Links & Contents I Liked 317

Hi all,

This week a reader & colleague informed me that Alessandra Pigni passed away in December 2018. What terrible news. Michael Edwards re-published some of her writing in her memory for Open Democracy:

Between 2013 and 2017 Transformation published four articles by Alessandra Pigni on the relationship between personal and political change. A specialist in mindfulness training in humanitarian organisations, Pigni's path-breaking ideas are collected together in The Idealist’s Survival Kit. 75 Simple Ways to Avoid Burnout. As she puts it at the end of this article:
"I, for one, am interested, not just in exploring but in living in that space where critical thinking and reflective practice meet justice, and the capacity to love oneself and others. How? I don’t know. I just envisage this as the activism and humanitarianism of the 21st century, not just rallies or charity, but something new, where institutions don’t break people’s spirit, where personal wellbeing is not chased in isolation, and where ‘doing’ and ‘being’ are not mutually exclusive."
Even though we never met in person our communications were a great example of the possibilities of digital development work in its best and broadest sense and her writings will remain a key resource on aid worker well-being.

Development news: Welcome to The New Humanitarian! Global media vs local context-Ghana 'child slaves' edition; endemic violence against native women in North America; #ThisIsMyHustle in Nigeria; polluted Mongolia; refugee cities in Uganda; measuring SDGs-it's complicated; digital colonialism; pastors & miracles; imperialism was boring, yet destructive; Ethiopia's first superhero comic.

Publications: Situational awareness; localizing the ICC; research to policy gap reloaded.

Discrimination & abuse in Economics & the never-ending stories of highered travel & conferencing cultures.


Development news

Humanitarian innovation faces rethink as innovators take stock

An innovation specialist at a large aid agency, speaking on condition of anonymity to allow for a frank assessment, confirmed the changing direction of humanitarian innovation.
It’s now “at a bit of a crossroads” and facing up to thornier issues, including scale, the specialist said, adding: “We need to stop fetishising technology.”
As innovation strategy matures, practitioners are facing up to some daunting challenges, the specialist said, listing: organisational culture, bureaucratic inertia, risk appetite, and legal and financial processes. The specialist also said the focus on technology had undervalued “backroom heroes” who come up with new ways of doing things in “prosaic spaces” like administration or human resources that may not even be recognised as “innovation”.
Ben Parker's critical piece on the #globaldev innovation discourse is an excellent opportunity to welcome The New Humanitarian & congratulate the entire IRIN team to re-launch of the industry's favorite humanitarian news brand!

How CNN reported on 'child slaves' who were not really enslaved
We (two academics who have studied this issue critically and carried out extensive interviews with members of Lake Volta communities and a member of parliament whose constituents overwhelmingly live on and around the lake) deem it critical to set the record straight as this is a complex social issue which needs careful analysis rather than melodrama and sensationalism.
The allegations of child trafficking and child slavery, which are mostly made by Western-based or funded journalists and NGOs with the help of local affiliates, reflect a limited understanding of the lived realities on islands and communities along the lake. Fishing is one of the few guaranteed avenues of subsistence for islanders and residents of riverine communities along the Lake Volta, and children are rightly taught fishing skills by their parents.
Betty Mensah & Samuel Okyere for Al-Jazeera with a reminder from Ghana that 'localization' is as much an issue in aid work as it is in global journalism...engage local experts in your reporting!

Empty dresses spotlight N.American violence 'epidemic' against native women

"These empty red dresses hang in public spaces so people can encounter the absence and violence against indigenous women and girls," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of the museum's first symposium on the topic on Thursday.
More than four in five Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Justice.
In 2016, the U.S. National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 cases of missing native women.
Similarly high rates are seen in Canada - where the REDress show originated - with a 2014 national report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police estimating 1,181 indigenous women disappeared or were murdered since 1980.
The situation is a "silent crisis", U.S. Representative Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, said last week during congressional testimony.
Carey L. Biron for Thomson Reuters News with an important story on inequalities, violence and indigenous women in the US & Canada.

Why #ThisIsMyHustle Is Trending In Nigeria

"Young people finish school and then are not able to find a job," he says. "So they start selling anything they can to make an income. They don't want to burden their parents."
Abubakar knows what that's like. He graduated from the University of Leeds in the U.K. in 2013 with an MBA but says he has not been able to find a white-collar job in his homeland.
So he decided to start his own company. In 2014, he launched Beta Business Forum, which helps small-business owners with marketing and sales. He's also earning money as a real estate agent and a farmer. And he plants cash crops like sorghum and corn.
"This hashtag actually opened my eyes. I had no idea that there were this many Nigerians hustling out there," he adds.
Malaka Gharib for NPR Goats & Soda with a great story that combines contemporary digital communication, everyday realities in Nigeria & broader issues regarding #globaldev !

What it’s like to raise children in the world’s most polluted capital

“Those are absolutely astonishing values,” says Fernando Martinez, director of the Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center at the University of Arizona. “We’re not talking here of asthma incidence; we’re talking about very severe, very negative conditions for life. Those are absolutely unacceptable levels that, in a country like the United States, would imply immediate measures to drastically decrease that level of pollution … because it’s a real, serious threat to health.”
Annabelle Timsit for Quartz with a story from Mongolia about air pollution and the growing crisis of unhealthy air particularly in Asia.

In Uganda, a unique urban experiment is under way

Long-term stability means shifting the refugee-camp paradigm from humanitarian aid toward private industry. A California-based think tank called Refugee Cities is lobbying refugee-hosting governments to build development zones that could draw foreign investment. “If you create the legal space in which economic activity is allowed and people are given basic legal stability, you can unleash tremendous dynamism that ultimately creates prosperity,” founder Michael Castle Miller says. “Not just for people there—but throughout the country.”
Blueprints and budgets drafted by various humanitarian organizations show how economic development might come to Bidibidi: Wi-Fi zones, mini-electrical grids, large-scale production facilities. For now, business is small-scale, and private companies are only starting to think about how to tap Bidibidi’s idle labor force
Nina Strochlic for National Geographic with an interesting story from Uganda. I agree that the traditional notion of (temporary) 'refugee camps' is outdated, but it will remain a challenge to establish 'good governance' refugee cities in countries where good governance is not established itself; plus, I'm always skeptical when private, for-profit actors 'discover' a new field of activity...

Big Holes in the UN Development Goals Are Exposed by New Studies

“The roots of the power struggle over global goals lie in conflicting theories of economic and social change embraced by different development actors: national governments, civil society groups, multilateral agencies and the private sector. . . . Like a Trojan horse, each indicator conceals the theories of change and development that lie within, exerting their interpretive influence,” the authors wrote.
“While we all enjoy a good mystery, we are not detectives and cannot yet know the overall impact this power struggle over indicators is having now on the SDGs. However, this special ‘political thriller’ issue of Global Policy Journal reveals the dark underbelly of competing interests in the 2030 Agenda and their sometimes mysterious unintended consequences.”
Barbara Crosette for PassBlue with a good overview over the discussions behind the symbols and superficial global agreement around the SDGs; it's much more complicated, political & difficult to achieve meaningful development(s) with the current SDG consensus alone.

You'll Never See the Iconic Photo of the 'Afghan Girl' the Same Way Again

“He poses her like an 80s glamour shot,” Northrup observes, “shoulder tilted towards the camera, forehead forward, nice light to illuminate the eyes, and direct eye contact – something that she would never ever do.”
This is false, Northrup says – the fear in her eyes is that of a student interrupted at school by a male stranger invading her space, her personal boundaries and her culture, without even having learned her name.
Ribhu for the the Wire with a new debate around an old iconic picture of a girl in Afghanistan that raises lost of interesting questions about photographic ethics and how the industry has been changing (??).

The Artist Decolonizing the Idea of Africa

In her series, Woman go no’gree, Oyarzabal has done just this in a photographic exploration of gender, history, knowledge-making, stereotypes, and clichés of Africa. Using a mixture of archival colonial images mostly found in magazines, street photos taken with a digital camera, and studio photography found or made during her artist residence in Lagos in 2017, Oyarzabal employs a visual language that subverts and spellbinds in equal part, leading us into a silent realm of symbol and iconography.
Miss Rosen for feature shoot with a project that has been widely discussed, mostly negatively, about a white female Northern artist 'decolonizing' perceptions of 'Africa'.

Digital colonialism is threatening the Global South

Silicon Valley corporations are taking over the digital economy in the Global South, and nobody is paying attention.
In South Africa, Google and Facebook dominate the online advertising industry, and are considered an existential threat to local media.
Similar to the technical architecture of classic colonialism, digital colonialism is rooted in the design of the tech ecosystem for the purposes of profit and plunder. If the railways and maritime trade routes were the "open veins" of the Global South back then, today, digital infrastructure takes on the same role: Big Tech corporations use proprietary software, corporate clouds, and centralised Internet services to spy on users, process their data, and spit back manufactured services to subjects of their data fiefdoms.
Michael Kwet for Al-Jazeera with a good introduction to the debate of digital colonialism and a reminder that both the North & South seem to be losing key battles against global platform capitalism.

Just Waiting for the Next Miracle: Pastors and the Phenomenon of Hitting it Big in Africa
Now, the race is on for them, while competing with other pastors, to prove they can venture into the supernatural and seek solutions for people’s expectations. Seen from this angle, the contemporary miracle pastors are a product of the society. They are produced because society needs them to instantly perform the unusual, through accessing supernatural in ways that are humanly far-fetched. Arduous as this task may be, the miracle pastors take the challenge to alter or control the future. It is all about the future, the unknown, and the impossible. Whether they deliver the expected results is a matter of speculation but come to think of the significance of the bodily displays in deliverance and healing scenes as well as the positive (and sometimes, praising) testimonies about a powerful Man of God – a title indicating the pastor’s apparent proximity to God.
Primus Tanzanu for Pan African Visions on African pastors, pentecostalism & miracles in the digital age.

The White Man’s Boredom

Had colonial rule genuinely been thrilling—pith helmets and elephant guns and gin-and-tonics out on the veranda—that would never have excused it. And yet, there is something acutely dispiriting about the idea that all the suffering inflicted by European imperialism was joyless even for the people whom it made masters of all they surveyed. Auerbach invokes Hannah Arendt several times, and he’s right to do so—the British Empire was mostly banal in its everyday governance, but that did not make imperialism less evil. It wasn’t glorious, and it wasn’t glamorous, and it didn’t bring any of the benefits of “civilization” to the places it conquered. As Auerbach writes, the empire brought “death, enslavement, imprisonment, famine, alienation from land and resources . . . poverty and instability almost everywhere the British ruled, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Even by its own metrics,” he concludes, “the British Empire was a failure.” It was an empire of men who shot elephants to avoid being laughed at—although that is a very cold comfort to its victims.
Padraic X. Scanlan for the New Inquiry on dull days of the empire and how the destructive practices of colonialism went hand in hand with everyday boredom.

Ethiopia’s First Female Superhero Comic ‘Hawi’ is Here
Hawi follows the story of Ement Legesse, a young Ethiopian woman living in America with her mother. In the opening scenes of the comic book, it becomes apparent that Ement desperately wants to visit Ethiopia on a guided tour but her mother is against the idea. According to her, Ement can barely speak their native Ahmaric language and fears for her safety given that numerous young girls have been abducted in Ethiopia. It's quite clear that Ement is frustrated by her mother's refusal to allow her to visit her home country. As the story progresses, the two eventually visit Ethiopia together (yay!) only for Ement's mother, however, to be abducted (oh no!). This is where the story really begins. Now we won't tell you how Ement obtains her dope superhero abilities but what we can tell you is what inspires them.
Rufaro Samanga for Okay Africa with an amazing new project that hopefully puts Ethiopia on the global comics map!

Song for My Father

In the daytime, he would go to school when he was able. It was an elaborate process; a shower and a shave and a change of clothes left him so exhausted he had to do it hours in advance and take some time to rest before his commute to campus. But he would return energized. He had never stopped believing that his work, and his students, mattered. On days off, he had taken to alternating between cable news and a comedy reality TV show, Impractical Jokers. It was as much a joy to hear him shout angrily at the politicians and pundits on CNN as it was to hear him laugh at juvenile pranks.
Shuja Haider for Popula writes an obituary for his father...but that doesn't do justice to this beautiful poetic piece on family, loss, music & lyrics.

Resources for Situational Awareness in Humanitarian Emergencies

Recognizing that I would likely not contribute much to finding an agreed definition of situational awareness in a consensus-driven environment, I figured that putting together a list of information, tools and services may be a tangible output that could help most anyone no matter their definition of situational awareness.
So, mid last year, I collaborated with RJ Reid to see if we could build such a list. But, as you might expect, even searching for such items required that we put a framework and a definition of situational awareness in place in order to give us structured direction
Andrej Verity introduces a new resource compiled by him and RJ Reid for the Digital Humanitarian Network.

Why international justice must go local: the ICC in Africa

The ICC has sought to enact a highly particular – rather than universal – brand of legalist, procedural justice. This approach is intolerant of alternative legal or non-legal responses to addressing mass crimes. Adherence to a model of ‘distant’ justice, ostensibly to maintain impartiality, has been counter-productive. Reliance on Western investigators with little or no experience in the areas where they operate, and investigations of very limited duration, are major shortcomings in the ICC’s modus operandi. Most trials have either collapsed or been abandoned due to poor-quality evidence.
In African societies affected by mass atrocity, ICC involvement has made justice and lasting peace less, rather than more, likely. This Counterpoint argues that major reform of the Court is urgently required if it is to serve the needs of African communities, including victims of mass crimes.
Phil Clark for the Africa Research Institute with provocative food for thought on the localization of the ICC and international justice.

Overcoming the research to policy gap

At the research level, stakeholders' inputs must be included from the planning stage of a study and projects should be designed with a view towards replicating and scaling up the findings. Early plans should also be made to disseminate findings to key audiences, including the general public, and respected thought leaders could be enlisted to help promote the policies. Checklists and other job support tools could be developed that can increase the use of research findings.
Academia also needs to evolve. For research to have a greater impact, the zeal for producing research must be matched by a desire to implement that research. To facilitate this, we must change the incentives, change the criteria for tenure. Implementation, impact, public engagement, and service should all be included to evaluate a scientist's professional advancement.
Keith Martin, Zoë Mullan & Richard Horton with an open access article for the Lancet Global Health that seems to repeat the same arguments about 'influencing policy' that have been around for the last 20 or so years. Perhaps not my most 'liked' link this week...


Women in Economics Report Rampant Sexual Assault and Bias

Nearly 100 female economists say a peer or a colleague has sexually assaulted them. Nearly 200 say they were the victim of an attempted assault. And hundreds say they were stalked or touched inappropriately, according to a far-reaching survey of the field.
The results, compiled by the American Economic Association, also reveal deep evidence of gender and racial discrimination within the field. Half of the women who responded to the survey said they had been treated unfairly because of their sex, compared with 3 percent of men. Nearly half of women said they had avoided speaking at a conference or a seminar to guard against possible harassment or “disrespectful treatment.” Seven in 10 women said they felt their colleagues’ work was taken more seriously than their own.
Ben Casselman & Jim Tankersley for the New York Times present an overview of the AEA's study on discrimination within the economics profession.

On Difficult Research and Mental Wellbeing

To conclude, open and honest dialogue about how researchers can be negatively affected by doing “difficult” research can provide reassurance to and reduce anxiety for other researchers, especially graduate students and those new to fieldwork, who are experiencing such reactions. It is also an important step towards decreasing the stigma associated with reaching out and seeking help – which based on personal experience and conversations I have had with others is something of a problem in academia. In the cut-throat environment that academia sometimes is, none of us wants to be perceived as whiny, fragile or difficult. But speaking openly about the challenges we face is important to identify those areas in which institutional and discipline-wide responses could be improved.
Anne-Kathrin Kreft continues important debates around (doctoral) research, mental well-being and how highered is addressing new challenges that have come with the awareness that PhD field work and academic are changing-often not for the better...

Academic travel culture is not only bad for the planet, it is also bad for the diversity and equity of research.
When we tie professional advancement in the academy to participation in conferences and on committees that require extensive travel, we are too often asking for what is simply impossible to give, either in terms of their own time or of a spouse’s. This is an arrangement that disproportionately favors those without family commitments, which is much more likely to mean men. Just as there is a certain degree of myopia, if not outright hypocrisy, in our collective professional agitation for action on climate change, while maintaining our jet-set lifestyle, so too the continued reliance on conference and committee travel in the digital age discredits our claims to desiring greater gender equity.
Race MoChridhe for LSE Impact Blog with yet another reminder about the paradoxes of academic travels that will not lead to change, but to even bigger mega-conferences...

...and finally from the archive
A BBC piece on drones in Rwanda reminded me of the 'cargo cult' I addressed in a post 2012 regarding One Laptop Per Child:
OLPC in Ethiopia: The thin line between digital innovation, cargo cult and peoples on parade

And regarding travel & flying I asked in October 2018:
Should aid workers fly less? Yes, but it’s a bit more complicated


  1. HiTobias,
    your overview of links is one of my two favorites to remain in touch with the aid world. Thanks for keeping it up!
    I'm not in the habit of commenting but had to laugh at one of your items today:
    "Keith Martin, Zoë Mullan & Richard Horton with an open access article for the Lancet Global Health that seems to repeat the same arguments about 'influencing policy' that have been around for the last 20 or so years. Perhaps not my most 'liked' link this week..."
    Sorta 20 years ago I concluded in a study of the 'research-policy' interface (the lingo of those days) of those working on migration & integration issues that nothing much new had been written on how to think about the link between research and policy/practice after the foundational studies which by that time were 20 years into the past. So you might make your 20 a 40
    Anyone still thinking that this issue needs another study should be flogged. That a reputed journal like the lancet publishes something that has been shouted from the ramparts for ever really makes me wonder why people complain about the pressure to publish. Apparently one can get a piece containing zero news into an A-level journal, no sweat. Sorry, didn't intend to let this comment degrade into a rant.


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