Nixon Kahjum Takor, PhD          

Department of History & Archaeology, Faculty of Arts

The University of Bamenda


Post-independence Africa constitute a fertile ground for complex internecine conflicts. These conflicts have as attendant corollaries, exceeding humanitarian deprivations especially, basic food shortages, shelter and health crisis, and immense levels of human rights abuses. These humanitarian outrages stimulate concerted efforts from state, inter-governmental actors like the United Nations (U.N) through its specialised agencies and organisations with supra-national special mandates like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Complementing the governmental humanitarian support system is the role played by non-state actors (armed, international, local, secular or faith-based) which in diverse ways became key players in the international humanitarian multi-centric system. The presence and role of the non-state actors in the humanitarian playground has not maintained a consistent character with the rules of international humanitarian law. It is centrally in this perspective that the study analysed the historical trajectories that the constellation of non-state actors provided in humanitarian interventions and assesses the extent to which such engagements respected the Dunantian principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanitarian service and independence. It concludes that the contributions of non-state actors vacillated between complementarity and contestation between the armed non-state and civil NGOs on the one hand and with the principal state actors on the other hand, in salvaging humanitarian concerns. The study recommends that in conflict /disaster situations, the key players notably; state and non-state interest groups, should always put humanitarian concerns above all other egocentric considerations. In the same vein, humanitarian ambassadors, especially NGOs, to gain sustainable credibility, should endeavor to maintain the international rules of neutrality, impartiality and independence in their missions to save humanity. Alternatively, where they are faced with difficult choices, they should become influential diplomats capable of persuading protagonists and antagonists on the need to save lives irrespective of where the victims belong in the crisis divide. This requires dynamic strategic training programmes for field practitioners tailored to meet specific crisis contexts.

Key words: Africa, approach, complementary, contested, history, humanitarian, intervention, Non-State Actor


In recent years humanitarian assistance offered  in circumstances of conflict and disaster by donor governments, international organisations like the United Nations (UN), and particularly, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) has been very helpful in alleviating the plights of even millions of persons trapped in such situations. The provision of food and medical supplies to refugees, displaced persons, and those near the battlefields in bellicose and crisis settings like Somalia, Rwanda, the  Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, Sudan, and elsewhere constitutes one of the most heroic and life-preserving activities of our time.[1] The history of humanitarian actions in Africa is typical of Fernand Braudel’s longue duree or plural historical time order in historical narrative. [2] This is because humanitarianism predates the era of African emancipation from colonial and nominal European rule. Briefly, it foregrounds the age of African independence and post-independence management of the concept of sovereignty. It is in this perspective that the paper examines the interactions between actors intervening in the management of humanitarian crises in Africa and argues that their engagements oscillates between complementarity and rivalry.

More than often attention in such considerations is usually narrowly restricted to experts in political science, legal scholarship, international relations scientists, conflict and peace analysts and geo-political strategists. Important and indispensable as these context-relevant connoisseurs are concerned in debriefing and building sustainable recommendations on the role of humanitarian actions and interventions in conflict/disaster ridden settings on the African continent, the role of history and the historian is becoming more and more germane and urgent. A stronger engagement with history will help those that make up the humanitarian multicentric system to more accurately perceive its origins and appreciate the dynamics in a broader global perspective.[3]

The paper foregrounded with an introduction and rounding off with a conclusion is structured in three interlinking parts. Part one situates the historical context and conceptual clarification of humanitarian actions and interventions while the second part examinesthephases and involvement of non-state actors in the humanitarian system in Africa. The study closes up with a critical analysis of the role of civil non-state actors on the African humanitarian playground.

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