News & Events
Robert Muggah, Peace Scholar in Residence, November 2013
Research Director, Igarapé Institute in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
Director, SecDev Foundation in Ottawa (Canada)
Could you share a little bit of your story or biography with the Kroc School?
My story's something of a winding road. After a degree in contemporary western philosophy at the University of Kings College in the mid-1990s, I turned to international relations, development economics and development at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex and the University of Oxford. Well before getting a doctorate, I was interested in the convergence of security and development and the ways in which practice seemed to be leading theory.
I suppose my real education was field experience more so than in the tower. I worked in West and East Africa during the early 1990s, having been invited by colleagues to help set-up projects on education and environmental protection. Throughout this period I worked with the United Nations (UN) and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The problem then, as now, was that development ground to a halt owing to prolific violence. The more I travelled, the more obvious it seemed that small arms availability was impeding development progress.
After stints in the US and Colombia in late 1990s, I was invited to Switzerland to help set-up a new think tank focused on tracking small arm and light weapons. Together with colleagues at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies we formed the Small Arms Survey. The idea was to promote transparency on all aspects of arms and ammunition production, stocks, trade, misuse and collection/destruction. Within a few years we were carrying out research in more than 100 countries, and as research director I had a chance to see our work translated into practical norms and rules in the UN and beyond.
Between 1999 and 2011 I had the good fortune of leading major research projects and helping design weapons collection and disarmament and demobilization programs with extraordinary partners around the world both inside and outside the UN. I've spent time in places like Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste in the South Pacific. I also oversaw household surveys in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand in Southeast Asia together with India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri-Lanka in South Asia as well as Brazil, Colombia, Central America, Haiti, Jamaica, and Peru in Latin America and the Caribbean. And I've spent a great deal of time working with governments and development agencies across Central, Eastern and Southern Africa.
Over the past few years I've switched gears to start finding ways to leverage progressive change in security and development both locally, and in international forums. For example, since 2012 Ive been advising the High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda. Likewise, I'm an advisor to the Global Safer Cities Network which works with 50 mayors to promote evidence-based public security policies. Ive also been working with the g7+ Secretariat, the UN Development Program (UNDP), the UN Peacebuilding Commission, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC), and the World Bank to promote more effective development work in so-called fragile states.
Closer to home, I helped set-up two new research and policy groups to push these and other agendas. Since 2011, I've overseen research at the Igarapé Institute - a think/do tank that works on progressive drug policy, violence reduction and international cooperation in Brazil and across Latin America and Africa. In addition to designing new apps and tools with the likes of Google, we also serve as the secretariat for the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which is chaired by former President Cardoso, Gaviria, and Zedillo and includes folks like Richard Branson and Kofi Annan. I am also the research director of the SecDev Foundation in Canada, a group that develops new technologies to promote safety and security around the world. Also, as a way of helping stimulate research from the North and South, I'm a co-founder and executive editor of Stability, an open access and peer review journal focused on security and development.
What are some of your teaching, research and current work projects
and how has your visit been with faculty and students?
My stay at the Joan B. Kroc School has been a rewarding experience. Not only has it allowed me to deepen some professional relationships with colleagues here in California, but it has offered space to take the measure of the last year and consider next steps. I've also been very interested to think about what might be called the "California model" of peacebuilding. There is such a rich (and I think still untapped) potential in this part of the world to push the envelope - not least in terms of technological and policy innovation and financing. I am reminded of how different the scene is here from, say, Geneva, Oslo, New York, or elsewhere.
While here, I've worked on a few project ideas. For example, some colleagues and I are thinking about ways to establish a small arms observatory that would focus on guns and groups across the Americas. The idea would be to explore the potential of Big Data to assess trends in manufacturing, retail, effects and the like. I've also been studying the record of gang truces - a major topic these days - including in Belize, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, the US and Trinidad and Tobago. We are asking whether these mediated agreements yield positive returns. I'm also looking into the rise of fragile cities and prospects for violence prevention and reduction, in Latin America, but also across Africa and the Middle East. It's also been great to interact with faculty but also with the MA students and interns.
While in San Diego I also took a little time to draft a few op-eds and articles. After visiting Sydney to give a keynote at a big conference of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross the future of humanitarian action, I put together a short piece called Wired Humanitarianism (Huffington Post, November 18, 2013). I also wrote a piece on How Disarmament in Africa Got More Complicated (Global Observatory, November 5, 2013) and another one on Megacities (ISN, 24 October, 2013) and Fragile Cities (e-IR, 23 November, 2013). Another academic article came out called Digitally enhanced violence prevention in the Americas (Stability, November 8, 2013), and many of these were cross-posted in the mainstream press and social media. There also should be a paper coming out on gang truces quite soon.
What are some short and long term thoughts for peace and justice?
There are many emerging trends that will profoundly reshape the direction and character of peace and justice in the twenty first century. And while some features of the aid landscape will stay the same, change is inevitable. It will be important that young scholars and practitioners are prepared for these shifts and look over the horizon. I will just limit my answer to three that stand out (to me):
The first trends relates to the transformation of organized violence. As I've discussed in various lectures while here, we are seeing a generalized decline in the frequency and intensity of armed conflicts. This is hardly news - research groups like the Human Security Report, SIPRI and Uppsala have signalled this for some years. But we are also seeing a concentration and intensification of criminal violence in some areas, notably Latin America and parts of Africa. These shifts are precipitating changes in the policy and practice of military, relief and development institutions.
A second relates to the rapid pace of urbanization, particularly in fragile states and cities. We will see two in three people living in cities by 2030. And by 2050 this will be four in five - most of whom will live in sprawling cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This is generating new opportunities, but also dilemmas. It is also encouraging a new kind of geopolitics wherein cities - especially the so-called c600 - become more important players. The expansion of new donors, aid agencies, and political players will also require a new way of thinking about security and development.
The third theme relates to technology, and in particularly new technologies such as social media and new hardware. We are in the middle of a technological revolution and it will have profound impacts on how we think about peace and justice. Big data and processing power will also transform aspects of the social sciences, with potentially massive impact on security and development promotion in the future. Many academics specializing in peace and justice are perhaps not as prepared as they could be. They need to engage with big data, remote sensing, crowd-sourcing, new ways of engaging beneficiaries, and ways to engage productively with “netizens" or "digital natives" as they are often called.
Do you have any advice for our faculty, students, alumni or community members?
I've learned many lessons about research and policy work over the last two decades, some of them the hard way. I suppose a few rule of thumbs that have served me well as a student and academic might include:
|1.||Go out in the "field", be prepared to be uncomfortable, and make mistakes|
|2.||Network, network, network and then network some more - these are your future professional contacts|
|3.||Learn more than two things - don't be straight-jacketed by your academic discipline|
|4.||Write, write, write and don't be afraid to publish - writing is learned, and only Orwell reached something that amounts to near perfection|
|5.||Be strategic, open and flexible and learn to live with, and grow to love, some measure of unpredictability|
|6.||Don’t be afraid to show passion and differentiate yourself from the crowd|
|7.||Start thinking about new technology and start playing with open software and visualization tools|
|8.||Think hard about a PhD - by all means do it, but be sure you are passionate about your subject|
|9.||Keep learning throughout your career - university is just the start, not the end, of your education|
|10.||Be sure to select a strong partner in your life - one who can support you in your journey|
Is there anything else you would like to share?
It's worth recalling that research on issues of peace and justice should be, to the extent possible, "action-oriented". Social scientists working on bettering the plight of victims and survivors or working to prevent and reduce violence must be invested not just in advancing theory, but also stimulating real changes for affected communities. There are many ways to do this. At the very least, the next generation of researchers would do well to explore more proactive ways of getting their findings out into the public domain. Academic articles are important, but information consumption habits are also transforming and researchers should explore video and new technologies in communicating their messages.