Viewing entries tagged
Somaliland

Urban Planning in Conflict

Kabul, Afghanistan

I haven't updated this blog for awhile, although daily updates can be found at The Humanitarian Terrain.  The next couple months will continue to have a low rate of posts, however in August I will have far more to write about as I begin my new position in Kabul, Afghanistan.  For the present are some small news blurbs concerning urban development issues in regions of interest.

UNHABIT releases Charter of Values [LINK].  In line with contemporary trends in economic and physical planning, UNHABITAT has required ongoing partnerships with private agencies to facilitate project implementation.  To encourage a strengthened relationship that remains centered on UNHABITAT priorities within the private sector, the agency as created a series of guidelines to frame future partnerships.

New Model on Evolution of Urban Settlements [LINK].  By merging an expansive study of regional linguistic structures and local political organization in South East Asia, scientists have advanced a theory on the rise and collapse of past civilizations, wherein those that advanced the most quickly became more vulnerable and prone to sudden collapse.


Upcoming Conference on Building Resilience [LINK]. Heritance Kandalama, Sri Lanka July 19-21. Interdisciplinary approaches to disaster risk reduction and sustainable urban development.


Brief interview with Somali Archaeologist Sada Mire [LINK].  Although initially displaced by the ongoing conflicts of Somalia, Sada returned from England's University CollegeLondon to discover prehistoric rock-sites in the northern province of Somaliland.

Approval for new Egyptian Science Research City [LINK]. The ruling military in Egypt approved the planning and construction of a new urban development dedicated to technological research and scientific advancement. The campus will be situated on 300 acres near Sixth of October City.

No Rest in Somalia. Somalia premier quits, Danish Warship offers Kenya 24 captured pirates, 25 member of al-Shabaab surrender, while continued fighting displaces more residents...  [LINK].  In a desparate attempt to round up new recruits, insurgents have been visiting Madrasa's in central Somalia, looking for schools to stop teaching and offer children to join the insurgency [LINK]. 

The support of al-Shabaab through diaspora


I am pleased to announce publication of my article "The support of al-Shabaab through diaspora."  The research was conducted in two phases, in the winter of 2010/2011 and with follow up research in October of 2011.  The first phase was conducted personally in Nairobi while the second required more subtle means with the help of a local research assistant and translator whose name must be withheld to protect his identity.

The article does not go into methodology, however, research was conducted by qualitative techniques, relying upon non-participatory observation, participatory observation, unstructured and semi-structured interviews.  Research was conducted in public locations in Nairobi, Kenya.

The article posits some answers to the question, "why would those who have suffered from the actions of Somali militant group al-Shabaab be inclined to support this organization?"  Ultimately research has found that the ideology of the group to promote Islam over the interests of tribalism, the organizations socio-economic integration with the diaspora community, and its potential to provide an eventual peace are fundamental to the support of the organization.  Other initial findings include organization recruitment strategies that exploit pscho-social trauma, however additional research is necessary in this area.

Click this link to download a free .pdf copy of the Forced Migration Issue 37.  

To download a pdf of my own article,  http://www.fmreview.org/non-state/29.pdf

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.

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.

Somalia's New Army already has a History


Today a story was released by the associated Press that a 1,000 man army is in development in Somalia's northern region of Puntland to fight against Piracy.  It is funded by anonymous Muslim nations is operated by the private security organization Saracen International.  This immediately brings to mind two points:

1. Saracen International?  Seriously?  Saracen was a an ancient Roman term used throughout the Crusades in reference to Arab and/or muslim populations.  The name stuck around forever, one can even find it in Mark Twain's Pilgram's Progress as he travelled across the Middle East but it continued to be used in a negative fashion.  Considering it carries negative, perhaps even racist connotations, I'm surprised that a mercenary group would name themselves as such.

2. According to Associated Press, Saracen International is the rebranding of the mercenary/private security organization Executive Outcomes.   If you by chance have read the book Dogs of War, you are aware of the attempts by Simon Mann to seize and control distressed African nations.  After he staged a coup in the Canary Islands, he later used  South-African company Executive Outcomes to sieze territorial control in Angola in the early 90s.  Executive Outcomes, and Mann's other venture Sandline International, faded out of the mercenary business sometime around 2000.  However it looks like they're back in business.

In the meanwhile, unknown donor nations attempt to control the piracy problem on the coast, the primary conflict in Somalia continues to escalate and millions of people continue to search for safety.  In the last 3 years a section of displaced peoples from Mogadishu have been establishing a new settlement known as the Afgooye corridor.  Satelite photos have revealed an astonishing degree of settlement recently as the regional violence continues.   I also embedded additional videos below from UNHCR on the Afgooye Corridor.

Afgooye Cooridor, Ceelasha Somalia, October 2007
Afgooye Cooridor, Ceelasha Somalia, July 2010

UNHCR Video mentioning the Afgooye corridor.

Finally, a nod to Somaliland

Since the early 1990s,  the Northern break-away states of Somaliland and Puntland have experienced reasonable economic growth and security in great contrast to neighboring Somalia in the South.  Independently established by Somalis who desire no part in the chaos of Somalia, these regions have established a foothold for prosperity with expanding infrastructure and improved living conditions without the support of the United Nations, the EU, or the United States.  Although some humanitarian aid agencies have worked to assist Somaliland and Puntland, these regions have been unable to participate in global trade and have therefore remained economically stunted because they are not recognized as sovereign states.  Instead, dominating policies have supported the struggling efforts of Somalia's president Sheik Sherif Ahmed even though his government can only control 4 blocks of Mogadishu under constant attack from Al Shabaab  militants.

As of today, there might be a glimmer of hope that such narrow and offtrack policies could change.   Consistent with the new US policy on international development laid out by Barack Obama at the United Nations, the United States announced its interest in assisting the people of Somaliland.  Although this is not a formal recognition of statehood, it is a tremendous step in the right direction as it supports the efforts of an active civil society and engages stabilization and development from the bottom up.  As democratic governments cannot be successfully created from the top down, but must be constructed upon the capacities and interests of the populace, the new vow of support from the State Department relays a significant, and enlightened, transformation in approach.

I am greatly pleased to learn of this political shift, as it is also indicative of a greater ideological transformation.  No nation, state, or person exists in isolation in this day and age.  A single household product, such as  t-shirt has a likely history of over a dozen nations in its creation, while the research, development, and production of daily technology such as a telephone or a television required the hands and investment of thousands of people around the world.  From the African mineral mine, to the East Asian research lab, the Indian marketing company, and the German shipping company.  In the same way that products are global, and finance is global, what is lesser recognized is that conflict and poverty are equally global.  The problems of a failed state, a summer drought, or the plight of poverty lead to unimaginable externalities and social repercussions throughout the world.  Unfortunately these problems are often manifest as acts of terrorism, a burgeoning drug trade, regional destabilization and environmental despair.   Ending terrorism and conflict in the contemporary world isn't about removing a particular government from power or killing the bad guys... as there are no leaders or bad guys.  Ending war, extremism, and conflict are instead the results of ending the problems at the root - by ending poverty, expanding education, and supporting the positive actions of those who have already worked so hard to improve the lives of their family and community.  If there is an probable end to Al Shabaab and the violence in Mogadishu, the reconstruction of the state won't start in an office or in Washington, but has already started in the hands of its citizens, in the north, in Somaliland.