Viewing entries tagged
Development

Deep Water in a Geography of Conflict

Water tap in Lesotho.  Photo for Sutika Sipus LLC by David Lazar, 2013.
I once watched an engineering team install a well in a high-traffic area of a refugee camp in Kenya.  It was an easily accessible public space and it was close to a road making the job easier to bring the equipment and install the well.  After installing the well, the team made sure it worked, and went on to their next project, I believe somewhere in Thailand.  But a few strange things happened during the project and for a long time afterward.

1.  Many mornings the team would arrive to the site and discover the well had been destroyed.  In the middle of the desert with few other working wells nearby, why anyone would repeatedly destroy this precious resource?

2.  At times while working the project, children would throw rocks at the team, and their parents would simply look on, allowing the children to abuse the people who had come to provide a better quality of life with clean, accessible water.

3. When the project team finished the project (clearly after many delays) they exited and people began to use the well.  Within a matter of days there were violent, physical fights among locals at the site of the well.

What does this mean? From the outside, it is easy to say that the engineering team was doing a good thing in the refugee camp and that the local population was disrespectful out of heathen ignorance. Unfortunately stories like the above tend to fuel racism and prejudice among people in developed nations more than actually teach the deeper lessons.

Unpacking the situation is not easy.  To break it down I've composed the simple table below.



Outcomes
Without realizing it, the engineering team had thrust themselves into the spatial center of a long-standing problem of inadequate government policy and local social tensions.  Not only was the project in the geographic center of two populations with a history of conflict, but a series of poorly implemented technologies in the past left these populations with an immediate distrust of any new intervention.  In addition, by not formally interacting with the people living near the well at the outset of the project, their project was seen as an intrusion not a benefit.  Certainly another place to access water is appreciated, but many in the community knew that it would be another finite resource to drive arguments and conflict, not an asset.  But why tell this to the project team?  After all, the engineers were not even polite enough to introduce themselves let alone ask for advice.  Clearly they were the experts.


Beyond
The lessons of this case study should be easy to recognize.  The most basic infrastructure project is not merely a technical process, it is also a social process.  There may have also been actions within the community to mitigate the future problems.  For example, it is possible that the nightly acts of sabotage were intended to force the engineers to create a better and more resilient water well, considering the long history of inadequate infrastructure in the camps (see the context of the chart).  Maybe previous complaints had been ignored?  Unfortunately we can't be certain.

If the team established valid, working relationships among stakeholders in the water well project it would have prevented many of the negative consequences.  It would not have required extensive work by the project team, but maybe one week of interacting with the locals, asking questions, and learning about their lives could have led to a more strategically located intervention with clear lines of ownership, and the cooperation of the community in the project creation.   

The community doesn't necessarily need to be part of the development process, but they certainly have the right to know the project process and objectives in advance. Where relationships cannot be established (such as the long history of conflict between the tribes), at least discovering and acknowledging those obstacles could have provided with the engineers the data necessary to create a better project design.  We cannot know if it may would have become more successful, but at the minimum, it would not have introduced new problems.

Detroit: Between the Rustbelt and the Warzone

Right now I am in Detroit MI, and today, the City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy and has an estimated 18-20 billion dollars of debt.  So what can be done about that?

Post-Industrial Detroit.  Photo: Sutika Sipus 2013. 
Throughout my education and experience in urban planning, my entire focus has been urban conflict and cities faced with extreme poverty.   Today I'm in Detroit MI,  investigating the ways that such a city may benefit from lessons of cities with seemingly worse conditions.   All things considered, Detroit really isn't so bad off when compared to a city like Kandahar, but as an American metropolis it definitely stands alone.  In addition to the largest city to file for bankruptcy in the history of the US, Detroit is also the ranked the most dangerous city in America by the FBI for the year 2013.  It has a rate 2,137 homicides per 100,000 people.  

The city has a population slightly above 701,000 people. With an average of 2.75 people per household, 36% of the Population lives below "poverty level" meaning that approximately 90,000 households (out of 254,000) have an income only between $15,000 and $19,000 per year.   And 35% of the land is vacant, so that means average distribution would show every square mile of property containing at least one family below poverty level.  The takeaway is that no matter where you stand in Detroit, you will see someone struggling to survive.  Of course distributions are never even, and smaller groups tend to control the bulk of the wealth, leaving a much bleaker landscape.

There is also an excess of political infighting among council members.  The city has a new charter.  It can't afford to pay the retirement packages to former employees.   They current Mayor, Dave Bing, said he has had enough and is stepping down.  The previous Mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, is in federal court for a slew of abuses.

So now what?

There is the option for a massive top-down overhaul of the city, but how often are city planners and governments capable of jumpstarting cities from crisis?  Afghanistan and Iraq are direct evidence that all of the expertise on the matter is severely limited, and even if a Marshal-plan amount of money were available, it doesn't mean it will solve the problem.

In many ways, filing for bankruptcy was an excellent move so that the city can focus on paying out the billions of dollars on bonds it owes.  But this single action won't alone solve the problem. Creative solutions are in high demand.

Development Makes A Strange Bedfellow

"Bengali Friends" in  Bangladesh  by David Lazar.
Guest Post by Thomas Lasseau

There is an old Bangladeshi saying that goes, "you can't take out the trash without getting your hands dirty." On a previous visit to Bangladesh to work in microfinance in 2009, my fellow interns and I found ourselves staring into the twin barrels of a sawed-off shotgun, wielded by a man with a police badge, blue jeans and flip flops. We had rented ATVs to explore Cox's Bazar, the longest beach in the world, and this man was claiming, in screamed Bengali, that for this infraction we owed him a "fine."

After paying him off and returning from our adventure, an argument ensued with the owners of the ATVs about who should internalize the cost of the bribe. After much haggling, it was divided between our cost of rental and the owner's cost of doing business, but we still left suspicious of an even bigger con. Needless to say, on a national level, the World Bank recently declined to loan Bangladesh $2 billion to build a bridge on account of a $17 million dollar "fine" required to grease the gears of construction.

Although it's dangerous to generalize about poverty, conflict zones and authoritarian regimes, a delicately stated common theme appears to be the mismanagement and misappropriation of national assets. Counterproductive resource allocations are visible in the global struggles between squatters, landowners and developers, in the violent seizing and reseizing of Africa's diamond territories, and in the pilfering of aid money by corrupt bureaucracies.

I believe the Bangladeshi proverb rings true insofar as we have to make the initial assumption that the governance of communal resources in extreme economic and political conditions has "fallen into the wrong hands." The tragic result of this grand misallocation of capital is that the majority stakeholders on the other side of the table (or the sawed-off shotgun as the case may be) have every reason to hold on fast, unless we can change their incentives.

The success of any process of disarmament, reconstruction, regime change or wealth redistribution hinges on the incentives of its participants who have the most to lose (whether inherited or acquired). Consequently, unless forcing new incentives through revolution or armed intervention (neither the province of the planner), the war criminals and corrupt officials of the world are our necessary allies in the philanthropic cause. The obvious risk of this acknowledgement is that in forging these alliances we become partners in corruption and crime.

So if successful development work is necessarily transactional, this means that we, as development workers, must learn to trade in trade-offs. How can we structure the deal to keep our hands as clean as possible while still actually helping people? The collateral damage can be measured by the degree of opportunity for taking back what's being given away. The trick is to somehow work against, while working with, but not working for the kleptocrat or militia on the other side of the deal. The sensitivity of this balance is why so many development projects merely perpetuate the crippling inequities they set out to fix.

Extreme conditions are tough on the stomach in more ways than one. Working in them is fundamentally a question of amplitude. In my legal training, I'm being taught to represent my client's interests against hostile forces with friendly professionalism. This training in civility has been invaluable. Cultivating the level of clarity and compassion necessary to negotiate amiably, no matter the stakes, is a lofty goal. I'm still a long way away, but I approach it like a kind of yoga. It may take years to finally touch your toes, but every inch counts.

In building the multidisciplinary toolkit required for improving urban living, I've studied and worked in architectural design, green building, development economics, finance, governance, real estate and contract law. While I believe that each of these is an essential piece of the puzzle, the secret sauce that ultimately coheres these ingredients is the human element that isn't taught in school.

Good analogies for trying to improve the distribution of resources are at worst piratical parleys, and are at best legal representation in settlement negotiations. At best, your clients get damages and injunctions and the guilty party gets off the hook. At worst, you have to somehow pay the dictator more to go away than they can make by staying and oppressing (e.g. fire sale privatizations only benefitting the former regime and multinational capital).

The practical balance lies somewhere between these poles. The necessary alliances must be built on common ground. Building the common ground is where our work begins. The most violent and oppressive people in the world, whether acting from greed, hate, fear or desperation, are also human. We should start there, no matter how reluctant we may be to do so. We need to be able to make friends with the warlord before we can convince him to build sewers and hospitals instead of buying more guns.


Thomas Lasseau is currently a law student at the UCLA School of Law.   He previously worked with Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and studied economics and art at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design.  

High Impact Development via Product Design

Satellites and Donkey Carts in Mogadishu Somalia. Sutika Sipus 2012.
My goal as an Urban Planner and entrepreneur is to create opportunities for radical urban social transformation according to the interests of the immediate population and stakeholders.  This is no easy task, but urban planners tend to have quite a few tools to affect this kind of change, such as the use of urban design, infrastructure creation, and the creation of new transportation options.  Urban planning in this fashion,tends to focus on modifying the environment in which we live, thereby transforming the context of our actions.  By transforming the context, urban planners hope to inform our daily activities with new levels of meaning, or perhaps to even inspire behavior change.

This is all well and good.  Yet transforming the context of social activity is limited.  There are just as many urbanists, artists, and community organizers who want to create new activities directly, and thus stage community activities in the form of sporting events, street fairs, and public theatre.  But these activities are exceptions to the daily, mundane actions of urban life.  Most of the day people are going to and from work, eating, walking the dog, socializing, kids play games in the street, and perhaps someone is reading a book on a bench.  In these situations, the context is only partially relavent.  As long as the environment is safe enough and clean enough to not intervene in daily life, it doesn't really matter what it looks like, or how it is constructed.

From another perspective, the most radical changes in human settlements over the last few centuries are driven by architectural or environmental.  Cars, flushing toilets, airplane, telephones, and mobile phones have dramatically redesigned the urban lanscape.  Modern houses have indoor bathrooms and attached garages.  Cities are now dotted with wifi-hotspots and carved by multi-lane highways.  It appears that for one to really change behavior, the solution is not to create modifications to the environment, but to create the right product.

Hassani's Wind-Blown Mine Clearance Device.  Source: BBC
One recent product to shift the patterns of human settlements is a wind blown device for mine clearance.  With over 110 million landmines distributed across approximately 70 countries in the world, there is a clear demand for mine clearance.  But the process is slow and costly.  Individuals must scour the ground with detection equipement, square inch by square inch.  The mines must then be delicately disassembled by hand.  With the design by Massoud Hassani, however, mines could be quickly removed by exploding them using a windblown device.  Eventually to feature an integrated GPS chip, clearance can be mapped to facilitate effective coverage.

Hassani's product will make unusable land suitable for farming and habitation.  Wherever applied, it will dramatically change the lives of those nearby as well as the economic productivity of the host nation.  In this circumstance, his solution will also create new problem relating to land ownership and division.  After all,  he did not create a big elaborate policy reform or need to develop the product through complex social processes.  Rather it was a matter of fitting a need with a solution, and while that solution creates new problems, it is generally agreeable that the new problems of legal battles are significantly better than the old problem of human endangerment.

Can we conclude that visionary product design is the most effective way to yield the greatest results for urban development?  I suppose there are conditions in which this will not apply, but the more I look at the factors that have shaped the world around me, the less I'm convinced it is based on the action of architects.  Global change is the result of those equipped with the vision to supply an unknown or unrecognized demand.  Historic change is the result of those products that invent new markets by solving many of our current problems and effectively create new ones.

Urban Planning Trends are Bad Medicine


Smokestack chasing.  Garden cities.  Tactical Urbanism.  New Urbanism.  Creative cities.  What do all these have in common? They all reveal the greatest weakness of urban planning as a discipline. The reliance upon urban development trends, which shift every few years, has ruined neighborhoods, devastated communities, and undermined economies.  Yet we keep doing it.

When I was a graduate student, sustainability was the utmost priority.  And for the last few years, every planning and design firm advocates bolstering resilience as the prescriptive cure for cities ensnared by poverty, conflict, or natural disaster.  But how do any of these concepts actually make a difference in the field of urban planning?  While they may posit some degree of merit by creating philosophical or operational frameworks for positive action, they do far more to impend weakness upon a community.

Anyone can read a book about the creative class and push for their city to open more coffee shops and tattoo parlors.  But an urban planner is trained to measure problems so as to determine solutions, not just impose preconceived ideologies upon a space or population.  Measurement is the core of urban planning.  The ability to fuse social, economic, spatial, environmental, and cultural data into an observable model provides planners the ability to determine structural weaknesses in a community.  These structural weaknesses may be offset through direct internal realignment, manipulation of broader legal frameworks, or offset by outside interventions.  But the application of broad concepts as a cure-all is not a solution, it simply is a waste of resources, or at worst, an act of  imperialism.

Certainly urban planning trends are drawn from observable social processes.  And many of the ideas, such as sustainability, are not bad things on first review.  But when New York city planner Robert Moses proposed putting a highway through East Village, he was simply subscribing to the values of the day.  He believed that cars and highways were positive tools of progress.  He believed that the old communities were dirty and backward.  He was doing the residents of the East Village a favor by installing this highway, to connect them to all of New York and the rest of America.  It never occurred to him that they would want, or deserve, something different.

One of my first projects as an urban planner was to conduct an impact analysis for a wind turbine farm in rural West Virginia.  Thousands of acres of virgin forest were to be destroyed to install wind turbines which would route the power to New Jersey.  The residents of the local community were outraged.  Yet entrapped by poverty, these residents did not own the land around them.  It was the property of coal companies and the US government.  They could no nothing but watch their lands be destroyed.  New Jersey of course didn't mind ruining one community to facilitate its own energy needs.  After all, wind energy is sustainable.

What we as urban planners believe to be true and good in ideology can just as likely wield a terribly destructive power.  In that regard, is it not better to forgo all ideologies?  Perhaps it is better to attend  the intricacies of measuring complex systems.  We must recognize that every method of measurement  imposes a value upon the outcome, and so we must place greater attention and selectivity upon this primary step in the planning process.  If a given system of measurement works in one location, it will not necessarily work in another.  So how then can we presume that outputs are transferable?

Good urban planners will not invent the wheel every time they approach a settlement.  They will aslo not limit themselves to particular methods or ideology.  In the same way a good musician will not say simply "I am a jazz guitarist" or "I am a rock guitarist," rather, a good musician will study all forms of music so at the moment of performance he may play freely, not thinking about "I must infuse a minor third on the next note to get a given result." When trapped by conventions such as style or planning trends, the intentional application of convention will undermine the effectiveness of the final product. Urban planners trained to measure and respond will forever create better solutions for community problems than those who apply preconceived notions of community or development.

The importance of speed for land rights in post-conflict reconstruction

Legal Access to Land in Kabul is a constant dilemma (Photo: Sutika Sipus 2012)
Afghanistan has seen the completion of various development projects such as the building of roads, the establishment of a Coca-Cola plan, and the rebuilding of the central bank. But everyday in Kabul I witness a hard learned lesson.  The inability for people to access legal title to land has crippled the development of the city.   

Many of the people affected lost their claim to family own land during their displacement, as more than 6 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan or Iran since 2002.   There have also been about 1 million people who were internally displaced by war and have returned to their homes, only to find that they have no means to prove ownership, have been replaced by new occupants, or have found the landscape entirely changed.   There have also been an influx of migrants into Kabul, searching new opportunities or returning from diaspora.   In Kabul,  80% of the residents occupy informal housing settlements.  Many of these settlements are built on government owned land.

The Government of Afghanistan has struggled with informal settlement.  I would say that for 10 years the local and state governments have been rather obsessed with it as an issue, although perhaps not with the mind of solving it.  Many of these settlements are poorly constructed, lack appropriate sanitation, and are seen as a public health threat.  They are considered a bottleneck to development.  A few weeks ago, when conducting a training seminar at City Hall, I asked some engineers what they suggest is the best way to proceed when an informal settlement does not fit into the city master plan.  The response was "send in the police."  

But if a region has a long embedded history of violence, why would a government pursue policies that facilitate discontent, economic striation, legal marginalization, and civil disobedience?  

Open-air drainage ditch under construction in Kabul
That is not good planning.

Because the problem of land ownership was not reconciled in 2001 or 2002, when the city had 1.5 million people, it now struggles everyday with the consequences amid a population over over 5 million.  We have no effective postal system.  We have few street names.  Only now, 10 years later, are the streets being paved around the city and drainage ditches are being dug out.  We have no underground sewage system.  Utilities are a jumbled mess and electrical fires are common a common occurrence.  Nearly all of this chaos could have been avoided had the local government supported the provision of land rights to new occupants. Not to mention the grave economic loss to the city as land loses its productivity when has no determinable owner.  In the meanwhile, corruption has skyrocketed over land access and many people point fingers at the Mayor of Kabul.

I understand the desire to return to one's original home or to strive for urban policy that will provide high quality services.  But these personal interests must not cloud ones judgement.   In post-conflict environments, the speed at which policy is shaped and implemented is essential to avoid slipping backward into chaos.  Policies must be objective and realist.

For years the World Bank has encouraged the Government of Afghanistan to simply recognize many of the informal communities around Kabul.  Now in a massive undertaking, the USAID funded Project LARA is being implemented nationwide at the cost of 41.8 million dollars!  In an attempt to solve all the problems of land use, access, and development, this sprawling project could have been easily avoided about 10 years ago.  With a price tag of 41.8 million, there is also no guarantee of success.

Unfortunately,  I suspect many other countries will not learn this lesson from Afghanistan, and will instead choose to repeat the same decisions as made in Afghanistan.

Why is Post-war Reconstruction and Conflict ignored by Urban Planners

Informal housing adorns Kabul's mountains, complete with no water, no sanitation, and no roads (Photo: Sutika Sipus)
A quick look at some of the more popular urban planning websites and forums, such as Planetizen, Engaging Cities, Cyburbia, or the American Planning Association, and one will discover  articles on a vast array of issues such as rehabilitating industrial sites, methods for inclusive public participation in urban design, suburban sprawl and conservation, and occasionally the generic term "international development."  While I occasionally search these forums to see what new ideas have popped up, its disappointing to find that little of the content relates to my own daily work in cities like Kabul Afghanistan or Mogadishu Somalia, or within future projects in Libya and Nigeria.

Yet whenever I look at these forums, the same question always crosses my mind:

Why are conflict and post-war reconstruction not central to the discussion of 
 Urban Planning as a profession or Urban Planning education?

The Recently Completed Darulaman Road in Kabul (Sutika Sipus)
The topic is rarely discussed, yet reconstruction has been a mainstay of the planning profession throughout history.  One can quickly cite examples of planning and reconstruction, such as the rebuilding of London in 1666,  the rebuilding of Europe after WWII with the Marshal Plan, or the current reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.  Throughout each example there has been a massive demand for skilled individuals with the balanced knowledge of design, infrastructure, economics, and social sciences to design and implement sustainable initiatives.  In Afghanistan alone, USAID has spent 7.9 billion dollars on reconstruction efforts over the course of 10 years, with large portions of that funding directed toward road construction, agricultural development, and education.  Yet where is the discussion of Afghanistan on popular planning forums?  


So who is rebuilding cities in conflict?
In the 6 years that I've been working in urban planning, most of that time has been spent in conflicted or complex territories such as refugee camps, urban slums, or conflict cities.  Throughout this process, I've encountered only 4 other urban planners working in these environments!  There are always plenty of engineers, former military, active military, or aid/developments professionals with social, legal, and political science backgrounds but I've found that planners maintain certain advantages.
  • Planners are trained with a balance of contextual and technical knowledge that promotes clear communication between team members.
  • Planners have an innate understanding of  administrative and management skills
Defensive Perimeter, Kabul Afghanistan (Sutika Sipus)
  • Some consulting firms like to market themselves as skilled in "strategic design" but actually have little or no ability with design-thinking or the design process
  • Architects and engineers rarely have the ethnographic research skills to recognize and integrate subtle social processes into their design
  • Many architects and engineers do realize the value of basic site visits and create plans that are not consistent with the local economy or patterns in land use
  • Most professionals in social or political skills have the research skills, but are weak in areas of communication, presentation, and further more do not have the hard skills to design solutions from the research.  At best, they can only advise on policy or suggest solutions for others to design.
Because urban planners have so much to offer, I've found those working in the field of post-war reconstruction quickly gather respect by their employers and colleagues.  Sure, the sample pool is small, but it has been consistent enough to make me ask, so where are all the other planners?


The career track for most urban planners
Understandably, many graduates from urban planning programs are going to work for local or regional governments or private sector architecture studios.  I know a lot of planners who work for cities like Houston or Portland, and they spend most of their time sitting in public hearings, debating the merits of city zoning changes or traffic plans.  Often this was not the career path imagined while in school, but rather it was the mundane reality they discovered upon graduation.  This isn't unusual as graduate school frequently gives one a false sense of global influence, as if the future of humanity were dependent upon the outcome of your thesis research, but if planning education is so dynamic, why is normative planning practice so dull?  In this case, we as urban planners can blame no one but ourselves.  With so much training and capacity, not to mention an understanding of organizational structure and project management, only to end up working in a field overflowing with of boiler-plated building codes? No one else is at fault.

The more interesting work in the planning profession is frequently undertaken from an architectural perspective, but again, limitations arise.  The world continues to lust for new urban forms and beautifully rendered master plans.  Not a problem.  Yet where is the broader disciplinary attention to healing traumatized landscapes, rebuilding war torn cities, and nurturing emerging economies with scaled, responsive infrastructure?  Typically these sorts of plans are more glitz than substance, and lack the relationship to local informal economic structures or conflict remediation options to be viable.


The Planning Advantage
Art Deco Architecture in Mogadishu Somalia (Sutika Sipus)
Having started my career as an artist and designer, before transitioning into architecture, planning, and refugee law, credit my foundation in creative problem solving as my greatest asset. Working in conflict cities and post-war reconstruction as an urban planner is not a simple task.  It requires flexibility, creativity, and long hours.  It carries personal risks to myself and my family and demands great sacrifice.  

Yet it is also the most rewarding capacity in which I can apply my abilities to facilitate the collective interest of communities around the world.  By working in challenging conditions, I actually have the opportunity to do far more than my teachers in grad school ever suggested was possible.  I have the daily opportunity to work with all facets of planning, to work with people from many different backgrounds, and to creatively explore options for development that might be otherwise quickly tossed out the window. 

Sure, sometimes I have to sit in long meetings, but rarely is it over something as droll as stoplights.  I hope as more planners discover and read this blog they will be compelled to expand their own definition of the urban planning, and in the near future I will have the chance to find more individuals in the field with the sophisticated training necessary to solve some the worlds greatest problems.

Kabul's Rigorous Allegiance to Master Plans

Kabul Playground
Kabul Playground at Camp Julian (Photo: Sutika Sipus 2012)
While preparing to return to Mogadishu in June to further reconstruction efforts, I also have a few planning related obligations in Kabul Afghanistan.  One of which it a weekly training session with members of the city administration in a USAID funded project for capacity building.  Although my colleagues work daily, I visit the program each week to provide teaching on urban planning and to develop a curriculum for guided problem solving activities.  The class participants are city engineers, district managers, and other mid-level administration.

Sutika Sipus Kabul
Kabul,  Afghanistan 2001 Formal and Informal Housing [green]
vs.  2006 Informal Housing [purple] (Map: Sutika Sipus 2012)
I had read previously in a dissertation on Kabul City Planning by Pietro Calgero that the Kabul municipality has historically maintained a strict adherence to a top-down rational planning model.  Yet only last night did I realize the rigidity of this truth.

In an attempt to overview various models of participatory planning, simply as a means to expose the trainees to planning methods in other countries and cultures for comparison, I found myself confronted resolute objections.  

In the words of one engineer in attendance "we know where to build the roads because they are in the master plan, then we go to the community and say we are building a road here, you will need to move. Then the problem is finished."  When I asked about policies regarding informal housing, the response was equally severe. The attitude was that people who live outside the terms of the master plan have to right to the land and therefore must leave if told to do so.  

In Kabul, informal housing is a pressing issue, and while strides have been made to recognize the claims of informal occupants, the top-town approach dominates.  I was surprised to discover the severe attitudes among many of the trainees, whose allegiance to the city Master Plan could not be shaken.  As a planner who has little faith in the utility of master plans among developing economies, I sought some degree of common ground between the trainees.  Not to mention, the city is again working on a NEW master plan! Like most master plans, it has taken years to assemble, and by the time it is ready for implementation, it will likely be out of date and irrelevant.  Perhaps not, but I'm skeptical.

By the end of the session, I found an opportunity when an architect in attendance noted that she frequently needs to negotiate with community members.  Negotiation isn't nearly equivalent to any community-based or decentralized planning models I'm familiar with, but it is a step in the right direction.  Over the next week the participants are to think of strategies in which these negotiation processes may take place.  I look forward to their ideas. Will they surprise me again? Probably.  

The Kabul Neighborhood of Karte Seh (Photo: Sutika Sipus 2012)

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.  

Creative Problem Solving in #Kabul, #Afghanistan with #Technology and #Education

Since arriving in Afghanistan in August, I've worked aggressively to launch a new project called the Innovation Lab.  Available to select students at the American University of Afghanistan, the Innovation Lab, or (iN)Lab has been designed to extend education beyond the walls of the classroom and directly into the streets of Kabul. By teaching students to research and assess their own local environments, to work with limited resources and engage stakeholders while providing technological resources, I hope to see (iN)Lab fill a much needed gab in Afghanistan's local-scale development. Today registration opened, along with my own small marketing initiative to drive student enrollment.  But now, just when things were starting to take off, I feel like I've hit a setback.  Not a major one, but enough to be aggravated.

Apparently Harvard University opened their own Innovation Lab (i-Lab) this week, dedicated to launching young entrepreneurs into the public.  Consequently I'm disappointed by the news that their project shares the same name, a similar vision, and has the same timing as my own.  The positive side is that I believe my project is very unique in its conception, as the program draws from my own inter-disciplianry education in art & design, urban planning, computer science and work experience in conflict zones.  Arguably, I like to think that working with Afghan students to facilitate local community problem solving through such creative measures is far more innovative than providing privileged Harvard students with more tools to be financially successful.

I strongly believe in the program I have crafted and I fully intend to see it through.  Yet it very difficult to conduct such a program in Afghanistan. We have finite resources in terms of money and space, problems with security, aggressive traffic, power outages, poor internet service... the list goes on for a long, long time.  Working with so many obstacles, I've aggressively sought partners to contribute to the program, and yet nearly 20 universities, nonprofits, or companies failed to respond or simply said it is too intimidating to get involved.  However, there have been successes, and I am very lucky to have found the interests of spatial technology company Spatial Networks and the dynamic science journalist John Bohannon.  With their support (and hopefully others), hard work, and student dedication, I am fully confident that our program will accomplish its goals.  For now however, I'm left wondering if I should change the name.

Academic Conferences on #Conflict, Reconstruction, #Architecture and Urban Planning 2011-2012



Every time I look for a conference to present research on the intersection of Architecture, Conflict, and Urban Planning, all the best conferences just happened or I missed the call for papers.  Of course one has to be flexible and try to find fitting venues, but it can be a challenge.  Fortunately this week I found a large collection of upcoming conferences for 2011-2012.  I definitely intend to attend at least one of these and I hope to see you there.

Spaces and Flows 2011. Prato, Italy
Conference: November 17-18, 2011.  Call for Papers Deadline: September 22, 2011.
  • This conference is dedicated to mapping the transformative interchange between the global north and south, attempting to map the dynamic power flows and interactions.

Conference: April 11, 2012.   Call for Papers Deadline September 23, 2011.
  • This broad conference is focussed on issues ranging from globalization to war, peace and reconstruction, social transformation and collective healing through media and imagery.

Conference: March 28-31, 2012.   Call for Papers Deadline: November 30 2011.
  • Rooting the discussion in the context of the Berlin Wall, this conference examines how borderlands and contested spaces are not marginal phenomena, but rather contain complex layers of social, political, and urban interactions.  Research grants available.

Conference: August 29 - September 1, 2012. Call for Papers Deadline: October 1, 2011.
  • Discussion of violence as a communicative form, embedded in the built environment and articulated through broader social processes.  

#Stuxnet Lessons for Urban Planning 2 of 2


In the previous post I gave a brief overview of how Stuxnet worked and discussed some of the perils Urban Planners face within complex conditions, notably within conflict.  Below is a closer look at how Stuxnet can apply to urban planning.


Stuxnet and Urban Planning 
1. Stuxnet was designed and operated reflexively, rather than strategically.  Its code was structured like a Russian doll, with one layer contained with in another, and so on.   Configured as such, it had the ability to continually unload an additional set of internal tools when the situate presented itself.  Yet when the conditions were not present, the structural integrity remained intact. 
  • Too often development plans are developed and executed while overly reliant on contingent variables to maintain their integrity. If Part A occurs properly, Part B will go into effect... yet if Part A doesn't happen, the project is at risk of failure.  This is partly the fault of the discipline of Urban Planning and its tradition of  creating"Master Plans," long term projections into the future with a constant effort to fine tune socio-economic conditions in space.  Yet as the conditions constantly change and the implementation of Part A will have unforeseen effects elsewhere in the urban space, master plans are rarely equipped to meet the changing demands of the urban environment and are doomed to fail.  

2. Stuxnet not only penetrated multiple systems, it provided opportunities to change in response to those systems.  The code maintained a series of entry points in the event that the present layer of the 'russian doll' doesn't quite fit the conditions.
  • Markets do not exist in an equilibrium, neither do the less tangible social forces, therefore it is essential that plans are designed and implemented as fluid enterprises.  Rather than craft a plan that is project-oriented, consider how projects function as a larger process, and thus changes and tweaks are determined in terms of maintaining momentum with the process, not within the operations of a single project.  In other words, to craft a successful small project, consider it at a regional scale. Evaluation of the project and suggestions to change  are best designed in terms of regional necessity, not at the smaller scale of 'project success.'

3. The systems exploited by Stuxnet varied in Code (as operating systems) and as networks (peer-to-peer, hardware based, intranets, closed and open systems).  It jumped between code and network style, adapting to not only new terrain, but new communication protocol.

  • Planners in conflict need to visualize human settlements as  4-dimensional and not as static compositions.  The traditional overhead map will only provide a fraction of the information necessary.  If the problem is defined by conflict between two social groups, situate these groups in a space, and visualize their interactions within that space over periods of time.  The environment will inform the actions of those groups.  Over time the environment and the groups will influence each other and thus create a new set of conditions. The problem will again change once an intervention is introduced.  
  • This doesn't exclusively apply to conflict cities.  If one were to count the bus stops on a street then count their occupancy at different times of day, and each day of the week, a succinct pattern would emerge.  Introducing a new transportation option would change this pattern.  Yet before a new option can be introduced, such as alternative transport, additional buses, or an alternative route, the pattern must be first determined in terms of space and time and a variety of research methods may be used to acquire this information.

4. Spend less time attempting to building sectors and invest more time into the linkages.  Embedded within Stuxnet were three different layers of code to exploit three different situations.  It used the connections between Windows OS to Siemens and then to PLC.  Its primary set of tools took action at the final stage.
  • Likewise the function and productivity of any sector is only as strong as the transition point from one sector to another.  Rather than devoting hours to the study of transportation and a separate study on economic markets, condense efforts to understand how markets flow and interact based on available transit corridors.  

5. Identify target indicators within those linkages, but these indicators  must also be 4-dimensional.
  • To continue the above example, a rapid observation of wheel thickness among vehicles will tell you the condition of roads, the distance between production and supply points, the amount of wealth generated within processes of exchange and the frequency of exchange. The better the conditions of all circumstances, the thinner, lighter, and newer the tires on bicycles and cars.   This single indicator can inform the health of sector linkages and simultaneously communicate the health of individual sectors.  It should be noted that the indicator itself may actually serve as an ideal point of intervention.

6  Stuxnet simultaneosly spread through multiple networks so that points of failure were inconsequential. While the mechanisms of the intervention may be complex, the linkages need not be.    If an intervention is crafted upon a continuous series of dependent variables, it will not succeed.  If an intervention directly impacts multi-sectoral linkages and multiple locations at different points in time, it will have a higher probability of success.  It may require fine tuning in some locations or at some points in time, but such changes need only be subtle and responsive.


The greatest difficulty of behind planning an urban intervention while utilizing the Stuxnet approach is the challenge of measuring the impact of the plan.  Stuxnet was designed to relay information back to some website databases, yet working in a community does not provide the same immediate information supply. Rather one can only measure the impact of the project by assessing the actual problem at hand, such as fluctuations in conflict, market stabilization, transportation flows, and the production of goods.  The problem emerges when specifying causality, specifically connecting the value of the project to the mitigation of the urban problem.   Certainly it can be done, but it will require creative thinking.  After all, if one simply continues to add more layers of indicators, markers, measurements, links, etc. to the production cycle, the project will lose its streamlined sophistication and  become too self-burdened to operate efficiently.

#Stuxnet lessons for Urban Planning in Conflict. 1 of 2


In July 2010, the Stuxnet computer worm surfaced as a powerful destructive force that targeted specific industrial systems.  While most computer attacks are constructed to exploit the weaknesses of Microsoft systems, Stuxnet is unique because it functioned on 3 different layers.  It used Windows OS in the intial stage and then  transfered to another operating system, Siemens WinCC or PCS7. After installing itself on WinCC, it then installed itself on a PLC device (Programmable Logic Controller).  PLC's are basically small computers designed to operate industrial equipment and generally do not receive commands through a network.  Although all the details of Stuxnet are not determined, it is clear that it sought PLC's with the intent to control frequency converters and thus modify the speed of mechanical motors. Stuxnet also relayed false information to monitoring devices so that everything appeared to function as normal.  Upon discovery many feared that Stuxnet had the potential to bring global industry to a halt

Impending doom is never appreciated, yet in the case of Stuxnet, it was also quite unlikely. Remarkably, Stuxnet only affects machines with particular characteristics and that do specific tasks and there are few industries in the world that contain such characteristics.  It is believed that Stuxnet was created by a western government to undermine Iranian attempts to create nuclear materials for combat purposes.  Some suspect Israel, others the United States, yet the designer of of the virus is completely indeterminable.  

What is apparent however, is that the creator had expansive resources, a specific objective, and was faced with significant limitations.  If destruction or at least the tampering with Iran's nuclear facilities was the intended objective, the designer had to create an streamlined yet sophisticated tool to modify the mechanics of uranium enrichment.  Most importantly, this enrichment system is not accessible online, and attack had to be introduced at the periphery and then distributed through continued USB use and internal networks.  The virus likely reached its final objective, considering Iran began having difficulty in May 2009 with operational centrifuges (IFPM Report, 17).  Stuxnet was only noticed a full year later.  Roughly 1/5 of their centrifuges were destroyed.

Stuxnet, Urban Planning and Conflict Stabilization
Urban interventions confront a variety of constraints and limitations, such as limited budgets, poor communication and disruption among social groups, and lack of capacity for implementation.  At all times, urban planning also has to straddle the void between top-down 'expert' interests and the will of the 'bottom-up' community.  No matter the situation, Urban Planners nearly always use the same problem solving strategies.  Planners consistently rely upon a Logical Framework Approach or combine this with Participatory Action strategies.  These strategies are typically sufficient, yet there are many times in which the obstacles are too large or the network of contributing factors is too complex.


I recall an architect who constructed IDP shelters in Somalia. She said that she "didn't bother asking people what they need or want because it is a waste of time, she just gave them the best solution" and when I asked about that solution, the area was first bulldozed of all surviving vegetation, drawn into a grid and an Australian engineer introduced a concept for mud brick houses.  Local acts of violence escalated shortly after as no one had shade from the hot desert sun and small fights between frustrated youth grew into tribal combat. When the houses went up everyone was relieved until families began to die from collapsing structures. Of course the architect wasn't around to witness the consequences of her decisions as she had already moved on to other projects.  Clearly, the most direct and expert-oriented solution is not necessarily the best solution.

Looking at Stuxnet, I see a product that imitates a perfectly constructed urban planning intervention. Severely constrained by technology, geography, and security, destruction at the Nantez nuclear production plant required a clever, unorthodox design and  streamlined  precision.  The designers had to work as a team to mobilize dispersed resources, to consolidate those resources in a fashion that could penetrate a complex network and accomplish a specific objective with re-percussive impact.  Although Stuxnet was introduced at a single point, the fluidity of its design allowed simultaneous access to multiple communication networks, applying to those that fit the targeted criteria and skipping others. At its end point, it made only minor tweaks to an already existing process, barely noticeable to the population yet large scale in consequence.  How can Urban Planning function in a similar manner? Planning interventions within conflict could greatly benefit from the lessons of Stuxnet.  

Part I of II: Central Place Theory and Informal Economies


In 1933 Walter Christaller made a ground breaking contribution to the understanding of economic geography with the founding of Central Place Theory.  This theory seeks to explain the spatial structure, scale, and quantity of urban settlements as an inter-connected system.   Determined by studying settlements in southern Germany, Christaller noted that many settlements of similar scale and composition were equidistant from one another.  While his model is founded upon a collection of unrealistic assumptions such as the expectation of markets to function in equilibrium and for transportation between cities to have equal costs, he nonetheless established some valid conclusions.

Christaller determined that each human settlement functions as a central location to provide services and goods from the core to its peripheral threshold.  The distance to that periphery will very for the quality of goods, where as common place items, items of the lower order such as common produce, have a smaller geographic sphere of influence and high order goods - gourmet items -  maintain value across greater distances.  At a certain point, the value of the item reaches a threshold, where it is no longer to the advantage of the consumer to spend time/money to travel the distance and acquire that item.  This  process is also observable within a previous post, wherein I discussed the presence of Coca-Cola as a socio-cultural and economic indicator.  The cost of Coke is high in the center of the city (because of the stronger markets) and as one travels into the hinterland the cost drops until a threshold is crossed and the price begins to escalate due to rarity.  In America or Europe, the threshold would overlap with another marketplace and the cost remains constant.  However in many developing countries, the market reaches its threshold and the product is simply no longer available.



Central Place Theory 4x
Although a product's area of influence is assumably circular from the point of origin, Christaller modified the model as the juxtaposition of circled regions would leave gaps with no service.  By adapting a hexagon, one is able to adjust the scale of the model, isolating single settlements and zooming out to identify how settlements of higher order (large cities such as Chicago, New York, London, Paris) are few and far between, interwoven and interdependent economic landscape. The distribution of markets and market centers reveals that each city center shares 1/3 the market of the adjacent market of equal scale (the K=3 principle); the market of the highest order dominates all adjacent markets, and this dominance promotes efficient transportation of goods by working from a central administrative hub (the K=4 and K=7 principles).


Yet how does this same concept apply to alternative human settlements?

Presumably other human settlements function in a similar manner.  The same geometric spatial pattern may emerge among administrative centers or military bases while an inversion of central place theory also highlights urban settlements of tactical significance within a military operation.   Administrative centers and economic hubs may take multiple forms, and it is no surprise that the changing of government regimes, political power, ethnic composition and market transitions often witness the imposition of new systems on top of the previous systems.  Classic examples may be found in ancient cities such as Jerusalem, Rome, and Cairo, however more immediate examples are easily found.  Of course the act is typically symbolic, to display the replacement of power and the dominance of the ruler.  However the process is just as often logistical, as these cities frequently maintain economic advantages.

Recently in Afghanistan, one can find a similar example as an al-Queada militant training camp now functions has a rural development hub, while the primary Counterinsurgency strategy of NATO and US Forces in the nation has consisted of establishing secure administrative centers for reconstruction and development.   In contrast, al-Queda linked militants in Yemen have targeted military bases throughout the south of country at nearly equidistant locations from one another.   Both NATO and the militants are ultimately attempting to do the same thing, but clearly different reasons.

As Central Place can provide insight into the economic sub-structure of a settlement, it also provides tools to illuminate gaps within service provision, governance, and economic markets.

What is unclear however, is the  the role of Central Place Theory within Informal Economies. As informal economies dominate the global south, and illicit economies often function in a parallel or overlapping nature to support militarization and criminal networks, it is unclear how these less measurable systems may comply or conflict with Central Place Theory.  Demand for weapons, drugs, and sex workers is subject to economic constraints, yet these goods are also traded by complex means, often taking great effort to avoid formal institutions and legal authorities.

Please return for Part II of Central Place Theory and the Urban Economy.

Planning and Conflict in #Dadaab Refugee Camp: Land Use Law, Zoning Regulations


Violence erupted at Dagahaley camp (aerial view above), in the Dadaab Refugee Camps this week.  Rioting was incited when Kenyan police attempted to demolish a Mosque and small businesses.   According to UNOCHA, "Rioting broke out when police sought to disperse a crowd that was protesting an attempt to demolish illegal structures around a food distribution point. Teargas was used, and later live gunshot. Our information is that two refugees were killed and around a dozen injured."

The event raises several questions: for structures to be illegal, what sort of land use laws are in place within the camp? Who determines the legality of these structures?  How does the process work?

As it was Kenyan police attempting to demolish the site, we can assume that the Kenyan government serves as the enforcement body.  Other reports site that the demolition squad was acting on behalf of refugee aid agency that requested the demolition.  The same report cites the Director of Refugee Affairs as having requested the demolition, which is more likely since no aid agency is going to have the ability to use Kenyan Police.  Not to mention, aid agencies are the guest of the host nation, and do not have the ability to declare structures as "illegal" although the state may request the agency to curtail illegal processes.

A question comes to mind however, as the circumstance suggests some sort of zoning law and legal structure to oversee the regulation of land use within Dadaab.  There are planning processes undertaken by UNHCR and the Ministry of Refugee Affairs, as bore-holes, market spaces, and housing blocks are planned within each refugee camp.  In addition, efforts have been taken to relocate many of the settled refugees who occupy low lying land are subject to flooding.  The town of Dadaab and the surrounding camps however do feature a publicly accessible centralized plan nor is there a specific planning office to manage such issues.

In the meanwhile, it is expected that Dadaab will reach a total population of 450,000 by the end of 2011.  Other cities with about the same population size are Cleveland Ohio, New Orleans Louisianna, and Dublin Ireland - yet those cities all have economic infrastructure, transportation, and clean water.  In the meanwhile, thousands of Somalis are stuck living outside the camps, subject to harsh conditions, no water, no food, and violence.  It has been reported that men are working in shifts to guard their families from hyena attacks.  One of the major problems is that the UN refugee registration center is several days journey from the camps, positioning refugees needlessly in the way of danger.

The host government maintains its grip on the land, as the camps are beyond capacity with 370,000 refugees in need of protection. In the meanwhile the extension camp IFO 2, constructed by the Norwegian Refugee Council in 2007 remains mostly empty as the Kenyan Government refuses access to the camp and it remains nonoperational although several ngos are ready to implement services.

Architecture, Conflict, and Urban Planning Publications


In the last few days, as I've finished writing my upcoming piece on the Architecture of Conflict and Militarization in Somalia, it occurred to me that more attention needs to be brought to some of the books published on this subject.  Scholarship within this domain is still in its infancy, however, there are a few works that merit special attention, either for their groundbreaking  investigation or their brilliant analysis.  Below are the three I've most recently read, although the list is far from comprehensive.

Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation
Eyal Weizman 2007

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Adrian Parr, author of Hijacking Sustainability, and I am very glad to have followed her advice.  Hollow Land has become my favorite book in several years, as Weizman masterfully illustrates how the military history of Israel has been channeled through urban planning and architecture for territorial expansion and the oppression of the Palestinian people.  Well research and artfully written, Weizman traces the use of new settlements, zoning laws, inequitable developments in infrastructure, and architectural design as mechanisms of control.


Stephen Graham 2010

Graham traces the development of the city as a conflict zone, identifying trends of surveillance and militarization within the urban fabric.  Overall, this book has rather 'high-tech' demeanor, something akin to the aesthetic of Blade Runner.  Written in a straightforward, academic manner, Graham efficiently illuminates the integration of terrorism, militancy, and security within the urban and economic geography of the contemporary world.




Robert Bevan 2007

Although war always creates collateral damage to the environment, Bevan argues that contemporary warfare has increasingly targeted Architecture as a means to defeat the enemy.  With a great deal of focus on events in Yugoslavia and the actions of totalitarian regimes within China and Afghanistan, Beven identifies the role of Architecture and its destruction within the social consciousness.  He further investigates  the inherent processes of destruction within modern efforts to reconstruct the post-conflict landscape.




Violence Taking Place: The architecture of the Kosovo Conflict
Andrew Hersher 2010
Hersher has worked for the UN Tribunals in Kosovo, examining the manner in which architecture was explicitly appropriated, destroyed, and utilized as a tool of war and power.  I've only recently picked up this book and haven't gotten too far into yet, but already, I can say it is highly recommended.

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.

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.