Category Archives: NGOs

How NGOs Feed Corruption in Cambodia

From Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, by Joel Brinkley (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 4386-4443:

In 2009 more than 2,000 donor and NGO organizations were based in Cambodia—more per capita than most anyplace in the world. And the money they disbursed per person far exceeded the average for poor countries receiving foreign aid. Some donors were huge government agencies, like the U.S. Agency for International Development or the Department for International Development in Britain. Others were large international organizations, like the United Nations, World Bank, or International Monetary Fund. Still others were small, local groups, like the Alliance Association for Rural Restoration. It appeared to have fewer than a dozen employees.

Overall, so many donors and NGOs were pursuing projects in Cambodia that they were tripping over each other. Several reports on their work noted that many didn’t coordinate with each other and ended up spending time and money on duplicative projects. The government often had no idea what they were up to. “Some of them, particularly the smaller ones, I don’t know what they are doing,” said Im Sethy, the education minister. No matter. The foreigners stationed in Cambodia savored the lifestyle. “People move here just because it is a nice place to live,” said Sara Colm of Human Rights Watch. “There’s Internet, restaurants.”

For many aid workers this was a delightful change, given where they had been based before. Jean-Pierre de Margerie, head of the World Food Program office in Phnom Penh, had just moved from a posting in North Korea. Richard Bridle, head of the UNICEF office, and Douglas Broderick, head of the UN’s mission in Cambodia, had been stationed there, too. In Pyongyang they led controlled, constricted lives. “The government was always playing mind games,” de Margerie recalled. Phnom Penh, in comparison, was quite pleasant.

But for the WFP and other UN agencies much of Cambodia was still listed as a hardship post, just like North Korea or Burma, with commensurate salary supplements. In those other countries, though, they couldn’t walk along the riverfront and stop in any of half-a-dozen espresso bars and pick up one of the two better than average English-language newspapers.

Teruo Jinnai, head of the UNESCO office in Phnom Penh, had worked previously in Tanzania—and Rwanda “just after the genocide,” he said. By comparison, he said, Cambodia was like a ball of clay that he could shape any way he wanted. “Here I have found my own passion. Here, I can work and cause the result I am after. In France, or America, you don’t see results. But here I can set my own target. If I want Cambodia to be like this or that, I can see the result. So that gives you more power, more energy, more passion.”

Critics of the donors and NGOs often noted that they favored expensive Basque, northern Italian, and Japanese restaurants that charged more for a meal than some Cambodians earned in a year. That may have been unfair; you don’t have to live like the people you are helping to be compassionate and effective. Nevertheless, it was clear that these people had a lifestyle they wanted to protect.

Though their work was challenging, it was often rewarding. Many were highly paid, and Cambodia charged no income taxes. They could live in sumptuous homes and hire as many servants as they wanted.

If they cut off aid to the government, as the human-rights groups were demanding, many donors would lose their jobs, or at least their postings. In a Brookings Institution report entitled Aid Effectiveness in Cambodia, two Cambodian economists argued that donors were eager to begin programs that required their continuing participation and assistance because they “wish to maintain their presence in Cambodia.” The donors’ favorite project: good governance, an objective certain to require many years of work. So far it had produced few if any useful results. At one point in 2008, the Brookings study found that donors were pursuing 1,300 different projects nationwide, and 710 of them were ongoing, meaning they required a continued donor presence to keep them running.

So what happened each year when the donors’ meeting came around again? Hun Sen stood before them and one more time said, this year, we are going to reform education, health care, land usage. Every year human-rights groups and opposition candidates cried out: Hold back your donations until they end land seizures, illegal logging and corruption, until teachers stop selling test scores and doctors stop demanding bribes!

But most every donor in the audience had spent the past few months negotiating contract renewals with their home states or organizations, agreements allowing them to continue their work for the coming year. Here at the meeting they were to announce what they were now planning to do and how much they intended to spend. Human Rights Watch and the others were asking them to rip up their new contracts and go home, jobless.

Naturally, none of the donors said that bleak possibility was the reason they would not hold back aid. Instead, they argued, “If you hold back money, the people most affected would be the poor,” explained In Samrithy, the NGO liaison coordinator for the Cooperation Committee of Cambodia, a donor umbrella group. He acknowledged that corruption was so rife that government officials helped themselves to money and goods that donors had dedicated to the poor. Even when they “distribute rice to the poor who they have evicted from their homes—they take some for themselves,” said Kek Galibru, director of Licadho, the human-rights group. “They can’t help it. It’s a habit.” Still, In Samrithy said, “the poor won’t get the services they need,” if aid is cut off. As for the corruption, he explained it away. “Some money goes this way or that way. But it’s useful if some of it reaches the poor. Not all of it does, but some does. That’s better than nothing.” That was a popular rationalization among donors.

A few months after parliament passed the 2010 anticorruption law, a routine government census turned up about 2,000 ghost workers—phantom employees whose salaries went into their supervisors’ pockets. The government declined to prosecute, saying, “We must first warn those individuals who are getting money from ghost names,” as Cheam Yeap, a senior member of parliament, put it.

The next month, Hun Sen addressed the annual donors’ conference once again and promised one more time that soon “we will have the capacity to fight against this dangerous disease” because “corruption will damage our institutions.” The donors awarded him $1.1 billion—the largest pledge in a generation.

Some Cambodians and others remained astounded by the donors’ behavior—even people who worked for them. “I don’t understand their policy,” said Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of another donor umbrella group. “The government has learned that the donors are not serious.” He leaned forward in his chair and spoke softly, as if he were confiding a secret. “They do not stand behind what they say. Sometimes I don’t think some of the donors are really here to fight corruption.”

Year after year the foreign donors continued meeting with the smiling health minister who flattered, and coddled, them. They reached agreements to begin new projects and then joined their friends or lovers at the new Greek place for dinner. After the donors handed over the money to build a new health clinic, the deputy minister took out enough to pay his son’s school tuition bill. The assistant minister took enough to buy new tires for his car. His deputy simply stuffed some cash in his pocket. After all, government commerce was carried out entirely in cash. When the clinic was finally built, so little money was left that the contractor had to use cheap and flimsy building materials, raising the real risk that the structure would collapse in the next big storm—just like that new school building in Kampong Thom.

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Albright Deaf to Cambodia, 1997

From Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, by Joel Brinkley (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 1906-1950:

Phnom Penh was growing increasingly tense. By the spring of 1997 gun battles on the streets were becoming commonplace. Senior government officials from both the CPP and Funcinpec built sandbag bunkers around their houses; guards stood behind them, their automatic-rifle muzzles pointed toward the street.

Both Hun Sen [head of CPP] and Ranariddh [head of Funcinpec] had personal bodyguard forces that now numbered in the thousands. Not infrequently the two sides exchanged fire. Some soldiers and bodyguards were routinely killed. Just outside Phnom Penh both sides reinforced encampments for large numbers of their personal militia members. “The place was stirred up,” Quinn said, and he made a practice of driving around the city in the evening to “look at the guards outside the houses. Were they slumped down, smoking a cigarette, or maybe asleep?” If so, Quinn knew he could relax for the night. “Or did they have their helmets on, standing behind the sandbag with weapons out?”

It was obvious: A war was about to begin. Diplomats from Europe, Asia, and elsewhere began arriving to talk to Hun Sen and Ranariddh. Don’t do it, they would say. Call it off. But no one was listening.

The embassy looked at all the intelligence and made an estimate of when the fighting would start. They placed the date on or about July 1. But then, out of the blue, Washington told [Ambassador Kenneth M.] Quinn that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wanted to stop by for a visit at the end of June, as part of a larger visit to the region. The country was tumbling toward violence, but “she wanted to talk about a success story, and see Angkor Wat,” Quinn said.

Albright was an inveterate tourist. Whenever she could she would visit countries that also gave her an opportunity to see major attractions. Of course, she did plan to meet with Hun Sen and Ranariddh, as other visiting diplomats had, and warn them not to squander the advances Cambodia had made, thanks to the UN occupation and the $3 billion the world had invested in the state. So she was planning a two-day visit, one day in Phnom Penh for business and the second day at Angkor Wat.

Quinn had been sending regular cables telling the department about the deteriorating situation. But he had no way to know who actually read them. A few days earlier three influential senators—John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; William Roth, Republican of Vermont; and Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee—had written Albright a letter, saying that despite receiving almost $3.5 billion in international aid in recent years, Cambodia “has become the single fastest-growing narcotics transshipment point in the world; scores of journalists, human-rights workers and political activists have been killed in political violence; the government has failed to establish critical constitutional bodies or pass some of the country’s most basic laws; and corruption has infested and overrun almost every government institution.” Was this really the nation that everyone had spent $3 billion to create?

But these concerns fell on deaf ears. Albright was coming to celebrate a new democracy—though, in Washington, she also said, “I will make very clear that it is important for them to proceed down the democratic path.” But Quinn could see that major violence was now inevitable. He told the State Department she shouldn’t come. “People will set out to embarrass her,” he wrote. “There will be violence. That will make her look weak.” He feared that a bombing, grenade attack, or some other violent act by someone trying to embarrass the government would force her to flee. He was looking out for his secretary, but the department “reacted badly,” Quinn said. The tenor was, “What’s wrong with the ambassador? He isn’t on the team. She’s already announced she is coming.”

In mid-June 1997 real fighting broke out between the two bodyguard units in Phnom Penh. Both sides fired assault rifles at each other and tossed grenades. Explosions rattled the city. Thousands of residents locked their doors, closed their shutters, and huddled together, trembling. One rocket landed in the yard just beside Quinn’s house. It happened to be Quinn’s birthday. “My family had arrived” for the celebration, he said. “They stayed in the States while I was there because there was no high school for my kids in Phnom Penh. We were watching a video, The Thin Man, when we heard a click. I asked, ‘Did you hear that?’ Then a big boom. We threw the kids on the floor. My wife and I lay on top of them.” No one was hurt, and damage was minimal. But he called the State Department Operations Center to advise them of what had just happened.

Quinn was vindicated. The next day the department announced a change in plans. Yes, Phnom Penh was a dangerous place. Perhaps Ranariddh and Hun Sen could come out to meet Secretary Albright at the airport and have their talk. Then she could fly on to Angkor.

Needless to say, Ranariddh and Hun Sen were not talking to each other. They spoke with their guns. But they did manage to agree on one thing: There was no way two heads of state were going to drive out to the airport to meet with a foreign minister—even the American secretary of state. What were they, her supplicants? Ranariddh was a prince, heir to the throne, and the head of state. Hun Sen had been the nation’s undisputed ruler for a decade—and obviously planned to assume that status again, very soon. If she wanted to see them, she would have to drive into town, come to their offices. No, they told her. We won’t do it. Ranariddh showed considerable tact when he explained the decision. “She wanted us to come to the airport,” he told reporters, “but Hun Sen and I agreed that if we just met her at the airport, we would be breaking the principles of protocol.” But then he couldn’t seem to help himself and added, “It’s insulting.”

Using the missile assault on Quinn’s house as the pretext, the department canceled Albright’s stop in Cambodia. She’d have to visit Angkor some other time. Nevertheless, the debate over her visit threw off the American Embassy’s carefully calculated time line. Rather than starting on July 1, as expected, the violence would begin five days late.

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Filed under Cambodia, democracy, military, NGOs, U.N., U.S., Vietnam, war

UN Occupies Cambodia, 1992

From Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, by Joel Brinkley (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 144-165, 1178-1197:

In fact, the Cambodian “war” had ended in 1979, more than a decade before the UN occupation began. An old leader had regained his strength while new ones had emerged. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the consummate self-interested monarch who was extremely popular with most of the Cambodian people, had ruled Cambodia since 1941, until a military coup deposed him in 1970. The Khmer Rouge brought him back as their titular head of state—though he was imprisoned in his palace during their reign. Then, as the UN troops began arriving in 1992, they made him honorary king again. But he wanted nothing less than his old job back—the all-powerful monarch, just like the kings who had ruled Cambodia since the beginning of time. Now, however, he had competitors.

During the Vietnamese occupation, from 1979 to 1989, a young Khmer Rouge officer named Hun Sen was named prime minister. He was barely educated, but clever and utterly ruthless—as one might expect of a young man trained by the Khmer Rouge and then the Vietnamese military. The prime minister’s job was handed to him in 1985; he was not about to give it up.

A third competitor arose, Norodom Ranariddh, one of Sihanouk’s sons. He had led a hapless guerrilla organization, funded by the United States. Its goal was to drive the Vietnamese and their appointed government, including Hun Sen, out of the country. After Vietnam pulled out, Ranariddh coveted power too. He seemed to know or care little about governance. But as prime minister, he knew he would be able to enrich himself. Ranariddh was not as clever as Hun Sen, but he was of royal lineage, which gave him a strong advantage.

So, past examples like Germany and Japan—even South Korea—simply were not useful models for this grand experiment. In fact, the Cambodian venture was unprecedented. Even before the UN troops left, the three aspiring leaders were grappling for power, as if the UN election had never taken place. Their contest lasted many years.

The troops may have left, but the United Nations was still there, running a phalanx of charitable organizations—UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Food Program (WFP), and the rest. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank, and other major relief agencies from around the world worked alongside the UN. In fact, in time, 2,000 different donors and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) set up shop in Cambodia. As the power struggles grew heated, even violent, the government grew ever more corrupt, and the donors began pushing the leaders to live up to their promises, to serve their people.

Hun Sen, Ranariddh, and the king offered little more than lip service to those demands, but that seemed to be enough. The donors kept giving money, hundreds of millions of dollars, year after year—even as the nation headed for a military showdown to settle the power struggle once and for all.

If anyone had doubted Hun Sen’s true intentions, he made them clear during the first Paris Peace Conference, in 1989, when he declared, “You can talk about sharing power in Paris, but not in Cambodia.” Vietnam had handed him the nation in 1985. He had ruled it uncontested for seven years. He would not step down or share his throne without a fight. And now, with wide reportage of the bamboo-pole incident [in which UN representatives were turned back at a bamboo-pole roadblock], Hun Sen and everyone else realized that the UN was not to be feared. It was nothing more than a paper force. A correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, reporting from Cambodia at the time, put it this way: “The Cambodian people believed that the UN blue berets were like Jupiter threatening to unleash lightning against the Khmer Rouge. What do people see? UNTAC pulls back.”

The fact remained that the Khmer Rouge had not been defeated. The UN’s deputy military commander, Michael Loridon, a French brigadier general, urged his commander to attack and “deal with the Khmer Rouge problem once and for all.” That never happened, though the debate continued for years, until the last UN officer boarded a plane home. From the first days of the UN occupation, everyone knew that over ten years the Vietnamese army, with hundreds of thousands of troops, had never been able to defeat the Khmer Rouge. So what could the UN possibly do now?

By December 1992, more than a year after the Paris Peace Accords, the United Nations finally had its full force of soldiers and administrators in country. They were too late. Every Cambodian already knew that Jupiter had never climbed up the mountain. Pol Pot and Hun Sen were ignoring the UN and facing no penalty. But the truth was, the UN force offered a great deal more than the prospect of military reconciliation. Most Cambodians loved having them in town.

The visitors spent money, more money, and then more money still—$3 billion in all. Every staffer was given a daily living allowance of $145 on top of his salary—a year’s income for most Cambodians. Contractors had quickly put up apartment buildings and now were taking in $2,000, $3,000 a month—ridiculously high rents for Phnom Penh. Hotels were full, and new ones were under construction. Anyone who’d ever had a fleeting thought of running a restaurant scrambled to open one. Everyone with a car hired himself out as a driver. Brothels worked overtime; UN doctors treated thousands of their men and women for sexually transmitted diseases. Liquor vendors couldn’t keep up with demand; restaurant and bar owners had to replace fixtures and furniture broken in drunken brawls almost every evening. UN vehicles and equipment routinely disappeared in the night, but no one was sure whether the thieves were Cambodian or renegade UN employees.

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Filed under Cambodia, democracy, economics, military, NGOs, U.N., U.S.

Sarajevans Angry at Everyone, 1994

From Logavina Street, by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2012), Kindle Loc. 2113-2184:

NATO had executed maneuvers during 1994 to try to dissuade the Serbs from their attack. In April, U.S. F-16s and FA-18s bombed Serb troops when they attempted to overrun the UN safe haven, Goražde, in eastern Bosnia, and NATO warplanes struck again in November to protect the enclave of Bihac.

The air strikes were timid measures—pinpricks, denounced the critics. They only enraged the Bosnian Serbs, who retaliated by seizing UN soldiers as hostages and cutting off humanitarian access to Sarajevo.

The NATO ultimatum was a bluff and the Serbs had seen through it. By mid-December, the Bosnian Public Health Institute reported 109 Sarajevans killed and more than 500 wounded since February 9, when the ultimatum was issued. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter flew into Bosnia the weekend before Christmas to patch together a new cease-fire. He was in Pale with Radovan Karadžić the afternoon of December 20, when two 120-millimeter mortar shells hit Marije Bursać Street, around the corner from Logavina. They mangled a bicycle, sent laundry flying, and annihilated the kitchen of a house whose elderly occupants were out collecting humanitarian aid.

Logavina residents were enraged, none more so than Esad Taljanović. The dentist’s six-year-old son, Emir, was playing outside when the shells detonated about a hundred yards away. Emir came back home, frightened and tearful.

“You see, I should not let my son out for thirty seconds,” raged Taljanović. He was furious with the Serbs, the United Nations, and Jimmy Carter. “It is the same thing as if Truman stood next to Hitler and negotiated with him.”

Ekrem Kaljanac picked up the telephone, the only working appliance in his apartment, since the electricity was off again.

“Yes, hello,” he said. Then, cupping his hand over the mouthpiece, “It’s Hillary Clinton. She’s worried about us and was wondering how we’re doing.”

Ekrem’s mischievous performance was intended to point out the absurdity of the idea that anybody in the United States, least of all in the White House, cared about Sarajevo.

Sarajevans were fed up with politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats, relief agencies, and everybody who had promised to help, then failed to deliver.

People were especially frustrated with the United States and the vacillating policies emanating from the White House. Sarajevans had believed Clinton when he promised, during his presidential campaign, to be more proactive in Bosnia than George Bush. “If the horrors of the Holocaust taught us anything, it is the high cost of remaining silent and paralyzed in the face of genocide,” Clinton had said in August 1992, while Sarajevans were huddled helplessly in their bomb shelters.

Ekrem mercilessly teased his wife. Minka, like many of the women on Logavina, had been charmed by Clinton, who they thought resembled John F. Kennedy.

“I saw Clinton a lot on television. He was so good-looking. He was promising a lot and I believed him,” Minka confessed sheepishly. “I was convinced that the Americans were going to bomb the Serbs and end the war.”

“Clinton lies. He behaves like an actor,” interjected Ekrem bitterly. His brother, Safet, joined in. “I watch the news. Americans are more interested in a cat in New York than they are in Bosnians.”

It was not only Clinton’s political rhetoric that persuaded Sarajevans the United States would rescue them; they saw America as the embodiment of the multiethnic state they hoped to create in Bosnia.

A popular poster hanging in cafés around Sarajevo depicted an American flag with a Bosnian lily next to the stars, suggesting that Bosnia become the fifty-first state. Moreover, Bosnians were so utterly convinced of the righteousness of their cause, they simply couldn’t believe that the United States would not do something—anything—to intervene.

The invective was also directed against journalists. An emotionally unbalanced woman in her thirties who lived in the Kaljanacs’ apartment building cursed and spit on the ground whenever she saw us coming. Although most Logavina residents remained unfailingly polite and hospitable, they, too, vented their frustration.

“Aren’t you ashamed that your country has done nothing but stand by and watch us die?” Esad demanded of us as his wife served us coffee in their dining room.

Sead Vranić best encapsulated the mood of Sarajevo during that increasingly dangerous month of December 1994. “All days are the same now. You get up and see if you have electricity, or water. You listen to what Clinton says in the morning, and hear that he’s changed his mind by afternoon, then discover in the evening he has forgotten what he said in the morning,” Sead said wearily.

It was not as though Bosnia was being ignored. The peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia was the largest and costliest in the United Nations’ history, consuming some $1.6 billion a year. That didn’t take into account the extra $700 million spent by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The UN Security Council had passed more than one hundred resolutions dealing with the Yugoslav conflict. Most of them were laughably ineffectual. For example, Resolution 752 stated: “The Council demands that all parties concerned in Bosnia and Herzegovina stop the fighting immediately.”

Between the diplomats and bureaucrats, the soldiers, aid workers, and journalists, there were more foreigners in Sarajevo than there had been since the 1984 Olympics. By a conservative count, there were at least 150 nongovernmental agencies working in the area, ranging from Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) to the comic spin-off Clowns sans Frontières, which brought jugglers to entertain Bosnian children.

Yet all the money and good intentions didn’t alleviate the cold, dark nights with nothing to eat. It didn’t stop the shellings and it didn’t stop the sniper fire. Sarajevans resented the foreigners, witnesses to their indignity. They scorned the UN anti-sniper teams who did too little to stop the snipers. They hissed at the TV crews that staked out the dangerous intersections, waiting to film the next sniper victim.

Sarajevans had turned against the United Nations since Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s visit to the city on New Year’s Eve 1992, after which he commented: “I understand your frustration, but you have a situation that is better than ten other places in the world.… I can give you a list.”

Their anger had turned to outright paranoia. “It is like they are experimenting on us to see how much we can take,” remarked the normally sensible Jela, echoing an increasingly common sentiment.

Sarajevans were angry—at everyone. Their free-floating rage hung over the city. The summer of 1994 had been like a furlough from prison, a chance to relax. Having let down their guard once, they couldn’t psychologically gird themselves for the relapse of war. They were starting to lose it.

The spirit of cooperation that had sustained Sarajevo through 1992 and 1993 was under enormous strain. Hardliners in Izetbegović’s ruling Party of Democratic Action proposed banning Serbian songs from the radio. Sarajevans cherished the maudlin Serbian love songs and the proposition failed, but the militants persisted and in October, BiH Television censored a comedy skit poking fun at Islamic fundamentalists. Ljiljan, an Islamic magazine, set off another debate by questioning the propriety of mixed marriage.

“To be honest, I hate Serbs a little more now. The Croats, too,” Ekrem Kaljanac declared in a pique of resentment. Sarajevans were quicker to speak deprecatingly not only of Serbs and Croats but also of the Muslim refugees who were pouring in from the villages of eastern Bosnia. They called the refugees papaks, or peasants.

The neighbors on Logavina Street quarreled more frequently. Jealousy was rife, especially when it came to utilities. One evening when I was visiting the Kaljanacs, the family was using enough stolen electricity to illuminate a twenty-five-watt lamp. Each time they heard steps in the hallway, they guiltily unscrewed the pathetic little lightbulb, lest anyone discover their secret.

Twenty years later, the “International Community” has hardly changed its modus operandi.

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Filed under nationalism, NGOs, publishing, U.N., U.S., war, Yugoslavia

Serbs Stymie UN, NATO, NGOs, 1994

From Logavina Street, by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2012), Kindle Loc. 2413-2434:

Whatever semblance of order the United Nations had brought to Sarajevo disintegrated in the last week of May. Serb soldiers marched into a UN-guarded compound and rode off with confiscated tanks and heavy artillery that were off-limits under the latest cease-fire. In protest, NATO warplanes bombed a Serb ammunition depot near Pale.

The Serb retaliation was pitiless and highly effective. They shelled a strip of outdoor cafés in the northern Bosnian city of Tuzla, killing seventy-one people, mostly teenagers. (Unlike the February 5, 1994, market bombing in Sarajevo, nobody bothered to deny it. Serb commander Ratko Mladić boasted that the shelling was punishment for the NATO air strikes.)

Across Bosnia, the Serbs captured hundreds of UN peace-keepers as a deterrent to further air strikes. Pale television flaunted the Serbs’ captives, broadcasting footage of the peace-keepers shackled to poles and bridges. On June 2, a U.S. F-16 flying above the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka was shot down and disappeared.

“They are the UN Protection Forces, but they cannot even protect themselves,” said Bosnian prime minister Haris Silajdžić.

It was almost unbelievable. The Republika Srpska, with a population of 800,000—about the size of Greater Pittsburgh—had brought the combined powers of the United Nations and NATO to their knees.

The roads northwest of Sarajevo that the United Nations had been using for land convoys were now shut down. The Serbs stepped up their attacks on the Mount Igman Road, opening fire with anti-aircraft guns on the armored cars of journalists and aid workers. With the siege tightening, there was no flour or sugar for sale anywhere in Sarajevo.

I ran into Suada’s sister-in-law, Aida, who was desperately looking for powdered milk. She had had a baby in May and her breast milk had dried up from poor nutrition. The monthly distribution of humanitarian aid had dwindled to one cup of oil and half a pound of dried peas, beans, and rice per person.

“Believe me. The person who is eating only that humanitarian aid is dead already,” declared Jela.

The sense of abandonment was acute. “The whole world is protesting three hundred UN peacekeepers in chains while we, an entire nation, have been in chains for three years,” complained Esad Taljanović.

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Filed under food, NGOs, U.N., U.S., war, Yugoslavia

Private Markets for Food Aid

From Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden (Penguin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1129-1146:

Food aid from the United States, Japan, South Korea, and other donors mitigated the worst of the famine by the late 1990s. But in an indirect and accidental way, it also energized the market ladies and traveling entrepreneurs who would give Shin sustenance, cover, and guidance in his escape to China.

Unlike any other aid recipient in the world, North Korea’s government insisted on sole authority for transporting donated food. The demand angered the United States, the largest aid donor, and it frustrated the monitoring techniques that the U.N. World Food Program had developed around the world to track aid and make sure it reached intended recipients. But since the need was so urgent and the death toll so high, the West swallowed its disgust and delivered more than one billion dollars’ worth of food to North Korea between 1995 and 2003.

During these years, refugees from North Korea arrived in the South and told government officials that they had seen donated rice, wheat, corn, vegetable oil, nonfat dry milk, fertilizer, medicine, winter clothing, blankets, bicycles, and other aid items on sale in private markets. Pictures and videos taken in the markets showed bags of grain marked as “A Gift from the American People.”

Bureaucrats, party officials, army officers, and other well-placed government elites ended up stealing about thirty percent of the aid, according to estimates by outside scholars and international aid agencies. They sold it to private traders, often for dollars or euros, and delivered the goods using government vehicles.

Without intending to do so, wealthy donor countries injected a kind of adrenaline rush into the grubby world of North Korean street trading. The lucrative theft of international food aid whetted the appetite of higher-ups for easy money as it helped transform private markets into the country’s primary economic engine.

Private markets, which today supply most of the food North Koreans eat, have become the fundamental reason why most outside experts say a catastrophic 1990s-style famine is unlikely to happen again.

The markets, though, have not come close to eliminating hunger or malnutrition. They also appear to have increased inequity, creating a chasm between those who have figured out how to trade and those who have not.

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U.S.-Japan Prewar Missionary Internationalism

Here’s a nice bit of historical revisionism from Robert Shaffer, “A Missionary from the East to Western Pagans”: Kagawa Toyohiko’s 1936 U.S. Tour, in Journal of World History 24 (2013): 579-583 (Project MUSE subscription required):

In order to explain how World War II in the Pacific between the Americans and the Japanese became so infused with racial hatred, John Dower in 1986 characterized their prior interactions as a virtually unrelieved set of hostilities, misunderstandings, and worse. Walter LaFeber’s more narrowly political analysis showed some elements of sympathy at times between the two nations, though very few between 1920 and 1945, and he expressed clearly his thesis about such relations in his book’s title: The Clash. While compelling in many respects, and certainly influential, the perspectives of Dower and LaFeber downplay, especially for the interwar years, the respect that some people in each society had for those in the other. Recent historians have sought to fill in these gaps, bringing to light, for example, the enthusiasm with which Americans greeted the first ambassadors from Japan in 1860 as they toured the United States, and the respect that many American missionaries in Japan at the beginning of the twentieth century had for both Japanese tradition and its embrace of modernity. Although Kagawa’s 1936 visit could not forestall the growth of tensions between the two nations that soon led to World War II, this study demonstrates that a tradition of friendship persisted between elements of both nations within the more dominant atmosphere of mistrust and hatred.

World history as a discipline has been developing in tandem with the “internationalization of U.S. history,” an effort to show, among other things, how events and ideas that developed outside of the United States affected this nation. Daniel Rodgers, for example, has shown that many of the reforms in the United States from the Progressive Era and the New Deal developed first in Europe, and he explains how Americans traveling or working in Europe or meeting with European visitors adapted these ideas for implementation in the United States. Thomas Bender has extended geographically the study of such interconnections in reform movements to Asia and Latin America, but his treatment of the 1930s is merely suggestive. Kagawa’s economic reformism manifested itself by the mid 1930s primarily in building producers’ and consumers’ cooperatives in Japan, and the Protestants who sponsored his 1936 visit to the United States sought to use his knowledge and his prestige to stimulate the development of such co-ops in this nation. Thus, an analysis of his visit deepens our understanding of the interaction between American and foreign reform movements in the case of economic cooperatives, and highlights this oft-neglected effort during the Depression to fashion what its backers conceived of as a Christian economic order distinct from both capitalism and communism.

Kagawa’s visit to the United States also challenges us to look more closely at American involvement in missionary activity. In her recent survey of the historical literature on American overseas missionary activities, Dana Robert pointed to the interpretive sea change that occurred in the 1960s. By the end of that turbulent decade, she notes, “there was scarcely a work written on American Protestant missions that did not focus on their role in promoting imperialism.” However, Robert emphasizes that much of the most recent work, from the 1980s onward, sees “the significance of missions for American history … in international relationships,” in how indigenous peoples and religions shaped American Protestant mission work, and not just the other way around. In a study of the impact that American overseas missionaries had on U.S. society, Daniel Bays and Grant Wacker also reject the 1960s paradigm, suggesting that many missionaries spurred “self-reflection and self-criticism” about American society itself, and helped “their compatriots to see the United States as outsiders saw it.”

An examination of Kagawa’s under-studied U.S. tour corroborates the analyses of Robert, Bays, and Wacker that in some cases the missionary enterprise did not support American empire or the ideology that the United States and the West had the unquestioned right and obligation to inculcate religious truth and civilization on others. Indeed, this investigation reveals an instance in which American Protestants wanted their compatriots to learn from a foreigner—indeed, from someone from a predominantly non-Christian land—and from someone who had previously made well-publicized and highly critical comments about the United States. Those Americans responsible for planning Kagawa’s tour, including many with long experience as missionaries, had become what I have elsewhere called “critical internationalists”—Americans who believed that in order to engage productively with others a critical approach toward the American role in the world had become necessary. Thus, this study provides background for David Hollinger’s recent argument that ecumenical Protestantism in the United States, bolstered by its encounters with predominantly non-Christian peoples, became after 1945 an important proponent of anti-racist and multicultural perspectives in both the domestic and international spheres.

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Rosa’s Route to Apostasy

From Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America, by Alma Guillermoprieto (Vintage, 2001), pp. 33-35:

[Rosa’s] family was well off by the standards of the provincial backwater she was brought up in, but her father, a devout Catholic, had strong sympathy for the labor movement. One of her first memories is of learning the songs of the Fifth Regiment of the Spanish Republican Army from activist priests who taught at her school. They told her about Dolores Ibarruri, “La Pasionaria,” the Basque miner’s daughter who during the Civil War exhorted the Republican troops to fight for liberty and face down death. Rosa was barely a teenager when she took to singing the Civil War hymns herself, to cheer on workers during strikes. At university, swept up in the radical fervor of the times, Rosa and her friends were soon helping campesino organizations coordinate invasions of privately owned ranches, set up roadblocks, and stockpile whatever weapons they could find for the coming revolution.

Although the FARC already existed, it was seen by many as old hat and insufficiently idealistic, and new guerrilla groups, and what used to be called “preparty formations,” multiplied. The Ejército de Liberación Nacional, or ELN, as well as the Quintín Lame, an armed Indian rights group; the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores; the M-19—all came into being. By the late seventies Rosa was closely identified with another of the groups to emerge from the university crucible, the Ejército Popular de Liberación, or EPL. The group was strong in the area of Cordoba, where in those days the population was fairly clearly divided between poor campesinos and the people with money who owned cattle ranches and farms where bananas and oil palms were grown.

How Rosa’s destiny took her from the EPL to the heart of paramilitary power is, in her telling, a long, breathtaking, and not always reliable story, but she is only one of many defectors from the fanatic left to join the ranks of the murderous right. The autodefensas claim that fully one-third of their troops are former guerrillas, and even if one disputes the figures, there is no doubting the general trend. Rosa’s life, however, is unusual even in Colombia, where reality always seems to flow out of someone’s dream, or nightmare.

The first thing that bothered Rosa about her leftist associates was what one might describe as their impact on the political ecology of the departamento of Córdoba. At the height of the revolutionary ferment, there were six different guerrilla organizations prowling around the hills in Rosa’s region, each one demanding that the campesinos pay “taxes” to finance their coming liberation. “If a campesino had five cows, he had to give up one,” Rosa says. “The guerrillas were eating up all the money from the NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]. They were hijacking mules. They were emptying out the community stores.”

None of these organizations, however, was capable of defending the campesinos when the ranchers—including many drug traffickers turned aspiring landed gentry—began organizing assassination squads to deal with guerrilla collaborators. “Those people were terrible masacradores,” Rosa says. “The rank and file were ranch guards, ranchers, drug traffickers, and everything you’ve heard about the [murders committed with] chainsaws, axes, and machetes is true.” Although the guerrillas could not defeat the paramilitary squads, they did rather well when it came to turning on each other. One guerrilla group, the ELN, tried to dispute the EPL’s local hegemony, Rosa recalls. “The ELN wanted to rule,” she says. “And they killed whoever didn’t obey.”

One day the campesinos decided they’d had enough of multiple taxes and the conflicting, deadly demands on their political loyalties. The first one to rebel was a fisherman who turned on an ELN patrol that had approached him for money. In Rosa’s description, the fisherman hacked a young man and a young woman guerrilla to death. “Campesinos don’t know how to kill,” Rosa observes dryly, having dwelt on the scene in some detail. “And when someone kills who doesn’t know how to do it, he kills monstrously.”

As for her own apostasy from the revolutionary cause, Rosa says it took place sometime after she was kidnapped in 1991 by one of the leaders of the antiguerrilla squads, the paramilitares. She had already decided by then that her commitment was to the campesinos and not the guerrillas, she says. Then came the kidnapping. She was abducted, she told me, after participating in a land invasion of a ranch owned by a well-known paramilitar. Her captors took her to a camp where “a fat man” was put in charge of torturing her to get information about the guerrillas. He broke off her teeth with pliers. (She paused in her narrative to show me that all her upper teeth had caps.) She was tied down while the fat man jumped on her stomach. She was forced to stand, bleeding, through the rest of the night, wondering when her execution would take place. At dawn, she was told to start walking. The bullet in the back she was expecting never came (“maybe because I never gave them the information they wanted, and they got tired of torturing me”). She kept walking and eventually found her way to her parents’ house.

The lesson she appears to have drawn from this episode is not what one would expect. “After that time,” Rosa explains, she and her kidnapper respected each other. “Me on this side, you on that one, we both agreed.” “It’s funny how life is,” she said, in conclusion to her narrative. “Because the guy who ordered the fat man to torture me and I are now pretty good friends.” Presumably, this is because a few months after her abduction she crossed over to her enemy’s side.

By then, Rosa says, a majority of the guerrilla group she was involved with, the EPL, had decided that a revolutionary war could not successfully be fought in Colombia, and had turned their weapons in, changing their organization’s name, but not its initials, to Esperanza, Paz y Libertad (Hope, Peace, and Liberty). Peace was not forthcoming, however, because the FARC guerrillas soon appeared with their own guns and tried to establish control in the void they perceived had been created by the despised pacifists. The FARC began executing former EPL guerrillas. The survivors and their campesino supporters felt they had no option except to join forces with the right-wing paramilitary leaders who had tortured Rosa and murdered many other comrades.

This dispatch was dated April 13, 2000.

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Help the Victims of Genocide or the Perpetrators?

From Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 608-620:

The refugee camps were set up in July 1994 and stayed in place for over two years. Some would swell to contain more than 400,000 inhabitants, becoming the largest refugee camps in the world and larger than any city in eastern Zaire. Together they housed over a million people. In a perverse way, they provoked a mobilization of international resources that the genocide never had. Within days of the first arrivals, aid workers detected a cholera outbreak; the virulent parasite spread fast in the unhygienic and cramped quarters. Without proper health care, the disease killed the weak refugees within days, emptying their bodies of liquids through violent diarrhea and vomiting until their organs failed. By July 28, 1994, a thousand bodies were being collected a day and dumped unceremoniously into chalk-dusted pits by the dump-truck load.

Foreign television crews who had not been able to reach Rwanda during the genocide now set up camp in Goma; the pictures of hundreds of chalk-dusted bodies tumbling into mass graves suggested a strange moral equivalency to the recent genocide, except that this catastrophe was easier to fix: Instead of a complicated web of violence in which military intervention would have been messy and bloody, here was a crisis that could be addressed by spending money. Over the next two years, donors spent over $2 billion on the refugee crisis in eastern Zaire, more than twice as much as they spent on helping the new Rwandan government. The RPF was furious. Vice President Paul Kagame lamented, “Personally, I think this question of refugees is being overplayed at the expense of all our other problems. We no longer talk about orphans, widows, victims [in Rwanda]. We’re only talking about refugees, refugees, refugees.”

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Wordcatcher Tales: Binga, Befam

The dusty dirt road from Lolodorf to Ebolowa was only 107 km long, but it took us three hours to cover the distance in our hired Toyota sedan, over ten years old and without air-conditioning, so we often had to choose between keeping the dust out and the heat in, or letting some dust in to get some fresh air. By the time we reached the outskirts of Ebolowa, we were ready for a refreshing lunch stop in as nice a restaurant as we could find, so we began asking people on the street to direct us to the nearest hotel, which turned out to the brand-new, European-standard Florence Hôtel. (We found out too late that we would have had many more choices had we driven into the city center first.)

We felt out-of-place from the moment we entered the front gates and noticed the newer Mercedes and Land Cruiser parked inside. The feeling only increased as our parched and dusty party of four were ushered to a linen-covered table with fine silverware opposite a wooden bar counter with a premium selection of duty-free-shop liquors on the wall behind it. Despair mounted as we perused the menu. The cheapest main dish cost 4,000 francs CFA (< 10 USD), and the price of the table d’hôte buffet set out for a banquet meeting then underway of visiting dignitaries from the Société Nationale d’Investissement du Cameroun was 12,000 francs CFA.

We finally settled on vegetable soups for starters and fruit plates for dessert (each about 2,000 francs), with nothing in between, and bottled water to drink. Our waiter was pleasantly accommodating and even brought us extra water at no charge. He very likely assumed we were missionaries, especially after we quizzed him about the words that marked the women’s and men’s rooms, binga and befam, respectively. (It was like seeing wahine and kane on the restroom doors of a French brasserie in Honolulu.) The restrooms were otherwise to European standard, spotlessly clean, with hot and cold running water, airjet hand driers, and toilet paper. In fact, they were the nicest restrooms we used during our two weeks in Cameroon.

We stopped later in the afternoon at the Repere Bar on the outskirts of Yaoundé in order for our driver and my brother belatedly to eat their main courses, beef stew with manioc and rice, respectively, for 500 francs each, while my wife and I each had a large bottle of Guinness, for 900 francs each. (The facilities there were rather more basic.)

The language we had encountered on the doors was Bulu, a dialect of the Beti language group widely spoken across the rain forests of southern Cameroon and neighboring countries. The current president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, comes from the Beti-speaking region. According to our Florence Hôtel waiter, binga means ‘women’ and minga means ‘woman’, while befam means ‘men’ and fam means ‘man’ (a near homophone of French femme). Speakers of Castilian or Catalan can get a taste of the closely related Fang dialect online.

This kind of distinction is typical of Bantu languages, which mark different noun classes with prefixes that distinguish singular from plural in the case of count nouns. Or at least they do so in Narrow Bantu, if not so regularly in Wide Bantu (or Bantoid) languages. In fact, the word bantu means ‘people’, while muntu means ‘person’. And that’s why so many placenames in parts of Cameroon start with Ba-.

The most memorable introduction to this phenomenon that I’ve ever read was a passage in African Language Structures (U. California Press, 1974) by William Everett Welmers, who on p. 160 applies Bantu noun class and concord systems to words borrowed from English:

KiSwahili
kipilefti ~ vipilefti ’roundabout(s), traffic circle(s)’
digadi ~ madigadi ‘fender(s)’ (< mudguard)

KeRezi (a fictional Bantu language)
mudigadi ~ badigadi ‘bodyguard(s)’
mutenda ~ batenda ‘bartender(s)’
matini ‘martini’ (with ma- marking mass nouns for liquids)

UPDATE: We’re back from Cameroon and will have more tales to tell, but only after finishing taxes, posting more photos, and hitting the road for another week of travel.

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