The humanitarian cheat sheet: Trouble in CAR and WhatsApp for crises

Every week, IRIN's team of editors curates a selection of some of the best humanitarian reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed and looks ahead to give you the inside scoop on hot topics coming up:

Did you miss it?

The nearly man

The death of opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi this week has deprived the Democratic Republic of Congo of a unique political figure who was at the forefront of the fight for democracy for over three decades.

Arguably, his voice is needed now more than ever. His death plays into the hands of President Joseph Kabila’s supporters, who have consistently sought to delay elections, threatening a New Year’s Eve accord with the opposition in which Kabila agreed to step down this year and not run for a third term. As African Arguments points out, “his departure robs the opposition of a leader able to combine genuine street-level popularity with an ability to squeeze out political deals. As popular anger mounts, the opposition will have to work hard to rebuild a credible leadership.”

Branding the Taliban

The Taliban cared little about their image when they conquered Afghanistan in the 1990s, and that didn’t change after they were overthrown in late 2001 and began a long and ongoing insurgency. But the group seems to have “woken up to the importance of organisational symbols and their political meaning”, according to this report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network. Perhaps the Taliban are inspired by their newest enemy, the so-called Islamic State, which has launched a barrage of propaganda since moving into the region, as we reported this week. This AAN report is part of a series focusing on changes the Taliban are undergoing, and it focuses on their use of a white flag inscribed with an “Islamic statement of faith” and sometimes their official name, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Unlike the group’s previous iterations, the flag is now constantly on display. Among other reasons for this is to “demonstrate to the population that they, not the government, are the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan”, says AAN.

Getting the message

Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Viber are already being used by more than 2.5 billion people around the world, but humanitarian organisations have yet to get to grips with these new communications technologies and figure out how they can best be used to improve their work, while avoiding potential pitfalls. This report from the International Committee of the Red Cross considers unresolved questions that have held back the use of messaging apps in humanitarian crises, particularly in conflict settings, such as concerns about data protection and security, which messaging app to use, and patchy network connectivity. It looks at how some humanitarian organisations are already using messaging apps to reduce communication costs, coordinate with other staff, and to maintain contact with people in transit, such as refugees, or in conflict or post-disaster situations where other communication methods are unavailable. The report also flags up risks and challenges and provides a handy comparison of privacy-friendly features on various apps. 

One from IRIN:

EU strategy stems migrant flow from Niger, but at what cost?

In researching this story on the EU-funded and EU-inspired crackdown on migrants and smugglers in Niger, IRIN Migration Editor Kristy Siegfried unearthed an unexpected news nugget. The EU had been boasting about the effectiveness of its policy of partnering with African countries by using the incorrect main stat that only 1,525 migrants headed northwards from Niger during November. This represented a stunning 88% drop on the previous month’s figure of 12,654 and a staggering 98% decline since a summer high of 71,904. Okay, the figure was taken from International Organization for Migration reports, which were later amended, but why did the EU not interrogate such a dodgy figure further and why was it still being used to promote the expansion of the EU’s policies to other African nations after the IOM had corrected it?

The bottom line however, as IRIN contributor Ibrahim Manzo Diallo reported from Niger’s main transit hub of Agadez, is that the strategy has proved brutally effective at reducing or displacing numbers heading northwards to the Libyan coast, hoping to get passage to Europe. What is less clear though is whether the hundreds of millions of euros the EU is ploughing into development aid to pay for the crackdown will do much in the long run to compensate for what had been a thriving industry. “Before this witch hunt for migrant smugglers began, the young people of Agadez had work,” explains Abdourahamane Koutata, president of the Agadez region’s youth council. “Each Monday, they would transport migrants into Libya or into Algeria and earn a lot of money. But now, most of them are in prison.”

What’s coming up?

CAR trouble

The UN secretary-general’s special representative to the Central African Republic, who also heads the UN’s troubled MINUSCA mission, is due to address the Security Council later this month. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga’s address comes at a precarious time for CAR. The government of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has extremely limited control outside the capital, Bangui, and efforts to convince the Muslim-dominated ex-Séléka and Christian anti-Balaka rebel groups to disarm and give up their hold on territory has failed. MINUSCA has also proved incapable of providing the required security.

What to do? This Security Council report lists three possible options: MINUSCA adopts a “proactive approach” and is appropriately financed to expand the areas under its control; countries in the region cooperate and implement the existing sanctions regime to eliminate illicit arms trafficking to the rebel groups and crack down on natural resource exploitation; the sanctions regime is widened to include additional individuals and entities.

The report acknowledges that CAR is not a “top priority issue for the Council”. But it also notes that while “some” Council members are concerned over the financial implications of a more resolute MINUSCA, “there seems to be a consensus that achieving security and stabilising the CAR will necessitate a long-term engagement from the Council” and its peacekeepers. Read into that what you will.

New Yemen appeal

Donald Trump’s first special op as commander-in-chief was a disaster by almost all accounts, except of course for that of the new president himself – he’s called it a success. The botched 29 January raid on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in al-Bayda, Yemen left as many as 23 civilians dead, including 10 children, as well as a US commando. Media coverage was largely drowned out by Trump’s actions (and his detractors) at home, but this was still the rare occasion when Yemen made a few headlines, likely a result of the death of a member of SEAL Team 6. Here’s hoping the tragedy will also draw a few eyeballs to the country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis, because while AQAP is stronger than it has ever been, it’s just one of the dangers Yemen’s civilians deal with. You can read up on the group and the role it plays in the country’s complicated conflict in this detailed and timely report from the International Crisis Group. So what’s new? The UN is expected to launch its appeal for 2018 donor funding to Yemen on 7 February. It’s said to be asking for $2 billion dollars, up from last year’s $1.8 billion ask – that one is only 55% funded. Meanwhile, the bombing and the fighting are surging, and the needs are only growing.

A climate union?

If you’re in London and interested in the labour movement’s take on climate change, attend this one-day conference on 11 February featuring sessions on migration and the role of unions and civil society in responding to the crisis. Why are unions getting involved? “Climate change is devastating peoples lives and livelihoods and whole economies, and is a growing concern to trade unions for whom effective responses are now a fundamental issue of justice – economic, employment and income security,” say the organisers. One purpose of the conference, they say, is to discuss the need for legal protection of people displaced by the effects of climate change, and to build a movement that will advocate for political leadership on the issue.

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(TOP PHOTO: Ex-Seleka combatants waiting for their Chief in a meeting in Bambari, 400km northeast of Bangui on 8 August, 2014. CREDIT:  UN Photo/Catianne Tijerina)