Corey Engelen | Foreign Humanitarian Causes

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CFA Franc

On the Origins of ECOWAS

People often wonder what the history of the Economic Community of West African States  (ECOWAS) is? Who was the first to start it? I is it a legacy of colonialism? The truth is that it’s hard to pinpoint one country in particular that “pioneered” ECOWAS.

The Short Answer is that leaders from Nigeria and Togo (General Yakubu Gowon and Gnassingbe Eyadema, respectively) started pushing for the idea in the early 1970s. Subsequently, ECOWAS was born out of the 1975 Treaty of Lagos.

General Yakubu Gowon

General Yakubu Gowon


Gnassingbe Eyadema

Gnassingbe Eyadema

The Long Answer is that the people of Africa share a long history of commonality. Although there are thousands of languages and peoples throughout the region, some sense of unity was brought about in the past by African kingdoms (Ghana, Mali Songhai, Benin, etc.) and in the present day by European Colonialists. Obviously the latter caused a lot of problems, but at the same time it united the people of the region through somewhat standardized policies and language. Today most West African nations boast English, French, or Portuguese as official languages (in addition to their own unique regional ones).

Before General Yakubu Gowon and Gnassingbe Eyadema began their push for a economic collaboration, the French made a push of their own with the CFA (“french community of Africa) Franc.

The CFA Franc functioned much like the Euro does in the EU, serving as a single currency for all of the francophone countries in the region. In 1964, a grassroots push came from William Tubman, the President of Liberia. In 1965, Tubman succeed in forming a free trade zone between Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Although a step towards economic union, this agreement is generally viewed as not being that fruitful.

So you see, Nigerian and Togo can be cited for the most recent move toward economic union, but the truth goes back many more years.

You can find further documentation on the ECOWAS site.

Corey Engelen

Nelson Mandela Day - How Honoring Nelson Mandela's Legacy Goes Beyond #MandelaDay - Corey Engelen

How Honoring Nelson Mandela’s Legacy Goes Beyond #MandelaDay

Over the course of history, human rights movement has seen the leadership of several extraordinary figures. On July 18, the world celebrates the achievement of the extraordinary Nelson Mandela. But the aims of the holiday reach further than just the actions of one man.

As the official Mandela Day website proclaims:

“It’s more than a celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. It is a global movement to honour his life’s work and act to change the world for the better”

There’s no one way to celebrate the day, as long as one thinks about helping others. The Nelson Mandela Foundation strives to make every day a Mandela day, by promoting people to carry out good works on their own. Along those lines, the Foundation has created an online platform to allow individuals from across the world to pledge, promote, encourage, and organize good works.

On you can find listed a number of areas (Shelter and Infrastructure, Environment, Food Security, Education and Literacy) to support by creating an action and or joining one. The majority of these actions are focused on initiatives in South Africa. One individual has reached out her friends to provide care packs for mothers and newborns. The Zoe Bakery Project aims to supply 67 loaves of bead to 67 families for 67 days, in a larger effort to serve those who are economically disadvantaged. The Shoebox is another ongoing initiative that is raising funds to purchase new school shoes for those who cannot normally afford them. Although the majority of the actions found on the site are based in South Africa, a number of them seek to spread the Nelson Mandela Legacy across the earth.

67 Loaves - How Honoring Nelson Mandela's Legacy Goes Beyond #MandelaDay

The Zoe Bakery Project feeding families in South Africa.

For instance, volunteers from the Municipality of San Polo D’Enza, Italy will gather in front of supermarkets throughout the area to gather food for families in need. All the way back in Rockville, Maryland the organization The Velocity of Books will be giving away 10,000 free books in the town square. And in Costa Rica there is an initiative to plant a tree for every family in the Guanacaste province.

I can’t help but applaud the open-ended and widespread message of the Mandela Foundation. Making the world a better place isn’t about doing one good thing one day, and then kicking our feet up and relaxing during the rest. At the same time, it’s not about constantly worrying about the troubles of the world and feeling helpless to stave them off. No. Only through a gradual shift in perception, in how we perceive the many ways that are own lives are connected to others can we hope to truly achieve the world that Nelson Mandela envisioned.

It’s not about making one big act. It’s about making small acts everyday throughout our lifetime. It’s about approaching the world with an attitude of wanting to better it.

Corey Engelen

Title Image for the blog depicting the u.n. General assembly room - Corey Engelen

The UN’s “Grand Bargain” to Save Humanitarian Efforts

The Humanitarian Relief System is broken. Showcased best by the recent refugee crises in Syria and the Middle East, the UN’s humanitarian relief system simply cannot keep up with extreme crises. Earlier this year, the World Humanitarian Summit met to address and reshape aid efforts. Addressing funding and delivery of aid was a priority agenda item, as officials proposed new ideas to restructure the aid system. Officials concluded that changes must be made in the manner in which traditional donors fund projects, and how field agents operate on the field. According to UN Dispatch, this new approach will be called the “Grand Bargain”, and should be implemented soon enough.

In the UN report by the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, the panel detailed a few staggering statistics. This includes the fact that a mere five countries make up two-thirds of all governmental humanitarian aid funding. Another startling statistic details that over half of that total funding is managed by only a handful of UN Agencies, including UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP, and the WHO. This means that a great portion of humanitarian aid lies in the hands of a few organizations. Inefficiencies erupt from the various bureaucratic requirements larger donors usually put forth, requirements that only larger UN organizations can fulfill. Unfortunately UN organizations then tend to focus on their own projects, instead of working in full cooperation with smaller organizations.

image of a tank amidst rubble - edited by corey engelen

The conflict in Syria has illustrated the need for a new international aid system.

“One only has to look at Syria to see why this set up can create more problems than it solves.” In Syria, the Assad regime as well as other belligerents have impeded access to affected communities and refugee camps. Larger UN organizations are not trusted by militants controlling certain areas, and are therefore left with loads of money and little relief to provide. Instead local organizations are responsible for the majority of humanitarian efforts undertaken in Syria.

Lack of consent by Syrian government officials and militants have prevented millions of dollars in aid from entering Syrian hot spots. The numbers are even more depressing, as global donors are only able to channel 0.4 per cent of direct funding into local groups and their efforts. In Syria, local NGO’s, who are maintaining the majority of humanitarian efforts are treated almost as subcontractors, but with minimal resources to address such major concerns.

The “Grand Bargain” aims at reducing some of these inefficiencies. Mitigating tasks between major and local NGO’s is vital, as well as better money management, and increased funding from more global players. Cutting down on the bureaucratic process standing in between aid efforts and struggling communities is essential to bettering the humanitarian system. The Near Network was created recently to address these problems, and has already connected various local NGO’s to major funding sources.

If you thought this post was interesting and would like to read more on humanitarian efforts and aid, follow me @CoreyEngelen

image of medical supplies with title text "the not so fine line" by Corey Engelen

The Not So Fine Line: Differences Between Humanitarian and Developmental Aid

Aid – in terms of sending money, supplies, food, and manpower to foreign countries – is often used broadly by the general public. Many would say that humanitarian and developmental aid have the same goals in mind; and to an extent, they are right. There is though, a difference between humanitarian and developmental aid that is overlooked and ignored. Discussed below are some of these differences.

According to the Humanitarian Coalition, humanitarian aid is designed to save lives and alleviate suffering during the immediate aftermath of a tragedy or natural disaster. In the case of armed conflict breaking out, or a devastating earthquake, humanitarian aid is there to provide assistance to the affected populations. Development aid on the other hand attempts to navigate and address ongoing structural issues. It is designed to improve the institutional and economic irregularities that are hindering social development. In short, it seeks to provide long term solutions to affected populations. Although goals of both are seemingly identical, they are in fact, not.

In Marc DuBois’ recent piece in the Guardian, Dubois argues that the differences should not be taken lightly. For Dubois, disregarding the differences between both adds confusion to the already complex efforts of aid-providing officials. This month, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed breaking down the differences between humanitarian and development work. By shifting the objective from delivering aid to ending need altogether, humanitarian goals would shift in unison with sustainable development goals.

Dubois recognizes that the divisions can sometimes have disorganized or divisive consequences between both forms of aid. Humanitarians would stubbornly promote their effectiveness in relief situations, while development advocates would feel their efforts are superior overall. Breaking down barriers between both as Ban Ki-Moon suggests would signal the end to such unnecessary squabbles. However convergence is not the best option either.

For Dubois, humanitarian efforts must remain neutral and uninvolved in institutional partnerships – something that development workers require to carry out tasks. Humanitarians, eighty percent of the time, reach out to individuals in conflict-centered zones. In order to reach thousands of people, they must sometimes bypass dangerous groups and institutions. This can only be achieved by staying away from development efforts, which are often intrusive in nature.

However development provides solutions that humanitarians must relegate to a secondary priority. “A camp for displaced persons is a good place to find shelter, nutrition and (hopefully) safety; it is a terrible place to call home and raise your children,” explains Dubois. En fin, both movements need to have their own flexibility in order to operate successfully. Converging the two may have unintended outcomes.

If you liked this post and would like to read more of development news and information, check out my twitter @coreyengelen for more information. Thanks for reading!

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