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date: 12 May 2021

Humanitarianism in Africalocked

  • Bronwen EverillBronwen EverillHistory, Cambridge University

Summary

The history of humanitarianism in Africa has been shaped largely by the history of unequal power relations and the struggle between preservative and progressive approaches to the unintended consequences of intervention. As foreign powers and individuals became involved in identifying and aiding African “victims,” both action and inaction were fraught with political consequences that required further intervention. These interventions ranged from direct emergency assistance to longer-term development goals; from military aid to post-conflict state-building and capacity-building; from small-scale interventions by individuals through service missions to annual, multi-billion-dollar governmental aid packages. Although the scale and approach to humanitarian assistance varied dramatically over the continent and across two and a half centuries, humanitarian impulses were consistently based on the desire to help and were also consistently critiqued both in Africa and elsewhere. Imperialism and humanitarianism have been overlapping and interlocking ideologies in the African context, but independent African states, individuals, and marginalized groups have also made use of humanitarian language and ideology to further their own goals and promote their own causes across the modern period.

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