On the occasion of its fortieth anniversary, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has published Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience exploring the practical realities of conducting humanitarian negotiations in complex situations.
In a recent interview with PRI’s The World, Duncan Mclean, who helps to manage the group’s work in an area of Somalia controlled by the Islamist group al-Shabab, discussed some of the challenges working in this dangerous area.
The group’s work in al-Shabab-controlled areas of Somalia has been complicated by their policy of treating everyone, including al-Shabab soldiers. This has led the African Union to claim the Doctors Without Borders is the opposition’s surgeons. Further complicating the matter is that al-Shabab recently announced it is merging efforts with al-Qaeda militants.
As Duncan Mclean explains these types of complexities are part of the experience of Doctors Without Borders and that aid efforts in general raise difficult issues. Mclean says:
“There are many, many parts of the world where we basically accept that a certain degree of aid that we’re providing will be used for other ends than what we intended it to be. And it would be naive to consider it otherwise to sort of maintain this idealistic image of aid work that only goes in greatest need, only civilians, only the intended beneficiaries are receiving. In our case, it’s medical aid, but we could be talking about food aid, water, sanitation programs, we could be talking about all sorts of things. That’s simply a fact of humanitarian work today I would say as much as it’s unpleasant to consider.”