Towards a Politically Informed Humanitarian Response to Conflict: Findings from Sierra Leone

Working and discussion papers
February 2003
Richard Fanthorpe

This study examines some of the strategies aid agencies employ to provide effective delivery of inputs in the complex political environment of post-war Sierra Leone. These are considered in the context of project design, monitoring and oversight, community liaison and relationships between international agencies and local implementing partners. Some of these strategies, while representing genuine attempts to comply with international professional and moral standards, are incompatible with current conditions on the ground. Some agencies are aware of this problem, and the study also considers how they are seeking to improve dialogue with a highly politicised yet vulnerable post-war population. Political economy analysis may not offer any singular solution for improving the performance of aid agencies in situations of chronic political instability, but it does draw attention to the fact that agencies cannot avoid influencing politics, and that the nature of that influence has a critical effect on the performance of programmes. Improving the design and implementation of projects requires greater sensitivity to the moral and ethical dilemmas raised by such political engagement. There is no substitute for information about the local social and cultural environment; to that end, good liaison between project designers and local field staff and implementing partners is essential.

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