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Transitioning to national ownership : the case of Humanitarian Mine Action

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Student at PSIA-Sciences Po (Paris School of International Affairs), she wrote a dissertation focusing on a mine action NGO in DRC.

"Should eventual transition from internationally managed programmes to national ownership always be a relevant and/or realistic goal?" This is the central question of this post, which was originally researched as a part of a larger Master degree thesis (Sciences Po-Psia). The research addressing this question was largely conducted during the author's work experience with an international non-governmental mine action organisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Promoting national ownership has become increasingly important in Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA). In mine action, this notion first appeared in the late 1990s. It coincided with the adoption of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) in 1997 that places responsibility for territorial landmine problems as well as other responsibilities regarding production, stockpiling and transferring with the affected states. Subsequently, there has been increasing pressure from the mine action community to move towards national ownership. However, this is contrary to the original goal of mine action activities, which was supposed to be for short or intermittent periods only. Mine action programmes were initially implemented by international external actors in the midst of post-conflict upheavals, and saving lives, enabling other humanitarian assistance, and facilitating a space for peaceful state reconciliation were the primary goals.

This was the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where, in the absence of a national mine action authority, a United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) was established in 2000. The UNMACC had an initial mandate to assist the UN Peacekeeping mission in the DRC, but no mention of supporting national capacity was made until much later in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1851 (2008). This was despite the DRC having ratified the APMBC in 2002. In 2011, the DRC Government established the Centre Congolais pour la Lutte Antimines (CCLAM). It was only then, after more than ten years of presence, that the ongoing efforts to transition responsibility from the UN to the Government, really begun.

Whilst transitioning responsibility to national ownership is in line with international standards of good aid, it is arguable, in the DRC case, whether the resources spent on transitioning will be well used. In mine action, transitioning to national ownership is a process that can take many years and often with little success. The current process in the DRC is no exception. Despite this, some have argued that once completed, the transition process to national ownership is worthwhile. In mine action, this is particularly attractive since the presence of landmines is often long-term. However, the context of the DRC is slightly different. A national landmine contamination survey conducted in 2013 estimated the total landmine contamination in the DRC to be 1.8million m2. In comparison to other mine-affected countries, this contamination is relatively small and could, with enough operational and financial resources, be cleared within five years . Additionally, the DRC Government has other more competing priorities to address, such as the ongoing conflict in the East and widespread poverty and poor infrastructure throughout the country. The landmine problem pales compared to the extent of those examples. Bearing this in mind, one can question whether a national mine action authority is needed at all, especially given the numerous challenges that are hindering progress towards national ownership. So far, international actors have primarily supported the CCLAM with building and maintaining an office infrastructure and providing technical and administrative training to develop the skills needed to run a mine action programme. Nevertheless, efforts have been stalled due to limited coordination, different understandings of capacity development, and differing perceptions of the CCLAM's role. However, the most significant hindrance to the transition process has been the low level of national ownership of the whole process.

One argument to continue the transition process has been the extent of contamination from other Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) in the DRC such as rockets, grenades, mortars and other explosive items. Comparably, this contamination is more severe and ERW contamination is still increasing with the ongoing conflict in the East. Unless international actors plan to remain in the DRC for the unforeseeable future, an authority would be useful for the removal of any residual contamination. Whilst the CCLAM is an option to address this issue, current transition challenges suggest it may not be the most efficient option. One particularly challenging problem is the fact that the CCLAM is financially supported by external operators. No state budget has yet been allocated for the CCLAM by the Government. As such, an alternative option is to transfer responsibility for ERW to the national army, the Forces Armées de la République du Congo (FARDC). The FARDC has an existing country wide footprint with existing, although limited, mine action knowledge; military staff are already often seconded to international operators in demining projects. A major advantage is that the FARDC already have their own state budget, some of which could be channelled to mine action activities instead. This is in no way not to say that there are also major challenges involved with this option. One of the main problems is the international and national reputation of the FARDC and their involvement in the conflict in the East. Transferring responsibility to the FARDC supposes that they will work independently and adhere to humanitarian principles, which given past performances some are doubtful about.

The context in the DRC is challenging and questions what the most effective method in humanitarian assistance is. In the case of the landmine situation in the DRC, long-term sustainability may not be the most effective answer. Bearing this in mind, there is no set answer to best practices in humanitarian aid. Each context is different and needs to be analysed on a case by case basis.

To cite this content :
Celine Cheng, Transitioning to national ownership : the case of Humanitarian Mine Action, 23 July 2015, URL : https://www.msf-crash.org/en/blog/war-and-humanitarianism/transitioning-national-ownership-case-humanitarian-mine-action

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