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Quagmire extraction
September 27, 2009 8:19 PM   Subscribe

Free Range International on Afghanistan: "What to Do?" Part 1 and 2

Free Range International "is for and by all those who know you need to get out, dismount, and visit with the locals to obtain real ground truth. We live and work “outside the wire” where we get a unique view. Ride along with us on our missions and adventures."
posted by Burhanistan (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Fun, but misguided.

But nobody can figure out how exactly to do it. You do it by doing it.


Doesnt quite understand how things other than shooting works.
posted by subaruwrx at 10:03 PM on September 27, 2009


Outside the bubble: - When Afghanistan stops being rip off city an investment opportunity for the military industrial contractors and NGO personnel riding around in brand new SUV's and living in their airconditioned bubbles and starts having more infrastructure provided as shown here, there might be some hope of resolution.
Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. . . . The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves.
posted by adamvasco at 12:47 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interesting post, but what really caught my eye was one of the examples used.

The Fab Lab Wifi project in Jalalabad. They are basically building an ad hoc Wifi system across the city. Of course, this sort of stuff has been done in other places before, but these guys should be applauded. The global digital divide is starting to seriously impact development opportunities, and it's nice to see people attempting to implement local, practical solutions.
posted by johnny novak at 2:28 AM on September 28, 2009


NGO personnel riding around in brand new SUV's and living in their airconditioned bubbles

I do wish people would stop making this tired generalisation. Some NGO workers may view Kabul as an "investment opportunity" but some have a genuine love for Afghanistan and work hard, in Kabul and outside, in the teeth of a disastrously poor international intervention. They work in often fairly shitty conditions, in a difficult security environment, because they think there's a chance at improving things at a local level - and then they get criticised for living in a compound (otherwise known as a "air conditioned bubble"). Fuck off. The security threat is real, and getting kidnapped is not fun. And they don't drive around in flash SUVs anymore, certainly not outside Kabul - not since the Talibs opened up on a white IRC toyota killing four inside, driver and three expats.
posted by YouRebelScum at 2:37 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Funding the Afghan Taliban. Whilest there are undoubtably many dedicated humaritarian workers in Afghanistan there are still a load of scumbags.
posted by adamvasco at 3:53 AM on September 28, 2009


Adamvasco: there are, but I think we need to get beyond the "all NGOs travel in big white cars and live in bubbles" to explore why some aid modalities work better than others. Much (agreed: not all) of what your linked article is alluding to is the civilian contractors for the US Mil. That modality does not work - in fact, it is outright counterproductive [pdf]. But I'd just like to highlight the point by saying that I know the lady who wrote that article you link to - she is an extremely impressive and gutsy woman, and one who works for an international NGO.
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:32 AM on September 28, 2009


I think I probably took a cheap shot at some NGO workers up there. However the problem of foreign aid workers living in a bubble isn't fiction. These people are not engaging with the locals; they are alienating them. The corruption in USAID is only part of the problem. No one ever seems to be accountable.
posted by adamvasco at 7:24 AM on September 28, 2009


Sure, but a lot of that is about aid modalities and the way the aid structure set up the incentives for the NGO workers. In fact, I'd put much of the blame at the door of inappropriate accountability as much as no accountability. All the reporting structures in Afghanistan are pointed towards Whitehall and to Washington and other Western capitals and not (as Paris Declaration commitments would have us believe) towards the Afghan government or 'civil society' (whatever that means) or your basic villager (whoever he-unlikely-to-be-she is).

If an NGO wants to get money, they have to be in Kabul, they have to talk to donors who don't leave their compound, and they have to talk in terms of donor politics rather than villager priorities. That's not the NGOs' fault. Most NGOs try and swing donor opinions, and some of the donors - to be fair - try and listen. But I think that's where the big differences are between NGOs and contractors - the contractors don't care, as long as they get their cut. The best NGOs are invariably those who don't have to listen to the big donors, because they have their own funds. I think lumping them all together in the big-white-car category obscures important distinctions.

Now we're in a vicious cycle, where security concerns triggered by astonishingly poor strategic choices by the great Decider make it more difficult for the good ones to operate in communities. Security concerns mean you have to protect your staff, which means you retreat behind walls, which means you alienate the locals more, which means the security concerns get worse, etc. But that didn't need to happen, and that wasn't the fault of the NGOs. I know plenty who lived out in the back of beyond, with Afghan staff and one or two other expats, did their work, and grew some egregious facial hair. But the journos rarely saw them, because the aid workers were miles away, were uninteresting for stories, and were unphotogenic because of all the food stuck in their beards.
posted by YouRebelScum at 9:17 AM on September 28, 2009


Giggety
posted by Eideteker at 4:57 PM on September 28, 2009


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