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Humanitarianism in Praxis? Probing Power Dynamics around Key Actors in Zimbabwe’s Forced Migration


Globally, humanitarian organisations are ideally expected to render expedient and effective assistance to all (indiscriminately) vulnerable populations, ranging from victims of adverse natural hazards to those fleeing from intra-state or inter-state conflicts. Consequently, the role played by international organisations vis-à-vis creating structural justice in these contexts can be equated to restoring the displaced people’s capabilities. Capabilities are entrenched in the ability to do or be what one values in life while entitlements denote the resources that individuals should access through legal channels. Therefore, this paper intends to explore the differences between the application of the capability approach and entitlement approach and the role of international organisations (in praxis) in enhancing or hindering human capabilities. Using qualitative data from participants who work for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Zimbabwe, the paper discusses the assumed, conventional role of humanitarian institutions juxtaposed with the reality of their activities in alleviating challenges faced by the displaced communities in Zimbabwe. The findings of the paper indicate that effective interventions for the displaced communities are adversely affected by power dynamics around key actors in internal displacement. This connotes that the bid to remain politically correct hinders the NGOs from enforcing their mandated roles towards IDPs in Zimbabwe. Therefore, the paper reaches the conclusion that the Zimbabwean context of internal displacement has exposed the gaps created by the polarity between theory on displaced people’s humanitarian assistance and praxis in real-life contexts. This has particularly exposed the forced migrants to increased vulnerabilities as well as reducing the IDPs’ chances of gaining their capabilities.

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  1. Operation Murambatsvina was a government program that arbitrarily razed down houses and other buildings which it had condemned as illegal structures. The program led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe.

  2. Since the Zimbabwean government orchestrated the Operation Murambatsvina, the researchers used archival sources to explore the government’s role in the displaced populations’ protection and welfare. Therefore, no government official could be interviewed.

  3. The Capability Approach propounded by Armatya Sen ‘is known for its focus on well-being freedom’, (Claassen 2009).

  4. Basic needs are ‘those fundamental requirements that serve as the foundation for survival’, (Accessed March 12, 2017).

  5. (Accessed October 17, 2017)

  6. The researchers acknowledge that there are other displaced communities affected by the Fast Track Land Reform Programme, Operation Chikoroza Chapera, Nuanetsi Range and Chisumbanje among others. However, these were outside the scope of the current study. Minimal references will therefore be made on these.

  7. This is due to close affinity between refugees and IDPs (often) fuelled by similar drivers of their migration.

  8. A colloquial Shona term for chaos and violence.

  9. (Accessed October 24, 2017).


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Correspondence to Abigail R. Benhura.

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Benhura, A.R., Naidu, M. Humanitarianism in Praxis? Probing Power Dynamics around Key Actors in Zimbabwe’s Forced Migration. Int. Migration & Integration 20, 735–749 (2019).

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  • Humanitarian organisations
  • Capabilities
  • Entitlements
  • Operation Murambatsvina
  • Forced migration
  • Internal displacement