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|The former Parliament Building, devastated by war. Photo by Mitchell Sutika Sipus|
Today was a massively busy day for meetings.
I had a meeting with the Mayor and Govener of the Benadiir Administration, Mohamuud Ahmed Noor. We discussed his primary vision for the city and regional development, his trials and efforts in the past and the obstacles he faces today. Around this time I also met some traditional leaders and members of the Benadiir council working on a variety of USAID projects. I've been greatly impressed by his efforts and those of the Deputy Mayor, Iman Noor Icar with whom I've been meeting regularly. Aware of the issues of corruption in their country, they continually work with international donors so that no cash transactions take place, rather the donor has full responsibility for handling the funding while the administration simply provides the needed manpower to implement the projects. With this model, various initiatives in partnership with Turkey and USAID have been seeing great success.
Last night the urban planner working with Benadiir, Mohamed "Shaan", and I discussed at length the obstacles concerning data collection and mapping of the city. Although UN-Habitat has a large collection of data, unfortunately they are not willing to share direct shape files and thus their information is of no real use to the municipality. It is truly unfortunate that a UN body would pose such a hinderance to the efforts of the municipality. Yet thanks to open-source mapping technology and the efforts of my friends at Somalia Report, I believe I can thoroughly solve this problem so that we simply side-step the UN and do the work that needs to be done.
|Mitchell Sutika Sipus, Mohamed, and Abdul on the Somali Coast|
I also had a chance to explore some of the historic district of Mogadishu. We were escorted by a Captain in the African Union's peace keeping force and I was able to talk to him about his experience of fighting in Somalia. The wreckage in this area from 20 years of war is truly profound to see, but it left me thinking a great deal about all the other images of Mogadishu that never come out.
|Business is booming in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo by Mitchell Sutika Sipus|
While the world constantly sees the destruction in Mogadishu, they don't get a chance to learn about the dynamic change abreast, the massive return of Somalis, the economic explosion taking place from new investments and the visionary work of the municipal government. Just today I had a cappuccino at a cafe founded by a Somali who lived for a long time in the UK. It was delicious. Things are happening and they are happening fast. This is story that is worth telling, it must be told.
|Travel Businesses on Mecca Marena Road. Photo by Mitchell Sutika Sipus|
|Urban Planning and Reconstruction in Mogadishu|
Concise and innovative urban planning solutions
are in clear demand in Mogadishu Somalia
|al Shabaab Supply Trench in Mogadishu, Somalia|
**Update: Just a few hours after posting this reports have rolled in that multiple attacks have taken place in Mogadishu with al Shabaab utilizing hit and run tactics and hidden explosive devices.
I haven't updated this blog for awhile, although daily updates can be found at The Humanitarian Terrain. The next couple months will continue to have a low rate of posts, however in August I will have far more to write about as I begin my new position in Kabul, Afghanistan. For the present are some small news blurbs concerning urban development issues in regions of interest.
UNHABIT releases Charter of Values [LINK]. In line with contemporary trends in economic and physical planning, UNHABITAT has required ongoing partnerships with private agencies to facilitate project implementation. To encourage a strengthened relationship that remains centered on UNHABITAT priorities within the private sector, the agency as created a series of guidelines to frame future partnerships.
New Model on Evolution of Urban Settlements [LINK]. By merging an expansive study of regional linguistic structures and local political organization in South East Asia, scientists have advanced a theory on the rise and collapse of past civilizations, wherein those that advanced the most quickly became more vulnerable and prone to sudden collapse.
Brief interview with Somali Archaeologist Sada Mire [LINK]. Although initially displaced by the ongoing conflicts of Somalia, Sada returned from England's University CollegeLondon to discover prehistoric rock-sites in the northern province of Somaliland.
Approval for new Egyptian Science Research City [LINK]. The ruling military in Egypt approved the planning and construction of a new urban development dedicated to technological research and scientific advancement. The campus will be situated on 300 acres near Sixth of October City.
No Rest in Somalia. Somalia premier quits, Danish Warship offers Kenya 24 captured pirates, 25 member of al-Shabaab surrender, while continued fighting displaces more residents... [LINK]. In a desparate attempt to round up new recruits, insurgents have been visiting Madrasa's in central Somalia, looking for schools to stop teaching and offer children to join the insurgency [LINK].
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.
- 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.
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
|Bujumbura, Burundi BFHR 2010|
|Burundi School Children BFHR, 2010|
|Mogadishu, Photo by Frank Langfitt/NPR|
"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.
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.
I took the bus back to the Hospital near my place, but as it had become dark outside, I arranged for a cab to drive the 1.5 mile distance to my apartment. Now this is typical, as its just not safe to walk around at night, in particular as a foreigner. While I live in a very nice neighborhood, the streets are typical for East Africa, with each house surrounded by a large concrete wall and a guard standing at the gate. The guards where I live are two Masai men. The Masai are an interesting tribe within Kenya, as the most feared warriors, the most likely photographed among tourists, and also the lowest social class. I believe they are seen as 'backwards' to the other people of Kenya, as the Masai struggle to balance their cultural history and identity with the forces of the outside world.
One of the guards has often asked me for money. I never really cared that he would ask, but as I have been living on a tight budget, I always told him no and thought maybe at the end of the month to give him a nice tip or christmas bonus. Yet last night the situation got out of control. As I departed the taxi, the guy went into the compound and locked the gate, refusing to allow access unless I give him money. Highly irritated, I called the landlord from my cell, who promptly ended the situation. It turns out that the guard was also intoxicated and he denied the whole situation.
I feel sorta bad, but the man was fired today for being such a jerk. Yet the landlord insisted that the guards are well paid, and should never behave in such a manner. After all, thats the sort of thing guests at his guest house would probably never complain about, yet in the future never actually return.
This incident was only the beginning of my troubles for the night. I'm not really sure what happened, but I suspect the Pizza I hate actually gave me food poisoning. I spent the whole night clutching my stomach in agony, repeatedly vomiting, suffering from all sorts of cold sweats, hot flashes, nausea, dizziness... about every system out there. At one point I stood up and suddenly felt feint - and NOT wanting to relive the India experience again - I immediately laid down at the place I was standing. It was horrid really. Once the constant vomiting ceased, I took 500 mg of Antinol, and immediately began to feel better.
Eventually around 8 am I fell asleep. I also cancelled all my appointments today. Around 2 o'clock I called my favorite cab driver (same from the night before) who then drove me to a pharmacy and a grocery store where I stocked up on antibiotics, juice, water, and tea crackers.
I do feel much better now. But there are few things worse than sudden acts of physical illness to prompt feelings of homesickness. I did, as for good news, receive some information to further proceed with acquiring access to Dadaab. I also received an email stating I can now make an appointment for an interview with MSF. I am quite excited about that, as earlier today, I was thinking about the difference of having strong institutional support when traveling vs. the frustration of doing it on your own. Had I been working with a larger agency, especially MSF, I would have been able to access immediate health care, and perhaps much of the last 24 hours could have been avoided. Not to mention just the support of having other people around. As for now, I guess I'll just continue to buddy up with the cabbie.
Before I go, I guess I could mention the one interesting thing today. Kenya, like Egypt, is a very simple place to obtain medication. In fact, the antibiotics I purchased today are the manufactured in Cairo. For an entire box of pills, the cost was 180 schillings, or just over 2 dollars. In Cairo I believe it might cost even less. I didn't require a prescription, but simply walked in and told them what I needed. Other folks stood around doing the same thing. I really wish America could learn something about this, having affordable and easy access to medication. I know people always argue that lower prices would staunch innovation, but when you look at the quantity of innovative medications produced in Northern Europe, evidence points out that this is simply not true. Had I been in the States today, I would have had to just 'tough it out' and continue fighting the illness much longer than today. About 5 years ago, when I lived in Camp Washington and acquired food poisoning from a fried fish joint, an attempt to 'tough it out' by going jogging at 3:30 in the afternoon turned into a disaster. Certainly learned my lesson!
I've continued contact with Samasource, and while I don't want to state anything prematurely, I believe that the relationship is unfolding well enough and its possible that I might end up in Kenya soon enough. This is a transition I really look forward to, considering how much I enjoy African societies, cultures, and languages. I've been in contact with an array of friends in Nairobi, and am working on making some new connections at this time.
Emmanuel Jal. A former child soldier in Sudan, Emmanuel has been touring and recording albums within Europe and America for several years now, his most recent release, Warchild, is a favorite in my collection and highly recommended. Anyway, I contact the record company he recently started and they are interested in hearing some of the music that I have been recording in Cairo for the last year. As I might be moving to Nairobi within the next few weeks, this could be a good opportunity to further expand my recording project, as I hope to work with more hip hop artists across the continent. If possible I would really like to use this as an oppurtunity to showcase the guys that I have enjoyed working within over the last year in Cairo.
To share some of these recordings, I recently uploaded more tracks to my Youtube account. These are not music videos per se, but simply a few photographs taken by my Australian friend David Lazar (this guy is an international award wining photographer, so check it out!!!) of the guys, with the camera panning and the music playing. I am attaching below a sample clip of my recent production with Slim J, called Number One Romeo. This is definitely one of my favorite songs.
I had discovered this agency while up late one night, reading about new technology developments on CNET. As much of my own research and work experience has consisted of technology, development, and refugee populations, I was immediately intrigued to learn of this company. It is not an aid
agency, but instead promotes innovative entrepreneurship within developed and developing nations. By making it possible for anyone to outsource tasks via an iphone application, Samasource redirects these tasks to workers and refugees within developing nations who promptly accomplish the task and send it back. These jobs might include data entry, analysis, research, programming, or tedious yet important processes of analysis.
Unfortunately, although I can design and implement sustainable programming on their behalf, it is clear that the company does not quite have the resources to be as sustainable within my own life. A little bit of negotiation needs to occur, as I simply don't want to go back to struggling to pay my bills, student loans, and fear getting sick for lack of health insurance. That would feel like a personal step backward, and not something I really something I'm looking for. It gets further complicated by the prospect of leaving my life in Cairo, where my girlfriend will continue to remain as she finishes her masters in Human Rights Law, and where I have grown many valuable friendships.
However, they seem willing to work this out with me. I think they understand that the contribution I can make to their organization could ultimately save money by streamlining current operations, and improving productivity while remaining consistent with their mission toward economic development and socio-cultural compatibility. So they are looking at building a better offer, so that I'm not left floundering in Nairobi once the most urgent work is taken care of - after about 2 months out of a 6 month contract.
We are to talk again in a few days, and with luck, establish a more concrete agreement.
I'm really excited about this, to return to my favorite city in the world and to work on a project that has significant personal value. Best of all, as soon as I get to Kenya - prospectively within a couple weeks- I'm going to feast on some roasted goat, mimi napende nyoma choma!