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This photo greeted me this morning: pic.twitter.com/DzaSB2vrqi

After a twitter flap, some useful exchanges with @sierra_gulf and @texasinafrica, and a quick interview with @hayesbrown, I thought it would be useful to draw together my thoughts in more than 140 characters!

Firstly, I’m eager to hear more from UNMISS itself. No one ever said running a camp under these conditions was easy. The compound in Bentiu is an ad-hoc safe haven, so I’m conscious of the risk for arm-chair indignation sitting here in front of my computer. Even in formal camps, there may be cases where it is appropriate to separate different populations for the security of all, and the overriding goal of a camp is to be a place of safety for those who are vulnerable.

In response to comments that perhaps it is the displaced themselves who wish to be segregated in this manner, I agree. We saw this happen in Darfur camps in advance of the Darfur Peace Agreement where previously integrated parts of the camp self-segregated for fear of violence. Moreover, it is only natural for people to coalesce towards those they already know, which may in practice mean they separate themselves by ethnicity. All of this is understandable and unobjectionable as far as it goes.

But it still seems to me to be a categorically different thing for the UN to place a signpost that functions to segregate people by ethnicity. As @cch7c rightly noted, most of the displaced cannot read English. No harm no foul then? I don’t think so. Most camp staff can read English, and most communities have at least one among them who can read and translate.

At the end of the day, it is the symbolism of it that is so distressing. As I commented on twitter, there are plenty enough unscrupulous Southern Sudanese elites right now who are fueling the ethnic flames for their personal gain, without the UN putting its stamp of approval on it.

In the words of @sudanesethinker  ”Talk about wrongly reinforcing and exacerbating tribal divisions. Garang’s Dinka son & co oppose Kiir.” Indeed Rebecca Garang herself was part of the initial group protesting Kiir’s leadership failings.

We need to remember that this started as a political conflict and the actions of people who have a choice - like the UN - matter in terms of the direction it goes from here. 

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Last week, United to End Genocide issued this:

We delivered 45,000 postcards to the State Department!

It was part of a message to anti-genocide activists that their actions “truly, and unequivocally, make a difference.”

It reminded me of something I said a few months ago at a Fighting for Darfur event at the Carnegie Center for Ethics in International Affairs:


… The other big risk that comes with doing mass movement advocacy is what sometimes gets called “feeding the beast.” There’s a need for success. If you are talking about volunteers, you are talking about people who have worked a full day in a completely different job, who are running around trying to look after the kids, doing everything else, and you are expecting them to then spend that half an hour when they could be getting sleep to be organizing a petition for your issue. They are not going to keep doing that over time unless they feel that they are actually making a difference. So you have to show them success.

Now, that’s all well and good if you have actual success to show them. What if you don’t? What if, as a result of this confluence of the simplification and bleeding over into pushing for the wrong solutions, it means that you don’t have real success on the ground to show them? Then you start getting into really nasty territory in which you are having to come up with successes, and so you bleed into a sort of redefinition of what success is. Success is no longer that Darfur is safe enough for refugees to return to their homes; success is—and this is perhaps an unfair example—whether we as a movement can send 10,000 emails to the secretary of state and crash her inbox. Victory! But all the time this is not actually getting anything done for Darfur.

Maybe it wasn’t such an unfair example after all …

[For full context (including the fact that, yes of course, symbolic actions directed at the U.S. government can, in certain circumstances, be a component of a broader strategy towards success if - and the ‘if’ is crucial - you’re making the right demand of the right actor) check out the rest of the transcript]

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Will the Arab League’s suspension of Syria “unlock” the UNSC the way that its decision on Libya did earlier this year?

On Libya, the Arab League’s request that the UN Security Council enforce a no-fly zone provided political cover to enable Western powers to push for action, helping them fend off analogies to Iraq. But the Arab League’s greatest impact was on the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, now known as the BRICS bloc.

[CSM piece I wrote earlier this year]