Viewing entries tagged
Governance

Kiev Before and Now


I will admit, I have not followed events in Kiev Ukraine very closely in the last few weeks as my attention has been overly absorbed with work.  However, I felt the photo-synth above perfectly illustrates what is happening. Also it highlights just how much an environment can change when under duress. I'm not sure who made it, but I found it via journalist Jared Keller at twitter.

Images in the City and the Illusion of Governance

Marketing Campaign to Stop Opium Production in Afghanistan (All Photos: Sutika Sipus)

Every day on my way to work I pass by a large poster of Afghanistan President, Mohamed Karzai.  Holding a child, pasted high above the heads of pedestrian traffic and adjacent to the Ministry of Education, the leader of the country composes himself as the father of us all.  There are many images like this in Kabul, and while the image of the late mujahadeed Ahmed Shah Masood is far more prominent, the consistent personification of national leaders has had me thinking about what it means to govern.

After all, how many despotic regimes forced their citizens to host images of their leaders above doorways, in offices, or in their homes?  Many of those governments eventually collapsed, yet others remain strong and persistent.  I'm thinking about the USSR, Cuba,  North Korea, and Libya... but I'm also thinking about the times I watched a movie in Thailand and had to stand for a commercial about the King or perhaps more subtly, all the times the national anthem is played before a baseball game in America. 


Poster of Ahmed Shah Masood in Kabul 
Be it a song, picture, or poster, these are the tools the reinforce the idea of governance.  Yet in places like Afghanistan, perhaps these images are more important.  How does a centralized government capital like Kabul maintain a connection to outer regions such as Khost or Helman?  Beyond a constant occupation of the city streets with police and military, how can a city government reinforced the idea of its power within the minds of the population? 

Governance is like any other product.  It has a market of consumers, that market has a threshold, and to expand its consumer base it needs to do two things: it needs to continually reinvent its appeal and it needs to advertise.

Advertising governance is simply a manner of reinforcing the terms of the social contract.  It is a direct way for an administration to say "we are doing what you have asked us to do, please continue to support us."  Though too often overlooked, the process of giving an image to the government is critical within areas of lower stability as there is generally a deficit of reliable information in the streets.  Rumors and conspiracies abound.  Journalism is frequently a fantasy and truth is subjective.  For a municipal, regional, or federal government to maintain control it needs to be visually present within the lives of the people. Yet government employees are expensive, it is a lot cheaper to simply put up a picture.

Opium Deterrence Campaign in Kabul Afghanistan
In recent months there has been an explosion of images within Kabul, as a variety of graphic campaigns have been launched to deter opium production, promote environmental responsibility, and increase continued enrollment in Afghan police and security forces.  Of course not all imagery is equal and many of the efforts will vary in success for obvious reasons.  For example, a campaign to discourage people from allowing their children to carry arms will likely suffer to succeed as the posters are written in Dari, the language spoken primarily by northern populations, while the bulk of the issue is located in the Pashto speaking south.  

However evocative imagery, such as found within the opium campaign may be sufficient enough to overcome language barriers.  The only problem however is that opium production is primarily a socio-economic issue while its consumption in urban areas is a socio-cultural concern.  Anti-drug campaigns have a history of mixed successes throughout the world, but it is unclear how large the current Kabul effort extends beyond catchy billboards.

Regardless of the Kabul examples, it is clear that order and governance require more than the simple provision of services, management, and security.  Successful governance entails the ability to communicate successes and ideology to the broader public, no matter how small the success or massive the audience.   Among challenged states it can establish the illusion of governance, and among those states and cities who truly are making strides, it can transform illusion into reality.

Another Day in the New Mogadishu

One of the new flights between Istanbul and Mogadishu cuts across the sky from a bombed out cathedral (Sutika Sipus)
Everything has been non-stop. 

I spent the morning down at the port, speaking with local fishermen about their industry and trying to learn how the fishing economy has changed over the last 10 years.  I was curious if all the piracy along the coast had affected their livelihood, and they said they sometimes get hassled and search when far out at sea, but typically the piracy hasn't had any impact in their lives good or bad. Their biggest issue was the lack of refrigeration and storage options, so at the end of the day, anything not sold fresh at the market goes bad and much is thrown away.  Occasionally they have a good day wherein they catch a lot of fish yet manage to sell all of it, yet this doesn't happen enough.  It seems that right now business is good and they are selling more with the stability and rapid growth of the city, yet until they can refrigerate their catch, they will always be stuck losing money.

Morning at the Port of Mogadishu (Sutika Sipus)
I also attended a large meeting between the heads of all the district leaders and AMISOM.  The AMISOM mission to Somalia has seen recent successes, but as the city is no longer a major conflict zone, they are striving to keep local peace.  There is a municipal police force, yet the force is too small and underfunded, so the Uganda contingent is now trying to fill this role.  District leaders expressed concerns passed to them from their neighborhood residents about the infiltration of al shabaab and about the circulation of unregistered weapons.  The AMISOM Colonel did his best to work with the leaders to develop pathways to solve these problems.  

After the meeting between AMISOM, all District Leaders, and the Municipal Government (Sutika Sipus)
At the meeting, a new district commissioner explained that his district contains a very beautiful beach and on fridays, many thousand people visit, yet there are no life guards and children have died from lack of supervision.  He explained that on most days the local fishermen are sufficient to handle the problem, yet as al shabaab forbade swimming, many people want to exercise there new found freedom and thus the crowd is too big for locals to monitor on the weekend.  The AMISOM Captain addressed the issue, hoping to coordinate the coast guard to address the problem.

I left the meeting greatly impressed by the role of the local district leaders in expressing their communities.  The Mayor gave an impassioned speech about the necessity of them being ever close to the eyes and mouths of the citizens and he further chastised the leaders to enforce strict oversight regarding fighters in their neighborhood.  He argued that AMISOM cannot control the rise of warlord, yet the community can, so it is essential the youth are going to school and not getting involved with gangs or militias.  It is essential that the local leaders push this policy throughout their districts.

When the meeting concluded, the Mayor asked what I think about the events of the day, and I responded that it is truly sad the UN doesn't see these processes.  Democracy and local level governance are daily ongoing within the city, yet when I had a meeting at the UN the day before, I was personally distraught over their poor knowledge of the geography, their ignorance about local governance structures, and their complete lack of understanding about the local channels of communication.  

I realize that those working within the UN must work within an exceedingly narrow framework, as this framework is necessary for such a massive institution to function.  However for the individuals to not see outside the framework, and thus do work not informed by the urban reality, is truly sad.  It is like doing urban planning without a site visit or writing a biography without meeting the subject.  There is only so much information one can absorb from a distance.  If you want to know how water tastes, then you must dive in and drink it, as standing on the shore will never leave you the wiser.