How Making Peace Became an Instrument of War.

Long read


David Nyheim, Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner and Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta).

Before going any further, there is an assumption that underpins this think-piece and which needs some elaboration. And that is a commonly shared belief that peace-making and peace-building are (among many) soft power instruments. “Soft power” is a term coined by Joseph Nye in the 1980s, which is “the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion”. Many who have read Nye’s 1990 book, “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power” will recognise that the notion of “soft power” goes back by about 2400 years to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, making where we’re now at perhaps unsurprising. The evidence of how these particular instruments are part of soft power is seen in the foreign policy of several countries, including my own (Norway), where peace-making and peace-building are integral to the projection of foreign policy influence.

So what are the threads that have led to the entanglement of peace work into war-making?

The first thread, as mentioned, started with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The collapse of the Soviet Union and bipolar order saw a rise in civil conflicts across the world, including the Yugoslav wars (1991-2001), Somali war (1991-today), Georgian civil war (1991-1993), Rwandan civil war (1990-1994), and Chechen wars (1994-1996 and 1999-2009), to mention but a few. Intelligence services and military in the West and former Soviet republics realised that Cold War intelligence methods were inadequate to understand the dynamics of these conflicts. They became increasingly interested in (and wary of) the work of NGOs and universities involved in conflict early warning (part of the peace-building toolbox). Organisations such as Forum on Early Warning and Early Response (FEWER) were approached by intelligence agencies and had their activities monitored. There were several direct collaboration initiatives between intelligence and (particularly US) academia, including the State Failure Task Force (later Political Instability Task Force). This work was part of what led to the rise of Open Source Intelligence (the securitised twin of conflict early warning) (OSINT); an important tool in governmental efforts to monitor and analyse civil conflicts and a strategic addition (initially) to traditional intelligence gathering.

The second thread followed 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. While the initial toppling of the Taliban and defeat of Sadam Hussein’s military forces was swift, Allied forces quickly began to lose the peace. “Winning hearts and minds” became an important element in the battle for stability and Allied strategists turned to soft power for answers. A key soft power instrument became Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). First deployed in Afghanistan in 2001 by the United States government, PRTs consist of military officers, diplomats, and reconstruction experts, who work to support reconstruction and stabilise in unstable areas. PRTs (also known as stabilisation teams) were later deployed to Iraq and carried out activities that are typically seen in peace-building and conflict-sensitive area-based development projects. The main difference being that PRT activities are carried out in conjunction with military forces and aligned to military objectives. A close association was formed, therefore, between developmental actors, peace-builders, and humanitarian workers – who were doing PRT work – and perceived (and actual) occupying forces in the eyes of the population and insurgents.

Some of the many challenges that emerge from the alignment of peace work to military objectives surfaced in a small perception survey conducted in 2012 byMona Chalabi, one of our talented ECAS Junior Associates at the time, across several governorates in Iraq. It was focused on ordinary Iraqi’s experiences of stabilisation. Among her findings was a perception by a majority of respondents that the greatest personal security threat during the occupation was posed by Allied forces, not by insurgents. That finding raises the question of how effective you can be in bringing sustainable peace and security to an area when you are seen as the principal threat; doing what some bluntly refer to “peace-building at gunpoint”.  Related to this is a compromise on neutrality and the view of some insurgent groups and governments that organisations involved in peace-building and reconstruction are extensions of hostile soft power, and therefore legitimate military targets.

The third thread emerged with the colour revolutions in former Soviet republics and was strengthened by the Arab Spring. The significance of the Rose Revolution (Georgia, 2003), Orange Revolution (Ukraine, 2005), Pink Revolution (Kyrgyzstan, 2005), and social upheaval in several other former Soviet republics was of course not lost on Russia. Inspired, some will say by the work ofGene Sharpe on non-violent resistance, the colour revolutions prompted Russian military strategists to develop what is known as the Makarov Doctrine (see more about this below), and the Russian state to develop methods to manage “street politics” and tighten control of foreign funded civil society groups in Russia.

The Arab Spring (2010-2012) that came after the colour revolutions, saw the extensive use of social media to plan and execute demonstrations, thwart government counter-measures, and sway public opinion. It is seen by many in intelligence, diplomatic and military circles as the time when OSINT (conflict early warning’s securitised twin mentioned above) shifted from a strategic addition to traditional intelligence, to become an important tactical and operational tool. The events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen showed that it had become possible to follow and support popular revolt in real time and by remote with tactically relevant information (e.g. how to counter the use of aerial surveillance of gatherings by burning tires). The hard power applications of soft power instruments came sharply into focus.

The final and most recent thread was the execution of Russian hybrid warfare strategy (the Makarov Doctrine) in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. In February 2010, President Dmitry Medvedev signed what was later referred to as the Makarov Doctrine (named after former Chief of the General Staff Army-General Nikolai Makarov) otherwise known as Russia’s hybrid warfare (or non-linear warfare) strategy. Explained by Makarov’s successor, Valery Gerasimov, “a perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months or even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war.” This, he said, could be done by combining “political, economic, informational, humanitarian”, and other soft power instruments with “the protest potential of the population”. Some will say that the strategy was executed by Russia in Crimea in 2014, leading to the annexation of the peninsula without any major military confrontation, and followed by the destabilisation of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.

Whereas Western soft power use in Afghanistan and Iraq was focused on winning the peace after military confrontation, Russian innovation was the deployment of soft power instruments from the very beginning and throughout a military campaign to great effect. And herein lies the fundamental challenge.  These soft power instruments (political, economic, informational, humanitarian) now used for war-making are also at the core of the peace-making and peace-building toolbox.

So there. That is the story, then, of how the securitisation of peace happened, and how making and building of peace is increasingly becoming an instrument of war. For those involved in peace work, the key question is now how we do our work when our methods are also used to wage war?

So what’s the photograph? It is a snapshot of a slide from a presentation we recently gave to Chinese policy makers and think tanks on the securitisation of conflict prevention. It was the conclusion of a UK-China dialogue on conflict prevention, organised by Saferworld, and funded by the UK’s Department for International Development. It summarises the seven threads (yes – there are three more) that got making peace entangled with waging war. If you want to learn more about the photograph, the other three threads, or our work, just get in touch.

Centre for the Arts of Doing Something about It


Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

On Saturday I visited the most excellent Take this hammer (Art + Media Activism from the Bay Area)at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Take this hammer is about everything you want an exhibition to be. YBCA is in the City Centre, but us Europeans need to remember that American cities centres are not privileged areas, and San Francisco’s is definitely not. It is an area filled with misery, homelessness and addictions. It is important to point out as showing Take this hammer is a Westminster-like area would be, at the very least, cynical.


The  exhibition starts with a funny take on the ever growing tech-industry, in the form of a catchy video/song called Google Apps Apps, by PERSIA featuring Daddie$ Pla$tik. It sets the tone of the exhibition as a show where the most serious matters are presented, if not with humour, at least with a form of playfulness. It is also a tribute to the LGBT and Drag culture of San Francisco. Nonetheless, I’m unsure whether a still from the video is the best way to advertise the exhibition. As much as it is a good start for the whole narrative, it is not the most powerful piece and by being so representative of the image of San Francisco which is exported, it is perhaps the least iconoclast, or radical.

One of the most interesting aspects of the show as a whole resides in its use of technology. The tech industry in the Valley is sucking life out of the city, not only by creating gentrification and in doing so provoking evictions, as the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project shows, but also by avoiding taxes.

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project


Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All


Events which are not necessarily visible unless made public by newspapers are here the object of performances, installations and interactive experiences. Technology is used to highlight the effects of gentrification and violence. The website Out of Sight, Out of Mind, by Pitch Interactive, is turned into an installation. It shows the secret strikes carried out by the US in Pakistan – those two countries are not even officially at war. The show goes seamlessly from domestic to foreign dehumanising policies. In fact, the Anti-eviction Mapping Project, where you can navigate the computer to read the stories of the evicted individuals, is not too far from the Out of Sight, Out of Mind process of showing the stories of the victims of drones.

However, one the most striking pieces of the exhibition was for me, by far, the Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History. It creates doubt – “I thought Guantanamo was still open?!” – anger – why is this place taking so long to shut down? – hope.

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History,

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History,

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History,

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History,

The whole internet is moved – and rightly so – by the profound, systematic and bureaucratic injustice of an affair like the one depicted in Making a Murderer yet Guantanamo prison has been carrying illegal detention for 15years. If you want to be cynical, at least, Steven Avery got a trial. Guantanamo prison is dehumanising, illegal, illegitimate, it’s a disgrace.

If I describe these conditions without permitting my indignation to interfere, I have lifted this particular phenomenon out of its context in human society and have thereby robbed it of part of its nature, deprived it of one of its important inherent qualities.

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Picturing it as “passed future” is highly radical because it does not simply criticise the project, it also questions the responsibility of the public in bringing an end to it. And this is why this show, even in the imperative form of its title, “Take this hammer” is so powerful: it does not only points out what’s wrong or shows what activists are doing. In another post I will talk about strategies and tactics in art, activism and public art. By making struggles visible these artworks engage with the public: you can take a poster of one of the victims of police violence and colour it, rehumanise it, because #Blacklivesmatter.

You can take a postcard of an imprisoned woman with her portrait at the front and her story at the back. You can take the message home, and it is made possible mainly by technology. All the projects have a website where you can contribute one way or another – I will post each website in the coming week, so keep posted. It doesn’t stay in the white cube.



Art of Peace exhibition and events – paid commission for an actor/performer/dancer

Short read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

We are looking for a UK-based actor/performer/dancer for a paid commission as part of the most exciting project you’ll hear about this year!

Artraker is organising a series of events as part of the next Art of Peace exhibition, which will showcase the winners of Artraker 2016 Award in January 2017 in Central London.

We are looking for artists to perform and interpret political speeches related to war. Speeches have been chosen but the performance could take any form!

You will be paid and get a contract, as well as access to the Artraker network, a vibrant community of artists and policymakers.

Mohammed Kabir, 105 and some soldiers tend to the garden created by Kabir for their benefit. 'I'm a poor man but can live without food as long as I am surrounded by greenery and flowers,' he says. He attributes his youthful looks to working with nature. ‘Green is happiness, green is peace. Who doesn’t like that?' the soldiers say. Once considered to be a ‘City of Gardens’ nestled in the breadbasket of Central Asia, Kabul is struggling to define itself as a developing modern city in a maelstrom of pollution, traffic, road construction and security checkpoints not to mention the occasional insurgent attack and ongoing instability. But behind the razor wire and ten foot high walls of private residences are verdant serenities, a world a way from the bedlam outside as Afghans continue to keep the garden tradition alive.

Lalage Snow, “Paradise Lost”, photographs, 2010. Mohammed Kabir, 105 and some soldiers tend to the garden created by Kabir for their benefit.
‘I’m a poor man but can live without food as long as I am surrounded by greenery and flowers,’ he says. He attributes his youthful looks to working with nature.
‘Green is happiness, green is peace. Who doesn’t like that?’ the soldiers say.
Once considered to be a ‘City of Gardens’ nestled in the breadbasket of Central Asia, Kabul is struggling to define itself as a developing modern city in a maelstrom of pollution, traffic, road construction and security checkpoints not to mention the occasional insurgent attack and ongoing instability. But behind the razor wire and ten foot high walls of private residences are verdant serenities, a world a way from the bedlam outside as Afghans continue to keep the garden tradition alive.

Please send us an email at margaux(at), we look forward to hearing from you.

Native American Restorative Justice


Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

On Monday I attended a “home seminar” given by Maria Arpa and organised by curator Marina Wallace. While Maria specialises in interpersonal relations her expertise ranges from gang violence to divorces via business disputes. It was very enlightening and we are now trying to find a way to link this with Artraker’s work.

Maria insisted on “restoring harmony” and is inspired by and trained in non-violent communication as developed by Marshall Rosenberg. A lot of what she talked about, however, echoed my very limited knowledge of Navajo Restorative Justice. Navajos are a native people of America, who have a “horizontal” justice system. Instead of having the figure of the judge enunciating the law and the verdict, “In Native American and First Nation justice philosophy and practice, healing, along with reintegrating individuals into their community, is more important than punishment.”(source: It means that the actions are judged, but not the individuals.

The contemporary language would call “resilience” what Navajos call “healing”: I read in a French magazine that while most native nations would pray for the rain in times of drought, Navajos would pray for the knowledge on how to live without rain (source: Géo, January 2015) and harmony.

“Anglo law is all about rules and principles,” said [James] Zion, whereas in Indian justice the process is very important. Disputes are resolved not by rules but by the idea of relationships.”


This is another lead for creativity and peacemaking that I would like to explore! There is a lot of spirituality in Navajo peacemaking but do you think its central concepts could be developed for much larger disputes  – as in, trans/international conflicts?


Lost in translation

Short read


Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

I have been thinking and reading about the politics of translation lately, by which I mean both Gayatri Spivak’s article and the concept of translation as serving a greater agenda. I love translating, because it is halfway between interpretation and creativity, something that I find in my academic work. Being part of Artraker I have been looking into what research had been carried out regarding peacemaking and translation, or translating as peacemaking and conflict prevention. I have not found much – but if you do know sources please send them my way!

Nevertheless if translating has a creative scope, which I am sure it has, and creativity should be part of peace processes, which is what we are trying to work on here at Artraker, then translating is perhaps more than a simple tool for negotiations. In other words, translation is not simply a technology.

We know how mistranslations can put even more pressure on diplomatic processes. We also know how some spectators were angry at Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, claiming it is a racist film. While I do not deny anyone the legitimacy to see racism in the reproduction of stereotypes by the film, I think it is a bit unfair, for in my mind what the film is about is how the characters see Japan and Japanese people – not how they are. Bob is cynical and Charlotte is naïve. Japanese people appear to them as exuberant aliens. Even though the main protagonists are endearing, I also saw there a criticism of Americans showing up and not making any effort to understand a foreign culture. Charlotte, who sees herself as an intellectual type, cannot communicate with the American actress who introduces herself as “arexic”. Bob cannot communicate with his wife who only speaks of carpet colours. These are stereotypes as well.

There is that moment, quite memorable, where Bob is shooting an ad for a brand of whisky. The director gives instructions for 15min and the interpreter translate it into a minuscule sentence. It sums up, in my view, Bob and Charlotte’s experience of Japan: they are surrounded by an extremely rich, ancient but also highly modern – from the point of view of technology – culture, and all they get from it, is screaming tv shows and karaoke. We should be careful about where the stereotypes lie: in the intent of the film or in Bob and Charlotte’s minds?

Nevertheless, spectators are also interpretors – Lost in Translation‘s final scene is one of the biggest mysteries of 21st century’s cinema! – and so are translators. Translation is a fascinating work in which the text has to speak by/for itself. I think there might be something really relevant for peacemaking processes and I will try to write more about it.


Rithy Panh: The Missing Picture

Short read

Solenn Delesvaux, Teacher of French as a foreign language in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Sculptures from The Missing Picture, by Rithy Panh

Sculptures from The Missing Picture, by Rithy Panh

It was last September. Sitting on the edge of the stage, small, bearded, his two bare feet hanging in space in the front of a crowded screening room, Rithy Panh was answering the public after the projection of his last movie, The Missing Picture.

Pictures indeed lack to point the horror that involved every family of the country during the days the Angkar (the Red Khmers’ regime) made disappear one person out of five for the sake of a society pictured as agrarian between 1975 and 1979. There are only a few archived pictures left by the executioners, those of a rotten propaganda. The individual who is filming sometimes stays a little longer on a position, recording unwanted information, one of those that would have scratched the regime. These are the small nuggets Rithy Panh thoroughly looked for during his research at Bophana Centre, now showing these pictures chopped off by censorship, attesting a sort of resistance or perhaps awareness among the executioners.

Small terra cotta characters are modeled, carved out then naively painted under the sight of a fixed camera. Figurines awake in the 60s surrounded by the sound of Khmer rock that Phnom Penh is nowadays trying to rehabilitate in one of the city’s bar (The Cloud). However, little by little as the characters cover themselves with black clothes, an outfit imposed by the regime, people fatefully start to disappear one after another in a succession of crossfading. Irremediably left alone, the young main character grabs his face with his hands, his eyes left wide open with horror.

The story takes another dimension when, carefully wrapped in the storyteller’s bashfulness, we get to know the identity of the man who let himself starve to death or the identity of this young child who cries on her bench for hours before kissing the silence forever. We come closer to the director, moving on tip-toes. What should we think of these children denunciating their parents believing they were doing the right thing, mutating right away into executioners? What should we say about the scheduled disappearance of any familial ties?

Rithy Panh gave birth to this movie for his people, both in a restraint and large meaning, for his loved ones slaughtered by the ideological machine as well as for the younger Cambodian generations confronted to their family’s silence, some people refusing to recall their memories on atrocities, others perhaps having too much to hide.

The conference is leading to its end. The small man’s bare feet still swing with nonchalance; he looks terribly at ease in this intimidating position, sitting in front of nearly a hundred pairs of eyes. He confesses the picture he misses the most. It will be the picture of his two parents in an advanced age, by his side.


Why War After Paris is Misguided and Peace Is Becoming (Almost) Impossible

Long read

Photo by Peter Albrecht

Photo by Peter Albrecht

David Nyheim, Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner and Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta).

France, Lebanon, Iraq, Nigeria and Mali experienced devastating terrorist attacks this month; 130 dead in France, 41 in Beirut, 26 in Bagdad, 9 in Maiduguri, and 19 victims in Bamako. Hollande’s declaration of war on Daesh and extremist groups in the Sahel means an intensification of on-going French military operations, alongside those of the US, UK, their allies in the Middle East, and Russia. Civilian fatalities from these operations are also high (for example, about 2,500 civilian fatalities since Saudi Arabia started its airstrikes and operations in Yemen; the deaths of “thousands of civilians” from Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria) and bound to breed more misery and hatred.

Many peacemakers are calling for restraint after the Paris attacks and for a formulation by our leaders of a vision for Europe that is united in its diversity.Others urge the many communities that make up Europe to instigate and promote a culture of peace from within and actively reach to others across religious, social, and ethnic divides. This is indeed important and must be part of a European (and Lebanese, Iraqi, Malian, Nigerian) peace-making agenda. However, a focus on a culture of peace and bridging divides is not enough and peacemakers may need to engage political leaders more robustly on the on-going military counter-terrorism response. We should also pick up the search mirror and understand how some of the profound ongoing changes in warfare and violent conflict will affect the effectiveness of peace-making at a global level in the years to come.

Let’s start with Hollande’s declaration of war against Daesh. If the aim of this war is to reduce terrorist threats to civilian populations around the world, then consider what such war really entails. These days fatalities from war, of course, are mostly civilian – so de facto, you’re killing civilians to protect civilians, which is nonsensical and shameful. But that aside, it is also counter-productive because destabilised and war-affected countries are easy places to run and grow armed (political, criminal, extremist – you name it) groups. War is destabilising and war-affected countries tend to be unstable for a long time; most countries at war today are so because they were at war in the past. So waging war as we are doing in Syria and other places is not threat-reducing, it is more of a long-term threat-multiplying strategy. There is surprisingly little to be heard on this from (particularly Western) peace-making and peace-building organisations.

Now for two other on-going tectonic shifts that will fundamentally affect the effectiveness of peace-making over the next few years. Both are discussed in greater depth in a report I recently wrote for Saferworld, a forward-thinking peace-building NGO in the United Kingdom.

The first is that the tools of making peace are well on their way to becoming instruments of war. In an article for Russian defence journal VPK, General Valery Gerasimov (Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces) wrote in early 2013 that war and peace are becoming more blurred and“methods of conflict [now involve] the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian and other non-military measures”. Unlike NATO and Western efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq to “win hearts and minds” and “win the peace” after the invasions there, Russia has successfully deployed the soft power toolbox in Ukraine before troops were deployed and then throughout hostilities. As this approach to warfare gains further traction, the dilemma for peacemakers is critical; how do you make peace in contexts when the tools you typically use to do so are part of a war-making effort?

The second is that the nature of war has changed and we’re now dealing with ‘hybrid conflicts’. In a simple review of 53 countries affected by widespread societal violence (i.e. different levels of violent conflict), I found that 35% (19) of them were affected by three or more forms of (often inter-connected) violent conflict: political, criminalised, extremist, and/or environmental and climate change driven. I define these “hybrid conflicts” in the Saferworld paper as “violent conflicts or situations of widespread violence where elements of grievance, greed, and/or extremism are intertwined – and where climate changes may play a role”. Why is this important? Well, there are significant differences, to oversimplify, between making peace between opposing groups that are mainly motivated by political aims, and doing so between criminal groups driven by financial interest. We certainly are not equipped to do the latter, let alone do so well when group identities and motivations (and conflict issues) are even more mixed up.

What this means is that in the absence of (or willingness to) influence, peacemakers have to prepare for the knock-on effects of military responses to acts of terror, look hard at the successful execution of hybrid warfare strategy and the rise of hybrid conflicts, and re-think how we go about our work.

So what’s the photograph? It is a recent picture of a search mirror (used when poking your head over the compound wall is ill-advised) by one of our good friends, Peter Albrecht, during his time in Garowe (Puntland, Somalia). We like it as it conveys the current posture of peace support operations in hybrid conflict areas and of many of today’s peacemakers in relation to intensified military action in countries affected by religious extremism. Aside from being a great photographer, Peter writes insightful analysis and you can access some of his recent thinking on peace-keeping in Somalia in DIIS policy briefs. If you want to learn more about the photograph or our work, just get in touch with Peter or myself.

Talking about gender and corruption in Morocco

Interview, Long read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

While I was in Morocco last month I met with a member of an amateur theatre company in Casablanca.  Youssef and his company set up plays which belong to the tradition of the theatre of the oppressed. Theatre of the oppressed, imagined by Augusto Boal in Brazil and imported to Europe when a wave of South-Americans activists reached Europe, fleeing dictatorships, follows a particular method of playwriting and acting.

Theatre of the Oppressed was born in 1971, in Brazil, under the very young form of Newspaper Theatre , with the specific goal of dealing with local problems – soon, it was used all over the country. Forum Theatre came into being in Peru, in 1973, as part of a Literacy Program; we thought it would be good only for South America– now it is practiced in more than 70 countries. Growing up, TO developedInvisible Theatre in Argentina, as political activity, and Image Theatre to establish dialogue among Indigenous Nations and Spanish descendants, in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico… Now these forms are being used in all kinds of dialogues.


Theatre of the Oppressed is the Game of Dialogue: we play and learn together. All kinds of Games must have Discipline – clear rules that we must follow. At the same time, Games have absolute need of creativity and Freedom. TO is the perfect synthesis between the antithetic Discipline and Freedom.Without Discipline, there is no Social Life; without Freedom, there is no Life.

Source: Theatre of the oppressed

It leaves room for debates at the end of the play, with an actor – the joker- in charge of moderation. Youssef, who is a professor of philosophy by day, tells me that it is a process close to Socrates’ maieutics. Discussions allow people to formulate their thoughts and ideas. Ultimately it leads spectators to become aware of their conditions of existence.

One could think that in a monarchy where religious parties have gained more seats in the most recent elections, the main problem would be censorship. In fact, it is not. There is a lot of self-censorship and of concern about what is decent with regards to religion and the King.

Youssef tells me that even radical movements believe in the legitimacy of the King. This is not solely due to the fact that a republican party would be anticonstitutional and thus ineligible. The highest claim made by the movement of the 20th February – Morocco’s “Arab Spring” – was to ask for a parliamentary monarchy. This is what the press calls the Moroccan exception because the people still believe in the right of the King to be here.

The theatre of the oppressed tries to set up space for discussion. In Morocco, actions aimed directly at the government would be pointless and ineffective. Firstly they would be censored immediately and the activists likely arrested – Moroccan rapper Lhaked was arrested for instance for taking part in the movement of the 20th February. Secondly they would not have any effects, for the mentalities need to change in the first instance. There is no point challenging the system if most of the population believes in the legitimacy of this form of political organisation. Ultimately, people will have to decide, but space for discussion and exchange needs to be made.

« B7al B7al », played in Agadir, October 2015. Source:

« B7al B7al », played in Agadir, October 2015.

Youssef’s company is usually commissioned by organisations to address discussions such as women’s rights, corruption, paedophilia, etc. Drawing from real life testimonies, they write a play, show it and discuss it with the audience. They play on the street or in a designated public space, but it does not always go as planned. Even subjects such as immigration are censored in times of elections. However, whenمسرح المحڭو writes  and show a play about the life of Moroccan women, based on real life events, people were not responsive or willing to talk about it. Morality, gender, the family are still sensitive subjects. However the play about corruption, a problem being fought at the moment by governmental campaigns, was a success.

It is a paradox: will people be happy to discuss women issues when it is a problem in the eyes of the government? The sentiment people have towards the King is ambivalent, dialectical, says Youssef. Mohammed VI’s photo is omnipresent, making the king look to be omnipotent. He is the pater familias, the “father of the family”. Theatre could be the space for another form of power, one that is not patriarchal, paternalistic and centralised, one which would come from the civil society. It was envisioned as such by Augusto Boal, as a way for people to realise their conditions of existence. Theatre of the oppressed need to carry out plays until they are not needed anymore.

Artraker mentioned in a report on Early warning and response to violent conflict

Long read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

David Nyheim, Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner and Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta), has mentioned the name of Artraker in a report he wrote for a project on conflict prevention. This project  “aims to stimulate debate on this topic and to provide the international community with food for thought about the future of early warning systems”.

As part of a project designed to facilitate dialogue on conflict prevention between China and the UK, Saferworld’s Conflict Prevention Working Group (CPWG) have been examining different approaches to conflict prevention, including upstream conflict prevention, crisis response and early warning.

Within China, experience and knowledge relating to early warning is comparatively undeveloped, yet it is an emerging area in which China is expressing increasing interest. For this reason, the CPWG has begun to explore whether and how early warning systems might act as an entry through which China-UK dialogue and cooperation on conflict prevention could focus.

The author suggests why we need to question the effectiveness of current early warning and response systems, and proposes recommendations for how these vital instruments and mechanisms can be strengthened.

The Afterword, by Dr Xue Lei, addresses the prospect for China-UK cooperation in early warning, and conflict prevention more broadly, and outlines some of the different levels at which China-UK cooperation could take place. It acknowledges that whilst this form of partnership would not be without obstacles, the two countries would benefit from working together towards shared goals for peace and stability.

Click here to read the report.


Guernica – a platform for conflict artists

Short read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

I took part in #peacehackLdn, a hackathon for peace organised by International Alert in London. If you’re unfamiliar with what a hackathon is, this is the definition given by Wikipedia:

A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development and hardware development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects.

It means you spend two days locked up in a room and try and end up with an app or a  software. In this case, we had to adress the theme of violent extremism.

This was our proposal on saturday morning:

With a team of developers we worked on that platform for conflict artists, which we called Guernica in reference to the famous painting by Picasso, deemed the most universal manifesto against war:


Guernica, Picasso, 1937, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Guernica, Picasso, 1937, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

The idea for the platform relies on two concepts: fairtrade and counter-narrative. In terms of visual we are aiming for a simple design such as Patreon or Hiive. It should be fairly light so that people in conflict zones don’t have to wait for the page to load.

We want artists from conflict zones to be able to do the job they want in their home country – if they want to. It means that if you’re a client, instead of commissionning a Western Artist, you can find one in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, to do the same job. Artists can make a profile, get commissioned and paid via bitcoin. They can also create crowdfunding projects. This job or project might be a photo-essay on Palestine on an advertising campaign for TFL.

Khartoon: A satirical take on power by Khalid Albaih. Source:

Khartoon: A satirical take on power by Khalid Albaih. Source:

If you indeed need a story on Gaza, why not ask a Palestinian photographer? This is about the counternarrative aspect. In the meantime, artists need visibility to get work and to be safe in authoritarian countries: it protects them to have a “fan base”. Counter-narrative is also about freedom of speech.

We got a lot done but we’re still working on it! Tell us what you think so that we can make it better. For instance, do we need to limit countries? Are there other possibilities than bitcoin?