Posts by: Alex DeWaal

Published by The Boston Review, June 29, 2016.

Brexit is bad news for world peace.

Four years ago the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel committee said that the EU has “contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” The award was justified. Because of […]

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But perhaps the biggest blow to Africa from the Brexit comes in the least tangible sphere of international political culture. As the weakest continent, Africa has the most to gain from the principles of multilateralism — collective security, international cooperation, and respect for international law. The continent achieves its best outcomes for democracy and human rights, and for peace and security, when its governments collaborate in the African Union and regional economic communities, and when they work in partnership with the United Nations and the European Union.

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Fifty-three years ago today, on June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave the Commencement address to the American University in Washington DC. He began by explaining his choice of subject: “a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is to rarely perceived – yet it is the most important topic […]

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Starting at the top, one of the most striking things about the Horn and the Red Sea is that there is no regional organization that can grapple with its security challenges. The African Union does not cross the Red Sea. The InterGovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) includes the countries of the Horn, but not Egypt — an historic powerbroker, with strategic interests in the Nile and the Red Sea — and also is confined to the African shore. The Arab League is not effective, which is one reason why the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has taken the lead in the Yemeni intervention, and is using financial muscle to win African countries to support its operations, rather than multilateral diplomacy. Ethiopia, the pivotal state of the Horn, is landlocked and keenly fears being surrounded by hostile states backed by historic rivals such as Egypt.

In the absence of any Red Sea forum or similar peace and security mechanism, the EU can play a role as convenor of the overlapping multilateralisms of the various regional organizations that between them could provide the needed forum for defining and addressing the region’s problems.

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For the international mediator, it’s not his war: he is neither tainted by the crimes nor related to the victims. But his conscience is also on the table, and he may believe in peace not as an exercise in political calculus, but as a humanitarian necessity. He doesn’t choose the parties or the dispute, and his control is limited to skill in handling the agenda, and moral suasion.

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Celebrity philanthropists like Bono, Madonna, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie have become the public face of the humanitarian agenda, along with gala events such as Comic Relief in Britain and its counterpart Red Nose Day in the USA. There’s nothing new about the social elite becoming publicly involved in ‘good causes,’ but today’s highly-networked configurations of power, business, media and charity are different: ‘designer’ activists, campaigners and philanthropists are flourishing as never before. But there’s a puzzle: there is little evidence that celebrity endorsements contribute to higher levels of donations to their favored charities, and opinion polls suggest that celebrity advocacy has a peculiar legitimacy with the public.

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