long-read from Indonesia on American globalization, palm oil and environmental degradation in the name of addressing climate change...

The rise of hipster colonialism

So, Nooke's proposal is fundamentally hipster colonialism - attempting to reclaim colonialism by couching it in neoliberal trends or ideology while advocating for a return to an essentially exploitative system of social and economic organisation. Many of those speaking in favour of this proposal do so it in sterile and agnostic terms, focusing on the economic dimensions and the potential financial growth and leaving out the most important element - the people involved and affected. Underneath this is a reductive premise that human beings, and Africans specifically, are not as fully actualised human beings who deserve holistic life experiences - Africans are just labour or economic opportunities.
Nanjala Nyabola for Al-Jazeera. The embarrassment that is Germany's special advisor for Africa to Angela Merkel, Guenter Nooke, continues to make bad stories with his outdated idea of charter cities in Africa.

No Bed, No Breakfast, but 4-Star Gunfire. Welcome to a War Hostel.

His only message, he said, is that guests should look at Sarajevo, now a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that hosts a celebrated annual film festival and is full of bars and hip clubs, and remember that “what happened here can happen wherever there are people.”
He has had few takers for the bunker, but demand has been reasonably strong for his less traumatic rooms.
He said he had initially considered cutting off the water in the hostel and forcing guests to collect it in buckets from outside, as most people in Sarajevo had to do during the war. But he decided that this would be going too far.
He also installed Wi-Fi, bowing to what he said was his young clientele’s one nonnegotiable demand.
An American guest had no problem with the constant sound of gunfire and sleeping on the floor without sheets, he said.
Andrew Higgins for the New York Times on 'new tourism ideas WTF'...

What Do African Aid Recipients Think Of Charity Ads?

And the respondents generally agreed that using "negative imagery" — what the report defines as images of a person visibly suffering from war, famine or other crises — is an effective way "to pull on heartstrings to elicit a donation," says Girling.
"They said they need all the help they can get," says Girling, who attended a few focus groups in person. "As long as the images were an accurate representation [of the issue] and didn't exploit people, and the images didn't involve nudity or bloodshed, then they were OK for [sad] pictures to be used."
That surprised Beathe Øgård, president of SAIH and the report's co-author. These are precisely the types of images that her project Radi-Aid have been trying to eliminate from the aid sector.
"Stereotypes and over-simplification [of development problems] create a skewed view of how Westerners look at Africa," she says.
But perhaps, she adds, it's time "to start a new debate and reflect upon the findings we've seen. It should be possible to show both negative and positive imagery."
Malaka Gharib for NPR Goats & Soda on Radi-Aid's latest report and the challenges of finding the right images for charity ads.

Why do westerners in Africa or Asia think it’s okay to photograph other people’s children?

The French version of the online magazine Slate recently collated data to prove that tourists were much more likely to upload photos of children on popular travel website if the country where they were taken was poor and African or Asian.
In Benin, a French-speaking West African nation, 13.7 per cent of the photos taken had children in them, and in Senegal, 8.5 per cent. In Cambodia this figure was 8.3 per cent.
In Canada? Just 0.3 per cent. In the UK and Spain, it was 0 per cent.
In the western countries where photos were taken, the images were more often composed from an angle where the children’s faces were not visible.
We would be naive to think British tourists are any different, even if the African countries are more likely to be former colonies like Kenya and Uganda, rather than Benin.
Jennifer O'Mahony for the New Statesman takes a broader look at how 'we' (re)produce photos, images and stereotypes of children in developing countries.

How the Ghana ThinkTank Challenges the White Savior Complex
In Detroit’s ever-changing North End neighborhood, a new artist-run development project is challenging this unbalanced power dynamic. Ghana ThinkTank is a radical international art collective that identifies so-called “first-world” problems in American communities, then submits these problems to think tanks it establishes in third-world locations. These remote think tanks then propose solutions, seeking to “develop the first world.”
Sarah Rose Sharp for Hyperallergic on how challenge traditional North-South dynamics with a new artistic project.

A charity just admitted that its program wasn’t working. That’s a big deal.

If Evidence Action hadn’t checked whether No Lean Season kept working when scaled up, it still would have had a lot of evidence that made it look like a promising program. It might have wrongly concluded the program was doing a lot of good, and continued spending a lot of money. That money would go to migration subsidies that, for whatever reason, don’t make a difference when distributed in that way, instead of to other, better programs like Evidence Action’s Dispensers for Safe Water or Deworm the World. Evidence Action would have missed the chance to fix whatever went wrong and make No Lean Season more effective, as they’re currently working to do.
So it’s crucially important that charities run tests of their programs, including tests at scale. But when tests like these are so expensive and can be devastating for the charities, realistically, most charities won’t conduct such research or won’t publish it.
Kelsey Piper for Vox on how to deal with failure in real life in Bangladesh-not in the safe environment of a fail fair...

One Person Can't Save the World

Before joining MSF, I had thought that humanitarian work was straightforward: you see a crisis, you react. But, in practice, that principle becomes complicated, and helping often means doing what is needed. On the same day I secured the rape reports of three women over the age of sixty, I also recorded staff vacation days and changed the office printer paper. After the concussion, my being on the project had become a risk for the team; maybe the noblest thing that I did in Lulingu was admit that I needed to go home.
I now understand what my recruiter meant when he told me that MSF is not about saving the world. But I do know that the world needs people willing to do whatever they can to make it a better place, in big ways and small.
Sidney Coles for the Walrus with very honest reflections on her work with MSF in DRC.

How can Universities get more activists to take-up their research?

I suspect that academics exert a lot of their influence not through publishing, but in person, by being invited to talk to officials and politicians, speaking and networking at events etc. If that’s true (surely it could be researched?!), then universities should rethink the kind of support they give to researchers. Elevator pitches? Cocktail party skills, like how to break in on a conversation involving your victim target decision maker?
Duncan Green for fp2p. This topic probably requires 1-3 posts in response about the role of academia, the demise of Think Tanks (that were supposed to 'translate' research into policy arenas) and much more!

Postcolonial theory and the strong arm of identity

The fact that decolonization discourse is saturated with bourgeois concerns also tells us that something is seriously wrong with the academy. The marketization of knowledge-making processes over the last four decades—and the gradual insertion of South African higher education institutions into that global landscape in the post-apartheid years—has resulted in the assembly-line production of graduates who are quickly assimilated into the well-oiled machineries of a market-friendly economy. Yet decolonization activists, by and large, do not seem to take issue with the instrumentalization of their education, directing all their energies towards the attainment of what they call “free, quality, decolonized education.” Instead of a materialist reading of the asymmetries of academic life, they support an agenda that centers on high-level abstractions, such as “epistemic violence” and the like.
Wahbie Long for Africa Is a Country on how the decolonization discourse has quickly become, well, a discourse that will not challenge existing (power) structures enough.


Report explores tensions behind the failure of education
There are more paradoxes: while the region’s average spending on education is above the world average, learning outcomes are among the lowest and it has the highest gender gap among all countries, with girls far outperforming boys. Despite this, the region has the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world and the highest youth unemployment rates and these rates are mostly among the educated, especially women.
“In recent years, the region has witnessed the devastating effects of the unmet expectations and unrealised aspirations,” said Ferid Belhaj, the World Bank’s vice president for MENA.
Belhaj said while there had been a strong push for learning, an equally aggressive demand for skills in higher education from employers and parents had been lacking. Subsequently, the situation has resulted in the high production of unemployable graduates, which is now a key driver of frustration and despair in almost all MENA countries.
Wachira Kigotho for University World News on a new Bank report from the MENA region.

Youth Vision and Voice in Wood Buffalo

The report covers content from youth who responded to the YouthVoicesWB social media campaign which ran from September-October 2017 and asked youth to answer one question; “What would you do to make your community better?” Youth responded to the question through photography, poetry, original songs, painting, and other creative means. For the report, the RbD Lab also hired three young people from Wood Buffalo as Research Assistants who interviewed youth in the region to learn more about their ideas for collaborative resilience and how their experiences can inform policies and decisions that affect them.
My dear friend Tamara Plush worked her participatory storytelling magic to engage with youth in rural Canada.

Research Evidence in the Humanitarian Sector: A Practice Guide

this new publication offers clear guidance and real-world examples to all practitioners looking to use evidence, whether working in the field, or in the head quarters of donors and NGOs.
The Alliance for Useful Evidence with...useful resources on how to tackle research evidence.


AI peer reviewers unleashed to ease publishing grind
Algorithms are not yet smart enough to allow an editor to accept or reject a paper solely on the basis of the information they extract, says Andrew Preston, co-founder of Publons, a New Zealand-based peer-review-tracking start-up acquired by Clarivate Analytics that is using machine learning to develop a tool to recommend reviewers. “These tools can make sure a manuscript is up to scratch, but in no way are they replacing what a reviewer would do in terms of evaluation.”
Douglas Heaven for Nature on how AI is going to 'fix' journal peer review processes...


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