Research Projects

Read about some of my research projects and fieldwork trips.

Assessing voter registration, Somaliland, 2016
Somaliland building

I was part of a 6-person team observing the year-long voter registration process in Somaliland. Hailed as the ‘most sophisticated’ registration in the world, it used iris-scanning to biometrically register all eligible voters. We observed registration across Somaliland, reviewing procedures and talking to registrants and officials about their experiences. I undertook the technical assessment of our review.

Read our final report here.

Researching identity verification and documentation, Somaliland, 2012-14

My doctoral research (SOAS, 2010-16) examined the development of biometric voter registration in Somaliland within the broader ‘architecture’ of identity verification, examining how these new technologies are backstopped by social practices of authentication that draw on genealogical histories and personal networks. I spent over six months in Hargeisa over multiple fieldwork trips, interviewing more than 100 politicians, civil servants, civil society leaders, administrators, students and shopkeepers.

Read my article about how IDs materialise Somaliland here.

Observing local council elections, Somaliland, 2012

A member of the international observer mission for the 2012 local council elections, I was deployed to Burco in central Somaliland, home of the early peace and reconciliation meetings that established the new republic in the early 1990s. In the company of one other observer, a driver and a special police protection officer, we saw beautiful countryside in search of remote polling stations, observing voting and counting from before dawn until almost midnight. The mission declared the elections relatively free and fair, noting that some technical and political issues from previous polls were still unaddressed, not least voter registration.

Read the mission report via this link.

Observing national elections, Sudan, 2009
Woman voting in South Sudan

In June 2009, I travelled to Sudan to join the Centre for Foreign Policy’s election observer mission. I was deployed to Bentiu, a small frontier town in what would become South Sudan, and a crucible for the tensions broiling beneath the surface of this landmark election.

Our team of four had a challenging time: initially billeted in a hotel used by the SNLM for R&R, we were evacuated (for the first time) to a WHO compound. When we heard that disgruntled and riled up factions were operating in the area, we were evacuated a second time – this time by helicopter – to a small airfield, to await return to Khartoum. We were nonetheless able to observe a great many polling places and produce valuable data on the quality of election management in rural areas.

Upon reconvening in the capital city, we discovered that a volcano in Iceland had erupted and the whole of Europe was grounded! Whilst we waited the resumption of international flights, we were treated to a tour of nearby archaeological sites by the tourism board. Unfortunately our bad luck prevailed and the coach broke down in the scorching desert, miles from the nearest road. As one of the smallest in the group, I was able to have some shelter at least – under the bus, whilst digging out the wheels!

Read my analysis of Sudan’s election here.

Synthesising the lessons of faultline management, 2009-10
Western Wall in Jerusalem

I was invited to join a project run by the Brenthurst Foundation to examine the dynamics of state-building and ‘faultline’ management, reviewing 30 case studies of acute conflict and chronic contestation. Three workshops in Italy, Israel and South Africa brought together an extraordinary group of leading academics, policymakers, politicians, and NGO workers. I was a rapporteur, co-authoring the meeting minutes; I also delivered a paper on Sudan and South Sudan, which was published as a chapter in the resulting volume, edited by Jeffrey Herbst, Terence McNamee and Greg Mills, called On the Fault Line: Managing Tensions and Divisions within Societies (London: Profile Books, 2012).

Read my chapter here.