Links & Contents I Liked 470

Hi all,

This week's curation takes from Afghanistan to Ethiopia, Somalia, Myanmar, Dubai & Zimbabwe with a little sprinkling of USA(id) & Davos!
And then there are more insights into the Effective Altruism movement/cult (?), readings & more! Happy weekend!

My quotes of the week
If Power really wants to reform foreign assistance (and I believe she does), she must get in the weeds. Procurement, with its mind-numbing jargon, jaw-droppingly expensive systems requirements and years-long payment schedule, prohibits innovation. It’s where ambitious reform goes to die.
(USAID’s largest-ever foreign assistance package doubles down on colonial aid)

The humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar is, at its core, a political crisis. Donors and aid organisations face a choice. They can continue working with the illegitimate junta and risk becoming complicit in their atrocity crimes, or they can support the people’s resistance: grassroots frontline humanitarian responders, ethnic civil society organisations, and pro-democracy forces delivering assistance to those who need it most. (Myanmar’s neglected crisis demands a different response)

Unless the Polycrisis, seriously questions the drivers of power and finds ways of challenging them, it risks becoming yet another neoliberal policy buzzword. (Whose Polycrisis?)

New on Aidnography
Recruitment pitfalls in humanitarian aid organizations-An insider’s view
Dipankar Datta concluding thoughts are a timely reminder that there is definitely space to improve recruitment in the sector: "It is imperative for leaders in the humanitarian aid and development sector to critically reflect on the existing recruitment process and take corrective measures to address existing concerns. (...). Every candidate deserves to be respected throughout the recruitment process, but sadly, many organizations still do not treat candidates as well as they should."
Great new guest post!

Development news
Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm
Under pressure from Afghanistan's Taliban administration, the United Nations is delivering some food aid using men only, prompting warnings from donors and humanitarian groups that it could be seen as giving in to an internationally condemned ban on most female aid workers.
Michelle Nichols for Reuters on the complexities of humanitarianism in Afghanistan.

Famine or food insecurity?
According to Omamo, leaders in the international aid community claimed famine existed during the war in northern Ethiopia without the necessary food insecurity data. He says the international push for a famine declaration in Tigray was politicized, and may have been used to tap into the “multi-billion-dollar hunger industry.”
Without “clear evidence” the use of famine was a “sham.” But that wasn’t to distract from the fact that “food insecurity was real” and there was “extreme human suffering,” he writes.
William Worley for DevEx Newswire on the contested nature of crisis in Tigray (I thought that the wording was always 'on the brink of famine' or similarly vague language & I was surprised to read about the 'multi-billion-dollar hunger industry' that was set in motion?)

Falling Like Leaves
Yet what is laid bare in the future will not erase the reality of what has happened to individual Ethiopians, including non-Tigrayans. Whatever we may learn, their lives and stories matter.
Ann Neumann for Harper's; to be honest, I found quite a strange piece of storytelling; I did not learn a lot about 'ordinary people' and more about the well-known 'foreign correspondent tries to get access to a crisis area, doesn't really succeed & still needs to file a story' trope. Perhaps it's just me battling a bit with American essay writing conventions?

Inside Villa Somalia: 72 hours with the president of ‘the most dangerous country in the world’
The president seems tired, pausing occasionally mid-conversation to gaze out of the window. His hours are gruelling: 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Yet as the conversation moves from the headline purpose of the trip (the inauguration of a new port in Puntland, the oldest and most powerful of the federal member states), to more philosophical questions about nation-building, he becomes animated. Mohamud has an academic bent, and reflects on what he considers to be the roots of Somalia’s troubles: the clans; the legacy of military rule; alien forms of violent Islam. “I believe a democratic state can be built in Somalia,” he tells me. “And that is the only way out.”
Tom Gardner for the Guardian with a great portrait of Somalia's president.

USAID’s largest-ever foreign assistance package doubles down on colonial aid
No next-generation company could ever compete directly for a dollar of any of these “Next Generation” awards. Nor should they count on a subcontract, either. Seventy-three percent of firms that have tried to work with USAID’s largest contractors report that big aid contractors routinely cut them out of promised work, a pervasive problem that Power has acknowledged but the agency has not addressed.
If Power really wants to reform foreign assistance (and I believe she does), she must get in the weeds. Procurement, with its mind-numbing jargon, jaw-droppingly expensive systems requirements and years-long payment schedule, prohibits innovation. It’s where ambitious reform goes to die.
Walter Kerr for the Hill on USAID's 'localization' challenges...

Myanmar’s neglected crisis demands a different response
A principled way to meet the overwhelming humanitarian needs in Myanmar is to provide substantial and flexible support directly to local responders and community-based organisations that work closely with the people to resist the junta. In particular, this support should go to those with expertise and experience operating border-based assistance throughout decades of conflict and civil war waged against ethnic communities (an author of this article works with one such group).
The humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar is, at its core, a political crisis. Donors and aid organisations face a choice. They can continue working with the illegitimate junta and risk becoming complicit in their atrocity crimes, or they can support the people’s resistance: grassroots frontline humanitarian responders, ethnic civil society organisations, and pro-democracy forces delivering assistance to those who need it most.
Adelina Kamal, Naw Hser Hser & Khin Omar for the New Humanitarian; many current crises as for 'different responses' and unfortunately the humanitarian responses is still pretty much the same wherever you go...
Wanted by Interpol, Relaxing in Dubai: Geolocating Isabel dos Santos’ Life of Luxury
Dos Santos – who is reported to be a dual Russian-Angolan national – maintains links to several European capitals through business, property and family connections. Last month Portuguese police searched the offices of key former advisors at the request of Angolan authorities following a court-ordered seizure of assets worth around $1 billion. In March this year an Amsterdam Court will hear from parties involved in a civil case brought against dos Santos in the Netherlands. Despite this, dos Santos did not rule out a future presidential bid in her recent DW interview and just one day before Interpol confirmed the Red Notice she signed a contract with a lobbyist whose remit reportedly includes campaigning against US sanctions.
The UAE has been involved in a number of high profile extraditions in recent months and has been negotiating several new extradition treaties. However, no current extradition treaty exists between the UAE and Angola. Angola’s President João Lourenço signed a number of bilateral deals during a visit to Abu Dhabi in January this year, it’s not known if the whereabouts of dos Santos were discussed.
For now, dos Santos’ world appears to have become smaller even though she continues to share posts of her life in the UAE, a member of Interpol and the home country of Interpol’s president until 2025.
Miguel Ramalho for Bellingcat with a great example of open source intelligence reporting on Angola's infamous billionaire.

Will the elite ever give up power? A view from Davos
Critics say the global elite’s eagerness to solve the world’s problems lasts only as long as the solutions don't threaten their said wealth and power.
So how are movements to reshape global governance landing with those who represent the status quo? And can advocates and campaigners for change ever really sway the global elite? Host Heba Aly takes the pulse at Davos to find out. Hear from Winnie Byanyima, Mark Malloch Brown, Helen Clark, Vilas Dhar, Patricia Danzi.
Heba Aly for the New Humanitarian with the latest Rethinking Humanitarianism podcast.

Zimbabwe Plans a New City for the Rich
A brochure depicts pristine walkways, towering high rises and shining malls — all to be shared by a multiracial coterie of well-heeled residents. Plans also call for a solar plant, an important draw for a country currently experiencing 19-hour daily power cuts, and the use of blockchain technology. Digital asset accounts will be permitted.
That’s a world apart from Harare, which in two decades has transformed from a well-maintained city into what it is today: an urban sprawl riddled with potholes where refuse is rarely collected, electricity supply is more often off than on and many suburbs and townships have had no reliable running water for years. Commercial buildings have just 40% occupancy, and the city center is overrun with street vendors.
The planned development in Mount Hampden reflects “a ruling elite preoccupation not to interrupt their lives by having to see dirt and poverty,” said Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
Ray Ndlovu & Archana Narayanan for Bloomberg's City Lab on the 'Dubai-ification' of Harare.

Whose Polycrisis?
Undoubtedly the current crisis is caused by the transformational role of financial and digital capitalism and the imminence of climate-change led human extinction. However, these are not anomalies to capitalism but part of its design, of which the consequences and spill-overs are unevenly distributed across the World. For example, even with its global permeation, as financial capitalism bereaves the working classes in the developed North, it continues to deepen extraction in the Global South, both actively and passively. Moreover, the global corporate takeover by big tech is not devoid of the footprint of digital colonialism. The consistency in the commodification of nature leading to the breaking-point of extinction, cannot rationally be separated from the general extractive activities of capital.
Farwa Sial for Developing Economics speaks truth to capitalist power on the 'polycrisis'.
Reading corner
Distributed humanitarianism
This massive volunteer response represents a case of “distributed humanitarianism,” a post-Fordist form of humanitarian aid that disrupts the Fordist international aid industry that has existed since the end of World War II. Because it uses donated money, labor, and goods; avoids bureaucratic accountability measures; and relies on person-to-person aid chains, distributed humanitarianism is faster, more cost-efficient, and more resilient than large-scale institutionalized aid.
Elizabeth Cullen Dunn & Iwona Kaliszewska's article for the American Ethnologist is no open access, but definitely interesting food for thought on the extent to which 'distributed' & 'institutionalized' humanitarianism are complementary.

Round-up: OA Articles Published by Authors in the "Global East"
Here is a round-up of recent (as of March 2021) scholarly literature by forced migration authors affiliated with institutions based in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Baltics and the Caucasus -- additional regions that are not very well-represented in my open access coverage.
Forced Migration Current Awareness delivers the open access readings!

Social Media and the Eternal Search for Authenticity
Research on influencers and other media entrepreneurs have pointed out that in the construction of a successful self-brand, branding the self as authentic is necessary. Representing and performing the authentic self operates as means to achieve entrepreneurial goals in a publicly acceptable manner. Further, authenticity in social media work is also important for creating engaged relationships with followers – and without followers, there is no social media work. In my article, I argue that participating in communicative practices of entrepreneurial femininity also offers girlbosses a promise of happiness if they stay “authentic”.
However, the cruelty of this promise is that sharing the authentic self can become meaningless if the audience doesn’t respond to the content that an influencer or a girlboss shares. This paradox was summarised very well by one of my former Media Studies students, who does activism on social media. After reading articles on the ambivalence of authenticity, the student said something along the lines of:
“I have a crisis. I thought my activism and feminism was genuine and real, but now I wonder, am I actually just faking authentic?”
Ida Roivainen for the Nordmedia Network with a summary of her recent article & the research processes behind it.

#BookClub: What’s up with WhatsApp in West Africa?
The editors’ introduction notes that WhatsApp did not undertake serious outreach in West Africa to explain to users certain important changes to the platform. However, some of my research interactions with Meta in East Africa indicate that such companies are increasingly trying to engage with African stakeholders, partly because of the scrutiny that they are increasingly coming under in regard to content moderation and issues of misinformation and hate speech. A key challenge for researchers is now to connect the everyday digital experiences of users on the continent to the ways in which such companies strategize and act in these contexts. This volume provides a nuanced and valuable foundation to start that work from the ground up.
Peter Chonka for Democracy in Africa with an interesting book review.

In other news
New toolkit uses anticolonial archives to create inclusive classrooms
The project focused on archives of Lotus, a multilingual magazine published by the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association as a platform for writers, artists, poets, activists and scholars to share knowledge, theorise and build relations in their global anti-colonial struggle.
Students were asked to respond to articles and editorials in Lotus, with the option to explore a variety of formats including blogs, zines and music playlists. This allowed students to engage in the discussion on decolonisation from different entry points.
The use of multilingual anti-colonial archives like Lotus also provided an opportunity to decentre English as the primary language in the classroom. Students had the option to read the French and Arabic translations or track down translations in other languages such as Hindu, Portuguese, and Turkish, and team up to compare and discuss them.
One student reflected that learning about African film, literature, and visual arts in the module countered the trope of Africa as a ‘dark continent’ and this was empowering for Black and African students.
King's College London with a great classroom project led by Rafeef Ziadah & Sara Marzagora.

‘iPhones are made in hell’: 3 months inside China’s iPhone city
Jenny Chan, a sociologist with Hong Kong Polytechnic University who has been studying labor issues at Foxconn since 2010, said that the conditions at the company are far from the worst in China but that they nevertheless show the precarious lives of manufacturing workers. They get hired or fired following the ups and downs of global electronics markets and are left with few skills or career prospects. “Foxconn never aims at having a stable workforce with roots, social relations, solidarity, or bargaining power. It’s always change, change, and change,” Chan told Rest of World. “These workers will not have a promotion path or really share the prosperity in China.”
Viola Zhou for Rest of World with a long-read on Foxconn & labor conditions in China more generally.

How effective altruists ignored risk
Maybe I should not have been surprised about the pushback from EAs. One private message to me read: “I’m really disillusioned with EA. There are about 10 people who control nearly all the ‘EA resources.’ However, no one seems to know or talk about this. It’s just so weird. It’s not a disaster waiting to happen, it’s already happened. It increasingly looks like a weird ideological cartel where, if you don’t agree with the power holders, you’re wasting your time trying to get anything done.”
Carla Cremer for Vox; I admit openly that I'm getting a bit lost about EA & where the 'movement' came from & where it is or isn't going, but I also admit that I am a avid watcher of UK crime shows like Morse, Endeavor or Lewis & the EA movement sounds a bit like how the writers of these shows imagine an Oxford University-based global network to look like...let's just hope nobody gets killed in the end...

Multimillion-dollar trade in paper authorships alarms publishers
Publishers are investigating the claims, and have retracted dozens of articles over suspicions that people have paid to be named as authors, despite not participating in the research. Integrity specialists warn that the problem is growing, and say that other retractions are likely to follow.
Holly Else for Nature with a one of those 'I didn't know this was a thing in academia' stories...

What we were reading 6 years ago
(Link review 260, 24 November 2017)

The complexities of the ‘lifting people out of poverty’ narrative
If you do Twitter right it can be an awesome space for global development debates.
Almost 6 years later and I can't entirely remember what the purpose of this rather eclectic assemblage of interesting #globaldev vignettes really is...

On pity and politeness, or why charities need a communications rethink
Despite being well-delivered and impassioned, Hawkins’ talk left us with the same sense of deflated overwhelm and powerlessness that we get when we read the news in the morning. The same guilt for living cushy, privileged lives. The same plea for support ringing in our ears. Gone was the fire we’d had in us after having the very basis of our existence put into question by Kate Raworth and our minds blown by Margaret Wheatley’s wisdom on how (not) to change the world.
And it seems to me that charities have nurtured a vested interest in pity. They have become masterful in appealing to it. They know exactly how to present numbers, images and human stories in ways that push all the right buttons. They do so with good intent, and to some extent it has worked. It is out of pity for others that we are attracted to helping the needy and the vulnerable at the centre of Hawkins’ accounts.
Agnes Otzelberger with reflections on how a MSF presentation framed solidarity as pity.

Michael McQuarrie on writing for blogs: “the most utility comes from allowing me to think through a problem that is bugging me and then publish something about the result”
Some people use blogs to develop their research, or for purposes other than offering a take on something. Then there are blogs like [LSE USAPP] which trade on summarising research. These are very useful for me. Friends, current and former students, and people I have never heard of have all published things that interest me on [LSE USAPP]. But I still find that I find the most utility for me comes from allowing me to think through a problem that is bugging me and then publish something about the result. I might use these to initiate conversations or for teaching more than for research. Most generally, blogs open up a flexible venue where turnaround can be rapid while reaching a somewhat different audience.
Michael McQuarrie for the LSE Impact Blog on the value of blogs and blogging in #highered.


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Dear white middle class British women: Please don't send used bras (or anything, really) to Africa