Monday, August 22, 2016

The Peacebuilding Experience and Applied Research Possibilities in Somaliland

When Future Generations Graduate School Professor Firew Kefyalew was asked by a colleague to recommend a possible site for continued peacebuilding action research, his mind trailed to the Horn of Africa region (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia). This is a region he thought he knew well, for it has not been free from war and conflict for at least the last forty years. Currently, Somalia is the most affected country, plagued by a terrorist group call itself Al-Shabaab (meaning youth/youngsters).

Banner in Hargeisa showing former presidents of Somaliland.
Somalia is unique because it has a peaceful "country" within it - the Republic of Somaliland. Somaliland declared its separation from the greater Republic of Somalia in 1991, but it does not have international recognition as a separate country. Taking advantage of Somaliland's peacebuilding efforts of the last two decades, and the presence of a Future Generations student in the republic, Kefyalew made a 3.5 day trip to Hargeisa, Somaliland's capital. "I have to admit that my knowledge of Somaliland, though a close neighbor to my country Ethiopia, was inadequate before this visit," Kefyalew said. "What we often hear in Ethiopia is about Somalia, which has been stateless for a long time, and is now deeply troubled by Al-Shabaab. We do not hear about Somaliland - the self-declared state.

Kefyalew's visit to Hargeisa was immensely informative and successful in terms of attaining the objective he had: learning from the ground about research needs in relation to peacebuilding by taking Somaliland as a case study. Thanks to Abdishakur Hassan-Kayd (Class of 2017), Kefyalew was able to meet with fifteen senior government officials, civil society/community leaders, and academics during his short visit. He is now exploring the possibility of coming up with a research agenda that is applicable to Somalia in particular, and the Horn of Africa in general.

"I found it insightful to learn about Somaliland's hybrid approach to governance, which is the co-functioning of a clan-based structure represented by the House of Elders of the various clans of the country, and the formal government structure consisting of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. One other thing that caught my eye was a row of portraits of ex-presidents of this young nation. This is in stark contrast to what is commonplace elsewhere in Africa where incumbents almost always condemn their predecessors. Somalilanders' choice to honor those who have served their 'country' regardless of their party affiliation is exemplary!"

Professor Kefyalew (L) and Abdishakur Hassan-Kayd (2017)
 The enthusiasm and resolve of the youth (fifteen to thirty years of age), which make up 70% of Somaliland's population, to build a peaceful Somaliland against a backdrop of radicalized youth groups in the rest of Somalia is also noteworthy. The high value these youth place on education, and the respect for traditional systems and elders that seem biblical are some of the observations Kefyalew noted with admiration. He plans to systematically explore his observations further, and look at how they can be beneficial to the region and the rest of Africa.

An often-heard sociopolitical rhetoric in present-day Africa is about the role of the youth in the development of the continent. This emanates from the fact that over 40% of Africa's population is within the youth age range. Paradoxically, Africa seems to have included participation in war and conflict among the developmental tasks of the youth. Somaliland's efforts, and the spirit that surrounds their youth, defies this trend.

Following on this exploratory listening visit to Somaliland, Future Generations is now working hard to hone in on research questions and collaborations that build on its institutional strengths and history. Graduate School faculty are excited about the possibilities and look forward to sharing more information soon.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Researchers Find Encouraging Changes in Mt. Everest's Gama Valley

Yak relax in the setting sun with Mt. Everest in the background.
From late May to early June, Future Generations Graduate School faculty conducted a research expedition into Mt. Everest's Gama Valley. The team, led by Dr. Daniel Taylor, were following up on conservation efforts that began with the establishment of the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve (QNNP) nearly thirty years ago. The team found that those efforts have continued to expand in the intervening years. As of today, eighteen nature preserves have been established throughout Tibet, which collectively protect over 54% of the autonomous region. Within the QNNP, the team discovered that many wildlife species appear to be rebounding in strong numbers with sightings of Tibetan gazelle, musk deer, tahr (wild goat), and numerous bird species. They also found many signs of snow leopard.

Located at the base of Mt. Everest's Hidden (eastern) face, the Gama Valley is one of seven core zones of the QNNP. Established in 1989 by the People's Republic of China within the Tibet Autonomous Region, the QNNP represents one of the first nature preserves in the world to be placed under the direct stewardship of local people in partnership with government. Since 1993, Future Generations has worked in partnership with the Chinese government to provide technical guidance, financial support, and capacity building to the Tibetan people to sustain the QNNP.

The Researchers in front of a map displaying Gama Valley trekking routes.
In accordance with the QNNP's master plan, official trekking packages are now being offered in partnership between park authorities and local guides ensuring that good and equitable pricing practices are being adhered to. Designated trekking routes have been created with fixed camping sites, lowering the environmental damage, while maximizing the economic opportunities for local communities. Chinese tourists are now visiting the QNNP by the thousands each year. The park's simultaneous mandates to preserve natural beauty and create economic opportunity are introducing new challenges for local communities such as trash collection and logistics management. Despite these challenges, the team was excited to find that both flora and fauna are increasing. Now back on North Mountain, the researchers are developing responses to the problems caused by overuse.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Future Generations Prepares to Launch Applied Research Webinar Series in September

In response to requests from Future Generations alumni for a forum to interact and gain additional skills and perspectives in applied research design, methods, analysis, and publication options, the Graduate School is excited to host a monthly series of webinars on research-related topics driven by alumni and student interests! This series will be a platform and discussion space for alumni, faculty, and current students. There are also plans to include guest speakers as well to bring relevant experience and expertise to the discussions.

At Future Generations, many of our students, alumni, and faculty are actively engaged in applied community-based research and contributing to the exploration and advancement of the methods and rigor of the field. The School's  research foci include home-centered health, people-based conservation, peacebuilding using positive deviants, effectiveness of SEED-SCALE as a theory of social change, and the pedagogy of learning through engagement with life and the world around us.

The first session, to be held on Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 8:00am EST, will serve as an orientation and listening session. Faculty will review the purpose of this webinar series, have brief introductions from participants about their current work and interests, and review several different structures and content options for the rest of the webinars in order to decide what will be the most valuable use of this forum. Subsequent webinars will be held on the second Tuesday of each month until May 2017. A full schedule of webinar dates and topics will be finalized after the first session.

Each month’s session will be recorded and will be available to Graduate School affiliates—including our alumni—via YouTube links.

If you are interested in joining any of the seminars in this series, please contact Meike Schleiff, Director of Research, at for more information.