Links & Contents I Liked 389

Hi all,

My blogging year is coming to its end. There is still some grading and reviewing to do and the spring semester courses also deserve a little attention-so I will share some reflections early next year after a moment of rest. I am looking forward to hearing from you in 2021 and you can stay safe & reasonably sane ;)!
I included some excellent long-reads and essays in this final review of 2020 which should tie you over the holidays!

Happy holidays, thanks for reading & sharing-see you in 2021!

My quotes of the week
Foreign money also equates the commotion of democracy with risk. “We’ve seen a lot of investors going abroad, looking at places like Morocco or Egypt that are authoritarian countries and present the same cheap, skilled labour force but with less trouble, less social demands,” says Youssef Cherif, the director of Columbia University’s Tunis Centre. ('He ruined us': 10 years on, Tunisians curse man who sparked Arab spring)

But are overenthusiastic hashtaggers or influencers the real problem? No, they are just a decoy, a distraction, a deflection. Have your fun with it, but invest your energy in tackling the real culprits: greedy universities, mega-billionaire platforms that beam culture onto our screens, shameless corporations, and cunning governments pretending to come up with progressive initiatives. It is them we should be targeting, abolishing, dismantling and, of course, decolonizing. (Notes on fake decolonization)


To be a “feminist” influencer in 2020 means hawking ideas that have almost certainly been taken from academics and activists – usually older women of colour – and then regurgitating them via an aesthetically pleasing Instagram tile. The Instagram feminism marketed by influencers with mass appeal is the equivalent of the cerulean blue jumper Andy wears in The Devil Wears Prada. To be mainstream, it has to be accessible and non-radical and it has usually been diluted from elsewhere.

(In the battle of The Slumflower vs Florence Given, the only winner is the publishing industry)

Development news
Honduran storm survivors form US-bound migrant caravan
Two catastrophic Category 4 hurricanes, Eta and Iota, hit last month in quick succession, compounding a longer-term climate crisis in the region, where perennial drought in the so-called “Dry Corridor” has been driving migration for years.
Some 3.5 million people throughout the region already faced food insecurity, led both by El Niño-induced droughts and poor environmental practices and oversight. US-funded famine monitor FEWS NET has warned that those needs are only going to grow through mid-2021. “The storms also caused extensive damage to crops and farmland, livestock and fishing assets, and infrastructure, which will result in the reduction of critical food and income sources in both the short and medium term,” it said.
Jared Olson for the New Humanitarian reporting from one of the 'climate crisis frontlines'.

'Kung Fu nuns' deliver aid, health advice in pandemic-hit Himalayas
"They are a new generation of women who are not afraid to break century old taboos and stereotypes," said Carrie Lee, a volunteer and former president of Live to Love International charity that supports the Drukpa nuns.
"They took their practice off the meditation cushion and into the world – often times against criticism and threats to their safety."
When the pandemic took hold, the nuns started working with their families in Ladakh - a remote Buddhist ex-kingdom in the Indian Himalayas - to sew masks for villager
Annie Banerji for Thomson Reuters Foundation News; I'm human, so I fell a bit for the 'Kung Fu nuns' headline, but it's a great article from the Indian-Nepali border region.

Is the UN fit for purpose?
The Secretary-General elevated the same fatal error that the UN made in Myanmar: that of refusing to pointedly condemn warning signs. Perpetrators inevitably regard such passivity as a green light to escalate violations further.
Political figures around the world who denigrate minorities to advance their own power will only be emboldened by the UN’s weakness. They know the strategic value of pitting one population against another, and the absence of a world body that is able to sufficiently counter such callous politicking itself acts as an enabler. Tigray in Ethiopia—where thousands have been displaced as local leaders call children to arms against the national army—is one site where atrocities threaten. Soon there will be another. In the world’s most troubled spots, those targeted with violence can have little confidence that the institutions designed to deter conflict are able to protect them, let alone tell the world, plainly and unequivocally, of crises unfolding there.
Francis Wade for Prospect Magazine; when was the UN ever fit for purpose? I agree with the author that the UN as an institutional set-up and governance institution is weaker today than ever before, but the same is true for NATO or the EU. Perhaps all those narratives about 'progress' and 'development' have also obscured our ('international community') view on how imperfect, unequal & violent many parts of the world (still) are and how little power we have to do more than putting neoliberal growth band-aids on those gaping wounds...

‘He Is Who He Is’: 4 Experts Assess the Record of the UN’s António Guterres
“He has eschewed controversial issues, notably in the field of human rights. He is particularly careful to avoid stepping on the toes of the five veto nations on the Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. After all, they determine whether he can get a second term or not and also contribute heavily to the UN’s annual budget. Hence, he sidesteps speaking out about the treatment of the Uighurs in China or repression in Russia or even the Jamal Khashoggi murder by Saudi Arabia. Generally, he has left human rights to the high commissioner for human rights [currently, Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile]. He has also avoided delving too much into the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, Iran and other hot spots. He leaves them to his special UN emissaries.
Barbara Crossette's piece for for PassBlue is a good complimentary reading to the question about the role of UN (leadership).

'He ruined us': 10 years on, Tunisians curse man who sparked Arab spring
Foreign money also equates the commotion of democracy with risk. “We’ve seen a lot of investors going abroad, looking at places like Morocco or Egypt that are authoritarian countries and present the same cheap, skilled labour force but with less trouble, less social demands,” says Youssef Cherif, the director of Columbia University’s Tunis Centre.
Feeding off of the stagnation is a growing nostalgia for the old regime, embodied by the rightwing populist Abir Moussi, a lawyer and MP who harks back to the “stability” of the Ben Ali era and receives friendly coverage on Saudi Arabian and UAE-owned news channels.
Michael Safi for the Guardian; really interesting article-especially the challenge between our 'Western' appreciation of democracy and global capitalist realities that it doesn't pay a dividend...

Yemen Food supply chain
Food prices doubled between 2015 and 2019, and continue to rise. The number of employed Yemenis has halved over the same period.1 According to international experts, food security in Yemen continues to deteriorate and two-thirds of Yemenis are in need of food and livelihood support.2 Without sustained and informed external support, the gap between the cost of food and what Yemenis can afford will steadily grow. This report draws on key informant interviews and a survey of 218 food actors in the south and east of Yemen to examine the following questions:
• What are the key cost drivers of food prices?
• How are actors along the food supply chain adapting to these pressures?
• What can the international community do to relieve pressure on food prices?
I have a lot of respect for the ACAPS' work; visually appealing, packed with information from the 'ground' & really interesting, actionable policy recommendations-their work deserves more attention!
Who are you calling ‘vulnerable’? Muslim women and inclusive humanitarianism
The possibilities for co-operation with affected populations, through breaking with our assumptions and biases, is best reified by Indigenous activist Lilla Watson: ‘If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together’.
If we aim to serve groups based on their specific needs, then it’s important to know what those needs are and debunk some of our assumptions. By highlighting this intersection between gender, Islam and vulnerability – placed against a backdrop of a complex and hard-won history of female leadership in the Muslim world – we can at least challenge some of the assumptions that keep us from walking the talk about inclusive humanitarianism and continue charting the path towards more inclusivity and equity.
Ahmed Al-Dawoody & Saman Rejali ICRC's Humanitarian Law & Policy blog; I think it captures one the important discussions of 2020 well on what diverse, inclusive #globaldev should look like.

Our Global Mapping Survey and The Journey of Unpacking Language
Through this process, we have recognised that our languages are more entrenched by colonialism and imperialism than many of us originally thought, often using words that are ‘othering’ and were designed to maintain a hierarchy of racial domination that are still steeped within the words that we use today.
It was traumatic to unpack these words, which started with the translation of the very first survey question: “How do you self-identify?” Take the word “Indigeneous” in BIPOC as one of our options. Our friends from Asia and Africa who have lived in the continent since they were born found this term confusing. They have lived and have ties to the land they live in, which then makes them an Indigenous person. However, the borders of their countries were created by colonisers and their countries’ histories rewritten by these same oppressors. We also recognise that their Indigenous experiences are different, compared to Native American communities, Aboriginal communities in Australia, and Māori people who have had their land stolen from them by colonisers up until today.
The Racial Equity Index unpacks how difficult it is to do a survey that does justice (sic!) to the colonizing language of #globaldev...

Notes on fake decolonization
All this creates a buzz around decolonization while co-opting and diluting the term, and shrewdly integrating it into a mainstream narrative. We are witnessing a glib way of proclaiming all kinds of radical and progressive reckonings with colonialism while tightening the screws on a skewed, neoliberal, and necropolitical political systems. Of course, none of this is new, but rather a tried and tested way of doing politics and doing business on a planet ailing under hyper-capitalism. But such projects foreclose much needed resistant conversations and movements.
(...)
But are overenthusiastic hashtaggers or influencers the real problem? No, they are just a decoy, a distraction, a deflection. Have your fun with it, but invest your energy in tackling the real culprits: greedy universities, mega-billionaire platforms that beam culture onto our screens, shameless corporations, and cunning governments pretending to come up with progressive initiatives. It is them we should be targeting, abolishing, dismantling and, of course, decolonizing.
Bhakti Shringarpure for Africa is a Continent with a powerful must-read on the emerging decolonial-industrial complex (?).

Where the aid sector is stuck
In aid, recipients don’t need “advocates” per se — they are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. What would help them, however, are resources and platforms to amplify their voices — because as individuals or unorganised small groups, their leverage can be limited. We need radical ideas like aid recipient unions, who can collectively hold INGOs to account; or citizens assemblies, whose diverse perspectives have been proven useful in policymaking in areas like environmental justice or civil rights.
Arbie Baguios for Aid Re-Imagined introduces some interesting 'stuck points' that limit #globaldev's true transformative potential.

An interview with Seán Binder – a young humanitarian volunteer and researcher celebrated by refugee aid and human rights organisations in Europe
The most poignant memory from my year coordinating search and rescue wasn’t at sea. It was that people in search and rescue were being thanked. Being thanked by asylum seekers, incredulous that one might ask their opinion on some banal issue. Being thanked by European citizens for the work done. I’m not trying to be facetious. This is one of the most difficult memories. It should not be incredible to treat someone with the respect of valuing their opinion, it is not praiseworthy to distribute blankets and water (which is all we often did). It is the most normal thing to help someone in distress.
United Against InHumanity talk to activist Seán Binder.

Fred Fisk on Pacific reports and consulting in the 1980s. Has anything changed?
The experience of running this particular research program was, however, not all satisfying. It confirmed the doubts that had been developing in my mind about the usefulness of much of the consulting that was going on around the Pacific, including that with which I was personally concerned. It was a common experience in our Pacific travels that, wherever we went, we would run into other ‘expert’ missions also engaged in some consultancy or other. All these missions, including those in which I was involved, would produce large and learned reports to guide the decision-makers in the various countries concerned; but to what effect was increasingly a question in my mind. The sheer volume of these reports was so great that it could hardly be expected that the political decision-makers could find the time to read and digest them, quite apart from the fact that, especially in the very small countries, very few such decision-makers had the training and intellectual preparation necessary to absorb them properly.
Stephen Howes for the DevPolicy Blog shares an interesting excerpt from a memoir on #globaldev research in the 1980s...

Our digital lives
Clothes, Interrupted
So this special issue of Guernica explores what happens when the relationship between fashion and time starts to feel distanced, socially or otherwise. It begins with a contribution by Caroline Evans herself, in which she tells the story of a woman whose family business ran a subscription service selling accurate time—certified by the Greenwich Royal Observatory—to watchmakers and luxury stores around London. Set right after global time zones were standardized in 1884, the essay illustrates how the birth of standardized time enabled the rise of commodity industries, including fashion—and, in the process, transformed time into a commodity itself. In a personal essay, former model Barclay Bram reflects on how the industry not only exploited his body and his image, but manipulated his relationship to time. What made him wait in one casting line after another when he knew he wasn’t going to get the job?
This Guernica issue should provide plenty of food for reading to get you through the holidays (this is also where the pic from the top of the post is borrowed from...).

In the battle of The Slumflower vs Florence Given, the only winner is the publishing industry
To be a “feminist” influencer in 2020 means hawking ideas that have almost certainly been taken from academics and activists – usually older women of colour – and then regurgitating them via an aesthetically pleasing Instagram tile. The Instagram feminism marketed by influencers with mass appeal is the equivalent of the cerulean blue jumper Andy wears in The Devil Wears Prada. To be mainstream, it has to be accessible and non-radical and it has usually been diluted from elsewhere.
What the entire debacle did throw up was the less-discussed angle about the people who make the whole conversation possible. So far, the publishing houses and management teams who are in charge of steering young women like Florence and Chidera to profiles in GLAMOUR and seats on panels, have escaped notice. So let’s turn our attention to them.
Both Florence and Chidera share a management team, and an agent. It doesn’t seem a stretch to say that both influencers have been packaged in the same mould of accessible, vibrant young feminist whose ideology, ironically, centres men by going on all the time about how much we should be dumping them. To Chidera’s credit, this was a lane she carved out independently, via blogging – that success was wholly her own and has been capitalised upon and copied by agencies hoping to do the same with their own nascent feminist Instagram hunnies.
Moya Lothian McLean for gal-dem on why we can't have nice things on the Internet...

Publications
Lone Ranger No Longer-MSF’s engagement with ministries of health
MSF should develop a more supportive mindset and skill set. Murky concepts need to be clarified – that a ‘support’ programme really should be supportive, with the MoH in the lead, and not a cover for taking over its facility. And that ‘substitution’ is only applicable in a small set of specific circumstances. Some practical steps need to be taken to improve support programmes: in joint planning; in managing incentive payments to MoH staff; in aligning with MoH policies and protocols; in further developing monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning; and in improving processes for handovers and project closures
Sean Healy, Urvashi Aneja, Marc DuBois & Paul Harvey for the MSF Reflection and Analysis Network with an interesting new paper.

Exploring the Meaning of Impact in Development Research
The discussion in our workshops highlighted a wide range of such critical and reflective questions relating to research and impact in development. These included: how to recognise knowledge and its intrinsic value as a form of impact; the limitations of ‘models’ as tools for understanding or supporting research impact; the use of project design and implementation language and frameworks by donors, that does not always align well with research approaches; and finally, an acknowledgement that time and context matter in whether, how and what type of impacts are achieved
Valentina Baú, Michael Burnside, Sarah Cook, Anne Bartlett & Kirsten Ridley for UNSW Institute of Global Development with another paper that I will save for holiday reading!

Academia
Recollections of a racial past in a racist present
I have spent nearly 50 years enduring, fighting, surviving racism. It is a draining experience, the more so now that it is being reviewed and revived by society and state, because both fight to preserve it unconsciously and consciously, passively and belligerently. Those in power and those with fragility remain without conscientization and I am tired, after half a century, of trying to get white people to recognize that racism is part of their identity, their heritage, their institution and, behind all of that, their internalized beliefs. I am worn down by seeing effort after effort get rolled back one way or another. This fight is for another generation. I wish them better luck than I have had.
David Roberts for Loughborough's Equality, Diversity & Inclusion blog.

Daffodils and Snow: Whose Language Matters? Part 1. A Conversation about Decolonising How We Teach, Learn, and Research
Language expresses a series of patterns, structures and value systems which uphold the cultural heritage, meaning and life of communities (e.g. oral tradition, poems, dance, langue, proverbs, singing, etc). However, in my view, there are some languages (e.g. English, French, Dutch, Spanish, etc.) which still monopolise and ‘colonise’ knowledge production, publication outlets, and written narratives of today’s world. This might result in re-inscribing power structures, hierarchy of knowledge and colonialism when doing decolonial work. So, it is essential to reflect upon some of the following questions which I always refer to when I link language to decolonisation:
Why a particular choice of language?
Why not (an)other language(s)?
What language(s) are we choosing to tell the story?
For whose benefit?
Who decides about the choice of language?
Carol Ann Dixon, Riadh Ghemmour & Maica Gugolati for Decolonial Dialogues take us back to the beginning of the post to questions of language & power...
What we were reading 4 years ago
(Link review 178, 8 April 2016)
How great development discussions look like on facebook - Build Africa’s “Time Machine” video edition
There is always space for more snark, memes, satire or ironic commentary on development-related topics, so it is worth documenting a great teachable moment that happened on facebook yesterday; it basically confirms that if you maintain a great network, great insights are only a few connections away.
Even though my post from 4 years ago may seem a bit optimistic, it's still essential true: I have been blessed with a great, critical, respect- and fact-ful network & online discussions have been enjoyable most of the tome which is a gift & privilege!

So you want to be a voluntourist?
“Even if you’re sure the orphanage is safe and the kids were not trafficked, it still causes attachment disorders for children that don’t grow up with a stable loving family,” says Country Director Martin Punaks. “What they learn is that people come into your life for two months, love you and then leave. Not knowing how to form long-term relationships leads to depression, aggression and anxiety in the future.”
Michael Nishimura for the Nepali Times with essential wisdom on why voluntourism is never a good idea-especially when children are involved...

Expat pay in the aid sector: your responses

Some might think the answer would be to only hire national staff, but the added value of a multicultural work environment is great and should continue to be leveraged, even if it costs more. The pay disparity between national and international staff is vast and it should be more equal, but please do not forget that international staff often have many additional expenses.
The Guardian with some interesting, but overlooked, food for discussion (see Evil Genius' previous Tweet...).

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