Humanitarian Aid post-Brexit, Dissertations, and Woodrow Wilson

Richard teaching his English class

In my last blog (written in the lead up to the Brexit referendum) I referenced the political debate taking place at that time. That’s been and gone now, the deed is done, and those of us directly affected by such a monumental, political upheaval are now dealing with the fallout.

The British government is a huge donor of humanitarian assistance and development aid to Africa so Brexit is critical to future and current aid programs. I’ll try to explain very briefly: principally, EU states contribute to a communal aid pot which is distributed to NGOs; additionally, states donate directly to NGOs for different purposes. It is easy to see, therefore, Brexit means that the UK will no longer contribute to the communal aid pot and will, henceforth, provide monies in a slightly different manner. Consider also that aid provided directly from the UK is provided in pounds – yup, you can see the train wreck coming as you read this… While the aid is provided in pounds, NGOs have bank accounts elsewhere, sometimes in the US, sometimes the monies are transferred directly to a local bank in the aid-receiving nation (dependent upon where the NGO is registered). So, a devalued pound means less money filtering through once it has passed through a bank transfer into a different currency. Imagine now that a project is in place and is dependent upon a certain level of funding agreed at the outset, but which is now falling short due to less money deposited at the bank each month. Where, in fact, does this effect end? It ends, unfortunately, at the sharp end where food aid distribution is slightly reduced; it affects the ill person in a remote village because an NGO has had to reduce its vehicle fleet and can no longer access remote communities; it affects the village destroyed by floods and dependent on a reconstruction program which is now delayed. I could go on…. but I won’t because it’s depressing.

The UK’s Department for International Development also has a new Secretary of State, Priti Patel, so I’m sure there will be a shift in policy strategy. Her predecessor, Justine Greening, wrote exceptionally clearly on strategy and I thought she was a talented leader of the department.

Richard teaching his English class
On Saturday afternoons I attempt to teach English to adults.

In the interim, I have been redeployed to Bangui from my remote outpost in the north of Central African Republic. I’m spending five weeks here before heading back up north, and next month I’ll have a period of leave in the UK. I’m starting to think a great deal about my dissertation – the only remaining module on my MA International Policy and Diplomacy. One of the beauties of the NGO community is that it is full of intelligent and thoughtful people of a philanthropic bent (a bit idealistic but it’s my blog, go with it…), so I am able to discuss ideas for a dissertation with people who may well ask a pithy question which makes me reflect on the course of my thoughts, and the potential weaknesses therein. The faculty staff are busy sending out guides to dissertation writing and I’ve bent my head around a couple of those. I actually feel very anxious about the dissertation now because I cannot see a clear direction for me; I have several threads writhing around in my brain, all connected with the idea of humanitarian aid as the principal tool of diplomacy of rich states. Each time I try to think more deeply on a thread, I find myself punching a hole in my argument.

To allow my mind to wander over less anxiety-causing issues I’ve waded through a simply gigantic biography of Woodrow Wilson (my favourite statesman, whisper it quietly), a short biography of Herbert Asquith, and I’m currently reading ‘Testimony’ by Nicolas Sarkozy – he writes in a peculiar, jaunty style which makes it an easy read. I acknowledge that they don’t sound like the kind of banal nonsense that I should be reading between semesters but I love political memoirs, and I find it hard to break away from them and read something like… well… fiction, for example.

As I write this, I’m sitting on the verandah of my current accommodation in Bangui. I fully intend to be here this evening with a bottle of merlot and a decent read, or reflecting on Brexit and its effects on millions, possibly billions of people, in ways which were un-imagined before the vote. Or possibly I’ll just sprawl on this couch and listen to Volbeat’s new album at full blast.

About Richard Bretherick 13 Articles
Final year MA International Policy and Diplomacy student. After twenty years in the military I eventually landed a job in the humanitarian industry, and I'm currently in the far north of Central African Republic managing a program in the fight against malaria. I love my job and I'm very lucky that I can say that.

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