Top Picks: Mappers, mass murderers, and a Boko Haram makeover

Welcome to IRIN’s weekly top picks of must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises.

Three to read:

Sponsor a child or help the community?

This week, the headlines about Christian charity World Vision are all about Israel’s allegations that their Gaza head funnelled millions of dollars of aid money to Hamas. But here’s another, pre-scandal, piece by The New York Times’ Diaa Hadid, who turned a chance encounter in an airport into an intimate look at the sponsor-a-child model of doing good. Having met an Australian policeman who for years sent money, letters, and cards to a child he knew only by first name � Othman � and West Bank village, Hadid went looking. World Vision had promised, along with the young boy’s picture, that $39 a month could change a child’s world for good. Hadid found Othman. He is now 19, his family never got any money and felt a bit used. The policeman felt misled. But World Vision’s fine print said the money could be used to help the child’s community � where at one point every newborn in the village was put up for sponsorship � and locals said it had indeed helped alleviate their poverty.

Tale of the tapes

Nigeria’s fearsome jihadist group Boko Haram has split, and the rupture is providing fascinating insight into the movement.

The new leader, announced by so-called Islamic State (to which Boko Haram swore allegiance in 2015), is Abu Musab al-Barnawi. He released an audio tape this week that was a blistering critique of the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, the man who took Boko Haram from relative obscurity to a force that at one time controlled much of northeastern Nigeria and was active in neighbouring Cameroon, Niger, and Chad, before the turning of its military fortunes last year.

In this transcript of the audio, al-Barnawi condemns Shekau as a murderous thug, happy to kill on the flimsiest of pretexts. He not only lists commanders Shekau has done away with � some personally � but more broadly questions the indiscriminate slaughter of Muslim civilians. How can you be killing in the mosques when there are churches, barracks? he asks. This could signal a change of strategy: an attempt to make over Boko Haram’s awful image, which echoes earlier criticisms of Shekau by among others the breakaway group Ansaru.

Al-Barnawi, who is believed to be one of the sons of Boko Haram founder Mohamed Yusuf, also deplores Shekau’s neglect of his followers in the face of the growing hunger faced in the shrinking zones they control. And he questions the lack of internal debate within the movement, which he suggests was a hallmark of its early years. But Shekau is not going quietly. He started the tape wars with his own audio, in which he proclaimed his path as correct, and any deviation the work of infidels.

The world’s biggest mass murderer may not be who you think it is

When it comes to competing for the dubious title of Worst Mass Murderer of the 20th Century, there are a few obvious contenders. Hitler’s killing of six million Jews comes to mind immediately, as does Stalin, who manufactured a famine that killed as many as 10 million Ukrainians and sent millions from across the Soviet Union to the gulags. In Cambodia, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime managed to kill about two million people � a quarter of that country’s population � in less than four years. But Mao Tse Tung outdid them all. Writing in History Today, Frank DikAltter, author of The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, describes how Mao thought that he could catapult his country past its competitors by herding villagers across the country into giant people’s communes. The result was mass famine that drove people to desperate measures to find food � acts they were often tortured or executed for. Historians have long estimated that tens of millions died. But in the past few years, authorities have allowed access to previously secret archives, giving scholars a more accurate picture of the horrifying years between 1958 and 1962. Working from these documents, DikAltter has come up with a new figure: Mao’s Great Leap Forward cost a staggering 45 million lives.

Two to watch:

Dangerous journeys

Western media is full of stories about the fate of irregular migrants who drown at sea or are abandoned by their smugglers in the desert, but it’s not always clear whether those stories filter back to the countries migrants set out from or whether they are enough to counteract the stories spread via social media of friends and relatives who have made it and are prospering in Europe. As part of a new campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of migrating irregularly across the Sahara and the Mediterranean, the International Organization for Migration has launched a website which includes short videos of migrants’ describing their harrowing journeys. Cesar, a young West African, talks about being lost at sea for three days, and Jessica from Equatorial Guinea tells of her imprisonment and rape in Libya. IOM could be accused of scare tactics here, but the risks of this journey are certainly real. More than 3,000 migrants have died attempting the Mediterranean crossing so far this year, and countless more have perished in the Sahara.

Illicit financial flows

It’s slick, but doesn’t quite get round the army of talking heads problem. But what this mini-documentary by the UN Economic Commission for Africa does is highlight the groundbreaking work by the High Level Panel on IFFs led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. Long before the Panama Papers, he had laid bare the scale of the illicit syphoning off of money out of Africa. The estimated $50 billion lost each year is more than double official aid. And the main culprit is not traditional corruption: the bulk is commercial stuff like tax evasion by multinationals.

Illicit financial outflows, including corruption and criminal activities like people trafficking, amount to roughly 6.1 percent of Africa’s annual GDP.

One from IRIN:

Aleppo is screwed. Thanks everyone.

A letter from 75 NGOs based in Syria and Turkey demanding that the UN stop negotiating its plans with a Syrian regime that has exercised the systematic starvation of civilians for military ends; the revelation that the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, authorised a grant of $751,129 to a charity chaired by the president’s wife, Asma al-Assad, for a water project in government-controlled parts of Aleppo; new data showing that the UN spent more than $7 million at two hotels in Damascus last year � IRIN’s Ben Parker piles up the evidence and it’s conclusive: the international aid response to Syria is in disarray. This is not to mention the more than $230 million in funding suspended due to a US probe into a spiralling procurement scandal. Parker’s investigative report is full of juicy tidbits, including a dashboard used by USAID so it can map and navigate all the different and sometimes overlapping scandals. Against the backdrop of the bombs, the siege, and the threat of starvation in Aleppo, the sum total of all this dysfunction is simply far too great.

Coming up:

Attention all Crisis Mappers

Manila, 28-30 September

Humanitarian map geeks, tech companies, relief workers and activists will gather in Manila next month for the annual International Conference of Crisis Mappers (ICCM).

The crisis mapper community says it has 8,500 plus members from more than 160 countries. It’s the first time the event has been held in Asia and is co-hosted by Map the Philippines. There’s a range of talks, sessions, and field trips on the agenda, and if you want a slot in the fair, you’ll need to get your forms in. If all that doesn’t satisfy your mapping needs, the regional get-together of the Open Street Map community follows, right after; the State of the Map Asia will handily be in Quezon City, also in the Philippines

Source: IRIN