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Who can sing the song of MSF?’ The politics of ‘proximity’ and performing humanitarianism in Eastern DRC

James, Myfanwy ORCID: 0000-0001-7194-1287 (2020) Who can sing the song of MSF?’ The politics of ‘proximity’ and performing humanitarianism in Eastern DRC. Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, 2 (2). 31 - 39. ISSN 2515-6411

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Identification Number: 10.7227/JHA.041


This article explores the everyday practice of security management and negotiations for access conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Based on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and archival exploration, it examines the experience of MSF Congolese employees, who navigate a complex politics of humanitarian fixing and brokerage. Their role in MSF is simultaneously defined and circumscribed by their political and social situation. MSF’s security management relies on local staff’s interpersonal networks and on their ability to interpret and translate. However, local staff find themselves at risk, or perceived as a ‘risk’: exposed to external pressures and acts of violence, while possibilities for promotion are limited precisely because of their embeddedness. They face a tension between being politically and socially embedded and needing to perform MSF’s principles in practice. As such, they embody the contradictions of MSF’s approach in North Kivu: a simultaneous need for operational ‘proximity’, as well as performative distance from everyday conflict processes.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 The Author
Divisions: International Development
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Date Deposited: 04 Sep 2023 11:18
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 04:13

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