Part 2 Introduction
We asked several people to offer an external perspective on these questions of perception. These articles are personal contributions from practitioners and academics who are all connected to the humanitarian sector and have observed MSF up close or from afar. It should be noted that the opinions expressed in these articles only reflect the views of their authors.
The first contribution is from Bruno Jochum, general director at MSF-Switzerland, whose department carried out the research project. He looks back to the origins of the project and highlights some lessons that the field teams can learn from the research findings.
The remaining articles have been grouped into three sets.
The first, entitled “Humanitarian Action and MSF Viewed from Outside,” includes contributions from external actors that shed light on the organization.
Abdul-Wahab Soumana and Jean de Dieu Fosso, both now doctoral students, participated as members of teams of students in two studies, one conducted in Niger and the other in Cameroon. Therefore, the opinions expressed in their contributions reflect both the more precise results of the surveys carried out in those two countries and the personal views of the authors about the research process and the organization.
Linda Ethangatta, director of the Social Sciences and Medicine Africa Network based in Nairobi, Kenya, has worked with humanitarian organizations (though not MSF) for several years. She comments on the organization’s activities from the viewpoint of a nutritionist and academic.
Li Anshan, a professor at Peking University who specializes in relations between Africa and China, offers a completely external perspective, which is partly personal and partly reflects an institutional consensus on Chinese international policy. This contribution demonstrates the importance of the words we use to define the terms of the debate and how crucial our analytical framework is when we are dealing with concepts.
The second set of articles addresses issues linked to the blurring of the distinction between humanitarian action and stabilization missions (peacekeeping missions, and political and military missions carried out in the name of humanitarian principles). This confusion, cleverly manipulated by some actors, threatens humanitarian action as advocated by MSF and the ICRC, for example.
In her contribution, Abby Stoddard, an academic and former program manager for Doctors of the World specializing in the area of security, analyses the impact of actions to fight “global insurgency”—represented at the local level by groups like Al Shabaab in Somalia or the Taliban in Afghanistan, and at the international level by organizations such as Al Qaeda— on humanitarian action.
Samir Elhawary, a researcher in the Overseas Development Institute’s Humanitarian Policy Group, explains why the objectives and strategies of stabilization missions and humanitarian organizations will always be different. This difference explains why the perception gap between these two groups cannot and must not be reduced.
In his contribution, Paul Bouvier, a medical advisor to the ICRC, describes why it is in the interest of political and military actors to allow the confusion between their interventions and medical humanitarian action to persist.
The third set of contributions looks at questions that remained unresolved in the research process and solutions that other organizations have already implemented.
In his article, Jérôme Amir Singh, a bioethicist and member of MSF’s Ethics Committee, points out that medical intervention that takes place in a variety of contexts, like that of MSF, has an impact on the quality standards of medical care as well as on national public health systems. An organization like MSF must be aware of this type of impact and bear it in mind in its analysis of each situation.
Ronald Ofteringer, a political advisor to the ICRC, shows that the Geneva institution quickly became aware of these issues of perception and proactively tried to reduce the gap, where necessary, by implementing high-quality operations.
This set of external contributions ends with a paper by Antonio Donini, who led the first ever large-scale research project into the perceptions held by the beneficiaries of humanitarian action for Tufts University in Boston. He explains the extent to which the discourse of Western NGOs is a discourse of power and stresses that it must give way to other forms of universality if we want this humanitarian action to really help the populations it is intended to assist.