Beginning in the late 1980s with resistance to the military government, armed conflict and social disorganization have marked the lives of nearly two generations of Somalis. Because of the ongoing conflict, thousands of Somalis left their homeland due to the fighting and settled in expatriate communities around the globe. In recent years, however, a fragile stability has returned that sees locals and returnees rebuilding Somalia together.

While this remains good news, the return of Somali nationals who were raised or spent upwards of two decades abroad has generated new conflicts. Local Somalis often have a perception that they are entitled to more rights in their native land than those who have spent their lives abroad. Returning nationals often feel that their education and experience position them better to contribute to future peace and stability for Somalia. These preconceptions fuel disagreements regarding prime positions in government and other employment conflicts.

There is a significant culture gap between returnees and local Somalis, but efforts have begun recently to bridge this gap in the name of improving their war-torn country. A symposium was held in June 2017 to bring these groups together and foster an ongoing dialogue about incorporating all Somalis in the nation’s future. These new efforts hope to see locals and returnees rebuilding Somalia together.

One local participant explained, “It was an important workshop in that it brought together diaspora returnees and the locals. The engagements were amicable as the diaspora returnees and their local counterparts held discussions so as to get to understand each other.”

Returnees are a big part of rebuilding Somalia. One United Nations program in recent years has arranged for dozens of short-term positions in Somalia for expatriates with expert qualifications. Some returnees are keenly conscious of the problems incurred by bringing in outsiders. One American returnee who hosted a legal summit with Somali experts and politicians in 2015 was proud to have completed the project with a minimum of international interference.

Vocational and education programs that support returnees are opening opportunities for Somalis no matter their personal history. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees reported in December 2017 on a program in Mogadishu that is providing training through the country’s Returnee Support Center. Their training programs are increasing the quality of life in the Somali capital for both returning nationals and those who stayed through the wars.

Regional organizations are supporting efforts to integrate the diverse Somali population as well. AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia, is participating in the talks to unite local and returning populations, and has endorsed their continuing work.

“One of the reasons AMISOM is supporting this great initiative is because cooperation and partnership between Somali Diaspora Returnees and Homeland community is critical for the stability and long-term development of Somalia,” said Dr. Walters Samah, AMISOM Political Officer to ReliefWeb.

Despite the fragility of the current situation, Somalia’s prospects have been improving for years. With luck and dedication, this trajectory will continue with locals and returnees rebuilding Somalia together for a better future.

– Paul Robertson

Photo: Flickr

smart cities
Last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his plans to revitalize Indian cities through the creation of 100 “Smart Cities” in India. More recently, Mr. Modi has announced that he will be giving annual federal grants of 15 million for the next five years to a list of 98 cities to help them become ‘smart.’

Modi, who has faced critique over the vague nature of his ‘smart city’ concept, has himself argued that “there is no universally accepted definition of a smart city.” Nevertheless, experts argue that the idea of a smart city generally refers to a city with criteria such as good roads, power, access to water, and livable homes–which many Indian cities currently fail to meet.

Mr. Modi’s Smart City project has also more specifically toyed with the idea of promoting mixed land use in area-based developments, creating walkable areas in cities, and creating a variety of clean and safe transport options.

According to Mr. Modi, the Indian Smart City initiative is only one among many urban development projects aimed at keeping up with the pace of economic and population growth within India. Indeed, India, which has a burgeoning population boom that will overtake China’s by 2028, also has the world’s third-largest growing economy, according to the World Bank.

India has also experienced an enormous influx in rural to urban migration in recent years, with more than 30% of India’s once mostly urban population now living in cities. This figure is also expected to rise, as many Indians move to urban areas in search of better job opportunities and diminished caste-based persecution.

In light of the demographic changes occurring in India, many experts have argued that Mr. Modi’s ‘Smart City’ initiative is an enlightened plan that will serve to bring relief to millions of Indians migrating to larger cities.

By focusing on issues in Indian cities–such as poor sanitation and access to water–the ‘Smart City’ initiative is thus not only a retroactive plan that serves to correct the poor state of many cities, but also a proactive plan, that takes into account the strain that a burgeoning urban population will pose to Indian cities in the future.

As Mr. Modi’s plan regarding his list of 98 Indian cities begins to be finalized, the Prime Minister also hopes that the somewhat paltry funds currently allocated to the project will be able to be bolstered by private donations.

Other government officials, such as Home Minister Rajnath Singh, have also proposed ways in which the ‘Smart City’ concept could be further improved. Mr. Singh, for instance, just recently proposed the idea that ‘Smart Cities’ could also be built as ‘Safe Cities’, which would require the installment of security equipment such as CCTV, aerial surveillance, and an increase in female cops.

Other officials have also begun to float ideas for how Indian cities can be better improved–making them overall smarter, safer, and more livable for the millions of Indians who currently live in sub-par urban conditions.

Ana Powell

Sources: BBC, Forbes, India Times, NY Times, Smart Cities Challenge
Photo: KadvaCorp

Taureg-led rebels finally signed a peace agreement in Mali after having their demands met by the government in Bamako. There have been four uprisings in Mali since they obtained independence from France in 1960.

As the country has endeavored to move towards the future, a disparity has arisen between the more prosperous south and the sparsely populated north.

This separation in progression between the north and south is partially due to the violence instigated by Islamists in the northern area of the region. According to the UN, 140,000 Malian refugees still live abroad and 49 people have lost their lives during the Mali peace deals.

However, just because a peace deal was agreed upon and signed, this does not mean the work is done. Due to the continued fighting in the north, everything from food to education is being threatened.

In Mali, an estimated 3.1 million people either do not have enough food or are lacking in nutritious foods. The climate has also been unfavorable in the region, causing an irregularity in rainfall and a disruption in normal planting cycles. In addition, over 54,000 Malians do not have access to clean, healthy drinking water as ponds and wells have dried up.

As for the children living in northern Mali, at least 715,000 are malnourished. To put this in perspective “the global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate was 12.4 percent and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) was 2.8 percent. In Timbuktu, where much of the fighting has taken place, these rates are 17.5 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively” (

Education is also being severely threatened in the region as 450 schools have been forced to close affecting over 20,500 students. This disrupted the advancement of many students from one grade to another and eliminated any possibility of moving on to university.

For some, the lack of access to education has had another horrible side effect. Children are being lured into joining the army amid promises of education and/or wages to help their family. Worst yet, some join the army believing it is the only way to protect their family from other members of the forces.

When a peace deal is signed, many people not directly involved with the events and efforts of the country or region believe that all has been solved by the signatures on that piece of paper. But it is important to realize, that in violence and poverty stricken areas, a piece of paper is only the beginning of the solution.

Aid to northern Mali through organizations like UNICEF and the UN are essential in the continued promotion of peace, progress, and prosperity.

Drusilla Gibbs

Sources: UN, IRIN News, BBC
Photo: Voa News

On August 23, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated a region known for having a good time, especially on Mardi Gras. Ten years later, experts are looking beyond the beads and glitter, wishing to improve demographic and social discrepancies that were present before Katrina.

Before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, concentrated poverty was mostly overlooked with 40 percent of individuals residing in New Orleans living at or below the poverty line.

Out of the people who evacuated in the wake of the category 5 hurricane, a majority of the poor without means of transportation were left to wait out the storm as 80 percent of the city was submerged.

As of 2013, the poverty rate in the city of New Orleans has decreased to 27 percent, but with a drop in the city’s overall population since before Katrina, this number remains unchanged.

Fortunately, data shows that the number of the city’s poor residents has dropped from 39 percent in 2000 to 30 percent between 2009-2013.

Since Katrina, $71 billion in federal funds has improved both levees and created an improved disaster management plan to help improve the city and learn from the mistakes for future natural disasters.

Now, the city’s focus is to continue improving and finding different solutions to make the city great once again. This starts with educating the children.

Before Katrina hit, New Orleans had one of the worst school systems in the country.

Due to a majority of public schools being converted into charter schools after Katrina, New Orleans outperforms the rest of the state in terms of high school graduation rate, rising from 54 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2014.

With students having a greater chance of graduating from high school, future students will have a greater chance of attending college and preventing their families from becoming impoverished.

In the words of Allison Plyer, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, “Greater New Orleans is in some ways rebuilding better than before.”

Alexandra Korman

Sources: Brookings, Forbes, The Washington Post, USA Today

Photo: Unsplash

gang violence

In March, El Salvador, a country that has been struggling to reinvent itself since its bitter 12-year civil war between Marxist rebels and the government ended in 1993, experienced the highest levels of gang-related deaths in over a decade.

According to the BBC, March was the deadliest month in El Salvadorian history since the end of the civil war — with over 11 percent of the population engaged in some form of gang-related activity. Much of this violence was, and continues to be, perpetrated by gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street Gang, both of which have origins in Los Angeles, where they were founded by Central American immigrants. Following forced expulsion out of the United States and back to their home countries, these migrants then settled back into life in El Salvador — carving neighborhoods into various gang-controlled territories in the process.

In 2012, El Salvador’s main gangs signed a truce in an effort to end gang-sponsored violence, which initially saw a drop in gang-related death by 40 percent. Since then, however, gang activity has picked up again at an increasingly violent pace. Currently, El Salvador is on the path to becoming one of the deadliest peacetime countries in the world, with roughly 15 homicides occurring every day in the country of six million, according to PBS.

However, since March, there has been a slight decrease in the number of violent incidences. This is thanks to the efforts of private companies, which have begun to recruit former gang members as employees in an effort to help stall the surge of violence currently overtaking the country.

League Central America, for instance, is a private company that works stitching logos onto American University clothing, such as sweaters bound for Harvard and Brown. One out of ten employees at League Central America are former gang members, who mainly hail from the country’s most notorious gangs; the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha.

According to one employee, who went by the name Jorge, “There are lots of former gang members who want to change their lives but [don’t] have a way out…because of the lack of work, the poverty.”

Company boss Rodrigo Bolanos, however, stated that companies can help improve the situation, saying, “In the process of suffocating the economy and the country the private companies need to take a position to look for a dignified way out.”

In light of this, private companies like League Central America are making important strides in starting to help the country battle against increasing rates of homicide, by helping former gang members find a way out of poverty by offering them entrance jobs with the chance of upwards mobility.

Jorge has stated that he is eternally grateful to the company for offering him a way out of the gangs and gang violence — and a new chance at life.

Jorge, who only recently started working at the company, is now the chief pattern cutter.

Ana Powell

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, PBS
Photo: Flickr

National Solidarity Program: Infrastructure in Afghanistan
The first step to helping those in need is having a supportive government enforcing small-scale changes. The National Solidarity Program (NSP) located in Afghanistan is the rehabilitation and development program for rural parts of the nation. It has supported the rights and needs of 18 million people and has helped to construct infrastructure, meet basic community needs, administer democracy and save lives.

The NSP is a program working for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD). It has a set budget of $2.6 billion for the years between 2003 and 2016.

The Nangarhar Province has demonstrated resiliency thanks to NSP. Since NSP’s installation in 2003, it has crated 32,000 Community Development Councils (CDCs) within 36 districts of each province in Afghanistan. It has financed 65,000 projects.

In 2013, NSP was known as the largest development program in Afghanistan. Evaluations have proven that NSP advances access to education, basic utilities, health care and counseling, specifically for women. NSP has created a platform for governance, democratic processes and female participation in rural villages.

The program was based on the hopes that villages could improve themselves with two approaches. NSP aimed to create gender-balanced CDCs and to fund villages through family grants. These grants were meant to enhance village projects managed by CDCs along with public input.

More than 250,000 families were provided technical help thanks to 806 CDCs in just four provinces. Effort to improve development has affected 141,050 people.

Some projects underway in the Nangarhar Province include digging wells, creating sewing jobs for women, building sewer drains and constructing buildings for community meetings. One function of the CDC is to take village complaints and design resolutions. Since residents and neighbors to villages find it to be an effective and sustainable practice, they feel safe to make home in the more promising region.

In 2009, there were 275 families in Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village. There are now 1,200 people living in the village.

The program has increased school attendance and the quality of education for girls. Health institutes have had a rise of child doctors, prenatal visits and curability of preventable disease with thanks to NSP. The program has also managed to increase access to clean water and sanitation.

Funding from World Bank, Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and Japan Social Development Fund are supporting the program. Haji Zumarai leads the CDC in Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village. He’s very grateful for the $50,000 grant funding village development efforts since 2009.

Partners of NSP have helped to improve water and sanitation. NSP’s 31 facilitating partners work within CDCs to contrive 86 thousand small-scale reconstruction and development projects. In addition, they maintain rural roads, irrigation, energy supply, health facilities and education.

BRAC is one facilitation partner of MRRD that helps construct infrastructure outside NSP. It builds systems, latrines, irrigation canals, micro-hydroelectric planets, protection walls, roads, bridges and schools.

It’s partnership with NSP is creating a self-sustainable rural Afghanistan. BRAC encourages democracy by helping to supervise and facilitate CDCs in places like Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai. It prioritizes infrastructure capabilities, aids with project overhaul and oversees transparency efforts.

NSP has bettered small-scale efforts for many by focusing on critical and essential needs in rural villages. In Sayed Ahmad Ghazi Village of the Kabul Province, NSP constructed clinics that are saving lives. MRRD granted $50,000 in funding. Local villages helped by producing $14,000.

Under Dr. Mastorah Ahmadi, two women and one man help oversee 50 patients a day. This has benefited 1,400 families. Children are receiving vaccinations and the workers are quickly treating preventable diseases.

Communities continue to prosper with these programs that minimize the hazardous implications of living in rural Afghanistan. Soon rural living will safe and readily sustainable. The Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village stands as an example of success when community-focused programs like NSP work intricately with members and leaders.

Katie Groe

Sources: Bakhtar News, World Bank 1, Wadsam, World Bank 2, World Bank 3, BRAC
Photo: Worldbank

Struck by the catastrophic circumstances of their previous lives in Syria, children in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan spoke of bullets, bombs and death. Nawwar Bulbul wanted to change that. A prominent soap opera actor until being blacklisted by the Syrian government on account of joining in protests against the regime, Bulbul brought his love for theater with him as he fled.

The Zaatari Camp in northern Jordan has ballooned with the recent inundation of Syrian refugees fleeing over the border and, with a lofty 102,704 residents, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, currently stands as the world’s second-largest refugee camp. Basic needs such as food and water are met on a marginalized basis by various international organizations attempting to help quell the trauma of the current Syrian crisis, yet children require more than that in order to live with the hope of successful and fulfilling futures. With less than 40 percent of refugee children attending school, there is a huge deficit of arts and culture among traumatized population.

For over two months, Bulbul has worked to bring happiness to the lives of these children. Because of the impressive initiative taken by this actor-turned-director, 100 refugee children come together to rehearse Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Translated to classical Arabic from its original Bard’s English, the play brings joy to its performers and a renewed sense of childhood innocence to those who have been stripped of such rights and privileges.

One young girl named Ammari, who came to Jordan along with five sisters and a brother, says she feels the transformation.

“I do not feel lonely any more in this place,” she told reporters. She has found something to finally entertain her and take her mind off of the victims of calamity around her.

Though some may claim that this particular Shakespeare tragedy is not suitable for children, Bulbul argues otherwise. He says he took only the roots of the story for the children’s adaptation, and focused primarily on the differences between lying and telling the truth. While Bulbul’s initiative received no support from international organizations and only minimal support from friends in the Syrian community, the past two months of play practice have shown outstanding success for the youth.

In discussions of Shakespeare’s plays, the participants showed behavioral and emotional development. The children involved learned quite a bit about controlling anger as well as the violent and destructive consequences of seeking revenge. For a group that has spent a good portion of life so far living amid death, destruction and humiliation, these are lessons some may have thought unfathomable in previous months.

Yet Shakespeare is not the only poetry in this situation. Bulbul translates from Arabic to mean bird, or oftentimes nightingale, a bird primarily known for singing in the dark. So as Nawwar Bulbul brings the song of hope and joy to the inner darkness of an overpopulated refugee camp, he does, so beautifully, live up to his name.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Ahram Online, Times of Israel, Global Arab Network
Photo: Times of Israel

The history of disparate rights between the Rwandan Hutu and Tutsi tribes exploded in April of 1994, followed by 100 days of genocide in which the Hutu extremists killed an estimated 500,000-1 million Tutsi people. Rape was encouraged to destabilize the community’s infrastructure and traumatize its people, resulting in the vicious, serial rape of 250,000 to 500,000 women.

Since the reinstatement of Rwanda’s government, all citizens have been allotted equal rights and the long road toward reconciliation has begun. Since the number of accused hugely outweighs the law officers, the Gacaca court system was set up allowing small communities to hold courts and trials where suspects may confess their crimes and promote reconciliation by disclosing the fates of lost community members.

The government’s newly instated laws of racial equality throughout the country extend to social stigmas as well, bolstering the marginalized. But one group was overlooked: children produced by the Rwandan genocide’s relentless rapes.

Chantal Mukeshimana, now 46, lost her husband and three of their children in the genocide during which she was repeatedly gang-raped. One of these attacks implanted her now-19 year old daughter, Angélique, who has always felt distanced by her mother and blames herself for the pain her existence recalls.

Angélique is one of 20,000 young adults who are products of the Rwandan genocide rapes. Kananga from the Unity and Reconciliation Commission has stated, “When we offered support to widows and children we thought we were supporting everyone.” These children of rape are suspended between their parents; they feel shunned by their Tutsi mothers for the horrific means of their conception, and have no means or wish to find their ‘genocidaire’ Hutu fathers.

Chantal is currently responsible for Angélique, two surviving children from her late husband, and her brother who was paralyzed in the genocide. With no government aid she relies on her community of women for support, most of whom have pasts similar to her own. None have had access to rehabilitation therapy, and they’ve banded together in an attempt to plug the holes of their shattered families.

Today, as they enter adulthood, children of the Rwandan genocide rapes are struggling to come to terms with their history. They are a constant reminder to their communities of the violence that killed their loved ones and stole their bodies. Without serious reconciliation many will remain emotionally crippled forever, extending the horror of the genocide beyond the lives of those who experienced it.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources: About, UN
Photo: Flickr

al qaeda
The youth who have grown up saturated with extreme jihadist ideology will form a criminal generation that poses a threat to not only their country, but to the world.

Children, almost exclusively young boys, are targeted by terrorist groups to be trained to be military-minded from a young age for several reasons. Most importantly, they are easier to persuade and control. Many recruited children are orphans who have grown up in conflict zones. The inclusion in a powerful group gives them the illusion of acceptance.

Children can also move around unnoticed much easier than adults; they are more likely to be overlooked in a situation where a man might trigger caution, and soldiers often hesitate to shoot them even if they know the child is carrying explosives.

Most importantly for recruiters, children who are trained as extremist soldiers will grow into adults willing to kill and die for those same ideals and will offer up their own children to the same training. Cairo University psychology professor and family relations consultant Waliyuddine Mukhtar says that “As a result [of their intensive training], years from now, a new generation of youth will emerge and pose a very serious threat not only to Syria but to surrounding countries as well.

Camps to train “cubs” have been opened in Syria and have released  footage showing children ages four to 17 years old shooting AK-47s, undergoing military training and shouting for the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Recruiters rely heavily on orphans and the donated children of extremist families to fill these ranks.

Egyptian child psychologist and Ain Shams University lecturer Enas al-Jamal discusses the devastating effects on the psyche of child soldiers. “This child grows up on violence and the use of force, while internally suppressing fear that could erupt at any time after he is moved away from the fighting.”

Al-Jamal is realistic about the hardship of establishing these children in a peaceful civilian lifestyle. “The difficulty in rehabilitation stems from the fact that they were subjected to comprehensive brainwashing that turned them into killing machines convinced of the legitimacy of murder and suicide via suicide bombings.”

The work of undoing everything these children are being taught will take tremendous effort and a collective awareness. The leaders of al-Qaeda may be cut down, but they have planted their seeds deeply. However, people’s tending to those seeds could prevent their resurrection.

Lydia Caswell

Sources:, Central Asia Online, Hudson Institute
Photo: Sodaheadr

adams family
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports while drug use is stabilizing in industrialized countries, it is increasing in developing nations around the health and security of a nation than drug use in developed countries. Poor nations may not be able to handle drug abuse because of their underdeveloped boarders.

There has been a growth of heroine use in Eastern Africa and cocaine use in West and South Africa.  South East Asian and the Middle East are experiencing increased production and use of synthetic drugs (synthetic drugs include synthetic marijuana, MDMA, and “bath salts”.)

The Economist reports that Afghanistan is the heart of a multi-billion-dollar drug network smuggling heroine.  Tajikistan, part of the former Soviet Union, borders countries economy.  The majority of the country’s population lives on less than $2 a day and often do not have power to heat their houses in the winter. However, the capital city of Dushanbe is full of mansions and flashy cars, signs that the city is profiting from the drug trade.

If is hard to find data on illicit drug use in developing countries but the use of opiates (heroine, opium, morphine) is likely to be the highest in Eastern Europe and Central, South and South East Asia where the drug is produced. Most opiate users, 7.8 million, live in and around Afghanistan and Myanmar, both major opiate-producing countries.

The World Health Organization reports that alcohol abuse and tobacco use have also risen dramatically in Eastern Europe and South and Southeast Asia. Research on the social and environmental causes of substance abuse has been lower than in the developed world but early research and case studies point to urbanization, poverty, migration, technological change, and interest in drug production as contributing factors.

Historically imprisonment has been the most common solution to illicit drug use and addiction. However research shows that imprisoning drug users is not very effective. The medicalization of drug use and the medical and therapeutic treatment of drug use is much more effective. Unfortunately developing countries face many barriers when implementing the medical treatment of drug addiction. Developing countries do not have the financial recourses or health infrastructure to provide programs like harm reduction initiatives (clean needles, needle drop off sites), drug residential rehab programs, or oral methadone.  There is also a moral view of drug use held by many people in poor countries that drug addiction is a personal choice and people should assume responsibility for it. These countries are more likely to take punitive action in dealing with drug use rather than treatment or harm reduction.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: World Health Organization, Elements Behavioral Health, The Economist, The White House

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