Category Archives: Books

“Infuriating doves of peace”: an interview with Plantu and Reza

Regards croisés
Plantu & Reza
Gallimard, 2021
Published in French

The renowned photographer Reza and Le Monde’s iconic cartoonist Plantu have just published a book in which they revisit eighty or so of their respective photos and cartoons. The publication, which covers a vast range of historical events and global issues – from the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 to the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 by way of the environment, climate change and the situation of women and children around the world –, is a work of both remembrance and creativity. Each coupling of one photo and one cartoon takes us back to past events while generating a new and singular work of art calling to mind the style of certain collage artists. The reader’s appetite is also whet by an excellent foreword by art critic Pierre Bongiovanni, in which he offers his own take on this original work. We met Plantu and Reza to find out more about this project which prompted an engaging and lively interview – also condensed below in writing. Continue reading

The humanity of humanitarianism

L’ultime frontière
Giselda Gargano
Éditions Les Nouveaux Auteurs, 2021
Published in French

Humanitarian action may well conjure up a romantic world of adventure, but plotting it into fiction is not an easy task, for it’s often not as exotic as it seems, and good writing is not created from noble intentions. In her debut novel, Giselda Gargano has avoided these pitfalls. From her background as an ex-staff member of the communications department of a humanitarian organisation, she has built an enriching story, both ambitious and sensitive in scope, in which the concepts of “boundaries” and “conflicts”, serving as the underlying thread, are understood not only in a traditional sense but in a more intimate one as well. As the story unfolds through very human perspectives, it takes a close-up look at the boundaries that one may or may not cross, along with the clashes of perspectives and egos. Continue reading

Humanitarian theory and practice: the book-summary

Droit et pratique de l’action humanitaire
Marina Eudes, Philippe Ryfman, Sandra Szurek (dir.)
L.G.D.J, Collection Traités, October 2019
(published in French)

How can the theory and practice of humanitarian action be brought together in a single book? This ambition is perfectly embodied in this book-summary, produced under the triple direction of Sandra Szurek and Marina Eudes, masterfully accompanied by Philippe Ryfman.

Together, they have accomplished the feat of mobilising nearly eighty experts to tackle this colossal task. These include well-known personalities such as Xavier Emmanuelli and Jean-François Mattei, but also field practitioners, leaders of organisations, and researchers. The focus of the three coordinators is that of a legal approach combined, depending on the case, with the resources of other disciplines, such as political science, sociology, economics, anthropology, history and the contributions of experienced practitioners. The book therefore seeks to respond to the need for a general, systematic and scientifically-established vision of an often controversial field in international life: humanitarian action.

With a diverse wealth of contributions over 970 pages, the book is built around four main parts, the first of which deals with humanitarian assistance, with its normative and contextual components. The second part discusses the humanitarian offer and describes the actors and the economy of aid, and the coordination and conduct of humanitarian action. The third part concerns the reception of humanitarian aid, with a description of the beneficiaries according to different contexts and access conditions, together with a reflection on the purposes of this aid. The last part highlights the risks and responsibilities in light of legal and ethical considerations.

There is no doubt that this extensive and well-documented book has already established itself as a reference for all those interested in and concerned by the field of humanitarian action.

Through its four main parts, this treatise allows us to navigate between an academic and a practical approach, with specific sections written by an expert. The result is a kaleidoscope of knowledge and experience from women and men, mostly well-known and recognised professionals in the field of humanitarian action.

This plural approach to humanitarian action, expressed by so many experts, perfectly reflects the diversity of actors, observers and researchers involved, as well as the scope of a field that it is often difficult to contain within specific boundaries. One of the directors’ main achievements is to have succeeded in rendering the nuances that colour “the international humanitarian action of the twenty-first century,” from development to peacekeeping, by way of emergency action. This international humanitarian action, as they write in the introduction, “is one of the first, if not the first, international public policy across all continents.”

So what can we say, besides saluting this immense work condensed into a single book, and encouraging you to read it? We can say that there is a strong basis for an updated second edition, that will no doubt be published in due course. How could it enrich this first edition?

Although reference is made to the complexity of the “mandates for action,” with their differing normative frameworks between international humanitarian law and the various existing texts in the face of natural disasters or epidemics, a section on humanitarian principles as such would be of great interest. But what about the motivation and commitment of humanitarian actors involved in humanitarian organisations, from the field up to the headquarters? A section that would reflect the commitment of the various actors, as well as paying tribute to them, would enable a better understanding of the sources of action, solidarity, dignity, and justice, between indignation, compassion and cooperation. In addition, a section that would bring together examples of major positions taken by humanitarian organisations in complex situations would be welcome, as it would highlight the power of advocacy and media communication, indispensable for NGOs to avoid sinking into a kind of industrialisation and instrumentalisation of their actions. Similarly, in the current chapter on contemporary characteristics, why not include a section on climate refugees or the debates that animate the sector, for example those concerning obstacles to humanitarian action? Finally, a chapter on the role of coordination, coalitions, consortia and capacity-sharing mechanisms would be enlightening. These are all avenues that hint at the full developmental potential of a book that, from a treaty, would have the vocation – and why not? – to become an encyclopaedia in perpetual movement, as closely related as possible to emerging issues.

Benoît Miribel
Secretary-General of the foundation “Une santé pour tous” and co-founder of Humanitarian Alternatives

Under the direction of Sandra Szurek, Emeritus Professor at Paris Nanterre University, Associate Professor at the Institut des Hautes Études Internationales (IHEI) at Paris II Panthéon-Assas University, Marina Eudes, HDR lecturer at Paris Nanterre University, Member of CEDIN, Director of the Diploma in International Criminal Organizations and Jurisdictions, Philippe Ryfman, Professor and Honorary Associate Researcher at the Sorbonne Department of Political Science, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University, lawyer and consultant.

How to apply foresight and strategy in humanitarian action

A Manual to Foresight and Futures-Focused Thinking
Eilidh Kennedy and Michel Maietta
Routledge, 2021

Publisher’s note

This book provides humanitarian practitioners and policy makers with a manual for how to apply foresight and strategy in their work.

Drawing on extensive research, the book demonstrates in practical terms how embedding futures-focused thinking into practice can help humanitarian actors to enhance their impact and fit for the future. The book provides readers with a step-by-step guide to an innovative combination of tools and methods tested and refined over the course of several years. However, it also goes beyond this, by grounding the approach within the broader ambition of making humanitarian action more effective. Overall, the analytical and strategic processes outlined in this book will accompany a decision maker through every stage of creating a robust, agile and impactful long-term strategy.

This accessible guide will be an essential point of reference for practitioners and decision makers in the humanitarian ecosystem, as well as students studying humanitarian affairs, global development, conflict studies and international relations.

Extreme violence as seen by researchers, practitioners and journalists

Violences extrêmes. Enquêter, secourir, juger. République démocratique du Congo, Rwanda, Syrie
Laëtitia Atlani-Duault, Jean-Hervé Bradol, Marc Le Pape et Claudine Vidal (dir.)
Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, coll. Le bien commun, 2021
(published in French)

Publisher’s note

Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Syria have been the settings for extreme situations of violence. As witnesses, the authors of this book shed light on three key moments that marked these tragic episodes: the investigation, the relief programme and the establishment of legal procedures leading to a verdict.

Social science researchers contribute their insights by means of investigations, analyses and publications, tackling the controversies that sometimes arise, particularly with regard to the situation in Rwanda: what were and still are the ways of investigating the Tutsi genocide? Humanitarian practitioners, on the other hand, describe relief operations, daily work in the context of violence, and the creation of support networks, whilst speaking out for those living in the midst of destruction. The book also gives the floor to a journalist whose investigations in Kivu (in eastern DRC) call into question not only the media treatment of this field, but also the essential alliances to enable journalists to gain access to these conflicted spaces.

These multiple points of view are based on many sources. The judicial sources make it possible to examine the attitude of the perpetrators of violence by means of their speeches, and provide a quantitative assessment of the prosecutions against them.

Régis Koetschet or “diplomacy through the skin”

Diplomate dans l’Orient en crise, Jérusalem et Kaboul 2002-2008
Régis Koetschet, preface by Bertrand Badie
Éditions Maisonneuve&Larose / Hémisphères éditions, 2021
(Published in French)

À Kaboul rêvait mon père. André Malraux en Afghanistan
Régis Koetschet
Éditions Nevicata, 2021
(Published in French)

About Diplomate dans l’Orient en crise, Jérusalem et Kaboul 2002-2008

“Inside the mind of a diplomat”: such could have been the subtitle of this book, which reveals diplomatic work in all its political and cultural diversity, in the heart of an Eastern region under “post-9/11” high security tension, in two outposts: Jerusalem, where Régis Koetschet was consul general from 2002 to 2005, and Afghanistan, where he represented France from 2005 to 2008. As he explains, these two diplomatic missions took place “in an environment of violence. War and terrorism, retaliation, occupation, crime, drugs. Added to this was the violence of poverty, religious fundamentalism and social misfortune.”

The book provides many discoveries and confrontations, because in Jerusalem as in Kabul, the diplomat finds himself at the crossroads of a double journey, difficult, sometimes baroque, often painful: the beginning of millenary stories, ardent spiritualities, brilliant civilizations against the backdrop of their landscapes. But it is also a story that is written day by day, between war and peace, law and deeds, development and corruption.

The encounter, marked by widespread mutual ignorance, between a world of suffering and humiliation and the demands and impatience of diplomatic action, gives rise to many questions and lucid observations. The daily life of Palestinian complexity is described, until the death of Yasser Arafat and the advent of Mahmoud Abbas, and we witness an Afghan power divided between its traditional solidarity and the commitments of the international coalition.

From Jerusalem to Kabul, from Gaza to Bâmiyân, Régis Koetschet endeavours to shed light on these different temporalities and to make them coincide, with the aim of promoting dialogue and understanding. But an ambassador is not only immersed in the field of his mission: he represents a political power, a tradition, interests, influences, and ambitions that can take the form of hasty Parisian certainties, problematic European faint-heartedness or brutal, realist power. We must therefore try to explain, to plead in favour of a complexity that we know is disturbing given the increasingly binary approach to international life.

This fascinating story reconnects with the field and actors of this Eastern region in crisis, from the alleys of the Holy City to the bluish foothills of the Hindu Kush; enhanced by a note of hope carried by a true humanist trust and a deep empathy with the cultures experienced over the long term. It is also a lively way to discover the daily life and know-how of the diplomatic function. “Diplomacy through the skin” as the author says.

About À Kaboul rêvait mon père. André Malraux en Afghanistan

An evocation of André Malraux’s journey to Afghanistan in 1930, midway between a literary investigation and a geographical adventure.

André Malraux’s intellectual curiosity had always been attracted by Afghanistan and its surroundings. But as ardent and consecrated as it was by the “supreme beauty” of Gandhâra, Malraux’s relationship with Afghanistan was fraught with false leads, excesses and missed opportunities, as if he had scores to settle with the country, which he described as “ghostly and absurd.”

This book seeks to shed light on Malraux’s “Afghan mystery” by going back over his life: his childhood visits to the Guimet Museum, the preparation of his voyage to the temple of Banteay Srei, his trip to Kabul with his wife Clara in the summer of 1930, his initiatives as the Minister for Cultural Affairs.

“In Kabul my father dreamed,” writes Malraux in the Antimémoires. This crossing of the century invites us to undertake this profound journey, confronted with the torments of the world.

See here the interview (in French) with Régis Koetschet by Boris Martin, the Editor-in-Chief of the Humanitarian Alternatives review.

UHC, Horizon 2030

Vers une couverture sanitaire universelle en 2030 ? Réformes en Afrique subsaharienne
Valéry Ridde (dir.), preface by Ndèye Bineta Mbow Sane
Éditions Science et bien commun, 2021
(published in French)

Publisher’s note

This multiauthor volume brings together the latest scientific knowledge on health finance reforms in sub-Saharan Africa, about subjects as varied as free policies, outcome-based funding and health insurance. In addition to the origin and content of these different policies, the articles analyse the challenges of their implementation, but also their effects and sustainability. While fully in line with the current debate about universal health coverage (UHC), one of the main challenges of this book is also to inform reflections at the national level, from Senegal to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, via the Sahel and Benin. In an accessible language, some 40 authors share their rigorous and mostly unpublished analyses, in order to provide a better understanding of the road ahead for UHC to become a reality in sub-Saharan Africa, with all due respect to the proponents of the new public administration.

Book licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution, available in open access:

Once a humanitarian, always a humanitarian…

Humanitaires. Partir, revenir, mourir un peu
François Audet (dir.)
Éditions Kennes, 2021
(published in French)

Editor’s note

This book is unique amongst the essays interested in the humanitarian community of practice: it gives the floor to the professionals. Humanitarian aid workers have the privilege of entering the lives, and often the intimacy, of thousands of people. But surprisingly, bureaucratic imperatives mean that the most beautiful stories, at the heart of humanitarian action and human solidarity, are not highlighted, and remain confined to our memories.

These magnificent life stories unfortunately have no place in the humanitarian-spectacle of organisations that have quietly strayed from the very reason for their existence. We can see that communications on “humanitarian aid” are overwhelmingly dominated by brand image. By seeking at all costs to obtain funding through marketing tactics that are often guilt-inducing, organisations have moved away from the foundations of humanitarian work. In doing so, they provide an incomplete picture of this extraordinary profession.

This book seeks to make up for this “void”: to give a voice to the “human narrative,” to the human tragedy and to the values of solidarity of those who are confronted on a daily basis with epidemics, conflicts and natural disasters. These stories present our limitations, our dilemmas, and our biases and neo-colonial roots that influence our values. In the era of the humanitarian agenda of localisation and decolonisation, this book is therefore timely.

The exceptional people who agreed to share their memories in this collection all acknowledge the same thing: the heroic image of humanitarians circulated by Western organisations and the media is outdated. Instead, we need to focus on human relationships, beyond borders. It is in human contact that we find our motivations.
The stories that the authors present in this book are all based on experiences that sometimes reveal immense human sadness, sometimes renewed hope. But they all have something in common: the relationship with these women and men who have allowed us, momentarily, to enter their lives. These essays also provide a better understanding of the challenges of action in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this collection, this gives rise to small moments of extraordinary lucidity. From Afghanistan to Niger to Gaza, these stories all have the same roots: the experiences of humanitarian workers with exceptional trajectories, who are witnesses to situations that have not yet found their place in reports by organisations or the media.

The director of this book, François Audet, is a member of the Scientific Council of the Humanitarian Alternatives review.

Fraternity as the common good of humanity

La fraternité globale
Michel Joli
Éditions érès, 2020
(published in French)

Publisher’s note

In a Darwinian perspective, Michel Joli develops a conception of global fraternity as a benefit of evolution, a “common good of humanity”. It is the oldest manifestation of the social instinct that ensures the protection of the weakest, without distinction between groups. In this sense, it is an absolute necessity to preserve both the diversity and the unity of our species. Fraternity, a major anthropological asset, is indeed the only universal characteristic that unites all humans.

In this period of global crisis, the author highlights the urgency of taking fraternity out of the storeroom of accessories and ideologies, and to call upon it in its globality as an essential argument (and tool) to confront the excesses of capitalism. This political, philosophical, and ecological essay, well-documented and committed, opens up tangible avenues of inquiry to build our future society on new foundations.

Translated from the French by Juliet Powys
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A life of commitment alongside the “disenfranchised”

La dignité pour boussole. Un engagement avec ATD Quart Monde
Eugen Brand, interviews with Michel Sauquet
Éditions de l’Atelier/Éditions Quart Monde, 2020
(published in French)

Publisher’s note

What is the story of this man who carried the ATD Quart Monde mission, alongside others, for forty years, in the footsteps its founder, Joseph Wresinski?

Born in Switzerland, Eugen Brand first encountered the Movement at the age of 22 and became a permanent volunteer. He lived amongst families in great poverty and learned alongside them. This commitment would take him to Créteil, New York, Basel, Peru, Bolivia…

By way of these episodes in the life of Eugen Brand, his doubts and convictions, and his moments of companionship with Father Joseph, a history of the ATD Quart Monde is sketched out, in its trials and errors and its developments.

In this series of interviews, which would lead to a great friendship, Michel Sauquet and Eugen Brand exchange and share their experiences and questionings. Following Eugen Brand, this book enables us to understand and claim that the “disenfranchised” are the source and the motor of great transformations to be carried out within society.

Translated from the French by Juliet Powys

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