The Role of Mandates: Central African Republic Report - From Macro to Micro

Originally published
View original




The research behind this report was carried out as part of HERE’s broader study on “The role of ‘mandates’ in humanitarian priority setting for INGOs in situations of armed conflict”. This study is based on the recognition that the majority of international non-governmental organisations that are active in humanitarian response define their purposes broadly, to include both short-term emergency response and long-term development engagement. In contrast, a small minority of organisations exclusively focus on life-saving assistance in emergency settings. In humanitarian discourse, these approaches are frequently distinguished as ‘multi-’ or ‘single-mandate’. The Role of ‘Mandates’ Study has set out to investigate the appropriateness of this terminology, and the practical opportunities and limitations that would arise from different approaches. The term ‘mandate’ is therefore understood broadly as an organisation’s goal or mission and not in its legal meaning. The study takes a look at how organisations set priorities and come to strategic choices, and how that enables them to fulfil their goals on the ground. Eight organisations are participating in the study: ACF, Concern Worldwide, DanChurchAid, IRC, MSF-Spain, NRC, Welthungerhilfe, and the ICRC. The study focuses on international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and the ICRC as one example of where discussions about tensions and opportunities between single-mandate and multi-mandate organisations have been raised. The Research Team consciously decided not to include UN agencies to limit the variables for consideration.

In order to lay part of the groundwork towards answering the broader questions of The Role of ‘Mandates’ Study, this report delves into some of the elements characterising the humanitarian response in the Central African Republic, from the angle of the particular experience of seven of the participating organisations. Specific conclusions with regard to the role of ‘mandates’ will be addressed in the final report for the overall project.

The humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been critical for many years. The needs of the population are deeply rooted in failed governance, predatory actions by non-state armed groups, and mistrust between different communities. The context is also highly volatile, and while sudden violent flareups are a common denominator across the country, each area has its own specificities. CAR sees the signs that are characteristic of a protracted crisis: deep structural problems converge with emergency needs. In such an environment, organisations delivering humanitarian response and early recovery easily find justification for programmes and activities. But this does not tell the whole story of setting priorities to address CAR’s multi-dimensional humanitarian challenges.

As part of its broader study on “The role of ‘mandates’ in humanitarian priority setting for international NGOs in situations of armed conflict”, HERE looked at the experiences of seven INGOs in CAR. The findings from CAR will feed into the final conclusions of the overall project. The research for this study has provided valuable insights, both with regard to the specificities of the context, and the way a number of aid organisations negotiate the environment in which they operate.

Organisations start from a macro-level analysis to set their priorities in CAR. Looking at their added value, they leverage their mission(s) and strategic priorities to inform their operational decisions. How they are able to fulfil their mission is however predominantly shaped by the contextual variables they are confronted with. Humanitarian space is constantly negotiated at the micro-level, in the different localities. Each humanitarian organisation constantly needs to strike a careful balance between its identity – purpose/mission – and the expected impact of its work on a microlevel.

How the organisations manage the challenges and tensions they are faced with on a daily basis places them closer to or further apart from their peers, informing at the same time their comparative advantages. Are they setting themselves up to manage the context? While it may be easier to identify responses that fit with each specific context, organisations may fail to recognise the value of organisational flexibility, as an enabler to respond to more pressing needs in other locations. Such flexibility demands resources, be they financial or human, but also organisational investments towards a mindset ready to adjust along shifting parameters. Those organisations that have the appropriate systems and protocols as well as the right resources are better able to respond more quickly and relatively widely.

Resource constraints linked to high operational costs and lack of specialised technical knowhow affect all aid organisations equally in CAR. As a sign of how the international aid system functions, donors play a pivotal role in influencing the presence of international actors and their choice of locations. The lack of appropriate transitional and development funding complicates the picture further with humanitarian funds stretched to the limit.

Unlike other contexts where visible identities may turn humanitarian actors into targets, this case-study highlights how in CAR focus and visibility are an integral part of shaping the perceptions of all stakeholders as to an organisation’s impartiality and neutrality. These humanitarian principles, while given attention in CAR, may be under pressure as the organisations are often faced with a dilemma: go where the funding requires them to go or stay where they believe the needs are still prominent even if donors drop that area.

The signing of the Global Peace Agreement in February 2019 has provided renewed hope for a political solution to the crisis in CAR. The National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan (known by its French acronym RCPCA) is the main, government-led framework for setting priorities in the country, but caution should be exercised so that humanitarian organisations do not become a political instrument. Donors will need to be careful and recognise that what may be a strategic objective in the implementation of the RCPCA and the peace process, may be different from what humanitarian actors perceive as the most urgent needs and areas for response. A clear understanding of roles and responsibilities of the various international actors in CAR and how they set their priorities and define their areas of intervention will be all the more important.