Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Guest post: Art Refuge UK about recent work in Calais

Post by: Miriam Nabarro, Artist in Residence in the Department of Development Studies, SOAS. mn16@soas.ac.uk, www.miriamnabarro.co.uk

A Man of Good Hope throws light and humanity onto a tale of migration at the Young Vic, as art therapists with Art Refuge UK/ MSF continue their support work in the closing camps of Calais… reflections on art and development 


This week I’ve been struck again by the unique power of art and theatre to articulate the complexity of experience, multiplicity of voice and resilience and resourcefulness surrounding narratives of people on the move. In a week where I have felt simultaneously overwhelmed and depressed: overwhelmed by numbers and statistics: ITV news reported that last Monday, 3 October, that over 6000 migrants from 40 boats were rescued, one of the highest in a single day, with the Italian coast guard rescuing 725 people from one single boat, and the IOM estimating 132,000 people have made the journey to Italy across the Mediterranean this year with over 3000 deaths: and depressed by the hardening and polarising of language around movement and migration, from the Tory conference shift from ‘ soft’ to ‘ hard’  Brexit, by the jostling for position in the approaching French presidential election and the imminent threat of closure of the camps in Calais with very little plan b, by the ripples of the non-referendum in Hungary across Europe.

So what a treat it was to go to A Man Of Good Hope at the Young Vic, telling the true story of Asad Abdullahi and his journey from Mogadishu to Cape Town, based on the 2014 book by Jonny Steinberg and reinterpreted, under the guidance of David Lan, by the incredible Isango Ensemble from South Africa. This twenty-four piece ensemble are master storytellers, musicians and performers. With only a succession of door frames, a handful of props, seven huge marimbas, a cluster of djembes and a huge dose of skill and inspiration, Asad’s story, told in remembered fragments, is brought to life in a riot of song and dance. Fleeing Mogadishu, after witnessing his mothers murder by militia, the eight year old Asad sets out on a journey through the horn of Africa: a familiar tale of forced migration through violence made remarkable by the strength, resilience, hope, ambition and adaptability of Asad against the odds. What makes this production remarkable is Isango’s ability to tell the story of movement through musical and dance styles moving through the cultural and political specificity of  Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia to South Africa, leaving the audience in tears and a standing ovation. Book your tickets before the reviewers get to it on Thursday night and make the tickets gold dust!

from the Calais project

In August I was invited to join art therapists working in Calais under the auspices of Art Refuge UK, invited by MSF and MduM. The Art Refuge team have been working in Calais for 2 days each week for 13 months in various settings to offer some therapeutic support to those people living there. As the camp faces closure, the team reflect on the sombre mood that has emerged. Here is the most recent blog.



On Thursday, though the sun was out it was biting cold. There was a desolate feeling in the camp this week as we worked in the chilled and draughty containers of the CAMIE.

Whether one found oneself in the cold of the shadow or the tempered warmth of the sun seemed to mirror the sense of fatefulness in the camp. It feels up to the luck of the draw whether people have family connections in the UK that can support claims to asylum and safe passage, or face what lies ahead once the camp is dismantled and residents are asked to board buses to currently unknown destinations.

One young man with a quiet demeanour did an abstract painting that was reminiscent of Rothko, the muted tones echoing the sombre atmosphere of the day. The divided forms seemed to reflect the spaces we were working in and the sense of floating in limbo.

A young man, who was brought to the group by the psychologist, carefully traced the figure of an ice skater, tracing and retracing the image in an attempt to find solidity and form. His final image of the day depicted a vibrant pomegranate tree, where fruitfulness, health and abundance can still be found amidst the heavy atmosphere of the camp.

There is a sense that people are finding it harder to motivate themselves and struggling to find the necessary energy to cope with this situation. The overwhelming effort needed to try and make plans for the future is hard to find.

On Friday we worked in the Médecins du Monde space and were joined by several of their team from Dunkirk. They were keen to experience the way Art Refuge UK supports the psychosocial space in our work, and share some thinking about how we use different materials.

The medium of choice today was pencil, its precision, dryness and control brining some containment, much needed in a time of such precariousness and uncertainty. Several young men who we have worked with for some time, returned to share further details and memories of situations in their home countries and journeys. Many of these painful and traumatic experiences that take much courage to retell and depict. As time runs out in the camp there is a sense of urgency to express and communicate to us these deeply personal stories.

A group of Sudanese men created with speed plasticine animals, leaving them in our care before saying goodbye and going outside to play the drums. Another young man was able to bring some playfulness to his creations by making a paper buffalo, laughter entering into a space where anxiety and fear for the future was apparent.

As one man drew a lorry on the road to Dover and his quest to get to the UK, simultaneously an image was created by another man depicting a road that appeared to go nowhere. Both pictures showing the impossibility felt at the current situation and the sense of blocked paths. Painful discussions were held throughout the day around what is now possible.

One man described how hard it is to change plans, to look for other future paths when you have been trying so long to reach what you believe will be the end of your journey. “Where is home? What is home? If you keep trying and can’t find your way out, how do you find a new path?”

from the Calais project


Some Events, shows, discussions touching on Arts and Development issues:


A Man of Good Hope  to 12 November http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/a-man-of-good-hope


Promised Land   19 October 2016, 18.30, ICA, London. This panel brings together artists, curators and academics to discuss two views of Europe: the promise of Europe as a place of human rights, security and prosperity; and the Europe of borders, refugee camps, populism, and heightened nationalism. Chaired by Bernadette Buckley, speakers include Hrair SarkissianJonas Staal and Frances Stonor Saunders.


Nafasi Week, In Place of War open seminars: Free TED-style talks. See 20 inspiring people give talks on their cultural spaces, cultural production, creative activism, digital tools and the future. Rich Mix, Bethnal Green Road https://www.richmix.org.uk/events/spoken-word/nafasi-week-uk-change-makers


When Father Comes Home From the Wars  15 sept- 22 Oct Royal Court, http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/fathercomeshome/?tab=2


Drones, baby, Drones  Arcola Theatre 2-26 November, http://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/drones-baby-drones/?spektrix_bounce=true


Angel, Arcola Theatre, 21 Nov-17 Dec http://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/angel/


Thick Time, new work by William Kentridge  Whitechapel Gallery to Jan 15 2017 http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/william-kentridge/



Thursday, 29 September 2016

Start of term!

A very warm welcome to this year's VCD students. This is an exciting time of the year as people arrive from all over the world, meet, chat, find points of contact and differences of experience.

This year promises to be a fantastic one; we have record numbers, which means more perspectives, more expertise, more lines of analysis and debate. We also have the new space in the North Block (Paul Webley Wing), which means no more dashing back and forth to Vernon Square.

SOAS is absolutely buzzing with new term enthusiasm. This was the scene that greeted me as I left the building the other night (yes, sorry, it's a bit dark, but it's fun).


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Summer reading

A lot of people have been writing to me asking about summer reading ahead of the VCD course starting at the end of September. You can browse our profiles here: http://www.soas.ac.uk/development/staff/ and you'll find several articles that can be downloaded for free.
Here are a few suggestions for books too:
  • Cramer, C. (2006). Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing. Accounting for Violence in Developing Countries. London, Hurst & co.
  • Duffield, M. (2007). Development, Security and Unending War. Cambridge, Polity.
  • Goodhand, J. (2006). Aiding Peace? The Role of NGOs in Armed Conflict. Rugby, ITDG Publishing.
  • Keen, D. (2008). Complex Emergencies. Cambridge, Polity Press.
  • Marriage, Z. (2013). Formal Peace and Informal War. Security and Development in Congo. London and New York, Routledge.
If you're looking for something hot off the press, I received this book last week.
edited by Charles H. Anderton and Jurgen Brauer, Oxford University Press
I have written a chapter for it that looks at the economics of the mass killing in Congo. Here is an abstract of the chapter:
The trade of mineral resources contributed to the mechanisms of mass atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the war that started in 1998. The peace agreed in 2002 moved to reverse the economic logic of the violence by incentivising belligerents to contest politically. Investigating the shift in the economic configuration, this chapter argues that the focus on high profile actors and high value goods, alongside the oversight of violence, excluded much of the population and their economic activities from the configuration of the peace. The chapter concludes that the peace impeded the deaths by invading armies, but has contributed to other forms of atrocities by rendering the population irrelevant to the country’s economic and political development. This is significant for the analysis of other post-war contexts in which sections of the population are excluded from bargains that prioritize the economic appeasement of elite belligerents.
Happy reading in the sunshine!

Friday, 24 June 2016

Voices - photo exhibition - and a blog by Megan Howell VCD

Megan Howell is currently exhibiting her photographic work 'Voices' in MADE Cardiff. The photos document some of the forms of violence Megan witnessed in the Jungle camp in Calais. Below is a blog she has written about her journey since completing the VCD course last year.

Megan presents her photographs in Cardiff

When I started VCD in September 2014, it was supposed to be the beginning of a well thought out plan which would see me following the course with a masters in Play Therapy which I would use to work with children in refugee camps.  VCD had other ideas. 

By the time I graduated in September 2015, VCD had begun to put its plan into action and I had deferred my place on the Play Therapy Masters.  By Christmas I was still struggling to find a job, or even an unpaid internship, working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and I was despondent and frustrated.  Then I came across a Guardian article about the camp in Calais that somebody in my house had cut out and kept.  I read it a few times, did some research, contacted some organisations and decided to go and volunteer with Care4Calais for a month in January.

 A month counts as long term in Calais, where many volunteers bring donations at the weekend and stay for 48 hours to help out, so within days I was made a team leader.  I had responsibility for planning and implementing van led distributions in the camp and for overseeing the arrival and sorting of donations in the warehouse.

I frequently heard stories about violent incidents between the French riot police (the CRS) and the camp residents involving tear gas but saw nothing so I decided to spend more time in camp outside my working hours.  Then I saw incident after incident.  Capturing what I saw on camera and documenting it on my blog became a priority – an obsession even – as it became clear that what I was witnessing was the state-sanctioned, systematic and violent oppression of stateless people searching for refuge in Europe. 

In late February, the rumoured eviction and demolition of the southern half of the camp began under the protection of hugely inflated numbers of CRS acting with near complete impunity.  It was violent and traumatic and thousands were displaced and left destitute within the camp.

At this time, I met Dr. Rhetta Moran of RAPAR who was looking for volunteers to send the organisation daily reports to be used in their press releases covering the evictions.  I had been documenting the evictions photographically since the beginning and offered my services.  RAPAR used my photography and updates on their live feed and just like that I was a documentary photographer.  VCD’s plan was gathering momentum.

Once back in the UK, I began volunteering with the Welsh Refugee Council in Cardiff, where a series of chance meetings and conversations led to them funding me to put on a photography exhibition and awareness raising event about Calais as part of Refugee Week 2016, at which our very own Dr Zoe Marriage came to speak.  I was also given the opportunity to speak about Calais and the exhibition on the BBC Radio Wales ‘Good Morning Show’.

At around the same time, I received an email from Amnesty inviting me to apply to train as a human rights speaker in schools and am now in dialogue with them about using my experience in Calais to promote discourse about refugees and asylum seekers.

I have withdrawn from the Play Therapy masters and am letting VCD make the decisions as its plan seems to be for me to become an artist, activist, educator and campaigner so I’m going to enjoy the ride!  I just hope that, one day, being paid is part of the plan!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Voices - a photographic exploration of the state, power, violence and refugeehood in Calais

A couple of weeks ago, Megan Howell, who studied VCD with us last year, got in contact to say that she was putting on a photograph exhibition in Cardiff, displaying some photos the Jungle camp in Calais where she has been working.

She invited me to the opening on Sunday so we could have a public discussion as part of Refugee Week. Megan identified some moments from her time in Calais that she found particularly significant in defining the aggression that refugees there are facing, I gave some theoretical perspectives, and Baraa Alhalabieh, whom Megan met in Calais and who now lives in London, gave an account of his journey from Syria.

The event was hosted in a café, Cardiff Made (41 Lochaber St), and Megan's work will be on display there for the next week or so. If you feel like a nice cup of tea and a cake, the photos are really worth seeing and prompted a rich discussion the violence of global, European and national politics.

The event was supported by the Welsh Refugee Council.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Aid and Authoritarianism - Book launch at Chatham House

Last week I was at Chatham House on the panel for a book launch. The book, Aid and Authoritarianism in Africa: Development without Democracy, is edited by Tobias Hagmann and Filip Reyntjens, and my chapter was on the budget support given to Rwanda.
I characterised the donor-recipient relations as an unstoppable rock meeting an immovable post - borrowing from a philosophical logic problem. In the political realm, the challenge is to understand how aid - which is conditioned by a dominant set of northern ideologies and interests - interacts with a government that is does not comply with aid's strictures (for example of liberal peaceful democracy) but nevertheless records development successes.
My chapter traces the disjointed and halting discussion as aid donors attempted to discipline the Rwanda government with regard to its governance of domestic political space and its support to militia forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The apparent illogic of the unstoppable rock and the immovable post is maintained by a buffer zone of discussion on three points: whether the Rwandan government is authoritarian and violent; whether it is justified; and whether the donors are in any position to judge.

Chatham House peeps through the bamboo fronds

Available from Zed books

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Seminar - The Africa Leadership Change dataset: A new tool for studying political leadership and development

Lectures over, exams done, the sun has come out! Time for a special out-of-hectic-season seminar. I'm really happy to be hosting Giovanni Carbone, a long-time friend and colleague - we wrote our PhD theses together at LSE.

Dr Giovanni Carbone

Associate professor of political science, Università degli Studi di Milano 

Monday 13 June, 4-5pm G51
“The Africa Leadership Change dataset: A new tool for studying political leadership and development”


ABSTRACT - African politics long revolved around “personal rulers” who either overstayed in office or were quickly ousted by coups. The multiparty reforms of the 1990s were meant to change and regularize the way in which African rulers access and are removed from office. There is, however, a dearth of systematic data through which the evolution and implications of leadership transitions can be examined. We thus built a comprehensive Africa Leadership Change (ALC) dataset covering all 54 countries in the continent from 1960 to 2015. The dataset provides information for all leaders who held power in the region, including the modes of access to the leadership as well as several other key election and regime variables. An exploratory analysis illustrates how Africa’s reforms affected the dynamics and timing of leaders’ replacement, as well as their socio-economic implications. A comparison with existing datasets shows that ALC is more adequate for investigating leadership transitions in Africa.


Everyone is welcome! :)