Muddy Notebook

March 23, 2008

A good idea from Northwestern competes for funding

Filed under: Africa,humanitarian,northern Uganda — carolynthewriter @ 7:07 am

I fear I’ve passed a funding competition deadline for mentioning this project, but I still think its approach is worth noting. Nathaniel Whittemore, director of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University, left a comment on my previous post about the center’s efforts to teach undergraduates how best to help communities-in-need around the global. One of its programs sends 20 students to Uganda each year. 

The project that is entered in Netsquared’s Mashup Challenge is called

Its aim is to aggregate “information about where development projects happen, what they focus on, and who’s involved so that all of us concerned with supporting community-led efforts to rebuild northern Ugandan civil society can better share best practices, direct support, and collaborate for greater impact,” Whittemore wrote.

That might seem like a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t think information-sharing and collaboration can improve a project and its results? Yet anyone who has worked in international development relief and development know just how little collaboration there can be. Time constraints, and competition for funding, publicity and reputation can steamroll collaboration. So, too, can obliviousness by people on the ground who may have gotten their jobs because they were in the right place at the right time, rather than because they are development or relief professionals who know best practices. Even some of those professionals don’t always act as effectively as they could. Gasp! 

At the same time, Americans or U.S. organizations wanting to donate money or supplies to emergencies don’t always seek out information to make their contributions as effective as possible. When I was the manager of a Macedonian refugee camp for ethnic Albanians who had fled Kosovo in the late 1990s, I received a huge shipment of canned pork and beans from an overseas group. Did I mention the ethnic Albanians were Muslims who eat no pork? We regifted the shipment.

As northern Uganda moves from war to a tenuous peace, development groups are sure to flood into the region to take over from the emergency relief folks. There will be rampant duplication of efforts and donations made that relate to lower priorities. If can use students’ wit and Web prowess to improve development aid, they will themselves have made a tremendous contribution.      


March 17, 2008

Online tools to help you understand humanitarian crises

Filed under: humanitarian — carolynthewriter @ 9:09 pm

Reuters Alertnet is a great source of news for humanitarian crises – mandmade and natural – around the world. But I didn’t realize until this morning that it also has at least one tool that helps put these situations in clearer focus. I just discovered an interactive map that has categories including conflict, health, etc. You can click on the categories you’re interested in and the map becomes shaded in the color that goes with the topic. It’s fascinating, but you probably will get a better idea of how it works if you visit the site yourself. Its URL is:

I’ll post Web sites that have other useful online features as I come across them. 

March 14, 2008

“One Book, One Philadelphia: War’s Youngest Victims

Filed under: Africa,humanitarian — carolynthewriter @ 10:16 pm

Another program with excellent panelists will be held this Wednesday, March 19, from 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. at the National Constitution Center. The Constitution Center has done a terrific job of periodically presenting forums and panels on humanitarian issues, and they’ve got a great lineup again this time. To talk about “War’s Youngest Victims,” the guests are:

  • Alyaa, born in Baghdad, Iraq and who earned a degree from the University of Baghdad’s College of Language. In 2003, she began working as an interpreter for Capt. Patrick Murphy – who, of course, is now Congressman Patrick Murphy. Because of her work with the United States, it became dangerous for her to stay in Iraq, and so last November she was granted asylum status in the U.S. She is now teaching Arabic language and applying to college. 
  • Jennifer Sime is grants and contracts unit director for the International Rescue Committee, a global nongovernmental organization based in New York that does relief work. (Full disclosure time: I worked for the IRC in 1999, as the manager of a refugee camp during the Kosovo crisis.) Sime has 13 years experience working for several international nonprofits in senior field positions.
  • Andrew Sisson joined the National War College faculty at the National Defense University in July 2007. He is a senior Foreign Service Officer on loan from the U.S. Agency for International Development. His work for the State Department included establishing the Office of the Director of foreign Assistance and serving as the senior coordinator for Africa.
  • Me, moderator.

This is a darn good panel to explore the issues surrounding war’s youngest victims, including how to prevent these conflicts in the first place, what role American intervention has had, the impact of war on children, and what can be done to help them during conflicts and after they have ended. For more information on attending, call 215-409-6700. You know, the more people who come to programs such as this one, the more the people who have the ability to put together programs such as this one have proof that there is great interest in humanitarian issues. So, don’t just complain you aren’t seeing and hearing enough on these issues. Come to this panel. Write in to editors of newspapers when you see stories on humanitarian crises. Learn something new and help encourage more coverage on these badly underreported situations around the world. 

March 11, 2008

Sudan: Fueling the Genocide

Filed under: Africa,Sudan — carolynthewriter @ 10:37 pm

For those within driving distance to Philadelphia, the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia is holding a panel tomorrow (Wednesday, March 12) night at 5:45 p.m., called “Sudan: Fueling the Genocide.” Panelists are Lauren Landis, a senior representative to Sudan in the U.S. State Department, Daoud Ibrahim Hari, a Darfuri refugee who is the author of the recently published book, the Translator, Dave Peterson, senior director of the Africa program at the National Endowment for Democracy, and Megan McKenna, a writer and advocate working with international nongovernmental organizations. Yours truly is the moderator.  Call the council at 215-561-4700 for more information. On the evening of March 17, there is a program at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on “War’s Youngest Victims.” I’ll give details for that program later. Both are part of the One Book, One Philadelphia project, which this year features Dave Eggars, What is the What. It’s a great fictionalized account of the real-life story of one of Sudan’s Lost boys. I enthusiastically recommend it.

March 10, 2008

This and that

Filed under: Central African Republic,Myanmar,Zimbabwe — carolynthewriter @ 7:17 am

Here are a few tidbits I’m picking up from wire stories. 

Carolyn’s note: Robert Mugabe’s policies continue to hurt Zimbabwe – and all Zimbabweans. Who isn’t hurt by just this one effect of his actions, as reported by the Associated Press:

  “Since the government began ordering the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, production of food and agricultural exports has slumped drastically. Zimbabwe has the world’s highest official rate of inflation: 100,500 percent. ”

Carolyn’s note: From the Associated Press, this reminder that Mynamar is still a problem, even if it has fallen off the radar of most U.S. media:

YANGON, Myanmar: The U.N.’s special envoy to Myanmar resumed meetings with the military government Sunday despite the junta’s rejection of his efforts to speed up the country’s return to democracy.
But the meetings appeared not to be directly concerned with the political reconciliation efforts being promoted by the envoy, Ibrahim Gambari.According to the U.N. Information Center in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, Gambari met with the ministers of health and national planning as well as the chairman of the civil service board and a deputy foreign minister.Gambari apparently failed, however, to secure more talks with Information Minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan, who heads a team set up to discuss democratization.Last week the junta rejected U.N. suggestions for reconciliation, such as letting independent observers monitor the upcoming national referendum on a new constitution.Gambari also sought to have the process for adopting a new constitution made more open to incorporate the views of the country’s pro-democracy movement, led by detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The draft constitution’s text has not yet been made public. The guidelines on which it is based were drawn up by a military-guided convention and include clauses that would bar Suu Kyi from public office and perpetuate the army’s leading role in politics.

Kyaw Hsan said it would be “impossible” to rewrite the draft constitution, which will be submitted to a referendum in May.

Asked by Gambari to consider releasing political prisoners — estimated by the U.N. and human rights groups to total more than 1,100 — he said Myanmar has no political prisoners and that Suu Kyi was detained because she tried to disrupt the country’s stability.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo condemned the junta’s rejection of independent poll monitors, calling it “a sad day for democracy and our region.”

“Outside observers are not a threat to any nation’s sovereignty,” she said in a statement issued Sunday in Manila. “Rather, the participation of outside election observers is a sign of strength. These observers help show the world the credibility of the election process itself as we had long done in the Philippines.”

The Philippines has been a major promoter of democratization among its fellow members of the Association of Southeast Nations, ASEAN. Myanmar is a member of the 10-country bloc.

The junta announced last month that it would hold the constitutional referendum, followed by a general election in 2010 — the first specific dates for steps in its previously announced “roadmap to democracy.”

The country been military-ruled since 1962. The current junta seized power in 1988 and refused to honor the results of a 1990 general election won by Suu Kyi’s party.

The junta’s rejections of Gambari’s suggestions were the latest setback for the envoy, who arrived Thursday on his third trip to Myanmar since the junta’s deadly crackdown on nonviolent pro-democracy protesters in September triggered an international outcry.

His visit came amid growing concerns that the government is tightening its grip on power.

Carolyn’s note: Let us also not forget the continuing violence in the Central African Republic and Chad as well as Sudan. 

BANGUI, March 9 (Reuters) – French troops stationed near Central African Republic’s border with Sudan transferred to a European Union protection force at the weekend, launching its deployment in the country, a force spokesman said.

The European Union is deploying a 3,700-strong EUFOR force to protect civilians and humanitarian operations in eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic near the volatile border with Sudan’s Darfur region.

Around 200 French soldiers stationed in Birao, a remote town in northeastern CAR which was attacked and briefly occupied by rebels in late 2006, transferred to the force at a ceremony on Saturday, EUFOR’s Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Poulain said.

“They left French command and entered the command of EUFOR,” Poulain said on Sunday from the Chadian capital N’Djamena, where the force has its operational headquarters.

The French infantry unit, engineers unit and field hospital will be joined later by other European forces, although the bulk of EUFOR will be based in Chad, he said. The force will have an initial mandate of 12 months, which is expected to begin in the next few weeks when it becomes operational.

The deployment was delayed for several months by problems securing equipment, notably enough helicopters to cover an area 26 times the size of Kosovo with a fraction of the European Union force previously deployed to that conflict zone.

France, which is contributing more than half of EUFOR’s troops, formerly ruled both Chad and CAR as colonies and has stepped in to help both governments fight off rebel attacks.

March 8, 2008

The Power of Politics

Filed under: humanitarian,U.S. politics — carolynthewriter @ 9:21 am

Maybe it’s because I am so interested in looking at the impact of atrocities and prevention of them, especially when it comes to children, that I find myself wanting to give former Barack Obama advisor Samantha Power the benefit of the doubt. The Pulitzer Prize winner’s book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, is considered a classic on the topic.

Maybe she spoke so recklessly because she hasn’t been involved in a political campaign before – Obama, after all, does seem to be drawing in new voters and newcomers to being in a candidate’s inner circle. Maybe Power called Hillary Clinton “a monster” because she just wasn’t thinking strategically, or she’s used to talking about the architects of genocide. That would be a lousy excuse. Whatever her motivation, that and other comments she made in an interview to a Scottish newspaper were simply stupid.

But her unfortunate moment in the spotlight does raise an issue: If Obama had such a highly regarded expert on genocide as a foreign-affairs advisor, why wasn’t he talking about such crises on the campaign trail? In this era of horrors in Darfur, Somalia and Myanmar to name a few, why aren’t any of the presidential candidates talking about the U.S. role in global humanitarian calamities and America’s relationship with the United Nations? Heaven knows it has taken a beating in recent years. Will the United States become an ally to the international organization or continue the adversarial stance that the Bush administration has taken. How will we react when we determine the next genocide is occurring? Calling it a genocide, as the admninistration did for Darfur, is gratuitious if it’s not backed up with action to end the violence. The United States has not gone beyond words.

I challenge the candidates to speak about these issues with more frequency and at greater volume. I challenge journalists who are on debate panels, to ask the contenders least one question about how their White House would proceed with these issues. A lot of people would like to hear those answers before they go into the voting booth. 

Fixing international ties will be one of the most urgent tasks of whoever next occupies the Oval Office.

One of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s hard-working political reporters tells me he has heard those issues raised once in a while on the campaign trail. But they need to be discussed in a broader, more publicized forum for all who care about them to hear and assess as one consideration in who might be the best president.  

March 5, 2008

What Obama, Darfur and Northern Uganda have in common

Filed under: U.S. politics — carolynthewriter @ 5:01 am

I’m from Ohio and I’m addicted to following this year’s presidential race, which today features the primaries in Texas and Ohio. Many people have noted that young people, many of whom have never before participated in a presidential election, have flocked to support Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat running against N.Y. Sen. Hillary Clinton. But I want to tease out that bloc a little more. I think those young people are the same ones who, for the last several years, have become so active in advocacy on international humanitarian issues. The Philadelphia area, where I live, is a hotbed for student activism. Swarthmore College graduate Mark Hanis years ago started what now is called the Genocide Intervention Network, a nonprofit whose primary goal is stopping the Darfur violence and protecting civilians there. In Indiana several years back, two Notre Dame University alums – Michael Poffenberger and Peter Quaranto, started the Uganda Conflict Action Network and its spin-off, Resolve Uganda, both of which seek to end the two decade-plus war in northern Uganda that has taken such a high toll on children there.

Now, I have no idea who Quaranto, Poffenberger and Hanis are favoring for president, but at the recent Northern Uganda Lobby Days conference in Washington D.C., I saw 750 high school and college students descend enthusiastically upon the George Washington University campus for a day of workshops and panels on Northern Uganda and U.S. policy in Africa (full disclosure: I moderated two of them), and a day of lobbying senators and Congress members on Capitol Hill. I saw a fervor for social causes and an activism that I have to believe transcends their specific cause and seeps into wanting a voice in U.S. policy, and who should be in the Oval Office and on Capitol Hill formulating it.

I don’t know yet who I support for president. There are no chumps among Republican John McCain, Clinton and Obama. I do know that young people getting active – and staying active – is a very good development for the United States and the world. 

March 4, 2008

The LRA Walk-Out

Filed under: northern Uganda — carolynthewriter @ 10:34 am

Come on, no one who has followed the slow-moving peace talks in Juba really thought that last week’s agreement between the government of Uganda and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army meant smooth sailing toward a full and final peace accord, did anyone? The LRA delegation to the peace talks reportedly walked out of a meeting yesterday. The sore point: the International Criminal Court indictments not being withdrawn.  

Create a free website or blog at