Busara Center for Behavioral Economics

Press release

New book marks unprecedented Busara collaboration

(Nairobi) - February 7, 2023

Busara is announcing the publication of the book, Lives Amid Violence: Transforming Development in the Wake of Conflict, written by Busara’s Vice President Mareike Schomerus, published by Bloomsbury, and freely available thanks to an open access license. The book’s publication also marks an unprecedented collaboration between Busara’s academic and artistic talents: opening and ending with poems written by the organization’s communications expert, Michael Onsando.

“I knew that Michael is devoted to creating poetry. His poetry collection had just come out and so I was reading some of his poems and was blown away by Qanta, which seemed to poetically sum up the argument of the book I was just finishing to write. For me, it took years and many pages to develop that argument—and there it was, summed up in a few lines of poetry,” said Mareike Schomerus, Busara’s Vice President.

Lives Amid Violence uses ten years of research in conflict-affected countries including Afghanistan, South Sudan, and others to seek answers to the question of how international actors can support countries ravaged by violent conflict to transition into more peaceful times. The book argues that despite long-term and costly efforts to end violence, international development in violent contexts has had disappointing results and fails to prevent violence from recurring because practitioners adhere to a mental model that emphasizes linearity, certainty, and causality. In reality, none of these elements exist perfectly within conflict.

Yet this mental model assumes that violence is best addressed through work plans that deliver statebuilding, stabilization and services. The book grapples with the problematic needs in international development to pin down exactly what a supporting program needs to look like to work—with very little room for flexibility, adaptation and a much broader imagination of what is possible. The book ends with the suggestion to expand the currently dominant mental models–to, essentially, change the story.

This suggestion is captured in the poem “Stories” that closes the book.


It’s people who tell stories.
It’s people to whom stories are told.

People, the tellers of stories,
tell stories to other people.

People, told stories, tell stories.
Stories told, get retold.

What the tellers are told,become the stories that take hold.

But it’s people who tell the stories.
– And it’s people to whom stories are told.

Tell a different story.

Michael Onsando, whose poetry collection, The Perilous Journey to the Edge of My Nose, is published by Down River Road explains how he understood the brief to write ‘Stories’: “This work made me think about how much power the prevailing narrative has and how much potential for change exists in work that looks at how we look at things.”

Michael Ross, professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, praises Lives Amid Violence as “a profoundly important book – one that brilliantly and compassionately disrupts decades of conventional wisdom. Anyone who studies, or cares about, the survival and well-being of people who live in the midst of violent conflict will benefit from its remarkable breadth, attention to ethical nuance, and political wisdom.”

According to Gary Milante, programme director at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the book is “a personal piece, written with the author’s voice and informed by the author’s experience, yet readers will find it applies nearly universally in the most challenging places where they work. I expect this book will become a staple, kept handy by development professionals who want to have real impact.”

Bloomsbury, the London-based publishing house—known globally as the home of the Harry Potter phenomenon—has recently invested heavily in strengthening its academic publishing. This Busara collaboration between research and poetry looks to bring some magic – and more importantly, hope – back to difficult debates on international engagement in conflict countries.

For more information, contact:
Michael Onsando, Manager Voice and Impact (English; Swahili)
Mobile: +254(0)-727-703-794
Email: [email protected]

Mareike Schomerus, Vice President (English) Mobile: +44-20-8133-6883
Email: [email protected]