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International Development

The Fatigue of the 9/11 Generation and the Rise of ISIS




Perhaps every generation has their moment in which the ideological terrain abruptly shifts, and tomorrow feels different than yesterday. Growing up my parents would occasionally describe the JFK assassination with precise clarity. When Challenger exploded I was unaware of the disaster on the television several feet away because I was too young to notice but it certainly affected others.

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I was 19, in college and helping my professor dispose of used plaster from a sculpture class. Someone shouted, we went into the hallway and watched the next plane hit the second tower on the television.  It was difficult to understand.  

Weeks prior I had purchased a ticket to soon fly to New York and it was with hesitation that I boarded the plane in late September. The flight was nearly empty. Two hours later we passed over the city and I could see the smoldering debris of the World Trade Center below. Walking the streets, the city was quiet and the air tasted like burnt dust. I intentionally wanted to avoid lower Manhattan, but walking around late at night, I got lost and searching for a subway entrance, I wandered into ground zero.  Smoke rose from the ruins while workers combed the rubble.

Ten years later I was living in Afghanistan, teaching at a university, advising ngos and city governments, and traveling to other conflicted states to work on similar problems of urban conflict and reconstruction. By that time I had already lived elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa. I could speak a couple different languages in multiple dialects. Everyday I tackled issues of youth militarization, forced displacement, and extreme poverty. I did my best to apply the mundane insights of urban planning and design to the world's most challenging problems. 

My friends were no different. We all studied foreign languages and earned multiple degrees in middle eastern studies, economics, law, social sciences, and history. Some of us joined the military, some of us worked alongside it, and others moved into humanitarian relief and development. We found no reason to fear Islam or those different ourselves but discovered the joy of difference and we indulged those cultural identities to inform our own. Regardless of what we chose or discovered, we all left our homes to travel and live in foreign communities to understand the root causes of terrorism, hoping to unravel the strands and in some way lessen the brutal consequences of global market failures. We all sought an understanding.

Some of us took additional steps to plant ourselves into the center of these problems so as to be truly effective.  We spent years without consistent access to running water, working toilets, or proper heat in the winter. We experienced deep trembling fear as bombs exploded in eyesight.  We laid on the floor as bullets ricocheted and spent days locked in steel paneled rooms. We found these moments both terrifying and addicting because those places and people that once constituted home now felt boring and static. In contrast, we were on the edge of living. Between the hardest moments we indulged in ridiculous parties with contraband booze to blow off steam and make ourselves feel like normal human beings. On occasion we fled to an exotic beach to spend our hard earned money on any distraction that will make us feel reconnected to the world we once knew. We pushed every moment to the threshold of human experience.

Our lives were saturated but not sustainable. We found ourselves increasingly estranged from our families who were incapable of understanding our lifestyles. We found ourselves alienated among everyone but each other and new relationships became challenging as we quickly brushed off anyone that didn't measure up to our unique expectations. Most people do not.  In the meanwhile the pools of money have dried in many hotspots, leading to less jobs, less people, and less parties. The risks seem less manageable.

One by one we have found ways to cope and change. Most of us have quit our jobs and perhaps found another place to live. Some of us spent too much time in the deep and our choices have made us unemployable in our own professions. If you spent five years in Iraq and try to find a new life in Washington DC, you will be surprised to find yourself overlooked. Some of us are so deep that we have dropped the career goals but have remained in Kabul or Baghdad or Peshawar because we now feel that we belong there.  A few of us have managed to better adjust than others, but none of us have gone back to the homes where we started, or want to.  We have instead found relief in making a home somewhere else. Some of us are working as english teachers in Qatar. Others have returned to school for PhDs and many are struggling to make a decision. Some of us run successful consulting companies. But none of us have a desk job. 

We have changed our paths not from lack of caring. Watching the rise of the Islamic State on television we are stricken with deep fear and worry. These problems are not distant, but are connected to our lives and are personal. We believe in a moral imperative that something must be done because we know what happens, how it happens, and the imminent future if nothing is done. Because we actually know the problems, we are also the most afraid.

But we are the 9/11 Generation and we are exhausted. We will not likely be a remembered generation for our efforts and our losses. People will accuse us of being colonialists rather than empathizers and technicians. While rightly we honor the sacrifices of soldiers there will be no monument for my friends who died working as teachers. We do not have an Allen Ginsberg to write about us or a Jimi Hendrix to rewrite our anthems. We listen to the same outdated Katy Perry songs and read the same terrible airport novels as everyone else.

And now as we step out of one life and into another, we watch the rise of ISIS on television and we despair.  Having dedicated over a decade to these same problems, we understand where it comes from and how it functions. We know the history of caliphates and modern jihadism. We understand what the guy is saying on the radio before the translator chimes in with a softer version. But this doesn't feel like our war. We are not rushing to confront it because we have already given ourselves. We are uncertain if we can give more. We are uncertain if there is anything else left to give.

The Phoenix City of Mogadishu Somalia - Can the city hold on?



When I began working with the government of Mogadishu, I was deeply optimistic about the future of the city.  The city was at a turning point and was gaining momentum in a positive direction.  At this very moment, as I have returned to Mogadishu for another project, I have much less certainty.

What the hell happened?

For a little background, Mogadishu has a long history of ups and downs. In 1992 the city imploded upon itself with the fall of the Soviet Union combined with bubbling local tensions. After more than a decade of civil war, the rise of the Islamic Courts in 2006 gave it a chance to recover. When the courts collapsed, a radical offshoot of its police force established al Shabaab which then squeezed much of the country with a crushing grip of violence and intimidation for 5 years. In 2011, Mogadishu got its second chance as Shabaab withdrew from the city under pressures of drought, finance, and foreign military pressures by Kenya and AMISOM.

About 90 days later, in December 2012 I was contacted by the city government of Mogadishu and I boarded a plane. Over the next couple years I was living in Afghanistan and periodically traveling to Mogadishu to conduct evaluations, pitch new solutions, and augment existing efforts. You can think of this as consulting, but with teeth. This was truly a satisfying experience because using urban planning and design strategy to stabilize and rebuild a city like Mogadishu is a highly creative effort. While the profession contains a vast wealth knowledge and expertise on how to run a city that is already functioning, there is very little on how to pull one from the ashes.

Throughout that time, the city government was led by Mohammud Nur, also known as Tarzan.  Tarzan is an inspiring man. He grew up in Mogadishu as a homeless orphan, and received his nickname because of the way he would climb buildings to evade local police for acts of petty theft. When Tarzan had the opportunity to relocate to to the UK as a refugee in the early 1980s he saw much his community living on welfare and doing little with their lives. Motivated for change, he went to school to learn new ideas and skills - I believe eventually earning an MBA - and founded one of the first internet cafes in London in the early 1990s. This single business venture expanded to include others, and along the way, he became a leading figure in the Somali diaspora as an outspoken activist and community leader.

When he was appointed Mayor, the city had no electricity, garbage collection, or sanitation services in over two decades. The city government only controlled about 4 blocks and the majority of the city was controlled by al Shabaab. It was the bleakest landscape and Tarzan likely had the hardest job in the world.

With the withdrawal of Shabaab, he jumped to the opportunity and began seeking resources, strategies, and tools for rapid change.  He wanted new ideas (thus my own modest contribution). Much happened and fast.  At the time I believed this was a historic turning point for the city, as evidenced by this video I produced during that time on the reconstruction of Mogadishu.





Fast forward to today and the future is not so certain. Tarzan was fired  in February of 2014 by the president, who cited security concerns, but there is a general consensus in Mogadishu that it is because the Mayor's popularity overshadowing his own. Shocked by the sudden dismissal, Nur left his office in prime condition as the the city government had over $100,000 USD in assets for investment (acquired primarily through the 15% airport tax). For the first time in the history of Somalia, the city was not sitting in deficit.  

The new mayor, Hassan Mohamed Hassan Mungreb, formerly held a position at the Somali Army's war college.  He came into office saying he would have Mogadishu safe within 30 days. Given the deep history of insecurity in the city, I feel little need to give commentary on the capability of the Somali military.

Also, upon entering Benaadiir, Mayor Hassan fired everyone. There is nearly zero carry over knowledge from one administration to the other. Every clerk, speaker, project manager and account were dismissed. The Deputy Mayor Iman Icar survived the purge, but he was removed from his seat as Head of Finance and put in charge of Civil Services.  Now it is three months later and the $100,000 USD is gone.  The city is again in the red.  It is also the most dangerous in the last three years with almost daily attacks.

Mayor Hassan also fired all the district representatives. This has had a mixed effect. For years, Nur struggled with many of the district representatives because many of them were longtime warlords with significant power. His strategy was to slowly push these guys to the edge, to make them less significant, ultimately by awarding promotions into superfluous positions wherein their power base would erode. He would then replace them with younger, better educated, and capable individuals. The former district commissioner of Hamar JibJib is a good example of this change.

Under Hassan all the old regimes are gone and in many ways, that is promising. Yet he personally appointed new Disctrict Commissioners that have no following or reputation. Today, Somali citizens do not know their local leaders, creating a new level of chaos. Worse, the former DCs have now become targets for al Shabaab.  With no government protection, they have built their own personal militias, again, distorting the landscape of power away from centralized governance and into fractured chaos.

As a whole, the problems of the Somalia government are not restricted to the municipal level.  I am not as intimate with the individuals holding federal office, but I do have some knowledge of the mechanics. For example, when Parliament passes a motion - perhaps a new law? - the motion is not written down or archived in any fashion. There is in fact no written record or knowledge management system within the government. Obviously laws are made and forgotten or applied inconsistently because there is no basic platform for communication.

I wish communication and information management was the biggest problem, because it is easy to fix. Parliament is a big building. You could probably run the country using a wall full of colored post-it notes with much success.

Yet a bigger problem exists in the substructure of the government, and community, that is common within all fragile states but acute within Mogadishu.  In a society of scarce resources,  perpetual state of crisis of dominates all actions and within Mogadishu. It create fear and paranoia and here, this mode of thinking is entrenched.  In a state of emergency, everything is about "me first" thus negating opportunities for creativity and reason. As long as Mogadishu is always a city of emergency (by the residents, the actors, and the outside community), the political will and collective action will remain fractured by the myopic fight-or-flight sensibility of emergency thinking. When your leader's actions are founded on "me first" impulses, then your own only response becomes "me too," and no one can win. Binary conditions give no room to consider the greater good.

In 2012 and 2013 I cautiously walked the streets of the city, if only for a few minutes, hopeful that in a year I could soon walk them freely. I travelled freely in a car from one destination to another, sometimes with armed guards and sometimes not. Now, while I'm willing to venture past the airport (why are there so many white people at the airport? what could they possibly be doing?), I can't actually leave the hotel. Because of the extreme level of suspicion dominating the community, I can't even conduct business in the lobby or have a lunch meeting in the restaurant. Even worse, this sort of restricted mobility does little to improve security. Sunday, when the parliament exploded in chaos, the ground shook with explosions and stray bullets bounced off the walls (listen to an audio recorded moment of the event below or here). Everyday there has been some kind of attack and the population is tense. The majority of Somalis I meet are afraid to walk down their own street.



What is next?  I don't know. I want this city to succeed.

Most people I know, from my upbringing in the US, think of a place like the city of Mogadishu the far edge of the world. But I disagree.  A city like Mogadishu is the center.  It is in Mogadishu that the smallest changes can have the biggest impact on the global community in terms of creating a safe and free world void of suffering or one that is distressed and painful. If a day goes without a gunshot in Detroit, it is novel, but if it happens in Mogadishu it creates entirely new possibilities for the future.  A thriving Mogadishu opens trade and creates new markets for western business.  A stable Mogadishu can build more jobs in America or send more goods into Europe.  If you don't believe me, then why did Somali piracy cost the world 18 Billion Dollars? If Mogadishu, and the greater Somalia, can continue to push through and establish itself on stronger footing, it won't just change the lives it's people, it will change the world.

Post-Conflict Reconstruction is Dead


I have argued for many years that post-conflict reconstruction is a thing of the past but only recently, at Making Sense of Syria 2014, did I realize that a more direct spotlight needs to be shone on this issue. Already there is an inconsistency in language in which I find many planners label post-war reconstruction and post-disaster reconstruction as nearly the same thing - which they are not, as environmental disasters take on an array of variables and conditions entirely separate from acts of human violence.  But the notion of post-conflict is entirely flawed, as ultimately, today we only have the ability to respond to stabilize and build - with little contribution available in terms of creating remedies rebuilding.

Much of our thinking on the notion of reconstruction is rooted in the reconstruction of London in 1666. In response Christopher Marlow did much to improve the city through the state led rebuilding process. Our conception of reconstruction was then solidified with the Marshall Plan of WII, again a process of state led rebuilding which also led to local improvements, such as exemplified through the reconstruction of Warsaw, Poland.

But today post-conflict/post-war reconstruction is obsolete because the nature of conflict has changed. Wars do not end with a clean resolution. Rather, contemporary wars are resolved through entropy, wherein the pace of conflict is reduced to a simmer.  Protracted over many years and subject to bursts of violence, spaces in conflict remain under the stress and pressure of danger, and are inhibited by its demands.  

Furthermore, cities and regions in conflict no longer exist as a neutral stage for the conflict theatre. Whereas WWII was fought in the rural hinterlands and urban cores between two states - with little regard for the landscape itself - contemporary conflicts are fully integrated with the terrain, as the ultimate stakeholders and primary actors are the local populations.  

We no longer experience state-to-state conflict. Unless a dramatic incident initiates large-scale international conflict (such as 9/11 and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq) the primary conflicts consist of non-state actors either against the state or against other non-state actors. The motives, capabilities, and organizational structure of these groups vary greatly, thus further shifting the landscape into frenetic patterns.

From this context, it is clear that the efforts made to rebuild a wart torn city must change. If a city is destroyed by an aggregate of non-state actors, then is it reasonable to expect state-based reconstruction to be effective? What if the state hires businesses If the war was fractured and erratic, will a largely institutional process (such as via the United Nations) mend the wounds? Can populations traumatized by the violent atrocities of their own neighbors work put grievances into the past and work together for community-based development?

Unlikely. 

Yet these are the standard response mechanisms in place. This can and must change. I've written below some of the key lessons I've learned over the years to better facilitate reconstruction, though this list is by no means complete. Maybe one day I'll get around to writing a book. But for now, lets just stick with the list:


Steps toward effective resolution and rebuilding for cities in conflict

1. We must recognize that conflicts do not have a clean end, yet there is a turning point wherein enough variables for continued conflict reach a collective low-point, providing a point of entry for external variables toward response, stability, and construction.

2. The ability to conduct any form of development or positive social contribution exists only in relation to the level of security available. In a city like Aleppo, there is no room for things such as "personal agency" in the midsts of high-intensity conflict.  

3. Traditionally high-need systems (such as food markets) continue to exist, but they change form in response to the conflict, frequently becoming more widely distributed and with a higher cost of access. We cannot assume any traditional elements of society continue to function unchanged while under duress.

4.  Linear planning is a waste of time. Sequence planning can be feasible, but the success of each sequence cannot be dependent upon the success of a preceding or adjacent sequence. Each one must autonomously reach success or fail. In Afghanistan, NATO pursued an approach based on key locations to function as interdependent sequences, yet this structure is too feeble and can not respond to dynamic conditions.

5. Failure must be strategically integrated within the planning process.  

6. If a city was destroyed by disparate non-state actors, then its greatest potential to pacify and rebuild is is also in the hands of disparate non-state actors - not the State or by external institutions.  The symmetry of destroy/rebuild by fractured processes is more than aesthetic, but is essential to long-term stability and functionality.

7. We can at best inject materials and actors to nudge existing variables into new forms. Strategic intervention is inept to shift the context of the conflict, yet we must realize that introducing new variables will not merit success. Sometimes it is essential to wait for less variables to exist.  You must be patient to let the conflict play out sometimes. Mogadishu waited 21 years to bounce back, and there were likely only 3 other points in time in which it had the potential.  

8.Stress, fear, and survival instincts are the biggest factors to judge how populations will respond to a given scenario and who will participate in an intervention, to what extent, and for how long.   While the boring elements of life continue to exist - such as the need to go to a job and earn an income - these systems adapt to the above concerns.

9. Anyone that wants to do "development" while within a state of conflict is not thinking clearly. It is essential for a turning point to arrive - which also, cannot be forced.

10. The key to sustainable transformation is speed. Bad decisions, bad policies, and bad infrastructure can be repaired and modified. But taking a long time to do it the "right way the first time" will undermine everybody. It is better to work from general to specific so that all actors can witness and participate in the transformation.

The Danger of Development

When I tell other urban development folks that I don't care about resilience or empowerment, they tend to look at me like I'm an idiot.  How can resilience be bad?  Empowerment is good!  And yes - those things are true.  However, in my work I argue that we should never start with the idea, we should start with the people.

Everywhere I work, the process is similar because it starts with building real human relationships.  I can work in Detroit or Mogadishu or the Bahamas because I go in with no assumptions or expectations.  I only ask that I can spend time with people, observe them, and learn from them.  The more people I meet, the more relationships I can create, and the better I can offer something of value.  Maybe my proposal will fall into the domain of resilience, maybe not, it doesn't actually matter.  I've also written extensively about this in the article, Urban Planning Trends are Bad Medicine.

Unfortunately, this approach to "Development" with a capital "D" is not universal.  Many of my peers embrace the certainty of formulas and answers, and are more than happy to debate endlessly on the works of Sachs vs. Easterly.  But I suspect those rockstars of international development would agree with me to say the debate misses the point.

Today a friend of mine shared this fantastic video on the perils of international development.  It is funny but it is also sad because these things do happen.  I have personally witnessed such tragedies occur, and even wrote about one such incident in the article Deep Water in a Geography of Conflict.  I strongly recommend the video below, if it doesn't load in your browser, feel free to visit the source at http://www.survivalinternational.org/thereyougo.


Update from Cambodia

Angkor Wat Temple in Siam Reap Cambodia.  Sutika Sipus 2013.

I'm presently on the road in SE Asia doing some research on the longterm implications for conflicted landscapes.  However just wanted to give a shout-out to two brief articles that I wrote and were recently published online.  Enjoy.


Slow and Steady in Kabul
An overview of the history and role of urban planning in Kabul and its impact on the future development prospects for the city.  It is part of the Cities in Conflict series at opendemocracy.net.


The Story of a New Mogadishu
Posted at Engaging Cities, which focuses primarily on methods of community engagement in urban planning, this article describes how community participation may have a broader role in governance of Somalia.  Furthermore, it describes the tool created with my partners at Urban Interactive Studio, rebirthofmogadishu.com.

International Development Consultants: Divide The Good from the Bad

Map of Afghan Sheep Distribution 1998 using AIMS data, available at UC Davis.
Ultimately a good international development consultant should give more than he/she takes away.   But does this always happen?  No.  I would say it is even uncommon.  International Development Consultants are frequently detested by company staff and equally unliked by communities.

In fact, just the other day, I heard a great Afghan joke on this topic:

A western man walks up to an old shepherd in rural Afghanistan and says "If I can tell you exactly how many sheep you have, will you give me one?"

The old man said yes, and the westerner walked back to his car, pulled out a laptop, turned on Google Earth and some fancy GIS software then after a few minutes said "You have exactly 872 sheep."  The old man agreed this to be the correct number, so the westerner walked into the pasture, picked one up and loaded it into the back of his car.

The old man then said "Now, if I tell you the name of your profession, can I have that back?"  The foreigner agreed and the old man said "you are an International Development Consultant."

Surprised, the foreigner said "Yes! I am.  How did you know?"

The old man replied, "Well...You showed up when no one asked for you to be here.  Then you told me something I already know.  And lastly, that creature in the back of your car is my dog."

While hilarious, there is unfortunately a lot of truth to this.

International development consultants  were held as the great answer by institutions such as the World Bank in the 1980s and after a couple decades of actions, are today often regarded with absolute disdain by those who work the daily-grind.  Yet big organizations constantly hire them.

I can tell you from my own work experience, nothing is worse than the expert who parachutes in, gives a bunch of irrelevant advice, then disappears leaving behind a busted budget (for the cost of services), empty wallets (from the bar tab), and a frustrated community who is still wanting something to change. Sometimes the company is lucky and the consultant is insightful and genuine, but to be honest, I've met more bad ones than good.  Too often its a combination of irrelevant information, a poor understanding of local issues, and an oversized ego.  Ugh.


Yet consultants can be great because they can supply detailed technical knowledge, an outside perspective to help improve the robustness of current projects, and they can supply a demand for innovative solutions that is not being met by the local market.  If a consultant is simply providing the same quality of insight, than can be locally obtained, then they are not worth the high price.  But if they provide something more, its worth considering.


But the work of an international development consultant can be priceless.  

A good international development consultant will do the following:

a) spend time with the local community to get in touch with local values and knowledge

b understands the legal and political framework which dictates the viability of solutions

c) listen to locals experts on the problem (not explain the problem to them)

d) introduce concepts that are uncomfortable  because the combination of accuracy and honesty 

e) infuse new energies, resources, and opportunities into a given scenario

A good consultant, no matter the price, will provide concrete changes to a situation so that any observer will note that the situation is remarkably different and in a positive manner.  

A good consultant will not arrive with "the answers" but will arrive with enough knowledge so as to ask the best questions.  

As an International Development consultant with Sutika Sipus LLC, I also provide a service that is different from among all other practitioners in the field.  I believe that to be a excellent international development consultant, it is my job to become unnecessary to the client and the community.  If I am tasked with a problem and 5 years later am still working in the same place on the same problem, then I must be doing it wrong.  

It is my job to create the conditions so that my work is no longer needed.  I don't charge as much money as my competitors, but I also know that I am not the lowest bidder.   I am however able to consistently provide viable solutions for radical change in a given project on behalf of multiple stakeholder interests.  That takes a lot of work and sacrifice.  It also isn't something you can just find anywhere.

How to work in International Development

Water Delivery in Mogadishu, Somalia (Photo: Sutika Sipus 2012)
About 2 or 3 times a week I receive emails from curious individuals or graduate students looking for opportunities to work in international development.  Some of these inquires are also for urban planners interested in working in post-war reconstruction or in active conflict zones, but are unsure where to start.  If and when I have the means, I do my best to extend opportunities their way, but it just depends on the timing.  Often too, people are looking for general advice, which is difficult, as everyone working in this field tends to have a very individual path.

I do at least have  few general lessons which I can share:

  • Go to graduate school.  A graduate degree is essential.  I was once advised to get 2 graduate degrees, one that is technical, and one that is more contextual and social science oriented.  I followed this advice and it has served me well.
  • Learn to write.  Good writing is important because you will spend long hours writing reports.  Most "aid workers" do little more than stare at computer screens all day.  That of course is a different problem altogether, but being a good writer will get you the job.
  • Languages help but aren't critical.  If you want to work in South America or West Africa, Spanish and French will be essential but beyond that... I wouldn't worry about.  If you didn't grow up bi or multilingual there will always be lots of people better than you at languages.  So  try to learn one if you can, but don't worry about mastering it.  More importantly, just try to learn the local languages the best you can wherever you happen to eventually work.  You can improve your job options more by mastering a hard skill rather than a language.
  • Acquire technical skills. The ability to do GIS, database construction and management, and statistics are in constant demand.  Web skills are good too.  I was once told that people either work in management or have an actual skill, but managers are commonplace, so its better to do the latter. I've found this to be quite true and therefore have little difficulty acquiring new contracts.
  • Identify a high-demand geographic market.  One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was to move to Washington DC, thinking I would find a job in the aid field.  There is a reason everyone there works in fundraising.  In general, the location is over saturated and much the discourse is very out of touch.  On a similar note, many people think "I want to work in Africa" so they move to Nairobi and try to find a job.  Of course you can find what you want in both places, but it is difficult.  A better option is to identify a city with a lot of cash and a high demand for skilled people (regardless of their experience).  Kabul and Juba are good examples. 
  • If you are a US citizen, consider joining the Peace Corps.  I did not, but in retrospect, it would have made life easier if I wanted to join the USAID machine.  
  • Try to work for MSF.  I have more respect for Medicine Sans Frontiers than any other NGO in the world.  They are highly capable and highly respected.  If you work for them for 2-3 years, you will not have difficulty moving into any other organization (though you may not want to at that point).
  • Unfortunately most people who want to be aid workers find themselves working for free for 2-3 years.  I did my fair share of volunteer work as well, but looking back, I don't think it was the best idea. In fact, I'd argue this way of thinking is greatly antiquated and undermining.   Perhaps a better path is to pursue work in the private-sector, working in engineering, research, business or otherwise, and after a few years, cross over into for-profit development work or with a large-scale INGO.  

Humanitarian Aid and Development as a Profitable Enterprise

Ikea as Humanitarian and Urban Planner?
Years ago, I was asked to write an essay for a class on Architectural Conservation.  We had a guest lecture by renown American architectural historian Patrick Snadon who discussed the issues of preserving ugly modernist buildings in contemporary cities, and we were asked to write a reaction to the topic.  My own paper focused on the economic issues in preserving American architecture, as so often city, state and federal governments are asked to inject funds to preserve historic sites when such funds simply never exist.  I suggested that preservationists could utilize more accessible tools, to perhaps utilize strategies that engage the private sector rather than the public.  Sports stadiums, football games, and city plazas typically have corporate sponsors, such as FedEx Field in Maryland and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.   Large, wealthy companies vie for the opportunity to sponsor popular sports facilities and in the end, everybody wins.

So why not do this with historic buildings or entire neighborhoods?  Why couldn't Procter & Gamble initiate a large-scale urban development effort?   Private companies have explored this in the past, such as when Walt Disney led the design and planning of Celebration, Florida.  Such actions would facilitate brand loyalty, the companies could plan to include programs to increase their recruiting pool - such as special academic programs in schools that focus on product design or computer programming - and governments are less strained.   Again, everybody wins.

Ikea's Town Plan, London UK
A few weeks ago I read about the massive retailer IKEA pursuing an urban development scheme in London, exploring town planning and development with real-estate company LandProp.  Although some may find it outrageous, I greatly applaud IKEA's interest in expanding their penchant for refined design and cost-cutting production into the domain of urban development. Notably, this new town will not include an IKEA retailer.  Around the same time, I also learned about a large grant from IKEA of 62 Million USD provided to UNHCR for development purpose in the Dadaab refugee camps.  So what does this mean?

Like the idea I had in grad school about corporations spearheading architectural preservation and urban development, I ask why can't this happen within humanitarian aid and international development?  Why is it the sole responsibility of cash-strapped governments and NGOs to aid those in need, to overcome poverty, and to develop sustainable economies of scale?  In many ways, the idea of doing this without financial stakeholders is absolutely ludicrous.  If a company such as Ikea were willing to invest in the reconstruction of a city such as Kabul,  the environmental development of Hargeissa Somaliland, or to invest in a neighborhood in Detroit, they could access a massive labor-pool, expand their customer base with deeply-rooted brand loyalty, and lock themselves into a more profitable future. 

What I think is critical, is that this process does not need to be philanthropic.  Not everyone needs to be the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  It could be a profitable enterprise.  The risk is that we would live in a world where every city, town, and street would be named after Gilette razor-blades, Ivory Soap, and CocaCola but then again, we already live in a world where professional sports and entertainment are dominated by the same vestiges of capitalism.  Buses and subways are covered in advertising, and movies feature endless product placements.  Would it actually be all that different?

So in the end, I ask if it is time to radically upgrade how humanitarian aid and development is undertaken.  If laissez-faire ideologies are going to dominate the global economy, then why not utilize their embedded leverage, to push for the expansion of corporations to integrate all facets of daily life.  

Admittedly the concept goes against my own personal sensibilities. Maybe its a bad idea, maybe it would create an international catastrophe of unparalleled proportion, but then again, maybe it could work.

#Dadaab Research and Information, #Somalia #Refugees, and #Architecture


Events within the Dadaab refugee camps have reached a fever-pitch in the last few weeks.  Or more accurately, there has been a surge of interest in the Dadaab camps, as circumstances have always been dire. I have lately received many emails from those interested in working at the camps, designing solutions, or basic requests for information.  

At the moment I am traveling and have limited access to a computer so I apologize for the delayed responses.  However this week I added a new page The Humanitarian Space, specifically compiling some resources and information about Dadaab.  The resources are drawn from my own work or is work on which I am quite familiar and can answer questions.

In the next few days I will provide a more thorough background on recent events,  information about refugee camp design, and answer some of the most recent questions.  

#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.

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.

#Kabul, #Afghanistan: #Skateboarding toward the future


More often than not, international development is pursued as a purely economic process.  Roads must be built, banks must be strengthened, housing improved, and health care should be made accessible.  Yet the simple construction of institutions, the provision of infrastructure, and the implementation of social programming is not enough to solve all social problems because social problems are complex. It is common wisdom that these complex problems can only be solved internally, within the community,  yet the community generally lacks the means to to action.  Conversely, aid agencies frequently advertise for specialists in "capacity building" and yet within the job descriptions, the term "capacity" remains consistently vague.   While capacity is best defined as an internal ability to pursue and implement active change, when the workings of communities are merged with capacity, the concept bubble stretches to a breaking point.  The scale of the problem remains too much for the solution.  Sometimes something else is needed, a strategy that is less direct than teaching job skills or creating new markets.

While in Cairo, I witnessed the transformative power  of that simple social programming can have within the lives of youth who must grow up in poverty and who lack opportunities for personal advancement.  Viable social programming, such as sports, music, or even the provision of a space to play, can transform a child's life.  Certainly these things alone cannot remove the frustrations of poverty or the pains of social alienation, nor can these things provide the same concrete tools for personal advancement as education and job training.  Yet these sorts of programs create opportunities for confidence and self esteem, provide opportunities to for children to communicate and express themselves.  Self expression is easily undervalued because its role is immeasurable, but little imagination is necessary to recognize that a confident child will find more success in life than one who is alienated and unhappy.  Even where opportunities are limited, those with confidence and pride will creatively seek solutions, believing that solutions are possible.

This evening I discovered the brief documentary Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul.  This film shows the work of an ngo to bring skate boarding to youth in Kabul.  It shows how a nice space for play, how basic access to safety and fun may wield a transformative power.   The film reveals how something as simple as skateboarding can dramatic shape an individual's life.  Now imagine, if a child impacted by something as simple as skateboard had the chance to go to school, to drink clean water, and to walk down the street without fear.  Apply the same concept to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children in a city like Kabul and the concept of capacity becomes strikingly clear.  Suddenly the future isn't so bleak.

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.

Looking for Water in All The Wrong Places as Somalia faces Drought and Famine


Today I noticed an IRIN  post concerning the present drought in Somalia.  Whereas people in Somali generally depended on water catchments for survival, most of these have dried up and now people are dying, as are their livestock.  Livestock that survives is often too weak to sell.  The most severe water shortages are in the southern regions, where pastoral livelihoods are a critical aspect of daily life.  Somalia's Water and Land Information Management agency, SWALIM, has reported in a recent bulletin that crop production has also been aggressively damaged by the drought.   Production of cash crops such as potatoes and citrus only continue in areas where farmers have access to river irrigation systems.

The draught is expected to last 2 or 3 months until the seasonal rains. Supposedly the draught is forcing people to migrate toward urban centers in search for water.  Accordingly, "Somalis had begun trucking water, 'but it is not nearly enough,'... one water tanker, with 200 drums (each200 L) costs between $200 and $250."  At that cost, 1 liter of water in Somalia is costing over 2 dollars per liter, on par with prices for bottled water in the United States, and it is certainly of much lower quality.

Reading this reminds me of some research I had done a bout a year ago, when it occurred to me one day, "How do people in Mogadishu manage to get water?"  I had asked some friends who grew up there, and they explained that water was purchased from vendors who would transport it via donkey cart.  Looking online, I happened to find an older article that some households have their own personal borehole while donkey cart delivery remains a common practice.  Another common approach is for many families to combine their resources and purchase a larger volume of water that can be then distributed using a pump as needed.  A  family may spend an entire third of their income on obtaining water.

Black Flags and RPG's: Piracy continues to reveal massive problems, while the world misses the point.


The never ending attitude toward piracy off the Somali coast continues to astound me.  Somalia is a failed state with no government, no security, an antiquated economy undermined by climate change, no food supplies to feed its displaced population, and scares the hell out of aid agencies.  Yet we all talk about piracy as if that is the problem because piracy affects international trade.  Its obvious piracy is the consequence of desperate people living in a desperate situation, and if the global community cared about that situation, then we probably wouldn't have piracy.  If piracy continued to persist while the country developed, military intervention and security measures would make sense and probably have the desired outcome.

Everyday there is a constant deluge of absurd media generated about pirates.  Today CNN featured an article on ships containing a safe room to hide their crew while pirates run the show on deck.  They lock themselves in a bullet-proof room full of food and water and wait for help to arrive.  Or consider a personal favorite of mine, as BAE Systems develops a laser defense system to disorient would-be pirates from attacking with their AK-47s and RPGs.  There is also much fanfare over the development of a private military in Northern Somalia to police the waters and combat pirates.

In the meanwhile, the global economy loses anywhere between 7 and 12 BILLION dollars per year due to the impact and accumulated costs of piracy.   So yes, every one is losing money because some really poor men in rowboats are causing problems.

Perhaps one day, somebody, somewhere, will choose to invest a billion dollars into stabilizing the water supply or investing in the workforce of Somalia.  When more donors and nations realize the potential investment opportunity for such a geographically advantaged state,  perhaps they will consider investing in solutions rather than laser beams and naval fleets.  In that scenario, everybody wins, not just the pirates.

From the Council of Berlin to the Birth of South Sudan

The whole world has been quite interested in Sudan this week, and rightfully so.  How often do we have the opportunity to potentially witness the birth of a new nation?  One thing I've noticed though when discussing the subject with my friends from neighboring countries is the idea that a unified Sudan is somehow ideologically better, although not necessarily reasonable.  I can't help but feel puzzled by this concept.

Perhaps I would feel the same if Sudan was composed of homogenous groups with shared language, culture, and ideology, but the truth is, that the composition of this modern state is more or less the whim of European colonialism.  In 1884-85, the European powers convened at the Council of Berlin to carve up Africa into separate territories, based upon the geographic locations and trade interests of European colonies.  Since African countries began to establish independence in the 1960s, these shapes have more or less remained the same.  Yet the arbitrary borders have done a great deal of damage to these countries, separating families, causing conflict over limited resources, and undermining regional stability.  


I know that the separation of north and south Sudan does not necessarily establish equality or peace. However, I do believe that it is a significant step toward equality and peace, as it presents the opportunity for the construction of African states founded on the citizens of those states, and not some distant power.

Does the Traditional Land Use System, Xeer, Have a Future in Somalia?


Everyday the world is confronted with abrasive images of the violence in Somalia, yet attempts to analyze and explain the aggression are generally slimmed down to explanations of tribalism.  It is true that the geo-political history of the 6 primary clans does play a large part in the constant fighting, however there are additional social factors that can undermine or facilitate a potential end to the violence.  With IDP camps scattered across the country, planning efforts to stabilize and rebuild this exhausted landscape will need to build upon a history of tribal, religious, colonial, and government efforts to control the land.  Xeer is perhaps the oldest land use tradition in Somalia and deserves special attention.

According to a UN-Habitat study in 2005, Xeer has 11 primary commandments:
  • Land and any resources found on it are common assets of the clan or the primary lineage that permanently lives on it.
  • Pasture is free for all pastoralists irrespective of clan affiliation in time of need.
  • Pastoralists should preserve, and not burn, deserted thorn pens for animals.
  • Generally nomads can not settle in the grazing valleys, however, in some regions pastoral hamlets may not be allowed to settle in the middle of grazing valleys.
  • Individual pastoralists should not destroy shared pasture and fruit bearing trees
  • Neither visiting grazers, nor local pastoralists, may establish commercial camps on grazing land.
  • Private enclosures or farms on grazing lands are prohibited.  No one is allowed to cut grass and transport it into another area.
  • Visiting grazers must respect Xeer and maintain peaceful co-existence with the host communities.
  • A committee of elders from the visiting group and the local community is empowered to resolve conflicts.
  • Kinsmen should assist each other in hard times, particularly during long migrations.
  • To reserve an old pen for private use, the head of the pastoralists group should clearly leave leave a mark in the front of the pen.
A quick review of these 11 tenants reveals the fluid nature of land use and its exchange between clans, sub-groups, and individuals.   As Somalia hosts extreme environments and the economy is historically rooted in animal husbandry, this fluid exchange is essential for the survival.  Nonetheless, these rules could quickly get messy in an urban environment where public space and private property blur the lines between social and personal use.  

In an urban environment, how do the the concepts of Xeer take on new meaning?  Can one interpret a vacant plot of land or an apartment available for use?  Does an individual acquire the private right to a piece of property by means of long term occupation?   It is likely that the role of Sharia Islamic law becomes an important element in negating these difficulties, yet as Sharia often has a focus on family and tribal rights, it is difficult to determine if Sharia can provide the appropriate tools to transgress private property disputes.  


Although many of these issues have been explored and expanded upon in depth in cities of Somaliland and Puntland, it is less certain how these problems will be resolved in places such as Mogadishu and Kismayo in the future.   I suppose if the nation were to be united under a Sharia based system, there would be a basic framework to construct new land use laws that are consistent with past systems.  However if a new, secular constitution is in place, that may create a new problem as the importation of techniques abroad might appear too much like an act of colonialism.  

Ultimately it seems that viable land use laws need to build upon the intrinsic, informal systems that have dominated the geography of Somalia for centuries.  Yet as long as border disputes and a weak government prevail, there are limited means to update the antiquated systems to engage a global economy.  In future blog posts I will continue to investigate the the role of Xeer, in particular in relation to Sharia and secular law, as tools for future stabilization and reconstruction efforts.

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.

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.

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.