Why our hype can harm: Congo edition

Simple stories make for very effective advocacy. The problem with simple narratives, arise, however, when they drive simple-headed policy.

Severine Autesserre takes aim at the Enough project and other activists in a thoughtful new paper:

The dominant narratives have oriented international programmes on the ground toward three main goals – regulating trade of minerals, providing care to victims of sexual violence, and helping the state extend its authority – at the expense of all the other necessary measures, such as resolving land conflict, promoting inter-community reconciliation, jump-starting economic development, ensuring that state authorities respect human rights, and fighting corruption.

Even worse, because of these exclusive focuses, the international efforts have exacerbated the problems that they aimed to combat: the attempts to control the exploitation of resources have enabled armed groups to strengthen their control over mines; the disproportionate attention to sexual violence has raised the status of sexual abuse to an effective bargaining tool for combatants; and the state reconstruction programmes have boosted the capacity of an authoritarian regime to oppress its population.

This is the problem with pushing advocacy agendas. If you are really good, and really lucky, you can get the UN or US to do one thing this year. That’s a big opportunity cost. Surely one had better make sure it’s the right thing?

4 thoughts on “Why our hype can harm: Congo edition

  1. I would really be surprised if the “press” focus really really meant also a funding focus. e.g. what part of funding really goes to funding the fight against sexual violence.

    On the other hand, it underlines the importance of separate funding lines for different development objectives. Otherwise fashion takes over and funding gets too much focused. The “planned approach” requesting a focus on only a few priorities does not help. Please note also the government ownership (contrasted to poor ownership) agenda. Government, without a real concern on how it works.

  2. I’m not sure what you mean by opportunity cost but I think the theory people are operating on when they whine about other advocates is that there is a negative externality from advocacy. If Jeff Sachs jetsets around the world doing a bed net stump speech then it’s harder for Michael Clemens to get his voice heard about expediting green cards for relatives of Haitians in the U.S. I’m skeptical about that being a big deal.

  3. “If you are really good, and really lucky, you can get the UN or US to do one thing this year.”

    Isn’t this one of the biggest obstacles, though, the inability to even identify multiple efforts. It’s either micro finance or budget support, its FDI or Aid, it’s long term development cooperation or quick wins and malaria nets. I agree with josh, why should it have to be fighting sexual abuse or land distribution? From where I am standing it looks as we get stuck already in the debate on the most important effort.

    Are the UN and US really only capable on a narrow focus and why is that. And should donor continue to focus and streamline the support in the hunt for measurable results?

  4. Strikes me as kind of a cheap shot. How is minerals regulation or GBV response coming “at the expense of” working on land conflicts or economic development? Funding for those priorities is coming from totally different sources (and I would imagine in much smaller amounts) than any ostensible funding sources for the latter priorities. You don’t see UNDP funding the Enough project, for example. Does Autesserre think that if these advocacy actors were not present, that issues of land conflict, promoting inter-community reconciliation, and jump-starting economic development would be further along? I’m hella skeptical.