Recent Scandals involving aid agencies
The recent scandal in Chad involving European nationals allegedly in a scheme to abduct young African children under the pretext of medical emergency and to take them to Europe ostensibly to save them from the scourge of civil wars in Darfur and Chad so that the children would have a better life, has certainly put a searchlight on humanitarianism and on how Western non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operate in Africa. The scandal raises in particular three inter-related questions of historical significance. The first relates to the very nature, principles and definition of humanitarianism. Second, in whose interests do humanitarian organizations operate in Africa? And third, what is the significance of the scandal? To avoid confusion and in order to contextualize the issues, it is necessary to first define what is regarded as humanitarianism in the West; then provide what are the known facts about the scandal, before the other questions are addressed, with particular reference to Africa. In the literature and policy rhetoric, humanitarianism often implies the practice of saving lives and alleviating suffering, whether brought about by natural or human-made disasters. Humanitarian action is supposed to be driven by the twin principles of humane treatment of the suffering or victimized person regardless of background; and the independence (and neutrality) of action of humanitarian organizations from governments. In the contemporary era, humanitarian activities have often been conducted by what have become known as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). What are the known facts about the Chad scandal? Sixteen Europeans, nine of whom are French citizens, belonging to a charity known as Zoe's Ark, were arrested at the end of October in the Chadian town of Abeche, which is near Chad's border with Darfur, while trying to fly out of Chad to France more than 100 children they claimed were orphans from Sudan's Darfur region. Of the arrested "charity workers" who often adorned in identifying T-shirts with the logo "Children Rescue," six were charged by authorities in Chad with kidnapping of children. It is understood that each French family contracted for the scheme paid about $3,000. According to the charity group, the operation to fly the children out of Chad was embarked upon for the purpose of rescuing orphans from Darfur, so that they would be given a better life in Europe. However, investigation by a number of United Nations agencies, including UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UN Children Fund (UNICEF), has revealed that most if not all of the children were not orphans. The French newspaper, Le Monde, reported that the French military had on several occasions given staff from Children Rescue seats on their planes which traveled between Ndjamena and Abeche. The newspaper doubted that the French military, which has a permanent presence in eastern Chad, could not have known about the plan. For its part, the French government revealed that it had known about the operation and had done all it could to stop the charity, Zoe's Ark, from going ahead with it. A prime concern of the French government was to minimize the repercussions of the scandal so as not to jeopardize the planned deployment of a 3,000-strong European Union force in Chad. Although the deployment of the troops has been marketed as an action to protect Darfur refugees and people displaced in the conflict that has spilled over the border from Sudan, it is apparent that the real reason for the deployment is less to protect Africans than to superintend European and specifically French geo-strategic interests in the region. Ordinary people in the Chadian town of Abeche and the country at large were outraged that their children were being smuggled out of the country under false pretenses. On learning about the scandal people mobilized to ask for justice to be done. During massive protest demonstrations against the...
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