The ICRC has remained committed to ensuring that humanitarian needs are met in a manner that reduces risks to a population that is already vulnerable, and now incorporating COVID-19 preventive measures during humanitarian interventions such as social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing. We speak to the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Delegation, Eloi Fillion, to learn more about their plans for sustainable development in the future.
How does the ICRC contribute to the sustainable development of Africa?
The purpose of humanitarian action is to save lives, minimize suffering and protect the dignity of people. Arguably, that is also a development aim. The SDGs are a good illustration of that common ambition: we all want to ensure people do not live in poverty, have sufficient food and resilient food systems, and that they have access to healthcare, to water and sanitation, to resilient public infrastructure, and to a safe learning environments.
In many places humanitarian action is the ‘first mile’ rather than the ‘last mile’. This simply means that unless the most vulnerable people are assisted and protected, development gains could be even reversed. In addition to providing emergency assistance to people and communities affected by armed conflict and violence, the ICRC contributes to stabilizing the humanitarian situation so that people can support their resilience and begin to rebuild their communities. The ICRC is part of the first responders to a humanitarian crisis, and thus one of the first actors to begin the stabilization and reconstruction effort.
The ICRC supports the reconstruction of public infrastructure notably water and sanitation services and provides immediate health care support. Furthermore, the ICRC also provides emergency assistance such as food and supplies to the most affected populations. Finally, the ICRC supports the reemergence of economic development by providing seed-funding and capacity building support to micro-economic initiatives of families and communities for them to get back on their feet.
How has the partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation supported the ICRC’s achievement of these sustainable goals and pioneered a new approach to development?
The Humanitarian-Development nexus shows the increasing interdependencies of interventions from across these spheres. It is clear that for this nexus to work it needs to have a solid humanitarian component. Without neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action many people and places will be left out of reach, behind military frontlines and political fault lines – blind spots. The partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation has this idea at its core as well. We are supporting entrepreneurship in communities that would otherwise be left behind. To date, we have supported 167 entrepreneurs states in the North East – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. Before, only 7 alumni of the entrepreneurship programme came from that region. To achieve this, TEF Alumni and ICRC staff disseminated information to people who would have otherwise not have had access to or understood the content and benefits of the entrepreneurship prorgamme.
Furthermore, some of ICRC / TEF supported entrepreneurs assisted other potential applicants by providing offices, computers or internet access for their community members to gain access to the application portal. One example is Cosmos Daniel, owner of Cosmotech Learning Centre who was supported in 2018. Cosmotech Learning Centre has trained over 2,000 people in Adamawa state, and is employing four full-time staff and five contract staff. There are many more examples from Borno state, the South-South, especially in shanty towns of Rivers state, or communities affected by violence in the North-Central. These entrepreneurs set up businesses in their often fragile communities thereby creating job opportunities for community members.
How can youth entrepreneurship and Africapitalism create much-needed jobs on the continent? What is the role of the private sector in this regard?
Entrepreneurship is a vital part of the humanitarian toolkit. In places where the local economy is under great stress due to armed conflict or violence, local entrepreneurs such as small-scale farmers or fishermen help keep the community afloat. This is why the ICRC places emphasis on its economic security activities – backstopping the role of the local private sector. The ICRC support to micro-economic initiatives in areas affected by armed conflict and violence is a prime example.
Beyond the small and local businesses, we also see a role for the private sector at large in supporting humanitarian action through innovative collaborations and financing. Youth make up, by far, the majority of the African population and thus the private sector has a definite role to play in creating the work environment and jobs for this enormous potential human resource for the continent.
The ICRC, through our work in areas of armed conflict and violence, is interested in working with the African private sector which would have difficulties to access and be reluctant to work in hard to reach and unstable areas. Ultimately, the humanitarian sector in collaboration with the private sector can really help in accelerating the stability, resilience and future prosperity in Africa.
What key projects does the ICRC execute to drive inclusion across all levels and how satisfactory are the results?
The ICRC is taking significant steps in ensuring inclusion in our internal work force as well as with external partners. For example, the ICRC assists vulnerable people through entrepreneurship. Notably women-headed households as well as persons with disabilities are in the focus of our micro-economic initiatives since they are particularly at risk in the fragile contexts where we work.
Furthermore, the ICRC has developed a frame of analysis for our humanitarian response to consider the most affected populations – the people who have been severely affected by the armed conflict and violence. This frame of analysis ensures that the views of local actors and the people we are accountable to are integrated in our response. This is paramount if we want to achieve a much more inclusive ICRC response that is truly adapted to the needs of clear demographics, especially women, persons with disabilities, youth, minority groups and others.
Does Africa have the potential to become the China of tomorrow in terms of manufacturing? How can we empower more young people to achieve this goal?
To have a broader conversation about economic growth and the empowerment of young people, it is important to think about what kinds of opportunities are offered to this generation. Do they have food on the table, are they able to go to school, find meaningful work, or have access to health care – or will they be faced with difficult situations characterized by underinvestment, instability and potentially even armed conflict and violence? The ICRC focuses its energy on people most at risk of being left behind. We are concerned by the worsening humanitarian situations in the Lake Chad basin, the Sahel and also in other parts of the continent where the population and the youth are under very serious security threat with long term repercussions.
For people to be empowered they need stability, security and hope – which the private sector can partially supply. However, there is no secret, governments and armed actors must also do their share to ensure stability, security and hope for the future.