Paper: How do INGOs approach depoliticizing aid in politicized environments? Case study of Belarus and TB

Paper details

Paper authors Andrew Cunningham
In panel on Depoliticizing humanitarian action: motives, practices, consequences
Paper presenter(s) will be presenting In-Person / Online


A recurrent theme for the few international humanitarian NGOs working in the Former Soviet Union involves how to ‘depoliticize’ themselves within highly political contexts. One of the most difficult cases is Belarus, where the issue of complicity is a major question as the government leans towards increased authoritarianism.

There is a sense by many that working on a technical-medical issue such as TB treatment is somehow ‘safe’ from political manipulation. But in a context like Belarus, is this possible? Isn’t the mere presence of an INGO, and one which works very closely with the regime, in itself a political statement or act? If it were possible to depoliticize the organization's actions in such a context, how would this work?

This paper explores how INGOs go about discussing and debating the issue of complicity, and the role the concept of depoliticization plays in these debates. A triangle is imagined -- between the organization's mandate to provide assistance, the agenda of the government, and the medical requirements of the disease. An interesting question is -- what role does the disease itself play in the depoliticization process? The focus is only the role of medical programming in the depoliticization process.



Andrew Cunningham