A 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.
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 strengthening 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.
One of the participants in my class on Designing Peace Education holds the rank of Major and is the commander of the 600 strong women’s police force. She is very interested in how to enhance the capacity of those under her charge through designing peace training.
When I asked her about the role of the police in Somaliland she immediately said “we have to do things differently because there are very few jails.” She proceeded to outline role the police play in mediating conflict once called in to a situation. There is a traditional system that vests an intermediary role and authority in the police. They are looked to as the front line in the justice system and only if they fail to bring sides together in mutual resolution, do the cases get passed on to the formal judicial system.
In light of current militarization in both mentality and ‘hardware’ by police in the US, this understanding of the police role is refreshing. Once again I am finding that the approaches of those with whom I work in the global south can offer wisdom to the current impasses faced by communities in the US.
With the release of the Senate report on CIA torture right now it is difficult to be an American outside our borders. As the truth about torture comes into the light, US credibility continues to be diminished. Of course it is not as if persons in the global south did NOT know what was happening as much of the abuse has been shouldered by them.
Here in Somaliland people are as likely to watch Doha-based Al Jazeera and Iranian PressTV as they are to watch CNN and BBC for their news. Somalis, with a rich oral tradition and culture, thrive on the different perspectives to make sense of the world. One main theme I hear over and over again is how to understand an international political reality that has refused to recognize Somaliland’s achievements in political stability.
It is frustrating to think of US military clichés like “winning hearts and minds” in light of torture and the contravention of international norms of justice. Why are US foreign policies so often self-defeating? In light of a growing US interest in Africa, refusal to recognize Somaliland as a sovereign state is also self-defeating. While its southern brother, Somalia, is still struggling with security and stability, it would behoove the US to support Somaliland’s fragile stability with development and investment as an equal among nations.
When I first started going to Somaliland the issue of piracy was one of the few touchstones most people had with this part of the world. That and the now fading 1993 “Blackhawk Down” incident during which US soldiers were killed carrying out America’s humanitarian intervention that went awry in Mogadishu.
During the transatlantic flight on my way to Somaliland I watched the recent movie “Captain Phillips.” Set in 2009, it depicts an American ship captain and his encounter with pirates off the coast of Somalia. Somalia has had the dubious reputation as the pirate capitol of the world. With the longest coastline on the African continent, years of civil war, no centralized government and dire poverty many ships have been hijacked off the Somali coastline and held for ransom.
I was struck, in the Hollywood rendition of the hijacking of Captain Phillips’ ship, the Maersk Alabama, just how much military spending the US is absorbing to counter a few impoverished men with their pirate bent and how little is spent on root causes.
One of the ‘truisms’ I teach my students about the use of nonviolence as a change strategy is that nonviolent methods start by looking really irrational, even laughable at first. But after the conflict progresses these methods look more and more rational compared to the options of violence. So with that in mind, I want to float an idea about how to deal with ISIS that seems, at first, downright ridiculous.
Now one of the international concerns about ISIS and in general the deteriorating conditions in the Middle East is the loss of life. In her TED talk, The game that can give you 10 extra years of life, Jane McGonigal suggests 15 minutes into her talk that we can extend our lives by evoking powerful positive emotions. I thought of this recently in a Facebook posting circulating of a baby getting a backrub from a dog.
Now here is my idea…since the world has tried everything else, why not try dropping Youtube loaded IPADs showing baby animals, the antics and innocence of children and other heart opening videos. Sounds ludicrous? Perhaps, but remember that the patterns we have in the US of dropping bombs on problems has a pretty poor track record and even looks rational at first but later on looks pretty irrational. Dropping Ipads would be cheaper AND boost our economy in the process. Start to look a little more rational? Since nothing else has worked, maybe it’s time to try some off the wall ideas and see.
In the 1960s, for 9 years, the US conducted 580,000 bombing runs over Laos as part of a covert campaign that was kept hidden from the US Congress. Hundreds of millions of baseball sized munitions called ‘bombies’ were dropped on Laos with a sizable percentage which didn’t explode. 45 years after the last one was dropped, the duds called Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) continue to kill about 100 persons a year in Laos. These UXO also wound and maim hundreds more a year. I urge you to watch the video on Bombies found here on Youtube.
Recent Accident Report with Bombies
In the capital city of Vientiane, an information center called COPE is educating thousands of Lao youth who have not grown up with the legacies of that war. Documenting the heinous act of bombing, the drive to ban cluster munitions and coping with limb loss by victims of bombies are all part of the displays in this center.
In last posting I described a case study from group work that had parents favoring a son over a daughter. This case was further illuminated yesterday by using the simple conflict analysis tools of the conflict tree and actor mapping.
These tools made clear the effects on the individuals in the family as well as the family as a whole. The mapping of actors also revealed the costs of the conflict like siblings who don’t love each other, no respect of the parents and a lack of self-confidence in the girl. One frightening consequence of this conflict was that the daughter ran away, a dangerous prospect in an area of the world where human trafficking is a real problem.
So these simple tools, developed and refined over the past years in many places around the world from urban to rural in Africa, Asia and Latin America, continue to surface otherwise hidden faces of conflict.