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Remittances

Mogadishu's City Hall Leading the Way into the Future

city hall, mogadishu, somalia, sutika sipus
The Historic City Hall of Mogadishu Somalia (Photo: Sutika Sipus 2012)
The rebuilding of Mogadishu may be faced with a multitude of obstacles, but there is no doubt about about the power of its beauty.  I'm not referring to the exotic fascination many have over its ruins, but rather am pointing toward the poetic architecture and rich, vibrant street life.  It may not yet have all the amenities of wealthier cities, but it contains a brilliant charm magnified by the frenetic energy of all those returning to take part in the historic reconstruction of the city.  

The historic City Hall captures the essence of this beauty.  Presently it is occupied by displaced families, yet its stunning white facade adjacent to the ocean, beside a recently restored arc d'triumph, is evocative of all the opportunity that lay ahead for the city.  The architecture is grande and dignified, with broad sweeping archways referencing the influence of Italian colonialism and the cultural leanings of the Swahili Coast.  The building is long and flat, wrapping itself around a large central courtyard with a fountain in the middle.  Ringed by large trees and beneath the canopy of rippling clouds, the City Hall stood strong before a visage of destruction as if the quality of leadership was hewn into its stone foundation. 

Mogadishu, City Hall, Sutika Sipus 2012
City Hall, Mogadishu Somalia (Photo: Sutika Sipus 2012)
Before the front of the city lay the ruins of the a cathedral, once the largest in all east Africa.  Waylaid by the war, the walls still stood strong, though they supported no roof.  Though looted and abused, the church gave testament to the days in which Italian architecture and influence reigned throughout the city.  It was not a sad place however.  Children laughed and played on the steps, and while standing where an alter once stood, I looked upward to see a flight from Turkish Airlines descending to land at the Mogadishu airport.  With flights three days a week, direct from Istanbul to Mogadishu, the service is fully booked for months with returning Somalis and business investors. Mogadishu is rapidly changing, and I was only moments from discovering just how much this was happening.

Mogadishu Market, Somalia, Sutika Sipus 2012
Bustling Market in Mogadishu, Somalia (Photo: Sutika Sipus 2012)
When I walked around City Hall to the rear of the building, I found it already part of a flourishing community.  In the rear of the building a group of volunteers were providing vaccination services to those in need.  And just meters away, I walked into a flourishing market full of t-shirts, tomatoes, steel buckets, furnishings, and the most delicious lemon juice I have ever tasted.  The market wasn't reserved only to one street but seemed to go on forever, with side streets equally packed with goods and people.  Banks and money wiring services dotted the sides, crammed in between restaurants and vendors.  

Mogadishu Market, Somalia, Sutika Sipus 2012
Everywhere you look in Mogadishu, business is happening
(Photo: Sutika Sipus 2012)
From the periphery of City Hall, the streets did not merely point toward a better future for the city but resonated with the fruits of the present.  All through the city, businesses are popping up and people are returning to take advantage of this moment.  For 21 years Mogadishu was bombarded with the explosions of war and only in the dark corners could one hear the whisperings of hope. But today it is filled with the explosions of opportunity and light, electrified and optimistic, Mogadishu is tomorrow in the making.

al-Shabaab's Economic Advantage



Repost from http://hornofafrica.foreignpolicyblogs.com/ by Mitchell Sipus 
Saturday, April 2 7:23 pm EST

Many are familiar with the origin of Somalia’s protracted conflict in the fall of Said Barre’s regime in 1991 and the resulting competition for political control among warring clans.  Yet the conditions of warfare in Somalia have evolved dramatically since that time as the impact of the conflict upon the local geography, the role of humanitarian regimes, and the new found utility of globalization technologies have transformed the nature of Somali warfare.  Not only do tribes fight for territorial power, but factions also battle to control transit and communication infrastructure and points of entry (such as ports and air strips), and to control the inflow and distribution of foreign aid.  The conflict has evolved from a war for political power into a war of capitalism and enterprise.  Tribal leaders are not only warlords, but  entrepreneurs, seeking to capitalize on the geo-political degradation of their nation.

In 2006, when Harakat al-Shabaab began to extend its mandate beyond its original role as the implementing partner of the Union of Islamic Courts, the political system founded by civil society to stabilize the nation under sharia law, al-Shabaab expanded this new model of armed group enterprise.  Receiving funds from global remittance flows, investing in banks to profit from remittance transactions, creating propaganda materials for sale, and later investing in legitimate businesses are fundamental to the workings of al-Shabaab's militant force.  In addition, affiliations with al-Queda and the demand of payments from aid agencies can be interpreted as actions rooted far more rooted in capitalism rather than decisions based on shared/conflicting ideologies.

Ultimately, much of al-Shabaab’s work can be attributed to profiteering, and to extend the model, one could interpret acts of terrorism outside of Somalia as the exportation of a commodity, wherein the resulting conflict is creates new markets for control and profit.  Considering the limited export base within Somalia, a country most known for nomadic pastoralism, piracy, and warfare, the most profitable and peaceful pathways are severely limited.  For example, without a functioning regulatory government to oversee the health and quality of animals stocks, adjacent nations such as Saudi Arabia have no desire to import possibly diseased or contaminated animals.

Without the necessary internal infrastructure to capitalize upon traditional economic assets, the export of conflict quickly becomes the most viable means toward economic success.  To destabilize adjacent regions creates new geographies for exploitation, displays the capacity and power of al-Shabaab among local and distant communities, and creates new points of intersection between armed groups and outside humanitarian actors.

From an economic point of view, acts of regional terrorism  by al-Shabaab, such as bombings in Nairobi, have the prospect of offering only positive prospects for Shabaab as it reinforces their economic base and their image of power.  As African Union forces are already in Somalia, and thus regional nations already participate in the conflict, Shabaab cannot likely accrue greater risks through its actions, only greater economic advantage.  To interpret regional terrorism as a process of phased market expansion, it also explains why acts of terrorism by al-Shabaab have been focused in Kenya and Uganda and have not extended very far elsewhere.  To conduct acts of terrorism in America, for example, will most likely operate at a loss and not created desired profits because it would not have the desried destabilizing impact upon American geography.  Furthermore, to attract greater global attention may ultimately undermine the existing capacity of al-Shabaab who could not contend with American military forces.  Regional terrorism therefore only extends the conflict and its resulting opportunities for profit within a manageable geographic space.

Arguably, the capitalist spirit is the greatest asset of this organization.  To undermine the power of al-Shabaab is not a matter of reinforcing security as much as it is a matter of reducing their economic export potential and thus limit the scope of their market.  Yet as many their market inputs are widely distributed through the migrant diaspora via remittance flows and the outputs are concentrated in the chaotic battlefields of Somalia, a network-centric approach faces tremendous obstacles.  Perhaps a greater means to confront and undermine this force is to examine its weaker components, such as its organizational structure, logistical corridors, and ideological basis.

Afghanistan: Communication & Development

Earlier today I was reading a blog entry by Peter Bergan, the CNN Security Analyst, about the improvements Afghanistan has experienced within the last couple years.  He highlighted various improvements in security, mine clearance, education, economic development, and refugee repatriation.  There was also a great deal of applause for the construction of a large, modern airport.

Reading this column initially made me cringe, as it brought to mind a story I once heard from my grandfather about an experience he had in Vietnam in the early 60's.  In short, the Americans had constructed a massive modern airport while the Russians provided instruction to the local population about better ways to fatten and breed chickens.  It doesn't take much thought to recognize why the general public, who could never see themselves ever riding in airplane, were more receptive to the Soviets.

However one additional point mentioned by Bergan was that "One in six Afghans now have a cell phone. Under the Taliban there was no phone system."  With a population of over 32 million people, this means that nearly 5.5 million people have access to cellular communication within this generally rural province.  While its likely that most Afghans remain uninterested in the new airport, with 5.5 million users in about 5 years, mobile phones are clearly a winner.

Certainly the expansion of cellular networks posits significant social benefits for the Afghan population. Prior to 2003, it was common for many villagers to have never once used a telephone. Now it is possible for this family-centric culture to maintain ties over greater distances. In addition, this cellular network may be a key component with the ongoing stabilization and development of the nation.

Cell phones and Security
One of the major benefits to arise from the establishment of mobile technology within Afghanistan was the capability for armed forced to locate Taliban insurgents by tracking phone signals within the countryside.  And lately, as mobile phones became more prominent throughout the public, individuals have been more willing to provide authorities with information regarding insurgent activity because this information can be provided anonymously.  Although Taliban fighters have made efforts to destroy cell towers, the general public has been frustrated as such destruction now interferes with their own lives.

Lessons from Grameen Phone
Established in 1996 by Iqbal Quadir, the founder and Director of the Lagatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT, and Nobel Laureate Mohamed Yunus, the Grameen Phone company has served as the primary cellular phone provider within Bangledesh for the last 13 years.  In addition to standard phone services, Grameen Phone was further created with the intention of utilizing mobile technology as a tool for economic development.  Most notably, Grammeen established the program Village Phone,  assisting interested entrepreneurs in rural villages to sell telephone services to villagers.  Additionally, phones had been made available by means of micro-finance projects, while internet access could be acquired by means of community information centers.  With enhanced connectivity, individuals could better operate their own businesses, such as by determining the going market price in advance of goods delivery, or by knowing the upcoming weather conditions.  Individuals may also start businesses selling phone credit, mobile phones, or providing battery charging services

Capitalizing on Remittances
Nearly all migratory populations are dependent upon, or in some way participate within, the ongoing international flow of financial remittances.  As displaced families, unable to obtain sustainable incomes, remain dependent upon relatives and friends for financial assistance, it is obvious that cellular communications serve an important role within the stabilization of the Afghan economy.  With over 3.3 million displaced individuals within and outside of Afghanistan, the ability for these individuals to access  cellular technology now provides financial services well beyond the use of traditional money wiring services.

In the near future Afghans could utilize this technology to buy goods, pay bills, and move cash in the same manner found throughout the African continent.   By establishing bank accounts via mobile providers, Afghans will have the ability to secure their finances and easily transfer funds for the purpose of remittances by uploading purchased phone credit, transferring it to another account, and then exchanging that credit for cash or goods.

SWOT
Although increased cellular connectivity strengthens family ties, improves security, and could provide a means for future economic development, there are nonetheless major obstacles.  The prominence of low incomes and illiteracy greatly undermines the distribution and use of cell phones, yet with innovative programming by international agencies these problems may be mitigated.  Through the distribution of cell phones via micro-finance and entrepreneurial services, and in coordination with the further development of the nationwide education system - which has been noted as improving - the role of mobile communications may continue to serve an important role within the reconstruction of Afghanistan.