December 20, 2010

Part III, New Information on the Shermeyateva 16, Refugees in Moscow Airport

Contribution by Dani Grisby, Posted December 12, 2010
Good news! The Shermeyateva 16 is now down to 14. Two members have been resettled to Sweden.

Bad news: there are still 14 people stuck in the Moscow airport. We cannot stop writing Amnesty International, asking them to take this deserving group on as a focus case.
Here's an e-mail I recently received from Suheeb, one of the 16 stranded, which really expresses the severity of their situation.
Dear Dani,
We are doing good but are still in the airport. We were told we may get to go to Sweden but we're not sure.
Two of us have recently been sent to Sweden, they came to the airport before us. Now we are hoping insha Allah.

It will be very painful to be stateless for the new year. Especially as we have almost been here a year.

We don't know who to blame for this situation. But it's really bad when this huge planet cannot find room for you within any border, for no reason. We did not commit a crime, we are just seeking asylum. Maybe we can go to the planet mars, maybe life is better there.

Also, it's really hard for me to see what the two women who are with us have to go through. Most of us, we are men, But for the women to suffer, it really hurts me, too much. They have no privacy.

Any information you have from amnesty on our case?

Thank you,

Suheeb


If you've emailed on their behalf before, please do so, again. While we received a response from AI-USA (telling us to talk to the London office) we have yet to hear anything from London.

Send emails to: amnestyis@amnesty.org

"Hello!

My name is _____________, and I am writing to request that Amnesty International take up, as an urgent action, the case of 16 Somalis who, as victims of a smuggling scheme, have been stranded in the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow for the past ten months. The Russian Federation is required under international law to assist these Somalis and allow them to access courts and other mechanisms that would facilitate their right to asylum. So far, the Russian Federation has failed to meet even the most basic of its international obligations in this case. We, as members of the international community, thus have an obligation to stand in solidarity with the Somalis and to make our voices be heard.

Thank you for taking this case into consideration.

Sincerely,

Your Name Here"

Write to the author of this post Dani Grisby, Policy Intern, at grigsby@miracoalition.org

Update on the Somalis in Moscow Airport

Shortly after posting my previous article, The Shermeyateva 16, Somali Refugees Stranded at Airport in Moscow, I was contacted by a woman who works in refugee assistance and who has worked to assist this group of Somalis for quite some time.  She has given me permission to repost some of her previous writings on the subject.



Originally posted at MIRA, November 27, 2010

“Because [they] slipped through and fell in a crack. Nobody likes staying in a crack because they're nothing. Nobody likes to be stuck in a crack.”–Frank Dixon, character from DreamWorks’ 2004 film, ‘Terminal’

In 2004, theater-goers were regaled with the fictional tale of Viktor Navorski—a man from “Krakoshia”, an artificial Eastern European state—whose country became engulfed in war while he was in transit to the US. Upon his arrival at US customs, his passport was invalidated, no longer recognized by the US government. He was forced to remain in the airport until his status could be determined; he could not return to his war-tattered nation, nor could he, legally, enter the USA.

Comedy, friendship, love and intrigue are artistically woven into Navorski’s story as he navigates airport life over the course of the film. An ever-resilient Navorski is finally able to return “home.” This humorous and intriguing story is intended to be a piece of mainstream entertainment, enjoyed and then forgotten. But the situation is all too real.

Suheeb Mohammad and his travel companions have been living the fictional horror of Viktor Navorski for the past six months. These young men and women, desperate refugees from Somalia, paid $3,500 USD each to an individual who purported to have the means to assist them in seeking asylum via Moscow, Russia. They learned that they had been deceived upon arrival to Moscow’s Shermeyateva Dva airport, 45 minutes north of the city, in May of 2010. Russian customs officials discovered their falsified documents and their visas were summarily revoked. Unable to officially enter or exit the Russian Federation, their fates are left in the hands of charitable airport staff and non-governmental workers in Moscow’s unofficial humanitarian services sector. Food, water, and clothing needs are met through daily acts of charity. Their future remains unclear, and their hope dwindles.

In Suheeb’s own words:

“We feel stress and we need a big help. . .it’s taking a long time, you understand? Being in an airport for months? I cannot describe it. It hurts so much to be in this place but we don’t have a choice . . . we don’t feel safe and worry for the future. All we ask is when will we be out of here? Please, please try to help us.”

Suheeb and his travel companions (deemed the Shermeyateva 16) are not the first refugees to fall victim to Russia’s inadequate asylum system, forced to remain captive within its borders. Refugees and other forced migrants have sought refuge in or via Russia in great numbers since the fall of the Soviet Union. Seen as a veritable portal to the west, Moscow’s emerging economy and seeming openness (Soviet d├ętente established ‘friendship universities,’ and recruited attendees from developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond) has captured the attention of the desperate asylum seekers from far abroad.

The first such noted case of airport detainees was documented in the Moscow Times in 1992. A group of over sixty refugees were held in a Moscow airport for months before finally being returned to their country of transit.

International conventions, to which Russia freely submits, set forward standard operating procedures to ensure the rights of forced migrants like Suheeb. The UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention recommends that governments “continue to receive refugees in their territories and that they act in concert in a true spirit of international cooperation in order that these refugees may find asylum and the possibility of resettlement.” What’s more, disallowing the Shermeyateva 16 access to the court system is, too, in direct violation of international standards set forward in the 1951 Convention.

This real-life drama, grimly mirroring fabricated situational comedy, unfolds day by unchanging day for these refugees. How it plays out depends very much on the tenacity of the cast of characters involved. Global advocates must step-up, forgive the pun, to the international stage. Decision makers, law enforcers, and politicians must unite in political prowess on behalf of the Shermeyateva 16.


Join us in asking Amnesty International to host a worldwide letter writing campaign to grant these individuals equitable access to asylum proceedings. Write or call Amnesty International USA and offer your support of this campaign: (212) 807-8400 or submit the following email to: aimember@aiusa.org and please cc: ellenp@alum.dartmouth.org.

Dear Amnesty International USA:

Please take up the case of the Shermeyateva 16 as a special focus case. This group of 16 refugees have been unofficially detained in Moscow’s Shermeyateva Dva airport for the past six months without access to legal support of any official asylum proceedings. We urge you to allow us to unite and take action under Amnesty’s esteemed reputation, in order to reach a broader global support network and assist in ensuring these refugees are afforded their full, deserved human rights.

For more information, please contact Danielle J. Grigsby, Shermeyateva 16 Coordinator, at grigsbyd@bc.edu or 801-710-7148.

Respectfully,

Your Name Here

December 9, 2010

Does the Traditional Land Use System, Xeer, Have a Future in Somalia?


Everyday the world is confronted with abrasive images of the violence in Somalia, yet attempts to analyze and explain the aggression are generally slimmed down to explanations of tribalism.  It is true that the geo-political history of the 6 primary clans does play a large part in the constant fighting, however there are additional social factors that can undermine or facilitate a potential end to the violence.  With IDP camps scattered across the country, planning efforts to stabilize and rebuild this exhausted landscape will need to build upon a history of tribal, religious, colonial, and government efforts to control the land.  Xeer is perhaps the oldest land use tradition in Somalia and deserves special attention.

According to a UN-Habitat study in 2005, Xeer has 11 primary commandments:
  • Land and any resources found on it are common assets of the clan or the primary lineage that permanently lives on it.
  • Pasture is free for all pastoralists irrespective of clan affiliation in time of need.
  • Pastoralists should preserve, and not burn, deserted thorn pens for animals.
  • Generally nomads can not settle in the grazing valleys, however, in some regions pastoral hamlets may not be allowed to settle in the middle of grazing valleys.
  • Individual pastoralists should not destroy shared pasture and fruit bearing trees
  • Neither visiting grazers, nor local pastoralists, may establish commercial camps on grazing land.
  • Private enclosures or farms on grazing lands are prohibited.  No one is allowed to cut grass and transport it into another area.
  • Visiting grazers must respect Xeer and maintain peaceful co-existence with the host communities.
  • A committee of elders from the visiting group and the local community is empowered to resolve conflicts.
  • Kinsmen should assist each other in hard times, particularly during long migrations.
  • To reserve an old pen for private use, the head of the pastoralists group should clearly leave leave a mark in the front of the pen.
A quick review of these 11 tenants reveals the fluid nature of land use and its exchange between clans, sub-groups, and individuals.   As Somalia hosts extreme environments and the economy is historically rooted in animal husbandry, this fluid exchange is essential for the survival.  Nonetheless, these rules could quickly get messy in an urban environment where public space and private property blur the lines between social and personal use.  

In an urban environment, how do the the concepts of Xeer take on new meaning?  Can one interpret a vacant plot of land or an apartment available for use?  Does an individual acquire the private right to a piece of property by means of long term occupation?   It is likely that the role of Sharia Islamic law becomes an important element in negating these difficulties, yet as Sharia often has a focus on family and tribal rights, it is difficult to determine if Sharia can provide the appropriate tools to transgress private property disputes.  


Although many of these issues have been explored and expanded upon in depth in cities of Somaliland and Puntland, it is less certain how these problems will be resolved in places such as Mogadishu and Kismayo in the future.   I suppose if the nation were to be united under a Sharia based system, there would be a basic framework to construct new land use laws that are consistent with past systems.  However if a new, secular constitution is in place, that may create a new problem as the importation of techniques abroad might appear too much like an act of colonialism.  

Ultimately it seems that viable land use laws need to build upon the intrinsic, informal systems that have dominated the geography of Somalia for centuries.  Yet as long as border disputes and a weak government prevail, there are limited means to update the antiquated systems to engage a global economy.  In future blog posts I will continue to investigate the the role of Xeer, in particular in relation to Sharia and secular law, as tools for future stabilization and reconstruction efforts.

The Role of Land Use Laws in Architectural Planning and Design for Reconstruction, Refugee, and IDP Camps


When the earthquake immediately happened in Haiti, I recall having several conversations about the creation of IDP camps and popular criticisms regarding a slow reaction by aid agencies.  Time and again, as natural disasters strike, displaced populations are forced to seek temporary shelter  while various actors struggle to put the pieces beck together.  A key, yet heavily under discussed element of this process, is the role of land use laws and ownership.

Land ownership is a messy situation in impoverished countries, as formal systems of documentation and ownership found in the wealthiest countries simply do not exist, or are incredibly corrupt and complicated.  Economist Hernando de Soto even advocates that much of the world is trapped in poverty primarily because populations lack access to the articles of ownership and leasing of property.  Without deeds, leases, or contacts to facilitate transactions of property, the greatest commodities are the least utilized.   Without these mechanisms, land use and ownership laws vary by culture and economy, such as in Somalia where the traditional Xeer system is founded upon the interests of nomadic pastoralism. In much of Somalia, Xeer works alongside  secular state law and Islamic Sharia law to form a loosely understood system of Somali Common Law.  While it is a challenge for outsiders to penetrate these complex, informal systems, it is often just as difficult for residents to pursue the formal channels of land ownership in their on countries.

Given the range of land use laws that exist in a single site, it is no surprise that humanitarian action can be slow and difficult.  In an emergency, the rights and regulations of land use and ownership are not suspended, but must be integrated in the recovery process.  This of course does great disservice to the most vulnerable populations, who are left seeking safety along public transportation roots and government land.  To complicate matters further in Haiti, many citizens to not hold land ownership but rent or sharecrop land from an often absent landlord via informal agreements that have been in place for several decades or longer.

If informal arrangements dominate the settlement of displaced persons in Haiti, how can designers, architects and planners advance the reconstruction of Port Au Prince and surrounding regions?  Whereas the city organically developed by means of these loose arrangements, can a western system of design and planning facilitate the reconstruction?   Clearly it is possible to introduce new housing and urbanism solutions, but then a new complication will arise, as it demands the finding and rightful compensation to existing land owners.   Of course this process takes time, and under the constraints of a pending crisis time always appears to be the one resource that is never available.

December 1, 2010

Somalia's New Army already has a History


Today a story was released by the associated Press that a 1,000 man army is in development in Somalia's northern region of Puntland to fight against Piracy.  It is funded by anonymous Muslim nations is operated by the private security organization Saracen International.  This immediately brings to mind two points:

1. Saracen International?  Seriously?  Saracen was a an ancient Roman term used throughout the Crusades in reference to Arab and/or muslim populations.  The name stuck around forever, one can even find it in Mark Twain's Pilgram's Progress as he travelled across the Middle East but it continued to be used in a negative fashion.  Considering it carries negative, perhaps even racist connotations, I'm surprised that a mercenary group would name themselves as such.

2. According to Associated Press, Saracen International is the rebranding of the mercenary/private security organization Executive Outcomes.   If you by chance have read the book Dogs of War, you are aware of the attempts by Simon Mann to seize and control distressed African nations.  After he staged a coup in the Canary Islands, he later used  South-African company Executive Outcomes to sieze territorial control in Angola in the early 90s.  Executive Outcomes, and Mann's other venture Sandline International, faded out of the mercenary business sometime around 2000.  However it looks like they're back in business.

In the meanwhile, unknown donor nations attempt to control the piracy problem on the coast, the primary conflict in Somalia continues to escalate and millions of people continue to search for safety.  In the last 3 years a section of displaced peoples from Mogadishu have been establishing a new settlement known as the Afgooye corridor.  Satelite photos have revealed an astonishing degree of settlement recently as the regional violence continues.   I also embedded additional videos below from UNHCR on the Afgooye Corridor.

Afgooye Cooridor, Ceelasha Somalia, October 2007
Afgooye Cooridor, Ceelasha Somalia, July 2010

UNHCR Video mentioning the Afgooye corridor.

November 23, 2010

The Shermeyateva 16, Somali Refugees Stranded at Airport in Moscow

Have you ever seen the Tom Hanks movie about the man from Eastern Europe who is stuck in an airport when when his country implodes and invalidates his passport before reaching customs?  That movie was based on the real life experience of an Iranian man who was stuck at a French airport due to his own idiocy.  The man had acquired refugee status in Belgium, then got on a ferry to England and sent his legal document back to Belgium in the mail, thus leaving him stranded between borders with no legal clearance.  Later he wrote a book about it, which I found shoved in the corner of guest house in India, and have wondered periodically about how the matter was resolved.

But these stories are more than fiction.  Such things actually happen.

A few days ago I received an email that said the following:
This past weekend I was traveling in Russia and I encountered a group of 8 Somali refugees who told me they have been stranded in the Moscow airport for the past nine months.  I spoke with two who have very good English.  The group is safe, but they are sleeping on the airport floor surviving on instant soup and have not been able to leave the airport at all.  I'm assuming this is the same group who Rachel encountered in June.I found your contact info on the forced migration list serve via a Google search and am following up to see if you have any additional information or ideas for how to support them.  I have referred them to the Advocates for Human Rights, a Minnesota-based organization in the US, but am looking for all ideas for how to help them.  The situation seems inhumane and I would like to do whatever I can to assist them in finding a permanent new home. A Russian airport staff person has donated a laptop to the group and they have internet access.  Here is the email address that can be used to reach them [redacted].

Please let me know if you might be able to help this group, or suggest someone who can, or have any advice for the best way to raise the profile of their plight."

Having read something about this sometime during the summer, I was disappointed to learn the situation is otherwise unchanged.  Airports are a legal curiosity, as they present passengers with a 'legal fiction' of control between border points while remaining trans-national space.  Yet I cannot wonder about the particular issues facing this group.  Were they denied entry to Russia?  Were they denied exit?  Were they in transit to another destination but lacked transit visas?  What happened?  If anyone can tell me more about this, I'd like to hear about it.  You can contact me here.

Moscow Airport

November 19, 2010

The Seemingly Impossible is Possible




Today I am sharing Hans Rosling's presentation at TEDTalks, wherein he uses a wealth of statistical data to show how the world is changing - for the better.  He begins this by presenting an excellent analysis of aggragated data, comparing the GDP of countries vs. their infant mortality rate over the last 100 years.  The data reveals the discrepancies between economic growth and social development, for example, in 1957 the United States had same economy as contemporary Chile, yet only in 2002 does the quality of health with the United States reach the quality of health within Chile. As the presentation advances, he introduces the lessons learned from his long experience as a public health researcher and strategies toward mitigating the obstacles toward further advances.   What I love most about this presentation is that he deconstructs the industrial/developing mindset and shows that many of the countries in the world we consider 'developing' have actually advanced more in the last 50 years than any other country in the world if one were to accurately consider the circumstances these countries were facing 50 years ago. Not only is the presentation insightful, but it is incredibly entertaining as well.  Enjoy.

November 16, 2010

Now Online: An Assessment of Sphere Humanitarian Standards for Shelter and Settlement Planning in Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee Camps

Photo: Evelyn Hockstein for The New York Times

I am pleased to announce that my graduate Community Planning thesis in International Development is now online.  Although it has been published to various academic research databases, I am also making it available online through this blog.  For those interested in the Sphere Humanitarian Charter's Minimum Standards, this thesis examines the applicability of the Sphere emergency shelter standards to a protracted crisis, specifically the Dadaab refugee camp.  The research process includes an assessment of local shelter construction, refugee camp design by the Norwegian Refugee Council within Ifo II, and an older pres-sphere agency shelter design.  Research was conducted in the Dadaab camps  in 2007 with follow up research in 2009.  To download the pdf, just click the link below.   I am also pasting a copy of the abstract below.





Abstract

This thesis examines the viability of Sphere Humanitarian Shelter Standards within the construction of Ifo II, a new refugee camp in the Dadaab refugee camps of northeastern Kenya in 2007.  One of the largest refugee settlements in the world, the Dadaab camps contain over 300,000 refugees and have been in place since 1991.  As the Sphere Standards have been designed for use within an emergency crisis, this thesis investigates their applicability in the protracted settlement of Dadaab by utilizing a recent shelter initiative as a case study.

In 2007, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) initiated a new housing and camp expansion project in Dadaab to accommodate future population growth and to overcome many of the problems of the earlier camps.  Committed to sustainable solutions for displaced populations, the agency relied upon the Sphere Standards as a means to provide culturally, environmentally, and economically appropriate housing and infrastructure planning.   To determine if Sphere Standards meet the needs of the refugee populations, three months of qualitative research were undertaken within the Dadaab camps in 2007, with additional follow-up research in 2009.   Field research focused on the socioeconomic roles of informal housing consolidation strategies in the camps, pre-Sphere agency-provided housing, and the new NRC camp expansion.

Field research revealed that Sphere does not provide the tools necessary to contend with the matured socioeconomic dynamics of a protracted settlement. By expanding the standards to include a stronger recognition of the conditions which frame the lives of those in protracted displacement such as national policies, regional conflict, and local market activity, Sphere will provide humanitarian agencies with the means to provide displaced populations with better shelter and settlement solutions.

October 20, 2010

History of Somalia and a little East African Hip Hop


- I found a great website today that has saved me a lot of frustrations, Mogadishu Images.  For weeks I had been tracking down antiquated photographs, maps, and postcards of historic Somalia and attempting to locate the existing structures on google maps, only to discover that someone else was likewise doing the same thing!   I strongly suggest anyone with an interest in the anthropology, architecture, or history of the region to check it out.

- The initial research for my current project in East Leigh has been concluded.  I'm still working on the write up, but I plan to submit the document next week for publication.  It will surface sometime in January.  Once I know more about the date of public release, I intend to supply a brief video version of the article online.


- After some phone calls, Waaya Cusuub, the hip hop group  I had mentioned in my previous blog entry about  Somali hip hop protest of Al Shabaab in Eastliegh, is interested  in collaborating with me for a new track. Although I presently work with some hip hop artists in Nairobi,  this will be a opportunity to expand into a new market with increased visibility.  I just finished a track last week that I'm going to send them.  You can listen to the rough draft below.
If it says unavailable, just click the track name at the bottom, The Sand Beneath The Whale.


 

 The Sand Beneath The Whale by Mitchell Sipus

October 15, 2010

Eastleigh Hip Hop Boys -Waaya Cusub - Straight from the Streets of Nairobi's Little Mogadishu

Waaya Cusub, the New Era, is a hop hop group based in Eastleigh Nairobi, also known as "Little Mogadishu."  As Somali refugees living in Kenya, they live with the frustration of not being allowed to access viable employment or education opportunities, and are stuck in Kenya with no near chance of ever repatriating back to Somalia.

Yet these particular boys, and their female partner Falis, have directed their frustrations into hip hop music that not only discusses their situation, but also criticizes Al Shabaab as the basis of their problems.  Within the song Al Shabaab Al Qaacida weeyan, No To Al Shabaab, they accuse the militant group of causing more damage than good.  They also perform in Af Soomali, English, and Kiswahili to access the wides audience possible.   

The chorus of the song roughly translates as:
" Who is responsbile of that massacre? Al-shabaab."  
"Who is responsbible for the setback? Al-shabaab."


I don't really know any Somali, but the Swahili part's that I understand basically say that these guys love peace and Al-Shabaab is killing their freedom.  Oh yeah, and there is a part I must be misunderstanding, because I'm hearing "Unanua paka" which translates as "You kill cats."  That can't be correct.




As Al-shabaab's presence extends deep into Eastleigh, owning local businesses and maintaining an imprecise but noticeable social presence, the songs of Waaya Cusub have put them in danger.  Al-Shabaab retaliated by issuing a fatwa against the group, demanding that they are killed.  So far nothing has happened to them, as few people are going to acknowledge such crazy extremism by this militant group, but it is clear that raising their voices on behalf of their community has been at great risk.

Going to Nairobi? Stay with my friend Tom at International Guest House.

Today while figuring out some logistical issues for a research project I'm coordinating in Eastleigh, Nairobi, I happened to stumble across the website of my good friend Tom Kamau.  Today I when I found his new website, International Guest House, I felt that I should make a point to share with everyone. I'm not normally inclined to promote a particular business or product, but this is an exceptional case.

Last time I was in Nairobi, I was in a very difficult situation.  Given the large gap between rich and poor, it can be a challenge to find a place to live.  To find an apartment in Nairobi with only a couple hundred dollars in my pocket, I had no visible options.  It would not have been safe to move into one of the slums, nor could I live with my friends in East Leigh.  I also wanted a place within walking distance of downtown where I was working everyday.   I was left to wander the city and find a place, with only a few days to do so.

One day I was wandering through Upper Hill, looking for a particular guesthouse  I used to frequent, only to discover it had been fully abandoned.  Walking down a side street I saw a sign for the International Guest House, and after passing through the gate, I met Tom Kamau and discussed my need for housing.  When I met Tom, he was a long time successful businessman who was struggling with the sudden loss of tourism prompted by the US recession.   He also understood that I was in a difficult situation and out of kindness offered me an apartment on his property within range of something I could afford.

I immediately moved in, and found that Tom continued on multiple occasions to provide help with any problem I might have.  In exchange I tried to find ways to help Tom better market his business and attract more guests by discussing website development and online marketing strategies.  Unfortunately I had to leave before I could really do as much as I wanted, but as Nairobi is one of those difficult places to avoid, I'm certain that I will always continue to stay at the International Guest House every time I return to Kenya.  If anyone else happens to be in the area and needs a place to stay, make a point to check it out.

October 13, 2010

The Burundi Fund for Hope and Restoration

Bujumbura, Burundi   BFHR 2010
Within one year from now, I look forward to the Burundi Fund for Hope and Restoration being on the ground and in fully in motion.  As a member of the BFHR's Board of Directors, its been a slow process for the last 8 months as we have worked to coordinate with local agencies, refine our programming scope, and develop our fundraising processes.  However the continuous efforts of the team to work toward enhancing education opportunities for the youth of this East African Nation are finally coming to fruition.  I will be soon blogging much more on the status of this agency, as we are on the cusp of putting all the initial planning into action. 

The mission of the Burundi Fund is to assist repatriated refugee children to access the education they deserve but cannot afford.  Although primary schools are free in Burundi, secondary education often requires tuition ormany children cannot attend as they cannot pay the additional costs.  Schools may be to far away, supplies, books, and school clothes are prohibitively expensive, or the family needs the child to stay home to assist with domestic duties, such the family business or as local labor.  As a result of conflict and poverty, Burundi has a national literacy ranking of 150 out of 177 according to the United Nations Development Program.

Burundi School Children   BFHR, 2010
The Burundi Fund specifically works to assist the needs of repatriated refugee youth within Burundi. After having lived in camps for as long as 15 years, and returning as strangers to their homeland, repatriated youth are among those with the greatest challenge to access opportunity within Burundi.  The Burundi Fund addresses this problem by working to secure improved access and options to students of all ages with coordinated partnerships with local agencies and businesses so that this education may directly carry over into employment opportunities and expanded markets.  

Please join our Facebook page to receive more updates about Burundi Fund and how you can get involved.  

More information about returning refugee youth to Burundi can be found in this UNICEF video.

October 10, 2010

Building a Bridge to Africa

I've recently initiated research on the socio-economic impact of a bridge presently under construction between Djibouti and Yemen, also known as the Bridge of Horns.  While this small stretch of water is already a major trade route between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, the development of this 16 mile bridge will make a major impact upon intercontinental trade by creating a direct linkage between the oil import producing nations of the Gulf with other production sites such as Sudan, and streamlining consumption by emerging economies such as China.  However I'm looking at what other externalities the construction of this bridge will establish, in particular its role among informal migrants who steadily attempt to access Yemen at great risk.  As Yemen presently developing into a formidable conflict zone, I am curious how back-linkages will additionally occur, feeding militant assets such as weapons and ideology into existing African conflict zones.   I will be writing more about this project in upcoming blog posts.

Mogadishu, Photo by Frank Langfitt/NPR
Speaking of spreading conflict, NPR hosted a decent  4 part series this last week on Somalia.  Journalist Frank Langfitt went to Mogadishu to assess the current state of things within this war torn city.   There were two aspects of his story that I found interesting, one about how political corruption slows the process of payment to Somali soldiers who are willing to join the AU and fight against Al Shabaab, the other regarding the influence of Al Shabaab within the Kenyan neighborhood of East Leigh.   I was just talking to a Somali friend of mine who lives in that neighborhood, and while I've found it a welcoming environment at the times I've been there, its interesting to hear that some of the businesses are now owned by Al Shabaab who has slowly permeated their influence within the neighborhood. 

October 4, 2010

How to write about Africa

I love this piece, How To Write about Africa.


"In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates."


For years it has always been a frustration when reading about developing nations and internal conflicts as time and time again, the authors use  language that does little more that reveal the privilege of the author than the quality of the place.  I've done it myself.  It is in many ways, an unavoidable situation, because these romantic distortions are in many ways imbued within the geography as much as the writer.    After a lifetime of watching Indiana Jones and reading  Joseph Conrad, how can one look at South American Jungle, the rocks of Petra, or the raging Congo with a sense of detachment?   Perhaps then, following the wisdom of How To Write about Africa, it is best to completely abandon oneself to the romance, the power, the prejudice, and the absurdity.  



September 30, 2010

Cairo Life

Mallory sent me this video today.  Its silly, but makes me homesick for Cairo.   Of course it doesn't show all the grit and grime, dust, and frustrations... but then again those are what make the good parts so good.

September 28, 2010

African War and Climate Change

This week a new article was published by the Proceedings of the Nation Academy of Sciences stating that Climate change and African conflicts are not related.  This is in direct contrast to earlier publication in the same journal in 2009.  While the new article penetrates deeper levels of data and analysis, the authors conclude with the general statement that conflicts are primarily based upon structural issues, such as government corruption, poverty, and so on.  From personal experience, I've witnessed how climate change has reduced access to traditional livelihood strategies and therefore has had a destabilizing impact upon many already distressed landscapes.  While it is interesting to follow the discussion, the obvious lesson with the greatest utility is that climate change does influence conflict although it is simply one of several contributing factors.

September 27, 2010

Finally, a nod to Somaliland

Since the early 1990s,  the Northern break-away states of Somaliland and Puntland have experienced reasonable economic growth and security in great contrast to neighboring Somalia in the South.  Independently established by Somalis who desire no part in the chaos of Somalia, these regions have established a foothold for prosperity with expanding infrastructure and improved living conditions without the support of the United Nations, the EU, or the United States.  Although some humanitarian aid agencies have worked to assist Somaliland and Puntland, these regions have been unable to participate in global trade and have therefore remained economically stunted because they are not recognized as sovereign states.  Instead, dominating policies have supported the struggling efforts of Somalia's president Sheik Sherif Ahmed even though his government can only control 4 blocks of Mogadishu under constant attack from Al Shabaab  militants.

As of today, there might be a glimmer of hope that such narrow and offtrack policies could change.   Consistent with the new US policy on international development laid out by Barack Obama at the United Nations, the United States announced its interest in assisting the people of Somaliland.  Although this is not a formal recognition of statehood, it is a tremendous step in the right direction as it supports the efforts of an active civil society and engages stabilization and development from the bottom up.  As democratic governments cannot be successfully created from the top down, but must be constructed upon the capacities and interests of the populace, the new vow of support from the State Department relays a significant, and enlightened, transformation in approach.

I am greatly pleased to learn of this political shift, as it is also indicative of a greater ideological transformation.  No nation, state, or person exists in isolation in this day and age.  A single household product, such as  t-shirt has a likely history of over a dozen nations in its creation, while the research, development, and production of daily technology such as a telephone or a television required the hands and investment of thousands of people around the world.  From the African mineral mine, to the East Asian research lab, the Indian marketing company, and the German shipping company.  In the same way that products are global, and finance is global, what is lesser recognized is that conflict and poverty are equally global.  The problems of a failed state, a summer drought, or the plight of poverty lead to unimaginable externalities and social repercussions throughout the world.  Unfortunately these problems are often manifest as acts of terrorism, a burgeoning drug trade, regional destabilization and environmental despair.   Ending terrorism and conflict in the contemporary world isn't about removing a particular government from power or killing the bad guys... as there are no leaders or bad guys.  Ending war, extremism, and conflict are instead the results of ending the problems at the root - by ending poverty, expanding education, and supporting the positive actions of those who have already worked so hard to improve the lives of their family and community.  If there is an probable end to Al Shabaab and the violence in Mogadishu, the reconstruction of the state won't start in an office or in Washington, but has already started in the hands of its citizens, in the north, in Somaliland.

September 7, 2010

Dadaab Online Image Database

Earlier today I was searching online and happened to rediscover the Architecture and Urban Planning collection at the libraries of the University of Cincinnati.  While I was in grad school, I donated several images to this collection from my research at the Dadaab Refugee Camps.  For anyone interested, you can follow the link here: Dadaab  Architecture and Urban Planning Images by Mitchell Sipus

Mud Bricks for Refugee Housing Construction in Dadaab Refugee Camps

July 15, 2010

Confronting Terrorism: Restructuring Somalia's Primary Export



As the actions of Al Shabaab extended beyond the Somali border and into Kampala just a few days ago, leaving over 70 dead from the bombings, I've been thinking a great deal about the role of the AMISOM forces and the prospects for stabilizing this broken nation.   Are the actions taken by UNISOM sufficient to achieve peace and security within Somalia?  What more needs to be done, and more importantly, what actions can be taken based upon the available resources?

Looking back over the African Union's AMISOM newsletter, The AMISOM Bulletin, I only find evidence that UNISOM forces have pursued merely a conventional and unidimensional approach toward counterinsurgency.  The only evidence to the contrary is a statement from the AMISOM Force Commander, Major General Nathan Mugisha, " There is no military solution to this conflict; only a political solution, that is, dialogue and negotiations can achieve a lasting solution to the conflict in Somalia. Somalis must sit around a table and resolve their differences. The solution will not come from without; it will only come from Somalis themselves." However this is only indicates a recognition of the political forces within the stabilization and reconstruction process, it does not make any reference to the sociocultural, economic, environmental, and global elements that are necessary to end the violence and benefit the lives of the inhabitants.  It is obvious that AMISOM is ill equipped to meet facilitate all of these concerns, yet as the country remains bound by violence, it is difficult for NGO's to fill in the gaps.

Counterinsurgency is a complex process that requires more than just military action.  It requires building relationships and most importantly, the ability to provide the local populations with something they consider valuable.  It requires constructing metrics to determine progress, the development and implementation of a popular narrative for mobilization, and to have a keen understanding of the enemy that goes far beyond intelligence passed down from upper command.

Within Somalia, it is important for counterinsurgent forces to recognize the founding factors of radicalism, terrorism, and militancy.  Terrorism is not merely the product of social processes and economic devastation, but can be understood as an economic commodity.  The socio-economic infrastructure is oriented around a culture of violence as much as it is concerned with other basic commodities such as food or shelter because in contemporary Somalia, survival requires an understanding of violence and its social underpinnings.  As a lone individual, or as a part of a family or community, to survive and have insurance of future survival (security) is to either partake in the socio-economic processes that facilitate conflict or to avoid them.  Either way, each course of action requires the same understanding of these processes.

Sadly, as Somalia has been left to indulge in its own suffering and deterioration by the international community for so long, the internal economic structure has consolidated so that its exports can reflect nothing else.  As there is no longer a sufficient livelihood in animal husbandry or agriculture, yet no infrastructure for technical development to partake in the global marketplace, one of the best options is to either partake in piracy or militancy.   While the Somali people must necessarily seek greater unity and peace, without the sufficient infrastructure to carry out those goals, they lack a means to implement this vision in a durable fashion.  In the end, the only way to negate the exportation of terrorism is to work toward a Somalia based on something more durable, less violent, and more integrated within the global marketplace.

January 20, 2010

Haiti: Aid is only as good as the infrastructure

The whole world is presently focused on the recent earthquake in Haiti, as it should be.  With estimates of approximately 50,000 mortalities from the disaster, and countless numbers of people in need of assistance, the immense scale of this disaster warrants immediate relief efforts by the international community.   At this time aid agencies are find themselves faced with an array of logistical challenges however, which makes this disaster somewhat unique.

Although an array of aid organizations are on the ground, media reports present portray them as struggling to get matters underway.  In short, the aggression of the earthquake has broken down the necessary transport lines for the delivery of aid, consequently, agencies are bottlenecked.  With a single, partially operating airport in Port-au-Prince, and a defunct harbor, aid agencies are having to determine alternative supply lines, via ground transport from the Dominican republic.

However a quick glance at a map of the roads between these two countries reveals that there are only 2 major arterial roads between the two countries.  Each roadway has extends to either the far north or the far south, and assumably have been damaged within the earthquakes as well.

Islands are complicated terrains.  An island economy is generally not self sustaining and relies upon a high quantity of imports to maintain its populations.  Islands likewise have limited resources available, and therefore have few products available for export or even a balanced consumption by their own populations.  Within the Caribbean, it is not uncommon for such islands to primarily thrive on sugar cane or tourism, with additional minor products such as cigar rolling or the manufacture of alcohol for export.  Haiti of course has been severely scarred by civil war within the last 10 years, and therefor does not even have such basic assets as their island neighbors.

With such limited economic means, it is easy to recognize that the nation does not have - or possibly even require - an advanced system of physical infrastructure.  Although the mandate within aid organizations are to work with communities, the conflict and disaster terrain can only facilitate the distribution of aid to the extent that industrial infrastructure is available.

Within Haiti, aid will therefore continue to be a one way process and will need to be a 'top-down' operation by necessity.  Agencies that have strong supply chain capacity and yet flexible field protocol will be the best equipped to handle the situation.  But even then, these agencies, such as MSF are faced with daunting challenges.  Unable to access fuel for planes and trucks, agencies are forced to import their own fuel.  This is of course an expensive and tedious process, considering that the delivery of fuel within vehicle will likewise consume fuel going to and from the destination point.  The greater the distance, and the more fuel in delivery, the more fuel that is ultimately consumed.  At certain point, the cost/benefit of shipping fuel becomes a loss.

Listening to NPR, watching the news, or reading the papers, many reporters and American citizens clearly have a limited or maligned view of the international institutions working within Haiti.  Regardless of appearances, aid agencies do coordinate with one another, emergency rosters and teams do exist on standby for immediate deployment, international aid standards do exist and state governance is in place.  Agencies do not have carte blanche to property, resources, or methods as they are still subject to the interest and directives of the sovereign government.  Therefore setting up an emergency settlement of tents for 10,000 people is not a matter of immediacy and whim, considering a) the settlement may be there for years   b) land ownership and property rights laws still exist and must be honored for the location of such a settlement an  c) other large scale planning concerns must be taken into account such as access to water, transportation, sanitation.

It becomes clear that regardless of the procedure taken by the aid organization, in the end, it is the infrastructure of the country that determines the viability of its immediacy.  Regardless of political will or the imbalance of power and capital throughout the world, aid will always be better distributed where fuel, supply lines, and raw supplies are readily available.  Otherwise, agencies must construct new infrastructure at the same time, reducing the efficacy of their mandate and undermining their success.

January 7, 2010

New Video from Slim J

This morning I woke up feeling heavily congested and rather sick, yet when I opened my email, it suddenly made me feel a little better.  My friend Mohamed Jalloh, aka Slim J, sent an email announcing the creation of a new hip hop video.  Jalloh and I used to make hip hop music in Cairo before he returned home to Freetown, Sierra Leone.  He told me that he has managed to get many our songs on the radio, and are even being played at the national soccer stadium.  He said progress has been slow, but he has been working really hard to advance his music career.  He recently wrote and recorded this song - Fula Boy Rap - and also made his own music video.  Apparently this song is catching on in Freetown as well, and is getting quite a bit of play on the radio.  Watching the video I couldn't help but smile when a few pictures of me popped up in it toward the end.  Thanks man.  I can't wait to see where this goes.  You can watch the video below, or at this link.


January 6, 2010

The Price of Aid?

WFP Ration Distribution

It was announced this week that the World Food Program, WFP, has been forced to suspend programming within Somalia. The lives of 1 million people are now at risk, due to the demands of Al Shabaab placed upon WFP to pay a semi-annual $20,000 "security fee" and to dismiss female employees.

Food aid is always a challenging issue, as the provision of aid may undercut existing markets and lead to a struggling reconstruction process. However within Somalia, it is arguable that food aid is essential, as the instability within the region will likewise to continue to undermine the efforts of farmers and shop owners.

Of course one must question, will the payment of $3,300 per month to Al Shabaab lead to greater complications and tragedies than the potential deaths of 1 million people? Is each life only worth 1/3 of a single cent? Or are there bigger issues at hand? Will the provision of $40,000 per year lead to increased militancy, increased terrorism, and later increased demands? Will the present loss of 1 million lives prevent the loss of 5 million lives in the future? How can we weigh these factors?

This problem has always existed within the world of organized crime. Mafias demand a fee for protection, the store owner must pay that fee to be protected. The threat is of course the mafia. Witnessing this process occur within the international domain however is highly disturbing. It highlights the position of power held by Al Shabaab. Clearly attempts to remediate this problem can not be determined in a traditional militaristic fashion, with military tactics utilized to bring down a particular rebel group. The stabilization to this region will require global efforts, engaging Al Shabaab as a political power.

We do have institutions to deal with such issues, such as the International Criminal Courts. The question applies however to the desire of the international community to recognize Al Shabaab as a political actor, on par with a state actor.

But in doing so, we will have to change our language. While a state might sponsor terrorism, a state is not a terrorist. A political faction acknowledged as having the same credibility and responsibility of a state, may not necessarily be a terrorist. It will of course be a matter of targeting.

Is the civilian population harmed? Aid workers? Are these targets or unwanted causalities? Is Al Shabaab taking responsibility of its actions wherein civilians may be at risk? Could this demand for $20,000 actually be an attempt to assume proper responsibility in lieu of insufficient resources? If agencies began to acknowledge Al Shabaab as a credible holder of state responsibility, could greater stability be placed into the region?

Many Western governments argue that they do not negotiate with terrorists. However, at what point do we recognize a ruling party as something more than terrorists, and instead as a major power holder within a region, en route to state control? The Maoist have overtaken Nepal, the Taliban had Afghanistan, and now Al Shabaab are taking over Somalia. We might not like them, their ideas, or their actions. But when does this dialogue change?

At this time, I fully support WFP's withdrawal from Somalia, because I do not believe that supporting Al Shabaab's demands will lead to a better situation. However, I suspect that in the future, greater dialogue and cooperation will be required, although as we will never know when this time is upon us, we will miss the opportunity.