Humanism and International Humanitarian Action
There is no Masonic commitment without humanitarian commitment. In some countries, Masonic commitment is even essentially based on support for social, charitable or solidarity works. Having a humanitarian "fibre" is therefore natural for Freemasons and Freemasons. However, this does not prevent them from asking themselves questions. The contributions published on this page reflect personal experiences.
What about poverty in the world today?
The World Health Organization has published a study on life expectancy in the world: life expectancy increased by five years between 2000 and 2015, thanks in particular to the progress made in Africa in the fight against AIDS and malaria. This is the fastest increase since the 1960s.
Healthy life expectancy, the number of healthy years that a child born in 2015 can expect to live, is 63.1 years globally (64.6 years for women and 61.5 years for men). This overall improvement is not uniform: The report shows that newborns in 29 countries, all high-income, have an average life expectancy of at least 80 years, while in another 22 countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, it is less than 60 years. WHO points to areas where progress is needed: providing safe drinking water to some 1.8 billion people who drink contaminated water every day, reducing the more than 1 billion smokers worldwide, and providing access to safe toilets for the 946 million people who defecate in the open. (sources Le Monde and WHO website May 2016) In October 2015, the World Bank also published a study on extreme poverty in the world: for the first time this year, it is expected to affect less than 10% of the world's population while remaining "very worrying" in sub-Saharan Africa. Some 702 million people, or 9.6 per cent of the world's population, were expected to live below the poverty line, which the institution had raised from $1.25 to $1.90 a day to take account, inter alia, of inflation. While there has been a marked decline in Asia - especially India - and South America, extreme poverty is taking root in sub-Saharan Africa, where it will affect 35.2 per cent of the population again this year, accounting for almost half of the world's poorest people. The situation is particularly worrying in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where nearly 80 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. (sources Le Monde - October 2015) - see also the tables below.
International humanitarian action: how to enhance it?
International humanitarian action can first of all be defined by what is known as the humanitarian axiom, i.e. the moral obligation to save the lives of the victims of an armed conflict or a natural disaster; this axiom is present in all countries of the world and in all cultures; it can be said that it is from it that international humanitarian law was constituted.
Today the scope of application has widened and international humanitarian action also concerns populations in great precarious situations, either brutally because of an external event (such as floods or earthquakes, for example) or chronically for various economic, environmental, social, political or medical reasons.
Several terms are to be brought together: among others, international solidarity, international cooperation, international solidarity volunteer work, international medical aid.
Historically, the most emblematic organization of international humanitarian action is surely the International Committee of the Red Cross created in 1863 in Switzerland by Gustave Moynier and Henri Dunant.
International humanitarian action involves very different actions depending on the implementing agency, local conditions or the nature of the proposed intervention.
However, while international emergency humanitarian action in the context of armed conflicts has a right (which is often not respected), aid for populations suffering from the consequences of the blockage of development does not fall within the framework of an international convention specifying the rights of persons intervening on behalf of associations or Non-Governmental Organisations or in a personal capacity.
Citizen engagement in international humanitarian action is the subject of several studies. As an example, let us mention the study carried out in November 2015 on the international civic commitment of French young people; this study was carried out by Bertrand Jarrige, Inspector General of Youth and Sports, Jean-Claude Jacq Inspector of Foreign Affairs and Isabelle Fradin-Thirode, Inspector of Foreign Affairs. The diagnosis focused mainly on international voluntary exchange and solidarity schemes (VIES) within frameworks defined by the State or by the European Union. International voluntary service in administration and business (VIA and VIE) was examined for comparison and inspiration, as were forms of VIES organized outside formalized frameworks, such as volunteer work camps or exchanges within major international youth movements. The authors conclude that despite an overall growth in the number of solidarity volunteers, the situation appears unsatisfactory in several respects:
Indeed, in relation to the population concerned, the number of participants in these schemes remains very modest (0.3% of a generation's workforce) and the characteristics of the volunteers are far from representing the diversity of the potential public: high levels of training (bac+5) are over-represented while intermediate levels are almost absent.
Existing schemes are struggling to meet social demand: the proportion of young people ready to engage in international volunteering is as high as 75% among 18-24 year olds and there are 50 to 100 applications for each VSI offer, which can be explained by the tense employment situation in France, which leads people to seek volunteering as a first professional experience.
Existing schemes also fail to provide satisfactory information for people with few qualifications.
In addition, there are many obstacles to the growth and diversification of this particular type of civic engagement. They result first of all from professional factors (priority to training and a job in France), financial (the amount of compensation sometimes requires personal involvement), psychological and family factors (going abroad can be perceived as a leap into the unknown) or cultural factors (preconceived ideas about certain regions of the world, linguistic weakness). Today it is possible to say that the humanitarian commitment at the international level :
stems from a personal choice,
concerns a minority of individuals,
n’est concerné par un cadre juridique que pour l’intervention humanitaire rentrant dans le cadre des conflits armés.
Several motivations are cumulated; we could cite among others:
the conviction that commitment and action can improve the situation of underprivileged or underdeveloped populations,
altruism towards different populations,
the desire to have a first pre-professional experience,
the use of his skills in a non-market relationship,
the desire to implement ethical values,
the desire to follow in the footsteps of a famous human model,
the chance encounters that put you on the path.
In most cases, once the desire has been established, the volunteer's approach is directed towards the humanitarian associations that are usually called NGOs or Non-Governmental Organisations.
There are, however, situations where engagement is done directly with the population without going through NGOs. This is more particularly the case for adults who have had the opportunity to go on a tourist trip to a country in the South and have on this occasion established a friendly relationship with a family; and then, despite the return from the end of the holidays, the relationship has lasted and a mutual aid relationship has been established.
Poverty and its consequences on people's living conditions can be measured by two complementary economic indices:
Gross Domestic Product per capita
and the Human Development Index
The Gross Domestic Product per capita is defined as the sum of the added values achieved within a country by all the industries (to which VAT and customs duties are added), for a given period, regardless of the nationality of the companies in the country and in relation to the number of inhabitants of the country in question. Everyone knows that GDP does not take into account unpaid work, work done for oneself (domestic work for example), voluntary work, work produced for oneself (orchard, vegetable garden, etc.), also called self-consumption, production received in cash and not declared, informal work and illegal activities...
The Human Development Indicator (between 0 and 1) corrects for the lack of qualitative GDP data because it incorporates :
life expectancy at birth (which gives an idea of the health status of the country's population),
the level of education as measured by the average length of schooling and the literacy rate,
real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) GDP per capita, calculated in purchasing power parity (PPP - i.e. the amount ensuring the same purchasing power in all countries).
A comparison between the list of countries with the lowest GDP per capita and the list of countries with the lowest HDI (see below) shows that they are, for the most part, the same countries, a majority of which are African countries.
In order to be objective, it should be possible to make a correction by :
integrating the development aid received by the countries concerned and also the aid sent by the various diasporas; you know how important these transfers of money to families are; the World Bank estimates that they represent almost three times official development aid.
Another correction should also be made, and that is to differentiate studies between urban and rural areas;
Lastly, the indices do not take into account existing disparities between population categories, and you are well aware of how great these disparities are.
The analysis of the three tables shows the extent to which African countries are concerned by poverty:
NGOs in three observations
The acronym NGO, Non-Governmental Organization, is not recognized by all countries; in France, in particular, it has no legal existence; in Africa, it is attributed in some countries to humanitarian associations that meet certain criteria. If these criteria are met, an approval is issued; it allows the association to have NGO status that can operate throughout the national territory, but also to obtain a special regime (exemption from all duties and taxes on materials, materials and equipment, temporary admission of utility vehicles acquired or purchased locally or imported for the implementation of the NGO's programmes, etc.). The UN also has well-defined criteria for an association to be recognized as an NGO:
support and respect the principles of the United Nations Charter;
be recognized at the national or international level;
be non-profit and tax-exempt;
have the purpose and means to conduct effective information programmes on the activities of the United Nations for its members and the general public;
have previous experience of fruitful collaboration with one or more United Nations Information Centres or other organizations of the United Nations system;
provide an annual audited financial statement, prepared in United States dollars by a qualified and independent accountant;
have statutes/rules that ensure a transparent process for decision-making and the election of officers and members of the Board of Trustees.
NGOs and the desperate search for funding
Every NGO needs to find funding in order to function; this search for funding has over time become a technocratic technique requiring university training; one may sometimes wonder whether the technocracy induced by the demands of donors has not had the effect of annihilating the real humanist motivations of the spirit of international solidarity.
NGOs and the interventionist drift of the North
Bureaucracy and the desire to offer expertise leads to an interventionism from the North which tends to impose itself in the face of the know-how of the South and its knowledge of realities; it was one of my struggles to encourage young academics from the South to invest in the knowledge of the technocracy of project development in order to regain a place that was being contested; The NGOs, the patented auxiliaries of the Western states
Faced with the difficulty of obtaining funding, NGOs very quickly turned to the auxiliary services of states and international institutions wishing not to appear at the forefront of "delicate" operations such as the management of refugee camps or gatherings of displaced persons on the outskirts of war zones; today, it can be said that without the large states of the North and international institutions, large NGOs would no longer exist!
Let us salute for the record the work done on the chapter on the perverse effects of NGO action, by Dambisa Moyo, author of "L'aide fatale".
If we admit that precarious living conditions and poverty are first and foremost the consequences of an economic disorder, the question arises as to the diagnosis of this economic disorder: what kind of disorder is it? What is its nature? Single-mindedness very quickly displayed its diagnosis: underdevelopment!
I am convinced that underdevelopment does not exist and that this false diagnosis leads and has led to multiple errors that have in no way solved the problem.
Underdevelopment does not exist because there is no example of human societies that does not develop spontaneously; on the other hand, obstacles and barriers to development exist and must be addressed if the problem is to be solved.
It could not be said that the economic development of a community is possible if at least five conditions are met:
The confidence of its members in the future of the community and its leaders,
The free movement of persons and goods,
The capacity of the community to delegate to a part of its members the capacity to administer tasks falling within the domain of public service, including regalian prerogatives: this is the capacity to create a State and an administration ;
The absence of armed conflicts directly involving the community itself,
Freedom of creation and innovation.
Depending on the objective importance of these five criteria, we will speak of blockages or impediments to development.
The semantic difference between underdevelopment and obstacles to development is not insignificant; underdevelopment leads to a loss of responsibility because it induces a lack of something related to a factual situation; obstacles to development, apart from the fact that it corresponds more to reality, induce a sense of responsibility in the community and the ability to regain the capacity to act.
If we look at the five conditions of economic development, we can see:
That in the so-called poor and highly indebted countries, there is an extraordinary despair among the general population about the future of their countries and a loss of confidence in the ability of their leaders to solve the problems faced by these states;
This despair also affects potential domestic investors who could reinvest the fruits of their savings in their own countries;
Lack of confidence in the leadership also affects their ability to fight endemic corruption at all levels of government and in business relationships;
The problems of communication of people and goods, with the exception of telephone links managed by private sector companies, are both structural and functional; the banking sector is a typical example of an essential element of the economy that contributes to the blockage of local development;
The presence of numerous internal armed conflicts maintains instability, the fragility of the state and corruption.
The presence of many internal armed conflicts maintains instability, the fragility of the state and corruption. The mistrust of leaders towards intellectuals and artists leads to the creation of many obstacles to the freedom of creation and innovation, which is recognized as a great asset of African society.
In addition to the internal factors that block or severely limit economic development, these countries are also confronted with external factors that act more or less in the same direction, such as the following:
The constraints of globalization with imports of agricultural products at low prices that compete with local production to the point of their decline;
The problem of the CFA franc
The bureaucracy of donors who impose investment strategies that are sometimes out of proportion to real needs;
The perverse effects of decentralized cooperation which, by inducing direct relations with local authorities, leads to circumventing the prerogatives of the State and thus to weakening it, not to mention the increased possibilities of corruption of aid by local political personnel;
The impact of NGOs, whose mode of operation conceals numerous perverse effects, the main one of which seems to me to be the real difficulty for the local associative milieu to benefit from the funding that would enable them to carry out their projects;
The obligation for students to continue their studies abroad with the temptation to invest in the host country to see the skills they have acquired recognized.
In companies mined by development blockages, the use of partnership seems to be the ultimate opportunity for public investment, particularly in the areas of education and health. Partnership concerns both local authorities and associations, including NGOs.
If one accepts that the problem of poverty in countries whose development is blocked can be understood by giving priority to an internal reading of the societies concerned, could we not observe ...?
On the one hand, as much as the creative potential of the African populations appears extraordinary, these same African populations seem to have an extraordinary devaluation of their own potentialities;
On the other hand, that the lessons of the history of human societies, and in particular the main one, namely the need to build the State to ensure the sustainability of the Nation, do not seem to have been retained by political organizations that continue to privilege ethnic interests.
Finally, we must be aware that the evolution of countries and societies takes place over a long period of time, even if the new generations benefiting from the sacrifices of previous generations often tend to forget what they owe to their elders!
Impelling a new way to help:
To take into account the prerequisite of the necessary awareness of the populations on the possibility of finding local solutions; intellectuals, members of the diaspora, executives, teachers should be the first to be convinced, whatever their political orientations, because it is up to them to spread this hope and to rise up against fatalism, despair in one's own capacities, withdrawal into individual interests and in the end the abandonment of any initiative; these factors blocking development have become cultural data and it is necessary to provide them with reasoned answers!
Strengthen the State and protect it from political alternation: the State and its administration are the first actors of development and as such they must be the object of the attention of all those who invest in development: a competent State requires a competent, honest administration, with a sense of general interest and the interest of the country. The administrator state needs to be sheltered from political interests because it needs time to become more efficient!
Make elected officials accountable on the need to prioritize national cohesion and integrity: Corruption is an economic nonsense, a crime against the interests of the people and a major moral fault: a corrupt political elected official should be blacklisted by society! This is of course true in every country, but for a country that is blocked in its development, it is even worse!
Giving priority to African elites to develop innovation: there is enormous potential which is most often expressed in the countries of the North; there can be no development without active research which is the source of future progress; this presupposes a great deal of freedom left to intellectual work, and everyone knows that the intellectual capacity of African elites has nothing to be ashamed of compared to that of the countries of the North, and yet in their own countries they cannot really work under good conditions.
Beware of the so-called expertise of the countries of the North: under the pretext of development aid, the experts of the North have made the countries of the South their preserve; in so doing, they have imposed their standards and technologies to ultimately make the so-called poor countries dependent on know-how that over time often proves to be inefficient.
What role could Freemasonry play in the fight against poverty and for development? Freemasonry could act in two cases:
Firstly, the action of Masonic lodges and obediences of the countries concerned by the blockages of development
And the action of the Masonic lodges and obediences of the Northern countries and rich countries.
Everyone will understand that the investment of Masonic lodges and obediences is the result of a natural inclination that we have for solidarity and mutual aid; in many countries charitable initiatives are many and varied.
Moreover, the desire to be universal explains our propensity to understand, discover and also help disadvantaged countries to solve their development problems.
Unfortunately, so far the results have not been very conclusive and although there are many initiatives, they seem at best to have had only very patchy effects. Several reasons can explain the ineffectiveness of Masonic solidarity today :
The division of obediences leads to a multitude of small humanitarian associations seeking donations and which can only proceed with reduced funding on the famous and dilatory percentage rule: consider yourself lucky if you are given 5, 10 or 20% of your needs! All you have to do is look for co-financing! etc. As such, how to explain that the GODF foundation does not become a foundation open to all obediences and more? Regularity, language, gender, have become selection criteria: and it is up to everyone to glory in this or that action!
The dilution of actions in the mechanism of co-financing: in this way, the lodges and obediences have fallen into the category of small donors who complement the more consequent participations of the big donors; we no longer think, we calculate!
The difficulty of associating knowledge of the field, local expertise and professionalism: fundraising is good but associating knowledge of local realities, a search for solutions, a reflection on possible strategies and the setting up of monitoring and evaluation is still essential if we do not want to face catastrophic disillusionment for all, including donors!
The apparent disinterest of the obediences of the countries concerned in the issues related to the blockage of development; this disinterest deserves to be explored because it surely has a reason!
And yet, what a marvellous field of investigation we could invest to implement the good principles that are ours!
Thinking outside the box and making indiscriminate use of NGOs and other humanitarian associations with little credibility,
Trust the women and men in the field,
Breaking the taboos of ethnic, cultural and religious divisions,
To show young people that Masonic lodges and obediences are not networks of small businessmen,
Do not fuel corruption!
The GODF Foundation and the humanitarian solidarity actions of the obediences: gimmick or inconsistency? To understand how these structures work, current events allow us to evoke a recent reality; an association entitled "Association for the Protection of the Environment and the Promotion of Arts and Culture"(APEPAC) had the project to organize a show in early May at Coucy le Chateau (Aisne) with a Syrian dancer-choreographer, Ahmad Joudeh, as the main guest. The show was part of a sensitization to the situation in the Middle East. APEPAC submitted two grant applications to the GODF: one to the foundation and the other to the council of the order!
Results: the foundation granted 10,000 Euros and the council of the order 2,000 Euros within the framework of the Culture and Animation Commission! What teaching? It doesn't sound very serious! At best, there is a confusion between culture and humanitarianism; at worst, is it a favour granted to who-knows-who?
If we add to this that the foundation practices multiple payments of small sums to please everyone, we come to the conclusion that nice retirees are not necessarily good managers and that humanitarianism is an area of expertise not to be confused with kindness!
All those who are interested in the issue of solidarity realise that the policy of co-financing is one of the causes of the relative ineffectiveness of aid!
Moreover, it is surprising that each obedience has this same mode of operation and that we are incapable of implementing real coordination!
Wouldn't we be entitled to imagine a pooling of potential resources in order to finance over several years a beautiful project that holds up, which would allow to show to the public a real showcase of Masonic solidarity action?