Volume 8, Issue 3
The Politics of Humanitarian Organizations Intervention. Obiaga Ndubisi. Lanham: University of America Press, 2004. 120 pp.
Interventions by humanitarian organizations in conflict settings are mainly premised on the moral principle and the unquestionable need to alleviate suffering among the distressed population. However, their altruistic interventions are contentious, challenging and potentially capable of negative and unintended consequences. In his short but critical book, Ndubisi Obiaga, a Professor of Politics at Fort Valley State University, investigates activities and roles of several humanitarian organizations responsible for relief operations in the famine stricken areas during the Nigerian Civil war of 1967-1970. Hypotheses guiding the study and well explored in the text include attempts by the humanitarian actors to influence behaviour of belligerent’s leadership, legitimacy, psychological and material support given to the Biafra regime by the humanitarian organizations.
Chapter one explores the multifaceted debate on the nature of intervention by third parties in civil wars. Some of the contentious issues confronting humanitarianism and analysed by the author include the meaning of intervention, the relationship between non-intervention and neutrality, justifications, political nature and legitimacy of humanitarian interventions. In its broader meaning, intervention becomes inevitable with consequences of strict impartiality likely to be more deleterious. Non-intervention can encourage the stronger party in the conflict: “A great nation intervenes in the domestic realm of other states when it says ‘yes’ and when it says ‘no’, by its sheer existence,” Obiaga writes. Obiaga understands intervention through motivational and consequential analysis. Motivational analysis consists of actions that are “consciously conceived to affect the authoritative structure of the target” while consequential analysis consists of a “policy which has unintended or inadvertent consequences, indistinguishable from the consequences of intervention”, an example being the case where relief aid strengthened the Biafra regime.
In the second chapter, the author explores the historical perspective of the Civil war, the role and interests of various third parties in the conflict. Interaction of many forces is attributed to the origin of the conflict, with prominence given to ethnic rivalries and competition for state control among the Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani, the three dominant ethnic blocs in
In the last two chapters, Obiaga analyzes intervention, impacts, challenges and controversies that surrounded operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Churches. A detailed analysis shows that despite their humanitarian acts and motivations, humanitarian organizations attempted to influence behaviour of the leadership and also provided rebels with psychological and material support. The Church and missionaries were biased, political and committed to the rebel’s political goal of self-determination. Obiaga also interrogates the dual interpretations of the Geneva Convention and demonstrates how it was used by the government to justify starvation as a weapon of war. The Chapters also highlights the problems of access, limited negotiation capacities and unintended consequences as some of the operational challenges facing humanitarian organizations in situations of civil strife.
In the conclusion, Obiaga asserts that humanitarian organizations, together with other third parties, acted as major propaganda tool for Biafra and prolonged the war through material and psychological support to the rebels and a toughening of the Lagos’ attitude. Moral obligation forces third parties to intervene in grave situations regardless of possible repercussions because consequences of non-intervention can be more deleterious than unintended consequences. Starvation in Biafra exemplifies such a situation.
Obiaga’s book is a welcome and an invaluable contribution to the academic debates and literature on humanitarian intervention. The analysis of Nigerian conflict and a well-selected bibliography adds a comparative value to the existing literature covering more recent complex emergencies in
The book doesn’t exhaust the subject and this was not the author’s intent. Some areas that lack deeper analysis and might need further research include the role of mercenaries and strategies to mitigate the unintended consequence of humanitarian intervention, an understanding that is imperative in peace building and conflict resolution. Considering the books length and by giving too much space to the nation states and international organizations as third parties to the conflict, the author did injustice to the book’s title. One would expect a more in-depth analysis of humanitarian organizations. The book’s quality is also compromised by lack of thorough editorial work
Thomas N Kimaru