2011 CIVIL UNREST IN THE MID EAST – THE UTILITY OF MICRO-ASSISTANCE?

Posted: July 31, 2011 in Peace Building
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In the historic sweep of the 2011 “Arab spring”, the global community has shown itself singularly ineffective in dealing with the unrest that is setting the Mideast afire.  Even setting aside political issues, we find that the basics of the relief of suffering and the reduction of conflict seem  almost insurmountable.   The foray of the UN into the “responsibility to protect” R2P doctrine in Libya is shaping up to be a disaster.  This may be undermining the probability of being able to deal with unrest in other countries, such as Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and eventually the rest of the mid east, in a manner that prioritizes protection and non-violence.

With no consensus on a R2P community of practice, laws, or rules of engagement, what has emerged is a precedent to engage in aggressive large scale military intervention, using the full range of offensive military power, with attendant collateral damage and non-combatant causalities.

The result may well be a future paralysis of the global community and reluctance to act.   This either leaves these countries to their fates, or to the limited capacities of NGOs, Aid agencies and those citizens willing to engage in foreign policy, the so called CEFPs.  Because of size constraints, these alternative agencies are often more suited to acting at the local or community level than at the national level.  It also presents dangerous challenges if acting during periods of violent conflict, rather than in post conflict reconstitution phases.

The success of small aid organizations requires communities where development and aid are welcome, and with communities willing to work together. They often are only able to deal with small projects of limited funding and expertise ,and  tend to define relationships in terms of  accompaniment which are more long term, rather than traditional donor-recipient relationships in which aid or expertise is provided in terms of delivery and training and then the aid agency moves on.

Small aid groups also tend to define activity in the domain of micro-assistance in areas more oriented to incrementally building the community from the ground up. It tends to ask the three key assistance questions.

What is needed?

What can you do for yourselves?

What do you need from others?

At the micro-level this becomes framed in terms of small projects and governance initiatives and on a prioritization of the need.  This may involve micro projects in local security development,  in economic projects, in enhancing the economic agency of women, in infrastructure  projects, building a school, a road, buildings, a clinic, growing food, digging a well, youth projects, governance and democracy development, mediation and reconciliation activity.  The list is endless and dependent on capacity and expertise, the local security situation, and the severity of any wider conflicts.

The challenge becomes one of managing expectations, thinking long term and moving on a direction that is positive for future generations,  rather than towards more conflict and violence.

Micro-development assistance can be provided on the basis of a small or medium sized donor community, and hopefully not so dependent on large government aid provisions with political considerations attached.  Micro assistance approach is an exercise in matching funding, donor sources, logistics capacities and expertise, with needs.  It requires a clear commitment to the ethic of care and accompaniment approaches.

In the confusion and politics of the UN seeking a response to the unrest, and in the absence of a constructive response, the utility of micro-assistance may have a measure of importance.  This becomes an exercise in community and relationship building from the ground up that requires a shared vision and will to be successful.  We need a shared vision of hope and dignity, of not refusing to do what we can do, and of building a legacy for the future.

In peace

Paul Maillet

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