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.

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?”

Motorbike Cinema “Cineboda” Tests, Northern Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan, Part IV, Technical Lessons and Recommendations

An evaluation of the peacebuilding impact of the exercise was outside the scope of this activity. This test was simply intended to subject the Cine-boda concept to a real-world situation. Some findings and lessons are outlined below:

a. Screen
The screen was satisfactory and could easily entertain 200+ persons. Good tension was achieved in the first two showings using the bungee attachments provided. This provided a good cinematic experience. The screen was poorly set up in the third showing, which used the Velcro attachments provided. This was primarily because the team had not been trained in using the Velcro. Lessons include:

• Provide larger screen.
• Screen risks becoming creased. Consider spandex based screen for version 2.
• The Velcro attachment system can produce the necessary tension but will rip paint off surfaces on removal, limiting its application.
• Training for team in various methods of erecting screen is important.
• Develop a fold out frame from Cineboda for rear projection to avoid the need for a surface to attach screen.
• Need pegs and more holes in bottom of screen.

b. Power
The battery unit successfully charged from the motorbike alternator, the solar panels and the A.C power.

• Solar charging: Solar system successful and drew about 11watts of charging power continuously. 6 hours of sunshine fully charged system after 2 hours of screenings.
• Motorbike charging: 12v charging system from motorbike provided up to 40watts of charging power to battery system when driving and about 9 on tickover.
• Charge still showed 90% after two hour screening.
• Screenings do not need engine running.
• Battery capacity is generous and could be reduced.
• Battery is large and heavy and could be reduced in size and weight.
• Next generation Cineboda should run both speaker and projector from single battery source.


c) Audiences of 100-250 people
Audiences were small because the activities took place within compounds and were not advertised outside of the immediate community. However, lessons include:

• System reaches audiences who do not have access to power.
• System can easily reach audiences of 250
• System can get to hard to reach communities off-road.
• Sound volume sufficient for outdoors and amidst background noise

d) Microphone to facilitate showings and discussion

• Microphone worked well.
• Bluetooth microphone would be an improvement because it would lower barriers to audience engagement in discussion (they would not need to stand and come to the front to speak)

Continue reading “Motorbike Cinema “Cineboda” Tests, Northern Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan, Part IV, Technical Lessons and Recommendations”

Motorbike Cinema “Cineboda” Tests, Northern Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan, Part II, Justification

The motor-bike cinema could be used for all types of social change communications in health, education and entertainment sectors.

The idea behind Cine-boda in Northern Bahr al Ghazal is that it could contribute to bridging gaps between local political processes and wider populations, specifically to support inter-community relations between migrating Arab pastoralists from Sudan and host populations.

In Northern Bahr al Ghazal, VISTAS has been supporting a remarkable process of government led peaceful coexistence between Sudanese nomadic pastoralists and Dinka host communities for years. Read more about this amazing work here.

As in most places, the peace processes in Northern Bahr al Ghazal generally involve elites (albeit an inclusive group of local ones) in the form of local officials, chiefs, civil society leaders and members of peace committees.

Dialogue among these ‘key-people’ (to borrow a term generated from decades of practical peace building research) is absolutely necessary to develop and enforce peaceful rules that can govern relations between communities in, or at risk of, ongoing conflict.

However, as anyone who has been involved in any public policy process knows, a major challenge is to ensure that outcomes of higher-level dialogue, confidence building and rule-making actually leads to wider social and behavioral change within and between communities, the “more people”.

Part of the solution is the strict and impartial enforcement of rules by state actors (in Northern Bahr al Ghazal this has included for better or worse the threat of “firing squad” for even minor deviation).

But an important part of the solution lies in disseminating the contents of agreements (the “rules”), demonstrating mutual benefits (such as reduced market prices), communicating successes (such as the payment of diya), addressing rumor and communicating authority. To meet these needs and prevent spoilers undermining the buy-in that exists, VISTAS has supported dissemination tours by joint-peace committee members.

This is where film can also play a role (with sufficient reach). Indeed, we believe it can complement these efforts in a unique and important way.

Film allows communities to experience the development of the rules they are expected to follow; to hear directly and incontrovertibly the commitments of leaders from both communities; and to see in Technicolor justice done, security guarantees enforced and economic benefits accrued.

Read part III of this post for more detailed results of the pilot tests.

World Theatre Day 2015, supported by Transformedia, OSIEA and USAID

South Sudan Theatre Organization, supported by Transformedia, OSIEA and USAID, organised a World Theatre Day festival in Juba on March 27th 2015. The event included lectures on the role of theatre in reconciliation and on the history of South Sudanese theatre, followed by performances from a broad range of drama groups including SSTO, Orupaap and Emmaus.

Many argue that reconciliation necessitates at heart a change in identity. At the least, we must transform a part of ourselves; that part which is defined as negation of another. This is an uncertain process that requires reflection and cross community exchanges, so that otherness be let go, contextualised or positively reshaped. This long term, not necessarily linear exercise is too often elusive, dismissed as “intangible”. But today this dialogue grabbed us all by the scruff of the neck, 1500+ performers and audience members alike.

SSTO’s tale of community strife and reconciliation had the audience in stitches and tears in equal measure. Orupaap’s truly inimitable fusion of modern and traditional dance was here set in an elaborate framework of dangling and knotting stools. On a personal level, the first ten minutes of Emmaus’s half hour show was quite simply the most beautiful thing I have seen since I witnessed Cirque Plume for the first time aged 10.

The themes showed a theatre in earnest reflection. Chairs featured highly, as symbols of power and position. The painful descent of from state-of-nature-paradise to brutish anarchy played out in slow motion. Every day life versus newspaper headlines… Ethnicity versus nation-belonging… Modernity versus tradition… And waves upon waves of convincing suffering, expressed on stage in technicolor, but always overcome at last by seemingly superhuman powers of forgiveness, or at least an incontrovertible, searing, burning desire for unity.

This was an angry and honest day, and full of purest celebration, struggling to terms with the disappointment of the last four years as well as the dislocation and community of the preceding decades. A daunting challenge indeed, but South Sudan’s artists showed that they are more than equal to the task.