FRONTINE Producer Sherry Jones: What was it about Fred Cuny that made you want
to work with him?
MF: What drew me to Fred was that he was somebody who was not involved in this
line of work because he wanted to save the world. He was so passionate--at
least, in my view--not only because he wanted to make a contribution, but more
because he wanted to change the way that the world saved itself. Another way
of saying that is to help give the world the skills that it needed to save
itself, because it was doing such a poor job at it. When Fred was working in
Biafra, one of the things that appalled him almost as much as the suffering of
the Biafrans, was the ineptitude or the absolutely pathetic coordination and
implementation of humanitarian relief operations there. There were very noble
efforts. People were putting their lives on the line by trying to bring relief
in to these areas. But there was absolutely no management. There was
virtually no coordination and there was a lot of mistakes that were made. So
Fred came out of that experience almost as upset about the way that the relief
was delivered as he was with anything else that he had seen. And because of
that, he became involved in trying to bring management capabilities to
What was the most amazing about Fred Cuny was that he knew everything from the
nuts and bolts of how and why you build a pit latrine in a certain way to what
are the geopolitical considerations of assistance to one faction in a conflict.
He had it from one end to the other, and almost every stage in between, and
this gave him insight that very few other people had, and also allowed him to
develop a response that was very comprehensive and was very quickly developed,
because he didn't depend on a lot of other people. It wasn't that he had the
big picture and he needed several other people to put the other parts together.
And this was the amazing thing about him. I mean, Fred often worked alone to a
point where I was actually concerned that he was working too much alone,
because that meant that too many things were falling on him.
FRONTLINE: Talk about the fact that humanitarian assistance was being used as a
"fig leaf" in Bosnia, to make the rest of us feel better, feel like something
real was happening.
MF: This is the problem with humanitarian relief, in general, and this is the
reason why Fred felt strongly that the response to a disaster should be an
analysis of why those people are suffering, and then to not only correct the
way that people respond, but to correct the way things happen on a day to day
basis to prevent the suffering.
After the end of the Cold War it was obvious that, increasingly, people in
major donor countries especially, did not have the interest to remain involved
in the politics of different countries, whether it be the security elements or
the economic elements. Because of that, things that would have been checked
before by the Cold War structure were allowed to go unattended without any type
of intervention or assistance or attention, whether it be through diplomatic,
economic pressure, whatever--until it gets to a point where you need
humanitarian assistance. Already, by that time, you're in trouble. Already,
many lives have been lost which should not have been lost, and, again,
something that Fred tried to constantly point out, by the time you get to
humanitarian relief, unless you're talking about a natural disaster, you should
have never arrived there in the first place. And you should have been able to
intervene much earlier.
Now, at the end of the Cold War, you have the beginning of a military
intervention, and while the military does have the logistical means that are
not possessed by most NGOs, and also many U.N. organizations--it is incredibly
costly. .... and it does not necessarily remedy the problems. The problems are
much more profound, and those can only be remedied through diplomatic or
economic sanctions of some kind, or eventually, military intervention. And
that level of military intervention is never going to be seen through a U.N.
operation. It can't be. It virtually cannot be. Which means that when you
get to a point where you are throwing massive amounts of funding at a
humanitarian situation by having a military present, you are, essentially,
responding too late, and you are not necessarily doing what needs to be done to
address the situation. You cannot address a conflict situation through
humanitarian assistance. All you can do with humanitarian assistance is to
sustain those innocent victims or those populations who are being affected by
it, but you cannot address the basic conflict itself.
And what we have seen in Somalia and what we will see elsewhere, is that
humanitarian assistance--especially if is misdirected, especially if it is
given in the absence of any savvy political players-- will be used to sustain
principle actors within the conflict. And so, humanitarian assistance to
address a situation such as Bosnia is a complete farce. And it is a waste. It
is a waste of money, it is a waste of lives. It is done because that is the
only thing that we're able to do. It's the only thing that we're ready to do.
Humanitarians are always ready to go in. They're ready to go in to provide
assistance. Now, that is great in a situation such as a natural disaster. You
need that type of intervention. But to throw those types of people into
situations of conflict is really a waste..
FRONTLINE: What is it about our political resolve in this country--or lack of
political resolve in this country--that we're willing to send the humanitarians
in, and arguably, lose some lives, but we're not willing to send the military
in, because we're afraid of losing those lives?
MF: The argument shouldn't even be there. The argument should be much earlier.
Why is there a lack of political will to intervene at a time when these types
of disasters can be averted. Or the consequences of them can be somewhat
mitigated. Or even once they do start, that they can be arrested in some
fashion. We don't have the political will to do that? Most nations don't.
And the reason why is because many people say that they won't intervene until
they have to intervene, until there is political--public pressure that forces
them to intervene. In other situations, people don't really pay that much
attention to it. For example, we don't have really strong African analysts who
can tell us what is going to be happening in different places, and what could
be done to prevent certain types of disasters.
Rwanda is an excellent example of this. And people often talk about early
warning. Well, it's a bit of a farce when you look at Rwanda where a genocide
actually takes place. We're aware that the genocide is ongoing. You have a
military force, a U.N. military force already present--you don't even need to
meet the security council to decide whether to send one in, there's already one
present--and still there is no intervention. And that military force is told
to stand down. And then after they lose a few soldiers, their--numbers are
actually reduced. And this happened in a situation where the U.N. military
commander said, with an increase in number of troops, the genocide could have
actually been stopped. And there was daily slaughter which was taking place,
and there was no political will, so the whole idea of early warning, while it
might be effective in situations such as famine relief, this type of
thing--when it comes to situations of conflict, and the demand--that is
military or very high level political intervention of some kind--we still don't
have the will, and possibly, the understanding or the care, to really intervene
when it's time.
FRONTLINE: Fred did understand all this, and he was increasingly frustrated
and increasingly wanted to be part of the larger policy making?
MF: Fred definitely saw that. He understood the need for an early
intervention. I think that it is only natural, when somebody finds oneself
proven right in several situations, and believes that they have developed an
analysis which will allow for a less costly intervention
Some people have said that Fred wanted to be a player. Fred was always a
player. But when things shifted toward the end of the Cold War, he found
himself increasingly in situations in which people were listening to him. And
so, his expectations also rose to the point where he felt if things continued
the way they were going, that he might be able to influence things--influence
governments--to actually intervene earlier and earlier to prevent these types
of situations from blowing up. One thing that has to be remembered is that
Fred, especially in the early days, spent much more time on disaster
preparedness and mitigation than he did on response to disaster situations.
And it was only because people refused to spend time on that and really develop
that and pay for that type of early intervention, that he was forced to go
increasingly toward those situations where the response was later.
FRONTLINE: What's his legacy?
MF: I think that with regard to relief work his legacy is to continually ask
how you can do this so that you don't have to do it anymore. That was what Fred
was all about--is how do you stop delivering assistance? If you have to
deliver emergency assistance, how do you get to the next phase--rehabilitation,
reconstruction? How do you stop delivering assistance? That was the most
important thing for him. And that's the thing that we all have to remember, is
not developing a greater capacity to do something, but to develop more finely
honed skills on how to get out of doing it.
One of the things that Fred understood better than most people, and, as usual,
earlier than most people, was that at the end of the Cold War, when you had the
principal political players stepping out, the relief organizations and
humanitarian organizations often found themselves out there on their own. And
they were on their own without any real background, or culture of political
development, or understanding the issues of political development. And the
reason why was most of theses groups are service-based organizations. And so
the criteria that they use to determine when and where they intervene and how
they intervene, are those which are related to or based on nutritional and
medical issues, whether there is shelter.
They are not capable of taking the issues of political development into
consideration. And, what makes that even more difficult is that those services
are then sometimes used for political ends. Now, Fred saw that vacuum
developing. It was not necessarily that he had great political aspirations, but
in that situation, there were very few people who were developing that type of
an analysis. And because of that, he got himself more involved in situations
where he was actually negotiating directly with people to establish
cease-fires. So, he basically filled a vacuum.
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