What role does a constitution have in keeping politicians in power in check? How can technology aid the process of conflict resolution? How does the tone of international relations change at a time when global healthcare is at the forefront of every agenda?
These are the kind of questions only a prying mind, one belonging to someone who isn’t afraid to make an impact where it matters, would make.
International Relations is a topic you study out of passion, and out of wanting to actually make a difference, Dr Anna Khakee, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of International Relations within the Faculty of Arts, told Newspoint.
Ever since she joined the Department of International Relations in 2011, she has witnessed a number of milestones signalling its growth: from the addition of new programmes, notably two taught MAs in Humanitarian Action, one local and one international, as well as the addition of new staff, increasing the expertise on board. Dr Khakee has also witnessed many alumni starting to make a difference, working for international organisations, NGOs, the media, and in diplomacy. "That is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of the job", she stresses.
How has the fourth intake of the Joint Masters Programme in International Humanitarian Action at UM been and how is the programme managing to enhance professionalism in humanitarian action?
Indeed, while the local MA in Humanitarian Action is in its 9th consecutive year, the NOHA Joint MA is in its fourth. It's a challenging MA at the best of times. It is a multidisciplinary Erasmus Mundus degree, and I am very grateful to all my colleagues from other departments, faculties, centres, and institutes within UM who are lecturing and supervising students for these two MAs.
We count academics from more than 15 different departments, centres and institutes currently involved in the MA.
The latest intake has been great - we have 39 students spread over the two semesters, almost all of them international, which is wonderful given that so much of the NOHA MA is based on mobility across borders - the network comprises eight European universities with global partner universities in Australia, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Thailand, and the US... You can imagine that it is a challenge now with COVID-19!
We see our alumni work in challenging environments, from the Central African Republic to Malawi, and from Palestine to the Philippines and we are immensely proud of them.
Living through COVID-19, I cannot help but think in terms of how humanitarian action is needed more than ever, and perhaps the volume of action is becoming a reflection of how well governments are reacting to the pandemic. What are your views on this?
I recently wrote an article on this in the journal Humanitarian Alternatives. In a nutshell, this is a multifaceted challenge. Governments are cutting aid budgets as the needs grow at home and as budgets are strained because of the economic crisis.
Governments are cutting aid budgets as the needs grow at home and as budgets are strained because of the economic crisis.
At the same time, COVID-19 has made many in the Global South lose their livelihoods, and of course, the health crisis becomes even worse when the health infrastructure is poor. And this is the case even in countries which are not among the poorest - I remember reading about a Russian medical doctor who had bought diving equipment with his own money to use in ITU as they had no PPE kits.
Your most recent appointment by the Swedish Parliament sees you comparing how constitutional amendments can be made across European states. How have constitutions evolved in the past few years, and what will you be looking out for in this task?
Democracies have come under strain in recent years for a variety of reasons.
Constitutions in Western states are meant to protect the democratic order in each country.
We don't know what would have happened in the US, for instance, if the American constitution had made it easier to change the election day. It is not fanciful, I think, to believe that President Trump could have been tempted to postpone the elections, citing COVID-19, for instance.
This means that rules that restrict how constitutions can be amended are really important: they make it more difficult for less-than-perfectly-democratic politicians in power to change the rules of the game to their advantage. I am very much looking forward to working for the Constitutional Committee of the Swedish Parliament on this issue, comparing how constitution amendment rules are tailored in different countries.
What’s next for Dr Anna Khakee?
I am working with colleagues from around Europe on a large comparative project called EXCEPTIUS, looking at how COVID-19 has affected political freedoms and civil liberties over time. It is an exciting project, involving not just academics, but also civil society.