Food Aid in Sudan

Darfur has received food aid for one of the longest running periods anywhere. Decades has passed and the crisis of insecurity and malnutrition continue. Long-time humanitarian practitioner, turned academic, Susanne Jaspars, authored "Food Aid in Sudan: A History of Power, Politics and Profit" in 2018 to distill the complex story. The book is readable and presents clear cases for moving beyond the technical approach to humanitarian assistance. One limitation is the reliance upon qualitative data (which is valuable, undoubtedly), however readers might be interested to see some more quantitative data (and from a variety of sources). Nonetheless, well worth reading for those interested in the topic area and/or Darfur. Some notes:

"Food aid can address food shortages and malnutrition but also has intended and unintended political effects. These political effects range from the geopolitical functions of food aid during the Cold War and – more recently – the War on Terror (WoT) to support countries friendly to the West, to the manipulation of food aid in internal conflict. Despite aims of doing the opposite, food aid tends to support the more powerful and exclude the weak amongst crisis-affected populations." (p. 9)

"According to government officials, the Sudanisation of aid began as early as 1988, following the 'invasion' of international NGOs during the 1985 famine, with the aim of handing over the distribution of relief to local NGOs (Informants 17 and 22, 2012). This was formalised in the first half of 1990, when the Sudan government issued a policy paper on the future of INGOs in the country, which introduced the concept of twinning them with local NGOS. [sic]" (p. 98)

"President Al-Bashir announced that aid would be Sudanised. National NGOs took over much of the work of the expelled NGOs. In North Darfur, for example, the food distribution previously carried out by Action Contre La Faim (as WFP's implementing partner) was taken over by the Sudan Red Crescent and Africa Humanitarian Action (an African NGO). German Agro Action entered into new arrangements with local NGOs. Key elements of Sudanisation appear to be the requirements that INGOs should employ mainly Sudanese staff and work with local partners. When interviewed in 2014, the Director-General of HAC explained that he saw Sudanisation as Sudanese taking the initiative for intervention and responsibility for end delivery, while international staff could monitor." (p. 98)

"The establishment of the national strategic grain reserve has been an essential component of the Sudanisation of food aid. A local strategic grain reserve was first attempted in the late 1980s in response to the Western-dominated relief operation in 1985; this was managed by the Agricultural Bank of Sudan and had the aim of action as a buffer against crop failures and stabilising the market. It was a direct response to dependence on Western food aid." (p. 99)

"In the early 1990s, the government resisted emergency food aid because it conflicted with the self-sufficiency aims of the Islamist regime, causing a stand-off between the government and aid agencies during the 1991 famine." (p. 104)

"…despite the efforts of international agencies in the 1980s and 1990s, most people in Darfur received little or no food aid and instead had to rely on their own strategies and became further impoverished. Government food aid was limited and prioritised government staff or those whose support it needed. Food aid in the livelihoods regime of practices, however, did produce a highly trained group of Sudanese aid professionals, who represented and lobbied on behalf of drought- and famine-affected populations, aiming to improve both government and donor responses. Other than training of Sudanese aid professionals, and government initiatives to provide and control food aid, it appears that the main effect of international food aid in the 1980s and 1990s in Sudan was the economic benefits for central government, traders and transporters" (p. 128)

"Government representatives always referred to international food aid as a political tool that provides support to rebel movements, threatens the government's sovereignty and makes the country dependent on food imports… Government officials also linked the politicisation to more subtle ways of undermining the Sudan government. Humanitarian intervention was twice referred to as a Trojan horse, first during OLS and later during the Darfur crisis. Food aid was perceived as a means of infiltration that allowed the enemy, Western governments, to weaken Sudan's government." (p. 159)

The Fire Next Time

Notes from Baldwin's 1962 two essays in The Fire Next Time, the first a letter to his nephew and the second a longer piece that reflects on engagements with faith and identity:

"Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?" (p. 94)

"Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity." (p. 7)

"The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority, but to their inhumanity and fear." (p. 8)

"Time catches up with kingdoms and crushes them, gets its teeth into doctrines and rends them; time reveals the foundations on which any kingdom rests, and eats at those foundations, and it destroys doctrines by proving them to be untrue." (p. 51)

"The word "independence" in Africa and the word "integration" here are almost equally meaningless; that is, Europe has not yet left Africa, and black men here are not yet free. And both of these last statements are undeniable facts, related facts, containing the gravest implications for us all." (p. 87)

"I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand—and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible." (p. 104)

Men in the Sun - Ghassan Kanafani

In a letter to his son, Kanafani wrote: "Do not believe that man grows. No; he is born suddenly - a word, in a moment, penetrates his heart to a new throb. Once scene can hurl him down from the ceiling of childhood on to the ruggedness of the road." (p. 11) 

Coverage from Al Jazeera on Kanafani.

Language & Governance in the African Experience

​Notes from The Power of Babel: Language & Governance in the African Experience (1998) by Ali A. Mazrui and Alamin M. Mazrui"

"One of the gross linguistic anomalies of post-colonial Africa, in fact, is that whole classes of countries are named after the imperial language they have adopted as their official language. We do constantly refer to 'Francophone Africa,' 'English-speaking Africa,' 'Lusophone Africa' and the like. Asia, too, was colonized; and yet nobody refers to 'Anglophone Asia' or 'French-speaking Asian countries.' (p. 6)

"… how much of a choice of synonyms do I have when I want to discuss blackmail? Or something sold on the black market? It is true that most of the time when we are using these words we are not connecting them with any racist tradition with associates black with evil and white with goodness. The metaphor is so much part of the English language, beautifully integrated, ready for use unconsciously in a spontaneous flow. As metaphor, black has carried repeatedly, and in a variety of contexts, decidedly negative connotations. White has ambivalent connotations but, more often than not, favourable ones. The connotations have been stabilized that users of the language are unconscious of those wider links with racist traditions. But does not the unconsciousness make the situation even worse?" (p. 25)

"What all this suggests, then, is that language as an instrument of liberation must be based, not on a reversal of values accorded to European versus African languages on the basis of a preconceived paradigm of linguistic determinism, but on disalienation that seeks to pose new terms of reference altogether. For as long as the struggle for mental liberation is defined in terms that confirm to the European ideal of humanity and civilization it will only turn out to be an upward spiral to further alienation and conceptual imprisonment." (p. 62)

"It appears, then, that democracy would develop on firmer foundations on the systemic, economic, social, and cultural planes if African nations pursued language policies that reduced dependence on Western languages, push African languages more towards the centre of the political and economic arenas, and consolidated the use and development of their local languages of wider communication." (p. 107)

"Not using indigenous African languages in the legal process is damaging not only to the rule of law but also, of course, to the indigenous languages themselves. The languages are marginalized in some of the fundamental areas of civil society – law and order, governance and civil liberties." (p. 114)

Globalization and Seed Sovereignty

​Walshe's "Globalisation and seed sovereignty in sub-Saharan Africa" (2019) explores some of the contestations and contradictions that exist between globalization and sovereignty (Ch 1), sovereignty in a globalized world (Ch 2), and seed sovereignty (Ch 3). The book provides two country case studies on Kenya (Ch 4) and Ethiopia (Ch 5), exploring their respective laws / regulations / proclamations regarding seed (their content, drafting, influences, implications), and then a case study of local seed use / change from the Oromia region in Ethiopia (Ch 6). Walshe's book is a useful reference, particularly the two chapters on that analyze the laws / regulations / proclamations.

The conclusion makes some bold claims about this research (a publication drawing on doctoral work), such as "this book provides the first in-depth study of new Kenyan and Ethiopian seed laws for the first time and also provides the first local study of seed sovereignty in Ethiopia" (p. 237). Lots of firsts being claimed. One example of an Ethiopian researcher whose knowledge and contributions could be better recognized - of many - is Fassil Gebeyehu Yelemtu's doctoral study "The social life of seeds" (2014). Dr. Fassil is now with the African Biodiversity Network (who was interviewed, but whose work was not cited or recognized). 

When Victims Become Killers

​Mahmoud Mamdani should be on every essential reading list, whether that is African Studies (with When Victims Become Killers), colonialism and colonization (with Citizen and Subject) or political science (with Good Muslim, Bad Muslim). For anyone interested in Rwanda, the genocide, colonization and identity, When Victims Become Killers (2001) is required reading. A detailed history presents a different picture than what was common until this work, which broadened our vision to politics and identity (adding to what was tend a discourse largely focused upon culture and economics). The book can be heavy reading for those not familiar with the country, or not ready to take a deep historical dive. The weight of the arguments rest in this detail.

I will not attempt a review of the book. Parts of it are available via Google Books and a chapter-by-chapter summary is availableA few notes:

In terms of motivations and context, Mamdani explains his "growing discontent with the methodological underpinnings of area studies. The area studies enterprise is underpinned by two core methodological claims. The first sees state boundaries as boundaries of knowledge, thereby turning political into epistemological boundaries. Even when radical area studies linked developments in the colony to those in imperial centers, it did not cross boundaries between colonies. It soon became clear to me that just because the genocide took place within the boundaries of Rwanda, it did not mean that either the dynamics that led to it or the dynamics it unleashed in turn were confined to Rwanda." (p. xii)

On politics: "If Rwanda was the genocide that happened, then South Africa was the genocide that didn't. The contrast was marked by two defining events in the first half of 1994: just as a tidal wave of genocidal violence engulfed Rwanda, South Africa held elections marking the transition to a postapartheid era. More than any other, these twin developments marked the end of innocence for the African intelligentsia. For if some seer had told us in the late 1980s that there would be a genocide in one of these two places, I wonder how many among us would have managed to identify correctly its location. Yet, this failure would also be testimony to the creative - and not just the destructive - side of politics." (p. 185)

On the Church: "Herein lies the clue as to why the violence was marked by a greater fury in the Church than in any other institution in Rwandan society. The Church was the original ethnographer of Rwanda. It was the original author of the Hamitic hypothesis. The Church provided the lay personnel that permeated every local community and helped distinguish Hutu from Tutsi in every neighbourhood: without the Church, there would have been no 'racial' census in Rwanda. At the same time, the Church was the womb that nurtured the leadership of the insurgent Hutu movement. It provided the intellectual and organizational backup for this movement, from talent as ghostwriters to funding for the cooperative movement which oiled the tentacles that ran through Rwandan society like so many arteries through a body politic." (p. 232)

On nation-state solutions: "Those who still think consistently along "nation-state" lines call for a separation of present-day Rwanda into two political entities, one a Hutuland, the other a Tutsiland - or some version of this proposal. The proposal will not solve the problem of a minority in the context of a nation-state. It will only ensure a balance by reproducing the problem. Since it will produce two states out of one - a Hutuland with a Tutsi minority and a Tutsiland with a Hutu minority - it will allow each identity to be a permanent majority in one state while being held hostage as a permanent minority in the other. The idea is that the majority which wishes fair treatment for its cultural brethren who are a minority in another state will have no choice but to treat fairly cultural others who are a minority within its own borders. By institutionalizing Hutu and Tutsi as political identities in the state, the solution makes permanent the civil war between them." (p. 264)

Participatory Development Practice

​Book review: Kelly, Anthony and Westoby, Peter. 2018: Participatory Development Practice: Using Traditional and Contemporary Frameworks.

There is an emerging recognition that many of the ideas, practices and approaches within development studies and practice can replicate colonial attitudes, be paternalistic and disempowering, and may entrench marginalization. The emergence of a wide array of participatory methodologies has in part been in response to these challenges, however they too struggle and despite an ethos that aims to create new pathways have not been a panacea. In Participatory Development Practice, Anthony Kelly and Peter Westoby build both on their depth of experience as well as their grounding in the Gandhian tradition, to facilitate a rethink of a range of 'how' questions. A key concept throughout the book is relationships; with oneself, between individuals, within groups, in an organizational structure and culture, in coalitions of organizations and in engaging with the world. This book offers ideas, practices and approaches, that provide avenues for critical reflection and new forms of practice. For students, workers and practitioners who find themselves asking 'how could we do this better?', this is a work full of insight. 'Framework' in the title might suggest a checklist, instead what this framework offers are multiple levels of introspection, of doing and being better. Participatory Development Practice is a book for everyone working alongside others who want to gain deeper connections and to build stronger relationships. This is, the authors argue, the root of it all. People are lost in projectized development. What needs to change are the layers of relationships that build, guide and direct development action.

The chapters of the book are structured around levels of participatory development practice (individual / self, micro, mezzo, macro, and meta methods). The emphasis on the self as well as macro and meta are valuable additions to the participatory practice dialogue as often participation is framed in the micro and mezzo spheres. Each chapter outlines respective methods in a clear and thought-provoking fashion, which they present as being interconnected and facilitating purposeful and systematic practice. While informed by theorists throughout, the ideas of theory are presented in an accessible way with relatable examples. At its core, the book outlines pathways for how development can be oriented to be human-centered or people-centered, offering practical ideas, practices and provocations to do so.

While outlining a framework, and a wide range of principles and steps, Participatory Development Practice is grounded in a call to reflect on character traits, akin to calls made by Robert Chambers. In this regard, participatory development practice is about what we do, but more importantly is it about how we do it. Better tools are important, but Anthony Kelly and Peter Westoby also call us to be better people; working with humility, integrity, commitment, openness and honesty (what the authors call principles). In the concluding remarks, the authors specifically explore how we can cultivate gentleness, reflect on motivations and commitment and foster comradeship. These values and traits permeate the book. In Chapter 2, the "implicate method" the authors explore positioning oneself, and frameworks of doing so, with examples being drawn from Gandhi, McCauley, village workers in India and Fanon. Introspection continues in Chapter 3, as the authors explore questions of relationships and dialogue, building on Tagore, Buber and Freire. In this regard, Kelly and Westoby have offered something quite unique, these traits are not prefaces but are the process; the means being the end, the end being the means. The framework and various processes are not technical ones, but of cultivating relationships, traits, skills, ideas and principles.

In a recent review of Chambers' Can We Know Better (2019), I reflected on the dichotomy between mechanical, 'expert-driven' approaches (e.g. fiscal policy, standards for regulating environmental toxins) and participatory approaches (Cochrane, 2018). This is because learners often grapple with which approaches to apply when, and for which challenges. Kelly and Westoby make a useful distinction between service delivery (health, education, water, electricity, transportation, communications, public safety) and participatory development. The former, they argue, has failed those who most need it, often passing them by and leaving them behind. They state that "service delivery on its own fails the poor" (p. 15). Instead, they argue that there needs to be a new pathway; "a different type of program delivery whether the programme is about livelihood, health, education or any other matter of importance to the people" (p. 15). The answer is the participatory approach, "which involves people doing things for themselves" (p. 16). The self-help ethos and bottom-up framework is laudable, but also raises questions. Is it just? In so doing, are we tasking the most marginalized and vulnerable with the roles and responsibilities of government? And, conversely, are we reducing the accountability of government to be more inclusive and respectful the rights of all? In wondering about where these lines are drawn, Green's (2012) book on active citizens and effective states may provide some balance. However, there are also other questions of ethics that could be asked: Might a bottom-up approach neglect historical injustice and calls for distributive justice? The authors describe participatory work as equality-driven, but ought not the question also be one of equity, which would necessitate the involvement of different actors, specifically challenging questions of power and privilege that may lie beyond the community? The authors might suggest that fostering the kind of relations they speak of in the book may lend to that. The historical experience, including of those theorists the authors rely upon, suggests different configurations, scales and actors may be required for the desired change to come about. While the authors do not raise these questions, they are cognizant of the challenges. The book navigates between a critique of the failures of service delivery as well as its potential as a pathway to improve the human condition (p. 17).

This book will be a valuable addition for students, workers and practitioners because it presents complex ideas in clear ways with relatable examples. Far too often theory in inaccessible, or the direct linkages to practice are challenging to tease out. Kelly and Westoby have made these ideas accessible as well as actionable. Participatory Development Practice is suitable not only for undergraduate courses in development studies but also for the broad array of workers and practitioners seeking to make their communities better places.


Cochrane, L. 2019. Book Review: Chambers, Robert. 2017. Can We Know Better? Reflections for Development. Progress in Development Studies 19(1): 84-86.

Green, D. 2012. From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States Can Change the World. Practical Action Publishing: Warwickshire.

The Liberal Virus

​For additional background on Samir Amin see my posts on Unequal Development (1976) and Capitalism in the Age of Globalization (1997). Some notes from his 2004 book "The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World":

"Towards the end of the twentieth century a sickness struck the world. Not everyone died, but all suffered from it. The virus which caused the epidemic was the 'liberal virus.' This virus made its appearance around the sixteenth century within the triangle described by Paris-London-Amsterdam. The symptoms that the disease then manifested appeared harmless. Men (whom the virus struck in preference to women) not only became accustomed to it and developed the necessary antibodies, but were able to benefit from the increased energy that it elicited. But the virus traveled across the Atlantic and found a favorable place among those who, deprived of antibodies, spread it. As a result, the malady took on extreme forms. The virus reappeared in Europe towards the end of the twentieth century, returning from America where it had mutated. Now strengthened, it came to destroy a great number of the antibodies that the Europeans had developed over the course of the three preceding centuries." (p. 7)

"The dominant forces are such because they succeed in imposing their language on their victims. The 'experts' of conventional economics have managed to make believe that their analyses and the conclusions drawn from them are imperative because they are 'scientific,' hence objective, neutral and unavoidable. This is not true." (p. 15-16)

"The very principle of democracy is founded on the possibility of making alternative choices. There is no longer a need for democracy, since ideology made the idea that 'there is no alternative' acceptable. Adherence to a meta-social principle of superior rationality allows for the elimination of the necessity and possibility of choosing." (p. 21)

"...this liberal virus, which pollutes contemporary social thought and eliminates the capacity to understand the world, let alone transform it, has profoundly penetrated the whole of the "historical left" formed in the aftermath of the Second World War. The movements engaged at the present time in social struggles for "another world" (a better one) and an alternative globalization will only be able to produce significant social advances if they get rid of this virus in order to begin an authentic theoretical debate again." (p. 42)

Capitalism in the Age of Globalization

​Samir Amin (1931-2018) spent his life research, writing and acting against capitalism, in particular highlighting how exploitative is it for the peripheries of the system. On this, Unequal Development (1976), is one of the earlier important works. In its place, he advocated for a socialist system. In the 1970s he introduced the term "eurocentrism", a critique that has influenced all of the social sciences (he wrote a book by that title, published in 1988, which I will aim to cover in a later post). Born in Egypt, he spent much of his life in West Africa, largely writing in French (which he was educated in). This post covers "Capitalism in the Age of Globalization: The Management of Contemporary Society" (1997).

I have the 2014 re-print, which is useful because Amin includes a Preface that he wrote in 2013. In several regards, Amin foresaw many of the challenges that would emerge in the decades that followed the publication of this book, which he reflects on in saying: "So far as I was concerned, the new system was nothing other than the latest stage in moves to world domination by the centres of historical imperialism (USA, Western Europe, Japan), which they sought to impose through exclusive access to the planet's natural resources, a monopoly over modern technology, control of the globalized financial market, and sole deployment of weapons of mass destruction. I maintained that the nations of the South, being victims of this system, would not willingly bow to its demands, and that the North-South conflict was therefore destined to grow in scope and importance" (p. xv)

"Generalized, globalized and financialized monopoly capitalism now has nothing to offer the world, other than the sad prospect of humanity's self destruction, and further deployment of capital accumulation is inexorably heading in this direction. Capitalism has outlived its usefulness, producing conditions that suggest a necessary transition towards a higher stage of civilization. The implosion of the system, caused by the ongoing loss of control over its internal contradictions, signals 'the Autumn of Capitalism'." (p. xxix)

"During the Uruguay Round (which ended in December 1993) Western powers pursued common objectives, while attempting at the same time to reconcile some of their differences. It is important to say it clearly: the common denominator for all the Western powers, throughout this affair, has been a marked hostility toward the Third World. The true objective of the Uruguay Round is to block the competitiveness of the industrialized Third World, even at the expense of the holy principles of liberalism, and thus to reinforce the "five monopolies" of the dominant centers. In this area, as in every other area and at every other time, the double standard prevails." (p. 28-29)

"With Trade Rights in Intellectual Property (TRIP), an offensive has been launched not to reinforce competition, but on the contrary, to strengthen the power of technological monopolies - at the expense, of course, of developing countries for whom the possibility of acquiring the technology they need in order to progress becomes even more uncertain. Will the 'trade secrets' that GATT-WTO wants to include under this category bring us back to the mercantilist monopoly practices of 300 years ago? Even the language used to discuss the topic is not neutral. We no longer speak of knowledge as the common property of humanity, but rather of 'piracy' when someone tries to acquire it! This policy sometimes verges on the obscene: GATT-WTO, for instance, wants to forbid Third World manufacture of inexpensive pharmaceutical products, which are of vital importance, in order to protect massive profits of monopolies in this sector." (p. 29)

Critique of Black Reason

Achille Mbembe is a Cameroonian philosophy, based at WistU in South Africa. He has authored a number of influential works (such as Necropolitics), but given the importance of his works, is not as widely read and taught as he should be. Fortunately for English readers, his two recent books have been translated by published by Duke University Press. This post reflects on "Critique of Black Reason" (2013 original, 2017 translation). For anyone learning about, teaching, or researching race, this is essential reading.

"race does not exist as a physical, anthropological, or genetic fact. But it is not just a useful fiction, a phantasmagoric construction, or an ideological projection whose function is to draw attention away from conflicts judged to be more real - the struggle between classes or genders, for example. In many cases race is an autonomous figure of the real whose force and destiny can be explained by its characteristic mobility, inconstancy, and capriciousness. It wasn't all that long ago, after all, that the world was founded on an inaugural dualism that sought justification in the old myth of racial superiority. In its avid need for myths through which to justify its power, the Western world considered itself the center of the earth and the birthplace of reason, universal life, and the truth of humanity." (p. 11)

"Three historical determinants, then, explain the power and the fantasy of Whiteness. First of all, there were many who believed in it. But far from being spontaneous, the belief was cultivated, nourished, reproduced, and disseminated by a set of theological, cultural, political, economic, and institutional mechanisms whose evolution and implications over the centuries have been carefully analyzed by critical theorists of race. In several regions of the world, a great deal of work went into transforming Whiteness into a dogma and a habitus..." (p. 45)

"To reread Fanon today is also to take on for ourselves, in our own conditions, some of the questions he never ceased to ask of his own time, questions related to the possibility for subjects and peoples to stand up, walk with their own feet, use their own hands, faces, and bodies to write their own histories as part of a world that we all share, to which we all have a right, to which are are all heirs. If there is one thing that will never die in Fanon, it is the project of the collective rise of humanity. In his eyes, this irrepressible and implacable quest for liberty required the mobilization of all of life's reserves. Each human subject, and each people, was to engage in a grand project of self-transformation, in a struggle to the death, without reserve. They had to take it on as their own. They could not delegate it to others." (p. 162)

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