Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Hide and Seek, Libya Style

As some of you know, my job mostly involves giving Lego to kids.

The idea is to try and bring about behaviour change in the next generation, by influencing kids while they're still willing to change their ideas to adopt less violent behaviour. This responds to a widespread increase in violent and disruptive behaviour since the war, which teachers are struggling to manage.

My element of the programme works on armed violence reduction. We go into schools and give them talks about non-violent play, and about stopping playing with guns. Then we ask them to give up their toy guns and exchange them for Lego, which was kindly donated by the Lego Foundation (see: advantages of working for a Danish organisation). Another team works with the same schools on psycho-social support, providing schools with creative facilities to enable children to express themselves through creative activities, supporting schools to provide sporting opportunities, and other activities that support traumatised children to express themselves.

Quite how necessary this is was brought home to me by a recent trend in the weapons we're collecting. In the past, we've mostly got plastic guns, including a gorgeous gold model assault rifle. There was also a somewhat-concerning day when some kids brought in some twisted lumps of green metal and what turned out, after a rapid assessment by our demining guys, to be a smoke grenade. Lately though, kids have been bringing in knives which they play with. Apparently the standard game is a lot like hide and seek, except that when you're 'found' the 'seeker' waves a knife around and tells you you're dead. Seriously.

There have been a few kitchen knives, which one of my staff who is getting married soon requested for her new kitchen, and a bread knife which I swiped for the guesthouse. And there were these charming specimens, which read 'health' on the blade. The bottom one also says 'Free Libya' on the handle, and you can see the colouring of the Libyan flag on the blade.

'Are the kids still playing with knives?' is now pretty much my top project assessment question.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Antonio Banderas and the Misurata Katibas

So I decided to start blogging again, with Libya as the new inspiration, providing frequent opportunities to laugh, cry, and despair. Or, if you're a woman, to sit at home while other people laugh, cry, and despair. More on that later.

One of the main features of Libya at the moment is the proliferation of armed groups. There are the police. Apparently there's an army (or at least there are pictures of an army on twitter, which were greeted with widespread exclamations of 'We have an army?!' by my Libyan colleagues), militias (katibas) that fought in the war or have been formed since, and various low-level self-defence groups, jihadi groups, gangs and criminals. Of the Katibas, some have official roles performing specific public functions, and some don't. The lines between all of these categories are blurred.

All of this has rather serious consequences for the governance of Libya. I haven't been here long enough to even begin understanding all this, let alone commenting on  it. So I'll stick to what I know... which in this case, is survey design!

A survey I am currently analysing looks at weapons usage by different groups, gets around this by dividing armed actors into 'police/army', 'state armed groups', 'non-state armed groups', 'civilians', and 'others'. As went through, I began discussing with my team what was meant by all the terms, leading to the following conversation:

Lorgy: so what exactly do we mean by 'state armed groups'
A: in Libya right now, we have police and army, but they're very weak. So we have lots of armed groups that take on some of the roles of police, like preventing crime.
Lorgy: so you mean like Katibas that have been given particular roles by the local council?
A: exactly. Here in Misurata, they patrol areas to keep them safe or intervene if there are big problems, like Zorro.
Lorgy: Like Zorro?!
A: yes, they have the weapons and everyone respects them, so they can stop crime and solve problems, like Zorro.
Lorgy: Right...
A: and some of my friends who are in these groups always say to me that if we need anything they can help and they don't need money.
Lorgy: Er... thank you?

So there you have it. Katibas in Misurata are like Zorro.