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  1. The literary festival opened with a bang. Nuruddin Farah, a spry, 68-year-old writer whose permanent expression seems to be one of quizzical amusement, delivered a speech in which he chided Somali society for its harshness, from the violence men routinely inflict on women to the blows parents casually rain down upon children."Because there is no loving communication, Somalis live in secret, separate universes where they do not share what is bothering them, and therefore no one can offer them solutions," said Farah, whose novelsoften have a strong feminist message. Other societies have already gone through similar stages in their histories, he said, and education had changed them. It is time Somalis did likewise. "I love Somalia; I'm proud to be a Somali," said Farah, who fled his home country in the 1960s and now divides his time between South Africa and the United States, "but let us unlearn the things that make us cruel."It was a characteristically challenging opener to a thought-provoking event. The effect on the audience was galvanizing. One young woman politely queried whether Farah wasn't indulging in a bit of gratuitous Somalia-bashing. A veteran local journalist took issue with the list of derogatory terms Farah had cited as examples of contemptuous male attitudes to the opposite sex, reading out a list of alternative, affectionate terms -- "my darling," "my sister," "my love" -- to loud clapping.Then an elderly doctor unexpectedly raised the subject of female genital mutilation (FGM), a topic Farah tackled in his controversial 1970 classic,From a Crooked Rib. The doctor said he had found the novel so explicit that he had been unable to finish it. FGM, he argued, is in fact no worse than male circumcision, recognized as an effective means of protecting against disease. At this, Edna Adan Ismail, a former foreign minister of Somaliland and the feisty founder of a Hargeisa hospital that often deals with birth complications caused by FGM, could not contain herself. "I'm sorry, but I have to speak," she said, rising regally to her feet. "In male circumcision, no organ is excised. An organ is excised in female circumcision." Cue thunderous applause from women in the audience, with some men awkwardly joining in.Surveying a hall now alight with excited opinion, abuzz with conversation, Farah gave a mischievous smile. "I am very happy that the debate has started in Hargeisa," he said.This event, the Hargeysa International Book Fair, has transformed during the seven years of its existence from a two-day experiment of book presentations, music, and readings for children into a weeklong cultural celebration, attracting as many as 1,200 professionals, university students, high school pupils, and unemployed youth to its events. Arguably the Horn of Africa's most lively intellectual forum, it is the brainchild of two members of the Somali diaspora, Jama Musse Jama, a former mathematics professor who recently gave up his job in Pisa, Italy, to focus exclusively on the festival, and Ayan Mahamoud, a former social worker who also runs a Somali cultural week in London each year. The two were brought together by their shared belief that art and culture are the best ways of uniting people and their concern that Somali traditions are in danger of being engulfed by Western influences. The capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland, located to the northwest of Somalia, Hargeisa is not, at first glance, the most obvious location for an international book fair. The capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland, located to the northwest of Somalia, Hargeisa is not, at first glance, the most obvious location for an international book fair. A sun-blasted city of 800,000 inhabitants sprawling across thorn tree-studded plains, it may have witnessed a flurry of recent, diaspora-funded construction, from glass-fronted office buildings to trendy cafes to air-conditioned gyms, but it still has the feel of a ramshackle market town: charming, perhaps a tad dull. The wandering livestock clustered at the foot of traffic islands and snoozing under parked lorries are a reminder of the Somali community's nomadic roots -- there's still a lively local camel market -- while the donkey-drawn water tanks trotting alongside the four-wheel drives hint at just how much work still needs to be done to restore an infrastructure shattered by the war that ripped apart the Somali nation-state in the 1980s. The torn plastic flapping from shrubs (litter from the bags used to wrap bundles of euphoria-inducing khat) betrays how so many local men choose to escape the humdrum -- not reading, but chewing with their friends during afternoon-long bonding sessions.For invited writers, who often find that their travel insurance doesn't cover them for this destination, Hargeisa is not the easiest of cities to get to. Visitors fly in via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, or Nairobi, Kenya, spending long hours in transit. Given the region's porous borders and the proximity of the militant group al-Shabab, still locked in combat with African Union peacekeeping troops to the south in Somalia, security is a nagging concern. (Al-Shabab's leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in a recent U.S. airstrike, was born in Hargeisa.) Festival-goers get checked for weapons at the gates every time they enter the decidedly modest venue, which clusters around a former civil servants meeting hall at the end of a dirt track just off Hargeisa's main avenue.The rubbish-strewn plains are hot and dusty -- every breath seems to contain a hidden quota of sand -- and because Hargeisa is "dry" in another sense too, Western visitors can't look forward to the consolation of an ice-cold beer in an air-conditioned hotel lobby. It's the only place in Africa I've visited where I've been asked to wear a scarf and where the trousers and long-sleeved tops that constitute my usual working outfit have been deemed insufficiently modest. (My role at the conference was to take part in several panels and discuss my career as a nonfiction writer. As of this summer, I am also the literary director of the Miles Morland Foundation, a private charity in the United Kingdom that helps fund the festival.)The festival's emphasis on the written word -- it does include film screenings, slideshows, photography exhibitions, and poetry readings, but it is above all a book fair -- is also, perhaps, surprising. The Somali language, which to Western eyes looks packed with superfluous "a"s and "o"s, only acquired Roman orthography in 1972.Yet each year, Jama and Mahamoud and a team of hardworking volunteers do their thing, and the festival gets bigger and better attended. It is an event intimately entwined with a traumatized society's need to recover from a devastating civil war and the determination of a fractured community to bridge the divide that conflict and exile opened up between a diaspora and locals, the middle class and the not-so-well-off, the religiously devout and the moderate. Staged in the capital of a would-be nation-state still yearning for international recognition, it is also a defiant gesture of intellectual chutzpah.Ubiquitous in the West, literary festivals are only just beginning to catch on in Africa. The festivals I've attended in Nairobi, Cape Town, and the Nigerian town of Abeokuta each had their own flavor and raison d'être. Some were intent on claiming international relevance; some were trying to break down still-toxic racial divisions; some were determined to put little-known regional hubs on the international map.The event in Hargeisa, which I have twice attended, receives no government funding, yet it comes imbued with latent political content. However independent its credentials, however broad its vision, the event cannot quite separate itself from its native land's overriding obsession: the dogged quest for statehood.Somaliland, a former British protectorate, has never forgiven the "south," as Somalia is known here, for the 1988 bombing of Hargeisa by dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's MiGs, which famously took off from the local airport, circled, and returned to carpet-bomb the city. The region declared independence in 1991 and has been pushing ever since for recognition, but no international organization or foreign government has obliged. Despite a series of peaceful elections, despite an innovative model of democratic government, despite a refreshing absence of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks -- the last major incident was in 2008 -- Somaliland remains nominally part of a nation-state with a huge image problem.For frustrated government officials, the literary festival, held each summer, represents something of a secret weapon, a form of "soft" diplomacy aimed at convincing the world that Somaliland has little in common with its violent, dysfunctional neighbor and deserves a seat at the international table. Foreign Minister Mohamed Yonis spelled it out at a lunch thrown this year for visiting writers by President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, in a complex bunkered against al-Shabab by bougainvillea-draped walls and rows of cement bollards."Please be our advocates and our emissaries; act as our ambassadors," he said, addressing a collection of writers that included the New Yorker'sJon Lee Anderson, Kenyan columnist Rasna Warah, Nigerian short-story writer Chuma Nwokolo, Malawian poet Jack Mapanje, and thephotographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher. "Tell the world that Somaliland is an oasis of peace and tranquility and that we are open for business."The foreign minister knew that the chorus of tweets, Facebook posts, and articles generated by this year's group of American, British, Djiboutian, Ugandan, and Italian intellectuals (among others) could probably do more to challenge preconceptions -- "a book festival where?" is the incredulous reaction met by each guest on his or her return home -- than any number of government delegations.Harking back to a prewar period when Hargeisa boasted a huge Chinese-built theater (since flattened) and was known for the richness of its cultural traditions, the organizers of the festival are happy to meet that political need if it frees them to do the deeper, more complex work they are about. And that work involves addressing the community traits that many intellectuals feel played a part in the internecine violence that reduced Hargeisa, swaths of Mogadishu, and Kismayo (a port city) to rubble, pitting one warlord against another and later unleashing the radicals of al-Shabab. "Somalis have one of the most intolerant societies in Africa, but we aren't conscious of that fact," says Jama. "It's a subtle thing, rooted in the fact that when we are growing up, we are taught by our parents that that we are all the same, all equal. One language, one people, one culture, one religion. It makes us very closed off to outside influences. Then, when young Somalis grow up and encounter clan divisiveness for the first time and realize that unity isn't actually there, they get confused."He compares the Somali mindset to Italy's figlio unico phenomenon, which treats its only sons like pampered princes. "Somalis are the same. They feel they are unique, the world revolves around them," Jama explains. "Our aim is to encourage them to open up, to acknowledge and tolerate the bare minimum of difference. We're trying to make a non-diverse society more diverse, which is a hard thing to do." He has set up a publishing company, Ponte Invisibile (Invisible Bridge), that specializes in Somali texts and translations of works that he thinks are socially or politically relevant to youth, and its books feature among those launched at the festival.The festival's cast list and program reflect this determination to fling open the windows of the Somali mind, both geographically and ideologically. Anderson talked about his encounters with Latin America's leftist guerrilla movements and the differences and similarities between those idealists and the fighters of the Islamic State, currently ravaging parts of Syria and Iraq, for whom "the love of killing" becomes religion in itself. Harvey Morris, a former foreign editor at the Independent and a Middle East expert, drew analogies between Somaliland and another would-be state surrounded by violent neighbors: Kurdistan. When my turn came, I spoke about the sleaze of Kenya's elite under former President Mwai Kibaki and the importance of exemplary leadership when fighting corruption. "What you are describing is what we have here," a middle-aged Somali told me afterward, as we stood in the courtyard savoring the freshening evening air.It was hard to know how much of these information-packed events the largely youthful audience, for whom English is usually a third language, can absorb or how much they find relevant. But many had initially been drawn by the chance to present their own poems, stories, and memoirs, penned during a series of popular writing workshops held in the run-up to the festival, and they stayed on to see what else was afoot. Entry was free, after all, and unemployment among the young stands at 75 percent. What's more, Hargeisa does not have much to offer in terms of extracurricular entertainment. One sensed a simmering curiosity on the part of both sexes, an enormous hunger: to conquer English, a passport to the larger world, and to engage with new ideas.The organizers must tread a cultural tightrope. In a region a mere boat ride from Yemen and Saudi Arabia, any fight for diversity raises the risk of friction with radical Islam. In a region a mere boat ride from Yemen and Saudi Arabia, any fight for diversity raises the risk of friction with radical Islam. Right next door in Somalia, al-Shabab at different stages has banned smoking, television, music, dancing, movies, the Internet, and even football with varying degrees of success, driving celebration indoors. And though Somaliland has followed a different itinerary than "the south" has, its society has not proved immune to the zeitgeist shifts of the 21st century either.Locals note a steady drift toward conservatism in Hargeisa, a city where, in the 1970s, unmarried women went about with heads uncovered. Street kiosks no longer sell music cassettes; the music that once blared from tea shops and cafes has been silenced; and severe black abayas (robes) are beginning to nudge out colorful Somali diracs(kaftans). Following complaints from Islamic fundamentalists, music has been dropped from the local university's culture week, at which students each year showcase poetry, dance, and football tournaments.The determination not to offend explains the festival organizers' request to Western female authors to don the scarf. Daily programs are also designed never to clash with prayer time, when festival-goers head en masse out of the hall to genuflect at the mosque next door. The various speakers may have explored many daring themes, but as if by tacit agreement, religion was never one of them.While showing due respect for local norms, Jama and Mahamoud continue to press gently ahead, shoring up traditions too precious to be lost and also coaxing natural curiosity, the most optimistic of human instincts. And the festival is only part of their work: This year's event was timed to coincide with the formal unveiling of Hargeisa's new cultural center, located in a former vice president's villa on the banks of a dry riverbed a short drive from the festival hall. A room in which dignitaries once used to gather to chew khat is now a hushed lending library. A small theater has been created and so has a gallery to display local artists' work.The opening ceremony featured a troupe of dancers of both sexes, but once again, propriety was carefully observed. The female performers wore what were essentially ankle-length textile editions of Somaliland's green, red, and white national flag, and the song they danced to, repetitive but catchy, was an exhortation to live up to the ideals of Somaliland's May 18 independence day. Elderly Somalis supporting the festival and cultural center, many of whom fled their country in the 1980s and 1990s and are now returning with increasing frequency, see their role as reminding local participants -- too young, too geographically isolated to know different -- of a cultural legacy that predates recent puritanism. "The singing, the dancing, is an integral part of sustaining our traditions," says Said Jama Hussein, a founding member of the Somali chapter of Pen, the well-known writers' association. "This is the single most positive thing we in the diaspora can contribute to our country."In the process, they also hope to counter the brash new consumerism of four-wheel-driving, smartphone-wielding diaspora Somalis, which is creating the beginnings of a class system in a society that until recently was characterized by rare levels of economic equality. "Hargeisa is changing; you can feel it," says Nadifa Mohamed, author of the semiautobiographical novel Black Mamba Boy, published in 2009, who left as a baby and now lives in London. "People are a lot more closed off, less open to one another."The response to the festival and the cultural center has been fervid. The intensity of the enthusiasm shown by Somaliland's youngsters, exposing as it does vast unmet appetites, is slightly panicking Jama. "When we announced that we were opening a cultural center, we got 200 registrations in the first week. Now we have 400," Jama said in August. "I am a little worried it could get too big before we've put down firm foundations."Nuruddin Farah's talk may have drawn a large audience, but he was comprehensively upstaged by Hadrawi (Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame), widely regarded as the greatest living Somali poet. If sedentary lifestyles are conducive to written narratives, nomadic lifestyles naturally give rise to incantatory recitation, verses easily memorized and passed mouth to mouth by people on the move. Nothing gets Somali hearts pounding quite like poetry.Packed three-deep at the back of the hall, the audience stood rapt as the old man -- a frail septuagenarian who seems all cheekbones and elbows -- told the story of a rebel fighter who arrives on a friend's doorstep sweaty and grimy from the battlefield. He is met by the friend's daughter, to whom he was once in the habit of administering avuncular advice. Regarded as one of Hadrawi's masterpieces, Life's Essence is a poem that moves from a discussion of social etiquette to a wider denunciation of greed and an exploration of what it means to live a compassionate, moral life.As Hadrawi became more ardent in his delivery, the audience began laughing at the word plays, nodding in satisfaction at the pounding rhymes, applauding rhythmically at the end of each verse, which the poet underlined with a footballer's triumphant shout, finger raised to heaven. Muthoni Garland, a Kenyan writer who runs Nairobi's Storymoja culture festival, also now in its seventh year, turned to me, rolling her eyes in wonder: "This is incredible. I've never seen a crowd respond to a poetry reading like this."Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that one of the festival's drivers, who had spent the week ferrying writers between the Maan-Soor and Ambassador hotels and the event's venue, had joined us. Nothing was going to stop him from catching Somaliland's version of Homer, performing live. Gaze fixed on the stage, lips parted in an appreciative smile, he was literally hugging himself with pleasure. How many book fairs, I wondered, watching him, could claim to generate such pure delight?Source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com
  2. On the 1st September 2014, at around 19:00, American drones fired several missiles in the Sablaaleh/ Hawaay and Dahay Tubako areas, between 35 and 55 km from Brawa, one of the Somali islamist group Al Shabaab’s remaining strongholds. The drones that fired the missiles targeted Ahmed Abdi Aw Muhammad ‘Godane’, a northern Somali, from the Isaq clan (sub-clan Arab) and the leader of Al Shabaab. The strike was the most recent in several US attacks since the 2013 Westgate attack in Kenya, targeting both Shabaab and Al Qaeda leaders either by killing or snatching them alive. The Pentagon, Somali authorities, and seemingly the Shabaab themselves (or at least one alleged spokesperson), confirmed the death of Godane. However, there is yet to be an indication of who the other five individuals reported to have died were and whether their deaths will also be significant for the future of the organization. Somali security sources indicate that both veteran Shabaab commanders Muhammad Abu Abdullah and Sheikh Muhammad Dulyaden were present at the meeting that was hit. Rumours also circulated of the death of Mahad ‘Karate’, the commander that reorganized the Shabaab in Mogadishu after their dreadful defeats in late 2006. The killing of Godane raises several questions. The first is how it will impact the organization itself, the second is if this will have influences in other areas, for example in Syria and Iraq, were the Islamic State (IS), still remains on the offensive, or in the Borno state of Nigeria, where Boko Haram is now set on conquering and holding permanent territories and have defeated the Nigerian army in several battles. The attack comes at a time when Al Shabaab was already weakened. The forces of the African union have advanced against the few remaining islamist strongholds inside Somalia, and it seems that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Shabaab to hold onto territory. The African Union forces that Shabaab now faces are better equipped, trained and superior in numbers. Shabaab has attempted to address this disparity with terror tactics, and implemented very successful attacks inside Somalia, showing through their operations in Mogadishu that it could survive as a guerilla organization. But battlefield defeats and withdrawals cannot be hidden: Shabaab is on the defensive. Godane’s death comes on top of this and adds further problems for an organization whose reputation has been tarnished since they started losing ground in 2010. Adding to these problems was, paradoxically, Godane’s victory in the internal power struggle last year, where experienced rivals were either killed (Ibrahim Afghani), or dislodged from the organization (Muktar Robow). This deprived Shabaab of experienced battlefield commanders who would have been valuable in seeing the organization through the troubles the it now faces after the death of its leader. The rumours after the showdown last year of a weakened ‘Minister of Justice’ for the courts, Fuad Shongole, begging for forgiveness from Godane and of experienced field commander and Godane loyalist, Sheik Yusuuf ‘Kabakutukade,’ being arrested by the Shabaab leadership, seem to indicate at least that Godane was reinforcing command hierarchy in the organization and had assumed a more direct leadership style. If this is true, it will make his death even more serious for Shabaab’s internal organization, as alternatives to him have been weakened. It does, however, seem like Godane had foreseen the possibility of his own sudden demise. Rumours indicate that a political testament led to the appointment of veteran Ahmed Umar Dirieh, former Shabaab governor of Bay Bakool, to be his predecessor in a swift process that took only a couple of days. It remains to be seen if sub-commanders will quarrel over the new appointment. This notwithstanding, there remain many powerful and competent leaders within the group and the African allies either inside or with significant interest in Somalia (Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia) still face a potent threat. Significantly, Shabaab could now aim more directly to hit the United States as an act of revenge. The worst scenario for the Shabaab would be a prolonged struggle over the leadership inside the organization alienating potential followers. Even in this scenario problems remain for the region as it is unlikely that such a conflict would influence Shabaab affiliated networks inside Kenya and Tanzania. Furthermore, the central government and other regional powers have to live peacefully side by side, something that has worked relatively well for the two last years, but might not continue if there remains no common enemy. There are also questions regarding the ‘deterrence effect’ of the attack. Some analysts have indicated that Godane was an ‘internationalist’ within Al Shabaab and the showdown last year was between the ‘nationalists’ and ‘internationalists’, thus the killing of Godane could lead to a more inward looking Shabaab. However, Shabaab’s attacks within in the region (there has been no Shabaab attacks outside the region, in fact a plot in Australia was discouraged), have been driven by tactical considerations inside Somalia. Thus Shabaab has hit (or attempted to hit) several of the larger force contributors in Somalia such as Djibouti, Ethiopia, and more successfully Kenya and Uganda. Under Godane, Shabaab demonstrated a local/regional focus – some of the leaders that he faced in the leadership struggle, such as the American fighter Omar Hamami, were clearly more internationalist than him, even criticising the former for ignoring the foreign fighters in Somalia. It is unlikely that the focus of the group will change markedly because of this, perhaps with the exception an attempt to seek revenge on United States. Ahmed Godane has now assumed a position on a roster of names that includes Osama bin Ladin and Anwar Awlaki – men that faced the United States and ended up dead. But this deterrence, which was there in Somalia before the killing of Godane (where American attacks have been successful before) has so far not led to tangible results in scaring leaders into peace negotiations or surrendering. The effect is rather that the US has managed to kill a leader at a crucial point in Al Shabaab’s history, when the organization is weakened and more dependent on him than ever. Consequently, Godane’s death will have tactical importance inside Somalia rather than importance as a deterrent for the movement as a whole. Stig Jarle Hansen is an Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Life Sciences in Norway. He is the author of Al-Shabaab in Somalia: the history and ideology of a militant islamist group, 2005 – 2012.
  3. She is the ‘terror twin’ who has called for the execution of soldiers and become a jihadi bride in war-torn Syria.But schoolgirl Zahra Halane has revealed her biggest worry: the welfare of her cat.The 16-year-old tweeted about her fears for her missing ginger kitten yesterday, saying it had ‘disappeared’ after her ‘husband threw [it] outside’.A picture of the tomcat lying on a man wearing a camouflage T-shirt was posted to a Twitter account, believed to belong to the teenager, who is in Syria with her twin sister Salma. She also posted a picture – believed to be of herself – in a full veil holding an AK47, kneeling in front of the IS flag, a dagger and a grenade.The cat is called Abu Hureyra after an ancient settlement by the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State stronghold where the girls are thought to be living.Zahra wrote: ‘Abu hureyra disappeared!!!! inshaa Allah [God willing] we will be reunited in jannah [paradise].’ She accompanied the message with symbols for a crying face and a heart, later adding: ‘my husband threw outside (sic)’.Previous tweets from the account included messages such as ‘I support the executions of Syrian soldiers. It’s self defence’ and pictures of machine guns alongside the Koran.Zahra is thought to have married in Syria since disappearing with her sister overnight from their home in the Chorlton area of Manchester in June.The pair have 28 GCSEs between them and were planning to become doctors, having just finished their first year of sixth-form college, but were said to have been radicalised over the internet.Their father Ibrahim and mother Khadra travelled to the region to try to bring them home, but without success. The couple have 10 children and their 21-year-old son Ahmed is said to be fighting with Al Shabaab, a militant group in Somalia.A senior member of the Somali community in Manchester said yesterday they were ‘appalled’ at the new image. ‘Everyone is really shocked the twins are still in Syria with these so-called jihadi fighters who are carrying out such atrocities,’ he said.‘Also to talk about a missing cat like she was making a home is very disturbing. We, as a Somali people, are all appalled by their actions but we are also desperately sad for their family. A picture of the tomcat lying on a man wearing a camouflage T-shirt was posted to a Twitter account, believed to belong to the teenager, who is in Syria with her twin sister Salma ‘They came to the UK to provide a better future for their children and to make sure they got a good education. They don’t understand where it all went wrong.’Zahra’s tweets come two days after another British jihadi bride – an 18-year-old using the name Al jazraweeya – wrote that she wanted to see David Cameron’s head ‘on a spike’.She also called on other young girls to join the cause in Syria.IS and its supporters have used social media extensively to spread their message but their accounts are regularly shut down.Yesterday one reportedly belonging to a linked group – Al Nusra Al Maqdisia (Supporters of Jerusalem) – threatened to kill Twitter employees over the closures.The account, now suspended, warned workers that they could be killed by ‘lone wolves’.Source:
  4. Researchers from the psychology departments at McGill and Carleton University allegedly breached research ethics in a study conducted in 2012 and funded by the Canadian military, according to findings released on August 28 by campus group Demilitarize McGill. The researchers, which included McGill psychology professor Donald M. Taylor and then-PhD student Michael King, failed to inform the research subjects of the funder and intended counterinsurgency applications of the research.According to a report submitted by the researchers to Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) – the research wing of the Canadian military and the funder of the study – eighty Somali Canadians were given a survey “designed to shed light on the attraction of young people to Armed Non-state Actors,” and their responses were analyzed “in terms of their relationship with support for engaging in terrorism.”The participants of the study, however, were informed of the purpose of the research in very different terms. After taking a questionnaire entitled “Your voice: Somalia according to Somalis,” they were notified that the research “aims to understand which groups you identify with, what your feelings are about your group’s status, and what you think can be done for the future of your group.”Demilitarize McGill member Isaac Stethem described the study to The Daily in an interview. “Essentially, what the military seems to be interested in finding out is how young Somali Canadians feel about groups such as al-Shabaab, which the Canadian state views as a terrorist organization; there were also questions about Muslim identity, how strong their Canadian versus Muslim identity was,” said Stethem.“Nowhere in any of the documentation [...] they gave to participants did they say either that the purpose of the study was to provide information to the military on sympathy for what they termed ‘non-state actors,’ nor did they actually disclose that the military was funding it,” added Stethem.Stethem argued that the failure to disclose the funder and the full purpose of the research, even in the debriefing documentation given to participants after they completed the survey, is a violation of the Tri-Council Policy Statement, which governs research ethics in Canada.“When you do a study on human subjects, you have to get their informed consent [... which] is supposed to include what is the purpose of the study, as well as who is funding it. That wasn’t done here.”Researcher defends phrasing of research purposeMichael Wohl, professor of psychology at Carleton and lead investigator in the study, argued that the purpose of the research was presented accurately to the participants.“The purpose of the research on the Somalis, as outlined in the consent form, was to understand the issues facing Somalis in Canada,” Wohl told The Daily. “The issue of support for al-Shabaab is but one small piece of a larger study trying to understand how this marginalized community is adjusting to life in Canada.”“They [DRDC] are interested in a broad spectrum of issues, one of them being how different groups adjust to being in Canada,” added Wohl.When asked whether the participants were informed that the report on the study would be transmitted to the DRDC, Wohl said, “No. It’s the same as if [...] we published in an academic journal, we don’t then go back and direct [the participants] to the journal.” “We strongly suspect that there was a fear among the researchers that if they told people what the study really was, then people might have been less inclined to participate.” Stethem, however, held that Wohl’s comparison was faulty. “Of course, one can never predict every possible application of a study, but in this case it very clearly did have planned uses and applications that were known beforehand,” said Stethem.“From the outset, [the researchers] were told to design a study that will tell us if and why people are attracted to ‘armed non-state actors,’” he added. “That was the point of the contract they were paid for, and clearly something that could have been disclosed to participants and wasn’t.”Taylor, who was a co-investigator on the study, did not return The Daily’s request for comment. Requirement to disclose source of funding waivedShelley Brown, chair of Carleton’s Psychology Ethics Board, which approved the study, conceded that the requirement to disclose the identity of the funder of the research is present in the Tri-Council Policy Statement. However, she noted that the requirement can be waived at the discretion of the ethics board if the researcher provides a rationale.In an email to The Daily, Research Ethics Officer Lynda McNeil confirmed that McGill operates in the same manner. “It is then up to the REB [Research Ethics Board] to consider, for each specific project, whether all elements listed, such as the identity of the funder, are necessary to the consent process of a specific project,” wrote McNeil.“The data that was collected was stripped of all personal identifiers,” Brown told The Daily. “There was no risk to participants that their responses would [...] be shared with anybody outside of the research team, namely DRDC. Because the risks had been mitigated in terms of confidentiality, [...] the requirement to have the source of the funder in the informed consent [form] was waived.”In response, Stethem argued that the fact that confidentiality was protected was not a sufficient rationale to waive the requirement to disclose the funder.“The researcher has to present an argument and convince the board there’s a good reason [to waive the requirement], and they [the Board] didn’t seem to be able to provide any reason,” Stethem said. “We strongly suspect that there was a fear among the researchers that if they told people what the study really was, then people might have been less inclined to participate.”Military research: beyond weaponsAs a group that fights military research at the university, Demilitarize McGill has focused its work in the past on research in science and engineering with military applications in foreign wars, such as the development of drones and explosives. However, the study on Somali Canadians shows that the scope of military research at McGill extends beyond these technologies, Demilitarize McGill member Kevin Paul explained in an email to The Daily.“Dr. Taylor’s work shows that military research at McGill not only supports the development of missiles and drones used to kill people in distant wars and occupations, but also augments the capacities of military and intelligence to surveil and control domestic populations, particularly those non-white groups that the Canadian state deems inherently threatening,” said Paul.Echoing Paul’s sentiments, Stethem spoke to the broader role of university research in perpetuating systems of oppression and social control.“There’s also an enormous amount [...] of social science research being done for [the] military,” said Stethem. “It’s a sort of trend where social science research is being used in order to improve the effectiveness of [...] military strategies – in terms of imperialist wars you see going on in a variety of places, and also in terms of internal policing, repression, and so on.”“[What’s notable is] certainly not only that these kinds of instances of oppression go on, but also the extent to which universities contribute to them, and give them [...] prestige and funding.”Source:
  5. MINNEAPOLIS — It was a friendship that began in high school and ended in militant jihad. As Minnesota teenagers growing up in the 1990s, Troy Kastigar and Douglas McAuthur McCain shared almost everything. They played pickup basketball on neighborhood courts, wrote freewheeling raps in each other’s bedrooms and posed together for snapshots, a skinny white young man with close-cropped hair locking his arm around his African-American friend with a shadow of a mustache. They walked parallel paths to trouble, never graduating from high school and racking up arrests. They converted to Islam around the same time and exalted their new faith to family and friends, declaring that they had found truth and certainty. One after the other, both men abandoned their American lives for distant battlefields. “This is the real Disneyland,” Mr. Kastigar said with a grin in a video shot after he joined Islamist militants in Somalia in late 2008. Mr. McCain wrote on Twitter this past June, after he left the United States to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, “I’m with the brothers now.” Photo Cedar Avenue in the Cedar-Riverside district. Leaders in the Somali community say they are losing a battle to keep new waves of young men and women from turning to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times Today, both are dead. While their lives ended five years and over 2,000 miles apart, their intertwined journeys toward militancy offer a sharp example of how the allure of Islamist extremism has evolved, enticing similar pools of troubled, pliable young Americans to conflicts in different parts of the world. The tools of online propaganda and shadowy networks of facilitators that once beckoned Mr. Kastigar and Somali men to the Horn of Africa are now drawing hundreds of Europeans and about a dozen known Americans to fight with ISIS, according to American law enforcement and counterterrorism officials. “Troy and Doug fit together in some ways,” Mr. Kastigar’s mother, Julie Boada, said at her home here. “They’re both converted Muslims. They both have had struggles.” She added, “They’re connected through that.” Investigators are looking into what led a handful of other people from Minnesota to follow the same path, said Kyle Loven, an F.B.I. spokesman in Minneapolis. American intelligence and counterterrorism officials say Mr. McCain, 33, and a second American believed to have been killed while fighting for ISIS traveled in the same circles in Minneapolis and knew each other. Officials still have not publicly confirmed the identity of that man, but he has widely been reported to be a Somali immigrant in his late 20s who went by at least two names, calling himself Abdirahmaan Muhumed on his Facebook page. He spent much of his life around Minneapolis, worked at the airport over several years and ended up in Syria this year, declaring in a text message to a friend, “With out jihad there is no islam.” To law enforcement officials and community leaders here, the pathway for many recruits remains murky and difficult to uncover, but the latest wave of volunteers is a chilling replay of recent history. Beginning in 2007, over 20 men, mostly of Somali origin, left Minnesota to join the Shabab militants who seized territory across Somalia and besieged the capital, Mogadishu. Photo Troy KastigarCreditHennepin County Sheriff's Office, via Associated Press The radicalization of the men prompted federal investigations and brought enormous scrutiny to the Somali population in Minneapolis, the largest in America. (Estimates put Minnesota’s Somali population around 30,000.) As Shabab forces withdrew from Mogadishu under pressure from African forces supported by the United States, people here held anti-Shabab rallies, and prosecutors eventually won convictions against eight local men on charges stemming from the flow of money and recruits to the militants. But now, leaders in the Somali community say they worry they are losing a battle to keep another round of young people from turning to another Internet-savvy and brutal group, ISIS. Community leaders say several families have reported that their children have vanished. “We need to open our eyes,” said Ahmed Hirsi, a banker who has led youth groups in the Twin Cities. “This is not going to stop.” Officials say ISIS is not specifically targeting Somalis but is instead using social media, chat rooms and jihadist forums to recruit men and women susceptible to its message — a target audience that includes Somalis in Minneapolis. Community activists and a friend said one Somali was Mr. Muhumed, whom they described as a mostly secular man in his late 20s or early 30s whose family had emigrated from Mogadishu. He always seemed more interested in working out and basketball than in religion, acquaintances said. “He would talk about LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, and then, the next thing you know — pfft! — he’s gone,” Mr. Hirsi said. Photo Douglas McAuthur McCainCreditHennepin County Sheriff, via Reuters Farhan Abdullahi Hussein said he had met Mr. Muhumed when they worked at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Patrick Hogan, an airport spokesman, said a man named Abdifatah Ahmed, an alias Mr. Muhumed had used, had worked there on and off from November 2001 until May 2011, refueling planes and cleaning. (Shirwa Ahmed, an ethnic Somali who blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Somalia in October 2008, also had a job at the airport, pushing passengers in wheelchairs.) Mr. Hussein, who described Mr. Muhumed as “my best friend,” said Mr. Muhumed used to fume about violence in Libya and Gaza, asking, “Is this fair?” Mr. Muhumed dreamed of joining the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a rebel group trying to carve out an independent state in Ethiopia for ethnic Somalis. When he drank, Mr. Hussein said, Mr. Muhumed’s anger boiled up. Once, at a shopping center popular with Somalis, he even punched a community advocate named Abdi Abdulle who had spoken out against the group’s violent tactics. “He always wanted to be a freedom fighter,” Mr. Hussein said. “He always wanted to be a hero.” In April, Mr. Muhumed sent Mr. Hussein a text message saying jihad was his path now. “God gave us jihad,” he wrote. On July 8, he sent a short message celebrating the Islamic holy month. It was the last Mr. Hussein heard from him. Mr. McCain and Mr. Kastigar grew up in a different world from the towering apartment complexes and rows of Somali barbershops and restaurants that were a backdrop for Mr. Muhumed’s life. But they found a passion for Islam and, ultimately, a path to militancy. Photo Abdirahmaan Muhumed is widely reported to be the second American killed while fighting for ISIS. He dreamed of joining the Ogaden National Liberation Front. Traces of the friendship between Mr. Kastigar and Mr. McCain are bound up in a few photo albums in Ms. Boada’s home. In one, they wear nearly identical plaid shirts. This is how relatives say they want to remember them: Mr. Kastigar as an energetic, open-minded boy who climbed up walls, and Mr. McCain as someone who made music and fiercely loved his younger sister, Lele. “They had a similar sense of humor,” Ms. Boada said of the men. In his teenage years, Mr. Kastigar began drinking, smoking marijuana and failing classes, and Ms. Boada said she had seen “a sadness and a darkness” settle over him. He dropped out of high school, got his equivalency diploma and worked at a mortgage office or cutting hair. But he was often unemployed. And a series of arrests compounded his troubles finding work, Ms. Boada said. Mr. McCain, whose family moved from Chicago when he was young, attended Robbinsdale Cooper High School with Mr. Kastigar until 1999, then switched to Robbinsdale Armstrong High for a year, the district said. He never graduated. Court records show he was arrested several times, for driving violations, theft and a marijuana charge. While both men converted to Islam around 2004, it is unclear whether one man’s religious decisions steered the other’s. Hatim Bilal, a high school friend who comes from a Muslim family, said Mr. Kastigar had told him that Mr. Bilal’s family and the cohesion among Mr. Bilal’s brothers inspired him to convert. A spark returned to Mr. Kastigar’s eyes after he discovered his new faith, his mother said. “They just wanted to be a part of something,” said Mr. Bilal, who knew both men but was close to Mr. Kastigar. “They were just trying to find something that just accepted them for who they were.” Photo Abdi Abdulle, right, a community advocate who spoke out against the group’s violent tactics.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times But problems persisted. Mr. Kastigar was crestfallen when, after training to become an X-ray technician, he was told that his criminal history would make it difficult for him to get a job in the field. In 2008, Mr. Kastigar told his mother that he was going to Kenya to study the Quran. He bought a one-way ticket and left that November. He spoke with Ms. Boada five times, telling her that he was eating well and helping people. He was killed in September 2009 at age 28. Mr. Kastigar’s death may have shaken Mr. McCain, friends and relatives said. Around 2009, Mr. McCain moved to San Diego, where he had relatives and worked at a Somali restaurant, according to a cousin, Don Urbina. He enrolled at San Diego City College, a college spokesman said. Mr. Urbina said the family was shocked at his decision to join a jihadist group that has beheaded two American journalists and massacred thousands of Syrians and Iraqis. Alicia Adams, a high school friend of Mr. McCain’s who last spoke to him in 2013, said his faith was “such a small piece of who he was,” adding, “He was still Doug.” But Mr. Urbina described his cousin as “very serious about God.” “His mother doesn’t know how it got to this point,” he said. “None of us really want to know.” Ms. Boada said she still did not know exactly how her son had ended up in Somalia, hoisting an assault rifle and wearing a checkered head scarf. She said he had never been motivated by hate, but by a belief that somehow he could be a hero. Sometimes, she said, people will ask her about his death. But more often than not, she does not discuss it. “I just don’t tell people,” she said. “I just say that my son passed away in 2009. If someone asks why, I just say, ‘It was a tragedy.’ ” Source:
  6. When Dr. Hawa Abdi Abdi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, I was struck by how one woman was able to achieve so much in war torn Somalia; an ocean of violence beneath Africa’s piece of sky. In 1983, her life of service to her people began in a one room clinic she set up to help pregnant mothers in her community. At the collapse of the Somalia’s Siad Barre’s government, the growing Hawa Abdi Hospital stretched beyond its limit to become a haven of respite, an island of hope sheltering men, women and children displaced by clan warfare and civil war. Dr. Hawa Abdi’s rural health clinic and the expanse of family land on which she hosted desperate families soon became known as the Hawa Abdi village. With the help of her physician daughters Deqo and Amina, Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation (DHAF) was set up to meet the overwhelming needs of the village. In an environment where charity organizations dread to stay, DHAF operates largely alone; one woman , two daughters and over 90,000 lives at a time. Becoming an Alfred Nobel Peace Prize Nominee in 2012 put her on the global map. Subsequent international awards like Women of Impact award, John Jay Medal for Justice and the Glamour Magazine’s 2010 Women of the yearalong with her two daughters has shown that the world does not forget good deeds. With the gift of her book ‘Keeping Hope Alive’, I was privileged to traverse through the many seasons of Dr. Hawa Abdi’s history sharing in the many trajectories and ravages of her remarkable life as she steers through her work, family and hope for her country. I had the honour and privilege to meet Dr.Abdi in her humble abode in the heart of Nairobi. We talked about her book and her life as she continues to burn the peace candle ‘Keeping Hope Alive’ for Somalia and the people of her continent. In a country that for over 20 years sunk into an abyss of unrelenting violence, famine, murder, rape, ubiquitous practice of female genital mutilation, sickness and mass deaths, it is surprising that this lawyer and philanthropist, Mama Hawa as she is fondly called by her people, has made Hawa Abdi village, a small law-abiding state in the midst of chaos. The harmony in her life, her work and her strong faith in a country that is difficult to love or believe in attracted me to this remarkable patriot. You are a very beautiful woman especially dressed in all your Nigerian style attires. Dr. Abdi: I like Nigerian attires and their movies too; I start the day watching Nigerian movies. As for beauty, now, beauty is gone (Laugh). Your beauty is not gone; there is a beauty for every age. If I am right, you are a beautiful 67yrs young woman, a Gynaecologist, a Lawyer, a benefactor to thousands of Somalia, a mother to two exceptional daughters and a 2012 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Dr. Abdi: Yes I am a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, I didn’t win the award. I had four children; I lost a daughter and then the last child Ahmed too. He died young, I was indeed shocked. You wrote about him in your book. Dr. Abdi: Yes he was a 24yrs old medical student at the time. He was quite matured, he had interest in studying about the African continent right from the period of colonialism. He left so young, he did not wait to see me retire. We as Muslims trust the men to lead and protect, but Ahmed could not wait to protect me. He was not married. I was very sorry when they told me ‘sorry, your son died by car accident today’. I was waiting for his call; he called me on Thursday, he promised he will call again, but Friday, I got the call that my boy died that morning by car accident. I was shocked, really shocked. I had told him to come to me, but he said he wanted to go to his father. I did not believe that he died by car accident because I was thinking there was some blackmailing to say he had died in an accident. Things in Somalia are very bad. You have seen the first chapter of my book, the story about the woman who killed her 22yr old daughter with a bullet in her brain and another in her heart because she was from a wrong clan. That is very bad, it is not our culture, our culture was very good, very nice culture. Somalia had very good culture but it is lost to clan politics and killing. Somalia was very lucky; her land was the best place. Our capital Mogadishu was the prettiest city in the world, hosting different people from different places. Yet we all came from one origin, one father with his sons. They have all produced children; we the Somalia children. We were one family, one father, one religion, one language, but still we are fighting. This is not so good. I agree with you. I am sure that through this unrest, you have done a lot for your people in Somalia. Do you feel fulfilled? Are you happy with all you have achieved? Dr.Abdi: Yes, this year makes it 22years I have given my community my soul and my heart. Am happy. All my life, I’ve been helping the people who needed my help. When they happily tell me thank you, I also am happy; much more than them. To have money and get elected in politics is not happiness.The best happiness is when I help people that are suffering. If I can help them pass that suffering, when they are sick; to treat, when they are hungry; to fill their stomach and offer them where to sleep, when they are thirsty; to give them clean water. This is all we do at the DHAF. Now I have many many young people, boys and girls who have grown up in Hawa Abdi Camp that hosts 90,000. 30% of the occupants were young children, now we have children who grew up here that are now 20yrs of age and above, they are becoming married and having children too. So now you have a lot of grand children raised fully in Hawa Abdi village; how beautiful? Dr. Abdi: Yes, and they all call me Mama. Somalia has been experiencing a lot of conflict and violence. Do you still have faith in the government to restore peace? Dr. Abdi: I thought by now, the presidents would call for reconciliation of the Somalia tribes and perhaps offer compensation to those people who were killed and people who fled from their homes. But after three presidents have come, no one has tried to make reconciliation of the inter-tribes. Since they have not responded this way, I think that Somalia is still not a peaceful place. So have you lost faith in Somalia being a peaceful place again? Dr. Abdi: Somalia is a beautiful place and I like it, I cannot exchange any place with Somalia. In antiquity it used to be a major player in regional commercial trade. I will remember Somalia as the most beautiful place and Mogadishu as the prettiest city in the world. I cannot forget this. I want to see another time when Somalia and its capital Mogadishu will return to what it was before. I am waiting, and I hope that it will become. I join my hope with yours and pray it happens. Dr.Abdi: I pray honestly, I want to see that Somalia back. ‘Keeping Hope Alive’ is a beautiful book you co-authored with Sarah Robbins. It is all about your story. Dr.Abdi: Yes, even the title is something I like so much. Why did you write this book? Dr. Abdi: I wrote it to share with young Somalians the history of the country I remember; telling them what was happening in Somalia, about the beautiful cultures that existed and more-so, how it changed. I want them to know and return to search the beautiful cultures of peace we had before and bring it back. What are your achievements so far with your book ‘Keeping Hope Alive’? Dr.Abdi: Recently, this book won awards as I was told by the publishers. It won the Hachette Audio 2014 Audie Awards in the inspirational non-fiction categories. It is a non-fiction book, it is my real stories and many people from diverse culture can now read it. Congratulations Mama. Dr. Abdi: Thank You. Some new projects like the Desmund Tutu forgiveness project are promoting forgiveness as a way forward from violence. In the closing chapters of your book, you also wrote about forgiveness. You have known pain; day by day, more people are experiencing undeserved pain with the many incidence of violence in our world today. Is Forgiveness the solution? Dr. Abdi: In our culture in Somalia, we do not go to the court when offended. Culturally, we select wise elderly people to sit and decide over disputes. To the offender, they punish and to the offended, they say please forgive. Sometimes the punishment of the offender is the price of Camels or Cows. This way, people whose rights are violated become happy. We never hold on to grudge, we forgive each other immediately because we were the children of one father. This was Somali culture; this is why I crave for the return of that culture. We can stop these court cases and proceedings that require appeals upon appeals and corruption. Now they divide by clan, clans are no solution; the solution is one society where we have understanding of oneness with no clan division and where no man is allowed to beat his wife or another person. Tell me about Somalia as you know it. Dr.Abdi: Somalia was a very strong country, my favourite African country. They developed really fast then and Mogadishu was the prettiest city in the world before everything collapsed. All who fought for independence and showed patriotism were greeted with shock at its fall. In our time, we were trying to hold on the clans but the men just want to be angry, to fight and to kill. Clan mentality was destructive but our people didn’t listen or understand this, and then we lost a lot. People of importance have fled the land, and some died. Some became sick with stroke and are now living daily on their beds. These things have changed Mogadishu. In later years, with the formation of a new government, Somalia’s in Diaspora came back with big hope after waiting for years. Expectations were high, but not much has happened there. One day I hope we will pass this situation and go to the peace side. Africa the continent hosting Somalia continues to grapple with a lot of development issues. What are your thoughts on African leadership? Dr. Abdi: My African role-model is Kwame Nkrumah. In 1963, about the time most African countries were getting their independence, he made a speech in Adis-Ababa, he said that the African continent was very rich but should not consider them self as independent nation state until they become economically independent. But this was not to be yet as most African countries like Somalia began to kill in the name of differences. We were given a virgin land, good health and we could work hard and be self-sufficient economically. Now we are overwhelmed with thoughts of tribe division and selfish leaders who amass wealth, denying the people of basic necessities. Freedom goes beyond just achieving independence. According to Nkrumah, leaders needed to feed and make happy the poor people before securing their position. You can never be a successful leader if all you do is to grab everything and forget the poor people. Yet African presidents have remained incompetent and corrupt. Our economic incompetence is really bad. If you don’t have money, you cannot achieve much. Dependably, Africa continues to receive development aid from other continents. Do you think Africa really lacks financial resources? Dr. Abdi: No, Africa is not poor. Africa remains a very rich continent that can fund and support their development. Consider agriculture for example, European countries only harvest once a year and we in Africa can harvest two or more times a year. Nature has indeed blessed us, we have rivers, we have good weather, and we have everything including education. Most people are now well educated and are patriotic but Africa remains challenged with the difficulty of administration, this is not right. How is work going on in the Hawa Abdi village? Dr. Abdi: We still work there. I have young people that support us to create jobs and manage families. My young people are not torn apart by tribalism; they do not fight by tribes, they are not part of violence, rape or destruction in Somalia. For 22years, we have been educating our young in all honesty and hard work. They are very proud of their Hawa Abdi root, when you ask them what tribe they come from, they proudly say ‘I am from the people of Hawa Abdi’. Most of them ran from their clan and came to us. We offered to give them water, shelter, healthcare and education for free only if they stay away from clan politics. Today, their background is solid and I hope they will remain the honest people of Somali land. Some of the youths raised by us are located in different parts of the globe now developing their self. I am hopeful that in the future, some of them will become leaders in Somalia. Despite our differences, the world has become smaller as globalization is sweeping us together. What are your views on globalization? Dr.Abdi: The world is now very challenged but it is also becoming one village. Globalization is good in the sense that for example, if something happens in Somaliland, it spreads not only to the African continent but all over the world. Our challenges are also becoming similar. In the time I was doing my book tour, I learnt of an explosion that happened in Somalia while still in America. Not long after, there was also an explosion in America killing people too. When a bad thing happens in one corner of the world, it seems to vibrate all over as no part of the world is in isolation anymore. Hence we have to work together to eliminate evil, otherwise it may come to us next. Tradition and culture may have been strong factors to the challenges women faced in your time in Somalia. What do you think are the challenges of young African women today? Dr.Abdi: To tell you the truth of what I have seen, I have never seen the tradition and culture being an insurmountable challenge even in our days. For example, I went abroad in 1964, at that time, Somalia was very conservative. Most people discouraged my father from sending me abroad ‘You want to send your daughter abroad, you want to spoil her? Stop! What are you doing?’ My father did not accept that, he still sent me abroad because he was more advanced and had better foresight than those men his age. The Somalian women of my age did not see much as challenge since they accepted their social roles. Young women of today have much more opportunity now because you are open to the whole world. In our time, we were isolated in some little villages. Being that we were obliged by our culture to support, respect our parents and any elderly person around, I notice that as a major difference for young women today. Young women are lacking respect for families and elders too. What then will be your advice to young African women of today? Dr. Abdi: They should not forget our culture of respect for parents and elders. They must be honest and work very hard knowing that they can do everything; they can change this world. You all have to change your children and grandchildren’s life. In my years of working in the Hawa Abdi village and serving my people, I am realising that women are sometimes not helping as much as they can. Though they are doing their best in carrying their children on their back and their families on their hands, they can do more. African women have a special place in the continent; they can help the men broker peace and make reconciliations if they want. The woman is a powerful being. In the past twenty two years in Somalia, the men have been either fighting or talking, but our women are still working and saving their families. Women have to be very strong to protect their society, to help stop all these fighting. I advise all the young people too, they have to come together, working in respect, harmony and fraternity to change this world in a better way and eliminate everything evil. As an identity, you are a mother and formerly a wife. You wrote extensively about your marriages. Has marriage empowered you and do you think marriage empowers women? Dr.Abdi: Yes I think so; marriage is good for women and also for men. When you share with your partner, you are empowered by their support and things are easier than when you are alone. Hence no one person should stay or succeed alone. You were sometime in the recent past detained by the militant Hizbul Islam/Al-shabaab. Dr. Abdi: Yes I was detained for days in February 2010. I was detained with my staff. My daughters and I have suffered the impact of violence too; sometimes they find no way out as most amenities like transportation are broken down during these attacks. At a time, we had 90,000 displaced people living on our camp. But after Al-shabaab came to that side, fighting ensued between the military and Al-shabaab and most of the camp occupants fled and went back to Mogadishu. But with expensive rents, education and healthcare in Mogadishu, more people have returned back. Do you hope that more people will return back to the Hawa Abdi camp? Dr.Abdi: I don’t hope for that, I hope that the government of Somalia will sit up and be strong to create a new life for the people. I learnt of the incidence where Al-shabaab took away about 700 school children from Hawa Abdi village in the early months of 2012. They took away school children from the camp in buses and people could not fight them. Somehow, we were in panic for the children. At the end of the day, they returned the children. They had only taken them to support their rally for al Qaeda. Having experienced and survived all this in Somalia, what words do you have for the kidnapped Nigerian school girls? Dr.Abdi: I am sorry for what has happened to them, I learnt about it from the media. I know they are honest and good people and if allowed, they have potentials of doing great things for their country. They must resist evil and keep alive their hope. One day, they will succeed, they will be freed. Do you believe the girls will be released? Dr.Abdi: Yes I do, they will be released. I pray God remains with them and us as God is always with the right people and not the wrong people. Those girls are on the right side, but those who kidnapped them will be punished by God. Dr. Hawa Abdi concluded our conversatiOn sharing her will as she retires. ‘I like you young women. You have good hearts. I am leaving you with my daughters and together, you must all work to get Africa out of crisis and poverty. Remember you must not fail’. The Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation continues to support the displaced people of Somalia. This foundation remains open to contributions and support from individuals and organisations. To support Dr. Abdi in continuously creating access to human right for the Somali people, kindly forward contributions directly to her organisation through their website This interview was conducted in Nairobi, Kenya by Ms. Adaobi Nkeokelonye, with amazing support from Ms. Victoria Nwogu, the gender advisor for UNDP Somalia. Ms. Nkeokelonye is a social-development researcher. As an avocation, she currently explores linkages between literary fiction/non-fiction novels and International Development issues on her site Source:
  7. “Whenever you move around, you worry about what will happen to you,” says Abdullahi Nur Osman, who recently moved back to his home country, Somalia. “The security situation is a big worry.”For the past 20 years, Somalia has been a byword for chaos. In 1991, after the central government fell, the entire economy and political system collapsed. Anarchy and civil war ensued. For years, the capital Mogadishu – once a vibrant seaside resort – has been home to bombed-out facades of buildings. Houses and shopfronts, though painted in bright colours, are pocked with bullet holes.However, if Somalia’s government is to be believed, the country long known as the world’s most failed state is making tentative steps towards recovery. A permanent federal government has been in power since autumn 2012, and the country is gearing up for democratic elections in 2016. Al Shabab, the hardline Islamist rebel group, no longer controls Mogadishu, although terrorist attacks are frequent. Government buildings are the main focus – recent incidents included an attack on the intelligence headquarters and a major prison, and the president’s residence is often targeted. Foreigners and wealthy citizens face the risk of kidnap by terrorists or armed groups.Despite these dangers, members of Somalia’s huge global dia­spora are returning in significant numbers. This has been actively encouraged by the government, which in 2012 announced that Mogadishu was “open for business”. Osman, who lived in London for a decade, is now the president of the Hormuud Telecom Foundation, the corporate social responsibility wing of Somalia’s largest company. “I realised there was a need to go back, to share my expertise and join those rebuilding the country,” he says. Like him, many who have left their adopted homes in the west want to reconstruct Somalia – but they are also drawn by the opportunities available in a country where regulation is practically non-existent and where the lack of an education system puts anyone who has been abroad at a distinct advantage. But, with large swathes of Somalia still controlled by Al Shabab, and Mogadishu’s fragile peace maintained by a heavy African Union military presence, is it a good idea to return, and does the diaspora really hold the key to Somalia’s recovery?The long, messy conflict in Somalia – which saw warring tribes pitted against each other before Al Shabab came into the fray – means that infrastructure is practically non-existent. Just 10 per cent of Somalia’s roads are paved, while 95 per cent of the country’s 10 million inhabitants have no electricity. The surge in diaspora returns has triggered some instant, visible changes. Construction has restarted in Mogadishu; the colourful shopfronts are no longer just shelled-out facades, but functioning businesses. Hotels and restaurants are springing up. Solar-powered street lights have brought Mogadishu out of darkness. And many hope that the enlargement of the private sector will aid political stability. The government certainly wants to promote the image of an economic renaissance in Mogadishu, in order to attract international investment for desperately needed energy and transport projects.Maimuna Mohamud is a Somali-American who recently moved back to work for the Heritage Institute, a think tank. “I’ve been based in Mogadishu since February – a really difficult period,” she says. “A lot of people have felt let down by the recent attacks and insecurity in the city. But you keep in mind the reason why you are in the country, you try to be careful and you stick it out.”Mohamud recently carried out research into the motivations of the returning diaspora. “It’s not a decision people make lightly, but they were primarily going back to contribute to the development and reconstruction of Somalia,” she says, noting that although the government has actively encouraged the physical return of Somalis, there are often tensions with locals who have never left. Members of the diaspora earn much higher salaries than locals for the same work. There is resentment about people returning from long stints abroad to work in politics without understanding the dynamics on the ground. “A local man told me that he doesn’t like diaspora because if ‘something happened tomorrow, then they would head to the airport, leave the country and leave us again’,” she says. “It tells you about the deeply rooted tensions.”For the most part, locals appreciate diaspora investment in business and the jobs in construction and services they bring. In recent years, eye-catching, whimsical initiatives in Mogadishu have made international news: the first dry-cleaning business to open in the city, the first taxi firm, pizza delivery restaurant or florist. But it is debatable how useful these services are. “This is mostly business generated by the diaspora and directed to the diaspora,” says Roland Marchal of CERI, a French research centre. “Dry-cleaning, for instance, is irrelevant to most people in Mogadishu, who do not need to wear suits. There are many new restaurants and hotels, but the prices – $10 or $15 [Dh37-55] for a meal – are too expensive for local people to pay. Construction is booming and rehabilitation is taking place, but there hasn’t been a second step.”He attributes this to ongoing security problems. “The situation is unsettled, so it’s very risky to go beyond trade. Whatever the international community say, Al Shabab is still there. That’s why people are reluctant to go beyond services that do not need huge investment.”The basic costs of existing and doing business in Somalia are high; not only are private security costs significant, but there is also practically no electricity grid after years of war and diesel is expensive. But there’s an upside to this lack of infrastructure, too. “Diaspora are very interested in taking advantage of the lack of taxation and in doing business without all the restrictions that exist everywhere else in the world,” says Mohamud. “However, many also complain that it’s difficult to do everything without the basic protection governments should provide – like guaranteeing contracts.”There’s clearly a lot of opportunity for members of the diaspora setting up businesses – but can this serve a social purpose too? Unemployment is high, particularly among those under 30 (around 70 per cent of the population). Mohamed Ali, a Somali-American, established the Iftiin Foundation with his sister in 2012. A social enterprise, the foundation aims to bring together members of the diaspora and locals by teaching leadership skills to young people in Mogadishu and connecting entrepreneurs to funders. “Many of these young people have nothing to do and are at high risk of being engaged by criminal or terrorist organisations,” he says. “They are a vulnerable population. Entrepreneurship is a way to generate employment on a grassroots level, to provide these young people with opportunities and to give them the chance to take control of their lives.”The young people Iftiin works with are full of ideas; one young man remodelled coffee machines to run off coal, bypassing the problem of prohibitively expensive electricity. “The biggest challenge is not finding people who are entrepreneurial,” says Ali. “But over the last 20 years, a lot of the business activity has been informal. We want to create an environment where international investors would be interested in coming in.”Of course, there is no clear distinction between the financial interests of the diaspora and locals; the Somali economy has always been propped up by huge remittances from abroad, which some estimates put at around $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) a year. “It’s a hugely important part of the economy and perhaps more importantly, the social safety net of Somalis,” says E J Hogendoorn of the International Crisis Group.Today, the security situation and the economy remain closely linked. “Particularly outside Mogadishu, the business community can pay a high price,” explains Osman. “If control of an area switches between government and rebels, businesses can be accused of collaborating with the other side.” This can translate into the kind of protection economy seen in Afghanistan and other post-conflict countries.This ongoing instability is certainly slowing the country’s economic development, but the return of the diaspora and the associated strengthening of the private sector could help to secure peace. “The business community has injected a huge amount of money into politics,” says Osman. But there is a long way to go. “The government must build legitimacy beyond Mogadishu and something must be done about Al Shabab,” says Marchal. “More funds must be available and skills and training improved. There are a lot of basic issues to address. It’s not impossible, but it will take time. Things must be moved politically first, and that doesn’t seem to be happening.”Some see cause for optimism. “There’s a cycle of poverty, hopelessness and conflict,” says Naima Ali, a Somali woman who recently moved back from the UK to work for an NGO. “If you give people options for their future and opportunities to work, then perhaps we can break that cycle.”Source:
  8. In a scruffy hall off the dusty main thoroughfare of Somaliland’s capital, Nuruddin Farah, a Somalia-born novelist, is berating the audience at the Hargeisa International Book Fair over what he sees as the inherent cruelty of Somali society. Somali history, he says, “is a consequence of this cruelty…we can never be a democratic society until we change our behaviour towards those we consider lesser.”Despite being born in the south of Somalia and living in Cape Town Mr Farah, probably the most well-known Somali writer, feels quite at home in the internationally-unrecognised state in Somalia’s north: “I have come to start a debate with my community”. Debate permeated the fair in August and is now in its seventh year. Jama Muse Jama, formerly an Italy-based academic and businessman and now a Hargeisa-based publisher founded the fair in 2008 as a means to allow Somalilanders “to regain their public space… to sit down and simply debate”.Alongside authors including Nadifa Mohammed, a much-lauded young British-based author born in Hargeisa, topics including the preservation of Somali heritage, mother and infant mortality, female genital mutilation, Somaliland’s own state-building and western stereotypes of Africa exercised hundreds of attendees. Poets, including the incomparable Hadraaawi, Bob Dylan-like here, declaimed sonorously, dervish-like female sitaad dancers whirled. A delegation of writers from Malawi, the guest country, and a sprinkling from Kenya alongside guests from Europe and America underlined the fair’s international credentials.Hargeisa itself is buzzing. Roads that for decades had been pockmarked by damage caused by war are now being repaired. Construction is booming too with gaudy McMansions, hotels and malls going up. Many are funded by Somaliland’s wide diaspora. The logos of Dahabshiil, a regional money-transfer giant, and conduit for all those diaspora remittances, and mobile phone companies Telesom and Somtel and private university billboards are everywhere. Petrol stations, often bearing the blue-and-yellow livery of Hass Petroleum, based in Kenya, are springing up. Outdoor stalls and cafes bear handpainted signs and the ubiquitous details of the Zaad mobile-payment system. Earlier this year, the opening of a swimming pool, atop a hotel roof, caused local excitement.Mohamed Awale, the director of planning at the Ministry of Commerce, lauds Somaliland’s regulatory reform to ease investment, but worries that without foreign recognition, Somaliland may remain stuck in “transitional” phase. He also worries about the plight of Somaliland’s young. Some 75% of the population are reckoned to be under 21, and 80% of them unemployed. Another economic threat is financial. Western banks are clamping down on their dealings with money-transfer agents to limit the risk that they may be implicated in financing terrorist or other illicit activity. That may reduce the flow of funds from Somaliland’s diaspora, exacerbating poverty.Since declaring independence in 1991, Somaliland has sought international recognition and the funding and foreign investment it would bring. It has held a raft of elections judged reasonably fair by international observers, but is little-noticed.The international community, with the backing of the African Union, is focused on Somalia, where international forces are trying to curb an Islamist insurgency and shepherd the country through federal elections, which are scheduled for 2016. Somaliland itself has elections scheduled for 2015, although implementation of a voter-registration system could cause delays.Yet Somaliland may soon attract increased attention. One reason is the widening contrast between Hargeisa, where the streets are relatively safe, and Mogadishu—where on August 15th, at least 10 people were killed in a government-led attack on a militia leader near the city’s airport. Despite its lack of official recognition, Britain and Denmark are collaborating on a “Somaliland Development Fund” worth US$50m, to back the government’s own ambitious infrastructure development plans.Oil firms are also taking note. A host of companies, including Turkish and Norwegian firms, have been searching for oil and gas in the east of Somaliland. Although commercial potential has yet to materialise, big hydrocarbon discoveries could bring as many challenges as benefits in an economy that is currently reliant on remittances and livestock exports to the Middle East. Some of the sites being explored are disputed between Somaliland and Puntland, a part of Somalia. Some of the clans in the disputed territories do not recognise Hargeisa’s authority. “It scares me what would happen if someone did make a big oil strike,” says Michael Walls, a Somali expert at University College London (whose own in-depth study of Somaliland’s state-building was launched at the fair): A conflict over oil would be a cruel blow indeed.Source: The Economist
  9. 19-year old Somali woman from St. Paul left for Syria two weeks ago to aid fighters for a terrorist group, according to a family member with direct knowledge of her departure. Her disappearance marks the first time that family members have confirmed that a Somali-American woman has left the country to support terrorists in the Middle East. The woman used a borrowed passport that her family believes was provided by a recruiter, according to a relative who spoke Wednesday to the Star Tribune on condition that his identity — and hers — be withheld. He said that the family found a copy of the passport used by the woman to leave the country, reportedly on Aug. 23. The next night, the family contacted the FBI and police to report her missing, and told authorities the identities of those they believe recruited her locally. He said the FBI told the family that two other local women had also gone to Syria. U.S. Sen. Al Franken said over the weekend that the FBI has told his office “in the nature of about a dozen” people from Minnesota have left the country to join the terror group operating in Syria. Douglas McAuthur McCain, who attended Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope, was the first American to die while fighting for the terror group, called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Unconfirmed reports say another man who left Minneapolis two years ago died in the same battle. Now, local Somali leaders say, women are also being targeted by recruiters. “We’ve been hearing very recently that there’s a huge concern in the community of even young women leaving,” said Mohamud Noor, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. It may have become easier to recruit women because law enforcement has been focusing on young men leaving, he said. “There have been other young women who’ve left from Europe,” Noor added. The FBI declined to comment on the case. The woman’s family told FBI agents the names of several people who they believe were involved in recruiting the woman over the last nine months to a year, according to the relative. One of the alleged recruiters is a local woman who was said to be married to a white man who was fighting with terrorists in the Syria-Iraq region, and the woman was believed to be planning to join her husband. The missing woman contacted her family about a week after she left Minnesota. Coincidentally, the owner of the passport used by the missing woman did not report that the document was missing for about a week, the relative said. The family has not been updated about the investigation since the woman was reported missing, adding frustration to its anxiety about her safety. They wonder whether those who aided her departure will be held accountable. “How many more kids have to die before we do something about it?” the relative asked. “Those animals who are taking our children are what we’re concerned about. We love this country more than anything else. I love America. We don’t want to see anything bad happen here. This is the most dangerous thing happening to this country.” Franken on Wednesday asked the Justice Department to commit resources to address the threat by Americans, including Minnesotans, who have traveled to the Middle East to fight with ISIL. In the letter, Franken also said that he was “troubled” by President Obama’s recent statement that his administration had not yet put together a comprehensive strategy to address the growing threat posed by ISIL. “We must act diligently and responsibly to prevent Americans from taking up arms with ISIL, or from re-entering our country if they do. This requires that the Justice Department use all relevant legal authorities and all appropriate resources at its disposal,” the letter said. Neither the Justice Department nor the White House had any immediate response to Franken’s letter. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minneapolis and the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, said Wednesday he believes Obama is right in keeping U.S. soldiers out of Iraq. “ISIL is not a band of thugs, they’re an army,” he said. “They look forward to a response that kills civilians because then they will extort it for recruiting ­purposes.” Since 2007, two distinct waves of Somali teenage boys and young men have been recruited from Minnesota to fight with terrorists based in Somalia. In all, about two dozen were confirmed as successfully reaching Somalia to join the ranks of Al-Shabab — an Al-Qaida-linked force trying to overthrow the U.S.-backed government in that country. The woman who recently left for Syria did not have a job and was planning to attend St. Paul College to study nursing, the relative said. “She wanted to work in a hospital and be an RN,” the relative said. He said that she reportedly called her family twice about a week after she left — once from Turkey and soon after from Syria, according to the relative. The relative said that she notified her family of where she was, including the name of the town she was staying in. She also sent several photos from her smartphone showing where she was living. Star Tribune staff writer Allison Sherry contributed to this report • 612-673-1745 • 612-518-3363 Source:
  10. Fifteen Somali-Danish teenage boys from troubled and marginalised areas in Denmark were this month given a unique insight into the possibilities that await them if they study and work hard in school. As part of a Somali Outreach initiative, the youngsters – all aged 13-16 and accompanied by four volunteer mentors – spent five days visiting 13 companies and organisations ranging from oil giants to ministries, and even a football club, to gain inspiration for their futures. An incentive to work hard “We needed companies that we could visit and see, so that the kids could get a glimpse of what is in store for them in the long-term if they put the effort and time into their school work,” explained Deeqa Said, the organiser of the initiative. The project – which was established in co-operation with AmCham Denmark, the US Embassy and non-profit organisations Danish Human Appeal and Skovparkets Fritids- & Idrætsforening – aims to expose Somali-Danish youths to a professional working environment in Denmark. The companies and organisations that the youths visited were Rambøll, FL Smidth, Brøndby Football Club, Microsoft, UN City, the US Embassy, Maersk, McDonald’s, the Copenhagen Film Company, Shell, the Foreign Ministry, the Social Ministry and the Police. Not black and white The kids – who come from marginalised areas in Copenhagen, Odense, Aarhus and Kolding – got to choose the 13 companies they wanted to see the most out of a selection of 130. The idea was to allow the kids to see how the companies work, but also for the companies to become more aware of the Somali community. “In this way we were helping the community to realise the opportunities that are there for them and that everything is not black and white as they may think, but at the same time, the companies could see that the Somali kids are like any other kids,” Said explained. The kids also visited the public sector via the two ministries. The Social Ministry revealed how it engages marginalised areas and social issues, while the Foreign Ministry focused on its engagement in Somalia, so the kids could also hear about their country of origin. Engaging the future workers Søren Brøndum, the head of transport at Rambøll, the Danish engineering consultancy giant, said that his company generally supported these kinds of initiatives. “We try to engage the youth,” explained Brøndum. “We have kids coming to visit us from public schools one week every year, and I think we will continue to get involved in these kinds of initiatives in the future.” Brøndum said that the initiative was an important way for Rambøll to stay in touch and help inspire some kids who may in the future be potential employees looking to work for the company. “We also have kids from the gymnasiums and from universities, so we have the whole food chain coming in, and hopefully some of them will become engineers when they graduate at some point, so it’s also in our interest to make them aware of what we do.” The one who got away One of the engineers who the kids met during their Rambøll stint was Danish-Somali, and listening to his story was a source of great inspiration to them. “We met a guy who came from the same place that I do: a ghetto,” Yahye Said, one of the boys who took part in the project, said. “But he got through it, got a good education and, together with his sister, he moved away from the ghetto. It was very inspirational and I think I can do the same.” Integration a two-way street While this pilot project only included youth from the Somali community in Denmark, Said hopes to expand it even further in the future and get the Social Ministry fully involved. “We hope this project will inspire every community regardless of where they come from, because social issues involve everyone in society," she explained. “We wanted to show that we were able to inspire them during that short week. Just imagine if we had a year or so.” Said argued that for integration to work, it must begin at an early age and the kids must learn how society functions. Schools and councils that have many immigrant students need to make use of this approach, and companies need to do their part. “Integration is not only one- way, it’s a two-way street,” Said said. “We hope that we can continue with this and do it every summer because we want to make a difference.”
  11. GO: Could you briefly give us some background about your social and political career before clinching this ministerial post with the Government of Puntland? Before taking on this position with Puntland Government, I was running a consulting firm that specialized in human resource and policy development. It was providing capacity building to businesses in the states. I was also doing my Post-MA research and contemplating whether I might have gone abroad to teach, stay or prepare for doctoral studies. GO: in early March, you alongside Deputy Minister of Women Development and Family Affairs, Farhio Yusuf Hirsi Bilig, paid a visit to remote areas as well as coastal towns along the Indian Ocean where locals have no access to many amenities including primary health care and education, how have you reacted to that prevailing plight? As Per Puntland Government’s pledge to go beyond urban areas, we embarked on a trip to visit three places-Qaw (in Bari Region), Alula and Bargal (in Gardaful Region) - and paid closer attention to economic, education, social and political needs. We saw how Qaw, which is roughly less than an hour away from Bosasso lacked basic services notably primary and secondary schools, health care centers, roads, and employment opportunities. I knew the farther we go the worst it will be for residents of these areas. Read More at GAROWEONLINE.COM
  12. I found Nomad Diaries by Yasmeen Maxamuud to be a wonderful introduction to the lives of Somali women living in the United States. There were times where I was reminded of my own immigrant grandmother and mother as I read about the protagonist Nadifo’s life.Azra Thakur: As I mentioned in my review of Nomad Diaries, I am not familiar with stories that portray an African refugee woman’s journey to the United States presented in literature. What inspired you to write your novel?Yasmeen Maxamuud: Nomad Diaries came out of my desire to tell stories about the Somali diaspora community. I started writing about seven years ago out of a desire to communicate an issue in an article. Then came a plethora of reading about African affairs, and I didn’t like what was out there. Everyone had an opinion on Africans, but the African voice was lacking. At the time, I was reading a lot of gloomy books about Africa. Few that come to mind are King Leopold’s Ghost, about the Congo; and The Graves are Not Full about Rwanda. As I read these books, I began having one-way conversations with myself and I started asking questions. These responses became long accounts of my opinion about certain issues, like poverty, corruption, nepotism, and tribalism in Africa.As I was grappling with my African identity, 9/11 happened, and my entire world as I knew it changed. As I emerged from my new world as a baffled African Muslim, I looked for books that spoke to me, and there were none. I wanted to read about the Somali diaspora community, I wanted books that were written by people from home and, in particular, I wanted to read books from a Somali woman’s perspective. When I didn’t find “me” in a positive light in books that were in bookstores, I decided to write so that those similar to me with questions may find some answers.I questioned many endearing parts of my culture. One central question that kept ringing in my mind was “If we have such a beautiful Somali culture as was sold to me as a child, why are my people slaughtering each other?” In a nutshell, it’s the reason I wrote Nomad Diaries: to answer these questions for myself and to contribute to Somali literature from a woman’s perspective.Another reason for writing the book is to share our rich literature with non-Somali readers so that Somali literature is not an isolated literature in the corridors of the Somali community only, but one shared by a larger global community. I wanted to give readers a viewpoint of African women they may not have encountered before.I am struck by the image of a Somali woman on the cover of the novel: we see her back as she crosses a bridge. Why is this Somali woman on the cover of the book?The woman on the cover of the book represents Somali women – both traditional and modern. She is dressed in a traditional garb called sadex qayd. This is the traditional dress for Somali women in the countryside. My sister designed this particular sadex qayd for her wedding in America.As for the cover photograph, I wanted to capture the essence of a Somali woman moving forward while looking back into the past. The quintessential Somali woman in the American diaspora is one at the helm of her present life while continuously looking back into what she has lost in the civil war. Likewise, I desired for the cover to capture the past, the traditional, and the present modern Somali woman.The voices of African Muslim women are rarely portrayed in a positive light, either by themselves or by others in the media, if at all. Instead, stories illustrate the despairing situations women find themselves in with little to no mention of African women who work daily to overcome the challenges they face. Why do you think that is? Did this affect your decision to self-publish the novel?If one believes the portrayals one sees in the Western media, one will come away thinking African Muslim women are weak and desperate and oppressed with no voice. Of course the Western media has no reason to depict Somali women in a positive light. Depicting African women in a gloomy desperate predicament has often been a story to tell. In contrast, here is a group of women who are strong, empowered, and definitely at the tiller of their own lives. Women like Nadifo are everywhere, both in Somalia and in America. They are women who have figured a niche in the American melting pot, while still adhering to traditional culture and religious practices. A portrayal that is endearing, yet challenging, and ultimately human.It’s important to tell our own story. If I had waited for some big publisher to publish this book, I probably would have waited for years. Going on book tours has assured me that this is an important story to tell, readers everywhere were waiting, it seems, to hear an authentic African women’s story that is real and non-sensational. I can’t imagine anyone else telling our story the way a Somali woman can.The transience of wealth is a recurring theme throughout the book. Its indiscriminate pursuit has dire consequences for one of the characters. Women in the book are presented as being dependent on governmental aid or their spouses for financial support while in Somalia, which makes them unable to assume positions of power in their relationships. As the women become financially independent in the United States, however, they start to assert themselves far more often and are able to convey their opinions to greater effect. Is economic independence the means through which women are able to assert themselves most effectively?The civil war and its devastation have won Somali women a bargaining chip that was nonexistent while the country was in peace. Although it comes at a price, Somali women have managed to carve for themselves a position in society where, in many cases, they are the head of household. Both inside Somalia and in America, women have assumed positions that were traditionally male-dominated. In America, they are often single mothers who run businesses, work multiple menial jobs, and sometimes have professional careers. Somali women are ingenious and have figured out a system that has worked well for them in the post-civil war Somalia. But their new economic freedom may come at a high cost, as divorce rates and single mother households are on the rise.The influence of Islam remains in the background of the women’s experience within the novel, where the influence is a sustaining force and not oppressive in nature. While religion is hardly in the background when the novel is set in Somalia, its presence becomes more subtly apparent once Nadifo’s family is living in the United States. When Muslim women are presented in the media, however, their religion is usually placed at the forefront of the story, regardless of how their beliefs contribute to the story itself. Was this a conscious decision on your part or something that occurred naturally without a deliberate reason?Somalis in general have become devout after the civil war. Pre-civil war Somalia was a very secular one. In the past 20 years, the average Somali person has become well-versed in Islam. In a way, the spiritual connection to Allah has been a saving grace for many. Therefore, one cannot separate spiritual life from any writing or depiction that has to do with the Somalis of today. Worshiping comes naturally in Somali households in America. Since spirituality is part and parcel of the Somali existence, it was natural to include it in the story.Post-9/11 America has also changed things in a way where religion and spiritual life are more often sought, due to the onslaught of negativity to Islam. I cannot imagine any writing where spiritual life is not at the centre of my characters. It’s ultimately who we are at this juncture of life. I was not trying to harmonise Islam for anyone; I don’t think I need to do that, as I believe Islam is a beautiful religion. But I wanted to add to the mix something different, to give the reader something they may not witness anywhere else. I wanted to present Islam to my readers the way I know Islam.Source:
  13. (ABC 6 NEWS) -- The Faribault Police Department is asking for help finding a 17-year-old girl who is believed to be a runaway.Ramlo Hassan Ali was last seen in Faribault on August 25. Police say she told friends she planned to take a road trip and the less they knew the better.Ali is Somalian. She is 5'6" tall and weighs around 140 pounds.If you have information on her whereabouts please contact the FPD at 507-334-4305 or the crime tip line at 507-334-0999 if you wish to remain anonymous. Source:
  14. Asad has little memory of the wedding in Addis Ababa where he met his future wife, but he remembers every moment of the car journey home. The imam who performed the ceremony was in the passenger seat. Three people were in the back: Asad in one corner, a friend of Asad’s named Abdirashid in the middle, and a friend of the bride’s, a woman named Foosiya, in the other corner. The imam was boisterous and talkative. He was turned in his seat, facing the back, and remarking at length on Foosiya’s beauty. He spoke also of the bride – wealth he would pay for her – camels, horses, guns.‘Foosiya stayed in the same house as Ahmed’s new wife,’ Asad tells me. ‘We were very interested in the comings and goings of that house. We spent hours discussing each woman who lived there. Foosiya stood out among then. First, it was because she was amazingly beautiful. She had a long, powerful face and green eyes. Her eyes were very strong. She carried herself with independence, with confidence. When I watched her I would sometimes think of Nasri in Wardheer: a young woman alone, making her way with no doubts. But Foosiya was older than Nasri had been when I was in Wardheer. Foosiya was maybe twenty‐eight, twenty‐nine. That made her even more powerful. We discussed her often. Who would she marry? Would she even marry anybody? Who was big enough for her? She was an Isaaq woman from Somaliland, the traditional enemy of the Ogadeni. This made her even more powerful in my eyes.’And so the imam spoke of the camels and horses and guns he would pay for the gorgeous Foosiya.‘You are too old for me,’ she said coolly, and turned her face and stared out of the window.The imam smiled and pointed at Asad.‘Marry this one, then,’ he said.Foosiya turned to Asad, examined him for a moment or two, as if she was taking him in for the first time, then stared out of the window again.‘He is kurai,’ she said matter‐of‐factly. ‘I cannot marry him either.’Asad leaves the word untranslated. Literally, it means ‘small boy’. But its full import has no direct equivalent in English. ‘Runt’ perhaps gets close. This beautiful and haughty woman had settled her gaze just once upon Asad, long enough to flick him away like dirt from under her fingernail.Everyone in the car fell quiet. Asad stared ahead, avoiding everybody’s eyes.The imam broke the silence; he laughed and slapped his hand against the car seat. ‘I’m too old and Asad is kurai,’ he said, shaking his head in mock disbelief. ‘Nobody in Addis Ababa is just right for Miss Foosiya. She will have to travel far to find a man.’Asad felt the heat rising from his body. His clothes sat heavily on him, irritating his skin. He found, to his surprise, that a bead of sweat was rolling down the bridge of his nose. Were he to speak, he would only draw attention to his discomfort. And yet neither would silence restore his dignity. All he could do was to sit out his shame.When the journey finally ended, he climbed out of the car, put his head down, and walked. He wanted to storm Foosiya; he wanted to grip her by the arms and shake her hard. He imagined her composure collapsing in shouts and protests, perhaps even in tears. But that was a kurai‘s way of seeking attention. He kept walking.Over the following days, he felt Foosiya’s growing presence under his skin, teasing and agitating him. He believed that her image of him as kurai was somehow contagious, that, by now, every woman in her house saw an insignificant child whenever they laid eyes on him. The injustice of it grieved him. After all, he was the one supporting his entire household. What more did he need to do to prove himself?His feelings confused him. Why was he so upset? He had survived a childhood of hell; he had needed to grow four or five skins to fend off the world. Yet an idle comment uttered by a woman he barely knew had felled him. An old taste settled in the back of his mouth, one he had almost forgotten. It was a taste he had slowly spat out during the two years he spent with Rooda on the truck. What was it? He had no words for it. He remembered it in his mouth as he watched Nasri and Rooda disappear into Nasri’s house in Wardheer. They were inside together and he had felt very alone. He remembered swallowing hard and feeling in his throat the endless miles of desert beyond the boundaries of Wardheer.A week or so after the wedding, Asad announced to Abdirashid that he was going to propose marriage to Foosiya.Abdirashid raised his eyebrows. Then he whistled through his teeth.‘You’ll never do it,’ he said.‘You’re advising me not to do it?’ Asad asked. ‘Or are you saying you do not believe that I will do it?’‘I am saying that you don’t have the courage.’Asad stared hard at Abdirashid. He was a good ten years older than Asad. He was wise, self-assured. He knew what he knew.Abdirashid smiled mischievously. ‘Like I say, I don’t believe you’ll do it. But if you do, I will back you. I will come with you. I will help you through it.’That very afternoon, the two of them called at Foosiya’s house. A young woman received them and invited them to sit in the front room. Abdirashid said that they had come to see Foosiya. Asad was silent.The young woman left and came back a few minutes later. Foosiya would see them, she said, but they must be patient. Foosiya needed to wash, then to pray. Only then would she receive her guests.They waited almost an hour. Two or three women joined them and asked oblique questions; they were curious why these men wanted to see Foosiya, but they would not ask directly. The young men were nervous and answered the questions posed to them in riddles. The conversation grew more and more awkward.When Foosiya finally entered the room, she nodded a polite greeting to both men and sat down without saying a word. Abdirashid took command. After a few pleasantries, he told Foosiya that he was there merely as an adviser, that the visit was Asad’s, that Asad was interested in seeing her again. She nodded and looked at her fingernails, then took a long glance around the room, before finally settling her eyes on Asad. The sun was shining directly at her through the window and her green eyes looked quite translucent. Asad returned her gaze without flinching. The imperious expression she had worn when she had looked him up and down in the car was gone. Her face was quite inscrutable. It seemed to Asad that perhaps she was curious, enquiring, but he could not be sure. In any event, she said that if Asad were to come again, alone, she would see him.Sitting in my car outside his shack in Blikkiesdorp, Asad is bracingly candid about his intentions. He wanted to marry Foosiya, certainly, but he did not like her, and he did not want to spend his life with her. The way he saw it, the marriage would last a few weeks. He would win her and fuck her and divorce her. She had humiliated him. One of her eyes for one of his.Source:
  15. A Somali-American man from the Twin Cities area was killed in the same battle as fellow expat Douglas McAuthur McCain, also fighting for the terrorist group ISIS. The family apparently first received a photo of his body from Syria, and was later notified by officials. Abdirahmaan Muhumed, of Minneapolis, was one of about a dozen young men from the area who are known to have joined jihadi groups abroad. A friend described his ideological shift as "very unpredictable." McCain also grew up in a Minneapolis suburb, although he lived in San Diego before moving to Syria. It's not clear whether he and Muhumed knew each other before joining ISIS. Muhumed was the subject of a radio piece this June: A profile of Muhumed by Minnesota Public Radio this past June described him as a 29-year-old Somali-American who had been married more than once and was a father of nine children. MPR reported, citing the FBI, that at least 15 young men from the Twin Citites' Somali-American community had traveled to Syria to join Islamic State, the militant group formerly known as ISIS that has captured wide swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. In a Facebook messages to an MPR reporter, Muhumed wrote "I give up this worldly life for Allah" and "Allah loves those who fight for his cause." A picture posted on the social network showed Muhumed carrying a Koran in one hand and a rifle in the other. Source:
  16. HARGEISA, Somaliland (CNN) —In 1856, British explorer Richard Burton described Somalia as a nation of poets. It may seem an unlikely moniker for a country that has since become defined by piracy, state collapse, and the many horrors unleashed by Al-Shabaab -- the Islamic extremists who control much of the country.But, much has changed since then. Despite appearances, the country used to be one of East Africa's most dynamic artistic enclaves, and much of the region's cultural activity took place in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, the internationally unrecognized state that broke away from Somalia in 1991."Hargeisa used to be the cultural hub for the Somali republic. There was a beautiful Chinese-built theater; also the main public library, at one time the biggest in Somalia," recalls Jama Muse Jama, who six years ago founded the Hargeisa Book Fair.The theater and library, like much of Hargeisa, was flattened during the civil war that preceded Somalia's collapse and Somaliland's declaration of independence. Now, Jama is hoping to restore some of what his country lost."If at the end of the fair, we have one more reader, we have succeeded," he says.The fair, which takes place during a week in August (this year's ended August 13), has become one of the most anticipated literary events in East Africa. Part book expo, part cultural festival (poets, musicians and dancers are as popular as the author panels), the fair attracts a variety of local literary legends like Hadraawi, widely considered the most famous living Somali poet.Outside, the hundreds in attendance throng around stalls selling new books published by the likes of the Redsea Online Publishing/Ponte Invisible -- a publishing company run by Jama -- and second-hand tomes, all to meet demand in this literature-hungry city.The city's dedication to the written word is particularly poignant, given that the Somali language didn't even have its own written alphabet until 1972. That year, Somali President Mohammed Siad Barre introduced a standard written version of the Somali language using Latin script.The Barre regime's move -- driven by a 5% literacy rate (according to the United Nations) -- represented a new approach beyond the oral poetic tradition."Government workers were given three months to learn. Anyone who failed was fired," recalls Said Salah Ahmed, an author, playwright and teacher of Somali at the University of Minnesota, who was a school principal at the time.As the campaign stretched from the cities to the towns to the smallest villages, he says teaching took place "wherever -- under trees, under walls, wherever there was shade."Jama also considers that period fondly."It was one of the best things that happened in Somali society," he says.While the first books to be published in the new language were mostly textbooks, there was also a smattering of European classics, with "Animal Farm," "Gulliver's Travels," and even Dale Carnegie's "How To Win Friends And Influence People" appearing on book shelves, according to Liban Ahmad, a Somali writer and teacher based in London.The period also brought on new forms of Somali literature, alongside poetry."Modern trends started to emerge, including original fiction works," recalls Mohamoud Shiekh Dalmar, who was working with the Somali Broadcasting Service.According to the UN, the Somali literacy rates climbed to 55% by the mid-1970s. Such progress wasn't sustainable though, as civil war and drought ultimately split the country. By 1990, literacy rates fell to 24%. Jama recalls books being burned at his school library. The official excuse given, he says, was that they fostered colonial sentiment, but he reasons that it was because they underlined Somaliland's separateness."It had been a flowering. But everything was killed," he says.Still, in the Somali diaspora aboad, a handful of authors, like Saleh and Dalmar, did their best to uphold the literary traditions. Now, with the help of writing and photography workshops held at the book fair, a new generation of young Somali writers will hopefully pick up the tradition.Saleh points out that new books are again being translated into Somali.Jama himself remains dedicated to his path: using the occasion of the 2014 fair to launch a new, permanent, European Union-funded cultural centre in Hargeisa. Somaliland's capital may yet reclaim its cultural-hub status. All it takes is a little imagination, which Jama has in spades.Source: CNN
  17. MOGADISHU- "The president has arrived, the president has arrived," chant youths in Mogadishu's Beerta Khaatka market, as armed men in trucks mounted with machine guns escort lorries with horns blaring through the throng. The joking salutation is not for Somalia's president, but hails a national institution nonetheless: white sacks brimming with leafy sprouts of khat, the narcotic shrub chewed across the Horn of Africa and Yemen in a tradition dating back centuries. The ubiquitous sight of young men with rifles slung over their shoulders and green stalks of khat dangling from their mouths is emblematic of the Somalia of recent decades, where marauding Islamist rebels and warlords bent on carving out personal fiefdoms have fomented a culture of guns and violence. Grown on plantations in the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia, tons of khat, or qat, dubbed "the flower of paradise" by its users, are flown daily into Mogadishu airport, to be distributed from there in convoys of lorries to markets across Somalia. Britain, whose large ethnic Somali community sustained a lucrative demand for the leaves, banned khat from July as an illegal drug. This prohibition jolted the khat market, creating a supply glut in Somalia and pushing down prices, to the delight of the many connoisseurs of its amphetamine-like high. "Those who exported to London have now made Mogadishu their khat hub," said Dahir Kassim, an accountant for a wholesale khat trader in Somalia's rubble-strewn capital where women under umbrella stands sell khat bundles wrapped in banana leaves. The price of the cheap Laari khat popular in the impoverished country has halved to about $10 per kilogram since Britain outlawed the stimulant. A kilogram of "Special" or "London" khat has also gone down to about $18 from $30. Before the UK ban, 27-year-old mason's assistant Mohamed Khalif could only afford to chew once a week. "Now I chew daily and my problems are over," said Khalif, blissfully. Somali Khat businesswomen waiting for khat stand near a mini bus in Mogadishu. Grown on plantations in the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia, tonnes of khat, or qat, dubbed "the flower of paradise" by its users, are flown daily into Mogadishu airport, August 26, 2014. x Somali Khat businesswomen waiting for khat stand near a mini bus in Mogadishu. Grown on plantations in the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia, tonnes of khat, or qat, dubbed "the flower of paradise" by its users, are flown daily into Mogadishu airport, August 26, 2014. The daily arrival of the khat trucks galvanizes markets, sending female traders scrambling for the sacks of stems and leaves, whose potency wanes within a few days of plucking. Other street vendors take advantage of the hubub to try to sell soft drinks and cigarettes. "I bought my own houses from khat sales," said 55-year-old wholesale seller Seinab Ali in Mogadishu, distributing bundles of wrapped leaves to local traders. But khat exporters in Kenya, a former British colony where the cash crop bolsters the local economy, say the UK ban has slashed their profits from sales to Somalia. "Britain has made our khat business useless," said Nur Elmi, a khat trader in Kenyan capital Nairobi from where shipments to Somalia have almost doubled after Britain's ban. "They cannot afford to buy it all [in Somalia], so we sell it at throwaway prices," he said. The British decision to classify khat an illegal class-C drug was surrounded by heated debate, with critics saying it would create a lucrative clandestine market and even alienate immigrant youths, driving them into crime or Islamist extremism. Home Secretary Theresa May had argued in backing the ban that it would help prevent Britain from becoming a hub for the trade, which was already banned in the United States and several European countries. She also cited evidence that khat had been linked to "low attainment and family breakdowns". While defenders of khat-chewing hail it as a time-honored social tradition comparable to drinking coffee, detractors say it shares part of the blame for the violent and destructive chaos suffered by Somalia for the last 20 years. Somalia's cash-strapped government seldom collects health statistics. The spike in use is a concern but officials are too busy battling Islamist al-Shababrebels and rebuilding Somalia's state institutions to dedicate much attention to it, said the Mogadishu mayor's spokesman Ali Mohamud. "Somali people are wasting money, time and energy on khat," he said. "Khat has only advantaged those who grow it." A 2006 World Health Organization report on khat said it can increase blood pressure, insomnia, anorexia, constipation, irritability, migraines and also impair sexual potency in men. Even many of those who make a living from the khat trade recognize that its consumption can be harmful. "Khat is good for mothers who sell it but for those who consume it is a disaster. Day and night I pray to God so that my children do not chew khat," said wholesaler Ali. Many Somali women point to wrecked marriages and abandoned children as testimony to the dangers of excessive use of khat. "Men who chew are not good," said Maryan Mohamed, who said she had been married 13 times. "They chew alongside their hungry children." Source: VOA
  18. The Twin Cities is well known for its strong Somali community, but soon it may be known for their authors as well.Somali-Minnesotan author Habibo Haji is showcasing her 2013 debut memoir Conquering the Odds: Journey of a Shepherd Girl at Subtext Books in St. Paul on Aug. 26. The book follows Haji as a young girl growing up in central Somalia during the peak of civil war, and as she flees to the United States with no education and speaking no English."This book is based on my life experience living in a primitive village in Balcad, Somalia with my grandmother where I worked as a shepherd and nomad from the age of four,” Haji said. “I survived crocodiles, jackals, malaria and civil war. I also survived the largest refugee camp in the world—Dadaab.”Haji came to the United States when she was only 16 and in the book, she recounts some of the harder moments in her journey, like when she would tie her legs together at night while she watched over the cattle so she wouldn’t get raped in her sleep.“There would be a lot of young men and boys around because they would be doing the same thing as I was doing,” she said. “So my fear of getting raped at night … I think that’s probably one of the hardest things. Especially at the age of 12 when you’re trying to find your identity anyway.”But every hardship Haji faced throughout her journey was difficult for different reasons, she said, and coming to the United States was equally as terrifying for her.“Coming here to the United States with no English, no education. That itself is pretty frightening,” she said. “I don’t know how I actually did it. Sometimes I look back and go, ‘Wow, that is crazy.’”But Haji, now a registered nurse living in Rochester, said the book isn’t meant to simply document her hardships, but be an inspiration to those who are facing or have faced great adversity in their life.“I would like to empower individuals. I would like to share my ups and downs and my pain and my success with them and say, ‘Look, you can overcome anything,’” she said. “It’s how you view what’s present and in front of you.”You can meet Habibo Haji and watch her present her memoir at Subtext Books this Tuesday, Aug. 26, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Free. This work was co-authored by Joseph Culhane.Source:
  19. Ankara will be hosting the leaders of 51 countries and officials from eight international organizations during President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's inauguration ceremony on Aug. 28, while the leaders of Israel and Egypt, two countries Turkey is at odds with, are not among those invited to participate in the ceremony. A number of foreign leaders have been invited by Turkey to the inauguration ceremony of Erdoğan following his win in the nation's first presidential election by popular vote, which took place on Aug. 10. US President Barack Obama is not attending the ceremony, but a US delegation will be there to represent him, the Turkish press reported on Sunday. It is not clear what the level of representation of the US delegation will be. China will also be sending a special representative. Russia, Germany and the Netherlands will be sending ministers as representatives to the ceremony. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has not been invited to the ceremony either as Turkey does not recognize him as the legitimate leader of Syria, but the president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, Hadi al-Bahra, is among those invited. According to the reports, a number of guests have confirmed their attendance. Among the confirmed are Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, Beninese President Thomas Boni Yayi, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Togolese President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe, President of the Libyan Council of Deputies Aguila Saleh Issa Quaider, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, Albanian President Bujor Nishani, Somali President Hasan Mahmud, Kosovar President Atifete Jahjaga, Gambian Vice President Isatau Nije Saidy, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) President Derviş Eroğlu, Ethiopian President Mulatu Teshome Wirtu and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Chairman of the Presidency Bakir Izetbegovic. Azerbaijani Parliament Speaker Ogtay Asadov, Ivory Coast Parliament Speaker Guillaume Kigbafori Soro and Ghanaian Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur will also be among the participants. Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail V. Myasnikovich, Gabonese Prime Minister Daniel Ona Ondo, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, Tajik Prime Minister Qohir Rasulzoda and Nigerian Prime Minister Brigi Rafini have also confirmed that they will be attending Erdoğan's inauguration ceremony. From Germany, Interior Minister Karl Ernst Thomas de Maiziere will be attending the ceremony. Another group of attendees will include Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Burkinabe Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole, Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi, South Sudanese Foreign and International Cooperation Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena, Hungarian Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Tibor Navracsics, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Nizar bin Obaid Madani, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Khafizovich Kamilov, Tunisian Presidency Spokesman Adnen Manser, Maldivian Islamic Affairs Minister Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, Venezuelan Transportation Minister Haiman El Troudi, Djiboutian Education Minister Djama Elmi Okieh and Indonesian State Minister Dipo Alam. International organizations Representatives from a number of international organizations will also attend Erdoğan's inauguration ceremony. Black Sea Economic Cooperation Parliamentary Assembly (KEİPA) Secretary-General Kyrylo Tretiak, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Secretary-General Dmitry Fyodorovich Mezentsev, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Secretary-General Lamberto Zannier, Developing 8 countries for Economic Cooperation (D-8) Secretary-General Seyed Ali Mohammad Mousavi, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General Jose Angel Gurria, Economic Cooperation Organization Secretary-General Shamil Aleskerov, Turkic Council Secretary-General Halil Akıncı, and Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) Executive Director Gong Jianwei have confirmed their attendance. A delegation of three from the Mongolian Ministry of Defense will also be attending the ceremony. The inauguration ceremony will be held on Aug. 28 in Ankara. Erdoğan won 51.8 percent of the popular vote on Aug. 10. Erdoğan's swearing-in ceremony at Parliament will be “one of a kind,” with many foreign leaders around the world having been invited. Previously, presidents have been elected by Parliament, and the swearing-in ceremony had been a formality and not considered a special event. Source:
  20. The independent state of Somaliland’s transformation into a multiparty democracy is being helped along by experts at the US University of Notre Dame. “One goal of the Somaliland government is to have honest, respected elections,” says biometrics expert Kevin Bowyer. “Toward this end, they want to create a fraud-free voter registration list. They have turned to biometrics as a means to generate such a list.” He adds: “Fingerprint might seem like an obvious choice for biometric verification of a voting register, but it runs into problems with the percentage of the population for which an acceptable quality image can be obtained. Given the state-of-the-art in fingerprint sensors, in a country like Somaliland, a sizeable fraction of the population may have trouble using the sensors reliably. And this weakness can be exploited by people who want to commit voter fraud by registering more than once. In fact, Somaliland conducted a biometric voter registration exercise in 2008-09 using fingerprints and facial recognition, and a good deal of effort was devoted to using biometrics to clean the voting register. However, a report carried out in 2010 by Electoral Reform International Services for the Somaliland National Electoral Commission concluded that ‘this register is known to contain a large number of duplicates, possibly around 30%, and the existing biometric systems could not identify these with the data available.’ The problems with this voting register motivated the need for a new register.” As an alternative to fingerprinting, the Somaliland government, through its election experts, contacted Bowyer’s research group, which includes PhD students Estefan Ortiz and Amanda Sgroi, for help in exploring the use of iris recognition. According to the university, the Bowyer group’s publications on iris recognition technology contributed significantly in convincing the National Election Commission that iris recognition, carried out with the right equipment and procedures and with a focus on data quality, was a viable solution. The voter registration is by law required to be complete by the end of 2014. Somaliland officials asked Bowyer’s group to conduct a trial voter registration project using iris recognition that would be completed before Ramadan started on 28 June. “Data acquisition for the field study was conducted over a five-day period in two registration centres: one in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, and one in Baki, a small town about 60 miles from Hargeisa,” says Bowyer. “The data was transferred electronically to our research group at Notre Dame, where we performed the iris recognition analysis, and then reported our results back.” The Notre Dame researchers analysed 1,062 trial voter registration records. The number of duplicate records seeded into the dataset in order to test the power of iris recognition was unknown to the Notre Dame team. Each record contained two iris images, for the left and the right eye. Using automatic matching of the set of 2,124 iris images, the Notre Dame team says it was able to quickly identify a list of 450 duplicate registrations. The Notre Dame team then performed manual inspection of a small number of results that were ambiguous based on the automatic matching, and this identified another seven instances of duplicate registration. The list of 457 instances of duplicate registration was reported to the Somaliland National Electoral Commission, along with a technical report that describes how the Notre Dame team performed its analysis and makes recommendations for maintaining and improving image quality. Elections specialist Roy Dalle Vedove, working with the Somaliland NEC on the effort for a new and more accurate voting register, replied that “analysis of the results from our data confirm the accuracy of your results. … Overall we are very pleased.” According to the University, Somaliland will proceed to create a new national voting register to be used in the next elections. Its biometrically validated voting register will be one of the most technically sophisticated voting registers of any country in the world, and a model for others. Researchers hope it will lead to election results that are transparent and believable, and to greater international recognition of the Somaliland government. Source:
  21. ‘Land of Gods’ is a catchphrase used often in promoting Djibouti as a tourist destination. The Land of Gods referred to is the Land of Punt, a mysterious kingdom of untold wealth located to the south of ancient Egypt. Queen Hatshepsut referred to it as her “place of delight”. The exact location of Punt is disputed but historians have offered the possibilities of Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen. Djibouti seems convinced it was their land. Wherever it lay, it was tremendously important. Queen Hatshepsut undertook an expedition to Punt, known as Ta netjeru in the ancient Egyptian tongue. Punt was a sacred place to the ancient Egyptians; they believed it to be the birthplace of both gods and men. It had commercial value as well: Egyptian fleets regularly crossed the Red Sea to trade in incense, ebony, gold, wild animals and more. Djibouti’s crossroads location brings a different sort of visitor these days. “We are the gateway to the Middle East. That is why the Americans are here,” said Zaki as he sat with me in Djibouti Ville back in 2010. Relief of Queen Hatshepsut’s expedition to the Land of Punt; Temple of Deir el Bahri, Upper Egypt. Photo: Wikipedia.We were in Sept Frères, a restaurant in the African Quarter famed for its moukbassa, a whole fish fresh from the Red Sea grilled in the Yemeni style and served with the Djiboutian flatbread lahoh and a sweet viscous purée of bananas and honey calledhoulba. Zaki was a tall, gaunt and solemn man in his early thirties. We had exchanged emails while I was still in my hometown of Nairobi in which I told him of my impending trip. I was coming to conduct a research project in Djibouti, on democracy. Funded, naturally, by the Americans.My superiors at work had chosen me for this project because I spoke French. The client was an American NGO whose mission, we were told, was to educate the citizens of “undemocratic” lands about the virtues of democracy. They had written to my boss enquiring whether he had a field team in Djibouti and he had fired back a quick reply saying, rather disingenuously, that he had experienced men on the ground all over the country. Those men were imaginary; perhaps he believed that a man’s reach ought to exceed his grasp. Encouraged by his responsiveness and resourcefulness, the Americans wrote back saying they wanted to carry out a survey of Djiboutian citizenry’s attitudes towards democracy. The boss, seeing the possibility of a long and lucrative relationship with the Americans, agreed to take on the project. He drew up a timeline and a budget and emailed them to the Americans. Then he summoned me to his office and presented me with the job.The American clients were scheduled to land in Djibouti on Sunday afternoon and wanted to meet the (still imaginary) field team for a briefing session upon arrival. The boss instructed me to depart immediately in order to set everything up before the American landing. This seemed impossible. It was Wednesday. It would take three working days to obtain a visa. He advised me not to bother going to the embassy. Instead, he said, I should travel on Thursday night to Addis Ababa in neighboring Ethiopia and then onward to Djibouti where I would arrive on Friday morning. He assured me that Friday was a slow and sleepy weekend day in the predominantly Muslim country and therefore immigration officials would be forgiving, allowing me to slip easily into the country sans visa. This clandestine suggestion gave me pause. Even if I managed to enter the country without a visa, where would I begin? I did not know anybody over there. Could he not stall the clients for a few more days while I tested the waters? He alternated between threatening and cajoling, saying time was a luxury that I did not have. I accepted the job. WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT MENTION POLITICS The next morning I went to the embassy and waited nervously for my visa to be expedited. I had chosen to err on the side of caution and to enter the country legally. An older colleague at the office—a seasoned veteran of travel to “undemocratic” lands—had given me some welcome advice: “Whatever you do, do not mention politics. Say you are doing a comparative study on the eating habits of the wider Eastern African region instead.” It worked brilliantly. The bored embassy official was unprepared for my charm offensive. In my finest French and flashing my most dazzling smile, I expressed my deep and sincere interest in the food of Djibouti—its flatbread lahoh, its sweet halwo desserts, its baasto pasta. I even said I wanted to try camel meat. I left the embassy not only with a visa stamped in my passport but with a long and varied list of culinary delights that he insisted I try upon arrival in Djibouti. This seemed to augur well for the project.At 2 am on Thursday morning, I presented myself at the Ethiopian Airlines check-in desk at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. The two-hour flight to Addis Ababa was uneventful. I spent it familiarizing myself with the client’s very particular areas of inquiry.I continued with these preparations during the four-hour layover at Bole Airport in Addis, pausing only for people-watching breaks. I was particularly fascinated by a large group of young women in loose floor-length dresses and shawls draped around their heads. A middle-aged Ethiopian seated beside me whispered to me that the contingent was Riyadh-bound, possibly victims of human traffickers masquerading as “foreign employment agencies” which lure unsuspecting young Ethiopian women with the promise of domestic work in the Middle East, where many fall into the hands of cruel employers and lead lives of servitude and suffering. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that many of the dresses were indeed new, and that many of the shawls were adjusted with a frequency that indicated either unfamiliarity or discomfort, and I wondered what lay in store for this seemingly upbeat and optimistic group. DJIBOUTI HAS THE ONLY AMERICAN MILITARY BASE ON THE AFRICAN CONTINENT On the forty-minute flight from Addis to Ambouli, my eyes met those of an American soldier in seat 23C. He winked; I looked away. Djibouti is home to the only American military base on the African continent. Camp Lemonnier in the Djibouti Ville suburb of Ambouli is the American hub for the war on terror in the Horn of Africa, and no doubt at least a contributor to my clients’ interest in this tiny country. The soldier helped me with my luggage when we landed—muscular arms, many tattoos. He stood next to me on the bus ride to the terminal but we did not exchange a word. I bent into my purse to rummage for a pen with which to fill in the immigration form. When I raised my eyes to look for him, he was gone. I sighed, and moved along with the rest of the queue. SURELY THE RED-LIGHT DISTRICT COULD NOT BE IN THE CENTER OF THE CITY? Upon stepping outside into the sweltering heat I was promptly accosted by a sprightly old porter who forcibly steered me towards a taxi while carrying my luggage with surprising ease. He stuck out his palm and barked, “Trois dollars.” Three dollars. I obliged and entered the ramshackle vehicle. The elderly taxi driver greeted me cheerfully and introduced himself as Issa. He stroked his orange beard somewhat nefariously and asked where I would be staying. Tufts of matching curly orange hair peeked out of his white skullcap. I wanted to interrogate him on his henna dye job but felt it would be inappropriate.“Hotel Ali Sabieh,” I replied.He eyed me suspiciously. “Don’t you have any family?”“None here,” I replied. I had obtained the hotel name from a hasty Google search for cheap hotels in close proximity to the university where I was planning to recruit my field team of bright, eager, cash-strapped students. Had I accidentally picked a seedy ‘love hotel’ in a disreputable part of town? Surely the red-light district could not be smack in the center of the city?“Husband?”“No.”“Children?”“No.”He frowned disapprovingly. “That is not good. Once a woman stops having her period, it is over for her. Women must get married and have children quickly, when they are young.” He looked at me closely in the rear view mirror, no doubt trying to establish why I had failed to ensnare a husband by my advanced age of 25. “It is not good for a woman to travel alone and stay in hotels. People will talk. Also, your hotel is too expensive. I will take you to another one.”And so Issa commandeered me to Hotel Banadir. It was a clean and utilitarian place, and once I ensured that there was a fan in the room, I paid cash upfront for two nights. Djibouti is said to be the world’s hottest country and already I had been wilting in the 40°C heat. Kadra, the pleasant and rotund cleaning lady, plied me with sugary coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and a warm crispy baguette. She quickly took to lamenting the lack of good men in Djibouti as she straightened out my room. “All they do is chew khat,” she says angrily slapping a pillow into shape. It turns out that she, like me, was also unmarried. This left her extremely bitter about having to eke an honest living when all her four older (and significantly less attractive, according to her) sisters were all happily married with children. I commiserated.After a refreshing shower, I slipped into a loose flowing dress I had packed with foresight for the hot weather. I went to the reception to call Zaki, my sole contact in the country who had been recommended by the seasoned veteran in the office. He knew someone in Nairobi’s predominantly Somali suburb of Eastleigh who knew someone in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu who knew someone in Djibouti. To my delight, I discovered that the hotel manager was an Omani Arab who wanted to practise his Arabized Swahili with me. After a labored conversation and several cups of sugary coffee, I finally managed to extricate myself and ventured out into the streets of Djibouti Ville, deserted on this hot and humid Friday afternoon, to meet up with him.“We are the smallest country in the region,” Zaki had said as he tore apart his fish with his hands. “We are a desert nation with few natural resources. Those who say we have sold ourselves to the Americans do not understand our situation.” America might indeed be a good friend to have when one is surrounded by volatile and belligerent neighbors such as Somalia and Eritrea. While Djibouti has been committed to the Somali peace process, American military presence in Djibouti is a thorn in the side of Somali terror group al-Shabaab. The group reminded Djibouti that Somalia had sacrificed people and resources to aid them in their struggle for independence from the French. Signing a deal with U.S. President Obama on May 5, 2014 to let the US keep a military base in Djibouti for 30 more years was not the way to return the favor. The presence of foreign soldiers, both American and French, has been blamed for the increase in “un-Islamic behavior” among local women. On May 24, 2014, al-Shabaab carried out first suicide bombing in Djibouti’s history at La Chaumière, a restaurant popular with Westerners in Djibouti Ville. In a statement claiming responsibility for attack, al-Shabaab said that Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh had signed a “deal with the devil” by allowing access of its land and facilities to the “Crusaders”. In June, both Britain and the US issued travel advisories against Djibouti, citing credible threats by al-Shabaab to Western interests there. The Americans are not the only ones interested in Djibouti. Tarek bin Laden, brother to Osama bin Laden, wants build a gigantic suspension bridge across the Red Sea to connect Yemen to Djibouti through the Bab el-Mandeb, a strait approximately 30 km long connecting North Eastern Africa to the South Western tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Bab el Mandeb means Gate of Tears in Arabic, named for the tears shed by the many that drowned when an earthquake separated Asia and Africa according to an Arab legend. It is estimated that about 30% of the world’s oil shipment transits through Bab el-Mandeb on a daily basis. Over 3.3 million barrels of oil are shipped daily from the Gulf States through the Red Sea and onto Europe and America. All this oil is why the high seas of the Gulf of Aden are a hotspot for pirates.Zaki pointed out an elderly Arab man eating alone at a nearby table. “Very powerful guy that one. Has a band of young thugs on high-powered motorboats. They steal petrol from the big ships. They give us a bad name. Now the whole world thinks we are pirates like the Somalis.” This animosity with Somalia seems odd, given that the majority of Djiboutians are Somalis themselves. The country used to be known as French Somaliland. When Somalia was about to get independence in 1960, there was a referendum here to vote on whether French Somaliland should unite with Somalia. The Afars, a minority group somewhat favored by the French, and the French themselves did not want that and so Djibouti remained colonized until 1977, making it the last French colony in Africa to obtain independence.Djibouti Ville was once known as Little Paris and vestiges of French presence abound. There is a Boulevard du General de Gaulle and a cultural centre named after Arthur Rimbaud, the infamous French poet who abandoned Parisian bourgeois life to trade coffee and guns in the Horn of Africa. In the European Quarter’s Place Menelik cafés serve coffee and croissants while French legionnaires in uniform wander around. Like many of its African counterparts, the city is a study in contrasts. The African Quarter is a riotous mayhem of sights, sounds and smells. Aggressive vendors of clothes, food, spices, electronics and assorted counterfeit goods jostle with urchins, beggars, prostitutes, animals and loudly hooting minivan taxis. Picturesque Arab style arches can be seen in some of the older buildings, and the muezzin’s call to prayer from the city’s mosques wakes one in the early morning hours. This is Djibouti: a heady fusion of African, Arabic and European influences. As postprandial coffee was served in the Arab style, I outlined the project to Zaki. Djibouti Ville, once known as Little Paris. Photo: WikipediaI was here to test the political temperature of the country before the upcoming 2011 presidential elections on behalf of an American NGO client, and I needed Zaki to find willing focus group participants from all of the major towns of both genders and of varying ages, tribes, religions, political affiliations, levels of education, income and so on. As much diversity as possible was desirable. Could it be done?“What kind of questions do you want to ask?” he asked suspiciously.“What Djiboutians think of the government, whether you think the forthcoming elections will be free and fair, that sort of thing.”“That is very dangerous. They will not allow you to ask these kinds of questions. You have to be very careful. You are risking imprisonment, not just for yourself but for me as well. If I decide to help you, that is.” He said there were severe restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly and association. In addition, I was required by law to obtain a permit prior to conducting any research in the country. He said that the government would view this project as an American scheme to sow seeds of subversion among the Djiboutian people. This was worrisome news but he reassured me that we could get it done if we kept our wits about us and employed a bit of cunning. THE CITY IS TEEMING WITH GOVERNMENT SPIES AND SECRET POLICE The first challenge was obtaining the research permit. The plan was to say that we wished to visit the country’s various regions in order to research the eating habits of the people. The second challenge was finding willing participants. Zaki told me that it would be difficult to find people who would voice their honest opinions about the country’s politics. However, he was sure that some financial incentive and the guarantee of anonymity would loosen a few tongues. He suggested hiring a bus to pick up the participants from the different towns to ferry them into the capital, holding the discussions at night then ferrying them back in the morning. He would also have to find a discreet location to hold the discussions in, a daunting task in a city teeming with government spies and secret police. We sketched out a plan of action and then he got on his phone to marshal his troops. I headed to an internet cafe to send a detailed update to the boss.We met the American clients the next day. They looked perfectly at home in the luxurious opulence of the Kempinski, a hotel catering to those in search of international five-star service in a third-world setting. The vast lobby was swarming with Western military types in uniform, Arab businessmen in spotless white dishdashas, portly African diplomats and sunburned Western tourists. I introduced Zaki as the local field manager and they were suitably impressed by his knowledge of the country’s political situation. We informed them that a trial run of the discussions was scheduled for the next day.Zaki did not think it is a good idea for the Americans to attend the discussions. The participants would not want to talk in the presence of foreigners. I told him not to worry; we would put them in an adjacent room with a Somali-English translator.“The client is king,” I said, quoting one of the boss’ favorite mantras. “And they are only here for two days.”Zaki nodded grudgingly. “You are right. We should keep them happy. I don’t think they want to leave their hotel in the first place.”“Why do you say that?”“Do you think foreigners come here to see the real Djibouti? No. They come here and ask for air-conditioning and high-speed internet. These are basic necessities to them. Most Djiboutians are struggling just to put food on the table.” He was working up an impressive lather of indignation, and I seized the opportunity.“Isn’t the government to blame for that?”Zaki unburdened. “The president is a dictator,” he said, referring to President Guelleh, one of just two presidents free Djibouti has ever had, who has been in power since 1999. “He pays lip service to progressive politics but runs the country on his own terms, which is to say repression and intimidation. He promises free and fair elections but reneges each time. Talk of increased democratic space is simply just that: talk. Instead of pursuing the goal of national development he is selling the country to foreigners. The chasm between the rich and the poor is expanding rapidly. This is the country we live in.”After all that outrage, Zaki apparently needed a fix of khat—like his president, he is a devoted masticator of the narcotic stimulant that is flown in fresh daily from Ethiopia. I went with him to a street vendor where he bought a huge bag of the green leaves, and we then headed to his brother-in-law Abdkader, who lived a short ride away, past herds of languid camels, in the southern suburb of Balbala. To my great delight, Zaki’s brother-in-law Abdkader had assembled members of his vast extended family to take part in the focus group. Zaki was from the majority Issa tribe whereas Abdkader was from the smaller Afar tribe. “They are more Somali and we are more Ethiopian,” Abdkader explained. In a country with a history of tribal animosities, he was understandably proud of his marriage to someone from a different tribe. He was a small and furtive man, a great contrast to his wife Fatiah who was tall with ample curves. The men had changed from their Western-style trousers into macawii, a length of colorfully printed cotton fastened securely at the waist and draped loosely down to the knees or the ankles like a skirt. After they had said their prayers, they sat down on the carpeted living floor chewing khat and conversing in rapid Somali. Fatiah brought bottles of cold Coca Cola to them. Apart from Fatiah, Abdkader’s elderly mother and myself, the rest of the women are nowhere in sight.Zaki introduced me to the group, most of whose cheeks are bulging with wads of khat. I thanked them for their interest in the project. I stressed that the aim of the discussions was simply to find out what life was like for the average citizen of this country, and that I wanted to collect as many views as possible. They conferred among themselves in hushed tones, their jaws working furiously on the khat leaves. Zaki translated. They wanted a guarantee that their identities would not be revealed, and they would require a small financial token of appreciation. We agreed, and Fatiah and I went to the kitchen where the women were preparing the evening meal of rice and a spicy beef soup known as fahfahk. Afterwards as the evening got cooler, mattresses and bedding were spread out on the roof for the extended family guests. I headed back into town.The trial run was a success. Several of the men and women from the night before took part in the discussion. Abdkader led while Zaki sat in the room next door with the Americans and me, translating from Somali into English. The group was timid at first, but gradually warmed up. Several of the men vehemently expressed their displeasure with the government, echoing Zaki’s sentiments from the previous day. The Americans nodded enthusiastically and scribbled the revelations in their notebooks. Once the group had left, they congratulated me on a job well done. They would be leaving for the U.S. tomorrow but expected me to send daily updates with the findings from the other towns. While Zaki was excited at the prospect of fanning embers of revolt nationwide, I only wanted to go back to my hotel room and sleep. I WAS JOLTED AWAKE BY LOUD POUNDING ON THE DOOR No sooner had I fallen asleep than I was jolted awake by loud pounding on the door. I ignored it, hoping the unwanted visitor would tire and leave but the pounding did not stop. Suddenly I was afraid. While at Abdkader’s place, Zaki had recounted a cautionary tale about two Kenyans who were arrested and summarily deported for conducting research in the country illegally. Their photos were splashed in the local newspapers accompanied by severely excoriating articles. Overtaken by paranoia, I took my mobile phone and tiptoed to the bathroom where I quietly locked the door and dialed Zaki’s number. “They have come for me,” I whispered. He told me not to open the door, to pack my things and be ready to go when he arrived.The pounding stopped after a while. I did as ordered and then sat down to torment myself by imagining the worst. My imaginings of Djiboutian prison conditions were interrupted by quiet tapping on the door, followed by Zaki’s voice. I let him in and apprised him of the past hour’s events. He feared the worst and told me that I was decamping to Abdkader’s. He was distrustful of the overly inquisitive Omani proprietor he had encountered downstairs. He said the man was probably calling the police as we spoke. I arrived at Abdkader’s to find that the news of my alleged imminent arrest has preceded me and created no small anxiety in my project participants. They no longer wished to take part in the research. I struggled desperately to salvage the situation, saying that it might not have been the police at my door. But the story has opened old wounds from the civil war twenty years ago: summary executions, imprisonment without trial, mysterious disappearances—fates that had befallen people they knew. Egyptian soldiers from Hatshepsut’s expedition to the Land of Punt as depicted from her temple at Deir el-Bahri, located on the west bank of the Nile opposite Luxor. Photo: WikipediaFeeling overwhelmed, I called my boss and asked him how to proceed. He said a more competent replacement would come to take over. When the replacement arrived, his first move was to offer more money to the participants. It was a very Kenyan response. The Djiboutians refused, their dignity slighted. “It is not worth the risk,” said an insulted Abdkader. The replacement then asked where we could find a new group of people, but Zaki said that nobody would agree to cooperate with him. Unwilling to accept defeat, the replacement set out to do the recruitment himself. Instead of going about it tactfully as per Zaki’s advice, he went to public spaces where being conspicuously foreign, he attracted the attention of the police. He was asked to produce his permit and failed to do so. The police advised to leave the country as soon as possible and not to trouble himself with returning. And thus the democracy project came to an unceremonious end.On the return flight I was seated next to an elegant Djiboutian woman in her late 40s by the name of Amina. She was heading to Paris to visit relatives. She asked me whether I had enjoyed my stay in her country. I told that unfortunately I had not been able to see much of the country. “Did you not go clubbing? A young girl like you? How about deep-sea diving? Lac Assal?” Nothing, I replied. She appeared more disappointed than I was. “You will go back home and tell people that there is nothing to see in Djibouti which is not true.” It’s true that Djibouti is not a place people fall in love with—for many it is too hot, too poor, too dangerous, too bewildering. But I disagreed with Amina: I would have no bad report to make of the country. And for all the fiasco that was my American research project, at least as of this writing, I am still allowed to return.“Will you be back?” asked Amina. “Yes,” I said, “I will be back.”Some names have been changed to protect identities.Barbara Wanjala was born in Kenya and educated in France. She is a market researcher by day and a frantic Googler by night. She blogs about a wide variety of African topics such as history, business, fashion, travel, wildlife, herbal remedies and beverages at
  22. A judge declared Gideon Arrington "every woman's worst nightmare."Anoka County District Court Judge Dyanna Street on Tuesday sentenced the Brooklyn Park man to 27 years in prison for kidnapping and raping a young woman he encountered on a Fridley street last winter.Arrington stood silently in a green prison jumpsuit as Street delivered the sentence in a mostly empty courtroom. The duration was a substantial increase from the 12- to 16-year sentence recommended by Minnesota sentencing guidelines.Arrington, 36, was convicted of one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in May after entering an Alford plea, which allows defendants to maintain their innocence while acknowledging the state likely has enough evidence to compel a jury to convict them.Arrington made an impassioned plea Tuesday for a lighter sentence, mentioning the children who need him and an ailing mother.He also adamantly defended his innocence while pointing out inconsistencies in sentencing decisions."This is outrageous. It's not me ... I am not a bad man," he said. "I know people who shot someone and get way less time. You want to tell me it's better to murder someone than be accused of raping somebody. ... That don't make sense."The Brooklyn Park man was arrested in December after he approached a then-32-year-old personal care assistant as she was getting into her car in Fridley.He told the woman he was a detective who needed to ask some questions, authorities alleged.Instead, he forced the woman into his own vehicle, handcuffed her, blindfolded her with duct tape and drove her to an unknown location, according to court records. After leaving her inside a cold garage for hours, he took her into a bathroom and raped her twice.After each attack, he made her sit clothed in a tub of water mixed with bleach to remove any of his DNA from her body, authorities alleged. He then washed her clothes, led the still-blindfolded woman back to his vehicle and drove her to another unknown location.There, Arrington opened the vehicle door, handed her $2 and told her to walk until she found a bus, authorities alleged. Instead, the frantic woman hailed a cab and took it to Mercy Hospital, where a rape assessment was performed.Street pointed out the indisputable facts in the case before rendering her decision Tuesday.Among them, she pointed to Arrington's DNA that was found on duct tape in the woman's hair, the smell of bleach medical workers noted on her body and a witness' account of seeing Arrington force her into his vehicle.She listed the "particular cruelty" Arrington showed during the attack and his impersonation of a police officer as justifications for the lengthy sentence. She also pointed to vaginal tearing the woman suffered and Arrington's past criminal history.He was convicted of first-degree aggravated robbery in 2009 and disorderly conduct in 2004.Quoting a detective involved in the case, Street called him "the boogie man" for his conduct during the assault.She added that his continued denial of involvement leaves her concerned for his rehabilitation.The victim, a Somali woman, was not present in court Tuesday, nor did she offer a victim-impact statement, as is typical in such cases.Assistant Anoka County Attorney Wade Kish, who prosecuted the case, said the stigma that can sometimes accompany rape victims in certain cultures kept her away.More than any rape victim he has come across in 15 years, Kish said, the woman was relieved to learn she would never have to speak of the assault again.Source:
  23. MOGADISHU, Somalia—Inside the small office, the line of sweating clients waiting to renew their satellite TV subscriptions keeps growing. Technicians crimp wires and test signal strength of boxes while others go to homes across the Somali capital to install new systems or fix faulty ones. The TV business is booming in Somalia, in part because of fears by people of gathering in public places like restaurants that are targeted for deadly attacks by the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab. Movie theaters, long a source of entertainment for Mogadishu residents, have been shuttered following a wave of terrorist attacks. Many Somalis consider restaurants and hotels too dangerous to visit. And the Somali National Theater, which had started to pick up a large following after al-Shabab was ousted from Mogadishu in 2011 by African Union military forces, suffered a major blow after it was bombed in 2012 in an attack that killed dozens of people. With the militants using violence to impose bans on modern cultural events, TV sales are going up, in turn fuelling demand for satellite TV services. Access TV, a satellite service, was launched in 2012 and offers world news, local news and sports— a mix that many Somalis like. In the past, three satellite dishes were required to receive all that but now only one is needed, along with the receiver. “It’s a quick sure-fire venture and demand is exceptionally high,” said Abdirizak Hassan Muse, who manages the Access TV office in Mogadishu. On a recent day, a technician from Access TV went up onto the white sun-splashed roof of the company’s offices in this seaside capital to adjust the signal received by large satellite dishes. The shell-pocked city stretched out below him With more than 5,000 subscribers, Access TV is a flourishing business. Its website says 100 channels are on offer. Five other companies offering similar services have opened in Mogadishu. Sports channels, especially those showing European soccer leagues, are the most popular. In a country that until just a couple of years ago was notorious for piracy — the real kind with the seizing of cargo ships and yachts — and other lawlessness, some wonder about legitimacy of the providers. Ahmed Muhummed, an economist in Mogadishu, said there is “doubt that such operations are wholly legitimate.” The cost is relatively cheap. In addition to the $60 installation fee for Access TV, each customer pays $8 a month. Muse said business is growing so fast that his company had to train and hire freelance technicians in order to meet the demands. Shops selling TV also report growing demand, with flat screens the most sought after. A 51-inch flat-screen TV now sells for $700 compared with $500 just year ago. A 40-inch flat screen TV goes for $400. For Abdulaziz Yasin, a new subscriber to Access TV, the service means he can get entertainment at home without having to venture out to find it. “Cinemas were better, but with this service we can at least avoid the unsafe public gatherings,” he said. “We hope peace will come, so that we can have fun at any location of our choice.” Source:
  24. In 2008, Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout was kidnapped by a group of Somali teenagers and held captive for over 460 days. She was tortured, starved, and abused repeatedly before finally being released for a ransom. Lindhout says she did more than just survive the ordeal, she was transformed by it. “Physically I was in chains on the floor, and I had no power, no control over that, but I still had the power to choose my response to what was happening to me, to hold on to my own morals and my own values,” Lindhout explains. “I knew somehow at the deepest part of my being that if I chose forgiveness, that experience just would not have the power to crush me.” Lindhout is the author of a memoir about her ordeal, A House in the Sky, written with Sara Corbett.Source:
  25. More than any other organization, Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahedeen, widely known as al-Shabab, has left its mark on the recent history of Somalia. Political and radical Islam have a long history in the country, but no group has survived longer than al-Shabab, and no group has emerged stronger from challenges and setbacks. More than any other actor involved in the two-decade-old Somali conflict, al-Shabab has demonstrated its ability to adapt. Today, the group has emerged from an existential crisis and looks stronger than it has in years. Though al-Shabab is often referred to as simply a “terrorist group,” the term does not accurately describe the range of the group’s activities. As perhaps the most important spoiler on Somalia's way toward peace, al-Shabab's current situation warrants an assessment. The Growth of a Radical Movement The “Mujahedeen Youth Movement” emerged from the ashes of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a federation of Sharia courts that tried to fill the void left by the total collapse of the Somali state in the 1990s. In June 2005, the ICU took control of much of southern Somalia, raising alarm in Western capitals as well as in neighboring countries like Ethiopia. By providing a basic legal framework and social services, the ICU succeeded in creating domestic support for its political and religious agenda. It was in this period that al-Shabab was recognized as the ICU’s youth wing, even though the group had existed since 2003. The ICU’s reign over southern Somalia lasted only a few months. A U.S.-backed invasion of 14,000 Ethiopian troops forced its leaders into exile in December 2006. The more determined and radical al-Shabab cadres stayed behind in Somalia, taking over the ICU’s remaining organization in rural Somalia. At the same time a military campaign against Ethiopian troops as well as those of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) began. After the Ethiopian retreat in 2009, al-Shabab was able to extend its area of influence. The TFG stayed alive only thanks to the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM. Its power didn't extend beyond a few square miles in the center of Mogadishu. In much of the rest of southern Somalia, al-Shabab was able to establish itself as the de facto government. In 2011 AMISOM and the TFG undertook a concerted offensive that pushed al-Shabab out of many important towns. They were soon joined by Kenyan troops in the south and redeployed Ethiopian forces, putting further pressure on al-Shabab and ushering in a new elected Somali government elected year later. Meanwhile, al-Shabab underwent a phase of internal conflict. Weakened by territorial losses, the group was predicted by many observers to be near its demise. But al-Shabab has emerged from its crisis and has regained the initiative. Today the group is not only the greatest threat to the existence of the fledgling Somali government. It has also committed high-profile terror attacks against targets in Kenya and Uganda. As Abdi Aynte, the director of Somalia's first think tank, the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, puts it, "After years of being in decline, now we are seeing the organization essentially coming back to life." The Structure of al-Shabab The incredible resilience of al-Shabab is explained at least in part by its leadership and structure. The group is governed by a central Elders Council, the Shura, headed by the Amir Ahmed Godane. The Shura brings together al-Shabab’s top leadership, including military commanders, civil administrators and religious scholars. Local versions of the Shura also exist in those areas where al-Shabab has territorial control. These institutions incorporate local authorities and clan representatives, headed by the wali, an al-Shabab-appointed governor. They are autonomous from the group's top leadership, within certain limits. Al-Shabab features a complete set of institutions. The Shura oversees several ministries tasked with military affairs, social services and civil administration. Its armed forces operate with considerable autonomy on the local level but still retain coherence and discipline. Several parallel services exist: Hisbah units, responsible for community policing and manning checkpoints; Zakawat troops tasked with collecting local taxes; and Jabhad forces that serve as mobile units conducting conventional mobile military operations. There is also the Amniyat, al-Shabab’s feared intelligence service, which handles clandestine operations and intelligence gathering. Somalia’s local politics are complex and characterized by ever-changing clan alliances. More than anyone else, al-Shabab has succeeded in establishing a system of governance that is able to handle this. But this shouldn’t obscure the brutal determination the movement employs to achieve its political and military objectives. Al-Shabab is currently emerging from a phase of internal conflict. After suffering military losses at the hands of AMISOM, the Amir Godane faced severe criticism from some of his top deputies. The internal opposition included the most prominent foreign fighter, Omar Hammami, a U.S. citizen. As a result, Godane allegedly developed a more authoritarian leadership style, refusing to assemble the Shura to discuss the internal disputes. In 2013, tensions escalated. Godane’s faction moved swiftly and decisively, killing Hammami. Several other internal rivals were also either killed or purged from al-Shabab's ranks. From this conflict, “Godane has emerged stronger in terms of his leadership,” says Cedric Barnes, the International Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa director. Information collected by the United Nations indicates that Godane has also strengthened his direct control of the Amniyat intelligence branch. In its 2013 report, the U.N.’s Panel of Experts on Somalia came to the conclusion that the internal conflict had no impact on al-Shabab’s ability to conduct military operations. “Al-Shabab is a political organization, despite all the Islamist aura around it,” says Barnes. “The fact that there are disputes within the leadership is not unusual. Al-Shabab should not be seen as exceptionally divided.” The Swedish Life & Peace Institute even credits al-Shabab with “a degree of ideological consistency and indoctrination” far beyond that of other Somali factions. Indeed, al-Shabab is the only faction in Somalia’s political landscape with a clear and, for the most part, consistent political agenda. The group’s members see Somalia as being in existential crisis, under attack and colonized by neighboring countries. In a 2014 report, the Life & Peace Institute quotes one sheikh of al-Shabab as saying, “The country has descended into a sphere of darkness. The country is colonized. The Somali people have become very weak and confused.” Another sheikh sees the renunciation of Islam as the main problem: “The problems began in the time when the Somali people refused to practice Sharia, when women went outside uncovered, when injustice and corruption became something normal and individual rights were not respected.” The Global War on Terror An important framework for al-Shabab's ideology is the U.S.-led war on terror, which is portrayed as unjust, hypocritical and directed against Muslims in general. For al-Shabab, the consequences are clear. To improve the situation for the Somali people, a theocracy based on al-Shabab's interpretation of the Sharia must be established, and the invaders must be destroyed. “Their ultimate aim,” says Barnes, “is to establish a new caliphate,” encompassing all Muslims in all parts of the world and ruled according to the principles set forth by the Quran, Sharia and Sunnah, the practices taught by the Prophet Muhammad. Currently al-Shabab concentrates on the local and to some extent regional dimensions of this fight. Of particular importance is Daawa, the preaching and ideological indoctrination of Muslims in the region. Al-Shabab perceives itself as a government in waiting. Several experts interviewed by World Politics Review said the group would play “the long game,” seeking to weather any setbacks in order to outlast its enemies. In this context, it is important to point out that al-Shabab is not without local support for its agenda. Its firm stance against outside intervention resonates well with Somalia’s prevailing nationalist sentiment. The group also involves itself in clan politics, weighing in on local conflicts. “It would be wrong to say that al-Shabab is popular,” says Barnes, “but what it does is align itself to issues that have pertinence to Somali people, and therefore it gets support.” The group’s ties with other Jihadist organizations are superficial at best. While being part of the al-Qaida network, al-Shabab’s contacts with “al-Qaida central” are only institutional, with little interaction on the operational level. In Africa, contacts between al-Shabab and groups like Boko Haram, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and the Allied Democratic Forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo exist. But there are few indications that these extend beyond occasional training missions. Its closest ties are with the al-Hijra network in Kenya, which is also the country where al-Shabab has been most active outside Somalia. How al-Shabab is Financed Another important aspect of al-Shabab’s resilience is its lavish financing. The group has set up a robust system to acquire the funds necessary to continue its fight and secure local support. The most important source of income for al-Shabab is taxation. “Al-Shabab demands money from transport and businesses in the areas it governs,” says Mohamed Ibrahim Ali, the owner of a shop in Mogadishu’s infamous Bakara market, the country's main commercial center, which Al-Shabab controlled until 2011. The group justifies these taxes with the religious duty of Muslims to give Zakat, or alms. There is no standardized way to calculate Zakat, and rates can vary between 2.5 percent and 20 percent, depending on the type of product or income. There is also little available information on the size of the economy in al-Shabab-controlled areas. This makes estimating the group’s income difficult. One source of income has been well documented: the production and export of charcoal from southern Somalia. In 2013, the U.N. Monitoring Group estimated that Somalia exported 24 million sacks of charcoal, up from 11 million sacks in 2011. This represents an international market value of between $360 million and $384 million. The trade is completely illegal due to an U.N. embargo. Not all this profit goes to al-Shabab, but the group is involved in all stages of the charcoal trade. It suffered a setback when it lost control of southern Somalia's main port, Kismayo, to Kenyan troops in 2011. But it continues to control the smaller port of Barawe and several others, as well as important roadblocks and production centers in the hinterland. The U.N. Monitoring Group estimates that al-Shabab made between $1.2 million and $2 million per month from taxing charcoal exports from Barawe alone in 2013. It further generated between $675,000 and $1.5 million at the Buulo Xaaji checkpoint close to the Kenyan border. This profitable trade wouldn’t be possible without the cooperation and involvement of a wide range of actors. Some of these are ironically the professed enemies of al-Shabab. Kenyan troops control the port of Kismayo, but their intervention may have even increased al-Shabab’s income. Kenyan business interests lobbied their government to ignore the U.N. ban on the charcoal trade. Most of the charcoal produced in Somalia is exported to countries in the Persian Gulf and Middle East. The business networks that enable al-Shabab to trade charcoal intersect with those it uses to procure weapons and launder money. “By having networks and shell companies involved in the charcoal trade,” states the 2014 Environmental Crime Crisis report, “militias or terrorist groups can ensure an income independent of military success on the battlefield, enabling them to regroup and resurface again and again after apparent military defeat.” For al-Shabab, this has certainly been the case. Other sources of income include the levying of taxes from aid organizations. This goes hand in hand with the regulation of NGO activities in areas controlled by al-Shabab, as the group enforces strict rules of engagement for humanitarian organizations. It has banned various organizations outright. Others ceased operation to avoid conflict with U.S. anti-terror financing laws. Al-Shabab is also known to run extortion rackets against Somali companies. The most prominent case is that of the remittance company Dahabshiil, which reportedly was forced to make $1 million annual payments. Some business owners contribute voluntarily to al-Shabab’s cause, and voluntary private contributions also come from Somalis abroad. It is difficult to estimate the sums involved, but the U.N. has detailed at least one case of voluntary remittances to al-Shabab worth $100,000. Al-Shabab can likely at least match the Somali federal government's 2013 budget of $110 million. At the same time, al-Shabab has been able to reduce its costs after vacating several large towns in the face of a combined government and AMISOM offensive. This has helped al-Shabab to keep up military pressure on AMISOM, the federal government and other potential adversaries. Al-Shabab’s Military Capabilities Despite its territorial losses, the group still controls vast areas in southern Somalia, and the military effort to defeat al-Shabab is currently a stalemate, says Stig Jarle Hansen, an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and author of the 2013 book “Al Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group, 2005-2012.” “Al-Shabab’s conventional capacity is not good enough to defeat AMISOM in open battle”, he argues, “but I don’t think that AMISOM can defeat al-Shabab wholly either, because AMISOM can’t secure the countryside. They are simply not large enough.” Al-Shabab’s conventional equipment is standard for an African insurgent group. Kalashnikov-type assault rifles abound, as do rocket-propelled grenades and large-caliber machine guns and anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks. In propaganda videos the group has shown fighters carrying MANPADS shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. But these weapons are either not operational or the group lacks the training to deploy them, and frequent raids by Kenyan aircraft on al-Shabab installations go completely unopposed. There is some limited use of mortars and sniper rifles, but they are either deployed ineffectively or only in a limited geographical area, indicating a severe lack of training on these platforms. Taking a page from insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Shabab has developed considerable proficiency in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), refining its capacity to produce and deploy them to deadly effect. IEDs are used especially in ambush situations, where they are deployed against vehicles, followed by small-arms and heavy-weapons fire. Al-Shabab is now able to manufacture and deploy IEDs that are effective against armored vehicles, challenging one of AMISOM’s main military advantages. In its 2013 report, the U.N. estimates that al-Shabab has 5,000 men under arms, a figure that Hansen thinks is too high. But he agrees that the fighting force has retained its operational readiness even after several key military defeats over the past three years. This is in part because the group is able to replenish its pool of fighters. In contrast to the government, it pays its forces regularly, with wages ranging from $100-$500 per month, depending upon clan affiliation and rank. This makes the group a financially attractive option for recruits. Al-Shabab also provides assistance to veterans and families of its “martyrs.” Another factor in al-Shabab’s recruitment success is its effective propaganda and alignment with common Somali grievances. “Ethiopia and Kenya,” two countries that have deployed troops under the AMISOM mandate, “are not very popular here,” explains Aynte. “Their presence is a continuous source of recruitment for al-Shabab, because there is a large majority of Somali people who view Ethiopian and Kenyan troops in Somalia as colonizers and aggressors.” The group encourages clan elders to support the recruitment process, sometimes paying more than $100 for supplying fresh fighters. The U.N. has also documented cases of forcible abductions of child soldiers. This usually happens when communities resist voluntary recruitment. Training consists of three months of basic training at locations close to the recruitment areas. Specialized training, for instance in IED production or guerrilla warfare, is offered to selected recruits based on military needs. The Amniyat, which combines the roles of intelligence service and special forces, has its own separate recruitment and training processes. These include courses in intelligence collection and targeted assassinations. All recruits are also subjected to thorough ideological indoctrination. As for military strategy and tactics, according to Aynte, “al-Shabab is realistic about its ability and its capacity to regain control of large parts of the country including the capital. They clearly don’t have the capacity to do that.” Instead, the group employs a quite successful strategy of “overstretching” its enemies. Al-Shabab avoids open engagements with AMISOM, relinquishing control over key population centers if attacked. This leaves its military forces intact, including hidden weapons caches that it leaves behind. It then proceeds to cut off the towns “liberated” by AMISOM from the hinterland, harassing troops moving in and out of them as well as stopping all commerce and trade. As a result, prices for food items and other necessities increase. Federal government troops that are supposed to uphold law and order often display unprofessional behavior. Overall, this strategy denies the population any “post-liberation” benefits and often skews public opinion against al-Shabab’s enemies. It also forces AMISOM to commit considerable forces to holding territory, without allowing it to deal important losses to al-Shabab. “The situation is really ‘out of the frying pan into a fire,’” says Hassan Aden Issack, a 23-year-old shop owner from Hudur, a town that was liberated by AMISOM in March. “People can’t get food, clean water and health care since al-Shabab began blocking the city this year. Food prices are high here. . . . Life is hard, and people began to die from lack of food and water.” At the same time terror attacks, especially in Mogadishu, have surged. This is the domain of the Amniyat, which has proven its deadly effectiveness at this type of operation. It conducts targeted assassinations and suicide missions almost on a daily basis, including against high-value targets like the presidential palace. “The use of terror,” explains Hansen, “is very strategic. Terror is probably more important for them now. It gains them attention, and it shows they are alive without deploying a lot of forces.” It also undermines the credibility of the Somali government. All Somalis interviewed by World Politics Review judged the government based on its capacity to provide security. “Over the past year and a half we have seen a sharp increase in the number of attacks, high-profile attacks,” says Aynte. “I’m forced to avoid certain neighborhoods. My movement is very limited. And every time I’m traveling outside this compound where I live and work, there is a security escort with me.” Yahya H. Ibrahim, president of the Somali International University in Mogadishu, agrees. “Every time before you go from your home,” he says, “you have to look at the two sides of your gate. You change your route to work every day.” The experience of violence is immediate and real for locals. In an interview with World Politics Review, Mogadishu resident Aden Muhayden Salad says he experienced several al-Shabab attacks. “The latest was a suicide attack by al-Shabab against a government building this year. I was driving near the government building attacked by the militants with a car bomb and guns. I got out of my car and took cover in a nearby complex. When I came out I saw dead bodies and body parts lying on the ground.” This type of “Mumbai-style” attack, which sees fighters attacking a building with bombs and firearms, has become a signature operation for al-Shabab. The most infamous example was the attack on the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya. “It is a kind of suicide mission, they don’t plan to leave,” says Hansen. “They hold and kill as many as they can inside the building.” Conclusion None of the experts and locals interviewed by World Politics Review for this article thinks that a defeat of al-Shabab in the short term is realistic. They all agree that to achieve this goal, a military approach won’t suffice. “It’s about inclusive politics,” says Matt Bryden, a former coordinator of the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia, “both in the capital Mogadishu and in the emerging federal states.” Bryden makes clear that al-Shabab has never succeeded because of its own strength, but because of the weakness of its enemies. Barnes agrees. “At the moment . . . the alternatives are no better” than al-Shabab, he says. Neither the federal government, nor the local clans and regional administrations can offer the Somali people security and a reliable framework. Instead of focusing too much on military solutions, he says, “more attention should be paid to the social context, why al-Shabab is so firmly rooted in Somalia.” For Western governments, this should include an honest assessment of their own involvement and allies in Somalia over the last decades. Source: