Oxfam in West Africa
Loading images...

Advocating for Rights in Crisis in Liberia

July 12th, 2011 Posted in Campaigns, Cote d'Ivoire, Countries, Emergencies, English, Liberia

By Stephen Cockburn
Regional Campaigns and Policy Manager, Oxfam GB West Africa

Toe Town family tent

A family share a tent in Toe Town transit camp

The post-electoral crisis in Cote d’Ivoire has cast a long shadow over West Africa in 2011, and Oxfam’s work in it. At its peak over one million people were displaced within the country, and 180,000 had fled to neighbouring Liberia. Families who had fled fighting had often spent days or weeks surviving in the bush seeking food, water, shelter and a safe place to stay. Most remain.

Those like Louise Blagnon, a mother of three from Tabou in western Cote d’Ivoire, who saw her husband beaten to death and fled to seek refuge in Harper County, Liberia. (You can read her story here in one of the many blogs put together by our media team).

Oxfam’s humanitarian team in the region of course responded quickly providing food, water and sanitation to tens of thousands of people like Louise on both sides of the border.

Advocating for the rights of those affected by crises – whether man-made or natural – is also a fundamental part of Oxfam’s approach. Knowing that Oxfam cannot reach everyone in a crisis, no matter how impressive the operation, advocacy work in a crisis aims to make sure the entire humanitarian community plays their part well. Whether it is ensuring donors provide enough money, UN agencies act effectively, or the needs of particularly vulnerable groups are highlighted and prioritised, lobbying and latrine building go hand in hand.

Bahn Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera news crew filming at Bahn Camp, facilitated by Oxfam

Just as advocacy was a key part of the response to the Sahel Food Crisis in 2010, so it has been in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire in 2011, with three main objectives: getting decision makers and the media taking the crisis seriously, getting them to cough up more funding to meet the needs of those fleeing conflict, and ensuring that the humanitarian community is as effective as it can be.

Media, lobbying, research, strong links with the humanitarian operations, and maximising the use of the Oxfam International network have all been key. By regularly engaging key journalists and news networks – including the BBC, Al Jazeera and CNN (click links for examples of coverage)– Oxfam ensured well over 100 media articles and interviews, many high-profile reaching millions of homes. By undertaking dedicated research interviewing refugees to find out what they want, Oxfam is able to put their needs to the forefront. By persistently lobbying policy makers – whether the head of UNHCR, Dutch parliamentarians, UK ministers or Liberian authorities – we have tried to give them a voice.
Did it make any difference? Judging effectiveness in advocacy is always difficult – hard to know if changes made were due to your actions, or someone else’s – but being humble and honest I think we can say yes, albeit but with much more to do.

One of the greatest problems of the response, for example, has been getting enough food not just to refugees, but to the host communities who have been supporting them – this is happening much more now, thanks at least in part to the work of Oxfam and others. Tens of thousands of people who have offered up their homes and shared their food should benefit from this.
Another has been a lack of funding, and without naming names (discretion being a useful value at times) we can be pretty confident that some of the work Oxfam did with key donors directly led to millions more dollars going into the response. If media got people reaching into their pockets, or asking questions about why more was not being done, then that can only help too.

So, a couple of important reasons to be proud (plus others not described in this blog) but also many reasons not to be satisfied. In Cote d’Ivoire over half a million people remain away from their homes; in Liberia, probably over 100,000. And research we have just undertaken suggests they will remain there, in need of assistance to stay nourished, healthy and safe, for many months to come. I don’t know if Louise is still in Liberia, or if she has made it home, but advocacy will remain a key way to ensure that the rights of hundreds of thousands of people like her are respected as they should.
To see more pictures from Liberia, taken by award winning photographer Aubrey Wade click here.

To read more about Oxfam’s response click here.

Also see a slideshow about  the Liberia/Cote d’Ivoire response

Post a Comment