Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to spend some time with the largest humanitarian network in the world, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. I understand that this conference takes place every four years to give the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies an opportunity to learn from the past and prepare for the future of your work on the continent. It is an honor for me to be able to contribute to this process.

I have been asked to share some thoughts on how the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement can position itself better using the tools of humanitarian diplomacy. My starting point is considering how you as a movement define humanitarian diplomacy. The IFRC Humanitarian Diplomacy policy defines Humanitarian Diplomacy as the responsibility to ‘persuade decision-makers and opinion leaders to act, at all times, in the interests of vulnerable people, and with full respect for fundamental humanitarian principles’. You also know clearly that the work you do contributes directly to the achievement of the SDGs. Including the SDGs on partnerships, peace, justice, and strong institutions, on poverty, on hunger, on clean water and sanitation, and reduction of inequality.

From this definition, a few things stand out. Firstly, humanitarian diplomacy has a single objective, which is to create and sustain interventions, processes and outcome that promote the interest of vulnerable people. It is therefore an outcome and results oriented definition. You as a movement are required to place vulnerable people, and their protection, at the core of your work, decisions, and organisation. Second, there is a normative framework that you must apply at all times, that is the full application and respect for the fundamental principles. For those of us who know the Red Cross well, the fundamental principles remain the cornerstone of your work and by extension the central piece in a wider jigsaw in the humanitarian diplomacy agenda.

In particular, the principles of impartiality and neutrality give the Red Cross Red Crescent movement the edge in their humanitarian diplomacy agenda. In a world where increasingly, the two principles are contested and often even principles. Being impartial and neutral will grant you the legitimacy, access, credibility and respect that is absolutely necessary in contexts where delivering humanitarian assistance is a challenge. Being independent will grant you access to all parties to conflict, and being neutral will afford you respect from all actors in an increasingly crowded humanitarian space, where all manner of institutions operate with diverse interests and agendas.

Allow me to share some thoughts on what I believe could be the core elements of your humanitarian diplomacy framework.

First, all national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are established under their national law as institutions that are auxiliary to the government in the humanitarian field. The status of being auxiliary to governments is a unique one, that grants you acceptance, access, credibility, and partnership with governments.
Once a role is identified as auxiliary, the Red Cross Society and the governments are expected to continuously ensure that a fruitful dialogue is maintained on operational and policy issues while respecting the Fundamental Principles. The auxiliary role is therefore a call to engagement and vigilance in ensuring that the
relationship is maintained and channels of complementarities and reciprocal relationships remain open and respectful in order to achieve the common objective of serving beneficiaries effectively. Your movement is therefore a global network of national actors, each of which has a unique position as an auxiliary to their authorities in the humanitarian field, with a basis in national law, as well as being embedded within communities through local branches and volunteers.

This auxiliary role means that National Societies have privileged access to their authorities, and beyond operational collaboration, they can fulfill a ‘critical friend’ role in supporting their authorities prioritise and meet the humanitarian needs of their vulnerable people. You can act as the voice of target communities, promoting and injecting key priorities of communities into national development and planning processes. Your auxiliary role makes you the best advocate for the people and their critical needs. Utilise that special privilege, protect it, and cherish it. Let it always be guided by the fundamental principles of impartiality, neutrality, and independence.

It is also important that we replicate successful models of collaboration and best practice between governments and Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.

In my many years in public service, I have learnt to appreciate the role and importance of the work of the Kenya Red Cross as an agency auxiliary to government. I am also aware of many other societies in the region including Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda, and many others who have successfully grown their auxiliary relationships with their own governments while remaining independent. I suggest that successful relationships between National Societies and their authorities be generously shared and promoted with other fellow African state authorities. Examples that could be replicated and emulated for greater regional impacts.

Second, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement play a unique role in the context of conflicts and wars. The Red Cross movement was borne out of war and retains a special role in the Geneva Conventions governing the conduct of war. In this regard, the role, both for ICRC and the national societies to promote understanding and respect for international humanitarian law remains a critical component of your work in humanitarian diplomacy. People are most vulnerable in context of wars and that vulnerability is reduced when civilian populations are protected from the effect of war and there is full compliance with the rules of armed conflict.

Your movement should enhance investment in the field of dissemination of IHL and promotion of development of new rules applicable to armed conflicts. The International Conference that is provided for in the Statutes of the movement gives you an important avenue to interact with State parties to the Geneva Convention. It remains one of the biggest humanitarian diplomacy spaces where priorities of states can be influenced by the Red Cross movement to get greater compliance with IHL. I suggest that we all make use of the conference as an opportunity to individually at national level by the societies, informed by the auxiliary status, and collectively as a movement promote the full implementation of IHL.

Third and final, I think the Red Cross Movement has a greater role in promoting a culture of understanding and peace between communities and countries. In a world that is increasingly polarised along ideological lines, in a context where the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow, the Red Cross Red Crescent community can be provide hope and encouragement. You are in a unique position to build bridges between cultures and communities. You can remind the world that diversity is an asset to be celebrated. While the Red Cross movement is not a pacifist movement by definition, your work to promote a culture of non-violence among the youths and your impartial and neutral service to communities can make you a pacifying force. Promoting peace should be a major part of the humanitarian diplomacy agenda.

In conclusion, I want to emphasise that to have a real humanitarian impact, you should nurture a coherent pan-African strategic approach to Humanitarian Diplomacy, which mirrors the shared needs, priorities, and humanitarian challenges of the people and National Red Cross Red crescent Societies throughout the continent. Please remember what has been said through the ages – “Do your little bit of good wherever you are. It is those bits of good put together that you overwhelm the world”.

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