A doctor who has witnessed the worst forms of inhumanity in hot spots around the globe takes an unflinching look at the political and economic forces that provoke human suffering and offers a moving meditation on the nature of humanitarianism.
Orbinski was president of Doctors Without Borders when it received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, and this book echoes and expands on his acceptance speech. He argues that humanitarian action must be free of political influence, must not become a tool of war and must not be silent in the face of human-rights violations. Its goal is the relief of human suffering, and though imperfect, it is essential. In 1994, the author was chief of mission for DWB in Kigali, Rwanda, when a million men, women and children, 85 percent of all the Tutsis, were exterminated. By withdrawing its forces from Rwanda, the United Nations “became little more than a cowering paper lion,” Orbinski charges, “offering earnest resolutions and fine humanitarian rhetoric while the superpowers pursued their national interests.” The genocide in Rwanda provides some of the most horrific scenes of human brutality and suffering, but the author also takes the reader to the sites of a cholera epidemic in Peru, a minefield-surrounded refugee camp in Afghanistan, civil wars and famine in Somalia and Sudan and to Kosovo, where humanitarian action became a justification for military and political intervention. He tells powerful stories of individual courage and suffering, but equally important, he offers lucid accounts of the complicated political alignments and realignments shaping events. After completing his term as president of DWB, the author took up a new battle, spelled out in his penultimate chapter: the fight for access in the developing world to essential medicines against infectious diseases and the setting up of community-based care centers in developing countries for people with HIV/AIDS. Readers spurred to action by Orbinski’s example will find organizations worthy of support in an appendix.
Cogent, reasoned analysis of 19th-century humanitarian intervention, especially as practiced in Victorian Britain.
In this tightly restricted academic study, Bass (Politics and International Affairs/Princeton Univ.; Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals, 2000) skillfully demonstrates that the interventions demanded by outraged governments, their citizens and press during recent crises in Bosnia, Rwanda, Congo and Darfur evolved from human-rights activism developed in 19th-century England, America and France. The author looks carefully at the connections (and disjunctions) between humanitarianism and imperialism, liberalism and realism. He discusses cases in which governments actually did make decisions based on morality, such as Britain’s abolition of the slave trade. He analyzes four conflicts in detail. First is the movement sparked by the vicious Ottoman retaliation against the Greek nationalist insurgency of the 1820s, championed by Lord Byron in defiance of realpolitik. French attempts under Napoleon III to protect the Syrian Christians after a series of Druze massacres in 1860 are characterized by Bass as “a triumph in the management of the tangled international politics surrounding a humanitarian military intervention.” Atrocities committed by the Ottomans against the Bulgarians in 1876 fed the pan-Slavism crusade and fired the heated rhetoric of British Prime Minister William Gladstone. President Wilson’s commitment to neutrality rendered ineffectual the American response to the Turks’ genocidal 1915 assault against the Armenians. Bass examines the rise of a free press as instrumental in arousing public indignation and looks at cases in which Christian sympathies or Muslim bigotry diluted humanitarian responses. Considering the sticky issues of national sovereignty and despotism, he debates the recent calls for a benevolent U.S. imperialism in the wake of 9/11. “There are terrifying hazards involved in meddling in other peoples’ conflicts,” notes Bass, but international responsibilities are also urgent and undeniable.
Historical precedents shed timely light on ways “to keep a bright line between empire and humanity.”
“For the cost of one [American] bombing run,” the author writes in this hard-hitting debut memoir, “I doubtless could have fed and clothed and cared for those 100,000 displaced Afghan refugees. For the cost of another…I likely could have educated their children.”
With assistance from Lewis (Apache Dawn: Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, 2009, etc.), Sadeed, the founder of the nonprofit Help the Afghan Children, chronicles her many trips behind the lines in Afghanistan, where most aid workers feared to go. In 1993, at the time of her first trip back, the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan, but the country was divided into in warring fiefdoms, making travel dangerous. The author weaves together her personal story with that of her native land in this gripping memoir. After the 1979 Soviet invasion, Sadeed and her husband had been fortunate to be able to emigrate to the United States. The birth of her daughter and her career as a successful real-estate broker occupied her until the sudden death of her husband in 1993. In an effort to move on after her personal tragedy, Sadeed decided to raise money in order to provide basic necessities for the 100,000 people who were living in a temporary refugee camp on the outskirts of Jalalabad, and deliver it to them personally. The author describes the dangers she faced and the many brave, open-hearted people she encountered on this and subsequent trips. Some episodes were hair-raising, others heartwarming. She was able convince some Taliban leaders to assist her humanitarian mission, while, unknown to them, she was secretly funding underground girls' schools and health clinics for women. Sadeed provides insight into the traditional values which still sustain the culture, while making an eloquent appeal for understanding, compassion and aid for the people of Afghanistan, and for more schools in order to educate young people and break the cycle of violence.
A moving message from a courageous humanitarian, and more timely than ever.
In her debut memoir, filmmaker and activist Hogan examines the problems with international aid efforts in Africa.
While a 2002 trip to the continent first exposed the author to the imperfect relationship between refugees and international aid, her return trip in 2010 further confirmed that the so-called solution of international aid was actually part of the problem. “Transitioning from a bleeding heart to a critic of the humanitarian regime was not an easy process,” Hogan admits, adding that her criticism will likely do little to make her “a popular person in certain circles.” Despite the criticism, she maintains full pressure on what she views as an inefficient, bureaucratic and occasionally unethical system of outsiders helping refugees in need without ever asking what they actually need. Hogan’s straight talk with the refugees provides some basis for her argument, though many readers will sorely miss the lack of quantitative data. Somewhat awkwardly inserted alongside her critique is the story of her own floundering love, which adds some personal drama but detracts from her intended mission of providing a “wake-up call and a source of inspiration on how we can more effectively change the world.” Nevertheless, Hogan’s experiences sound the call for increased scrutiny on charitable aid, forcing readers to ask the difficult question of whether throwing money at a problem has the power to cleanse first-world guilt.
A bold argument based mostly on experiences and observations rather than statistical support.
A chronicle of the humanitarian efforts by a Ugandan native schooled in the West, addressing poverty and the ravages of AIDS in Africa.
Kaguri, now a university administrator at Michigan State University, was one of the lucky ones growing up in the impoverished rural village of Nyakagyezi, where his father owned a banana plantation. By 1991, while the author was pursuing his studies in Kampala and planning to attend Columbia University, 15 percent of Ugandan adults suffered from AIDS (known in the country as “slim”), as well as nearly 30 percent of pregnant women in cities, which left small children like many of his own relatives without parents. When Kaguri brought his American bride to his village in 2001, the two decided it was time to help some of the two million orphans by starting a primary school where they would receive a free education, books, uniforms, meals and health care. While his father, Taata, refused to offer land or help (he believed Kaguri was a “disobedient son”), he eventually became one of the school’s most enthusiastic supporters. With money donated by American church groups and grants, the Nyaka AIDS Orphans School opened Jan. 2, 2003, with its first 67 students. Much of the book focuses on the struggle to find sustainable funding for the school, and meetings and interviews are drawn out for dramatic effect. The author alternates the main narrative with flashbacks of his youth, providing a snapshot of the daily lives of the Ugandan villagers. Poignant moments include interviews between Kaguri, the school director and young students overwhelmed at the chance to be freed of the drudgery of daily chores and attend school, and heartbreaking scenes in which students die of AIDS.
A slowly unfolding, moving journey of turning beliefs into actions.
Anti-apartheid political prisoner Kathrada examines his actions and the aftermath that resulted in 30 years of imprisonment.
The author offers a unique behind-the-scenes view of South Africa's apartheid struggles. After being misidentified as an antigovernment militant, Kathrada was imprisoned alongside the country's future leaders, including future president Nelson Mandela. In Mandela's introduction, he notes his and Kathrada's interconnected stories, how “the telling of one without the voice of the other being heard somewhere would have led to an incomplete narrative.” While Mandela's political success has allowed his name to become far more recognizable throughout the world, Kathrada's literary contribution reveals a much-needed layer of history of both men's experiences. The author gives the reader a glimpse behind the prison door, but also offers a historical perspective of the fierceness of the South African race problem. In one memorable scene, Kathrada described placing an inebriated political enemy in a compromising situation involving a prostitute. However, once the pictures were snapped and the evidence gathered, he brought them to Mandela who, rather than encouraging their publication, helped Kathrada weigh the moral cost of destroying a man's career simply for disagreeing with his politics. After much reflection, Kathrada destroyed the incriminating photos, sparing the man his much-deserved shame while revealing an instance of rare civility when none was ever offered to him.
An intimate, welcome first-person account of a portion of South African history that remains foggy to many American readers.
London School of Tropical Medicine director Piot gives a boots-on-the-ground account of the global struggle to contain two potentially devastating pandemics: Ebola hemorrhagic fever and AIDS.
The former U.N. undersecretary general and director of UNAIDS describes himself as a “privileged witness and actor in the history of two of the most extraordinary adventures of our time.” Growing up in a small Flemish farming village, his concern to “work for greater social justice and to travel” led him to choose infectious diseases as a medical specialty, despite advice from a professor who claimed that contagious diseases were mostly under control. In 1976, as a newly minted doctor and microbiologist, he was working in an Antwerp laboratory when they received samples of the then-unknown Ebola virus. There was a deadly outbreak in Zaire, and he was sent there to work with an international medical team to discover its mode of transmission and learn more about its characteristics. The major cause of the contagion was faulty sanitation in hospitals and in preparations for funerals; thankfully, public-health measures ultimately contained the virus. In addition to chronicling his work with the disease, Piot graphically describes the government’s corruption and the impoverishment of the population. Six years later, AIDS surfaced as a disease apparently restricted to gay men, but cases began emerging of men and women in Africa and elsewhere who were not gay but exhibited symptoms of the disease. Blood donors and drug users were also being infected. At an international conference, Piot connected with U.S. infectious disease specialists from the National Institutes of Health. Through these contacts, he was able to procure American and European funding for “a second trip to Zaire that changed [his] life.”
An absorbing memoir in which the author learns to combat deadly diseases and maneuver in the international political scene.
Aid worker Foley takes a critical look at the changing role of humanitarianism.
Based on his online articles for The Guardian online edition, this text charges that political humanitarianism has become a multibillion-dollar industry that significantly influences foreign-policy decisions in Europe and the United States. “Political humanitarianism” is Foley’s term for the blend of the politically activist human-rights movement and traditionally neutral humanitarian organizations providing relief assistance during conflicts and natural disasters. Since the 1990s, he asserts, political humanitarianism has increasingly pushed for military intervention on the grounds that the international community has a right, even a duty, to protect people. He cites interventions in the Balkans, East Timor, Haiti and Africa as raising questions about the conflicting claims of human rights, national sovereignty and international law. There is no basis in international law, he writes, for invading a country in order to democratize it; the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be classified as humanitarian. Drawing on his experiences in numerous areas of conflict, he concludes that humanitarian goods and services are too often employed to further political and military objectives. On assignment in Kosovo, he witnessed the international administration’s failures there. More recently in Afghanistan, he observed aid being poured not into areas with the most need, but into those where it was most likely to weaken the power of warlords and buy the local population’s allegiance. He points out that the integration of humanitarian assistance and military intervention poses serious challenges to aid workers and has inevitably led to a steady increase in the number of attacks on them. Foley calls for a return to the traditional principles of humanitarian aid work—independence, impartiality and neutrality—as well as a more pragmatic approach to the issue of intervention and recognition of the limitations of humanitarian aid’s ability to address the problem of inequalities of wealth and power.
Filled with tough criticism of Western governments’ interventionist foreign policies and challenging questions for supporters of humanitarian aid.
A journalist specializing in military matters reports on the war on terror’s transformation into “a campaign of armed social work.”
Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, no agency responded more quickly, effectively and comprehensively than the U.S. military. Hodge (co-author: A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry, 2008) attributes this sterling performance to practice and to lessons gleaned from a decade of fighting in and administering Afghanistan and Iraq, where the military has incorporated “soft power” principles to counterinsurgencies. The combined military, political, diplomatic, developmental and humanitarian push to win the good will of the local populations constitutes the heart of the surge strategy most closely identified with Gen. David Petraeus and has, for now, staved off disaster. But the new focus on “stability operations,” the euphemism for what had, before 9/11, been discredited as the wholly unsuitable mission of nation building, brings its own set of problems. Hodge discusses many of them: the opportunities for fraud and waste when cash is used as a weapon, the command and control issues arising when so many tasks are outsourced to private enterprise, the private aid groups’ fears of co-option, the skittish and unprepared Foreign Service and the dangers of a host government’s dependency on projects and programs intended only as bridges to self-rule. The author examines the historical antecedents for today’s new generation of nation builders—the goal of winning hearts and minds is hardly new—and charts their rise to power within the government bureaucracies. In his fast-moving, well-argued assessment, he warns about a military stretched too thin, distracted from its primary mission of fighting and winning wars; about a U.S. treasury strained to the breaking point; and about the huge and clumsy footprint often left by the new class of soldier/diplomats.
For a civilian readership increasingly alienated from the culture of its military, Hodge provides an important guide to what the reformers have wrought.