Remote Migration Monitoring in Abyei

As part of a bigger program of policy and technical support to critical Concordis peacebuilding work in Abyei, Transformedia is providing a pilot mobile Migration Monitor using simple smartphones with solar chargers.

Before the secession of South Sudan, the Abyei Area was commonly referred to as the ‘litmus test’ of peace in Sudan. If the agro-pastoralist Dinka Ngok and the Arab Misseriya herders could coexist in this area – and if their governments would let them – then anything was possible. But since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005, violence has continually returned to this small patch of land. Abyei Town was completely destroyed in 2008 and 2011.

At the nub of local political contestation is land ownership and usage rights. The nine chiefdoms of the Dinka Ngok claim to be the rightful community owners of the land (the precise borders of which are another question for another time) – and this was recognised in the CPA’s Protocol concerning Abyei. However, a number of Arab Misseriya groups have traditionally migrated with cattle into, and through, the area in search of pastures during the dry season (roughly November-May).Indeed, since the displacement of many Dinka Ngok in the 1960s and 1980s, many Misseriya settled and spent much of their lives in Abyei. The secondary rights to ‘use’ the land for seasonal migration is also recognised by the CPA.

The real interests of both communities are not so far apart. The Dinka Ngok benefit from goods and trade from the Misseriya. The Misseriya benefit from access to markets as well as the pasture and water required for their cattle in the dry season. The fact is that whilst livestock migration can lead to violence and disagreement, such issues could be resolved by local leaders under normal conditions. Instead, the communities are still being used against one another by the national armed forces, fighting as proxies for national strategic concerns.

Relations between the communities hit an all time low in 2013 when the Paramount Chief of the Dinka Ngok, Kuol Deng Kuol, who I met a number of times in Abyei, was assassinated (in full view of the UN peacekeeping mission). ‘Diplomatic’ relations between the communities were cut off.

Since then, Concordis undertook an incredible local trust building exercise. A member of the team spent a year living in Abyei, working first with members of each community as individuals before building up enough trust to start bringing small groups of ‘non-political’ persons together across the conflict line to express themselves honestly and without political pressure. This tireless work led to a breakthrough whereby leaders from both communities agreed to open up dialogue on substantive issues.

The hand of national politics is still conspiring against local peace, but we hope that enabling local leaders to obtain better data about the movements of people and livestock, about unresolved issues, upcoming flashpoints and successes and failures of local response, will help communities and peace-builders ensure that local incidents don’t become national tragedies. We will be updating this blog with the roll-out of this pilot in the coming months.

MM for website imageThe remote data collection is undertaken on simple smartphones installed with an offline-online Migration Monitor application.

 

Virtual Reality Conflict Transformation: Theory and Practice

We are integrating virtual reality technology into our conflict transformation as well as our advocacy.

The underlying idea is that by enabling policy makers and communities to ‘meet’ each other and experience alternative points of view, VR can help reduce ‘moral distance’, improve understanding, and enhance shared information. As a result, interest-based and humanitarian incentives for peacemaking are both increased.

It’s an exciting and experimental process, but one we believe is founded on well established conflict change methodologies. At the moment, we are focused on using film for VR headsets as this gives the most realistic experience of ‘being’ somewhere else, but augmented environments will have their place. Here is a short table outlining how virtual reality sits alongside a few well known existing approaches:

Conflict Theorist Causes of Conflict Recommended focus for Conflict Prevention Potentials of Virtual Reality
Lederach Conflict is inevitable and natural part of human relationships and can generate positive or negative socio-cultural and socio-economic relations. “Conflict transformation” sees conflict as a process, caused by and causing changes in relationships. In order to build peace, destructive patterns need to be transformed into constructive ones. ‘Levels of leadership’ provides most efficient way to engage in policy-level change. Virtual reality experiences among ‘middle ‘level’ influencers – who connect the ultimate decision makers with the grassroots – to improve access to shared information, improve inclusivity by bringing voices into the room. For example, a VR presentation outlining local and expert views on challenges facing a remote conflict.
Galtung Growing gap between individual expectations and realisations leading to, or being caused by structural, cultural or physical violence. Define the violence along cultural, economic and physical dimensions and envision positive peace; mediate (resolving incompatibility) and reconcile (removing traumas from relationships). VR experiences that enable people to spend time with the other in a virtual environment, help close policy gaps (through providing communities with the experience of directly hearing from leaders and vice versa).
Collier and Hoeffler et al Failure of economic development and greed and grievances. Support to governance processes, state development and state dividends. 2-way VR advocacy (local citizen-policy maker interaction),  training services (e.g, civic education walk-through)
Gurr Relative and perceived group deprivation and mobilisation along ethnic/religious/identity lines. Improved relations between state and citizen and reconciling diverse identities. VR experiences which ‘transport’ participants into ‘other’ communities to increase understanding of shared interests and commonalities, to facilitate ‘personal’ interactions.
Relationship Foundation Conflict is relational and caused or sustained by distance along a number of relational domains. Developing and experiencing “relational proximity” in five domains creates an enhanced quality of “relational experience”, which can contribute to outcomes such as trust, understanding, support, accountability and belonging. (As above) VR experiences allowing personal interactions in the five domains; enabling meetings between people who would otherwise not be able to see each other, or increasing the frequency of interactions.
Ronald Fisher Historical trajectories, different conceptions of peace, competitive group strategies and zero-sum mentalities. “Interactive conflict resolution (ICR)” involves problem-solving discussions between unofficial representatives of groups or states engaged in violent protracted conflict. All the above.

Early indications from our advocacy and those of our friends and partners is that VR can produce strong policy and public engagement, though we need to undertake more systematic and longer term evaluation.

In the conflict transformation realm, we look forward to testing whether the ’empathy machine’ of VR really can contribute to sustainable peace processes, and if so, helping support the development of best practice for its use.

Citizen’s Theatre on Al Jazeera – مسرح الشعب يناقش هموم ومشاكل سكان جنوب السودان

Check out an excerpt from an Al Jazeera feature on Citizen’s Theatre, viewed across the Arabic speaking world.

Transformedia and South Sudan Theatre Organization worked with support from USAID VISTAS to establish Citizen’s Theatre – with the aim of creating a national network of theatre practioners across the country working for reconciliation and social justice.

Forum Theatre for the Masses?

Forum theatre grips ‘spectactors’ by the emotional wrist and engages them directly and profoundly. But can it really contribute to wider social and political change that is the aim of cumulative conflict transformation efforts? Or is forum theatre fatally limited by its reach, perhaps involving just 200 or 300 people at a time?

Inspired by work such as the Reflecting on Peace Practice project and policy papers like Oxfam’s ‘Magic is in the Mix‘ as well as building on own lessons, we always try our best to integrate mass media into our forum theatre activities. The idea is to help bridge the theoretical ‘hope lines’ that exist between ‘individual change’ and ‘socio-political change’ and between ‘short term attitudinal change’ and longer term ‘pathways of change’.

There are loads of factors involved. But one small way in which we are trying to bring the benefits of forum theatre to wider audiences is with radio. For example, have a listen to this ‘Citizen’s Forum’ – a community forum theatre day organised as part of the Citizen’s Theatre program – from Aweil in Northern Bahr al Ghazal state in South Sudan.

The recording of community performances and discussion has been played on local radio in local languages. Listeners were able to witness the issues played out, hear the discussion and call in to contribute their own ideas.

It’s not rocket science and it won’t create the same direct engagement as physical forum theatre among participants and audience alike. But as an easy and low cost method of leveraging forum theatre to wider audiences, it feels worth the extra little effort

How to track engagement with micro-SD memory cards?

In 2012, we noticed that the use of microSD memory cards to share information between rural persons was reaching a potentially critical level. Could it be considered a significant medium for social change communications and conflict resolution?

People at tea places, in buses, markets and homes were all sharing audio and video recordings through microSD cards in phones. Common material included political speeches, news recordings of major events, recorded radio shows and pop music (android devices allow you to record radio with one click), football highlights and videos of local traditional music and dance.

Since then Transformedia has worked with partners to disseminate our media outreach content on microSD cards as well as through more traditional means, and the anecdotal evidence so far is that microSD can help film and audio clips spread quickly through urban and semi-urban networks. But how to really track user engagement with content?

Continue reading “How to track engagement with micro-SD memory cards?”

There are many connectors for South Sudanese

Thank you to our guest blogger Don Bosco from the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA) for this amazing insight into the work of South Sudan Theatre Organization.

Despite limited fresh air at the venue, human eyes were glued to the stage to see actors portray nothing but the reality of our families, communities and society and South Sudan in general. Groups performed on issues that range from early marriages to forced and arranged marriages, land grabbing to plundering of public resources, peace negotiations/making to why war must be continued as peace would threaten the power base of some individuals.

The actors were very particular in displaying the ugliness of war. The plight of our daughters, sisters, mothers and aunties was clearly represented and their plea was genuine and calls for nothing less other than the protection and promotion of their human rights.

The South Sudan Theatre Organization (SSTO) made a better use of Nyakuron Cultural Center (September 1-4, 2015) in the 21st century a good departure from the December 2013 Nyakuron memories.

This was the week when the first inter-school theatre festival in the capital Juba was held at Nyakuron Cultural Center. Nyakuron got beautiful decorations. It looked Christmas here with school uniforms for the different secondary schools participating at the festival and costumes coloring the place for four beautiful days. Many who attended the event for the entire four days had their share of amusement and reflection on the reality presented by the troupes. Some of the bitter facts presented attracted nothing but the valley of tears from the faces of audience.

Continue reading “There are many connectors for South Sudanese”