Supporting early warning systems for famine in South Sudan
Famines in South Sudan have been common in recent years, and the aid community have often been slow to anticipate and respond when it happens.
CPAID research has uncovered that local chief-run courts – named luok cɔk or ‘Hunger Courts’ – are used during famines in South Sudan to redistribute food during these periods. Part of government structures, these local chiefs’ courts suspend all but the most serious cases to rule on how to redistribute food within clans.
Based on research into local justice systems, Dr Naomi Pendle found that the Hunger Courts responded to a period of severe food shortages in May 2018, even though humanitarian agencies failed to notice the famine-level hunger until July. Because they were closer to the ground, the chiefs could see the emergency coming earlier.
Supporting the World Food Programme
The World Food Programme conducts large surveys in South Sudan twice a year to assess hunger, which is chronic in the country but sometimes reaches famine proportions. After informing the Word Food Programme and the UN-affiliated REACH initiative about these findings, these organisations agreed to include questions on Hunger Courts in their surveys, asking Dr Pendle to help draft the text. While incorporated into four surveys so far, the project continues to feed into UN discussions about how Hunger Courts can be used as early warning systems.
Changing the course of a landmark trial at the ICC
CPAID research conducted in northern Uganda has had a significant impact on a landmark trial at the International Criminal Court, based on anthropological work on cultural understandings of sexual wrongdoing and its relation to international humanitarian law.
Ahead of the trial of former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen in 2015, CPAID’s Professor Tim Allen, Dr Holly Porter and Dr Anna Macdonald were invited to talk about rape at the ICC. Drawing on their research into how public authority relates to sexual violence and accountability, they provided evidence of a complicated and nuanced explanation of rape and its aftermath, arguing that Western understandings of what is appropriate are dependent on consent, a concept that does not similarly exist in the Acholi context. Instead, through analysis of the Acholi-specific context, the research showed that the LRA sex was nonetheless transgressive. In February 2021, the ICC found Dominic Ongwen guilty on 61 counts.
Evidence for the prosecution of Dominic Ongwen
The research had significant impact by helping the prosecution expand the charges against Ongwen to include sexual and gender-based crimes: forced marriage, rape, sexual slavery, and enslavement. Provided to the prosecutorial team were formal briefings and a confidential expert report based on research with former LRA women in forced marriages. Professor Allen was invited to act as Witness 1 (the 'expert witness') in the trial and his testimony provided further information about the LRA’s organisational relationships, its training and use of child soldiers.
In February 2021, the ICC found Dominic Ongwen guilty on 61 counts. The ICC judges stated explicitly that Allen’s testimony was accepted to be credible by both Defence and Prosecution. The first 14 paragraphs of the published judgement are drawn directly from his testimony, which is cited in relation to several subsequent points in their judgement.
Setting a precedent for the international trial of sexual crimes
The research established an important precedent in the international trial of sexual crimes. Drawing on long-term observations of former LRA women in forced marriages, the expert report argued that it would reduce the risks both to the potential witnesses and to the veracity of their testimony if they were able to participate in the trial as quickly and with as little exposure as possible.
The report was a key submission in a successful proposal to allow victims of sexual violence to provide witness testimony and be cross-examined from Uganda, before the commencement of the trial. This aspect of the Ongwen case sets a ground-breaking precedent in the ability to prosecute international crimes of a sexual nature.
Should the precedent be applied more broadly, this will ease the prosecution of crimes of sexual violence in both domestic and international jurisdictions. This view has already been advanced in the International Criminal Law Review, which has hailed this aspect of the Ongwen case as 'a milestone precedent for future cases, not just in terms of circumventing situations of witness interference but, more importantly, in safeguarding vulnerable victims and witnesses, and preserving their evidence for any eventual trial'.
Read the full report.
Advising on development and diaspora policy in Somalia
CPAID’s research into business networks and business-state relations in Somalia has revealed perverse incentives created by the aid sector within the local political economy, which are linked to political violence and terrorism. Research on public procurement and logistics powerbrokers finds that the aid sector has for decades funded key monopolies and cartels. Rather than becoming essential for peace, infrastructure development consequently becomes a core contributor to violent conflict.
Through presentations and workshops, Dr Claire Elder has pushed the World Bank, OECD, UN, and the UK government FCDO to rethink aspects of private-sector development and privatisation agendas. She has advised on how to understand the private sector’s interests in conflict contexts, and how contracting and procurement undermines a legitimate central authority. Based on the work, the Aid Coordination Unit, responsible for overseeing the country’s aid architecture, has informed decisions to rethink support for infrastructure development that might perpetuate insecurity.
Diaspora policy in Somalia
As seen in many post-war contexts, diaspora-centred development dominates post-war development and peacebuilding. The impact of this shift in development, however, remains largely untracked and highly contested. Through long-term research on diaspora return to politics in Somalia, Claire Elder’s work develops a new theoretical framework to understand impacts on governance and society.
Based on her research, Dr Elder has advised on different aspects of diaspora policy, including the formation of national legislation and specific programmes targeting technical assistance. Her research has prompted an internal investigation by the Aid Coordination Unit and prompted donors, including the World Bank, to abandon the diaspora component of its Capacity Injection Programme in 2019. Since 2020, she has also become an expert adviser for an International Organization for Migration working group to draft a new diaspora policy for the Somali government.
Advising the OECD on approaches to peacebuilding
Core members of CPAID have formed a reference group and met with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to shape the organisation's understanding of effective peacebuilding.
As part of a two-day workshop in March 2020, CPAID researchers questioned the ways aid donors often enter conflict and fragile state contexts, uncritically assuming that certain actors – governments, civil society organisations and the private sector – should remain at the heart of their work. The CPAID group cautioned that this blanket approach to interventions may have adverse effects, such as contributing to ineffective ‘peace economies’ and thereby creating forms of economic dependence, hierarchies of peace actors, and hegemonic narratives.
During the workshop, researcher Claire Elder presented the need to challenge the often-bifurcated understanding of both the diaspora and the private sector as agents for peace or conflict. Based on long-term fieldwork, she drew attention to how foreign aid subcontractors in Somalia have constituted an established class of economic and political brokers with a destabilising influence on state-building. Researchers Naomi Pendle and Anna Macdonald highlighted the importance of rethinking transitional justice programming, reconciliation, and the importance of understanding how local peace processes impact national peace agreements.