The CSS Blog Network

Singling Out Forgotten Conflicts

Demonstration against FARC held in Madrid. Picture: kozumel/flickr

A popular method for identifying which conflicts necessitate more attention from the international community is to estimate the difference between supply and demand of humanitarian assistance in these conflicts. Supply and demand, however, are very hard to measure in emergencies. This has led to the development of several indicators used to measure ‘forgotten conflicts’.

These indicators are often applied on an annual basis and are intended to generate media attention (to increase donations) and/or support donor operations (to comply with impartiality). Have these efforts been successful? Have they effectively singled out and buttressed forgotten conflicts? Looking back on the past decade, in this blog post I’ll assess which conflicts received the least (and most) attention from international actors.

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Unpacking Kony 2012

Child soldiers, Image: k-ideas/flickr

On Monday, March 5th, the advocacy organization Invisible Children released a 30 minute video titled “Kony 2012“. The goal of the video is to raise awareness of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group, a wanted war criminal, in the hopes of bringing him to justice.

By Thursday, March 8th, the video had been viewed more than 26 million times, and almost 12 million more times on Vimeo. It has opened up a fascinating and complicated discussion not just about the Lord’s Resistance Army and instability in northern Uganda and bordering states, but on the nature of advocacy in a digital age.

My goal, in this (long) blogpost is to get a better understanding of how Invisible Children has harnessed social media to promote their cause, what the strengths and limits of that approach are, and what some unintended consequences of this campaign might be. For me, the Kony 2012 campaign is a story about simplification and framing. Whether you ultimately support Invisible Children’s campaign – and I do not – it’s important to think through why it has been so successful in attracting attention online and the limits to the methods used by Invisible Children.

Who’s Joseph Kony, and who are Invisible Children?

Joseph Kony emerged in the mid 1980s as the leader of an organization, the Lord’s Resistance Army, that positioned itself in opposition to Yoweri Museveni, who took control of Uganda in 1986 after leading rebellions against Idi Amin and Milton Obote, previous rulers of Uganda. Museveni, from southern Uganda, was opposed by several armed forces in the north of the country, including Kony’s group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Since the mid-1980s, northern Uganda has been a dangerous and unstable area, with civilians displaced from their homes into refugee camps, seeking safety from both rebel groups and the Ugandan military.

Kony and the LRA distinguished themselves from other rebel groups by their bizarre ideology and their violent and brutal tactics. The LRA has repeatedly kidnapped children, training boys as child soldiers and sexually abusing girls, who become porters and slaves. The fear of abduction by the LRA led to the phenomenon of the “night commute“, where children left their villages and came to larger cities to sleep, where the risk of LRA abduction was lower. » More

Meet Israel’s New West Bank

People from the Negev protest against expropriation of land. Image: Frederik Malm/flickr

With global newspaper headlines brimming with Israeli and Iranian saber-rattling, this could be an opportune moment to implement controversial domestic policies, safely beyond the spotlight of the public eye. Alas, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is doing just that with a new bill on the ’Regulation of the Bedouin settlement in the Negev’. The bill is based on the ‘Prawer Plan’, which was approved by the cabinet in September last year. Once in effect, an overwhelming majority of the residents of the Negev desert’s unrecognized villages would be relocated and roughly two-thirds of the land would be confiscated by the Israeli government.

Sadly, the bill is just the tip of the iceberg and joins the ranks of a series of discriminatory measures implemented by the Israeli government over decades, all designed to gradually marginalize the already underprivileged Bedouin minority. The Bedouin-Arabs are an indigenous people that lived on Palestinian land long before the Israeli state came into existence. The main issue, at present, is that the government does not recognize Bedouin villages, let alone Bedouin land-ownership rights. Today, the almost 200,000 Bedouin-Arabs are among the most disadvantaged of Israeli citizens. As the government considers the Bedouin “spread” illegal, it refuses to deliver basic services such as running water, electricity, roads, proper education, and health and welfare services.

As recently as July 2010, Israeli forces demolished the homes of Bedouin citizens in the village of Al-Araqib in the southern Negev, destroying houses, olive groves and other structures, leaving more than 300 people homeless. The demolition followed shortly after Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments about the Negev region being at risk of losing its Jewish majority. Bedouin-Arabs have the highest birth rates in the country and are thus viewed as a demographic threat to the Jewish population. Fifty years ago now, David Ben-Gurion suggsted that the Bedouin be herded into the north of the desert “in order not to disturb development plans” — and indeed, the Negev is the next Israeli frontier. It accounts for more than half of the country’s land but remains sparsely populated, making it an ideal site for new settlements that could accommodate the hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants the government is expecting in the coming years.

On the condition of renouncing claims to their ancestral land, the government offers its Bedouin citizens the right to resettle in seven existing government-planned townships. These cities, which were created during the 1990’s, were designed to relocate the rural population to urban communities. Today, those townships are among the eight poorest communities in Israel, facing high unemployment and lacking crucial infrastructure. Meanwhile, Jewish settlements built on former Bedouin land are generously subsidized by the government. What this means is that the Israeli government is refusing to provide all of its citizens with equal rights and opportunities.  Now that’s a story worthy of the headlines.

Syed Mansoob Murshed: The Economic Modeling of … Huntington?

Say No to Burqas

Man repairing the “Say No to Burqas” graffiti. Picture: Newtown graffiti/flickr

Interdisciplinary research can provide a stimulus for different research agendas, but only on the condition that it remains intelligible for all of the disciplines involved. Unfortunately, the presentation of Syed Mansoob Murshed on the economic modeling of identity in civilizational and sectarian conflicts did not provide the opportunity for such an interaction between disciplines. This is all the more regrettable, as Murshed’s distinguished background in economics is a valuable asset in enriching both conflict and violence research. Despite the mixed quality of the presentation, it is worth taking a moment to understand and to engage with the ideas introduced.

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Forgetting What?

Ongoing conflicts and wars in January 2011. Image: Wikimedia Commons

It seems paradoxical to regularly hear of “neglected” or “forgotten” conflicts. Jan Egeland, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, described the war in Northern Uganda as the “biggest forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency” in 2003. Our partners, such as the International Crisis Group, write about Congo’s forgotten Katanga crisis or Pakistan’s forgotten Balochistan conflict. And Forgotten Diaries, a multiple-  award- winning project, has been exclusively covering forgotten conflicts since 2008. When policy makers, the media, and researchers talk about forgotten conflicts again and again, can we really call them forgotten?

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