Thursday, 21 April 2011

Dadaab: The City that Shouldn't Exist (?)

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As if to conicide with other (month-long) events commemorating the 20th anniversary of Dadaab Refugee Camp, the world's largest and oldest refugee camp on the Kenya-Somali border, the Danish Refugee Agency launched this Facebook game. First named 'The Worst Vacation Ever', some clever creative renamed it 'The City that Should Never Have Existed' - much better right? Not quite. According to Reuters Africa News Blog, the game was "pulled from the internet just days after the launch amid claims that it is in bad taste and dehumanizes refugees." 

Descrbing the game, Reuters reports, 
It’s a race against time to “drag” refugees to three safe areas in the camp (cue applause) before vital resources run out and refugees are reduced to piles of bones.
Bizarrely, the Facebook poster for the game shows what looks like a World War Two-era bomber flying over a fort emblazoned with the ECHO logo and surrounded by aid tents.
“How do I win?” someone calling himself “Sirak Prince” and claiming to be from near-by Kakuma refugee camp wrote on ECHO’s Facebook page. “Visiting Dadab from Kakuma is like Bagdahd from Mogadisho ! (sic) Hell we need new safer life not new fake projects!”
Overcrowding, lack of sanitation, poor shelter and sweltering heat make the 20-year-old Dadaab camp renowned for health hazards, insecurity and general squalor.
Julie Laduron, ECHO’s communications officer, confirmed that the European humanitarian body had removed the game from its Facebook page and main site on Thursday, by which time it had attracted 139 “likes”.
“Of course everyone has some different sensibilities about the game so for the moment it is suspended,” she said.
Despite suspension of the game there are those working in the refugee sector who felt this dumb idea was actually a good idea:

Anders Knudsen, DRC campaign coordinator,
“We want to reach young people and that cannot be done through reports, policy statements and information videos,” Knudsen said. “With this campaign, we meet the young people through their own media."
Rob Schofield, disaster management director at TearFund,  
"We think the game is a great way of introducing young people to the realities of humanitarian work.”
Jan Kellett, programme leader at aid watchdog Global Humanitarian Assistance,“The game is sort of positioned right for what it is trying to do,” he said. “It’s not very complex but it does show the challenge of matching resources to people.” 

Sorry but no. If you want to create a game that gives young people a sense of what humanitarian work is about, you do it with dignity, after all human beings are the central subject of this game created by humanitarians. Dadaab is not some extreme game or dangerously exotic place for the young mind's consumption; its an actual place where people live not out of choice, but because a brutal unending conflict has made it so. There is a deeply entrenched perception of Somalia as hell-on-earth and while many humanitarian agencies and refugee have tried to deconstruct that myth, games like give credence to it. Not that there's anything wrong with games about refugee camps, just not this sort of thing.