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SILAS OLAOYIN ABAYOMI

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 8/15/2015 |





SONGSOPTOK: Let us forget for a moment the UN definition of ‘humanitarianism’. What is your personal definition? In what context would you apply the word?
SILAS: ‘Humanitarianism’ is a concept that revolves around humanitarian principles and practices of giving and helping the needy; in a broader way, humanitarian concept anchors on these four elements-ethics, theology, philanthropy or benevolence, and welfare of humanity. The etymological origin of “Humanitarianism” came from “humanitarian” sometimes in 1794 as a “Christian Theological Position” on a particular belief or doctrine adopted by the Church.  From 1844, the term assumed a more sociological construct than theology. Tersely, humanitarian means “philanthropy and benevolence, a charitable impulse towards unfortunate from those capable of alleviating poverty, disaster, or war. It suggests a benign doctrine, even a profession of faith”; humanitarians are people who seek to promote human welfare, or being concerned with affairs of humankind in a warmly or sympathetic manner. On the other hand, humanitarian is the service provided, to help, improve, alleviate suffering of fellow humans without anticipating anything in return; but with a possibility of facing a difficult and challenging situation in the course of providing the noble service. Humanitarian is applicable to all socio-cultural and political activities with direct bearing on man, when a sympathetic cause, care, and love to those without one are involved.
Humanitarian became very popular among neoliberal theorists of 1930s, who believed in a middle way between the two conflicting philosophies of 20th century: Classical Liberalism and Socialist Planning.

SONGSOPTOK: What, according to you, are the specific types of events that call for humanitarian actions?
SILAS: I have identified seven deadly sins of man; these sins pose a great threat to humankind collective existence. Greed, corruption, indulgence, in-equalities, hate, racism, and injustice; collective actions are required to combat the negative effects of these sins before they destroy life and consume man’s home-the Earth.

SONGSOPTOK:  Why, in your opinion, do countries and societies even need humanitarian actions, often initiated and coordinated by the so called first world economies?
SILAS: Countries and societies worldwide need humanitarian actions to give succor to the victims of crises and disasters, protect life wherever possible, and to promote international concord, harmony, and unity through a good cause.
1.    Our world has become a global village, no thanks to modern communications and transportation systems that keep shrinking, reducing, and shortening the distance among nations, developments  that have made every living soul a neighbor; which means, whatever affects a country has a direct impact on another nation. For instance, a war caused by inordinate ambition of a group in one country no doubt will affect millions of lives elsewhere.  Organized crime by a cartel or mafia for illicit material gains in one place will have direct effect on socio-economic and political activities of other nations.
2.    Hate, racism, religious bigotry created for both political and economic gains in one country will certainly have ripple effects nearby or far off.
These reasons explain the need for a concerted effort to promote humanitarian actions, more so, synergize with people of goodwill on a global level to reduce evil.
3.    More important, humanitarian actions should be a combination of assistance and positive steps to reduce triggers of crises.


SONGSOPTOK: Can individuals play a significant role in initiating or participating in humanitarian actions? In what way?
SILAS: Yes, individuals, groups, organizations, bodies, and societies can initiate, promote, and run a humanitarian cause. For individual, by means of education and communication, humanitarian services, which are more than physical or material needs, can be provided.  For instance, educating people on their rights will result in empowering every social unit (man and woman) that constitutes a society. Communicating social values, promoting friendships among people of different backgrounds, focusing on what unites, down play differences are humanitarian activities-superior to material provision, the intellectual and capital development needs, for society’s continued existence.

SONGSOPTOK:  What should be the role of the world community, especially organizations like the UN, to encourage humanitarian actions in different countries, especially those suffering from internal war or external aggression? Do you think that their efforts are sufficient? If not, what else should be done to help the countries / societies / populations in need?
SILAS: United Nations, super-power nations, strong economies, regional, and continental bodies should be more involved in humanitarian activities to reduce the negative effects of crises and disasters on victims. Moreover, countries, societies, United Nations, should go beyond material and financial provisions, which are the primary focus during crises or disasters. Humankind need more than foods, blankets, medicines, water, temporary shelters, and clothing; even their needs go beyond emotional and psychological provisions in times of crisis and disaster.  In the face of evil from terrorism to nations’ balkanization by resistant armies, environment-created-hazards, man-made, and beyond-human-competence-and-solution-problems, world communities and United Nations, should develop multipronged approach to eliminate crises where possible and reduce disasters where applicable, rather than focusing on humanitarian efforts alone.
1.    Through proactive approach, societies, countries (governments) should be prepared and ready to manage crisis with consequential effect on humans.
2.    The world should and must always unite to fight against evil, rather than being divisive or speak with different tongues, as it always happen among United Nations’ members because of economic and political reasons.
3.    Perpetrators of evil should not be shielded or spared, no matter how highly placed individuals or groups may be; justice must be served.
4.    Acts of Aggression by nations, groups, corporate entities, and individuals must be condemned. Aggressor nations sanctioned.  
5.    International Criminal Court (ICC) should do more than what it does at present.  The idea where non-signatory nations to its conventions and agreements are left unprosecuted for crimes against humanity desire a second look.
6.    Terrorists, sponsors, host nations should be treated same way.

At present, local and  international  humanitarian efforts are not enough, granted, needs are many,  resources are few; many a time, global response to humanitarian needs of war, crisis, and disaster victims is very slow.  More so, the politics of material and financial provisions, preferential treatment by regions, and lack of follow up always make humanitarian efforts come to naught.


SONGSOPTOK: What should ideally be the role of the governments in humanitarian actions – both in afflicted countries and in the other countries of the world? Are government activities sufficient in this context?
SILAS: The major responsibility of any government is to protect life and property; where and when a government fails in this regard, such a government loses right to rule, loses right to demand obedience and loyalty, loses right to impose and to collect taxes.
Granted, even in a near-perfect situation one cannot rule out crisis, but what matters most, is the level of preparedness, the extent and the quality of assistance the afflicted ones receive in times of trouble. If government meets people’s needs, that will be good, but if it fails, trust, confidence, and loyalty from citizens may be withheld. We have seen this happened severally, in most, if not in all cases-governments have failed their citizens with dire consequences of losing at polls, or when people react through protest.
The situation is worse in Africa (especially in sub-Sahara, Central, East and Southern Africa), South American continent, Southeast Asia, India subcontinent, Middle East, and the Persian Gulf region.  

SONGSOPTOK In your opinion, do religious institutions play an important role in humanitarian actions? In your own experience, what kind of actions have you witnessed that have been pioneered by religious institutions?
SILAS: Yes, religious bodies have continued to play major role in humanitarian efforts and services for decades in every region around the globe. In fact, it could be said, religions these days are more into social and liberal gospel, or humanitarian theology than ecclesiastic activities. Through faith-funded organizations and charities, humanitarian services are felt worldwide.
Prominent among these bodies are:
1.    International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
2.    Doctors without Borders
3.    World Food Program (WFP)
4.    Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE)
5.    Oxfam International
6.    Action Against Hunger
7.    One World
8.    Save the Children
9.    UNICEF
10.World Vision
These are global humanitarian armies with thousands of their soldiers or workers in social and economic trenches around the globe providing and supporting good causes   from simple inoculation to capital development programs.  Some of the services provided are: women’s empowerment, feed the world, portable water, economic development, poverty alleviation, social justice, youth empowerment, girls’ education, maternal health, violence against women, HIV & AIDS, child marriage, climate change, and many more. More than Peacekeepers, they sustain and give hope to the hopeless, they bring succor to depressed souls, and help creating a new future for victims of crisis.
However, help from these bodies come rather too  late, and too little; moreover, humanitarian services are  hampered by little accessibility to victims of crimes against humanity, thereby creating serious humanitarian crisis such as in Syria, Congo, Iraq, and Afghanistan,  


SONGSOPTOK:  Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) are often in the forefront of humanitarian actions and yet there have been widespread criticism about the efficacy and utility of NGOs in different countries, especially in Asia & Africa. What is your own experience? Should NGOs be given more power and independence where humanitarian actions are concerned?
SILAS: As said previously, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) are great,  but when one considers the little they do, or would have done when there is crisis; most likely, one believes,  they might have done much better, but for these reasons:
1)  Inaccessibility to the victims of crises;
2)  2) Little resources, but more demands and needs;
3)  3) Human failure–since these organizations are managed and run by humans-structural or organizational defect, technical difficulties and  unforeseen occurrence always limit their operations, which in turn affect results  and successes that would have followed.
4) Their staffers suffer so much from inclement weather to hostile environment, security and safety challenges, cultural and language barriers; NGOs’ personnel need more protection, because they work mostly in hostile and dangerous environment. In addition, supporting/ancillary workers (interpreters, informants, tour guides, and local vendors) should enjoy some degree of protection, where threat and intimidation occur; identity of these individuals should always be made secret.
5)  All parties to conflicts where humanitarian organizations operate must honor international agreements and protocols to create enabling environment for NGOs to perform their statutory duties.
More important, United Nations should pass a Special Resolutions making it a crime to kill humanitarian workers in lands or territories of operation; accused person or persons be made answerable to applicable local laws, or international laws should there be  an escape from where murder is originally committed; also, residences and offices must carry diplomatic status of inviolability. 

SONGSOPTOK:  What should be the aim of humanitarian actions in afflicted countries – short term relief or long term actions that would help societies build up their own strengths and resources? Please share your knowledge or experience about long term actions undertaken anywhere in the world.
SILAS: Since crisis is an integral part of human socio-political experience, society or country with high susceptibility to violence should be ready and prepared for crisis management.
Emergency needs and supplies must be in place to cater for victims of crisis.
More important, Crisis-Detection-Control-Management-Mechanism (CDCMM) should be in place; a four-way-approach to crisis, which cares for both the short and long actions in preventing crisis and limiting the effects any time, there is one.
The synopsis of this approach is be ready for crisis,  quick to discover or detect crisis, swift to nip it in the bud (control), and be a good manager  should there be a conflagration.
It is reasonable to prevent crisis than to wait for it to happen, because the cost is great, healing/recovery takes a long time. If crisis control mechanism is available, it saves a lot.
More important, supporting and promoting certain civil and political institutions such as The Police, Judiciary, Military, Civil Liberty Bodies, will help sustain long-term actions for the society’s efforts to reduce crisis
However, these institutions will be more effective upon these conditions:
·       Corruption free,
·       Enjoys political stability and independence
·       Personnel owe no political, cultural, religious allegiance to anyone except to the nation.

SONGSOPTOK: It is often seen that the strongest help and support comes from within the communities affected by conflicts or natural disasters. How, in your opinion, can communities be empowered to successfully face such situations? What, in this context, could be the role of formal or informal grassroots organizations?
SILAS: No doubt, 60-70 percent of help comes from affected communities, which means, crisis-prone communities anticipate crises and disasters.
To help community cope or better prepared, these are some suggestions:
1)  Education- provide education  on the causes and effects of crises and disasters;
2)  Provide training on how to cope when crisis or disaster occurs.
3)  Provide a safe haven in crisis prone areas, more so, have-a-stand-by-first-crisis-responder to reduce loss or heavy casuality.
4)  Encourage, promote, support community based grassroot organizations to facilitate cross-cultural activities that may reduce or limit crisis.

SONGSOPTOK: Women and children are most vulnerable in situations of conflicts or disasters. What, according to you, are the specific actions that need to be taken to ensure the safety and security of women and children?
SILAS: True, women, children, and people with mental and physical challenges are major victims of crisis, even if we cannot stop crisis, we can reduce it, in order to protect the vulnerable.
Ways to protect the vulnerable are:
1)  Teach them to know and quickly identify red flags of crisis.
2)  Provide safe haven in a violent-prone society.
3)  Provide friendly community based security forces or agencies.
4)  Synergize and partnership among grassroot organizations and security agencies.

SONGSOPTOK: How do you, as an individual, practice humanitarianism? Is it an important part of your value system & mental make-up? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us.
SILAS: My support and practice of humanitarian are based on these three related, but distinct activities:
1)  Through advocacy–support for mentally, physically, and emotionally challenged individuals.
2)  Education- provide education for women, teach them their rights, infringements, and legal instrument to defend these rights. Teach women society imposed cultural barriers and how they can fight them.
3)   Promote knowledge through teaching/training, research, and writing on crisis red flags and how to avert them.


SILAS OLA ABAYOMI: Poet, Historian, Cultural Anthropologist,  And Author. Assistant Professor: Mass Communication & Journalism, University Of Lagos, Nigeria.



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