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conflict

Kabul's Rigorous Allegiance to Master Plans

Kabul Playground
Kabul Playground at Camp Julian (Photo: Sutika Sipus 2012)
While preparing to return to Mogadishu in June to further reconstruction efforts, I also have a few planning related obligations in Kabul Afghanistan.  One of which it a weekly training session with members of the city administration in a USAID funded project for capacity building.  Although my colleagues work daily, I visit the program each week to provide teaching on urban planning and to develop a curriculum for guided problem solving activities.  The class participants are city engineers, district managers, and other mid-level administration.

Sutika Sipus Kabul
Kabul,  Afghanistan 2001 Formal and Informal Housing [green]
vs.  2006 Informal Housing [purple] (Map: Sutika Sipus 2012)
I had read previously in a dissertation on Kabul City Planning by Pietro Calgero that the Kabul municipality has historically maintained a strict adherence to a top-down rational planning model.  Yet only last night did I realize the rigidity of this truth.

In an attempt to overview various models of participatory planning, simply as a means to expose the trainees to planning methods in other countries and cultures for comparison, I found myself confronted resolute objections.  

In the words of one engineer in attendance "we know where to build the roads because they are in the master plan, then we go to the community and say we are building a road here, you will need to move. Then the problem is finished."  When I asked about policies regarding informal housing, the response was equally severe. The attitude was that people who live outside the terms of the master plan have to right to the land and therefore must leave if told to do so.  

In Kabul, informal housing is a pressing issue, and while strides have been made to recognize the claims of informal occupants, the top-town approach dominates.  I was surprised to discover the severe attitudes among many of the trainees, whose allegiance to the city Master Plan could not be shaken.  As a planner who has little faith in the utility of master plans among developing economies, I sought some degree of common ground between the trainees.  Not to mention, the city is again working on a NEW master plan! Like most master plans, it has taken years to assemble, and by the time it is ready for implementation, it will likely be out of date and irrelevant.  Perhaps not, but I'm skeptical.

By the end of the session, I found an opportunity when an architect in attendance noted that she frequently needs to negotiate with community members.  Negotiation isn't nearly equivalent to any community-based or decentralized planning models I'm familiar with, but it is a step in the right direction.  Over the next week the participants are to think of strategies in which these negotiation processes may take place.  I look forward to their ideas. Will they surprise me again? Probably.  

The Kabul Neighborhood of Karte Seh (Photo: Sutika Sipus 2012)

Another Day in the New Mogadishu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reporting the Frontline of Conflict in Mogadishu

A lighthouse in Mogadishu destroyed by war. National Geographic.
After monitoring the conflict in Somalia for several years, I can attest to the limited flow of information from the region.  Insufficient information results in insufficient analysis and Somalia is subject to the worst circumstance of all - insufficient concern.  While the conflict rages with global implications, the lack of journalism and knowledge on the region precipitates a disproportionate lack of conviction to intervene and assist. 


Today I found a video briefly covering the frontline of the conflict in Mogadishu.  It is not often that one has the opportunity to watch video footage of the central conflict in Somalia.  It is not possible to embed the flash video from the BBC's website, so it is necessary to use the following link [Somalia].  Given the subject matter, I thought I would share with readers some of the other common media sources on Somalia.


New York Times resource page on Somali [LINK]
The NYT page is frequently updated with AP stories and independent NYT journalism, however the technical references such as their 'Experts' section is strongly outdated.  


IRIN Humanitarian News Somalia Page [LINK]
The IRIN site is a major source for news on the region, and is comprehensively connected to other UN-related organizations such as OCHA, so it tends to have a focus on development and displacement issues.  I do wish more maps were available in addition to technical data, yet I do appreciate the constant updates.


Hiiraan Online [Somalia News Site]
This Somali news source is frequently updated and closest to the source, but also is difficult to navigate and not easy to understand.  Sometimes the journalism is also not of a very high standard, the news is provided at a variety of scale - with pieces focusing on anything between specific urban issues and broader concerns within the Somali Diaspora.  Much of it is written in Soomaali language, but there is enough work in English to maintain its value.


Somalia Report [LINK]
I just recently discovered this site and I absolutely love it.  It only hires local journalists and constantly provides thorough updates on recent events concerning piracy, militant groups, and political leaders.  They also provide an email subscription service.

Architecture, Conflict, and Urban Planning Publications


In the last few days, as I've finished writing my upcoming piece on the Architecture of Conflict and Militarization in Somalia, it occurred to me that more attention needs to be brought to some of the books published on this subject.  Scholarship within this domain is still in its infancy, however, there are a few works that merit special attention, either for their groundbreaking  investigation or their brilliant analysis.  Below are the three I've most recently read, although the list is far from comprehensive.

Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation
Eyal Weizman 2007

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Adrian Parr, author of Hijacking Sustainability, and I am very glad to have followed her advice.  Hollow Land has become my favorite book in several years, as Weizman masterfully illustrates how the military history of Israel has been channeled through urban planning and architecture for territorial expansion and the oppression of the Palestinian people.  Well research and artfully written, Weizman traces the use of new settlements, zoning laws, inequitable developments in infrastructure, and architectural design as mechanisms of control.


Stephen Graham 2010

Graham traces the development of the city as a conflict zone, identifying trends of surveillance and militarization within the urban fabric.  Overall, this book has rather 'high-tech' demeanor, something akin to the aesthetic of Blade Runner.  Written in a straightforward, academic manner, Graham efficiently illuminates the integration of terrorism, militancy, and security within the urban and economic geography of the contemporary world.




Robert Bevan 2007

Although war always creates collateral damage to the environment, Bevan argues that contemporary warfare has increasingly targeted Architecture as a means to defeat the enemy.  With a great deal of focus on events in Yugoslavia and the actions of totalitarian regimes within China and Afghanistan, Beven identifies the role of Architecture and its destruction within the social consciousness.  He further investigates  the inherent processes of destruction within modern efforts to reconstruct the post-conflict landscape.




Violence Taking Place: The architecture of the Kosovo Conflict
Andrew Hersher 2010
Hersher has worked for the UN Tribunals in Kosovo, examining the manner in which architecture was explicitly appropriated, destroyed, and utilized as a tool of war and power.  I've only recently picked up this book and haven't gotten too far into yet, but already, I can say it is highly recommended.

Confronting Terrorism: Restructuring Somalia's Primary Export



As the actions of Al Shabaab extended beyond the Somali border and into Kampala just a few days ago, leaving over 70 dead from the bombings, I've been thinking a great deal about the role of the AMISOM forces and the prospects for stabilizing this broken nation.   Are the actions taken by UNISOM sufficient to achieve peace and security within Somalia?  What more needs to be done, and more importantly, what actions can be taken based upon the available resources?

Looking back over the African Union's AMISOM newsletter, The AMISOM Bulletin, I only find evidence that UNISOM forces have pursued merely a conventional and unidimensional approach toward counterinsurgency.  The only evidence to the contrary is a statement from the AMISOM Force Commander, Major General Nathan Mugisha, " There is no military solution to this conflict; only a political solution, that is, dialogue and negotiations can achieve a lasting solution to the conflict in Somalia. Somalis must sit around a table and resolve their differences. The solution will not come from without; it will only come from Somalis themselves." However this is only indicates a recognition of the political forces within the stabilization and reconstruction process, it does not make any reference to the sociocultural, economic, environmental, and global elements that are necessary to end the violence and benefit the lives of the inhabitants.  It is obvious that AMISOM is ill equipped to meet facilitate all of these concerns, yet as the country remains bound by violence, it is difficult for NGO's to fill in the gaps.

Counterinsurgency is a complex process that requires more than just military action.  It requires building relationships and most importantly, the ability to provide the local populations with something they consider valuable.  It requires constructing metrics to determine progress, the development and implementation of a popular narrative for mobilization, and to have a keen understanding of the enemy that goes far beyond intelligence passed down from upper command.

Within Somalia, it is important for counterinsurgent forces to recognize the founding factors of radicalism, terrorism, and militancy.  Terrorism is not merely the product of social processes and economic devastation, but can be understood as an economic commodity.  The socio-economic infrastructure is oriented around a culture of violence as much as it is concerned with other basic commodities such as food or shelter because in contemporary Somalia, survival requires an understanding of violence and its social underpinnings.  As a lone individual, or as a part of a family or community, to survive and have insurance of future survival (security) is to either partake in the socio-economic processes that facilitate conflict or to avoid them.  Either way, each course of action requires the same understanding of these processes.

Sadly, as Somalia has been left to indulge in its own suffering and deterioration by the international community for so long, the internal economic structure has consolidated so that its exports can reflect nothing else.  As there is no longer a sufficient livelihood in animal husbandry or agriculture, yet no infrastructure for technical development to partake in the global marketplace, one of the best options is to either partake in piracy or militancy.   While the Somali people must necessarily seek greater unity and peace, without the sufficient infrastructure to carry out those goals, they lack a means to implement this vision in a durable fashion.  In the end, the only way to negate the exportation of terrorism is to work toward a Somalia based on something more durable, less violent, and more integrated within the global marketplace.