A behind-the-scene account on how peacemaking and peacekeeping work

“A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report from the Frontlines of Humanity” by Jan Egeland

Jan Egeland is a remarkable human being. He has an illustrious long career that include positions at Amnesty International, the Norwegian Red Cross, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and most prominently his work as the undersecretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the United Nations, which is what the book is mostly about.

During his tenure he met warlords, mass murderers, dictators, as well as peacemakers, relief workers, and human rights activists. And it weren’t just during some ordinary occurrences at the office.

Instead, he negotiated face to face against warlord Joseph Kony in Ugandan jungle, became the intermediary between FARC and the government of Colombia for their peace agreement, dealt directly with a difficult Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, helped broker the Oslo Peace Accords 1993 between Israel and Palestine, and again years later help to end the war between Israel and Hezbollah, and coordinated the intricate disaster relief in many places including Iraq after the 2003 US-led attack, Ivory Coast after the civil war, and the boxing day Tsunami 2004.

Although not all of his attempts were successful – such as the unresolved violence in Darfur, and the collapse of the Oslo Accord after Benjamin Netanyahu took over power – it seems that Egeland can manage to untie the most complicated knots in almost every disaster and war zone in the world, and created a better pathway towards compromise for his successors.

And this memoir shows the minute by minute account on how these humanitarian deals and coordinations were planned, debated, compromised, failed, re-attempted, and finally achieved in the room, which is a demonstration of a masterclass on negotiation and diplomacy. Very well written, gripping from start to finish, five stars.