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  1. More than 50 women from the Somali community took to the streets outside Harrow Civic Centre to protest against an adoption decision they say goes against their religious beliefs. The women gathered outside Harrow Borough Council's offices in Station Road as the child put up for adoption was due to go to its new family today. According to the group, the child was due to be adopted by a lesbian couple, which protesters say is against their religious beliefs. They say the mother and child’s religious beliefs and ethnicity have been ignored by placing the child in the home of the couple. Protesters say the toddler was taken into care by social services just over a year and a half ago due to the mother's health issues and was put up for adoption in last year. They are calling for the council to delay the adoption to reconsider the move. A Harrow Council spokesman said: “Adoption decisions are taken after lengthy and extremely thorough consideration of what is in the child’s best interests and we always strive to identify the best parents possible, and ensure a child is placed as early in life as possible. These are always difficult decisions. “We have met Somali community representatives in this case and are happy to talk through their concerns. “In addition the Somali community has offered to work with us on raising the profile of fostering and adoption in their community.” Source:
  2. After losing Puntland’s presidential election by a single parliamentary vote, incumbent president Abdirahman Mohamed Farole extended his congratulations to his opponent Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, a former prime minister of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). UN and EU envoys praised the autonomous state’s January 8 election, decided by the votes of 66 parliamentarians appointed by clan elders, as a model for Somalia-wide democratization. The maritime security community should also take note, as Ali Gaas, a U.S-trained economist, will preside over the original heartland of Somali piracy. One of the many issues facing the president-elect is what to do with the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF)—a marine militia described by its supporters as Somalia’s most effective counter-piracy force and by its opponents as the Farole administration’s Praetorian Guard. A Controversial Legacy Farole came to power in 2009, a year in which Somali pirates attacked over 215 ships and operated with impunity from Puntland’s shores. The president’s answer was the PMPF, an elite coastal force that would deny the pirates their onshore sanctuary. The marines, trained by a South African private military company and financed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), quickly grew to a force of 500 troops supported by a fleet of small ships, aircraft and armored vehicles. Security operations commenced in March 2012 and succeeded in disrupting pirate bases across the remote Bari and Bargaal regions. In late December 2012, the PMPF rescued 22 sailors held hostage aboard the MV Iceberg for almost three years. With Puntland-based piracy largely eliminated, the marines turned their attention towards encroaching al-Shabaab militants, using their expat-piloted helicopters to provide air support during several skirmishes in early 2013. While operationally successful, the PMPF was politically contentious. A January 2012 report from the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group lambasted the marines “as an elite force outside any legal framework, engaged principally in internal security operations, and answerable only to the Puntland presidency.” Later that year, the president’s son Mohamed Farole became director of the PMPF, a cause of inter-governmental tension given his lack of military experience according to inside sources. On October 29 2012, the marines blockaded the residence of Ali Gaas in order to prevent him from campaigning among local politicians and clan elders. A Difficult Decision Ali Gaas pledged to improve Puntland’s security during his victory speech, but has yet to comment on his policy regarding the PMPF. Piracy may be suppressed, but many gangs are now diversifying into other illicit ventures such as arms smuggling and protection services for illegal fishing fleets. An al-Shabaab bombing against a PMPF convoy on December 5, 2013 further underscores the high level of insecurity that persists in the region. In the face of these challenges, what might the new president’s plans be for the contentious marine force? Though the marines would later be used to impede his campaigning, it is important to note that Ali Gaas was a vocal supporter of the PMPF during his tenure as TFG prime minister from June 2011 to October 2012. When the UN Monitoring Group accused the PMPF’s South African trainers, Sterling Corporate Services, of breaking the 1992 arms embargo on Somalia, Ali Gaas responded with an official letter on November 16, 2011, advocating that the UN “approve the waiver for training and enforcement capabilities for Puntland State of Somalia to actively fight piracy and strengthen regional and maritime security.” A month later, the prime minister’s office re-clarified that “the TFG fully supports the efforts of Puntland authorities.” Despite the labeling of the Puntland marines as Farole’s “private army,” it is unlikely that Ali Gaas will dismantle the PMPF when he assumes office. It is expected, however, that the outgoing president’s son and other Farole loyalist will not retain their leadership positions (whether they help themselves to the PMPF’s valuable collection of equipment and vehicles on their way out is another question). Securing a steady source of funding to maintain the PMPF’s marines, bases, vehicles, and expat mentors will be a pressing concern for Ali Gaas. The bulk of current financing comes from UAE, but it remains to be seen if this arrangement will continue under a new president. Federal Marine Force? There are indications that the former TFG prime minister envisioned the PMPF as a model of coastal security that could extend across Somalia. In April 2012, Ali Gaas’ office authorized Sterling Corporate Services to select and recruit soldiers from the Somali National Army to join the PMPF training camp in Bosaso, Puntland. The move was blocked by African Union (AMISOM) peacekeepers, however, which prevented the soldiers from embarking at Mogadishu airport. After the departure of Sterling in mid-2012, a US-registered security company, Bancroft, proposed a reversal of this plan, in which men and materials would be dispersed from the Bosaso base to a number of small coastguard cells across the Somali coast. This idea was rejected by the Farole administration, however, which was reportedly loath to cede control of its elite marine police force to the federal government. Relations between Puntland and Mogadishu continued to sour over the next year. In late July 2013, the new Somali Federal Government announced that it had signed a deal with Dutch private maritime security provider Atlantic Marine and Offshore Group to establish a coastguard to combat piracy and secure Somalia’s exclusive economic zone. The deal received a hostile response from Puntland officials, who saw the contract as an “unacceptable, inapplicable and unsuitable” violation of Puntland’s territorial sovereignty. In early August, the Farole administration suspended relations with the federal government. With a former TFG prime minister now coming to power in Puntland, observers anticipate a more conciliatory relationship between the state and federal governments. While a Somalia-wide coast guard or navy remains a distant prospect, the opportunity is now ripe for confidence building measures among local security forces. The PMPF maintains the most advanced training facility in the country and could once again offer to train marines from across Somalia if an acceptable deal can be worked out with the federal government and AMISOM. Supporting such an endeavor would be attractive option for the EU’s maritime security capacity-building mission (EUCAP NESTOR), which has thus far been unable to carry out its mandate in Somalia due to the country’s insecurity and fragile political arrangement. While Ali Gaas may be tempted to keep the PMPF under the direct control of the presidency, a more advisable option would be for the Puntland parliament to pass legislation that defines the force’s power, status, and responsibility. Doing so could serve to legitimize the PMPF in the eyes of the international community, opening new lines of desperately needed funding. “There is internationally consensus that the PMPF should be ’legalized’ and integrated into the regular security structures of Somalia,” an EUCAP NESTOR officer remarked, further noting that “The international community is studying how that best can be done and how the government of Somalia could be supported in that respect.” Puntland’s model of democracy is unorthodox by western standards and so too are its maritime police forces. Both, however, have demonstrated resiliency in the face of great challenges and may come to serve as templates for the rest of the country. As foreign warships and armed guards begin to depart the Horn of Africa, local marines will be the only thing standing between the pirates and their prey. Source: James M. Bridger is Maritime Security Consultant and piracy specialist with Delex Systems Inc. James can be reached for comment or question at
  3. Mo, 21, hopes to represent Norway in Copenhagen with the song Heal. He lost his best friend, Ismail Haji Ahmed, on Utøya in July 2011. Photograph: Kim Erlandsen/NRK A survivor of the 2011 Utøya massacre is vying to represent Norway in this year's Eurovision song contest, with a song inspired by his three-year struggle to recover. Mohamed "Mo" Abdi Farah, 21, was on the point of a pop breakthrough in the summer of 2011, after winning the nation's heart with his performances in the country's X Factor talent show. But that July he witnessed the brutal attack mounted by the far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. Abdi has since been on disability benefits suffering from post-traumatic stress. "I don't want to go into those sad days," Abdi said on Tuesday. "I just want to think positive and move forwards. My friends and family have really helped me and supported me and I want to make them proud." The song Heal, an electro-pop ballad about getting back on your feet, has been written by Laila Samuelsen, who has penned songs for Norway's previous Eurovision hopefuls. "The song's about taking your time to heal," Abdi said. "My goal is to inspire people and touch their hearts, that they should never, ever give up." He is competing against 14 other acts to represent Norway in Copenhagen on 14 May. The country's Eurovision representative will be chosen on 15 March at the final of the Melodi Grand Prix talent show. Abdi's best friend, Ismail Haji Ahmed, was one of the 69 people killed at the youth camp for Norway's Labour party on Utøya island. The two met at a refugee reception centre shortly after Abdi arrived in Norway as a seven-year-old, fleeing the civil war in Somalia. "You have good friends, and then you have someone who is your best, best friend. That was him," he told Norway's VG newspaper. Ahmed, like Abdi, was a talented dancer and flamboyant dresser who, under the stage name Isma Brown, wowed TV audiences on Norway's Got Talent. When Breivik began firing, Abdi leapt into the water and swam away from the island. He was picked up by a rescue boat. "It's important to keep your good friends and family around you, and that's what I did," Abdi said about his recovery. "I kept myself around people who really love me. That's the main thing that really got me through these years, and of course all of my supporters who really encouraged me to come back. They were just waiting, and that's really special." He said he had never felt pressured to get back to work by Sony Music, who signed a contract with him after he reached the X Factor final in 2010. "I'm so thankful that they gave me time to heal and that they gave me time for myself, because I really needed it," he said. "I feel lucky." The Labour party's annual youth camp brings together some of the country's brightest and best young men and women and several have found success since 2011. In September, three of them – Fredric Holen Bjørdal (23), Stine Renate Håheim (29), and Åsmund Aukrust, (28) – were elected to Norway's parliament. The song Heal is released on 19 February. Source:
  5. (The Guardian) - After 18 years as a social activist in Somaliland, Suad Abdi feels it is time to run for parliament. But she stands as much chance of winning a seat as a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle. Women face few restrictions in Somaliland, the self-declared independent republic in the north-western corner of conflict-ridden Somalia. They can work, own property, and be vocal on social issues. But politics remains a man's world in the former British protectorate, an oasis of stability in the region. There is only one woman among the 164 MPs and just three in the cabinet of 40. There is not a single female judge in Somaliland, although in 2012 four deputy attorney generals were appointed for the first time. Abdi, a founding member of the National Women's Network, Nagaad, and country representative of the charity Progressio, attributes the lack of women in politics to the male-dominated clan system. "Most political parties get support from clans, which decide who should become candidates and the clans don't put women forward. The clans want men because they know where the men's loyalties lie. When women marry, their loyalty changes to her husband's clan," says Abdi. The clan a woman is born into tends to be reluctant to support her if she marries into another clan, yet her husband's clan may suspect she remains loyal to her own clan. Somaliland, home to 3.4 million people, consists of three main clans with eight sub-clans. Abdi belongs to Somaliland's largest clan. To shake up the republic's political order, Nagaad and other civil society groups are pushing for changes in the law that would set a 20% quota for women in parliament, in the runup to elections at the end of the year. An attempt in 2007 was blocked by the House of Elders, the conservative upper chamber, and a bill in 2012 ran out of time. The president, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, is on record as favouring quotas, but Abdi doubts he is 100% committed, while parliament, she says, thinks it is the responsibility of the government to take the initiative. Both favour a 10% quota. "The ball is between parliament and the president," says Abdi, who thinks 10% is too low. Some question whether quotas are the solution to women's under-representation in politics, but Helen Clark, who was prime minister of New Zealand for three terms and now heads the UN Development Programme, has no such doubts. "I think if nothing else is working, you should have quotas," she said at the Women of the Year lecture in London last week. "One of the things that improved representation here in the UK was Labour's women-only shortlists. Women are now much more numerous in the House of Commons. We reached the 30% representation in New Zealand, which is amillennium development goal, because we switched to proportional representation, partially, and parties had to put women on the party lists." Quotas are increasingly common in sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2003, Rwanda has led the world in women's representation in a single or lower house of parliament. After the 2013 election, it had 64% women in its chamber of deputies. Nearly a dozen sub-Saharan countries top the world list, with more than 30% women in their parliaments. The first countries to adopt quotas in the 1990s and early 2000s were emerging from conflict such as Burundi, Eritrea, Mozambique and later, Angola. Seeking a fresh political start after war, these countries adopted new constitutions and electoral laws that included quotas, Gretchen Bauer, professor and chair of political science at the University of Delaware, wrote on the Democracy in Africa blog last month. Pressure from national women's movements with support internationally and a liberation movement with a stated commitment to women's emancipation helped. Other countries have since jumped on the bandwagon: Kenya, Lesotho, South Sudan, Sudan and Zimbabwe and for the first time, Francophone countries such as Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Senegal. Somaliland has to look only next door to Somalia, which has 35 female MPs and [had] female foreign minister. The constitution has reserved 30% of seats for women in the lower house, although the actual numbers – 38 of 275 – total 14%. Still, that is much more than Somaliland, which prides itself as more politically advanced than Somalia. Although Abdi is determined to run for office, she has no ambitions to become a minister. "When you become a government official you are accountable to the president and there is very little room for change," she says. "Leaders take criticism as personal attacks rather than constructive feedback, and you become a 'yes person'. I have my own views; I am not that kind of person." Source:
  6. Somalia Online - Puntland’s new president, Abdiweli M. Ali Gas, has appointed more women to key cabinet positions than any of his predecessors. Puntland's newly announced cabinet includes five women ministers and deputy ministers. Sahra Said Nur – Minister, Constitution and Federal Affairs Anisa Abdulkadir Sheikh Nur - Minister, Women and Family Affairs Amina Mohamed Abdulahi - Deputy Minister, Health Farhia Yusuf Hersi - Deputy Minister, Women and Family Affairs Saida Hussein Ali Gees - Deputy Minister, Agriculture News Snippet
  7. (Nairobi) -Somali born actor and Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi has taken on a new role, this time as a Goodwill Ambassador for Adeso, an African humanitarian and development organization. As Goodwill Ambassador, the co-star of Hollywood blockbuster Captain Phillips will help create awareness and promote Adeso’s programs to the general public. He will highlight issues that affect Somali youth and other marginalized groups, including remittances and illegal fishing, and help garner support for initiatives that address these issues. When accepting his new role, Barkhad Abdi said “I’m proud to be able to partner with Adeso. I’ve been lucky – living the American dream as they say – and I want to give back to my country. My role as Goodwill Ambassador will allow me to be part of the change that we all yearn to see in Somalia. I will be working hand-in-hand with Adeso to help communities create a better life for themselves. Adeso, through its projects, has been providing cash grants, training and skills, so that people can earn a living and feed their families. With Adeso, I want to tell a different story of Somalia, one that goes beyond piracy and conflict to a narrative that reflects optimism and hope.” Founded in 1991, Adeso is a humanitarian and development organization committed to an Africa that is not dependent on aid but on the resourcefulness and capabilities of its people. The organization works at the roots of African communities to create environments in which they can thrive. Adeso currently has projects in Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan, and is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. Press Release from Adeso
  8. Somalia Online - Dignitaries from Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and the rest of Somalia pour into Puntland’s capital Garowe to take part in the inaugural ceremony of President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gas who will be sworn in on Friday, January 24. The event is expected to attract extensive media coverage as former Prime Minister Abdiweli takes the helm of a region critical to Somalia’s political and economic landscape. Mr. Abdiweli defeated veteran politician Abdirahman Mohamed Farole who lead the region for 5 years. News Snippet
  9. The Somali community in Minneapolis experienced a lot of firsts in 2013. Abdi Warsame was elected to the City Council and took office in December. Barkhad Abdi earned Oscar buzz, in his inaugural acting and film role as a pirate in “Captain Phillips,” for going head to head with Tom Hanks. And Osman Ali founded the first Somali art museum in North America in the Plaza Verde building at 1516 E. Lake Street. The Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum is a 700-piece collection amassed by Ali, who owns Sanaag Coffee and Restaurant and is a Somali community leader. The collection encompasses a wide range of objects that document Somalia’s traditional nomadic way of life: camel bells and woven milk “jars,” drums and clothing, jewelry and spears, vessels and prayer mats. Mogadishu was formerly home to the world’s only Somali cultural museum. But over the past two decades, the museum’s contents have been scattered across the world. While the nation has been engaged in civil war, with many formerly nomadic citizens moving into the cities or living in diaspora, immigrants like Ali have worried that many traditional art forms have been destroyed or vanished. Ali started compiling the artifacts four years ago after re-visiting his native country. His collection, he says, is a platform through which Somali immigrants “can educate younger generations that don’t know about their culture of origin.” In addition, the museum gives Minneapolis’ large Somali immigrant community—some estimates put the population at more than 75,000—a viable presence and a voice. The museum is also a portal through which Ali can expose Minnesotans to the cultural and social relevance of Somali art and artifacts, and explore and teach Somali traditions—whether or not visitors are of African heritage. And the museum doesn’t exist within a vacuum. The growing Somali immigrant community has transformed the Twin Cities into an area rich with 3,500 Somali-owned businesses, which offer traditions from authentic cuisine to the ancient, artistic form of expression known as henna. For Somali artists, Ali says, the desire to create “runs in the blood.” Preserving a disappearing culture Since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1960, Somalia has been attempting to unify its five sections as represented on its flag by a five-pointed star. After civil war broke out in 1991, about 30,000 Somalis fled to the United States. One third of that population currently resides in Minnesota. In the past two decades, according to the 2011 U.S. Census, the community has doubled in size. Only by chance did Ali and his collection end up in the land of 10,000 lakes. Born in Somalia, Ali moved with his family to Yemen while he was young. As an adult, he returned to Somalia, but eventually settled in the United Arab Emirates. After spending seven years in Dubai, he received a visa by lottery. With his wife and five children, Ali moved to New York. They later joined family members in Houston, but then decided to settle in Minneapolis. “Here is the right place,” Ali says, beaming, as he stands in the doorway of his museum. Minneapolis’ strong Somali community provided his family with an instant sense of belonging. In 2009, Ali returned to Somalia for the first time since leaving and gained a new perspective on the everyday objects of the country’s nomadic people. He noticed more people were migrating to modern metropolises and enjoying the conveniences of city living. Consequently, the creation of their traditional art and artifacts was declining. Ali began collecting anything he could get his hands on, in an effort to sustain remnants of the quickly disappearing culture. The desire to collect and preserve aspects of his culture “is something in my blood,” he says. “I see that the art is something that the ancestors used as a way to survive, the art gave them life. You get proud of the art. If you collect it, you keep this history for life.” For Ali, maintaining Somalia’s ancestral traditions is in itself a form of art. “I am an artist also,” he says, with the museum as his crowning achievement. A living art Among Somalia’s artistic traditions are storytelling (which revolves around music and poetry), weaving, pottery, and woodcarving. Many of these arts, and their artifacts, are represented in the Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum. One art that isn’t in the museum, but can be found in Minneapolis’ “Somali malls,” is henna. While more than 100 Somali henna artists call Minnesota home, none may be as well known, or as sought after, as Sabrina Seyf. Visiting Suugda Karmel on 29th and Pillsbury, Minneapolis’ largest Somali mall, is like stepping into a Mogadishu street market. Long narrow hallways are lined with clothing shops and cafes. Stall number 110 is draped, floor to ceiling, in jewel-toned kaftans. The dresses’ crystal-encrusted necklines gleam against the black-painted walls. Behind those walls is the henna studio. Laughter billows from the tiny space as women chatter and wave arms freshly painted with ornate patterns. “Drying is the worst part,” says Hani Farah, a bride-to-be who drove 10 hours for Seyf’s distinctive pictorialization. Seyf’s intricate designs—which feature tiny flowers, circles, and dots—are coveted for their drama and elegance. Seyf, who is 22, has already developed a cult-like following. Devotees fly in from as far away as Atlanta to get tattooed for their wedding days. While henna is traditionally for brides, and done at women’s parties, henna fanatics find any excuse to have Seyf embellish their bodies with her creations. A fourth-generation henna artist, Seyf was born and raised in Minneapolis. She grew up watching her grandmother and mother henna their clients in the family home. Seven years ago, the women realized their clientele had grown too large to accommodate at home. So they opened the studio in Suugda Karmel and Seyf tattooed her first Somali bride. “When it comes to other arts, I can’t draw at all,” she says. “But with henna, the designs just come to me. I consider myself an artist.” Henna is a 5,000-year-old tradition rooted in India, Africa, and the Middle East. The crushed leaves of the henna plant are mixed with water to form an amber-brown or black paste. After the mixture reaches a toothpaste-like consistency, Seyf puts the paste into a cone-shaped bag with a slender opening, squeezes the bag, and draws her designs. After drying for 30 minutes, the hardened paste is scraped off, leaving a design that can last for two weeks. “Henna is the Somali version of a manicure and pedicure,” Seyf says, laughing. “We get it done all the time.” Somali women stick to feet, hands and arms. But non-Somali women are also embracing henna, and during the summer months ask for designs that may appear on their legs or backs. Seyf attributes the increase in non-Somali clients to their interest in the culture, but her reputation and style are her own doing. Pride and preservation Like Ali, Seyf takes tremendous pride in the traditional arts of Somalia and sustaining their existence for future generations. Plans are already in place for Ali to expand his museum, in order to include a life-size replica of a nomadic hut. Soon, he and co-founder Sarah Larsson will offer classes in Somali poetry, weaving, dancing, and language. Seyf is a new mother and looking forward to training her daughter as a fifth generation henna artist. By keeping their artistic traditions alive, Ali, Seyf, and other Somalis are creating new lives in the Twin Cities while benefiting and enriching the lives of others, and our whole community. Alexandra N. Katz is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer. Source:
  10. Update HAMTRAMCK, Mich. - A Somalia-born woman who came to the U.S. for higher education was among the 21 people who were killed in a Taliban attack on a popular restaurant in the Afghan capital of Kabul last week. Basra Hassan, 59, was working in Afghanistan as a nutrition specialist for UNICEF, a United Nations agency focused on the welfare of children. Another UNICEF staffer, Dr. Nasreen Khan of Pakistan, also died. Hassan was from the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck. She had a master's degree from Eastern Michigan University. Hassan joined UNICEF in 2005, Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for the group, told The Associated Press on Sunday. Hassan had been working in Afghanistan since May 2010 after serving with the agency in Pakistan, Yemen and in southern Africa. Hassan and Khan were working "in one of the most dangerous places in the world," and one in which large numbers of children lack basic food needs, Crowe said. "She was responsible ... for setting up clinics for the treatment and for the surveillance of malnutrition," Crowe said. Hassan left Somalia for Kenya in the 1990s and then came to the U.S. to study in Michigan, Crowe said. In Hamtramck, Mayor Karen Majewski said she was reaching out to Hassan's relatives. "Our sympathies and prayers go to her family, friends and colleagues," Majewski told The Detroit News. "It's a personal tragedy and a tragedy for the world to lose someone who was doing so much good. Hamtramck is proud of the work she did."
  11. (Toronto Sun) - “We are tired of being marginalized. We came to Canada to integrate, but it seems officials at the TDSB would like us to segregate ourselves into ghettoes.” Those are the words of Suban Abdullahi, mother of two kids in the Toronto school system and three more who have graduated and are now in university. She is one angry Canadian, livid over a proposal by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to create a “Somali Task Force” to look into absenteeism and crime among Toronto’s Somali-Canadian youth. “Eighty-three percent of the children of Somali descent were born in Canada. They are Canadians, not Somali-Canadians,” she tells me. It all began in January, 2013 when Toronto MPP Mike Colle, who has a large Somali-Canadian population in his riding, sent a letter to the TDSB asking that it set up a “task force” for Somali-Canadian students in the wake of the murders of 50 youths in Alberta and Ontario. However, this initiative in “equity”, which the board has taken up, has created a backlash among the very people it was supposed to help. Somali-Canadians are now deeply divided over the proposal to address the problem of crime and absenteeism specifically among Canadian children of Somali descent. Mothers like Abdullahi insist these problems run across Toronto’s many ethnic communities, not Somalis alone. Last Tuesday, she and about 30 other parents demonstrated outside the TDSB’s offices, demanding the task force proposal be abandoned or the label “Somali” dropped. Liibaan Moalin, a father of three children in the TDSB system, started an on-line petition addressed to Chris Bolton, Chair of the TDSB and Premier Kathleen Wynne, asking, them to “Stop Ghettoizing Canadian Children of Somali descent.” The petition, which already has over 500 signatories, says: “We are parents of Canadian children of Somali descent who find the idea of the proposed TDSB-funded “Somali Task Force” extremely offensive and racist. We believe if such a program is implemented, an entire community that is already part of a marginalized group, will further be stigmatized and segregated from the mainstream Canadian community.” School Superintendent Jim Spyropoulos of TDSB, who is spearheading the “Somali Task Force” proposal acknowledges, “Labelling and stigma are an issue,” but told me, “it’s the Somali-Canadian community that is insisting on having the label ‘Somali’ attached to the taskforce. “We met with hundreds of Somali-Canadians at meetings held in the Abu-Hurraira Mosque and the IMO Islamic Centre in Rexdale,” he said. The proposals reflect the community’s desires, including one to establish a Somali History Month, in spite of the fact TDSB already has a Black History Month. I asked Spyropolous if he was willing to reconsider the proposal or drop the “Somali” label now that he knows about opposition to it from many Somali-Canadian parents. He was non-committal. Chris Bolton, chair of the TDSB says nothing has been finalized. In an e-mail, he said recommendations made by Spyropolous and his group “will be received by the board and then staff would consider what can be done with regard to implementation; so there is lots of time to have input into what happens next.” One would have hoped the TDSB had learned from the results of its Africentric school fiasco. But it seems it hasn’t and there is little chance of stopping Canadian children of Somali descent from becoming the board’s latest guinea pigs. Source: Toronto Sun
  12. Yesterday, Komla Dumor died. Six years ago, we sat on the green grass outside Bogobiri and became friends. He had come to Lagos to interview me. A tall, broad Ghanaian with an open spirit; sometimes we meet people and we know instantly that we will be friends, that we will get them as they get us. “Is there any other continent in the world where the word ‘discussant’ is actually used?” he asked me. So he, too, was amused by that word! I laughed and laughed. We made fun of Nigeria and Ghana. We spoke about our continent, the things we loved and longed for, the broken things we wished to make whole again. He was travelling through West Africa and his first email, after he left Lagos, included a photograph. He wrote: “The attached photo is meant to make you laugh. Abidjan airport. 35 degree heat. And I met this brother who had just arrived from France. In a fur coat. Ah well. How else would his people know he was from abroad? Laugh and be happy.” Then he sent a link to photos of his trip and wrote: “if you’re ever bored enough to check it out and laugh at the expanding midriff of your Ghanaian brother.” We lost touch for some years. I saw him again at TEDxEuston in London. ‘My discussant brother!” I said. And he, surprised and pleased, said, “you remember!” Of course I remembered. Did he not know, I wondered, that he was a person not easy to forget? I watched FOCUS ON AFRICA with pride. Here, finally, was an African-focused show done right. Even if I had not known Komla, I would have been proud of his work. Because he pronounced his name the way it is supposed to be pronounced. Because he was an honest journalist, free of masks. When his mother died, Komla wrote to me: “I tell you this because one day I will write about it. The ambulance ride. The Accra heat that day. The indifference of the nurses (why have you brought her here.. why wasn’t I informed..).The doctor whose first words when we arrived at the hospital was, “so have you said the final rites?”(as only a doctor trained in Africa could do).The way hope faded with each breath she took. The call at 4 am on Saturday the 13th of December. The voice at the end telling me she is gone. And perhaps the strange feeling I have now wondering why I haven’t been able to cry about this yet. Even though I know the dam is filling up in my soul…anyway maybe you have inspired me to write something.” Komla’s words moved me. Love and frustration and grief for his mother, and also for his country, each feeding on and drawing from the other. Those emotions fuelled his reporting on Africa: his son-of-the-soil curiosity and authority, his quintessentially West African warmth, the space he made in his heart for mischief and joy. He was telling our story and telling us stories and representing us. Komla Dumor knew we had many failures, he knew too that hope could be wrested from African stories. He had a stake and it made a difference. I last saw him in October at the African Leadership Conference in Mauritius. He was leaving. I had just arrived, and had missed a birthday party for him the previous day. “I thought superstars just don’t go to parties,” he teased, while I tried to make him postpone his leaving. I wish I had made that party. I wish we had talked more. I wish Komla were still here. Komla swept into the world, stylish and sure, with his big chuckle, the light in his eyes, a genuine goodwill for people, a familiarity with laughter. He had no false modesty, yet an endearing insecurity lurked beneath his flair-filled confidence. He had, too, something close to innocence, a wonderful capacity for wonder. And now he is gone. We have lost a star. Go well, my discussant brother. By Chimamanda Adichie
  13. Study: Somali children with autism are more likely to have I.Q.s below 70 A long-awaited study has confirmed the fears of Somali residents in Minneapolis that their children suffer from higher rates of a disabling form of autism compared with other children there. The study — by the University of Minnesota, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the research and advocacy group Autism Speaks — found high rates of autism in two populations: About one Somali child in 32 and one white child in 36 in Minneapolis were on the autism spectrum. The national average is one child in 88, according to Coleen A. Boyle, who directs the C.D.C.’s Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. But the Somali children were less likely than the whites to be “high-functioning” and more likely to have I.Q.s below 70. (The average I.Q. score is 100.) Source: New York Times
  14. Somali-born supermodel Waris Dirie opens a centre in Germany to treat victims of female genital mutilation (BERLIN) - The Desert Flower Center is the first facility in Europe to offer a comprehensive treatment package to victims of female genital mutilation. While they welcome the project, some activists believe the problem is more effectively adressed at its roots. The leafy suburb of Zehlendorf in southwest Berlin is a far cry from the dusty villages of Somalia. But the opening this week of the Desert Flower Center marks an invisible bridge between Germany and the dozens of African countries that practice female genital mutilation (FGM). Housed in the Waldfriede Hospital, it is the first medical facility in Europe to offer victims an integral treatment package, ranging from surgery to psychological support. The patron of the project is Waris Dirie, the Somalia-born former supermodel and one-time Bond girl who has become one of the world's most prominent campaigners against FGM. "The plan is to open Desert Flower Centers all over Africa and worldwide," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "All victims of FGM who wish to receive psychological and physical treatment deserve free access to surgery and psychological counseling. (This) is an important step toward a self-determined and free life." According to managing director Bernd Quoss, the first two patients will be admitted this week. He is confident that demand exists. "Around 50,000 women in Germany are affected by FGM and some 20,000 of them are in Berlin," he estimates, stressing that the costs of treatment will be covered for women with health insurance. Awareness of a practice described by Dirie as "a brutal crime" appears to be growing in Germany. In late June, the German parliament redefined FGM as a criminal offence in its own right, punishable with a jail term of up to 15 years. Previously, it fell under the grievous bodily harm category, with sentencing restricted to a maximum of ten years. The Role of Education Defined by the World Health Organization as "partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons," FGM's immediate complications include severe pain, hemorrhage, bacterial infection and injury to surrounding genital tissue. With long-term consequences including recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility and an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, the Waldfriede hospital's expertise in intestinal and pelvic floor surgery lends itself well to treating victims of FGM, as Quoss points out. Despite the risks, it remains commonplace in nearly 30 countries in western, eastern, and northeastern Africa, even though many of them have either signed or ratified the 2003 Maputo Protocol, which calls for an end to FGM. For the time being, it remains a deeply rooted social and cultural requirement for girls before marriage, a supposed guarantee of sexual chastity and fidelity. Against this backdrop, the Desert Flower Center is also focusing on education. "One of the main goals is to train medical staff from Africa," explains Dirie. Hadja Kitagbe Kaba, founder of Mama Afrika, a Berlin-based organization that campaigns against FGM, sees this is as the most effective of the center's strategies. She comes from Guinea, where 98 percent of women have suffered FGM, and, although she welcomes the opening of the Desert Flower Center, she believes that female circumcision reversals are not a priority. She would like to see more funds put to use in the field, with projects geared to raising awareness among public health workers, community elders and, of course, the women who still insist on subjecting their daughters to the procedure. "Doctors in Germany will be repairing damage done in Africa," she says. "It should never have to come to that. Any program that addresses the issue is helpful. But above all, the problem needs to be tackled at its source." In Guinea, she points out, the practice is upheld as much for economic as for socio-cultural reasons. "The women who perform female circumcision have no other way to earn a living," she says. Cultural Sensitivity Not only does challenging a tradition dating back thousands of years take time -- "I'm not sure I will see an end to the practice in my lifetime," says Hadja Kitagbe Kaba -- there is also a fear in the Western world that denouncing and combatting a cultural practice will bring with it charges of racism. It's an attitude that enrages Waris Dirie. "People in the West would never accept the mutilation of a white girl. Do black girls not have the same rights? FGM is torture. These uneducated people should read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and be quiet!" she says. But she is well aware that cultural sensitivity must be of paramount importance at the new Desert Flower Center, and that staff need to grasp the extent to which seeking treatment for FGM could potentially alienate many women from their communities. "Waris Dirie was adamant that the patients shouldn't be accommodated in a separate ward," says Bernd Quoss. "We want to avoid the women feeling 'different' in any way. Hence the participation in the program of counselors and social workers, many of whom have special training in cultural diversity. We also intend to cooperate closely with local African associations." But it's not only the women themselves who need convincing. "I spoke to a woman recently who said she'd like to undergo reconstructive surgery at the new center," says Hadja Kitagbe Kaba. "But she didn't think she would do it. 'How could I ever explain it to my husband?,' she asked me." Source:
  15. Teenager whose limbs were hacked off by Al Shabab is adapting well to life in the Arctic Circle Teenager spirited out of Mogadishu after his limbs were hacked off by Al Shabab is adapting well to life in Norway, doing well in school and dreaming big. HARSTAD, NORWAY—A warm glow starts to spread over the white-capped mountains framing this snowy island town, 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. The polar nights are beginning, three months of winter when the sun will stay below the horizon, offering only a couple hours of twilight each day. It is so quiet, the blue light hauntingly beautiful, like looking at the sky through thick ice. “Want to see me run?” Ismail asks, handing me his coffee cup. He sprints through the snow without waiting for an answer, his arms swinging awkwardly in a bulky ski jacket, snowflakes swirling about as he jogs toward the darkness at the end of the dock. He turns, comes back laughing, no noticeable limp. Ismail Khalif Abdullle, about 17, in Mogadishu in January 2010. He had his right hand and left leg sawed off after refusing to join the Islamist group Al Shabab. Cagmadhige. That’s what his Somali friends called him as a kid, which literally translates to “one who runs so fast his feet do not touch the ground.” It also means “restless.” “See?” It has been almost three years since I’ve seen him, after dropping him off in this remote town where he had been offered refuge. I left thankful he was out of Somalia but wondering just how a teenager from Mogadishu missing a hand and a foot was going to survive. He went from swimming in the warm waters of Mogadishu’s Lido Beach, to Harstad’s frigid fjords, from the red earth to icefields, Somalia’s punishing sun to these days of darkness. Ismail Khalif Abdulle is 20 or 21 now. His mother didn’t record the birth and he sometimes forgets the date he was assigned on his Somali passport. In June 2009, he was but another victim of Somalia’s wars. He had refused to join Al Shabab, Al Qaeda’s group in East Africa, so they made him their prisoner, then dragged him into a soccer stadium and cut off his right hand and left foot as an example to others. He escaped and I met him in Mogadishu soon after, in January 2010. Later that year, others would help him flee from Somalia. Ismail didn’t just survive. He has thrived. Al Shabab maimed him, but stole nothing else. He is almost always smiling, or laughing, and has a wicked sense of humour. He won’t even acknowledge the terrorist group, using only the nickname he gave them: AC Milan. Not that he has anything against the Italian soccer team. He just thought it was funny. Ismail today speaks Norwegian, fluently, and his English is getting there. He has many friends and even more fans among his teachers. He dreams of visiting Miami, owning a sports car; he’s learning to drive. He loves everything Canada: the maple leaf, the country’s history, the fact that we apologize a lot and produce good musicians and comedians; that Canada Day is July 1, the same day as Somalia’s independence day. He has state-of-the-art prosthetics for his right hand and left foot. He doesn’t have to pay back the Norwegian government loan as long as he does well in school. He is doing well in school. And once again, Ismail can run. But his story is hardly a fairy tale, even if the small town where he lives looks like the set of one; a blur of lights, Christmas trees, the smell of burning wood and bubbling glogg. His first year here was hard. He was lonely, and often still is. He goes on Facebook all the time talking to friends back in Somalia. Restless. He misses his mom and younger siblings who live in Somaliland. He has an unknown future to contemplate, memories of the terror — that rarely, but sometimes creep back — to live with. Ismail is a member of the Somali generation that has come of age amid war, many fleeing around the world like their nomadic forefathers. More than one million Somalis live abroad, nearly one-tenth of the country’s population. He was born in Mogadishu in the “Black Hawk Down” era when the world was shocked by the killing of 18 elite U.S. soldiers and how the hulking beasts they piloted were shot out of the sky. Somalia, already chaotic, collapsed, thousands died and the international community pulled out, unwilling to sacrifice any more. The international reluctance to intervene in the region had a devastating effect. When Rwanda’s genocide broke out the following year the world watched until it was too late. Somalia became a symbol for a failed state, a country that served as a comparison, beyond repair. Is (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali) the next Somalia? Somalia is on a tentative path of recovery, but only after 20 years of lawlessness. There were greedy warlords, regional proxy battles and politicians that got richer as the country got poorer. Somalia became the place where ill-informed foreign policy went to die and in the last eight years, during this vacuum of power, the Shabab has grown. The Shabab’s numbers are down from a peak between 2007 and 2009, when they had popular support as they fought an Ethiopian invasion. But the Shabab stayed when Ethiopia withdrew, and the group formally joined Al Qaeda, adopting a hardline interpretation of Sharia law. Their ruthlessness is unfathomable. Fuad Shangole, a Shabab leader who held Ismail captive, decided they had failed to amputate Ismail high enough above the ankle. So he pressed three fingers on Ismail’s calf and told them to cut again. They used a saw. It wasn’t until the summer of 2011 that the Shabab was ousted from the capital. They may be weakened but are far from gone, and have developed into a disciplined terrorist group intent on striking at home and abroad, including the September attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall. While Ismail’s tale of survival is one of inspiration, it has all the elements of the greater dark narrative: how more than a decade after 9/11, terrorism still impacts so much of our lives in the way we think, and govern. Ismail’s story unfolds in Norway but it could take place in many Western nations that are home to both terrorists and victims of terrorism. Norway will be forever scarred by the memory of July 22, 2011, when Christian fundamentalist Anders Behring Breivik went on a murderous rampage, killing eight in an Oslo bombing and systematically executing 69 others, many teenagers, over a 90-minute period at a youth political retreat. Breivik hated people like Ismail, a Muslim refugee, who he saw part of an immigrant invasion ruining Europe. He would hate immigrant Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow too, even though they share many of the same traits. Dhuhulow is a 23-year-old Norwegian citizen of Somali origin who, according to Kenyan authorities, was one of the four attackers that led the September assault on the Nairobi mall, killing more than 65 men, women and children. Dhuhulow grew up in a small town about an hour outside of Oslo, not unlike Harstad. His relatives told reporters he never felt at home. Ismail cannot even contemplate that choice, incredulous at how someone can grow up with the wealth of Norway and leave to join a terrorist group in Somalia. Their stories are all separate yet connected by the fundamental issues of citizenship, of belonging and the vilification of the “other,” which drives terrorism. All of this context, these weighty geopolitical issues swirl about us as I stand with Ismail in the snow on this winter morning, in this remote outpost. But for the moment, that seems far away when all that matters is the sound of Ismail’s feet crunching in the snow, breaking the silence as he runs away and back again. Cagmadhige. “Please don’t be a Muslim.” That’s what Ola Steinvoll and Nina Hellevik were thinking as the bomb ripped through Oslo’s downtown in the summer of 2011. Steinvoll and Hellevik were in charge of Harstad’s refugee program and were among the first to welcome Ismail here. Norway has a generous program but every year it is a fight to sustain the funding for the predominantly Muslim refugees. In the first frantic hours following the Oslo explosion, Al Qaeda was the natural suspect. As I boarded a plane bound for Norway, the facts were still uncertain. It wasn’t until I touched down in Heathrow and went online that the full horror of the tragedy was taking shape and reports of a well-armed white man began to surface. A Facebook photo of Breivik, the blond, blue-eyed killer, dressed in a salmon-hued polo shirt and black Lacoste sweater, stared out from newspapers and television screens in the excruciating days of funerals and tributes that followed. Breivik had struck the heart — the future — of Norway, by gunning down young campers at a Labour Party retreat on the island of Utoya after bombing Oslo. Karoline Bank had hidden in the woods as Breivik roamed the camp, pressing a shredded T-shirt into the wounds of her friend, who Breivik had shot in her palms and clavicle as she raised her hands to shield herself. Bank told me that she was happy Breivik was Norwegian. “We don’t need more racism. We don’t need more fear of the unknown,” the 20-year-old said just a couple days after the attack. “I have heard racist people say, ‘No, not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslim.’ This has proven this is not right. Terrorists are people who have grown up the wrong way or have the wrong impression of things. It has nothing to do with religion or where you come from or who your mother is.” Breivik had a Twitter account with only one tweet: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests,” he wrote, reworking a quotation by philosopher John Stuart Mill. If Breivik hoped he would fuel a right-wing, anti-immigrant movement that was gaining momentum throughout Europe and beginning quietly in Norway, he managed the opposite and elicited nothing but revulsion. “The July 22 attack calmed down the state quite a bit,” says Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Oslo-based Norwegian Defence Research. “It made it politically much more difficult to come anywhere close to Islamophobic statements. It muted for a while at least the populist anti-Muslim (voices) of the far end of the debate spectrum.” Norway’s political landscape has changed since then, shifting to the right with September’s election and the rise of the anti-immigration Progress Party. There is great debate what impact this will have — if any. But there is renewed talk about discrimination, sparked most recently with a tweet from a Norwegian medical student of Somali heritage and the hashtag, “#norskrasisme,” which translates to “Norwegian racism.” Her subsequent tweets detailed 140-character instances of racism her family had experienced and soon the topic was trending. At the same time, Hegghammer says he has also seen a rise in Norway’s “jihadi community,” a militant movement growing both in “size and pitch,” with many citizens leaving the country to fight in Mali, Syria or Somalia. This is not unique to Norway, and Hegghammer says it follows a trend throughout the West with the popularity of conflicts that Al Qaeda can exploit. “I think in a sense Norway has caught up with the rest of Europe.” The truth is I chose Ismail. Journalists do this as part of a media natural selection. The weakest survive — the children, the elderly, the strong who are no longer strong, the young who look old. You look for the way to shout above the noise of news: pay attention to this tragedy. For instance, when covering Somalia’s 2011 famine with videographer Randy Risling, we decided to follow the plight of a 2-year-old boy, Abdisalam. There were many kids near starvation in that hospital where we spent a week. Abdisalam Osman had the longest eyelashes I had ever seen on a little boy, the most sunken ribs and emaciated legs. With the scope of tragedies so overwhelming — 29,000 children died in the famine — sometimes it is easier to grasp the story of one. I chose Ismail on that January 2010 day in the government compound known as Villa Somalia because he was the first to talk and because he was younger than the two other young men on the couch, who had also been dragged into a stadium and had their hands and feet amputated by the Shabab. I chose Ismail because I was staying that night at the African Union forces compound – one of the only safe places in Mogadishu at that time — and my military escort was yelling at me. It was near dusk. The convoy of massive IED-proof armoured vehicles was waiting on me. We couldn’t drive in the dark back to the compound because Al Shabab still owned most of the roads. I wore a flak jacket. Ismail wore a dress shirt that was too big, one cuff hanging over the stump where his hand once was. I only had time to get the story and photo of one of the boys. As the escort paced, we talked quickly with the help of a Somali translator. Ismail took off his prosthetic and crossed his legs for the photo. He looked panicked. He stared at the Canadian pin on my computer bag. I took it off and gave it to him as I ran out. He dropped it. When I looked back he was on the ground trying to find it. Ismail owes his rescue in the months that followed largely to Sahal Abdulle, a Somalia-born Canadian photojournalist. Sahal left Somalia for Canada, via the U.S., just before the government collapsed in 1991. He returned as a Reuters journalist and covered the worst of the wars. In August 2007, he survived a car bombing that killed his close friend, another Canadian journalist, Ali Sharmarke. It took him a couple of years to get the courage to travel back to Mogadishu. He went to meet Ismail in early 2010 after reading about him in the Star, and told him he would get him out. “There is just something about Ismail,” he told me after meeting him. “I can’t describe it.” Sahal fashioned an escape route, getting Ismail to Nairobi in September 2010, where he unofficially adopted him and helped him register as a UN refugee. Norway was the first to offer, and in January 2011, Sahal, Ismail and I flew here to his new home. Sahal wants to save Somalia. He can’t. But he did save Ismail. He helped the other boys too, who eventually made it to Kenya but have not fared as well. One spends too much time chewing the leafy stimulant khat, which is popular in East Africa. Sometimes Ismail will send money — and he urges him to spend it on food and education, not khat. They both say they feel a little lost outside of Somalia. In Harstad, Ismail lives with roommates in an apartment and goes to school five days a week, never missing a day. His attendance wasn’t as good when he first arrived. He couldn’t get up on time. He spent his first stipend quickly, buying shoes, nice clothes. Steinvoll and Hellevik had to sit him down to budget. During the first few icy weeks he often fell walking to school, once tumbling down an embankment, rolling and rolling in the snow until he stopped at the bottom. He was miserable and complained to Hellevik, the petite, no-nonsense director. “I think someone told him he could have a taxi,” she said when we met for dinner recently. “And I’d say, ‘No, you have to walk. You cannot define yourself as handicapped or you’ll become handicapped.’ But he’d say, ‘I’m in pain,’ and I’d say, ‘Yes, we have to find a solution.’ ” So she walked with him, and arranged to have a second set of books for him at school so he could lighten his load. It was only a couple of weeks later when visiting a doctor for a prosthetic that Nina realized how ill-equipped he was and that he had sores on his leg. “Oh, I felt bad,” she says now. Ismail has become amazingly steady on his feet, expertly negotiating the halke, which is the Norwegian term for snow on top of ice (there are many Norwegian words describing snow conditions), even keeping me up as I slip, slide and then when he lets go, tumble. Ismail sits in the back row of the English class taught by Jon Bjerkan. The class discussion on this morning has turned to racism. The dozen students come from all over the world — Burma, Eritrea, the Palestinian territories. They share personal stories of discrimination: it is hard to get a job; sometimes people don’t want to share a seat on the bus. Ismail shrugs later when I ask him about this, about his own experiences with the “us” versus “them” mentality that he may have encountered. “It’s okay, doesn’t bother me,” he says. He believes it may be a question of culture, more than discrimination. Norwegians tend to be more reserved at first whereas personal space is not a concern in Somalia. Anyone who has flown to Mogadishu knows it’s a race across the tarmac, where sharp elbows are needed to find a good seat. “Yeah, sometimes people didn’t want to take a seat or talk to me,” he says, but proudly notes how it doesn’t bother him anymore. “Now I sometimes put my bag on the seat beside me.” It is hard to gauge where Norway is headed, if indeed there is this divide forming or anti-immigrant sentiments building, as some believe. My own impressions are skewed by the only three visits I’ve made — twice for Ismail and to cover the Breivik massacre. As an outsider looking in, the country seems impressively tolerant. Mustafa Almi, Ismail’s good friend who was also born in Somalia, sits beside him in class. They wear matching “I Love Haters” hats with the word MOTIVATION written under the large bill. Ismail rarely takes the hat off, but can’t explain what it means, or the roots of the brand, which is popular with skateboarders in the U.S. He just liked the colour — green. But his teachers say “motivated” is an apt description for Ismail. With only a few years of education in Somalia, Ismail has excelled here and will be going to high school next year. Three years later, if all goes well, he will apply for university. He hopes to study political science although he’s uncertain. As Steinvoll says, “He will be fine. He has a good brain. What 21-year-old Norwegian knows what he wants to do?” Ismail is also wearing the Maple Leafs scarf and Roots shirt my parents had bought him as a present. Even though it is Norway that has given him a new life, Ismail still dreams of visiting Canada, the place that gave Sahal a home. He chose Canada as the country he will profile for his English class project. I brought him a bag of Canadian pins to hand out — to make up for the one lost in Mogadishu. SOURCE:
  16. We have lost a sister, an aunt, and a grandmother. While we mourn her death, we are grateful to Allah for letting us experience after her tragic death in the recent Kabul bombing her smiles, and her love. Basra was among 21 people killed in Afganistan attack. She was working as a nutrition specialist for UNICEF. Basra's death was a tragedy, but her life was a gift. She was a role model to her nieces and nephews and an inspiration to her sisters and brothers. Even though she has returned to her maker, she will always remain in our hearts. As a family, we thank you for the prayers, and extend our heartfelt gratitude for all your love and support. And we ask Allah to have mercy upon her and make honorable her reception. Please continue to pray for her and all the victims of the Kabul attack. On behalf of all her loved ones: Nurradin Farah, Haawo Farah Hassan, Abdulqadir Farah Hassan & Fadumo Jama Amir, Safia Farah Hassan & Hassan Gedi, Amina Farah Hassan & Hassan Abdi Keynan, Mustafe Farah Hassan and all her nieces, nephews, and granchildren. Source:
  17. As a Somali Australian, the saga of my controversial hat created a cultural divide inside me Sometimes a simple item of clothing can tell a complex story about cultural differences and the challenges of integration for migrants. So it is with one of my favourite accessories, my hat. My wife Khadijo was the first to spot it. We were at Northland shopping centre, passing time, when she spotted a dark grey hat with silver stripes. "Try it on," she said. Interestingly, almost all the negative comments about my hat came from Somali men.I approached the mirror with some trepidation. In my native Somalia a hat, a Koofi, can denote religious and political power. A locally made Baraawe Koofi is favoured by spiritual elders, tribal leaders, Islamic scholars and certain politicians and businessmen.In more recent times the growing influence of Wahabi school of thought in Somalia has seen the arrival in Somalia of hats with more explicit religious connotations. Some men use these hats on a daily basis, while others only wear them during Friday prayers. Otherwise it is not uncommon to see younger men or non-religious men in baseball-style caps.But my hat, the hat I wore as I approached the shop mirror, is rare in my homeland. The wearer of such a hat would be described as "Westernised". Looking at my reflection, I felt a tingle of excitement. I looked like a handsome stranger, like an adventurer!From the moment we left the shop, passers-by seemed to beam at me with approval. I interpreted every friendly glance as a big tick for my hat. The compliments continued in the days that followed. I attended a function organised by my federal MP. "I like this," said an old lady, pointing at my hat, "you are elegant." "Nice hat," said a man at the Aldi in Heidelberg West, "makes you look young and sharp."In Fitzroy, a middle-aged man who was walking towards me on the street smiled and said: "You look really nice." At this point I offered my hat to the man because in my culture if someone extols your dress, you're expected to offer something in return. Thankfully, he declined. "Keep it for me," he said.After all these compliments, I was tempted to assume that the Somali community would likewise embrace my new look. So one day I took myself and my hat to the Heidelberg Mall, also known as Little Somalia. "You look like a cowboy," said the first Somali I ran into. "You look like General Aidid", said another, referring to the notorious Somali warlord who was often photographed in a striped hat.Yet another remarked: "You look like an Australian farmer, like Bob Katter." Unfortunately this was also an insult. In Somali culture there is a stigma associated with farmers, who are branded as nomads. I began to feel gloomy. It reminded of the time a man at my local petrol station had said: "You're from Somalia, yeah? Why don't you go back and go into the piracy business? You could become a millionaire in one month!"A few days later a female relative stared disapprovingly at my hat. She said only young troublemakers wear hats of this kind."You are a good man," she sighed. "But this hat lowers your dignity." Even educated Somalis joined the chorus of disapproval; a fact that really shocked me. A man with a PhD from a university in the West told me that I was expected to wear only Somali hats. He said that in wearing the hat I was "misrepresenting my culture".Though saddened by such comments, I understood the motivation behind them. I am a respected member of the Somali community; people refer to me as "our Doctor, our Professor". They expect me to be a gatekeeper of Somali culture.It was different with younger Somalis. One young woman looked me over from head to toe and declared: "Abti [uncle] you look like so stylish and neat with this hat. Can I have a photo with you?" After evening prayers at the Heidelberg mosque one Friday, a young man even confessed to buying a similar hat for himself. "Yusuf, I copied you," he said. "You're our role model." I was glad the older men didn't hear us.Interestingly – aside from the one rebuke from a female relative – almost all the negative comments about my hat came from Somali men. Perhaps this is because in Somalia women rarely critique men, at least publicly, and vice versa.Another interpretation is that Somali women in Australia, and in the West in general, are more integrated than the men. Women have gained a lot educationally, economically and socially – they feel empowered by the new environment. The men, on the other hand, feel the loss of their power over women, the loss of the status they had enjoyed in Africa. Perhaps to these men my hat symbolises an embrace of new social norms that diminish their power.The saga of my controversial hat created a cultural divide inside me as well. I have to think twice each time I get the urge to wear it. I have to check my schedule for the day to see whether I'll be mingling with Somalis or non-Somalis, and to judge whether my hat will be welcome or not. Sometimes I worry that I have succumbed to criticism. But then I think about the tolerance and open-mindedness of the younger generation and I feel a renewed strength and confidence. These future leaders understand that it's my hat, my choice.Dr Yusuf Sheikh Omar is a researcher at the Victorian Transcultural Mental Health Unit of StVincent's Hospital and co-convener of the Somali Youth Dialogue.Source:
  18. Genel Energy is still negotiating with Somaliland government on exploration resumption. Somalia Online - Genel energy which has an exploration licence for the SL-10 and SL-13 blocks in Somaliland, suspended its hydrocarbon exploration activities back in September, 2013 due to security. Genel Energy has now released an update on its website indicating that discussions are still ongoing with the Somaliland goverment for the resumption of exploration activity. News Snippet
  19. An important issue in the Muslim world is how women should dress in public. A recent survey from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research conducted in seven Muslim-majority countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey), finds that most people prefer that a woman completely cover her hair, but not necessarily her face. Only in Turkey and Lebanon do more than one-in-four think it is appropriate for a woman to not cover her head at all in public.The survey treated the question of women’s dress as a visual preference. Each respondent was given a card depicting six styles of women’s headdress and asked to choose the woman most appropriately outfitted for a public place. Although no labels were included on the card, the styles ranged from a fully-hooded burqa (woman #1) and niqab (#2) to the less conservative hijab (women #4 and #5). There was also the option of a woman wearing no head covering of any type.Overall, most respondents say woman #4, whose hair and ears are completely covered by a white hijab, is the most appropriately dressed for public. This includes 57% in Tunisia, 52% in Egypt, 46% in Turkey and 44% in Iraq. In Iraq and Egypt, woman #3, whose hair and ears are covered by a more conservative black hijab, is the second most popular choice.In Pakistan, there is an even split (31% vs. 32%) between woman #3 and woman #2, who is wearing a niqab that exposes only her eyes, while nearly a quarter (24%) choose woman #4. In Saudi Arabia, a 63%-majority prefer woman #2, while an additional 11% say that the burqa worn by woman #1 is the most appropriate style of public dress for women.In several countries, substantial minorities say it is acceptable for a woman to not cover her hair in public. Roughly a third (32%) of Turks take this view, as do 15% of Tunisians. Nearly half (49%) in Lebanon also agree that it is acceptable for a woman to appear in public without a head covering, although this may partly reflect the fact that the sample in Lebanon was 27% Christian. Demographic information, including results by gender, were not included in the public release of this survey.Even as publics in many of the surveyed countries express a clear preference for women to dress conservatively, many also say women should be able to decide for themselves what to wear. This attitude is most prevalent in Tunisia (56%), Turkey (52%) and Lebanon (49%) – all countries where substantial percentages are open to women not covering their heads in public. But nearly as many in Saudi Arabia (47%) also say a women should be free to choose how she dresses. Smaller, but sizable percentages agree in Iraq (27%), Pakistan (22%) and Egypt (14%). What the survey leaves unanswered is whether respondents think social or cultural norms will guide women in their choice to wear more conservative or less conservative attire in public. Source:
  20. Somali business model in Kenya is successful because it is based on communal trust The phenomenal growth of Somali businesses in Kenya’s commercial towns and urban centres is an envy to any would-be entrepreneur or business person. From the often frequented restaurants in Nairobi’s Central Business District to well-stocked boutiques their business models have created a massive economic touch, which cannot be overlooked. Behind this upward curve though is a business based on trust, a character trait that has remained elusive in many conventional entrepreneurs, who find it hard to trust their wealth with others, however creative their ideas may be. Trust, in a good number of the Somali community resonates loudly in respect to raising enough capital among family members and close friends for a profitable venture as well as one that creates an even economic impact in the entire society. Takaful Insurance Managing Director Hassan Bashir agrees that trust in the community has played an incredible role in fuelling success in their business growth.“Ours is a business model that is based on trust as shown by the community. Such ventures thrive since it’s founded on the human spirit,” he argues. The human spirit, he reckons, is one where both the seller and buyer trust that the product is certified and is of good quality. This is not the practice where Nairobi residents and visitors at times buy donkey meat, instead of beef. Bashir, who is also the chairman to the board of the recently launched Crescent Takaful Sacco, noted that human relationship is largely driven by trust and this is the key concept they hope to build on to grow strong businesses culture. “I will deal with an individual due to the trust I have and one equally transacts a business with the person he trusts,” he noted. As a pastoralist community, he says, the Somali has a practice where they give some members a cow in the hope that they will return it. “This is where our trust to transfer capital from one trustworthy individual has been inherited from.” Being a resilient people, Somalis have prospered because they are willing to take risks and accept smaller profits, which is another factor that has seen their business thrive. Abdullahi Dahir, the director at the Imara Daima Gardens, explains that when it comes to trade, “everyone wants to be very competitive in terms of the pricing factor, so it’s the margin that people are looking for.While other traders are looking for a higher margin, a Somali trader is looking for a lower margin. They’re looking at the turnover.” Dealing in trust is the foundation of reputation – and a critical area in which the business differentiates itself from the competition. As such, “Protecting, deepening and delivering trust through good governance is at the core of this thriving community business strategy,” says Dahir. Since perceptions about what constitutes a conflict of interest might vary across regions, Somali traders are able to identify any conflicts, potential or real, that could jeopardise their business. Dahir also agrees that the element of trust is common and strong within the community, a factor that has seen business flourish. He says the partnership is a progressive mind able to bring their ideas together to achieve that phenomenal investment. Dahir, upon his arrival from South Africa for example got together with his close family members and pooled resources to construct the estate.“Inasmuch as they trust me, I also trust them and that is how business grows,” he states. However, Bashir admitted that in the recent past, incidences of misusing money sent from the Diaspora has made them think of creating institutions so that that trust is founded on it. “What we are doing is to build an institutional foundation to support that trust,” he said. The community has created financial institutions, which aim to pool the resources together to fund key projects. Trade pillars The institutions, which are Sharia compliant, largely focus on assisting an individual to get out of some financial rut, such as to pay school fees or hospital bills, without any interest. The launch of the Crescent Takaful Sacco is part of that process to institutionalise trust.Consequently, the ideal of transferring capital from one individual to another is dominated by this character trait. Bashir said: “This is how to make the best of trust by ensuring the money sent from the Diaspora is protected,” he said. It’s true that a good number of the community members in the Diaspora send a sizeable amount of money to their beloved ones, a key seed capital that has helped propel success of this conservative community. However, other Kenyan community members who equally are based in different parts of the world such as the US, UK, and Canada have not been able to amass such capital towards a given venture apparently because of the lack of trust or suspicion when it comes to pooling resources together. In their place is an element of mistrust where doubts raised on who benefits from the dollars sent. “It’s a common story you hear that so and so cannot receive a call from the Diaspora, in the presence of a close relative. In most cases, inflow of Diaspora cash tend to divide the family instead of uniting them,” explained Njoroge Kamau who has a number of family members living abroad. For Dahir, there are checks and balances such as getting an auditor to look at the books and a clear mode of payment.SOURCE:
  21. Somalia Online - Somali-born Actor Barkhad Abdi who made his acting debut in "Captain Phillips" is nominated for the Academy Awards' Best Actor in a Supporting Role. News Snippet
  22. "A Mipster is someone at the forefront of the latest music, fashion, art, critical thought, food, imagination, creativity, and all forms of obscure everything. It is some who seeks inspiration from the Islamic tradition of divine scriptures, volumes of knowledge, mystical poets, bold prophets, inspirational politicians, esoteric Imams, and our fellow human beings searching for transcendental states of consciousness" “Too often, Hijabi women are placed in categories of expectation. The stereotypes of being meek, submissive, backward, and bland have been projected onto me far too many times. The stereotypes of being meek, submissive, backward, and bland have been projected onto me far too many times. Growing up wearing the hijab and living in America, I never felt I belonged to a particular group. I felt that to others, being devoted to my faith and adopting interests such as music, art, and fashion were in conflict.” “A Mipster is someone at the forefront of the latest music, fashion, art, critical thought, food, imagination, creativity, and all forms of obscure everything. It is some who seeks inspiration from the Islamic tradition of divine scriptures, volumes of knowledge, mystical poets, bold prophets, inspirational politicians, esoteric Imams, and our fellow human beings searching for transcendental states of consciousness,”. “Too often, Hijabi women are placed in categories of expectation" says Yasmin Chebbi. "The stereotypes of being meek, submissive, backward, and bland have been projected onto me far too many times. The stereotypes of being meek, submissive, backward, and bland have been projected onto me far too many times. Growing up wearing the hijab and living in America, I never felt I belonged to a particular group. I felt that to others, being devoted to my faith and adopting interests such as music, art, and fashion were in conflict.” Group website:
  23. The European Union and the Somali government spent months preparing for a conference on Somalia, which was held in Brussels on September 16. Declared as “A New Deal for Somalia” the one day affair’s purpose was to accomplish two things: Focus the attention of the international community on the progress made in Somalia over the last year; and mobilise resources for the one-year-old Somali regime and assist it in the country’s reconstruction. The conference takes its name after the American Depression era economic plan put forth by President Franklin D Roosevelt to jump start the US economy and get Americans back to work. Symbolically and rhetorically, the conference set out an ambitious plan for Somalia’s reconstruction with a great deal of pomp. So far, it has been successful in receiving financial pledges to the tune of over $815m. However, these donations are significantly less than what has been promised to similarly war-devastated countries like Afghanistan. All people of goodwill, and certainly Somalis, hope and pray that the conference is successful in attaining its stated objectives. The Brussels conference was the third conference of its kind held for Somalia . An earlier convention organised by the British government convened in London in early 2012 . Generally speaking, the Brussels and London conferences had the same goals as both affirmed their intentions of helping Somalia with financial aid and rebuilding the country’s security organs. Nearly 18 months after the London conference and despite the bombastic original claim of the British, Somalis have yet to see any material footprint in the country that indicates the project’s positive impact on their lives. The third convention was organised by Turkey and took place in Istanbul in mid-2012. Turkey’s intervention was different in orientation from the London and Brussels conferences as its stated aim was to try and assist Somali “civil society” groups and “traditional elders” find a common political ground before the selection of the new regime in September 2012. Turkey's contributions Despite the goodwill of the Turkish government, its seriousness of purposes, and the support of the vast majority of the Somali people, the deliberation in Istanbul failed to gain traction. This was due to Turkey’s poor understanding of the nature and dynamics of political problems in the country and the ill-informed way the conference was organised. However, unlike Britain, Turkey has undertaken many tangible and visible projects in the country that has improved the quality of life for many in the country. For starters, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the famine devastated people in Somalia in 2011 with his family and brought with him a large contingent of humanitarian agents who continue to serve the famine-afflicted population three years after his visit. Turkish public and non-governmental sectors have also been very active in rebuilding schools, hospitals, water systems and roads in and around Mogadishu and providing supplies for internally displaced people in the capital. Additionally, Turkey has provided scholarships for hundreds of Somali students to study in Turkish schools and universities. Finally, Turkey has offered to help rebuild Somali security forces. Although this project has yet to start many Western powers and their African clients oppose it. The West's agenda By contrast the West’s main investment has been in financing AMISOM, and whatever other assistance they have offered has been considerably consumed by the overhead charges paid to their staff and contractors. This means that little of their aid actually reaches the population. More significantly, little investment has been committed to the establishment and training of Somali security forces in such a way that they could replace AMISOM within a year or two. A symptom of the impoverishment of the Somali security forces is that a year after the post-transition regime came to power the Somali Presidency and the President are mainly guarded by AMISOM forces rather than tested Somali soldiers. One of the exceptions to the invisibility of Western Aid is the solar powered street lights in the main streets of Mogadishu which were donated by Norway. Because of the limited impact of Western assistance on the livelihoods of the population, many Somalis speculate that the West, including the EU, is not committed to help Somalia stand on its own feet. Previous assistance in Somalia has had limited impact on increasing the capacity of the Mogadishu regime or the population’s ability to conquer their livelihood challenges. Since the old Western deals for Somalia has not done what their rhetoric claimed, would the EU’s “New Deal for Somalia” be any different than earlier projects? For the past two decades the West’s strategy has been to contain problems in Somalia from spreading to their allies in the region. This was done through a variety of methods. The West used Somali warlords and more recently incompetent but pliant religious or other types of henchmen to insure that an independent Somalia does not re-emerge. They also deployed humanitarian and development “experts”, dubbed the Nairobi Mafia by Somalis, to whitewash the ineptness of their work and intellectually justify their strategy. Finally, the most effective instrument of the West has been the African Union and AMISOM. AMISOM is completely funded by the West without simultaneous and sufficient allocations of resources for the Somali military. It is undeniable that AMISOM has succeeded in pushing the terrorist group al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and some parts of southern Somalia, but it appears that there is no rush to equip and resource a reliable and effective Somali military that can replace AMISOM. Consequently, AMISOM is both an asset and a liability for Somalis, but as long as AMISOM is there the Somali government will remain hostage to others and will be unable to push the limits of prevailing politics to inspire its citizens. Steps to success For the New Deal to succeed where earlier EU and Western projects have failed, it must bring a no nonsense agenda to the table. First, it must heavily invest in rebuilding the necessary Somali public institutions whose design and orientation is determined by Somalis. Second, it must significantly reduce the number of overpaid expatriates employed in these projects and replace them with capable Somalis whose integrity is beyond reproach. Third, it must set aside at least $270m annually, for five years, to fund the establishment of a credible national security force loyal to the country and the people and that can replace AMISOM, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in two years. Fourth, and for the first time, the EU must use its diplomatic and economic muscle to condemn the tribal-based political formula currently framing the so-called federal political system as inhumane and unworkable. Such a stance will give an enormous boost to the civic minded Somalis who have been, at best, ignored and often dismissed as unrealistic by Western authorities. Fifth, The EU and others who claim to want to help the Somali people should challenge the regime in Mogadishu by being forthright about what must be done. Sixth, to help Somalia via the New Deal, the EU must alter its standard operating procedure pertaining to aid and consider adopting what some Islamic charities have done in Somalia. The latter’s approach involves progressive reduction of assistance as Somalis increasingly gain capacity to shoulder their responsibilities. The EU’s standard cookie cutter formula doesn't work for anyone except for the contractors and the bureaucrats that get fat from the largesse. The EU alone cannot be blamed for the failure of Western assistance in Somalia; the regime in Mogadishu must take increasing responsibility for the mess in the country. Previous Somali transitional regimes in the last decade or so were corrupt, sectarian, and most significantly incompetent. Because of the character of these regimes, the country has sunk deeper into a political black hole. Getting it out of that hell is going to take a wise and courageous leadership that is not intimidated by the donors, but inspired by the tenacity of the Somali people. A year into its four-year tenure, the regime has lost most of its original glow which came with the change of national leadership, and has yet to provide any policies or practices that can kindle civic mobilisation. Incompetence and tribal political gamesmanship rule Mogadishu’s high hill and the authorities seem completely oblivious to the rut that has set in. Such a system cannot be a productive and progressive partner for the EU if the “New Deal for Somalia” is to produce livelihoods and political order that can move the population. The New Deal for Somalia appears to be stillborn unless five fundamental changes are affected by the EU and the Somali government: 1- It is essential that the EU radically rethink its old ways of doing aid and adopt new strategies that put the needs of the Somali people first. Among those needs are the establishment of a national government of their own that is accountable to them and not to the Western world. This will require a greater attention to helping Somalia rebuild its governmental institutions in order for the Somali government to manage the affairs of the country as a sovereign. 2- There is a need to shift resources away from AMISOM and dedicate that to the professionalisation of the Somali military and police force. 3- If the EU delivers on its financial pledge, then it should concentrate on three major problem areas, including employment generation, for the effort to have the necessary catalytic effect. It’s worth noting that the new EU pledge is less than the remittance diaspora Somalis annually send to their relatives. 4- The regime in Mogadishu has lost whatever currency it had with the people when it came to power. Consequently it cannot cleanse the rut unless it begins a systematic journey of building national institutions. For a start, the country needs a credible and capable new prime minister and cabinet that can measure up to their constitutional responsibilities. 5- A new believable political engagement with the population is of utmost urgency in order to earn their trust and support. Without these combined reengineering of EU and Somali agendas, it is highly likely that the “New Deal for Somalia” will be successful. Abdi Ismail Samatar is President of African Studies Association and Professor of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota. He is also a research fellow at the University of Pretoria.
  24. CBS - The rookie actor who grew up amid Somalia's civil war earned SAG and Golden Globe nominations for his first film role, as a pirate opposite Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips." Mo Rocca sits down with first-time actor Barkhad Abdi to talk about his life story that could be a movie itself.
  25. Faroole's Magic Mandela Moment - A Poem by Prof Mohamed Said Togane FAROOLE’S MAGIC MANDELA MOMENT Nearly all men can stand adversity If you want to test a man's character . . . Abraham Lincoln Nothing, indeed, but the possession of some power What at the bottom is the true character of any man. But Give him power. Can with any certainty discover . . . Burke Upon this A question arises: Whether it be better to be loved than feared Or Feared than loved? . . . Machiavelli Became him like the leaving [Power!] Nothing in Faroole’s life . . . Togane on Faroole Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. . . . Satan He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior. . . . Confucius Better to have self-control than to conquer a city. Better to be patient than powerful; . . . Proverbs 16: 32 Desire of Power Yet sprung from High is of Celestial Seed On Earth a Vicious Weed In God 'tis Glory And when men Aspire 'Tis but a Spark too much of Heavenly Fire. . . . John Dryden Faroole was a politician Now he is The Greatest Statesman of the Somali race After being the most powerful man in Puntland When Faroole lost to Ina Gas by one vote Faroole decided To seize The MAGIC Mandela Moment Faroole decided That it is better to be loved By the Somali people By the Somali people Faroole decided Than feared To walk away From the contentious Pride of Power From the pomp of Power From the boast of heraldry From all that beauty From all that wealth ever gave Faroole decided To walk away Peacefully Gracefully Faroole decided Not to contend Not to fight Not to argue