What Makes for Security?

Outside the University is a Daabshiil Money Exchange. I am continually struck by how this bank is more like an ordinary block house with doors and windows wide open to the busy street in front of the university main gate. I once had to cash a check there and two guys, feet propped up on the counter, were lazily texting. Approaching them, I greeting in Somali language and they gave the obligatory laugh to the foreigner who uses broken and rusty vernacular. Cashing the check was as easy as countersigning it. They pulled open a drawer piled full of currency. Somali Shillings, USD and maybe other currencies from the Middle East and Euros. Having gotten my money, then  walking away, I turned and noticed them back in standard repose.  I am told that some of the money changers downtown just cover up their stacks of money and go to the mosque to pray when it is time. Security is that lax.


UoH Front Gate-sm

What kind of confidence does this place have that a bank or money changer can be so relaxed about security? Nowhere on earth do I know of another place like this. Could it be guns? There are plenty of old Kalashnikovs around Hargeisa from the days of war in the 80’s. But if it were guns that make for security the US would have NO crime. So it can’t be guns. Could it be prosperity? No it can’t be prosperity. Again, the US would be pretty secure and Somaliland would be the world of Mad Max. I think it has something to do with an intact social fabric that is eloquent and nuanced through an oral tradition. Somalilanders have a long history of clan interaction, recitation of connection through ancestry and an oral tradition as a conflict resolution mechanism.


At this time of stress over racial injustice, political insecurity, international terrorism, domestic shootings in the US, might we take a lesson from Somalilanders?  Next time we are tempted to become overwhelmed with all our nation’s problems, ask a simple question of ‘who is my neighbor’ and how are our lives connected and intertwined?” Then respond accordingly as we are so good at doing. We know how to do this people!

Posted in: Uncategorized

Three Views

My colleagues at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute suggest there are at least three views of things that are metaphoric for seeking solutions to violent conflict. TheUNIMA helecopter view from a helicopter, Land Rover and walking. Viewing problems from a helicopter presents a flattened and panoramic field of vision where only major features of the terrain are visible. A helicopter leaps to the ‘destination’ without the inconvenience and snarls of vehicular or pedestrian traffic.


The view from the Land Rover is a more nuanced, giving a ground level understanding of the bumLandCruisersps and twists in the road. The temptation is to drive at high speeds through villages to get to a destination some distance ahead. From behind the tinted glass, the rider gets a detached perspective never having to come face to face with real people. That is unless the vehicle stops and the rider alights.



It’s only in walking that one grasps, viscerally, the difficulty of traversing the road. Through the five senses the heat of the sun, the smells and sounds of the journey becomes intimately familiar to the walker. Might the solutions that emerge from struggling on the journey together, walking shoulder to shoulder, be the most sustainable even though they are the ‘slowest’?  What will it take to get us out of our helicopters and Land Rovers and get a bit of road dust on our feet?

Posted in: Musings, Crazy Ideas for Peace, Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute, Travel

Peacebuilding is all About Relationships

As I travel back into Somaliland for the sixth time since I began coming here in March 2013 I am taking stock in what, if anything, I have actually contributed toward the greater common good here. Is it only me as a trainer who walks away from an intense 4 days of grappling with the tough issues and interventions of conflict, wondering if he/she has contributed anything?


Yet I keep reminding myself that peacebuilding is fundamentally about relationships. Restoring broken ones, building capacity in others to resist injustice and networking so as create new initiatives. People also have relationships with social groupings and/or organizations.  So learning how to relate to others, be they people or structures is also a key part of the relationships of peacebuilding.


Institutions are notoriously NOT fond of funding relational initiatives. I think this is in part because relationships are hard to measure. I have been thinking about doing justice to measuring relationships and wondering what metrics might be helpful. I have toyed around with a ‘relational resilience matrix’ and associated benefits. I need to research who else has been thinking along these lines.


Posted in: Musings, Crazy Ideas for Peace

Politics and Human Security

21 July 2016

I’ve heard the national election cycle in the Philippines called the ‘silly season.’ I am traveling outside the US just at the time when one of our political parties is having its convention and the TVs in the airports I transit through are abuzz with pundits and talking heads and balloons on the convention hall floor. I saw a TV headline that summarized one political party sentiment stating that “the other presidential candidate is the enemy.” WOW!  That’s not silly…that is the deadly serious rhetoric of civil war.


Human Security, my new best phrase, has a fairly simple definition. The UN defines it as freedom from want, freedom from fear and a life lived with dignity. The current political climate seems to be moving us away from all three. Shouldn’t our democracy provide us a greater sense of security? When people become our enemy instead of racism, greed, poverty and apathy toward civic participation we are in deep trouble as a nation. What happened to appeals for the greater common good, enhanced and robust communities and optimism?


discovering car full of balloons

As I head off to teach a short course on human security and peacebuilding at the University of Hargeisa, I am conscious of the enormous amount of work that needs to be done in the US on true, people-centered security.  Perhaps a starting place is to expand our collective consciousness and practice gratitude for all that goes right even during the silly season.

Posted in: Musings, Travel

A New Era in Civil/Military Relations

I had the privilege of attending a conference in The Hague, Netherlands where civil society peacebuilding organizations and military leaders launched a new era of coordination effort around human security. The conference was held at one of the NATO Centers of Excellence focusing on Civil/Military Cooperation.


Lisa Schirch shepherded a three year process of collaboration with global civil society networks, police and military that has produced a very useful training manual that will enhance global human security. Human security is defined as freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom to live in dignity (Handbook on Human Security, 149).


One of the most referred to case studies was the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute’s engagement with the Philippine Military. Three representatives from that work were present. General (retired) Ferrer, longtime MPI facilitator Deng Giguiento attended and myself gave a case study of the process of MPI, as a civil organization, accepting the Philippine Military officers in the peacebuilding trainings. I was Deng’s co-facilitator in 2005 when General Ferrer first attended.


Cmdr (ret) Thomas of the German Navy, Deng of MPI, Jon of MPI, General (ret) Ferrer of the Philippine Army

Cmdr (ret) Thomas of the German Navy, Deng of MPI, Jon of MPI/Etown College, General (ret) Ferrer of the Philippine Army

Posted in: Uncategorized

Swords to Plowshares

Swords to PlowGlenn Creeshares . . . from a British military barracks built to fend off Napoleon in the early 1800s to a peace and reconciliation center called Glen Cree.


Seen on assignment with Brethren Colleges Abroad (BCA) in Ireland.

Posted in: Travel, Swords to Plowshares

Farewell Laos

4.Sun on the water-curves-smA year ago I started resourcing this curriculum writing project in Lao PDR. This visit is my last for this project. It has been exhilarating to watch new capacities being built in people and institutions here. I have tremendous hope because of the transformation I have witnessed throughout this project. I have learned much from helping to translate the concepts of peacebuilding into such a unique and exotic context.


Thanks MCC, MCC Lao Staff, IGE and the individuals who have touch my life on this sojourn.

Posted in: Laos


2.Water tracks-sm??? Does what I do have any impact ???


!!!  I often ponder this question !!!


!!! Perhaps . . . as ripples on the water gradually spread out to gently lap the distant shoreline ???


??? The alternative is tsunami washing away all in its path !!!

Posted in: Musings, Laos

Dried Fish

Dried Fish b-w-smWhen life serves you up desiccated fish, make a fish/peanut sauce for rice. Yum!

Posted in: Laos, Travel

Peace Education

I had the honor of addressing the Somaliland Ministry of Education staff. Invited by the Director General, I spoken on the strategic nature of peace education and posed a series of question as they shape their curriculum writing to include ways of Jon with Mohammed Hassen Ibrahim, DG of MoEstrengthening peace through primary and secondary schools. As an outsider, I can only ask key questions but the actual content of the curriculum must be generated through a strategic reflection process by those who understand the culture and country dynamics.


After my input, the discussion was animated around how to deal with the role of clan in Somaliland society. What does peace education mean in the context of increasing political manipulation of this cultural reality?


One comment in the discussion was that “some nations deal with tribalism, some like the US deal with racism. Here in Somaliland we have clanism.” The strengths of the Somali culture to promote peace are, in the same brush, the potential weaknesses. Those cultural facets include identity derived through the clan system, deference to the elders for important decisions and the unbelievable security (in a personal safety sense) most in the country feel.* Peace education’s primary task is to reinforce that which builds the greater common good and resist those elements that cause division.


*Somalia and Somaliland rank as the lowest on the HDI so human security, as measured by the basics of life, is sorely lacking.

Posted in: Somaliland, Education