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Africa

News and updates from Hspace


I admit it has been awhile since I've posted anything, but I've been overwhelmed with various projects lately.   I've recently returned from a month of fieldwork in Ethiopia followed by multiple speaking engagements in Canada and the US.   Here are updates on some recent activities and hopefully I can soon return to writing.


Article
Over at the Fulcrum blog you can read my recent article on how to use mobile applications for qualitative data collection.  Too often social scientists dismiss the capability of mobile applications for ethnographic research, citing that mobile devices create barriers between the researcher and the research subject.  Also there is an assumption that mobile data collection requires rigid planning that is not suited for qualitative research.  In the article, I break down these assumption by explaining a step-by-step methodology to fully engage the phenomenological elements of social research while leveraging the advantage of spatial data.

Presentation
I recently presented some ongoing research at the workshop "Making Sense of Syria" at the School of Visual Arts, MFA Interaction Design.  In this workshop we have been looking at the wonderful work by Nate Rosenblum on Syria street-level data collection, the data compiled by the Syria Conflict Monitor, and the Carter Center.  At present, various working groups are assembling new tools based on these data sets.  I'm teamed up with Matthew Brigante, a MFA IX student and look forward to announcing our project in the near future. 

Company
My research and design company, Sutika Sipus, has also launched a new website at sutikasipus.com. All of my consulting and research work is now conducted through the company.  I'm very lucky to have an extraordinary team of specialists around the world.

Kabul
I've been deeply saddened, moved, and completely unsurprised by the escalating attacks in Afghanistan.  I do not believe these recent attacks will do anything to destabilize the elections, although they are an obvious effort to do so.   Having lived in Kabul for nearly 3 years, these problems have become very personal, and I am deeply concerned about those who must daily face them.   It is difficult to describe the stress that comes from living in such a place, although a friend of mine caught a recent attack on video.  While you watch this, imagine trying to fall asleep during or after such an incident.  




Post Conflict Urban Planning and Reconstruction in Mogadishu Somalia

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

Reconstruction in Mogadishu Somalia: #urbanplanning, #mogadishu, #somalia, #design4dev

Urban Planning and Reconstruction in Mogadishu
For the last 7 years I have labored to understand as much as possible about the city of Mogadishu and to determine viable strategies for reconstruction when the opportunity is presented.  I now have the opportunity to implement these concepts and look forward to introducing simple, yet tangible solutions to many of the city's complex urban planning problems in cooperation with the city government.  Some of the solutions are dependent upon traditional planning and humanitarian initiatives such as concerns with historic preservation and sanitation.  Other concepts are far more innovative, relating to processes in data collection, crowd-sourcing, and GIS.  My business partners and I are presently developing a series of phased low-input, high-input initiatives for the city and will begin implementing these projects in the streets of Mogadishu this March.  I look forward to the project unraveling with some fantastic partners at every step and sharing our progress online.

Yet when I tell others about my work, they often ask, "why Urban Planning in Mogadishu, Somalia?"

The answer goes back a few years to 2004, when I spent 90 days hitch-hiking across Northern India, where I lost my money and acquired malaria in the swampy state of Bihar.    I chose to commit my life to reducing poverty, not with a vague belief that I can make the world better, but rather with the sense that I can make it less inequitable through precise, technical solutions.  It was from that experience I was determined to work in development and to build upon my initial training in art and design through the study of architecture.  After I began my studies, I met Aarati Kanekar, an architect who had worked in post-war reconstruction in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Upon meeting her, I expanded my studies to go beyond architecture, and to focus on urban planning.

In 2005, I completed my first year of graduate school in Urban Planning and Architecture, and was faced with the seemingly massive task of choosing a thesis topic.  Overwhelmed by the task, I thought hard about my essential priorities and determined that I should attempt to locate, define, and focus my lifework upon the world's most difficult problems, to work for the interest of the world's most marginalized and vulnerable populations as this is where the utmost improvement is needed.  Uncertain how to proceed, I turned to Google.  

Concise and innovative urban planning solutions
 are in clear demand in Mogadishu Somalia 
I more or less typed all of my priorities into Google in hope that it would reveal something new to me. Success.  It was from that simple search that I first learned of the Dadaab Refugee Camps.  Embarrassingly, at 23, I was quite ignorant to the problems in Somalia and knew next to nothing of the decades of violence, famine, poverty, and displacement.   As I began to invest more time into learning about the situation, I came to two conclusions. First,  I decided that I would find a way to go to Dadaab to research and work directly with the problems of refugee camp design and planning. Secondly, I also decided that eventually, one day for whatever reason, that circumstances in Somalia would change and the city of Mogadishu will need to rebuild.  

After decades of conflict, it is difficult to be entirely optimistic, but in many ways, the prediction from 6 years ago has begun to manifest.  After al-Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu several months ago, they have had little success in a multi-front battle against AMISOM/TFG, Kenya, and drone attacks from the US.  Although other forces may have strategic limitations, the fact that Shabaab has continued to change their tactics is evidence of continuing instability on their end.  For the first time since its founding, the Transitional Federal Government has full control of the city of Mogadishu.  With al-Shabaab primarily limited to the Kismaay region, there is even an effort underway to begin relocating refugees from the Dadaab camps back to Somalia.

Mogadishu is an ancient city.  Since the 14th Century it has flourished from its strategic location, an epicenter for trade between the Gulf and the Swahili coast.  It is this strategic location that also facilitates regional piracy.  It also serves as an ideal conduit for the trade between internal production and export.  Although dominated by an array of colonial powers over time, from Oman to Italy, it nonetheless retains an internal, structural capacity to again become a major economic hub.  Its urban density, coastal location, european roadways, and interconnection with other cities such as Afgooye or Kismayo have contributed to an urban resilience of the city.  Perhaps one could conjecture that so much physical destruction has taken place in the city because the structural resilience made it too difficult for armed groups to conduct combat, and consequently only through degrading the city could military accomplishments take place.

Now that city is beginning to stabilize and the Somali people are beginning to return to Mogadishu.  With the massive influx of returnees, the city is faced with new tasks.  Jobs need to develop, roads need to be cleared and repaired, sanitation improved, access to water, and systems need to be developed to deal with property ownership and acquisition.  Without the funds to cover the costs, and with the lack of urban planning for a city in conflict, it will require creative and innovative efforts to stabilize and rebuild.  Of course there are greater regional challenges, as many are also returning to Mogadishu because they fear the dangers of living outside the city.   Obviously the key to the success of the city is connected to the stabilization of the region as well.  But for the first time in decades, there is a chance that something can change.  There is an opportunity.  

Analysis of #alShabaab withdrawal from #Mogadishu; #Dadaab pushed to the Edge


Quite a bit has taken place within Dadaab and Somalia in the last few weeks and it is  difficult to summarize everything.  The Dadaab camps have received a great deal of media attention while the regional draught rages.  Somalia has a long history of internal strife, yet arguably the current draught is far more damaging than past instances as the country no longer contains sufficient infrastructure for aid agencies to deliver services.  The inadequacy of infrastructure prompts dramatic repercussions, not only in terms famine relief but also through the inability to provide broader public health support.  With the surge of displacement, many have been refused admission to the camps, as there are not enough resources available.  The constant influx of refugees also continues to place great strain on the local communities.  

Within Somalia there have been a variety of reports on al Shabaab preventing the delivery of aid.  In addition to reports of fake NGOs attempting to take advantage of the incoming aid money, Shabaab has also listed several agencies to be banned with the area for attempting to do more than deliver basic assistance.

Most notably, al Shabaab has withdrawn from Mogadishu. There are still reports of fighting, yet the group publicly announced its withdrawal, citing a change in tactics and to save civilian lives.  The city is not yet safe for return as the group has established checkpoints outside of the city, intercepting returnees for money and recruitment.   It is suspected Shabaab has been heavily affected by the drought and cannot sustain combat within the capital city while some analysts argue that Shabaab suffers from divided leadership.  This is similar to the 2009 when the group withdrew from Kismayo, abandoning training camps and strategic points. 

I suspect the withdrawal may be a true change in tactics rather than a sign of loss or weakness. Considering that Shabaab fighters have ambushed AMISOM soldiers sweeping into newly vacated areas, taking advantage of the urban terrain, this may be a legitimate attempt to maximize available resources and keep AMISOM forces off-balance.  

Shabaab's quick acquisition of power within Somalia was possible because Shabaab groups concentrated their forces in urban areas where they could utilize transportation and communication resources, tap into ports and markets, and tax local populations.  As the Somalia conflict developed and became more binary between Shabaab and the TFG, Shabaab's approach to conflict became less networked and more one-dimensional.

Since the TFG is a major supplier of arms to non-state groups within Somalia and that unpaid soldiers often sell ammunition for goods, there is a sufficient flow of arms and ammunition throughout the region for Shabaab to continue its military objective yet there must be an adaptation to the changing geography.  Somalia presently has 5 major cell phone providers, populations have shifted from the urban core to the corridors between towns and scattered among IDP camps and Mogadishu only contains a small fraction of its original population. 

 
al Shabaab Supply Trench in Mogadishu, Somalia
Amid the geography transformation, Shabaab has grown and annexed territory yet not adapted to the changing resources.  Simultaneously, the conflict has slowly become more symmetric, with Shabaab and the AMISOM forces fighting along a frontline in Mogadishu, utilizing a mixed combat method of hit-and-run tactics and trench warfare.  AMISOM has been working to cover the trenches before any future return by Shabaab troops.

The sudden withdrawal may be a sign of weakness.  Yet it may also be an indicator that the conflict is about to change abruptly, to become something far more unorthodox and challenging than the TFG is equipped to confront.

**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.

Urban Planning in Conflict

Kabul, Afghanistan

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.


Upcoming Conference on Building Resilience [LINK]. Heritance Kandalama, Sri Lanka July 19-21. Interdisciplinary approaches to disaster risk reduction and sustainable urban development.


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]. 

al-Shabaab's Economic Advantage



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.

The support of al-Shabaab through diaspora


I am pleased to announce publication of my article "The support of al-Shabaab through diaspora."  The research was conducted in two phases, in the winter of 2010/2011 and with follow up research in October of 2011.  The first phase was conducted personally in Nairobi while the second required more subtle means with the help of a local research assistant and translator whose name must be withheld to protect his identity.

The article does not go into methodology, however, research was conducted by qualitative techniques, relying upon non-participatory observation, participatory observation, unstructured and semi-structured interviews.  Research was conducted in public locations in Nairobi, Kenya.

The article posits some answers to the question, "why would those who have suffered from the actions of Somali militant group al-Shabaab be inclined to support this organization?"  Ultimately research has found that the ideology of the group to promote Islam over the interests of tribalism, the organizations socio-economic integration with the diaspora community, and its potential to provide an eventual peace are fundamental to the support of the organization.  Other initial findings include organization recruitment strategies that exploit pscho-social trauma, however additional research is necessary in this area.

Click this link to download a free .pdf copy of the Forced Migration Issue 37.  

To download a pdf of my own article,  http://www.fmreview.org/non-state/29.pdf

The Capacity for a New Egypt


There have been countless discussions and analysis' in the last several days regarding the future of Egypt.  As I have a rather personal relationship with Egypt, I have paid great attentions to these discussions.  Most often, they have focused on the lackluster stance of the United States, the omnipresent power vacuum, and the pivital role of the military in securing the state on behalf of the people or on behalf of Mubarak.  Facebook, blogs, and twitter posts have also been quick to point out all the things not being discussed: the role of women in the protests, the socio-economic conditions that led to this uprising, and a discourse on what exactly is the identity of the Muslim Brotherhood within the political landscape.  While Al Jezeera has done an excellent job of providing constant coverage, it seems that most American media have spent their time focussing on hypotheticals.  Not to simply add another analysis to the already cluttered pool, but there is one startling observation that remains heavily undiscussed: what are the assets in place for a better Egypt?  

I'll never forget a couple years ago when I went for a job interview with a non-profit founded and operated by Egypt's former Minister of Culture.  He had many impressive credentials, a nice office in a wealthy neighborhood, and project committed to improving relations between Egypt and Sub-saharan Africa.  In short, I accepted an agreement to do a lot of work and in the end was left stranded with with a rather bad situation.  Ultimately I concluded that the agency was simply a corrupt operation for this guy to siphon funds from the government.   The first thing that tipped me off, however, was the fact that this guy had no understanding of the broad scale of non-government organizations situated in Cairo to assist the most vulnerable populations and facilitate capacity building.

A quick google search alone will show one the variety of NGOs that have been long established in Egypt.  Notable agencies include The Egyptian Center of Human Rights, the NGO Support Center, Caritas, and St. Andrews Refugee Services.  Egypt is likewise full of Universities training engineers, scholars, researchers, and technicians at places such as Cairo University, Ain Shams University, American University in Cairo, and the The Future School.   While there certainly tens of millions of Egyptians without adequate access to education or viable livelihood options, there are also millions of Egyptians who are talented, business savvy individuals who have sought opportunities for self advancement their whole lives.

I'm not going to pretend to know what will happen to Egypt - but the possibility is part of the excitement.  Whereas in the past extremist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood were the only viable alternative to Mubarak's government, there is now the means for many other players to enter the field.  In a country that restricted the movement and access to services of its own people, there is now the possibility that a new generation of Egyptians could engage ladders for social mobility.  In contrast to living beneath a 30 year suspended constitution on the grounds of a "State Emergency," the people may express their opinions in newspapers and media outlets - including the internet - without fear of the police taking them away in the middle of the night.  

In contrast to news reports, the people I personally know in Cairo right now explain that the protests have remained generally peaceful.  That many citizens have been actively removing trash from Tahir square and other parts of the city to show this is no longer the downtrodden Egypt of Mubarak. That the crowds are overwhelmingly shouting slogans of universalism to overcome perceived hostilities between Christians and Muslims or rich and poor.  

The struggle for Egypt will remain for sometime.  But I do not perceive this struggle to be frightening, rather it is simply an honest expression of its people, as founded by necessity.  And hopefully, soon, when the country is able to pass over the present precipice of tensions and protest, and move toward resolution in the form of a new government, there will be some recognition of an easily over-looked, yet pre-existing infrastructure.  An infrastructure of longstanding mosques, churches, business owners, academics and non-profits all equally committed to a better Egypt.  This commitment is not new, it has always been there, but  like a plant bursting through the soil to see the sun for the first time, this commitment has the space to live and grow.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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. 

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.  



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.

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.

24 Hours Like None Other


The day started off well enough.  It was a very productive morning and afternoon.  Around 6 pm I grabbed a medium Pineapple and Ham pizza from the one lone pizza place in Nairobi.  I devoured the whole thing, satisfied to have consumed a massive quantity of Ham and Pizza at the same time. 

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!

Movin' with the beat

I've been a little quite again as its been difficult to write any captivating posts lately.  Everything is constantly in that "in between state."  I guess this is okay though, as its really just a matter of transitioning from one set of life circumstances to another.

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.


One new project that I have been working toward actually concerns my side hobby of producing hip hop music.  I had recently learned of a new record company, Gatwhich Records, founded in Nairobi by hip hop artist 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.


Enroute to Kenya?

I had a phone interview the other night with a San Francisco non-profit, about working as their Project Officer within Kenya to oversee projects within Nairobi and the Dadaab Refugee Camps.   Although I was rather nervous at the outset - especially as there were complications getting skype to operate - within moments I found a comfortable relationship developing between us. 


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.

New to working with refugees, it became clear within the conversation that my own background and expertise could be of tremendous value to the agency.  It would be my responsibility to oversee their projects within Nairobi and the Dadaab Refugee Camps where I had previously worked in 2007.  I've been thinking a great deal about the problems they have beenfacing within their program, and already I have an array of potentialsolutions in mind that would be socially-culturally consistent with Kenyan national and refugee workers, while also logistically feasible for thecompany.  It is clear that this could be an exciting and valuableoppurtunity for both of us. 

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!