Moving forward from the Oxfam scandal

By Hannah Westwell

RAF C17 Lands in Nepal with Vital UK Aid

A DFID staff member supervises the unloading of UK Aid from an aircaft in Kathmundu, Nepal on the 29 April 2015.  Images By Sgt Neil Bryden RAF

Over the past weeks a number of allegations have been raised in the international aid sector. Oxfam remains at the centre of the scandal, with accusations that senior staff hired prostitutes while working overseas and that the charity helped cover it up. The issue, it seems, was not a stand-alone occurrence, with reports of sexual abuse in Haiti in 2011 and Chad in 2006, demonstrating a much deeper problem. Médicins Sans Frontières, Save the Children and the UN all came under fire for similar reasons, being asked to explain the reasons for the repatriation of a number of workers and other claims of inappropriate behaviour.

Of course, the public’s response to the scandal was not small. In the immediate aftermath of these revelations, celebrity ambassadors of Oxfam- Minnie Driver and Desmond Tutu- stepped down and thousands of regular donators cancelled their donations. There was a lot of anger at the situation in which workers had severely abused their power, not just because of the nature and hypocrisy of the abuse but because so much of Oxfam’s income is from the government and public funds.

As the media now reflects on the Oxfam situation and the state of the foreign aid sector more generally, it seems there are two main threads of thought emerging.

Firstly, there is a call to action so that this kind of thing cannot happen in the future. In an article in the Financial Times, Michael Skapinker argues “Oxfam shows we must stop giving NGOs a free pass”. Whilst the ultimate aim of charities is to benefit others, they too are businesses who have to manage their staff and their public image. One of their largest streams of income is public donations, in which thousands of individuals place their trust in an organisation which they believe are doing good. In order to rebuild this trust, Oxfam and other organisations must take action to reassure supporters that there are procedures in place to prevent future misconduct.

Secondly, there is a warning that this issue doesn’t lead to those people that NGOs help missing out. William Hague, writing for The Telegraph, suggests that “The Oxfam scandal should not lead us into the blunder of cutting aid”. There are fears that not only will donations drop but that the scandal will be used politically to reduce the UK aid budget. This fear is shared by Oxfam celebrity ambassador Simon Pegg, who, when questioned about continuing to work with the charity, said “Oxfam is an organisation which helps countless people. I think it would be wrong to hold the entire organisation to account for the actions of a few people, I worry about the people that are going to suffer if everybody abandons this charity”. Ultimately, by giving less money to the charity, or charities generally, people in great need will suffer and we cannot allow this to happen.

Safeguarding needs to become a higher priority within charities working with vulnerable people.

Whilst these two arguments have repeatedly been presented separately, at times in opposition to each other, it seems to me that there is nothing to stop both happening in order to move forward. It is important that we make steps intentionally as the sector tries to learn from and move on from this scandal. We must build a culture where this behaviour isn’t tolerated, but beyond that stricter rules should be put in place which require charities to report cases of misconduct. Safeguarding needs to become a higher priority within charities working with vulnerable people.

There have also been ideas of ways the sector could prevent past offenders getting another job in the sector for instance by having a global register of aid workers. At the same time, we need to continue to give money to those who need it. We may use this time to evaluate who we are giving money to, holding these organisations accountable in making these changes, but in order to ensure the lives of many aren’t affected by the actions of a few, we must continue to give. Overall, the events of the past few weeks have demonstrated the serious need for change in the international aid sector but should also be used as a learning experience so that individuals pay closer attention to the way in which their money is used and in ensuring power is not abused.


Annual Law Lecture: How global trading rules are contributing to Africa’s deindustrialization and what we can do about it

By Georgia Marks

On the 21st November 2016, the WCIA, in partnership with Centre for Law and Society/ Law and Global Justice Programme, Cardiff University, held the fifth annual law lecture by Professor James Thuo Gathii at the Temple of Peace in Cardiff. John Harrington, the chairman of the Board of Justice for the WCIA, chaired the event. He introduced the speaker and the discussant, Celine Tan. Overall, the event was insightful and gave the audience a range of solutions to think about in terms of global trade.

Professor Gathii began by defining deindustrialization as the movement of workers from industry and then went on to give a brief context. He stated that Africa’s economy has been growing, but this has brought deindustrialization. In the 1970s, the governments had policies focusing on agriculture, but wanted to be like the West so produced industrialised economies, with structural adjustment programmes set up to reduce the role of the state in the economy. In 1990, the World Bank and the IMF drove for reform which the speaker says had a debilitating effect on industries. For example, in Senegal, the manufacturing and processing of sugar decreased in the past 20 years.

Next, Gathii highlighted the problems behind deindustrialization. He said that bad economic governments contributed. Many governments are corrupt, as well as the fact that the African elite have been able to source products, that can be made in Africa, outside of the continent at the expense of local producers. He then went on to use the supply of palm oil to reinforce his point. He then went on to talk about the phenomenon of consumption cities where workers are moving from manufacturing as there is less work. This is exacerbated by the lack of sustainable effort to create work in industry, and thus the problem grows. This seems to be a valid problem in these countries which in turn create a variety of different problems, particularly to local businesses.

The speaker continued by proposing solutions which he referred to as ‘big ideas.’ Firstly, he suggested making technology transfers a key component of the trade system, for example with Japan and China. Emphasis was placed on Africa’s need to go for innovation seeking investments and utilise other countries’ need for resources. He also gave importance to the fact that the availability of these contracts allows the transfer of knowledge between countries. I think that this is important as it allows for African countries to develop which will hopefully enhance their position within trade. Gathii stated that there is a lot of potential in this idea as exemplified in South Korea doing business with Britain over the manufacturing of rail cars. Countries can gain leverage in order to get what they want instead of just selling off resources. In his belief, African countries have the capacity to do this. This idea is a good one as it encourages African countries to be more assertive in trade which appeared to be one of the main themes in the talk, but it is also interactive for Western countries as they will participate in this trade.

The next proposed solution was improved regional trade among African countries. This is perhaps one of the strongest solutions as it promotes self-sufficiency in Africa. Gathii expressed that there is currently an unequal system in international trade as the ways trading rules are interpreted are consistent with bias because big countries will make sure that their view prevails. This solution is within Africa itself, so does not address part of the talk which askes what we can do about it, but despite this, it is still a strong solution. The speaker gave the shocking statistic that inter-African trade is only 9% of their overall trade, with Africa importing $35 billion worth of food each year. What is worse, according to Gathii, is that it is the sort of food that Africa grows! He went on to say that famines in African countries were because of no trade, not because of lack of food. This stresses the importance of inter-African trade. He stated that commitments to reduce the trade barriers are all there. If there have been things put in place for this solution then there is no reason why it should not be successful. A member of the audience from Cardiff University asked how we could focus on south-south cooperation to reduce dependence on the western world. In response, Gathii expressed that southern countries were doing a bad job of trading with themselves. In order to improve this we could make evident these blind spots as there is a possibility to build a vibrant market in rural Africa with the right policies. How we could make them see the blind spots was not made clear, however the speaker is right in the fact that good policy making will help to boost trade.

Third, Gathii suggests productivity enhancing initiatives, which could be done without the other two proposals. He goes on to recommend basic processing of natural produce and simple but critical farming technology. All of this centres on product development, but also ensures that the changes are realistic and work for regionalists. Whilst this proposal is the simplest of all the solutions, it is a positive that it can work independently of the others given, and may also be the most realistic recommendation.

Overall, the proposals made by Professor Gathii were good as they would be effective if carried out properly. However, the emphasis is not on what the West can do about it. Yet, I do not think that is a bad thing, as a lot of discussions have the tendency to be too focussed on the West, which can sometimes mean that the issue at hand can get forgotten. So I think the fact that the main subjects are the African countries strengthens the proposals given by the speaker, but also gives a more innovative perspective to these solutions.

The discussant, Celine Tan, then analysed the proposals made by Professor Gathii, stating that they were excellent. This I totally agree with. She took on an Asian perspective as a child of Malaysian industrialisation. She spoke of the lack of regulation which made industrialisation problematic in Malaysia, however despite this it is undeniable that industrialisation was the driver in the country’s economic growth. The discussant claimed that in Africa, external factors are constraining the continent’s industrial development, and expressed that Gathii was too generous to the external sources. The main question surrounding Tan’s talk was how much of Gathii’s proposals does he think is achievable? Particularly in terms of current constraints. She went on to say that external factors were not barriers to other countries such as Malaysia, particularly that they did not have pressures from external places to get funds. Malaysia’s transition from agriculture to industry was gradual because they had the policy space to do so. However, according to Tan, African countries have lost their autonomy of the constraints, whereas Malaysia maintains their scope for determining what to do with their economy. I think this highlights one of the key constraints on Africa which is unique to them, and emphasizes that as a continent they need to try and address these limits. Also, bringing in a different perspective on industrialisation made for a really effective comparison, so that the audience could see the realistic limits on African countries.

Tan highlights three key issues that Gathii’s proposals may encounter. Firstly, there is the issue of Africa’s dependence on external finance, as some of the speakers’ proposals were predicated on public finance. But where is this finance going to come from? I think that this is a really crucial question to ask, as how can we see any of these solutions put into place if there is nothing to fund them. Secondly, there is a question of international regulation as it hinders the finance available. She stated that multi-national firms threaten countries’ revenue. This is the downside to processes with foreign investors as how can we ensure that African countries keep onto the revenue. Again, I think that this is a point worth addressing as there is a risk of exploitation here. In the Q&A session after the talks, a representative from Fair Trade Wales asked what the solutions can be provided to support farmers and ensure that they have a choice a choice on a global scale. Gathii responded by saying that we shouldn’t leave things the way they are if they are corrupt. Investment programmes are the solution. The speaker acknowledged the limits as inevitable, but everyone says that this is the right thing to do. On basic necessities trade could be improved, but the time scales need to be more visible. There are interesting policies already existing. He went on to express that if trade does not benefit the people then there is no point. Western ideas do not truly know about African issues, so aid is not going to help as much as trade. I think this makes a good point in that instead of the West attempting to help, we should be taking a step back and let Africa retain control of their own policies so that they have more influence in trade as Africa knows what will benefit them the most.

Lastly, Tan emphasised the constraints of investment rules in global trade. These trade rules mean that countries like the UK generate value from raw materials. Additionally, the discussant also highlighted the constraints that treaties bring to African countries, such limits are not faced by countries in south-east Asia. She continued by saying that the rules are so stacked against African countries, it is doubtful as to whether the proposals given by Gathii will work. This is point is very valid as it shows the problems as exclusive to African countries, which only emphasizes the problems of trade in these countries. It is also an important aspect to consider when asking whether the proposals would realistically work.

Ms Tan concluded by saying that a more holistic outlook was needed. Overall, her rebuttals to Professor Gathii’s proposals were all persuasive and acted for a good academic discussion. These proposals appear to be an ideal, but more thought needs to go into how these could be developed in practice, linking to the context of the current situation in African countries.

Gathii then summarised his stance, addressing the points made by Tan. In terms of the last point, he stated that the discussant was right in that there were huge barriers imposed by the West that prevent many of his proposals. He claimed that this problem was escalated by the fact that African countries fail to negotiate and end up settling with deals that do not benefit them. This is reinforced by the point that the Southern African Customs Union is the only region to reject a template for trade. He continued by stating that the systems often favour developed countries and that he wishes that African leaders were more proactive in deciding not to participate in trade with challenging affluent countries. In the Q&A session, a practicing lawyer in the audience questioned the retaliation system in terms of compensation. Gathii responded with the statement that the treaties are a reflection of interests of the people who wrote them which is unfair as it is favour of developed countries. Developing countries as a collective have the opportunity to take trade into a different direction. This, again focuses on what Africa can do rather than how the West can contribute. Yet the point made that African countries should take power into their own hands is still a strong one and promotes self-sufficiency.

John Harrington concluded with the idea of ‘aid vs trade.’ The current Secretary of State suggested that we should increase aid to promote trade, but this is only to improve British trade. From a Welsh context, Wales is to act in a globally responsible manner. This is a strong conclusion as to be responsible and aware of how are actions affect other countries in terms of global trade is significant in order to ensure that we do not hinder Africa’s development by rigid rules and bias policies. So, a sense of being conscious about the problems of non-western countries is one of the most important things that we can do in order to improve industry in Africa.

Africa 2050: trends, hopes and fears for the future


Event at the Temple of Peace, organised by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs

Roundtable discussion with:
Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB
Ambreena Manji, Professor of Land Law and Development at Cardiff University
Martha Musonza Holman, Founder of Love Zimbabwe
Chaired by: Fadhili Maghiya, Diaspora & Inclusion Officer, Sub-Saharan Advisory Panel
Report by: Lara Hirschhausen

Will Oxfam still be working in Africa in 2050?

This was the opening question to Oxfam’s Chief Executive Mark Goldring at a roundtable discussion organised by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs on the 24th of February.

Mark Goldring, the current CEO of Oxfam GB, had just returned from a visit to Ethiopia and offered an informative insight into the organisation’s current work on the continent. Referring to the devastating impacts of the current draught in Ethiopia, Mr. Goldring highlighted the necessity to recognise climate change as a major challenge faced by the developing world. He further spoke about conflict, unequal distribution of economic growth, and illicit money as major opponents to just development on the African continent. However, the Oxfam Chief Executive also emphasised that credit needs to be given to the advancements of African leaders. Positive examples of the improved conditions in many African nations do exist, such as the increase of democratically elected governments or the 2005 plea for the abolition of African debt and the increase in school enrolment thereafter.

Ambreena Manji, a lecturer at the Law Department of Cardiff University, commented on her research area of land tenure as a core issue that is holding back a more equitable development agenda in many African states. She elaborated further on the disputes that arise from land allocation being dominated by commercial interested rather than public interest, and how the promotion of a legal framework was at the core of just economic development.

Martha Musonza Holman, founder of the NGO Love Zimbabwe, spoke about current issues in her home country Zimbabwe, from which she had also just returned. She particularly emphasised the need to mobilise civil society both within the states, but also through the diaspora, to tackle corruption in the political leadership. As Zimbabwe is also currently suffering a draught, Martha pointed out the consequences of environmental change on the industrialised world that relies on food imports from African countries. As a teacher by training, she further endorsed the benefit and need for exchange programmes that allow African students to visit the United Kingdom.

The initial roundtable was followed by a lively QA session. The audience, which seemingly was made up of people involved with human rights or development organisations in Africa, raised a number of relevant questions. The event captured well the various issues and diverging opinions how to solve them. What role does China have to play in African development? And what are the risks, what the opportunities of Chinese investment in the continent? How is Climate Change hindering development? How can we ensure adequate mitigation as well as adaption strategies? Is there hope that these strategies can be used to lead to not only more environmentally, but also sociably, sustainable economic growth? Arguably, these are some of the big questions that our world has to address, and for Africa these challenges will be of crucial importance in order to determine its way over the next 50 years. While there is undoubtedly a lot of work left to be done, allowing for a dialogue that focuses on the needs of the citizens will hopefully form the core of it. You can see a detailed transcript of the event here.

Development – A Two-way Initiative

How much of the world's development is owed to one side alone?

How much of the world’s development is owed to one side alone?

Despite the wide range of criticism facing it, the United Nations has a good reputation of being in the forefront of peacekeeping, peacebuilding, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance activities. This fact is proven by the Nobel Peace Prize it was awarded in 2001 and its success in assisting more than 170 peace settlement negotiations that have ended regional conflicts around the world. Even now, the UN is currently working on sixteen peacekeeping projects in places such as Darfur, Lebanon and South Sudan. Continue reading

Britain and Africa after 50: Social justice and development.

Michael StaggMichael Stagg




Britain & Africa at 50: WCIA & British International Studies Association

Speakers: Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society (RAS) & Dr Edwin Egede, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Cardiff University, and member of the Nigerian Bar Association.
Chair: Dr. Carl Death, Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy, Manchester University and Martin Pollard, Chief Executive of the WCIA.

A view from an attendee

As the audience made its way in to the main council chamber at the Temple of Peace it became clear that Africa has a place in the conscience of the Welsh people and demands the interest of a wide variety of individuals and groups. A lively chat began the evening with each arrival joining small groups, building links and connections within this vibrant community interested in Africa, international development, and international affairs. There were academics, students, interest groups, concerned citizens and members of the diaspora community, all to hear the insights of the two prestigious speakers, Richard Dowden and Dr Edwin Egede.

Richard Dowden began the event with an oversight of the turbulent relationship between Africa and Britain (as well as the rest of Europe). That turbulent past still informs the relationship to this day. This history was first formed at the Berlin Conference, with the European powers drawing lines on a map with no regard or knowledge of the communities they were dividing or forming. It was continued with the massive ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’ that the IMF and World Bank forced upon it in the 1980’s. This, he argued should be considered a “crime against humanity”. He continued his talk explaining what he saw as the two narratives that dominate the western view of Africa. One regards Africa as a rich continent ripe for exploitation. The second view understands Africa as a continent that is in need of saving (may be even from itself!). This, he argues, has been the story of this mixed history. He called for people to go to Africa and experience for themselves and commending the community to community links so richly fostered throughout Wales. However, the key theme of this event from both speakers was one of hopefulness for the future of Africa. “This is Africa’s moment” Richard Dowden proclaimed. There is an increasing self-confident Africa emerging, standing up to the western and emerging eastern powers alike. Aid is no longer what Africa cries out for; the buzz word now is equality and trade. Indeed, Richard Dowden believes the next big challenge for African states is turning the apparent abundance of wealth in to what he termed “the good life” for their people.

Dr Edwin Egede (the second speaker) agreed with much of what Richard Dowden put forward. Dr Egede argued convincingly that Africa could be the economic power-house of the future. He cited the growing number of young entrepreneurs, along with an enormous wealth of natural and human resources. However, Dr Egede rightly drew attention to the undeniable fact that there is still so much poverty and inequality throughout Africa. Ethnic conflict and poor political governance, he argued, are still key issues blighting Africa. The reality is, as both speakers so rightly expressed, Africa is continuing to dealing with, what Dr Egede referred to as “an ugly hand from the past”. This ugly hand is the hand of European colonialism in which Britain played no small part. Indeed, the International Courts of Justice (ICJ) has described colonialism as a “wound” which will take time to heal. Dr Egede focused his talk on Nigeria, and there was agreement here with Richard Dowden, in Nigeria, aid is seen with suspicion. They fear that it is another form of colonialism. They seek equality with Britain, not hand-outs. Dr Egede ended his talk with a similar optimism shown by Richard Dowden. He believes “A new generation of leaders is emerging”, one that identifies with the nation state, not ethnic sectarianism. Dr Egede believes that Nigeria (as with Africa) will stand or fall by the quality of this new leadership. It seems that the ugly hand of history is slowly letting go.

There was, following these insightful talks, some questions from the audience. Religion was approached with both speakers being asked if, in their opinion it was a force for good or bad? Richard (as an agnostic) felt it could be both. However, as a former journalist, he witnessed religion bring hope and resilience to those most in need of solace and fortitude.  Dr Egede (an ordained minister) agreed, Religion brought hope to millions, however accepted it could be manipulated by those with other motives. Some questioned the dangers associated with nationalism (which Europe suffered so terrible) however, Dr Egede felt no such outcome was likely in Africa, ethnic sectarianism was the real threat in Africa.

To end this piece, it is worth remembering that colonial rule (or miss-rule) in Africa is recent history not ancient history; this was made clear in both speakers insightful remarks. However, even though as Dr Egede stated the “ugly hand creeps in from time to time” Africa is finding its own place and its own voice. It is coming out of the shadow of the Berlin Conference and its future is one that must hold more for its citizens than its past. Our choice is to decide on our role. Are we to be a friend who helps but does not preach, or are we to be, as Dr Egede so eloquently described, Africa’s “evil step mother”. I choose to be a friend, as did all in attendance at this informative and hopeful lecture series.

You can find out more about the BISA Africa and International Studies Working Group and their forthcoming events which includes the Britain and Africa after 50 series by going to the BISA website and following them on Twitter and Facebook.

Education – The right denied to many

Adult Education Programmes in India

The right to education is one of the most fundamental rights a human being is entitled to. However, the reality is a far cry from the ideal world that we print neatly on our papers. Out there, there are millions of children who do not attend schools, for a variety of reasons. While some simply do not have the facility, others may not be sent by their parents. Even more regretfully, some who get to schools, are not rewarded with proper education. Either the teachers are missing or they are not interested.

Last week, a most frightening incident shook the world when around 21 children died in India due to the school meals provided to them. I had spent my childhood in that region and know enough to state that the region is mired in corruption, much like other places. Such levels of negligence are shameful and terrifying. That free school meals have become dangerous is an immensely discouraging development and will deter parents from sending their kids to school. Some 57 million children, across the globe remain uneducated which includes countries such as Nigeria, Pakistan, India and many more. The child of today is who the world will depend on tomorrow. And that is a reason perhaps more relevant to us and makes it more than just a human rights issue. But what is it that is holding education back from poor children worldwide and how can this be addressed?

It is not that the government policies shall be blamed, in fact they are in place. It is the execution that lets them down. Widespread corruption; societies where people take whatever money they can get their hands on works against these noble causes. Everyone is concerned about themselves and themselves only. Besides that, in poor rural families, education for girls is highly unfavoured. Girls have to stay at homes, learn household chores, later get married, and then stay at home and raise their kids – this is how the thoughts run in poverty, and in societies where women and their rights are not socially encouraged. A shift in mental attitude regarding this would mean more girls being sent to school. It would be fair to say that the situation is progressing and over time the social taboo will diminish.

Yet another important barrier to providing education is the lack of teachers and it needs to be addressed urgently. There can be little doubt that teachers and teaching have run out of fashion. Not many want to become teachers, especially in poor countries. Why? Because it does not command a handsome pay. To cut the story short, there is little incentive for people to teach, and this has to be addressed if the target of global education is to be met. And perhaps the biggest challenge in poorer countries is to make education affordable. It all comes down to money, if it is available and affordable, it would encourage parents to send their kids over to study.

Education is the path to an endless ocean. It preaches, provokes and enlightens. Poverty and vast social inequalities, which are the trademark of poor countries, is the disease whose remedy is education.


Maitreya Thakur




UNESCO video on global education –

Day 5 through the Eyes of a Volunteer

Love Syria child heart

Today is my last day volunteering at the WCIA. Yesterday I helped with the Syria: An Internal and International Catastrophe event, this was one of my favourite parts of the week.  I thought that all three speakers were really inspiring. It is easy to forget what is happening in Syria when the news is focussed on other stories.  Syria is not always the main headline in the news but I think it should be.  If it were the main headline then this could create a sense urgency amongst people and raise awareness, this could then help to put an end to the conflict sooner.   At the event we viewed some videos on the conflict in Syria, some of the situations in Syria were appalling, I feel that governments around the world should do more to help end the war, putting politics aside and working for the aim of peace.

At the event I fundraised, everybody was really generous and it is good to know that the money will be going to Oxfam and the Welsh Solidarity for Syria (WSS) who both do crucial work in Syria and the surrounding countries, helping the refugees.   I think that donating art supplies to refugees is a great idea, it helps them to express their feeling about the war and other difficulties, in a way that words can’t.  One of the speakers Louise mentioned the mantra they said while at the refugee camp, “If you have hope, you can cope” these words are incredibly true, the refugees are living in poor conditions, yet they believe that the war will end and they will be able to return to their homes.  Perhaps, if the western media was more positive and showed us that this conflict could be stopped then people would take action and try to help to end the conflict.

I am really impressed by the work that the charities are doing.  These organisations are so important for Syrians.  For example WWS took thirteen ambulances to Syria, giving aid to Syrians and Oxfam have managed to convince the UK government to not give arms to the rebel forces, this would only cause more deaths and could lead to the danger of an arms race.

Today I made a Prezzi (that I found to be quite addictive) on the event, it should be uploaded to the website soon, so if you missed the event you can explore all the main points on the WCIA’s website!

Finally, I would like to say thank you to everybody at the WCIA for having me for the week, I have really enjoyed my time here, thank you!


Carys Morgan