September 22, 2012

Ahmed Jama's Village Restaurant and the Future of Mogadishu Somalia

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Ahmed Jama, owner of The Village Restaurant in Mogadishu. Photo Sutika Sipus 2012.
The Village Restaurant.  2012.
A few days ago I learned about a suicide bombing killing 15 people at my favorite restaurant in Mogadishu and I've been wrestling with a terrible feeling since. “The Village” is a popular destination for journalists and repatriating Somalis, owned and operated by a British Somali Man, Ahmed, who also owns a successful London  restaurant the same name.  

Ahmed attended culinary school in the UK and is a good natured, savvy, and considerate man.  The few times I’ve been to his restaurant in Mogadishu he has made a point to introduce me to anyone and everyone nearby.  I’ve met local politicians, entrepreneurs, and a man who was a truck driver in the United States for 20 years.  Bursting with energy, a melodic cockney accent and glassy eyes, this tall slender man seems like someone you would discover in a Charles Dickens novel.  Had Dickens been recounting tales of working class Mogadishu and not industrial London, he would have immediately recognized Ahmed as a robust protagonist, whose disposition and hard work were directly changing the lives of those around him and facilitating the interests of the greater good.  His optimistic nature quickly spreads to everyone around him.  He also frequently refuses to charge me for my meal, no matter how much I protest.


Ahmed's Charcoal Heated Espresso Machine. 2012.
When I learned on twitter that a young man had entered the restaurant at 6 pm and detonated a suicide vest with another attacker at gate, my stomach dropped as I immediately worried about his safety and that of his family.  

What happened was devastating, but Ahmed survived the bombing and he vows that he will not stop trying to pursue his goal to lead Mogadishu, alongside others, into a new era.  He has told me many times that he lives and works in Mogadishu because he is motivated by a goal of broad cultural change and social reform.   He has been a leader in the city's radical transformation.  He also makes an amazing cappuccino. 

Ahmed has been a great contributor to a project I've been doing with the City of Mogadishu for the last few months, and I hope that when we launch or upcoming initiative in the next 6 weeks,  it will provide something to help leverage all the work this man has done, if anything to inspire others to likewise pick up the torch and move the city forward.   We need more people like him in the world and it is imperative that they have all the support we can provide.

September 15, 2012

Afghanistan's Google Blockade

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For the last few days, communicating with the world beyond Afghanistan has been tedious.  In an effort to avoid having same violent protests presently sweeping several Islamic nations, the Afghan government not only shut down Youtube, but has blocked all access to Google, thus including google products such as Blogger and Gmail.  It has been a serious headache.

After 2 days of effort I have been able to develop a work-around, although I prefer not to share the details as I have no idea how long this blockade may remain in effect. It would be a shame to undermine my own efforts. Other search engines such as Bing or Yahoo remain accessible, as do their respective email services.  But considering how many people and businesses rely on Gmail, the consequences are significant. 

It is interesting to note that the act of blocking Google in Afghanistan is intended to quell riots, while in much of the world the same act would spur outrageous protests.  Furthermore as only Google is blocked, information regarding the highly offensive film "Innocence of Muslims" remains accessible elsewhere on the internet.  Lastly, although Google has been inaccessible since Thursday evening, I've yet to see any international press on the subject.  Nor has there been any official statements on the matter.  Hopefully access will resume soon, but if not, at what point will people begin to talk about this? 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, this blog is powered by Blogger. 

**Update** 
After posting the above article last night, it appears that Google is again available in Afghanistan.  I have had no difficulty accessing my email.  But there is the strange coincidence that Twitter is not functioning very well, as Google Chrome and Tweetdeck both claim the security certificate as suspicious.

September 12, 2012

Rebuilding Mogadishu with Lessons From Kabul

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Before : Mogadishu April 2012
It has been difficult to find the time to do any blogging lately.  There has been quite a bit of work to do in Kabul and I've been travelling often, so it is difficult to balance all obligations.  However last week I spoke at a conference at Oxford University, the 3rd International Conference on Space and Place, with a paper entitled "Rebuilding Mogadishu with Lessons from Kabul." 

After : Mogadishu July 2012
The concept is basically drawn from daily experience, as I witness the classical defense structures such as walled perimeters and police checkpoints throughout Kabul undermine the local economy and reinforce some of the root causes of insurgency.  How then can Mogadishu develop in a way that remains secure yet avoids consolidating infrastructure into a tightly wound and repressive fortress?  The answer of course, or at least a proposal for an answer, is yet to be published, but is just around the corner.