April 27, 2011

Upcoming academic conferences on #conflict, #urbanplanning, #war, and #displacement

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I was looking forward to attending the Middle East History and Theory Conference at the University of Chicago to present my paper, "The Urban Design of Power and Politics in Cairo, Egypt," but unfortunately I will no longer be attending.  It has been a hectic month, and the coming months are only going to be busier, consequently leaving me with insufficient time.   While looking for other possible venues to present work, I found a few conferences of interest and thought it would be worthwhile to share. 

"Proposals are invited for a conference to be held 11-12 July 2011 at the University of Birmingham, entitled New Perspectives on Conflict and Security: Understanding Civil War and Intrastate Conflict. This event is organized by the editorial team of Civil Wars journal with the support of the College of Social Sciences Advanced Social Science Collaborative fund and the Department of Political Science and International Studies. This conference will explore a range of debates and topics related to intrastate conflict and civil war. Those interested in presenting are invited to submit a paper proposal or query to Ben Zala at BPZ898@bham.ac.uk by 15 May 2011. All papers presented will be considered for publication in CIVIL WARS."

This conference will analyze how globalization and individualization have given rise to new forms of diversity. want to know how people with diverse backgrounds locate themselves and others in new social hierarchies, how they struggle to create meaningful places, in what ways they develop strategies to belong, and with what consequences. Moreover, we aim to understand better what types of (new) policy responses and forms of governance have developed to manage diversity in urban settings.

Multiculturalism, Conflict, and Belonging September: Oxford, United Kingdom
This multi-disciplinary project seeks to explore the new and prominent place that the idea of culture has for the construction of identity and the implications of this for social membership in contemporary societies. In particular, the project will assess the context of major world transformations, for example, new forms of migration and the massive movements of people across the globe, as well as the impact of globalisation on tensions, conflicts and on the sense of rootedness and belonging. 

War and Displacement Conference September: Plymouth, United Kingdom
This two day interdisciplinary conference will explore themes of War and Displacement with special focus on WW1 and WW2 in relation to imperialism and colonial warfare, although papers relating to other wars and time periods will also be welcome. This conference aims to discuss and analyse the impact of war on both civilians and military personnel in terms of voluntary or forced relocation (for example refugees, prisoners of war, internment, resettlement or military service abroad). Although ‘war and displacement’ is an established field of research, especially in relation to the two World Wars and more modern humanitarian crises caused by war, it is seldom combined with aspects of imperialism or colonial history. 

April 24, 2011

The New Sphere #Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Response Standards 2011

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I am quite excited to see that the new edition of the Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Response standards are coming out this April.  Although the printed edition is not yet available, the pdf is may be directly downloaded from the website here.  After a cursory glance, there is a significant improvement within the new edition, as it presents information in a more concise manner.  The new standards are not perfect of course.  As Under Secretary General of the ICRC says in the video below, there are times that meeting the standards may not be feasible, such as the provision of adquate space for shelter within Haiti, however, it is important that humanitarian actors utilize the Sphere standards to understand the repercussions of planning settlements with overly concentrated density; such as furthering gender divisions and escalating health dangers.


I have a particular interest in the Sphere Settlement Standards, having previously researched the feasibility of such standards to meet the demands of refugee camp planning in a protracted settlement.    My previous research concluded that Sphere lacked the tools to facilitate protracted communities within refugee camps as it did not engage the tools, assets, and networks that developed over time.  Furthermore, I felt that it was insufficient for meeting the needs of populations displaced by violent conflict, as it failed to tie the needs of the population to the pyscho-social conditions of their legal status and departure.  By not considering how the roots of displacement are reflected within new social and settlement patterns, intervening agencies arguably provide less benefit than may appear.  

Fortunately the new Sphere Minimum Standards covers many similar issues, or at the very least, many of the of the emerging issues facing the humanitarian community including: civil-military relations, the role of protection and vulnerable populations, a discussion of rapid and long term assessments, monitoring and evaluation, aid worker performance measures, and most importantly, a recognition of the relative values of these standards depending on circumstance.   All of these new tools and frameworks accommodate a more community-centered approach and demonstrates the new Sphere 2011 as a significant improvement.  Of course the real value of its improvement is to be demonstrated over the following years through implementation.

April 2, 2011

al-Shabaab's Economic Advantage

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Repost from http://hornofafrica.foreignpolicyblogs.com/ by Mitchell Sipus 
Saturday, April 2 7:23 pm EST

Many are familiar with the origin of Somalia’s protracted conflict in the fall of Said Barre’s regime in 1991 and the resulting competition for political control among warring clans.  Yet the conditions of warfare in Somalia have evolved dramatically since that time as the impact of the conflict upon the local geography, the role of humanitarian regimes, and the new found utility of globalization technologies have transformed the nature of Somali warfare.  Not only do tribes fight for territorial power, but factions also battle to control transit and communication infrastructure and points of entry (such as ports and air strips), and to control the inflow and distribution of foreign aid.  The conflict has evolved from a war for political power into a war of capitalism and enterprise.  Tribal leaders are not only warlords, but  entrepreneurs, seeking to capitalize on the geo-political degradation of their nation.

In 2006, when Harakat al-Shabaab began to extend its mandate beyond its original role as the implementing partner of the Union of Islamic Courts, the political system founded by civil society to stabilize the nation under sharia law, al-Shabaab expanded this new model of armed group enterprise.  Receiving funds from global remittance flows, investing in banks to profit from remittance transactions, creating propaganda materials for sale, and later investing in legitimate businesses are fundamental to the workings of al-Shabaab's militant force.  In addition, affiliations with al-Queda and the demand of payments from aid agencies can be interpreted as actions rooted far more rooted in capitalism rather than decisions based on shared/conflicting ideologies.

Ultimately, much of al-Shabaab’s work can be attributed to profiteering, and to extend the model, one could interpret acts of terrorism outside of Somalia as the exportation of a commodity, wherein the resulting conflict is creates new markets for control and profit.  Considering the limited export base within Somalia, a country most known for nomadic pastoralism, piracy, and warfare, the most profitable and peaceful pathways are severely limited.  For example, without a functioning regulatory government to oversee the health and quality of animals stocks, adjacent nations such as Saudi Arabia have no desire to import possibly diseased or contaminated animals.

Without the necessary internal infrastructure to capitalize upon traditional economic assets, the export of conflict quickly becomes the most viable means toward economic success.  To destabilize adjacent regions creates new geographies for exploitation, displays the capacity and power of al-Shabaab among local and distant communities, and creates new points of intersection between armed groups and outside humanitarian actors.

From an economic point of view, acts of regional terrorism  by al-Shabaab, such as bombings in Nairobi, have the prospect of offering only positive prospects for Shabaab as it reinforces their economic base and their image of power.  As African Union forces are already in Somalia, and thus regional nations already participate in the conflict, Shabaab cannot likely accrue greater risks through its actions, only greater economic advantage.  To interpret regional terrorism as a process of phased market expansion, it also explains why acts of terrorism by al-Shabaab have been focused in Kenya and Uganda and have not extended very far elsewhere.  To conduct acts of terrorism in America, for example, will most likely operate at a loss and not created desired profits because it would not have the desried destabilizing impact upon American geography.  Furthermore, to attract greater global attention may ultimately undermine the existing capacity of al-Shabaab who could not contend with American military forces.  Regional terrorism therefore only extends the conflict and its resulting opportunities for profit within a manageable geographic space.

Arguably, the capitalist spirit is the greatest asset of this organization.  To undermine the power of al-Shabaab is not a matter of reinforcing security as much as it is a matter of reducing their economic export potential and thus limit the scope of their market.  Yet as many their market inputs are widely distributed through the migrant diaspora via remittance flows and the outputs are concentrated in the chaotic battlefields of Somalia, a network-centric approach faces tremendous obstacles.  Perhaps a greater means to confront and undermine this force is to examine its weaker components, such as its organizational structure, logistical corridors, and ideological basis.