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Mali

Reinventing the Urban Interface: Service Design for Post-Conflict Cities and Landscapes

Police Checkpoint on Ashura Holiday in Kabul, Afghanistan
Sutika-Sipus 2012
Wars have never had simple, neat, clean endings.  We like to envision that they have, but after the signature of nearly every historical treaty there remain scattered battles and acts of aggression by those who refuse to accept defeat or had yet to hear the news.  Today, the lingering aftermath of war is more obvious, as it is a given that wars never end but continue to trickle onward indefinitely.  Cities such as Kabul, Juba, Mogadishu, and Bagdad are rebuilding, but are not safe or stable.  

There are many reasons for their continued instability and lots of research out there to understand why contemporary wars have no ending.  Current research as investigated the problem from diverse perspectives such as  psychology, natural resourcesepidemiology, or even the notion that conflict simply creates more conflict.  But amidst all the efforts there has been little to no examination of the physical city and its role in promoting or reducing conflict.

Unfortunately traditional methods of security greatly undermine the health and function of cities.  Giant blast walls, police and military checkpoints, and steel guard shacks hinder processes socio-economic and cultural production by disrupting the spatial pathways and linkages necessary for their distribution and replication.  

Here are some examples of how contemporary security will hinder post-conflict urban reconstruction:

  • Detours caused by road blocks force the redistribution and retarded delivery of capital  causing unnecessary losses and social inequities.  For example, the guy who collects and sells firewood must pull his heavy cart an excessive extra distance before getting to his customer base, or because he cannot access his customers, he must compete against another firewood salesman in a more accessible neighborhood, reducing profits and potentially causing territorial conflict.
  • Lack of identification among citizens and the frequency of police checkpoints disrupts the flow of goods and people, and further causes new touchpoints for conflict occur.  In developing countries, most people do not have a birth certificate let alone a license or photo identification.  Just as often the police are illiterate and after long work hours are impatient and tired.  While checkpoints are important for security, they also create points of friction in the community and can inspire new conflicts.
  • Most neighborhoods were founded and grew around tightly defined tribal identities.  Over time these tribal concepts began to deconstruct, yet the emergence of social conflict will re-inspire tribal allegiances   When communities are heavily segregated by tribe, cross-tribal interaction is more likely to motivate suspicion and hostility than friendship and commerce. When physical barricades disrupt the movement of people, it prevents opportunities to again break down tribal allegiances.

Blast walls dictate all movement and transport cooridors in Kabul
Sutika-Sipus 2013
As you see, point of security are also points of disruption and thus obfuscate healthy social interaction. The question then becomes, how can governments and institutions create a viable security infrastructure while also promoting the advancement of the city?


To solve this problem, we must imagine some future possibilities:

  • What if police checkpoints could be design and operated in such a way that 10 years from now, citizens would say "remember when we had that checkpoint?  I rather miss it, that really added something to our community."

  • What if security infrastructure, such as blast walls or Jersey-walls, were created in such a way that their identity could become absorbed into the the landscape over time?  

  • What if urban security was approached as a process of customer service, and thus techniques successful in retail could be infused within security operations?  To extent we already have this, but does a visit to the police station feel like a visit to the genius bar?  Do customers have a way to provide feedback into the service experience for improvement?  Most people are afraid of security providers, how can this be changed?

Unfortunately those with the power to initiate and conduct war continue to forget the lessons forged by existing conflicts.  Take for example the swift path to victory by the French forces in Mali.  Achieving the military victory was possible, but before the militants moved in, Northern Mali was a poor and desperate landscape.  Will it return to the same sad state of affairs?  Likely, or even more likely, it will be worse as France appears to have no viable plan for the reconstruction process.  And if they rely upon the methods currently embraced by the aid/development community of the world, they wil only partly succeed, as evidenced by the lackluster reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Certainly the communities are resilient to certain issues and people will manage to survive, but resilience does nothing to prompt the radical transformation for a sustained peace and enriched development.  It is clear that a new approach is necessary, one that transforms the landscape so as to negate the conditions which facilitate conflict.  For years my company Sutika Sipus has been developing strategies and solutions to facilitate this change, but one company is not enough, others must take part in the process as well. We need to reinvent the interface between security and society in our cities, and to do so, it is essential that we redesign the relationship between security methods and the city itself.

Karte-Seh.  Kabul Afghanistan. Sutika-Sipus 2013

Mali is Not the New Somalia

When Northern Mali was overtaken by a couple months back, I assumed at the very outset that Somalia had something to offer.  After all, Somalia had just crawled out of 21 years of war, 6 of which were under the domination of extremist militant group al-Shabaab.  As the UN, EU, and US look toward military intervention in Mali, their reliance upon Somalia as a model is not a good idea.  

The Taureg Rebels of Northern Mali

Why Mali is Not the New Somalia

1. The Rise to Power 
Al-Shabaab was the police force of the widely supported Union of Islamic Courts that quickly rose to power upon the collapse of the UIC.  Consequently it was already an organized force for governance, recruitment, and community support.  As an organizational structure embedded in the community, it had a distinct advantage.

The Taureg rebels are local, however they maintain an evolving organizational structure and are imposing a rule of law and social conventions upon an unwilling population.


2. The Message
Al-Shabaab maintained a message of Nationalism supported by Sharia to overcome tribal strife.  To support al-Shabaab was to support the emergence of a new Somali state, not a direct means to support their extremist ideology.

In Mali the rebels seek an independent state.  Separatism and religious fundamentalism are a potent mix and do more to arouse support from the fringes of society than from the center.

3. The End of Shabaab
The collapse of al-Shabaab was influenced by military action, but military action was not the cause for their undoing.  Rather the collapse of al-Shabaab was the consequence of multiple variables occurring at the same time.  Environmental drought forcing widespread famine and thus undermining Shabaab's financial tax-based infrastructure was a critical element in their demise.   Furthermore, conflict in Mogadishu between Shabaab and AMISOM had become embedded into protracted trench warfare with minimal gains to either side.  Shabaab is stronger when more mobile, and the collapse of the the environment and financial assets hurt their supply lines.  It was to their economic and tactical advantage to resort to loosely-distributed hit and run tactics.

Comparatively, reliance upon outside military intervention in Mali is only part of the formula to remove the Taureg rebels from power.  Already there is an emphasis on targeting leadership, an unfortunate decision, given its poor history of success with other organizations.

4. To militarize or to pacify?
EU is moving toward training fighters in Mali. Haven't we learned from Afghanistan, Syria,  Libya, or Mexico?  Injecting weapons into a conflict zone, no matter how how much attention is paid to specifying the recipients, simply results in more weapons in the conflict zone.  It escalates the conflict and in an era where protracted ad-hoc terrorism is always the endpoint, why facilitate the market of war?  It was long known that in Somalia, AMISOM soldiers would frequently sell their ammunition for cash, which of course ended up in the hands Shabaab fighters.

Perhaps a potent strategy would be to demilitarize the region more than strengthen it.  HUMINT becomes an essential element in the mix, to understand how the rebels get their resources, and to map the structural underpinnings of their operation.  But getting these answers is not rocket science.  As I learned from doing similar work regarding the economics of al-Shabaab, it simply is a matter of asking the right questions to the right people. 


Designing a non-military solution to Mali
Of course I don't want to give away all the answers, but there are some obvious opportunities within the Mali conflict for widespread stabilization and transformation.  But I can say that Regional Science contains a few relavant ideas, and a good starting point is regarding gravity analysis.  But beyond that, utilizing market interventions among rebels isn't a new idea.  In fact, al-Shabaab applied a similar tactic against the Somali Transitional Federal Government.   I'm not advocating embargoes on Mali, as those never work, but rather, we to analyse and manipulate market forces.  If there is anything to learn from Somalia to use in Mali, perhaps we should look not at how Shabaab was defeated, but rather, we should ask how did they stay in power for so long?