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  1. xasan-culusoow


    MOGADISHU, Somalia - Somalia owes the International  Monetary Fund (IMF) $328 million and no new loans will be given until some arrangement is agreed upon on how this debt is to be serviced. writes JOHN SAMBO.


    Recently an IMF mission led by Rogerio Zandamela was in the country. He said last week, “The IMF is for now precluded from providing new loans to Somalia, pending clearance of the country’s arrears of about $328 million.


    “But we can advise the authorities on appropriate macroeconomic policies, including in the context of a staff-monitored program, which is a kind of ‘shadow program’ involving a dialogue with the IMF on economic policies but which offers no financing.”


    Zandamela said Somalia has much potential. “They have natural resources, including gas and petroleum, fisheries, and more. Proper management of these natural resources is vital to the country’s success.”


    For two decades now, Somalia has been plagued by instability. Presently an African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM), with troops from Burundi, Kenya and Uganda is helping to maintain security.


    Somalia, along with Zimbabwe, are the two African countries that currently do not get any assistance from the multilateral institution that helps provide countries with balance of payments support.


    However Zandamela said in a release that the situation in Somalia has improved., “Economic conditions improved rapidly in 2012-14, with real GDP rising by 3.7 percent during 2014.”


    He said, “The recovery was led by growth in livestock and fisheries, and a very active private sector resurgence of the services industry, notably telecommunications, construction, and money transfer services, mainly associated with the return of diaspora Somalis.


    “If security improvements continue, the entrepreneurial private sector will continue to be the most dynamic contributor to economic growth,” he said.


    He said their Mission were able to compile and analyze core data to conduct the first ‘health check’ of the Somali economy in 26 years.



  2. ahmed-ali-said


    I hear some people in our St. Cloud, Minnesota community say immigrants of Somali descent aren’t ready to assimilate but, disappointingly, those people who say that, although well-intentioned, might be wrong about how immigrants are expected to assimilate.


    In the immigrant nation of America, assimilation doesn’t mean necessarily for an immigrant community to assimilate completely into the culture of the adopted country. Assimilation should be optimum balance where one can emulate something from the new culture and can have the freedom to keep some of one’s native culture as long as it is not in violation of the law.


    As long as the law protects elements of one’s native culture such as religion, one shouldn’t be pushed to embrace every facet of the new culture. Moreover, if one wants to relinquish or add something to one’s culture from the new culture, one should have the freedom to choose. In other words, if one wants to keep one’s native culture alive, one should have the same freedom. However, it is worth emphasizing that this should depend on the choice of the individual and it shouldn’t be converting people collectively from one culture to another.


    It is common sense that the new immigrants should always borrow from the new culture. Common sense can show us also that borrowing from the culture of the latest immigrants is useful too. Generations of immigrants came to America at different times with different cultures that shaped the America we have today.


    To take an obvious example, if they would have thrown away their cultures and they would have only adopted the native cultures of the New World, we would have a different America that is very hard to imagine. American culture is an accumulation of different immigrant cultures that underwent evolutionary process over the centuries. Nevertheless, the American culture is not stagnant so far and it is still going through the same evolutionary process, although it is quite hard to notice that during the lifetime of a person.


    American culture was born out of immigrant cultures and retained some of the best ingredients of those immigrant cultures, whereby citizens with different brains and different cultural backgrounds keep interacting with each other to mellow constantly into one ever-changing wider American community. And their mellowing notably happens in public and in professionalism with one generic American culture that respects multiculturalism under the law despite their differences in the way they worship, the way they dress and the way they fall in love.


    Culture encompasses almost everything in life. In this context, the American culture is changing in many fronts, be it technology, innovation and the way things are done in countless realms. In certain areas, however, the change is happening with speed. In other areas, changes might be unforeseen for now. Nevertheless, if you’re conservative, and there is nothing wrong about being conservative, you might prefer to keep certain things the way they are. But change is an inevitable part of life. If you say no to change, you can’t hold back the tide of change for too long. Times change and we change with them.


    ahmed-ali-saidAhmed Ali Said is a Somali-American and a former St. Cloud City Council candidate. He lives in St Cloud, Minneso

  3. 68872c90030d4bee6f3b00fcc8409c91_XLThe team behind Qurtuba Publishing House: Sisters Hodan Ibrahim, Ilhan Ibrahim, and Ayan IbrahimCourtesy of Ilhan Ibrahim

    Muslim Link had an opportunity to interview Ilhan Ibrahim, who, along with her two sisters Hodan Ibrahim and Ayan Ibrahim, have co-founded Qurtuba Publishing House.

    1. Tell us about yourself

    My name is Ilhan Ibrahim and I am a 20 year old Somali-Canadian born and raised here in Ottawa. I am currently a 4th year student at the University of Ottawa completing my undergraduate degree in Nursing. I am also the co-founder and CEO of Qurtuba Publishing House.

    Hodan Ibrahim is a 25 year old social entrepreneur, author, and publisher who specializes in capacity development for emerging businesses. Her passion lies in helping develop the next generation of social change makers and entrepreneurs by cultivating eco-systems to help them thrive. She is the co-founder and Marketing Manager ofQurtuba Publishing House.

    Ayan Ibrahim is a 23 year old writer, aspiring photographer, and registered nurse. Her writings focus mainly on cultural/social, political and global health issues. As a fitness enthusiast and 1st Degree Black-belt in Taekwondo, she aims to cultivate a new generation of health-conscious Muslims through health education and fitness motivation. She is the cofounder and Managing Editor of Qurtuba Publishing House.

    2. How did you come up with the idea for Qurtuba Publishing House?

    It’s an interesting story. It was about a year before the idea for Qurtuba Publishing House arose, I attended an event run by two wonderful ladies called “Owning Our History”. This event was a panel discussion dedicated to inspire young Muslim woman to pursue positive changes in themselves and their communities. At the end of the event, they gave everyone a piece of paper, and asked us to write one goal that we promise to accomplish within one month’s time. I remember writing “Start changing our narrative”-and by ‘our’ I meant the Muslim narrative. The reason I mention this event is to acknowledge that such initiatives can have a lasting impact on its attendees, especially its younger audience. I cannot say what it was exactly that sparked a passion to work in media that night, however this goes to show that the power and influence of such events should not be underestimated.

    My sisters and I have always had a passion to serve and support social growth and productivity in Muslim communities. As Muslims, we are facing challenging times. All over the globe, Muslims are suffering from social polarization, economic decline, and political turmoil. Mainstream media has immensely contributed to the negative portrayal of Muslims, creating a narrative that is neither factual nor representative of the global Muslim community. These challenges are increasing daily, and it is becoming exceedingly difficult for Muslims to reconcile what Islam teaches and the dynamic context of our world today. As any Muslim, we felt that we had a social and religious obligation to counter these growing challenges.

    One night, we were discussing how awesome it would be to have an accessible resource for Muslims that focused on discussing relevant issues that Western Muslims are facing. Although there are many resources for Muslims out there, we felt there was a void between the acquisition of knowledge and implementation of knowledge in Muslim communities. We thought about creating a platform for Muslims that not only produced insightful publications, but to provide Muslims with practical tools to be able to develop solutions to the various issues Muslims are faced with. Ideas started blooming as we let our imagination run wild. We spent the rest of our night brainstorming and building upon this new idea, and by the end of the night, Qurtuba Publishing House was born.

    3. Why did you choose the name Qurtuba?

    We were truly inspired by what is known as the “Golden Age” of Islamic history, particularly the city of Cordoba ( also known as Qurtuba in Arabic). Qurtuba was a city distinguished for its cultural diversity and technological advances, as well as some of the most outstanding and paramount accomplishments in scholarship. This city was described as the ornament of the world because of its architecture, paved roads and streetlights. What truly inspired us to name our publishing Qurtuba was the fact that Qurtuba was titled the most tolerant and cultivated society of its time, which allowed for the exchange of knowledge and religious diversity. It was the scholars, thinkers and creatives of this beautiful city that created a timeless representation of how Muslims can leave a significant and innovative impact in their communities. Qurtuba wishes to carry on this legacy and create knowledge-sharing platforms to support social growth and productivity in Muslim communities.


    4. Tell us about your publication "Guide to Entrepreneurship & Business in Islam"

    Both in Canada and the U.S., unemployment rates for post-secondary graduate students has been on the rise since the 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis. More and more students are having to face the reality of unemployment upon graduating. In fact, in a report by Statistics Canada, one of the leading causes of students returning to school to pursue higher education is due to the difficulties they faced in seeking employment, which in turn increases their student debt load. This is a perpetual cycle that many students feel trapped in. Unfortunately, the conventional system does not provide students with feasible alternatives.

    When we look into Islamic traditions, we see that entrepreneurship was an established practice of Muslim civilization dating back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Not only did entrepreneurship create social stability, but it also provided economic resilience and self-sufficiency for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In fact, our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) hailed from a line of independent businessmen. Unfortunately, the Islamic roots of entrepreneurship have been long forgotten by Muslims for some time. This book, A Guide to Business and Entrepreneurship in Islam, wishes to resurrect this core foundation of Islamic economics and illustrates how entrepreneurship can be integrated as a solution and an alternative course for the contemporary Muslim.


    5. Tell us about the inspiration behind "A Guide To Overcoming Conflicts with Immigrant Parents". What feedback have you received from readers...and your own parents?

    My sisters and I are first generation immigrant children. Our parents migrated to Canada in 1990 in hopes of starting a new life. Like many first generation immigrant children, it was a daily struggle balancing our traditional upbringing and our Western values. Coming from a Somali background, I can say that Somalis from the Diaspora have faced immense social, financial and spiritual challenges. Many of us were expected to pursue careers in engineering or medicine. Undoubtedly, our parents came from a life of struggle and sacrificed everything to provide us with a better life than they had. To them we should show our utmost gratitude and respect, and we ask Allah (swt) to preserve them. However, there is a struggle that often goes unnoticed in our communities. This struggle is an intergenerational conflict between parents and their children that is rooted in misunderstanding and differences in cultural mindsets. This book, “A Guide to Overcoming Conflicts with Immigrant Parents”, provides a simple and practical solution to ending intergenerational conflict. The solution provided may come to surprise many readers. We hope that this book will encourage young first generation immigrant Muslims to aspire to forge a path in life that does not compromise their relationship with their parents, rather strengthen their relationship and create a foundation of mutual understanding and love.

    Alhamdulillah, since the launch of Qurtuba Publishing House, we have been receiving a lot of support from friends and family. Our mother has been the foundation of our support. She is a very open-minded woman who is very in tune with the struggles young Muslims, Somalis in particular, are facing. Though this is a topic that is almost considered taboo in some communities, we have received a lot of positive feedback from readers who feel that the book relates to them and provided a solution for them as well.

    6. Tell us about your call out for Authors. What type of book ideas are you looking for?

    Qurtuba Publishing House wants to be more than a publishing house. We want to bring to the forefront knowledge-sharing platforms on issues that are pertinent to the needs of the contemporary Muslim. By producing accessible and cutting-edge publications on relevant issues to Muslims today, we want to tackle important issues that are often not represented or untapped by our communities. In order for us to be more than a publishing house, we need to do more than publish books. Qurtuba wants to have discussions and create spaces for Muslims to not just gain knowledge, but use that information in a constructive and productive way. Knowledge is rendered fruitless without practicality, feasibility, and most importantly, accessibility. When knowledge becomes accessible to Muslims, our communities become innovative, our youth become leaders, and we are able to contemporize Islamic perspectives into our current reality. That is the vision and spirit of Qurtuba Publishing House.

    We recently made a post calling for authors to contribute to our blog. As mentioned, we want to discuss relevant issues, share ideas, and inspire leadership in Muslims. In order to meet this goal, we wanted to create platforms online through blog posts, articles, and online discussions. Alhamdulillah, we are also planning to create live events through workshops and seminars in the coming months. All these platforms are designed to equip Muslims with the tools and skills necessary to address current challenges and counter the growing challenges of being a Muslim our world today.

    We welcome anyone who has a passion to inspire productivity and engagement in Muslim communities and wishes to contribute to our blog to contact us at

    Many of the book ideas that we have currently produced and are in the process of being produced are topics that Muslims today can relate to on a personal and communal level. For instance, another book we have published is a guide to entrepreneurship for the Muslim woman. Currently, one of our authors is working on a book titled “The Health Conscious Muslim: A Muslim Woman’s Journey of Navigating the World of Health and Fitness” as a means of engaging Muslims to become more health conscious and make positive lifestyle changes inspired by the Qur’an and Sunnah.

    7. What have been the lessons learned so far from starting your own publishing house?

    Our team has been working tirelessly on developing Qurtuba Publishing House for the past 6 months or so. The most valuable lesson that I have learned so far would be that in order for us as Muslims to witness the change that we wish to see in our communities, we must make a lot of sacrifices along the way. Our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is a testament to the power of sacrifice and dedication. Whether it was pulling late hours into the night in order to meet editorial deadlines, or balancing personal commitments and work, our team had to sacrifice a lot of our time and energy for the sake of growing an initiative that we hope would someday play a role in shifting the Muslim narrative. Despite the challenges, we’ve pushed through for the sake of Allah (swt) and for the sake of serving our global Muslim community.

    I’ve also learned that we all have the potential to influence and shape the Muslim narrative from a biased and narrow perspective to an accurate portrayal of Islam and Muslims, but we may lack the motivation or direction to do so. Everyone is capable of supporting growth in the Muslim community in their own unique way. I truly believe no action with a pure intention is insignificant, despite how small or big it may be. Insha’Allah, we hope Qurtuba Publishing House may also be a source of inspiration for Muslims to find the motivation and passion in themselves to be productive members in our community.

    8. What lessons have you learned about working with family members which you would like to share with other entrepreneurs who work with family members?
    Working with your family has its ups and downs. Alhamdulillah, all three of us have always been very close with one another for as long as I can remember. We see each other as sisters, but also as best friends. Working with family members can either be one of the best decisions that you make, or a decision you may regret. Without a doubt, the success of your organization or project is dependent upon they type of relationship you have with your family. If you have an open and honest relationship with family members, then there is definitely a better chance of succeeding. However, if you have a less-than honest relationship with family members, or you feel that there is a distance between you and that family member, then the chances may not be in your favour. I am not at all saying that it is impossible. However, an open, honest and supportive relationship is key to your success. I would advise anyone who wishes to work with family members that your greatest asset in developing a strong partnership and foundation is patience and understanding. If you choose to work with family members, it definitely brings you closer together. You share moments of success, and moments of disappointment. Whether it's good or bad, you will learn things about your family that you did not know before. Through patience and understanding each other, it lays the foundation for a strong and long-lasting partnership.


  4. My father, Yusuf Dirir Abdi, a Somali politician, has died aged around 80, killed by Somali government troops.


    He was born into a nomadic family in Erigavo, probably in 1935, though there is no record of his birth. He was the oldest of eight children of Dirir Abdi Issa and Ambaro Sugaal, a strong woman who built up the family goat farm. Yusuf was lucky to have been given a chance of an education, and eventually left for Britain to continue his studies. He was offered a place at Balliol College, Oxford, but the offer was rescinded as he did not have the requisite Latin, so he attended Reading University, reading politics and economics. It was there he met my mother, Margaret.


    After graduating, he returned to Somalia in 1964 and his political career took off – he worked first in the ministry of health and labour. He then joined the ministry of foreign affairs as a political and economic director – representing Somalia at a number of conferences at the United Nations. In 1967 he was appointed as a diplomat in Ethiopia – an important job given the proximity and difficult relations between the two countries. In 1969 there was a military coup led by Siad Barre. Yusuf served as an economic and financial adviser to Barre (1970-73), but open opposition to Barre’s dictatorship and Yusuf’s belief in democracy meant that he was imprisoned for two years – most of it in solitary confinement.


    After leaving prison, he left Somalia and spent many years in exile in Kenya and the Middle East. He formed the Somali Salvation Democratic Front and battled against the Barre regime from abroad. He was also successful in business, becoming marketing manager for Toyota in Saudi Arabia.


    Around 1993 I met my father for the first time – soon afterwards he came to live in London with his third wife, Amina, and their three young children. This was a settled time for him but he could not resist the pull of politics. After the fall of Barre’s regime in 1991 and a period of civil war, he became an MP in the United Nations-backed government. Despite his advanced years, he insisted on putting his life in danger by travelling to Somalia. He told everyone this was to be his last tour. It is a cruel irony that although his family was worried about attacks from the Islamist extremists al-Shabaab, he was killed by government forces in an apparent case of mistaken identity.


    Politics was a lifelong passion, but his Muslim religion and family were also very important to him. He was a fiercely intelligent man, who spoke Somali, English and Arabic. He was also a very funny and a warm person adored by all his children. He loved spicy food and interesting people – his favourite expression of approval was “he’s quite a character!” He certainly was.


    Yusuf is survived by Amina and their three daughters, by a son and daughter from his first marriage and three daughters from his second, and by me; and by many grandchildren, nieces and nephews.


    Ms_Deborah_Keeping (1)Deporah Keeping



  5. soma-oil

    The Serious Fraud Office has opened a criminal investigation into British company Soma Oil and Gas.

    The SFO said the matter was related to corruption in Somalia.

    In a statement, Soma said it was "confident" that there was "no basis" to the allegation.

    The company's directors include former Conservative Party leader Lord Howard and Lord Clanwilliam, but Soma said "no suspicion whatsoever" was attached to either man.

    The SFO released a statement saying whistleblowers were "valuable sources of information".

    It added: "We welcome approaches from anyone with inside information on all our cases including this one - we can be contacted through our secure reporting channel, which can be accessed via the SFO website."

    'Exploration opportunities'

    Soma said the allegations were from a third party, not from a current or former employee.

    "Soma Oil and Gas has always conducted its activities in a completely lawful and ethical manner and expects this matter to be resolved in the near future," it added.

    The BBC understands that a UN monitoring group has also been investigating Soma over a capacity building programme which it signed with the Somalian government last year.

    Many major oil companies withdrew from Somalia in the early 1990s when civil war began.

    According to the company website, Soma Oil and Gas was founded in 2013 to "pursue oil and gas exploration opportunities in Somalia".


  6. Jamal Osman reports on the boom in Somaliland attracting migrants seeking jobs and opportunities from Yemen, Ethiopia - and London.

    Faisal Kiber used to be an estate agent in Wembley, now he is a camel herder: "Over there, I worried about the letters, council tax, electricity bills, water bills. [in London] you worry about daily life… here no one is going to send you letters!"

    North of war-ravaged Somalia, in the region of Somaliland which declared independence in 1991, they have managed to rebuild. Though not internationally recognised the region has its own political system and a successful private business sector – encouraging a building boom that is bringing jobs and opportunities.

    Yemen's descent into chaos brings boat-loads of refugees across the Gulf of Aden – with 5,000 arriving in the past two months alone. Entrepeneurial Ethiopians are migrating to take advantage of the opportunities, happy to do jobs like hairdressing which most Somalis won't consider.

    News, somaliland, osman, ethiopia

    Migrants are coming for the same reason that many Somali's now leave, to seek work for their families in Hargeisa. Many are now returning home, having witnessed the harsh realities of migrating to Europe.

    Adam, one Somali who recently returned from London says there are more opportunities here. "There's a big gap in the market because there are no skilled workers here," he says.

    Camel-herder Faisal appreciates the quality of life in Somaliland, compared to his memories of London, saying: “You can't compare the nomadic way of life, it's stress free."


    Faisal Kiber has returned to Somaliland after 24 years in London

    The younger generation are still leaving, aspiring to a life they see through the lens of Facebook.

    Despite the booming economy, the younger generation continue to leave, seduced by the idea of the Europe they imagine through social media's selective lens. The challenge for the country to convince its young to stay.


  7. The Kenyan state has an ethnicity problem. By presenting their conflict with the terrorist group al-Shabaab as a conflict of ethnicity, ethnic Somalis living in Kenya are at increasing risk of discrimination, marginalisation, and human rights abuses.


    Ethnic Somalis in Kenya are marginalised based on the fear that they are supporters of, or related to, al-Shabaab. This marginalisation of ethnic-Somalis includes harsh measures used against the group in order to 'weed out Shabaab sympathisers'. Operation Usalama Watch, which began in April 2014, arrested over 4000 Muslims in four months. Police use extreme force, stealing items such as phones and watches from suspects, with a high number of reports of physical violence and rape. WhenHuman Rights Watch interviewed 101 refugees and asylum seekers in Eastleigh about their experiences of police custody in 2013, almost all of them reported that the police repeatedly called them 'terrorists' or 'al-Shabaab'.


    The government's monopoly on citizenship means that 60% of Somali residents living in the North Eastern Province of Kenya, the area most densely populated with Somalis, do not have ID cards. Upon failure to produce an ID card, Somalis can be arrested and punished. Video footage captured by Al Jazeera shows the military forcibly bundling innocent men and women into trucks, with one man shouting 'I am not al-Shabaab'. Somalis are being deliberately kept in a state of vulnerability.


    The Kenyan authorities are conflating immigration issues with terrorism issues, giving legitimacy to the violation of the rights of ethnic-Somalis. This is a conscious tactic on behalf of the Kenyan government: focus on ethnicity forces focus away from issues such as government corruption and unfair allocation of resources.


    This tactic is working. In 2014, the Managing Editor of Kenya's most popular newspaper the Daily Nation, Mutuma Mathiu, wrote 'Are we going to sit around and wait to be blown to bits by terrorists?...every little, two-bit Somali has a big dream - to blow us up...terrorists are pouring across the border'. Ethnic tension is the harmful consequence of the Kenyan state's insistence in conflating Somali ethnicity with terrorism.


    However, Somalis living in the NEP are fighting back. Last month, a small group of Somalis embarked on a 1000 kilometre walk from Garissa to Mandera. They arrived in Mandera this week, significantly larger in number than when they started. Their trek encouraged others to join, providing hope and inspiration to the communities they walked through.


    Named the #WalkofHope, the month long trek's aim was to bring international attention to the plight of Kenyan-Somalis. Unfortunately, the walk did not feature in the international media at all: it seems that Somalis are destined to only make the news when al-Shabaab attack, as they have been doing with increasing frequency in the past year.


    By reporting on al-Shabaab but not the Somalis who aim to separate themselves from the Islamist group, we as journalists play into the hands of the Kenyan state, who use fear of al-Shabaab as a way of legitimising discrimination of Somalis.


    Hearing the stories of Somalis in the NEP is the first step in fighting prejudice and discrimination. We must listen to the voices of those who are suffering. With President Obama currently visiting Kenya, now is the perfect time to bring to light the plight of one of the world's most disadvantaged ethnic groups.


    KwyattCatherine is a Durham University History graduate, currently on her obligatory gap year. She wants to be a real life journalist one day, but for now she is content travelling, blogging and giving up her time and work for free at any work experience placement or internship that will take her. Can be found obsessively refreshing her twitter feed for news.

  8. [caption id=attachment_1933760" align="alignnone" width="780]Abdulkadir Aden Mohamud, also known as "Jangeli," right in purple, and Abdulhakim Hashi, just behind wearing stripes, are members of a task force formed to ensure that the Somalis of Washington state have a voice in the country's next election. The group was formed during a recent visit of former Somali prime minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed. Abdulkadir Aden Mohamud, also known as "Jangeli," right in purple, and Abdulhakim Hashi, just behind wearing stripes, are members of a task force formed to ensure that the Somalis of Washington state have a voice in the country's next election. The group was formed during a recent visit of former Somali prime minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed.[/caption]In a vast banquet room at a DoubleTree Suites in Tukwila, former Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed made his way down the aisle. The crowd of several hundred — men in dark jackets on one side, women in brightly colored headscarves on the other — had been waiting for hours.As their ancestral national anthem began to play, they leapt to their feet, singing along, clapping and waving little Somali flags bearing a white star on a background of sky blue.In the crowd was Abdulkadir “Jangeli” Aden Mohamud, who had greeted the former prime minister at the airport and had him to his Renton home the next morning for breakfast. They had nothing less than the future of Somalia to discuss, and Mohamud, once head of Somalia’s development bank and more recently the owner of a local MaidPro janitorial franchise, was poised to help the former leader carry out his agenda.Now, the former prime minister, ousted in December amid a standoff with the president, took the stage, raised his fist and urged the crowd to be part of history.Abdulkadir Aden Mohamud, also known as “Jangeli,” talks in his Renton home about the importance of the 2016 Somali elections to Seattle-area Somalis. Mohamud once worked as the head of Somalia’s development bank. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)In 2016, Somalia is supposed to hold its first democratic election in more than 40 years. There are obstacles, to be sure, among them attempted disruption by the extremist Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab. But if it comes off, the election could bring a measure of stability and order to one of the most chaotic, corrupt and violent countries in the world.Washington state could play a vital role. Its Somali community is thought to be the third largest in the U.S., after Minnesota and Ohio, and to number anywhere from roughly 13,000 (according to the latest Census figures, which tend to underreport immigrant populations) to 30,000 (as estimated by community leaders).Mohamed, among others, believes Seattle-area Somalis — indeed all of the country’s emigrants around the world — should get a vote. And he wants them to pressure the Somali parliament, as well as influential U.S. officials, to make that happen.Some have taken up his call. Meeting in living rooms and suburban malls, teleconferencing with their compatriots around the globe, they are brainstorming about people to talk to and petitions they might start. You wouldn’t necessarily know it from their current occupations, but back in their homeland, many had impressive, even exalted, pedigrees.[caption id=attachment_1933759" align="alignnone" width="780](Photo courtesy of Abdulkadir Aden Mohamud)  Abdulkadir Aden Mohamud, also known as "Jangeli,", left, walks with former Somali president Siad Barre while Mohamud worked as the general manager of a fruit-processing factory in Somalia in 1982. Mohamud later became head of Somalia's development bank. (Photo courtesy of Abdulkadir Aden Mohamud)

    Abdulkadir Aden Mohamud, also known as "Jangeli,", left, walks with former Somali president Siad Barre while Mohamud worked as the general manager of a fruit-processing factory in Somalia in 1982. Mohamud later became head of Somalia's development bank.[/caption]Abdulkadir Aden Mohamud, also known as “Jangeli,” talks in his Renton home about the importance of the 2016 Somali elections to Seattle-area Somalis. Mohamud once worked as the head of Somalia’s development bank. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)“It’s a shattered country, ” said Mohamud, the former banker and amateur painter who came to the U.S. in 1989, as his country was on the brink of civil war. “We need to stitch every piece together and make reconciliation.”For that to happen, he and other Somalis say, the diaspora must become involved. That was the message of former Prime Minister Mohamed, who spent a decade in Canada before returning to Africa. Particularly in the West, he said in a Seattle Times interview, Somali refugees have come to know “the benefits of democracy, peace and stability.”With as many as 20 percent of native Somalis spread around the world, support for the candidates of their liking — financial and electoral — is crucial.“If they are allowed to vote, they would be more inclined to open up their wallets,” said David Shinn, a lecturer in African affairs at George Washington University and a former ambassador to Ethiopia.[caption id=attachment_1933758" align="alignnone" width="780]Dualeh Hersi, a project manager at Microsoft and nephew of former Somali president Siad Barre, wants to help Somalia transform. He doesn't condone Barre's dictatorial rule, and believes Somalia's independent and nomadic people desperately need a democratic voice. Dualeh Hersi, a project manager at Microsoft and nephew of former Somali president Siad Barre, wants to help Somalia transform. He doesn't condone Barre's dictatorial rule, and believes Somalia's independent and nomadic people desperately need a democratic voice.[/caption]That would make Seattlean important campaign stop for Somali politicians.Mohamed, who isn’t making his personal political aspirations known, isn’t the first to come here. Fadumo Dayib, a Harvard University fellow who is braving death threats and challenging cultural mores as she seeks to become Somalia’s first female president, made a stop in Seattle in April.“It’s in my blood”“Just in case you’re wondering who’s going to be the future prime minister, you’re talking to him,” Dualeh Hersi said during the May event at the Tukwila DoubleTree.Hersi, 46, related that he is a nephew of Siad Barre, the former president and military dictator who ruled Somalia for decades before being ousted by a civil war in 1991. As rebels encroached upon Barre’s villa, Hersi’s family made a split-second decision to join a convoy headed for Kenya.He was 22 and a recent graduate of Somali National University. Eventually making his way to the U.S., he took computer classes while supporting himself with a series of menial jobs. He now works as a program manager for Amazon.“I cry in my heart when I see the way Somali people are treated around the world,” he said, explaining why he might give up a comfortable life here to go back to a place he calls a “black hole.” While the elite hide in fancy hotels and houses surrounded by tall walls, he said, hundreds of thousands are still crammed into refugee camps. He said that will likely only change with the help of Somalis who have benefited from opportunities abroad.[caption id=attachment_1933756" align="alignnone" width="779]Samira Arte, from left, and Nuredin Omar and Nourah Yonous attend a recent event at the Somali Community Services of Seattle. Yonous, 28, recently brought in a female presidential candidate to meet the local Somali community. Yonous would like to see women elected in the next election. Samira Arte, from left, and Nuredin Omar and Nourah Yonous attend a recent event at the Somali Community Services of Seattle. Yonous, 28, recently brought in a female presidential candidate to meet the local Somali community. Yonous would like to see women elected in the next election.[/caption]“It’s in my blood,” he added.The Barre connection would have been a liability at one point, but Hersi believes that has changed after all this time, especially as he and others once connected to the regime are voicing support for democracy.When Hersi might go back is uncertain. Yet, he has already tested the waters. In December, he traveled to Mogadishu to make a pitch for a new cabinet position that would improve the country’s shoddy telecommunications. The government wasn’t interested, he said, and he returned to Seattle.This back and forth to Somalia isn’t unique to Hersi. “The diaspora and the population inside the country are so interconnected,” said Matt Bryden, speaking by phone from Nairobi, where he heads Sahan, a think tank focusing on the Horn of Africa.Inside a little storefront in SeaTac or a nonprofit in Seattle, you might find a recent Somali member of parliament, an entrepreneur with investments in Mogadishu or a behind-the-scenes player with deep political ties to his African compatriots.Couple of influenceTalking in his Renton home, with the curtains drawn — African-style, against the afternoon sun — Mohamud recounted his departure from Somalia in 1989, as a civil war was beginning to brew. You couldn’t just quit a job in the Barre administration, related the former official, dressed on this day in a navy suit with a green handkerchief tucked neatly into the breast pocket. You had to leave the country.He landed in the Washington, D.C., area, where he lived for 16 years. When several of his five children made their way to the Seattle area, he moved here. Despite dealing with kidney failure and dialysis, he remains active in Somali affairs.When he and Mohamed met for breakfast, Mohamud recalled, the former prime minister asked for his support. A considerable amount of tact was involved. “He said, ‘You are not joining us. We are joining you,’ ” Mohamud recalled.[caption id=attachment_1933757" align="alignnone" width="780]Abdulkadir Aden Mohamud, also known as "Jangeli," and his wife Hamdi Abdulle, executive director of the Somali Youth & Family Club, are photographed in their home in Renton. Mohamud worked as the head of Somalia's development bank in the 1980s. Abdulkadir Aden Mohamud, also known as "Jangeli," and his wife Hamdi Abdulle, executive director of the Somali Youth & Family Club, are photographed in their home in Renton. Mohamud worked as the head of Somalia's development bank in the 1980s.[/caption]The former prime minister was alluding to a political party Mohamud had helped form in 2011. The purpose, he said, was to create a “culture of parties” that would supplant the culture of corruption and clan-based rivalries that reigned in Somalia. Called Hiil Qaran and composed of Somalis around the world, it has no ideology, he said; Somali politics haven’t reached that point. Instead, he called its mission “patriotic”— the building of a democratic republic.Mohamud now chairs Hiil Qaran, which has maybe 300 members. That’s not a lot, but apparently it carries enough clout to be courted by a prominent politician.Or perhaps it is Mohamud who has the clout. Asked if he has political aspirations himself, the former banker demurred. “But I may be a kingmaker,” he said.He later thought better of the boast and said he was joking. Yet, he noted his influence as a commentator on websites and radio shows targeting the international Somali community.His wife, Hamdi Abdulle, is also a force to be reckoned with. She serves as executive director of the Somali Youth and Family Club, a Renton-based nonprofit.She said she was pleased by the talk of reconciliation during the former prime minister’s visit, and gave a speech supporting women’s rights at the DoubleTree event. But she did not sit on stage. They were, she said pointedly, “all men, including my husband.”She also said there was an expectation that women would sit apart from men. Abdulle, wearing a vivid black and red headscarf as she talked with a reporter, observes some traditional customs. Still, she said, “I don’t want anybody to dictate to me where to sit.”You might think she would be susceptible to a woman’s bid for president, but she was critical of Dayib’s Seattle appearance, which took place at an Eritrean community center — a foreign venue for local Somalis, according to Abdulle. That may be why only about 30 people turned out.Nourah Yonous, a 28-year-old Somali woman, invited Dayib here. A recent transplant to Seattle, she grew up in Tanzania and went to college in California, where she studied feminist theory. Moving here for a job at a local nonprofit immersed her for the first time in a big Somali community. Over lunch at a Chinese restaurant near her work in Rainier Valley, she confessed she finds it tricky to navigate the community’s mores.Still, Yonous, whose very appearance raises eyebrows — her mass of curly hair falls to her shoulders uncovered — declared her intention to support Dayib as much as she can.“For the first time in our history we have a Somali woman candidate,” she said. And the incredulous reaction by some merely underscores for her the need to press on.It also suggests the diaspora, if allowed to vote, will have an unpredictable influence. “There are many diasporas,” observed Nairobi’s Bryden, citing one in the West, one in Asia and one in Somalia’s neighboring countries.The diaspora in the West “might be more inclined toward a secular, multiparty system,” he speculated. Yet, he added: “Even in the West, there’s a lot of division … Some of the most rabid, pro-clan propaganda comes from outside Somalia because they don’t have to suffer the consequences.” (A smattering of al-Shabaab recruits have also come from the West, including at least a couple from Seattle, although the terrorist group’s pull abroad has diminished, according to Somali observers.)Roused to actionWhatever way they lean, Somali emigrants won’t get a chance to weigh in unless they win the vote in Somalia. That’s something that Abdulhakim Hashi is working on.The 54-year-old, who jokes that his eight children have given him a clan of his own, left Somalia in the 1980s to study at the University of Amsterdam. With a mother-in-law in the Seattle area, he came here in 1998 and now runs a nationwide business — wiring money to Africa, selling insurance and preparing tax returns — out of an odd little SeaTac building in the shadow of a mall featuring a cavernous Somali grocery and restaurant.In 2000, when a peace conference in Djibouti established a transitional government, Hashi said, he went back to serve in parliament. But warlordism and chaos continued to reign. He returned to Seattle.He still visits Somalia, in part to work on a bank he and other investors are trying to get off the ground. On one such trip in February, he said, he attended the founding meeting of Mohamed’s Forum of Unity and Democracy. The memory is tinged with sadness for Hashi. A few days later, he lost a good friend in an al-Shabaab hotel bombing that killed about 25 people.Mohamed’s visit to Seattle in May roused Hashi to action. He became part of a local task force that is discussing ways to get the voices of the diaspora heard, including a possible petition drive among Somali immigrants, asking the U.S. State Department to intervene.Donald Teitelbaum, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for East African Affairs, does not sound so inclined. “I think the decisions on the specifics of the voting is something for the Somalis to decide.”With President Obama’s trip over the weekend to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya, the fate of Somalia is likely on his mind, but he may be more focused on ending al-Shabaab violence than shaping the next election. Amid furious political maneuvering now going on in Mogadishu, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has said he thinks security concerns will make a one-person one-vote election “difficult.”Local Somalis are watching all this carefully. Whatever their differences, they seem to agree on this sentiment, as expressed by Hashi: “We need Somalia to join the rank of civilized nations.”Nina Shapiro: 206-464-3303 or On Twitter @NinaShapiroSource:

  9. annisa-omar


    The UK’s decision to ban Khat a year ago surprised many in the country who had not heard of the drug – let alone were aware that there was a campaign to stop its use. However, for those familiar with the cultures of the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and in particular Somalia and Yemen, the leafy plant Khat acts as a stimulant, commonly chewed by men.


    As of June 24th 2014, Khat became classed as a class C drug and was banned in the UK. UK Home secretary Theresa May argued it was for the betterment of vulnerable communities’ health and social wellbeing, as well as concerns over the UK turning into a hub for European supply.


    The ripple effects across UK Somali communities have been real and profound. No longer was it possible to boldly brandish Khat in the UK.


    Arguments began proliferating in the media and public discussions that the law had been introduced too quickly and had potential negative consequences, such as pushing people to harder drugs or alcohol, damaging race relations, devastating Kenyan Khat-growing economies and even causing a loss of £2.5 million for the UK treasury.


    Many argued that Theresa May decided to implement the ban without apparent evidence and against the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The ban was portrayed simply as an encroachment on freedom pushed forward by the UK government. Somalis were thus shown as somewhat voiceless in the matter.


    In actual fact, however, numerous Somali individuals and groups had been lobbying the government for many years to make Khat illegal. This part of the Khat ban story has received little mainstream media attention.


    A few stories had been published. In a 2012 BBC Wales report, a young Somali youth worker, Mr Dualeh, warned that Khat should be made illegal, as he believed it was killing his community. On the eve of the ban, 29 UK-based Somali community organisations from television stations, job training centres, charities and youth groups endorsed a report titled ‘Khat Ban: Removing segregation and promoting integration’ in direct support of Theresa May’s decision.


    A contributor to the report, Mohamed Ibrahim, the Chair of the London Youth Somali Forum, reported that ‘Our fight against Khat has been real for many years and we have finally won’.


    Naturally, as an issue intimately affecting their own community, Somalis in the UK are more than well-placed to advise the government. As the Home Office minister Karen Bradley told the BBC, ‘We took the decision based on the strong views of the Somali community, particularly mums and wives’.


    There were of course some within the community who were vocally against the ban, largely because of the business it generates and its cultural significance. However, most Somalis welcomed the ban, as can be seen by the lack of protests it generated. It appears the legislation has had a positive impact upon the lives of former Khat users, as well as benefiting public health services.


    Mental health conditions such as psychosis, insomnia, paranoia, and depression have all been linked to Khat use. Physical health can also be affected, with poor appetite, mouth ulcers, and gum disease prevalent amongst users.


    However, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated in their 2013 report that there is ‘no evidence of a causal link between Khat use and adverse medical effects’. Despite the lack of official evidence, the reality is that scores of Somalis have for decades been treated by the UK National Health Service due to Khat-related health problems. Since the ban, the numbers in London have been falling within the mental health sector, according to a number of senior NHS psychiatrists.


    In the last few years, the UK mental health charity Mind has lead the way in taking steps to help those affected. This charity has set up innovative Khat rehabilitation and education projects in some UK areas.


    These projects involve information about the financial losses Khat users can incur, including a scale of how many bundles of Khat one consumer might purchase over a decade. Three bundles a day at £9 over a decade equals approximately £32,400. This knowledge of cost is important for the everyday male user whose loss of income to the drug affects both him and the family members who rely on him.


    Mind Support Manager Abdirashid noted that Somali male users enjoyed rehabilitation and were not substituting Khat with hard drugs or alcohol, as the media suggested.


    Also, the UK media focuses greatly upon the loss of income for Kenyan Khat producers abroad. However, it was the local need to rejuvenate and integrate Somali men into UK communities and wider UK society that largely drove the ban, and thus deserves greater attention.


    More fathers are present at home, working or seeking employment and in effect becoming better role models for their children. As shop owner and former user Ahmed Musa stated, ‘I always chewed Khat. It took a lot of my time, now I see my family more, especially my youngest daughter’.


    There is, of course a long way to go, especially for rehabilitation, given the ban’s quick introduction compounded by government cuts to social care. However, despite the setbacks the change has been put into motion.


    Ultimately, this is a law – so were there any arrests? Two arrests have been made in Cardiff, Wales.  There were more arrests in London, where 36 people were arrested and 68 warned in the first six months. Of these 36 arrested, 4 people have been charged and appeared in court. A year’s police review is in process.


    Police have been warned to use their discretion in enforcing the law, given its infancy. They follow a three strikes method of first issuing a warning, then a £60 spot fine for a second offence, and prosecution for the third.


    As the London Metropolitan police Acting Sergeant Mike Aartsen, who coordinates the Strategic Khat Working Group, stated, ‘Khat is a low priority drug for us’. One could argue it is not the law itself but the presence of law as a deterrent that has been the success.


    I remember the buying and selling of the plant in local London Somali cafes, in which predominantly older men sat to chew their purchases. Young boys and girls acted as secret delivery personnel, discreetly carrying the drug in coat pockets from one cafe or home to the next.


    Boys and girls were often happy to do this task, as there was always this sense of excitement and forbidden pleasure when it came to the use of Khat. As if everyone knew deep down it was wrong, but it was too fun and tied to Somali identity to ever let it go.


    Thus this positive reaction to the Khat ban reflects what we knew all along. A psychological shift within the UK Somali community appears to be underway: that Khat is illegal and should not form part of our everyday lives.


    Somalis, like many other African or Asian people that have migrated to the UK in the last 60 years, have for a long time felt marginalised within UK society. The use of Khat within our community has only added to this isolation.


    annisa-omarAnnisa Omar is a British-Somali journalist and communications professional on the look out for new opportunities. Tweet her @AnnisaOmar

  10. mohammed-ahmed-2


    St. Catharines runner Mohammed Ahmed captured the gold medal in 10,000 metre event in Toronto Tuesday.


    Ahmed squeaked out a win in 28:49, besting Aron Rono of the United States, who finished in 28:50, and Juan Luis Barrios of Mexico who crossed in the finish line in 28:51.


    Ahmed, who represented Canada in the 2012 Olympic Games, runs out of the Bowerman Track Club under coach Jerry Schumacher.


    Ahmed, 24, placed 18th in the 2012 Olympics and 9th in the 2013 World Championships, the best ever finish by a Canadian.


    In a previous interview with the Standard, Ahmed said he is looking forward to building on his successes on the track as he looks toward the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janerio, Brazil.



  11. Five Ohio State students and graduates earn more than $66,000 in Kickstarter campaign for their Titan Mixer Bottle. From left to right: Gered Bowman, Adan Ali, Frederick Bowman, Lonie Smith and Mohamed Rage. Credit: Courtesy of FiveID.


    A group of five Ohio State students and graduates of the Department of Design are trying to make clumpy protein shakes a thing of the past with their new invention, the Titan Mixer Bottle.


    The guys at FiveID have created a protein mixer bottle, which they said is unlike any other on the market today.


    The bottle can hold up to 26 oz. of fluids and uses a pump motion that moves the company’s patented auger blade, which cuts through clumps of protein, leaving fitness advocates with a smooth and consistent protein shake. The Titan Mixer Bottle also has a “store & pour container,” which holds up to two standard-sized scoops of your favorite supplement.


    “What our bottle has over all these other bottles is control,” said Lonie Smith, a FiveID member and 2014 graduate in industrial design. “Our mixer gives you so much control and your energy is all going into making a smooth vortex — it’s all around more efficient.”


    Fred Bowman, a FiveID member and a third-year in industrial design, said the idea for the bottle came about one morning when he was about to mix his protein shake with a traditional shaker bottle and thought to himself, “There has to be a better way to mix protein than the way everyone else is doing it.”


    Fast-forward to a year and a half later, past numerous hours of ideation and different prototypes, the group of designers have completed a successful campaign on Kickstarter. The campaign drew $66,694 from more than 2,000 backers. FiveID now has a product that could shake up the shaker bottle industry.


    Prototype of the Titan Mixer Bottle. Credit: Courtesy of FiveID


    “We were confident we had a solid project, or solid idea, on our hands. But for things to pick up as quickly as it did that was a little surprising, in a good way,” said Adan Ali, a FiveID member and 2015 graduate in industrial design.


    Mohamed Rage, a FiveID member and 2014 graduate in industrial design, said the campaign reached its goal in 10 days, and in total was so successful, the team now has a work order for more than 3,000 bottles to send out to its backers.


    “Once we get our Kickstarter check, we will use those funds to give the go-ahead to our manufacturers to start mass producing to fill those orders, to those first backers who have supported us,” Rage said. “Those are the ones to get the first product before anyone else, before it’s actually on the shelves.”


    The finished product will soon be available for presale purchase on the website, and will retail for $25-30, Rage said. FiveID added the company plans to have bottles available at local retailers within two years.


    Gered Bowman, a third-year in industrial design, said that during the developmental stages of the bottle, FiveID surveyed fitness enthusiasts for feedback on traditional bottles, and two major concerns from their consumer surveys mentioned odor and overall clean up after bottle use. Therefore, they kept cleanliness in mind when designing the Titan Mixer Bottle. They produced their bottle with Triton plastic, which Gered said is both odor-resistant and shatter-resistant.


    Smith said that the group would love to have OSU Athletics become a sponsored user of their product, but overall, they want to target the everyday athlete.


    “We want this to be a bottle for everybody,” Smith said. “We don’t want it to just be perceived as you have to be a class-A athlete to enjoy this.”


    Ali said the group plans on targeting multiple fitness events to gain exposure, including one of the biggest — the Arnold Classic.


    “We’re going to be in the Arnold Classic next year to take it to the next level,” Ali said.




    Fred said the FiveID team is grateful for all the support they have received, and they are optimistic about the future.


    “We definitely thank all our backers and supporters for their feedback,” Fred said. “We also want to tell everybody that this is just the beginning of everything. We have different ideas of what we want to do as far as design goes, and we’re really looking forward to the future.”



  12. Djibouti.JPG


    Not long ago Djibouti was known for little more than French legionnaires, desert and a small ramshackle port. But nowadays this tiny republic on the northern tip of the Horn of Africa has big plans, including turning its capital into the Dubai of Africa.


    Since gaining independence from France in 1977, Djibouti has steadily carved out a regional role through its strategic and commercial relevance at the junction of Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean.


    New Chinese investment totalling €10.8 billion will fund the building of six new ports, two new airports, and what is being touted as the biggest and most dynamic free trade zone in Africa, potentially giving the capital, Djibouti City, an edge over its rivals.


    "About 2 million African customers travel to Dubai each year,” said Dawit Gebre-Ab, with the Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority overseeing the city’s commercial infrastructure development. “We know what is on their shopping lists, and they could be coming here instead.”




    Behind the construction cranes and flashy hotels, however, there still exists in Djibouti a palpable French-colonial legacy fused with a heady mix of traditional Somali, Arab and Ethiopian influences among its 900,000 population.


    Some local Djiboutians express mixed feelings about the bid for modernity and its transformative effects, fearing what could be lost, and may already be fading.


    Regional player


    Recent fighting in Yemen thrust Djibouti into the limelight as it has played host to hundreds of refugees fleeing the city of Aden. Only 30 km separate the two countries’ coasts at the narrowest point of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait—translating as gateway of tears—joining the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.


    “Djibouti has an important security role in the region,” said Mohammed Ali, the Djibouti Foreign Ministry’s secretary-general. “Events in Somalia, Eritrea, South Sudan and Yemen illustrate how this is evolving.”


    >> Watch on France 24: Infiltration fears as Yemeni refugees flood tiny Djibouti <<


    One foreign diplomat referred to Djibouti as “an oasis in a bad neighbourhood”. And recently the US military agreed a 25-year extension to its presence, including Camp Lemonnier, its African headquarters. Total foreign military—also including personnel from France, Netherlands, Spain and Japan—based in Djibouti could number around 25,000, according to some estimates.


    Perched at the southern approach to the Suez Canal, Djibouti’s ports serve one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, as well as acting as a lifeline to neighbouring landlocked Ethiopia, a growing regional economic power and Africa’s second most populous country.


    But not everyone is happy with Djibouti’s current strategic and economic upswing.




    “The government only cares about how to collect the country's wealth,” said a Djiboutian journalist previously arrested for reporting on domestic issues. “They do not care about freedom of expression, human rights, justice and equal opportunities of people.”


    Other locals speak of a country run by a business-savvy dictatorship, while China’s increasing involvement has Western observers paying close and sceptical attention.


    French legacy


    Every morning in the small town of Tadjoura, a two-hour ferry ride from Djibouti City, local Djiboutians queue to collect their daily quota of baguettes—a scene repeated across the country. Djibouti’s former existence as French Somaliland has left an indelible Gallic stamp.


    Along with Somali, Afar and Arabic, French remains one of the main languages used. A constant stream of "bonsoirs" greet the visitor during an evening stroll around Djibouti City’s so-called European quarter and its focal point: Place du 27 Juin 1977, a large square of whitewashed buildings and Moorish arcades named for the date of independence.




    At the same time, cafés brewing coffee in the traditional Ethiopian style, Yemeni restaurants servingpoisson yemenite, and haggling at open-air markets in rapid-fire Somali all add to the surprising melting pot within this small capital city.


    But whether that cultural mix can withstand the brash new modernising development is a concern for some locals, proud of the country’s past and heterogeneous mix of traditions.




    “My fear is not about cultural change, because we need that as this is an ultra-conservative society,” said a 30-year-old female governmental employee, who wished to remain anonymous, “but rather the effects on our customs, such as traditional clothing, food and decorations that symbolise our identity.”


    African Dubai


    Dreams of a Dubai-type future have questionable relevance for most local Djiboutians, 42 percent of whom live in extreme poverty, while 48 percent of the labour force are unemployed, according to 2014 figures.




    In addition to criticism of the ruling regime for not doing enough to relieve widespread poverty, some question what, if anything, of tangible benefit was bequeathed by France’s colonial rule. Concerns about the present situation extend to those who came from outside Djibouti seeking better prospects.


    “Now I can’t stay here,” said Mohammed, a marine engineer, who left Iraq after the 1991 war for Djibouti, where he married locally. “My three children won’t be able to get good enough jobs. I’m hoping my brother in the US will be able to get us a green card.”


    Twenty-nine-year-old Tesfaye entered Djibouti from Ethiopia without documentation six years ago to search for work. Now he sleeps on the beach and does casual work like washing cars and clearing rubbish.




    “It’s a dog’s life, living like that, having to run from the police,” Tesfaye said.


    Meanwhile, Djibouti’s maritime commerce continues apace: ships endlessly glide across the Gulf of Tadjoura to and from the ports; cranes offload containers to waiting trucks late into the night under arc lights.


    Soon a Chinese-built railway will link Djibouti to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and could eventually connect to other Chinese-built railways emerging across the African continent.




    It’s all a far cry from 1930, when the visiting English novelist Evelyn Waugh described French Somaliland as “a country of dust and boulders” and “intolerable desolation”.




  13. somali-dadaab-st-cloud-refugee


    IBRAHIM HIRSI, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES4:25 p.m. CDT July 12, 2015


    The recent stream of Somali immigrants and refugees who are making their mark in St. Cloud is partly the reason Hussein Mohamud and Feisal Ali decided to live in the city.


    The childhood friends who grew up in the dusty and arid Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya also picked St. Cloud to be closer to their families here — and to Minneapolis, which has a vibrant Somali-American presence and serves as the capital city for Somalis in North America.


    "It's a small place," Ali said of St. Cloud. "Anywhere you want to go in the city is just about 10 minutes away. People really like that."


    Mohamud added: "St. Cloud is really a nice city. It's promising for young Somalis … many kids are graduating from colleges and high schools."


    Before their arrival in St. Cloud, Mohamud and Ali spent more than two decades inDadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world.


    Both escaped the civil war in Somalia — which erupted in 1991 — and sought refuge in the camp, which has more than 400,000 people. They initially thought the war would end sooner and planned to return home in a matter of months.


    That wasn't the case, however.


    The civil war in Somalia stretched into decades. For Ali and Mohamud, this meant living more than 20 years in dire conditions in the camp.


    Like many refugees, Ali and Mohamed lacked access to adequate education and employment, and were confined to life without sanitation, food and health facilities.


    Mohamed added: "We were not allowed to leave the camp and find opportunities elsewhere. It felt like an open prison."


    Opening doors for refugees


    Because of the seething violence in Somalia and the human rights abuse they faced in Kenya, Ali and Mohamud decided to pursue a better life in the United States under theU.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, which has admitted over 3 millions refugees from various countries in the world since 1975.


    "You can overcome anything you want in this country, regardless of your religion or family background," Mohamud said. "That's why I always wanted to come to America."


    During the past 20 years, St. Cloud has become home to thousands of Somalis, many of whom flocked from refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.


    Natalie Ringsmuth, a longtime resident of Waite Park, said the immigrant and refugee communities bring rich culture and unique perspectives to the area.


    "I really love it for my kids to be able to have a global environment," said Ringsmuth, speaking of new communities. "It's very important to get to know individuals in the community. It's really inspiring when you hear the stories of what people had to go through to get here."


    Coming to America


    In 2010, after a lengthy and arduous process through the United Nations, Ali arrived in North Carolina. He immediately found a job at the airport.


    Then he quit it right away.


    "The state's public transportation wasn't the best," he said. "I used to take a shuttle and three buses to get to my place. Sometimes, I remember leaving work at 12 p.m. and coming home at night. It was difficult. I couldn't continue with that."


    His friends in Texas recruited him for a job at ATC Logistics and Electronics in Arlington. After about a year and a half, the business slowed down, and Ali's 40-hour-a-week job was reduced to less than 20 hours a week.


    "Again, I left that job," he said. "I couldn't just work for 20 hours per week. That wouldn't give me the American dream I had been searching (for)."


    In 2012, Ali began a new endeavor: He became a truck driver, delivering construction materials and other items to nearly all the states in America and to Canada.


    Meanwhile, Mohamud left Dadaab for a new life Nashville, Tennessee, in 2012.


    Just 30 days after his arrival, Mohamud secured a job at Dell Inc. in Nashville. When he was not working, he volunteered with the Catholic Charities of Tennessee and theNew American Times.


    Mohamud said he wasn't surprised that he and Ali accomplished a lot in the short period they've lived in the U.S.


    "I think we prepared for life in America when we were in Dadaab," Mohamed said. "We worked hard to learn English. We always participated and led in youth development programs."


    Reuniting in St. Cloud


    Although Nashville presented Mohamud many employment opportunities, he decided to move to St. Cloud in April. Mohamud reunited with Ali, who had moved to St. Cloud in 2013.


    Mohamud, 25, now works as a freelance interpreter at the Bridge-World Language Center and is enrolled at St. Cloud Technical & Community College.


    Ali, 30, is a driver manager at MGL Express LLC, the trucking company he co-founded in February. In the fall, he plans to take classes at St. Cloud State University.


    "People missed him when he left Dadaab," Mohamud said of Ali. "He was involved in many activities there. His hard work in Dadaab prepared him for what he's doing right now."


    Ali, on the other hand, echoed a similar sentiment about his friend: "Hussein was one of my favorite people (in Dadaab)," Ali said. "He was a leader and was committed to creating a better place for all refugees there."


    Today, Mohamud and Ali occasionally get together to discuss ways they could join forces to work for the betterment of the city — both for the new Americans and for those who came before them.


    "He just came to St. Cloud, but we're already exchanging ideas to serve our communities," Alis said with a smile. "We plan on doing big things."


    Follow Ibrahim Hirsi on Twitter: @IHirsi.




    Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir was named Missouri Valley Conference newcomer of the year after transferring from Memphis for the 2012-13 season.(Photo: Drew Canavan, Indiana State University Media Relations)

    It was the spring of 2014 and Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir had just capped off her college basketball career by leading Indiana State in scoring.

    While moving on to graduate school, Abdul-Qaadir's plan was to play abroad, and she was already taking the next steps to make it happen. She hired an agent, made an online basketball profile and was excited for the next stage of her life. After setting the high school career scoring record for Massachusetts, her dream of playing professionally was in sight.

    And then the dream was crushed.

    Abdul-Qaadir's agent told her of FIBA's headgear policy, which would prevent her from playing in the FIBA-run professional leagues she had been targeting, because the Muslim Abdul-Qaadir wears a hijab.

    "It kind of broke my heart," said Abdul-Qaadir, 24. "I was that close to the dream and then just because of my religious beliefs or something that I wore was going to stop me from playing."

    The policy doesn't just ban hijabs but all headgear more than five centimeters in width. That means athletes around the world who wear turbans or yarmulkes are also prevented from participating.

    "I don't think it has anything to do with safety hazards or just a piece of material, I think it's the fact of what I'm representing," said Abdul-Qaadir, who now travels the country raising awareness of the ban. "They don't want that affiliated with their organization."

    But after FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, lifted its headgear ban in 2014, FIBA enacted a two-year trial beginning last September that allowed basketball players to play with headgear. But FIBA's allowance applies only at the national level, and only if a player or team's national federation has submitted a request to FIBA.
    President Barack Obama introduced Abdul-Qaadir, thenPresident Barack Obama introduced Abdul-Qaadir, then a new University of Memphis student who, as a high school student in Massachusetts broke the high school career points record in women's basketball for her state. Abdul-Qaadir was invited for a dinner celebrating Ramadan in the State Dining Room of the White House. (Photo: Gerald Herbert, Associated Press)

    Only a week after the FIBA trial period began, members of the Qatar women's national team had to withdraw from an international competition, the Asian Games in South Korea, because they refused to remove their hijabs.

    USA Basketball CEO and FIBA central board member Jim Tooley told USA TODAY Sports that FIBA would be gathering information during the course of the trial for a report that would be evaluated after the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He said the study was focusing on whether all modifications to uniform pose safety issues, threaten the look and feel of the uniform or impede or enhance the sport in other countries.

    Though he noted that USA Basketball has received no request to wear head gear, when asked if the policy limits the opportunities of athletes of certain faiths, he said, "I'm not certain it does or it doesn't. We have not had that issue here in the United States, and I don't want to speak to the issues that Muslim countries have experienced."

    For Abdul-Qaadir, who was born in Springfield, Mass., the ban creates many barriers. The policy restricts her from playing in leagues abroad, and even if she had the ability to play for Team USA, she wouldn't be able to wear her hijab because the team participates in international competitions.

    Ibtihaj Muhammad, a sabre fencer training for the 2016 Olympics and a hijab wearer, said the requirement that federations make requests on behalf of athletes was an added insult to athletes of Muslim faith.

    "That reminds of me of middle school and high school where my parents had to submit an official letter from the religious head from our local mosque," Muhammad said. "We would have to get like a local Imam to sign a letter my parents drafted that said I was wearing my headscarf for religious reasons.

    "It's a little frustrating that you have to, not only be different, but explain why we're different and then from there explain to the governing body okay, now it's OK for you to be different to still play sports."

    FIBA, however, is adamant the rule has never had anything to do with religion.

    "FIBA regulations apply on a global scale and without any religious connotation," read a statement provided to USA Today Sports. "While certain groups have interpreted the provisions of the Official Basketball Rules on uniforms as a ban against the participation of players of certain faiths in basketball competitions, the uniform regulations are of a purely sporting nature."
    Abdul-Qaadir capped her college career with a successfulAbdul-Qaadir capped her college career with a successful final season at Indiana State (Photo: Drew Canavan, Indiana State University Media Relations)

    But Abdul-Qaadir can't see how something like a hijab could ever be a threat to another player's safety.

    "I don't even drape it around my neck when I play, it's tied up in the back and I've never caused injury to myself or anybody else for the 10-plus years that I've been playing covered," Abdul-Qaadir said. "For them to say it's a safety hazard, nowadays women are getting extensions and I've been slapped in the face by braids plenty of times. So I'm playing with my hair tied up, tight, it just doesn't make sense."

    When asked whether a headscarf specifically was a safety concern, Tooley said, "I don't know. That's what FIBA has come out and said. Jewelry, if someone wants to wear a cross around their neck, you can't do that because it's a safety issue. I'm not aware of what safety issues there could be."

    According to Shireen Ahmed, a former University of Toronto soccer player and sports activist who has written about headgear bans for, the path has been laid for FIBA to put an end to the ban.

    She said that when FIFA ended its headgear ban, the organization provided an outline for how the change would come into effect. She has yet to see any outline or goals for FIBA's two-year trial.

    The end to FIFA's ban was also led by an executive committee member, Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan, who wanted to make sure the Jordanian national team would be able to play soccer internationally. She said FIBA might see a significant change to its ban if it had someone that high ranking leading the way in the basketball association. But there doesn't seem to be anyone as motivated for the cause.

    "It doesn't impact them on a financial level," Ahmed said of FIFA.

    When Ahmed thinks about Abdul-Qaadir's struggle, she thinks of her own daughter who has taken up soccer and basketball. She hopes to one day play in college, but that could be as far as the sport takes her.

    "It's almost like for her, the choice has already been made," Ahmed said. "If she chooses to wear a headscarf, there's no point in going forward with basketball because there will be nowhere to go."


  15. rayzak


    Rayzak was born into a musical family in northwestern Somalia and moved to the United States at the early age of 9, before the outbreak of the Somali Civil War, where he lived across Texas, Kansas, and Ohio. This constant state of motion is the main influence behind his debut Born In Transit EP, which consists of 7 tracks that thread traditional Somali music through a contemporary pop and blues frame, and see Rayzak stepping out into the limelight after touring the globe alongside close friend and collaborator K’naan. Stream our premiere of Rayzak’s “The Garden,” the lead single off his upcoming EP, and read our interview with the Somali-American songwriter below. “The Garden” is available now on iTunes.

    Okayafrica: Tell us about your Born In Transit EP. What was the inspiration behind it? When did you start writing it?

    What do you think?

    Rayzak: My upcoming EP, called Born in Transit was inspired by my musical experiences from my childhood up until now. What influenced me most while growing up was a compilation of music from East Africa as well as North America; whether it was Motown or Blues and Somali Music, my early exposure to music was from traditional Somali music and Somali plays.

    What do you think?

    OKA: What are the Somali influences on your songwriting? How do you reconcile them with the influences you’ve picked up living across the US?

    What do you think?

    R: What really blends the two cultures together are the melodies I’ve picked up from both cultures. Many melodies come from traditional Somali music. I merged the two and they seemed to work together. My love for Motown and Blues made it easy to blend the two because to me, they are melodically similar.

    What do you think?



    OKA: The songs on the new EP present several different immigrant stories. Are they all stories you’ve lived or seen yourself?

    What do you think?

    R: Yes, they’re experiences that I have either experienced myself or by people who I know very well.

    What do you think?

    OKA: Gives us a little background on “The Garden.” What was the inspiration behind the song?

    What do you think?

    R: “The Garden” was inspired by the time I spent in different North American communities where Somalis now live. Hearing their stories, I noticed that they all shared a common theme of young kids gravitating to the new culture and the parents were struggling to understand the new culture yet trying to coexist with the differences at home. I found it interesting how it came full circle for me, in my experience here. It’s not only the Somali immigrant story but it really applies to any immigrant story. It’s that balance of having to adapt to a new place, making it home, while dealing with the issues that come along with it…All while keeping the integrity of ones’ roots and culture.

    What do you think?

    OKA: If you could name three artists that influenced you the most on this EP, who would they be?


    What do you think?

    R: A big part of what inspired me for this EP were the same people who inspired me to do music in general. I credit a group of artists called Wabbari; they do plays and they sing. In Somali culture there are different groups that fall under one umbrella of arts, they can do theater and songs and they collaborate from different regions in the country. But if I had to name individual artists who’ve influenced me most, they would have to be: Stevie Wonder, Mohamed Wardi, Miriam Makeba, and B.B King.

    What do you think?

    Catch Rayzak playing live at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto on July 10. “The Garden” is available now on iTunes.


  16. G.I.R.L.S. University of Minnesota College of Design Muslim Uniforms - BellaNaija - July2015005


    Their will to get what they wanted is admirable.


    In 2008, a female-only organization named the Girls Initiative in Recreation and Leisurely Sports (G.I.R.L.S) was created to give young Muslim girls in Minnesota and female-only avenue to play sports and be active. The group was started by Somali-American Muslim woman, Fatimah Hussein and Chelsey Thul to help these girls do what they love most – sports.


    After a while, the girls realized that they would only have the full experience of playing sports if they had clothes that enabled them do so as young Muslim girls; and unfortunately there weren’t many options available that still gave room for their values.


    According to Chelsea, “The girls for years have been telling us, ‘we would like clothing. we would like clothing’“. So after a while, in 2013, the middle-school girls decided to take matters into their own hands and ensure they got what they wanted. They teamed up with Hussein and the University of Minnesota to design and create culturally appropriate uniforms that gave them exactly what they wanted – playing sports with comfort.


    G.I.R.L.S. University of Minnesota College of Design Muslim Uniforms - BellaNaija - July2015


    To get the right inspiration for the pieces, the girls attended several sporting events to study the movements of the female athletes. They ended up designing a couple of fun, colourful and stylish pieces.


    Check out a few photos from the unveil last month;


    G.I.R.L.S. University of Minnesota College of Design Muslim Uniforms - BellaNaija - July2015006G.I.R.L.S. University of Minnesota College of Design Muslim Uniforms - BellaNaija - July2015001G.I.R.L.S. University of Minnesota College of Design Muslim Uniforms - BellaNaija - July2015002G.I.R.L.S. University of Minnesota College of Design Muslim Uniforms - BellaNaija - July2015003G.I.R.L.S. University of Minnesota College of Design Muslim Uniforms - BellaNaija - July2015004


    Great job ladies! To see more images from their unveil visit their Facebook page HERE.



  17. Somali independence day festival in the US last year (Photo/FB/Somali independence day festival event page).

    Somali independence day festival in the US last year (Photo/FB/Somali independence day festival event page).


    ON July 1, 2015, Somalia will be celebrating 55 years of independence - and doubtless it has been a tough and painful ride.


    The country had no formal government or parliament for more than two decades after the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991 which was followed by years of anarchy. It was not until 2012, when a new internationally-backed government was installed, that the  Horn of Africa nation that had become a poster child of state failure, began to take baby steps toward recovery and a measure of stability once more in some parts of it.


    Despite the major challenges, Somalia has over its history still managed to pull together some feats, producing impressive results. Here are a few of the country’s success stories:


    Peaceful power transitions


    In the 1967 presidential election, Somalia’s first president, Aden Abdulle Osman Daar, was defeated by Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, his former Prime Minister. His term as president ended on June 10, 1967. Daar accepted the loss and made history by becoming the first head of state in Africa to peacefully hand over power to a democratically elected successor.


    Competitive telecom market


    Somalia has one of the most competitive telecom markets in Africa. Telecommunication firms provide wireless services in most major cities and offer the lowest international call rates on the continent. The World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion Database (Findex) recently revealed that Somalia was one of the most active mobile money markets: 26% of the population reported using mobiles to pay bills, which is the highest rate in the world, and 32% to send and receive money.




    Free education


    With six out of 10 children not in school, those who went to school were a real minority in Somalia. One of the worst enrolment rates in the world.


    However, in September 2013 the Somali government, supported by UNICEF, launched its ambitious “Go to School” initiative providing free education for the first time in more than 20 years. During the past year, nearly 40,000 children in Central South Somalia, where enrolment figures have been lowest, have started formal primary education.


    The campaign also included building and renovating schools, training and supporting teachers and building up the capacity of the Ministries. The programme aims to send 1 million youth to school.


    Diaspora for development


    Somalia’s diaspora is one of the country’s great success stories and explains why  its economy is “still thriving” despite the long absence of the state. The Somali diaspora has been heavily involved in humanitarian relief in the country. Figures vary, but there are estimates that remittances contribute between $1.3 billion and $2 billion per year.


    This includes money transferred to individuals, families, private investment and money for development. This support is quick, efficient, trusted and effective. It is also very well targeted, even in remote rural areas.


    Polio elimination


    Defying the odds, in the face of civil strife and conflict, Somalian health officials pulled off a large-scale immunisation campaign getting almost 2 million children vaccinated between 2005 - 2007.


    With support from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there was broad community engagement and targeted strategic immunisations; 10,000 Somali volunteers and health workers vaccinated more than 1.8 million children under the age of 5, declaring the country free of polio in 2008. A huge achievement. Unfortunately in 2013, 194 cases of polio were reported from Somalia, the first since 2007, but this was brought under control and in 2015 there have been no reported cases.




    Oil exploration


    Somalia is positioning itself as a new oil and gas frontier. The government has helped to bolster confidence by green lighting a number of new projects to make access and investment in the oil and gas sector easier. This includes an expansion into the Mogadishu port to enable the transfer of rigs and the building of an entirely new port to handle other equipment needed by international oil companies.


    Curbing piracy


    They did have a lot of help, in the form of  a multinational coalition task forces, but the government and it’s forces should be commended for their efforts in curbing piracy off the coast of Somalia.


    The International Maritime Bureau Piracy Report shows zero incidents for Somalia in the first quarter of 2015 – a remarkable turnaround given that just a few years ago, the country’s waters were considered amongst the world’s most dangerous, with attacks occurring almost daily. The bureau says Somali pirates have been deterred by a combination of factors, including the key role of international navies, the hardening of vessels, the use of private armed security teams, and the stabilising influence of Somalia’s central government. Today, according to the EU Naval Force, there are 26 hostages and no ships being held.




    The administrations of the autonomous Puntland region in northeastern Somalia had a big part to play in this. They were actively involved in combating piracy with the establishment of the Puntland Maritime Police Force, which began operations in early 2012, which made some progress in denying pirates sanctuary on land and also with on-land raids on pirate hideouts. In 2010 the Puntland government also constructed a new naval base in conjunction with UK-based security company Saracen International.


    King of sheep


    Somalia is a world leader in export of sheep and goats. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said that in 2014 Somalia exported a record 5 million livestock to markets in the Gulf of Arabia “thanks to heavy investments in animal disease prevention backed by the European Union and the United Kingdom”.


    Despite its “war-torn” reputation Somalia, over the past five years, the Horn of Africa country has been incredibly impressive in its livestock production and export figures. In 2011 for example, with almost 4 million exported, Somalia was the world’s leading exporter of sheep and goats. Second was Sudan, with over a million less in numbers exported.


    Happy 55th Soomaaliya




  18. 2015-06-georgie-hurst-abaarso-school-Jonathan-Starr-Abdisamad-Burhaaan-Abdirahman-Aabi-xlg


    In January 2008, as the worst global financial crisis in almost 80 years took hold, investors pulled $18.7 billion from emerging-markets equities. Nearly all of the countries represented in the MSCI Emerging Markets index were down. But for one U.S.-based financier, the crash spelled an opportunity for a new kind of investment in the developing world.


    In late 2008 Jonathan Starr set out to found the Abaarso School. Based in the autonomous state of Somaliland, in northwestern Somalia, this coed boarding school now enrolls some of the country’s brightest and most motivated students. Its goal: to create ethical, effective leaders who will build a progressive society in a chronically war-torn state.


    Before venturing 7,000 miles from home, Starr had served as portfolio manager at Cambridge, Massachusetts–based Flagg Street Capital. This deep-value hedge fund firm, which he founded in 2004, peaked at $170 million in assets. “[in 2008] we had bets against mortgage paper that made tremendous returns, but we also had equity ownership in what we thought were the best mortgage issuers,” Starr recalls. The businesses behind those equity positions got wiped out along with all the other companies in the industry and took Flagg Street’s short-side gains with them, he adds.


    A major redemption later in the year prompted Starr to put the whole fund into an orderly wind-down. “I am an obsessive person, and I had long thought I should take some time to obsess about something else,” he says. Abaarso School became that new passion. Starr was inspired by his mother, Susan, a lifelong educator, and his uncle, who took him to the latter’s native Somaliland in 2007. “I wanted to have a positive impact and do something really amazing,” he says. “This seemed possible to pull off.”


    The Abaarso School, named for the village where it’s located, has piqued the interest of several major financial players, but securing funding was a struggle at first. As the crisis rocked Wall Street, few investors were willing to bet on an educational venture founded by someone with no background in the field, in a place they believed to be swarming with profiteers and terrorists. Starr donated $500,000 of his own savings to non-profit school. It wasn’t until classes began in 2009 and he started seeing results that investors trickled in.


    It seemed like a pretty herculean task to go to a different country, to a place where Jon had never been, and I was reluctant to support something I thought would eventually fail, even though his head and heart were in the right place,” says Anand Desai, founder and CEO of New York hedge fund firm Darsana Capital Partners. It wasn’t until 2011 that Desai, who worked with Starr at hedge fund outfit SAB Capital Management in the early 2000s before becoming senior managing director and a founding partner of Eton Park Capital Management, got involved. He now chairs the board of the Horn of Africa Education Development Fund (HED), the U.S.-based nonprofit that supports the Abaarso School.


    We find that the finance community is attracted to our efficiency and obvious quantifiable success,” Starr says. People on Wall Street bring a critical eye to everything they do, notes Desai, and they want their energy and money to make the biggest possible impact. Donating to Abaarso takes the same analysis that managers apply to potential investments or companies.


    The Abaarso School is the only facility in Somaliland offering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, which are taught mainly by American teachers to Somalis in grades seven to 12. For investors looking to make a difference, its returns on capital are impressive. Abaarso’s overhead is tiny; teachers typically earn $3,000 annually for logging 70-hour weeks (the school covers their expenses); as headmaster, Starr receives no salary; and it costs only $1,800 to put a student through a year of schooling.


    So far, 40 Abaarso students have received scholarships to attend some of the best U.S. preparatory schools, including Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut and Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, and colleges such as Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University and Harvard University, which tend to cost upwards of $60,000 a year. They were the first Somalis without U.S. citizenship in more than 30 years to earn U.S. scholarships, it is believed.


    The school, which operates under heavy security because of threats from al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups, has the potential to foster a generation of educated leaders in Somaliland, only half of whose estimated 4 million residents have attended primary school. “There’s this unharnessed energy, and brain power, that’s just languishing and needs a little bit of help,” says Darsana’s Desai. Last year 450 students took the school entrance exam to fill just 45 spots.


    Abaarso is also working to open the country to a new group of Somali workers traditionally expected to remain in the home: women. “One of the most important lessons I learned from Abaarso School is having a sense of responsibility to my country,” says Fadumo Abdullahi, 20, a native of the capital Hargeisa, who rejects the fear of a brain drain from Somalia to other countries. After majoring in biology and double minoring in epidemiology and health behavior and society at the University of Rochester in New York State, she plans to teach at Abaarso before earning a graduate degree.


    Somaliland lacks primary health care for families. “This is just one of the many problems I am planning to solve,” Abdullahi says. “I don’t know how, but getting educated is the only way I can move toward that goal.”


    Financiers such as Somalia native Mustafa Jama of the Morgan Stanley Alternative Investment Partners hedge fund group, Peter Collery of New York’s SC Fundamental Value and Seth Klarman of Boston’s Baupost Group have made significant contributions to HED. Institutions including the Leon and Toby Cooperman Family Foundation, the Mindich Family Trust and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors have also backed the school. Beyond tuition and faculty salaries, donations cover student visas, passports and flights to the U.S. They also fund food, electricity and materials, and help maintain the premises.


    Last December, in a coup for Abaarso, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) granted it $291,000 through HED. The funds are earmarked to help expand the school from 185 students and 18 faculty members to 250 and about 25, respectively, and to add classrooms, dormitories, computer labs and staff housing.


    I try to tell people that right away,” Abaarso donor Steven Kuhn, partner and co-CIO at Pine River Capital

    Management, a Minnetonka, Minnesota–based hedge fund firm with $11.4 billion in assets, says of the ASHA infusion. “This has passed the due diligence of some of the toughest people in the world to get by.”


    Kuhn has also been a key player in marketing Abaarso since he became involved in early 2014. “My thought is that if I can help the school gain awareness in the financial community, other supporters will come out of the woodwork,” he says.


    The alumni of Abaarso School offer an investment opportunity down the road too. Starr is considering creating a fund that would help seed the businesses that many of them will look to open after university, in return for a stake in those companies. The students represent a diverse group of interests and future professions, from journalism and film to engineering, economics, medicine and political science. “If you were to guess who the next president [of Somalia] will be in 20 years, he must come from our school,” he contends.



  19. somaliland-recognition


    With some outside help, the self-declared independent state of Somaliland is slowly making progress


    The self-declared independent state of Somaliland, located in the Horn of Africa, is normally off the radar of mainstream media — you mostly hear about this corner of the world when al-Shabaab Islamic militants carry out a bloody terror attack, or when a Somali pirate kidnaps a westerner. But there are underreported, positive stories which can offer a beacon of hope to a region normally plagued with violence.


    Somaliland is searching for self-determination and international recognition, seeking to upgrade the informal ties it holds with some foreign governments. Up until 1960, for 73 years in fact, Somaliland was a British protectorate. Following civil war in the 1980s, it ceded from Somalia in 1991 and it has enjoyed relative political stability since then.


    Unlike its neighbours, Somaliland has a 24-year track record of relatively stable government, a rare occurrence in these latitudes. It has been “very successful in establishing a civilian administration with functioning court systems, Executive, Parliament and in (terms of) keeping al-Shabaab militants out,” Laura Hammond, senior lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, told the Herald in a recent interview.


    However, Somaliland has not been recognized by the international community, which views it as a territory within Somalia. And the African Union is afraid that if it backs Somaliland’s bid for independence, it could trigger a host of other separatist bids in the region.


    “The western, diplomatic community does not oppose their independence but they want that agreement to come from the ground up, instead of being imported from outside the region,” said Hammond. “Many people in south Somalia think that losing Somaliland feels like losing an arm. They feel it in a very strong, visceral way — that somehow they are not complete without Somaliland.”


    Despite significant progress, Somaliland is still dependent on external help. On June 17, the United Nations and the European Union launched six joint regional programmes, worth a total of US$106 million, with the aim of providing development aid toward state-building and jobs for the youth in Somaliland, Somalia and Puntland. And the help is not just coming from large international institutions.


    Judicial challenges


    In 2014, British consultancy firm Horizon Institute started a two-year legal training course for around 60 Somalilander lawyers, to be delivered by UK legal professionals in a bid to strengthen the country’s judicial system and confront the challenges it faces.


    Chloé Barton, a self-employed barrister from Britain, is one of those trainers. She has visited Somaliland twice this year under the programme and she says that although there was some initial distrust from the local lawyers, they soon came to see the training as a golden opportunity. Nonetheless, she says, it hasn’t always been easy, due to the vast cultural differences between the UK and Somaliland, particularly with respect to legal cases involving rape.


    “It (the law) hasn’t changed in 100 years. Sometimes their way of dealing with it is to marry the woman to the rapist to protect her honour; and from our western perspective, of course, that is abhorrent,” Barton said.


    The British team had to adjust to local life there in order to make an impact — for example, the working day is dominated by salat, the five-times daily compulsory call to Islamic prayer.


    “Everything is dominated by the call to prayer. Your day is punctuated by time frames when no one can really do anything because they are praying and it starts at 5.30am. More often than not, we tried to do the training in the morning before the 2pm slot,” she said.


    The mixed judicial system in Somaliland reflects its colonial history and culture, which is strongly related to the clan-based society and Muslim heritage. It’s composed of three co-existing legal systems: the traditional system implemented by clan elders and the strict Sharia law of the religious leaders, while the formal legal system is based on English Common Law, Italian and Indian Penal Codes and the Egyptian Civil Code.


    “Our Constitution states that the base of Somaliland’s law is sharia law and any article which does not conform to sharia law is null and void,” said Somali lawyer Ali Odey, who works as a prosecutor at the Attorney General Office in the Somaliland city of Hargeisa, and acts as an interpreter for the British team.


    The lines however remain blurred. When asked who decides what system is implemented in court, Odey did not reply. Barton suggested that “it is beyond our understanding and knowledge,” but she suspects that “it depends which clans are involved in the area where the crime was committed.”


    Do-it-yourself development


    While in the past it was not uncommon for hundreds to leave their homeland in search of better opportunities, during the last years there is a growing community of returnees from the Somaliland diaspora outside the country, according to British migration specialist Hammond, who has travelled there on many occasions as a development consultant for the UN Development Programme, Medécins Sans Frontières, World Food Programme, and other organizations.


    Prominent examples are Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, known as “Silaanyo” and Foreign Minister Mohamed Bihi Yonis, who both studied abroad.


    “You get the feeling that the development that is happening is not only due to the work of (foreign) NGOs but also down to Somalilanders and the government. There is a strong feeling of self-help, that Somaliland is leading its own development process,” Hammond said.


    Untapped oil reserves


    Despite the positive developments on the political level, the country’s main weakness is the economy, which relies mostly on livestock. However, Somaliland boasts plenty of mineral deposits and untapped oil reserves.


    The Berbera port could also potentially become a major transport hub in the region with landlocked Ethiopia and other countries eager to explore this transport route.


    The government is currently in discussions with three foreign port management companies from France, Dubai and Switzerland (Bellera, DP World and Mediterranean Shipping Company) to expand their facilities.


    Long before Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991, oil exploration had also been carried out by oil giants such as ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, which at present are evaluating the possibility of returning to the country. Turkey, Norway, Yemen and United Arab Emirates already have oil exploration licences there.


    British energy company Soma Oil & Gas, led by former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, hopes to find black gold in the breakaway territory and is conducting explorations in offshore deep waters. Such a prospect highlights both the possibilities and dangers that a young state seeking recognition faces.


    “I am concerned about Soma Oil & Gas, they say they are doing the country a favour, but if oil is found they are bound to make a huge amount of money on the back of a very weak government, which will not get a fair share of the revenues,” Hammond said.


    It remains to be seen if Somaliland will, in the future, be strong enough to refuse unfair and imbalanced cooperation agreements with foreign investors and be able to reap more profit from its own natural riches and resources.


    The biggest test will be the upcoming general elections, scheduled for the summer of 2016.


    A possible sign of maturity in Somaliland’s young democracy may be the shift from “clan politics to party politics” in the future vote, said Hammond.


    “Lots of people are optimistic about the new finance minister Sam-Sam Adan who is a woman.”



  20. For Mariane Ibrahim-Lenhardt, the founder of Seattle’s M.I.A gallery (missing in art), culture and identity are inextricably linked together.




    Born to Somali parents in New Caledonia, a small island outside of Australia under French authority, Lenhardt moved to Somalia when she was five and left for France at age eight when the Somalian civil war began.


    “In New Caledonia you can only be part of two categories: you’re either part of the native people, called the Kanak, or the Caldoche, who are descendants of the white colonizers. So when you’re neither Kanak or Caldoche, you have trouble identifying yourself.”




    “I’ve never said I’m Caledonian, and I couldn’t say I’m French, because you expect to see someone who’s French and white. I consider myself full Somali.”


    “I had the best years of my life in Somalia because I fit. I was playing with girls that looked exactly like me. There was no discrimination, and you feel protected and loved because you have all your family in one place.”


    “Of course, Somalia was not doing well. There was a civil war that initially started as a student uprising. As a kid, you don’t understand what’s going on, but you feel the danger. We were probably one of the first [families] to leave.”


    Lendhardt’s relocation to France and later London led to her fated evolution from a tomboy to attractive young woman.


    “London is a sample of the world. You go to this area and you have the Jamaicans, the Indians, the posh, the Italians, the Somali, the gay, and I didn’t know it was like that. It was so exciting. When I arrived at 16, I knew I was going to be a woman.”


    “I saw teenagers partying, celebrating life — so cool and so outgoing. I also got closer to the Somali girls, who convinced me to try this foundation, do this with my hair — all the little tricks to transform me from a tomboy. After the summer, I came back to France transformed, and the guys looked at me differently.”


    A happenstance stint in Quebec to study multimedia led to Lenhardt’s revelation to pursue a career in the arts.


    “Everyone wanted to go to Paris to learn French, [so] no one wanted to do an exchange program in Quebec. [but] I was obsessed with Ann of Green Gables, so I said, ok I’m going! I’ve never been so rich in my life. They gave me a big grant, about $40,000 for a year. My room was $89, so what do you do? You live the life.”


    “I learned advertising, video, dream weaver, photoshop, everything. I was building websites, buying domains — I became a geek over there, and came back to Paris and went straight into the business.”


    “I worked for a marketing agency for five years. It was so boring. When you’re young you’re not supposed to have a job that’s too comfortable. You’re supposed to learn. So I left.”


    Shortly after her resignation, Lenhardt found her next adventure at a local laundry mat. Where she came across an article in a French magazine claiming to have discovered rock art paintings (prehistoric drawings) in Somalia. Outraged by the idea of a foreigner professing to have found ancient paintings the local people had been familiar with for generations, she packed her bags and headed back to Somalia.


    “I created an NGO. And worked with UNISCOand professional archeologists to create a case to get these rock art paintings on the endangered list. I was only 26. In 2006, it was the first Somali site to be listed as one of the top100 World Heritage sites.”


    “After that I stopped, due to political reasons. But it’s a chapter that’s still not closed for me.”


    “During that time [in Somalia] I was exposed to art as I’ve never been. I became an art advisor, recommending artists to galleries because I was sensitive to their presentation.”


    Lendhart’s then romance with her now Parisian husband led to their move to Seattle. After her extensive history in the art world, it seemed fitting that she open a gallery focused on culturally dynamic works with a modern-day perspective.


    “I will give the best that I can to Seattle. What I’d like to offer is a tiny window, where you can see things that [seem] very normal or evident, but they’re not.”


    World traveler hardly begins to describe this woman, while her Somali roots don’t accurately define her essence, yet each have clearly shaped her identity.







  21. Iftar—a fast-breaking meal— is a daily ritual during the holy month of Ramadan. A traditional Iftar menu comprises fruits, juice, milk, dates and water. The belief is that Prophet Mohammad ate three dates when he broke his fast. However, meals tend to vary from one place to another. For instance, in Hyderabad, haleem is popular, but in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, observants usually break their fast with nombu kanji, a dish prepared with meat, veggies and porridge. Other popular dishes are rice-based pulao and biryani, mutton curries, desserts, and sherbets. In Afghanistan, for instance, an Iftar meal tends to include soups and onion-based meat curries, kebabs and pulao. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, jalebishaleemparathas, meat curries, fruit salads, kebabspiyajoo, and beguni, are famous.


    The following pictures show Muslims around the world ending the day with a meal—some elaborate, some meagre.



    Delhi, India


    A Muslim boy prepares to distribute the Iftar meal during the holy month of Ramadan at the Jama Masjid in the old quarters of Delhi, India, on June 25, 2015.(Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee)Ramadan-Ramzan

    A Muslim man prepares his Iftar meal at the Jama Masjid in the old quarters of Delhi, India, on June 22, 2015.(Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

    Srinagar, India


    A Kashmiri Muslim man prepares to distribute the Iftar meal during the holy month of Ramadan outside a mosque in Srinagar, on June 20, 2015.(Reuters/Danish Ismail)

    Ahmedabad, India


    Muslims eat their Iftar meal during the holy month of Ramadan at a mosque in Ahmedabad, India, on June 22, 2015.(Reuters/Amit Dave)

    Peshawar, Pakistan


    A man makes bread before Iftar during the fasting month of Ramadan in Peshawar, Pakistan, on June 25, 2015.(Reuters/Khuram Pervez)

    Islamabad, Pakistan


    Pakistani volunteers distribute food among poor people for Iftar in Islamabad, Pakistan, on June 19, 2015.(AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

    Karachi, Pakistan


    Pakistani volunteers arrange food for Iftar at a local mosque during Ramadan in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 19, 2015.(AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

    Dhaka, Bangladesh


    A Bangladeshi vendor, right, sells food items for Iftar, the evening meal for breaking the daily fast at a market area on the first day of Ramadan in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on June 19, 2015.(AP photo/A.M. Ahad)Ramadan-Ramzan

    A Bangladeshi vendor sells food items for Iftar at a market area on the first day of Ramadan in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on June 19, 2015.(AP photo/A.M. Ahad)

    Jakarta, Indonesia


    Office workers shop for Iftar at the main business district in Jakarta, Indonesia, on June 18, 2015.(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

    Cairo, Egypt


    A volunteer carries food to tables as people wait to eat their Iftar meal to break their fast at charity tables that offer free food during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Cairo, Egypt, on June 23, 2015.(Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)Ramadan-Ramzan

    People queue to buy traditional juice before Iftar on the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Cairo, Egypt, on June 18, 2015.(Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)

    Doha, Qatar


    Muslims have their Iftar meal during the holy month of Ramadan outside a mosque in Doha, Qatar, on June 20, 2015.(Reuters/Naseem Zeitoon)

    Mogadishu, Somalia


    Somali families receive Iftar meal from a Qatari charity organisation during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in capital Mogadishu, on June 22, 2015.(Reuters/Feisal Omar)Ramadan-Ramzan

    Somali families receive Iftar meal from a Qatari charity organisation in capital Mogadishu, on June 22, 2015.(Reuters/Feisal Omar)

    Baghdad, Iraq


    Children eat free food being distributed for Iftar, the meal after fasting, at the Abdul Khader al-Kilani mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, on June 23, 2015.(AP Photo/ Karim Kadim)Source:

  22. nadifa-mohamed


    Nadifa Mohamed is a rising star of the literary world whose life experiences are woven intimately into her award-winning fiction.


    Born in Hargeisa, a city in the north of what was then Somalia, she was four years old when her family relocated to London, where they remained when civil war broke out in their homeland shortly thereafter. It was an experience she described as “a rupture of everything I’d known… going to school for the first time in a completely different environment knowing that the world I did know was lost in quite a big way was very traumatic.”


    A Somali diaspora has emerged in the UK and elsewhere in the intervening years, but in that early and chaotic period it lacked the sense of diasporic community that it would later develop.


    “That’s definitely I think something that came along later, with the increase of Somalis in London. Before that it was almost like being an alien. Very few people had heard of Somalia. The two big groups here were either Jamaican or Pakistani, so you were constantly put into one of those two groups, or questioned as to why you weren’t one of those groups. It was only much later, say in the mid-‘90s, when Somalis began to move into my part of London and began to be seen more widely across London. And now there’s a huge population, and you do feel part of a diaspora.”


    After growing up and attending university in the UK, Mohamed’s career took an unexpected literary turn. Her debut novel, Black Mamba Boy, was based on her father’s experiences growing up in ‘30s Yemen and East Africa. The novel, published in 2009, won the Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for several other prestigious prizes.


    In 2013 she released her second novel, The Orchard of Lost Souls. The book is set in 1987 Somalia, in the northern city of Hargeisa on the eve of the civil war which would devastate and fragment the country. The events leading up to the outbreak of civil war are experienced from the perspective of three female protagonists – Kawsar, Deqo, and Filsan – but the events and characters that populate the novel are based on dozens of interviews, in addition to considerable archival research, that Mohamed conducted as she developed the book. Having studied history at Oxford, this part of the work came naturally to her.


    “I loved the research part of writing,” she enthused. “I began with interviews, I interviewed my mother to begin with, and female relatives who’d been in the war as children now as adults. I go to Hargeisa quite a lot now for different reasons, so I also interviewed people there and that was really fascinating. There’s very little done to memorialize people’s experience of the war. I think it’s so close that people just kind of turned their backs to it and walked away. So it’s very rare to actually hear a full narrative of someone’s experiences in the war. And so I sought them out.”


    Despite the fact that Mohamed was only a child when the events she describes were taking place, her novel depicts them in powerful and evocative prose. In addition to interviewing people who experienced the war, and studying the reports of humanitarian organizations that operated in Somalia during and after the war, she drew from other first-hand sources, as well.


    “There’s lots and lots of footage now of Somalia as it used to be on YouTube. Lots of young people who’ve grown up outside of the country are fascinated by these videos of such a normal city – especially Mogadishu, which is so destroyed now – but on YouTube you can watch hours and hours of footage of people just walking around Mogadishu. People are really touched at the fact that there are streetlights, and traffic, and policemen, and you know people just sitting around outside cafes and wearing different clothes from what they can wear now.”


    The interviews she conducted also struck her powerfully. Some of them comprised brief off-hand conversations; others turned into lengthy repeat sessions. Some of those interviews, she said, constituted book-worthy experiences in their own right.


    “There was one guy at a hotel in Hargeisa, we were both staying at this hotel, and we got talking in a casual way and it turns out he’d been in the war as a doctor. He’d been corralled into the main hospital – where I was born – to treat soldiers. All of the civilian patients had been forced out and it had been turned into a military hospital and he was forced to work nonstop for twelve days until his white coat was soaked in blood, he said. And eventually he managed to persuade them to let him go home to pick some things up, or to clean up, and then he escaped.


    So he had a really interesting view on what it was like in that hospital, on what it had been like before then. He’d been born into a nomadic family and been educated – he was definitely the first doctor in his family, probably even the first to go to university, maybe even to be literate in his family. So he was an obstetrician in Somalia but because of the trauma and experiences he’d had during the war he ended up moving to Canada and retraining as a psychiatrist. He’s someone that deserves a book of his own.”


    The complex psychology of the pre-war period is what riveted her, and this comes through expressively in the novel.


    “It’s a situation where the people of what becomes Somaliland later on are treated like children. They’re told to go to their rooms and not to leave their homes after 4pm and they can’t listen to this radio station and they can’t do that and they can’t build buildings over two storeys, and it’s so infantilizing.


    And it also affected gender relationships. Before, men were the ones who could roam and do what they like, and they were the breadwinners of their family, and that wasn’t really the case anymore. Many of the men went to different countries because they couldn’t earn anything and live freely, and the ones who stayed were harassed by the government and imprisoned and executed, and that had a huge impact.”


    Writing Somalia’s Past – and Present


    Today, Hargeisa lies in Somaliland, in what was once the north of Somalia. Somaliland has declared its independence from the former Somalia but has not been recognized by any other nations as a state despite a functional democratic government and a growing infrastructure of hospitals, schools, universities and other modern institutions. After growing up in London, while in her early 20s, Mohamed eventually returned to Hargeisa, in Somaliland.


    “It was amazing. The city had changed a lot… everything has been rebuilt and swept up and is all very busy and there’s lots of little shops everywhere. So it’s a strange city, and it’s also a familiar city at the same time. It’s much wealthier than when I was living there in the ‘80s, there are many more schools and hospitals and universities. It’s much more successful, and freer, and democratic now, but it’s also more conservative now on the social level. So it’s somewhere that I’m getting to know, and I think that I had this kind of nostalgic belief that it was still home. But the more time that I spend there the more I realize no, it’s actually the home of the people who stayed. And their ownership and their attachment is much greater than mine.”


    Her previous book, Black Mamba Boy, focused on predominantly male worlds. For her second book she wanted to focus on women’s lives, and also on the Somali civil war which had such an impact on her own life.


    “The two images that started the novel were one of an elderly woman bed-bound as the war raged around her. And the inspiration for that probably came from the fact that my grandmother experienced the war in a similar way. She was bed-bound after a car accident, and when the war broke out everyone who could flee, fled. But of course disabled people, sick people, some of the mentally ill trapped in cells, could not escape. And the other image was of a little girl who is using the war as an opportunity. All of the sudden these abandoned homes become her playground. She breaks into them and enjoys their lovely big beds and eats their food. Very Goldilocks like.”


    Both of these images turned into key characters in the novel. Deqo is the young girl, an abandoned child who grew up in a refugee camp. She lives in a barrel under a bridge, but wanders the city with a child’s skittish freedom, seeking to understand the strange world unfolding around her.


    Kawsar is the old woman: a matriarch who tries to defend Deqo – a stranger to her – when a government militia tries to capture and beat the girl. Kawsar is arrested and brutally beaten in Deqo’s place, and spends much of the novel bed-bound as a result, surrounded by her memories and her strong but powerless feelings about the nation descending into war and violence outside her walls. After peeking through her window at the scenes of civilians fleeing, tanks firing and jet fighters screaming overhead, “She collapses back onto the bed and pulls a blanket over her face, fearing that a bomb will explode through her roof in a matter of seconds. Both she and Guryo Samo have reached the end of their time; the soldiers will return the street to the desert, unplug the stars, shoot the dogs and extinguish the sun in a well.”


    This moving depiction of the beginning of the end for Somalia as it was then, which appears toward the end of the book, lies in stark contrast to Kawsar’s equally moving memory of independence, which she describes at the beginning of the book. The hopes and dreams of that moment are juxtaposed powerfully against the despair and horror that erupts 27 years later.

    When the British had left on 26 June 1960, everyone had poured out of their homes in their Eid clothes and gathered at the municipal khayriyo between the national bank and prison. It was as if they were drunk, wild; girls got pregnant that night and when asked who the father of their child was, they would reply: ‘Ask the flag.’ That night, crushed within a mixed crowd as the Somali flag was raised for the first time, Kawsar had lost a long, gold earring that was part of her dowry, but Farah hadn’t cared – he’d said it was a gift to the new nation. The party had moved to Freedom Park and lasted into the next morning, the sleepy town transformed into a playground, the youth of the country believing that they had achieved what their elders hadn’t. People always half-joked afterwards that that day changed the women of Hargeisa; that they never returned to the modest, quiet lives they had known after that bacchanalian display, that the taste of one kind of freedom led to an insatiable desire for every kind.

    Of all the characters, Kawsar, based loosely on her grandmother, is Mohamed’s favourite. “When I saw her in my mind it was almost as if she’d always been there, waiting for me. She’s a very fully formed person to me… I think for me she represents a lot of the women I lost during the war, or during our own departure.”


    Other characters had more fragmented origins. Filsan is an unlikely protagonist. A soldier in the Somalian army, she navigates the constant threat of sexual harassment and rebel attacks yet also commits acts of horrific violence. Despite this, she’s a powerfully engaging character the reader cannot help sympathizing with.


    “Filsan is probably the hardest character to pin down to any one person,” reflects Mohamed. “She’s someone who appears more tangentially in narratives that people said, because women were part of the dictatorship, they were part of the framework of this regime… people often say that she’s a character they haven’t seen before, and I guess she’s a character that I have not written before. I wouldn’t say I liked her, but the more I spent time with her and told her story, the more I sympathized and felt sorry for her, because she had been brutalized at a very early age, and she had the misfortune to grow up in what becomes a police state. And she’s been told that she’s part of making society better through this police state.


    At heart she’s an idealist. She’s someone that wants improvement and progress and she’s led by these men around her to believe that that can be done through violence. And on an emotional level, she’s willing to use violence. She’s sick of being the powerless one. With her father she’s the powerless one, often in these professional environments she’s the least powerful one, so when she’s given the opportunity to be the powerful one, she can’t say no.”

    The Sustaining Power of the Political Novel


    While Orchard of Lost Souls focuses on the psychology of pre-war tension among its female protagonists – painting a picture of women’s lives and struggles in post-colonial Somalia – it is very much a political novel, as well.

    “It can often feel that rather than a book being taken as a work of fiction, as a work of art, it’s seen as an anthropological treatise on a group of people that people don’t know much about, around the world.”

    “I think everything is political,” Mohamed is quick to point out. “I do definitely believe that the personal is political, and the way that we live our lives and the opportunities that are afforded to us and the constraints we feel… I would say that both books are political. They’re both dealing with power, and who has it and who hasn’t.”


    Novels that grapple with historical themes of colonialism and empire have a contemporary power and resonance too, insofar as these remain potent forces that continue to shape today’s world. Addressing them was an integral part of Black Mamba Boy.


    “I did want to kind of challenge a political narrative that was re-emerging about empire, about the relationship between powerful, wealthy western nations and poorer, non-western nations. Especially around the Iraq war, quite a lot of British narratives and opinion-makers were saying ‘Let’s just have empires again! Let’s have an American empire, it’d be fantastic, why not?’ And it was disconcerting listening to that, or reading that in the newspapers, and having my father recount exactly what it was like to be a subject of an empire, which was racialized and which was brutal and which afforded someone like him no value in it. So I think there was a clear political aim there.”


    Writing about Somalia in Orchard of Lost Souls took on political dimensions too, but in a different way.


    “I think there’s still a lot of political discussions about Somalia and to be honest they almost feel like a distraction now. I think what’s not talked about is the trauma of what happened, and the impact it had on women, and the impact it has on minorities, and on little girls who live on the street and are not looked after by anyone. I think Somalia’s often just talked about in the political sense and it’s frustrating.”


    One of the factors that renders political discussions about Somalia so complex is the relationship between contemporary Somalia and the large Somali diaspora, comprised of Somali families like Mohamed’s, who fled the country when the civil war broke out. In a 2013 interview published on, Mohamed warned that “Diasporas can be quite dangerous. They can have quite a distorted view of their homeland. And they can come with a kind of sense of ownership – an almost colonial-type attitude.”


    I asked her to expand on the point.


    “It’s not just diasporas,” she reflected. “I think that’s something that Filsan made me think about, is how city people in poor nations—and not necessarily just poor nations, I think in most nations – see rural people.”


    As an example, she pointed to the prevalence of Irish jokes in the UK, the ubiquity of which can be traced back for centuries.


    “And a lot of that was revolving around the fact that Irish communities were often very rural, and were therefore seen as uneducated, as brutal, as simple, and that’s also the case in Somalia when it comes to the way people see nomadic groups. And there’s lots of bigotry, I guess, and humour around all the uneducated nomads coming into the big city for the first time. And that’s what Filsan sees. And when she goes into rural areas on these violent missions, I think she sees her role as very colonial! She’s meant to be bringing civilization to these people, and she sees them as these brutes who are resisting it…


    There’s this real tension which re-occurs in lots of different places, and I think what now is happening is that the city-and-rural-divide is now the diaspora-and-home-population-divide, where people come from the UK, America, Sweden, with very certain ideas about how societies should operate and how political systems should operate and they can have very hostile attitudes to the way things are done in their home countries. People get very upset at the simple things, like toilets. They’re used to western toilets, and if a toilet doesn’t fit with what they know at home, then it’s awful and disgusting. And that can also be when it comes to social behaviours. I’m very used to wearing trousers, and you can’t really wear trousers in Somaliland because of social norms, and that can cause conflict.


    There’s lots of small things that can cause conflict, but often even in Britain the narrative within the diaspora is ‘How do we go back and change things? How do we go back and improve things?’ And it’s meant with love and it’s meant with care and concern, but when you don’t live there all year, and you come back for a holiday for a month or two, and you have this idea of how you’re going to change that society and that country, I think that’s very problematic. You don’t have that place anymore, you don’t have that investment anymore. And your sense of what is possible and what is desirable is different from what people who live there want and desire.”


    In addition to being a political novel, I suggest to Mohamed that Orchard of Lost Souls is also a feminist novel, and she concurs.


    “I think it is. I think that it’s heavily focused on the power relationships between men and women of that time, and the effect it has on those women when they are disempowered. To me that’s probably the definition of a feminist novel. That’s my definition of a feminist novel.”


    The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Novel as Literary Form


    As a writer, Mohamed has explored a variety of styles. In addition to her two novels, she’s a frequent contributor of journalistic essays and commentaries for publications such asThe Guardian and the Huffington Post, among others. She’s written on everything from the politics of international money transfer to Africa, to female genital mutilation, to the power of Beyonce. But it’s the novel form that she truly loves. This is partly because of the greater ability it affords to explore problems in considerable depth, and to reveal the innate complexity of the topics under discussion.


    In Orchard of Lost Souls, very little is clear-cut. Characters are complex combinations of positive and negative attributes; even the political developments that eventually led to the devastating civil war are depicted as a complicated brew of good intentions and malignant aspirations. It is, Mohamed observes, novels that afford the greatest opportunity to depict the honest complexity of the real world.


    “That sits with you, in a novel, and you realize how complicated the situation is. I think quite narrow impressions are given of Somali life, African life, Muslim life, so a novel allows you to give them a lot more detail and show a lot more complexity in how people think and act and aspire and love and everything else. So I much prefer writing novels. I feel that with these other articles you have to just have one point, and just defend that one point, which isn’t really what I want to do.”


    Novels, however, can also pose challenges, especially once they leave the writer’s hand. One of the challenges, she notes, is that people tend to read African novels as documentaries of African lives. Just as western novels shouldn’t be generalized and presumed to depict the totality of social experience in western countries, neither should African novels be presumed to depict the totality of African experiences, especially contemporary African lives.


    “I don’t want anyone reading my books as a description of African life,” she emphasized, taking the example of Black Mamba Boy. “That’s not what it is. It’s a description of one boy’s experiences in ‘30s East Africa, that’s as specific as it can be. And when I’m telling the story of him, I’m also telling the story of a slightly wider group of young men, of his generation, who also experienced those similar situations.


    But it could not be broadened beyond that… colonialism wasn’t a static thing. It was very different in Somaliland where the British had very little political interest, to how it was in Kenya, or in Belgian Congo. There’s not much that you can say about one place and expand it into another place. Somalia was split into French Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland, and then what would become Ethiopian Somaliland. And in each of those statelets the situation was very different.”


    “I hate the idea of perpetuating this idea of Somalia as this terrible place where people barely eat and have to grab plates of food off café tables and run with them. That’s not the experience of most people now, and of course Africa’s changed a whole lot…”


    Being aware of the consequences of her writing and her words is very much on Mohamed’s mind, particularly since her growing fame as a writer has led to people turning to her for opinions and perspectives on issues related to Somalia more broadly.


    “Being a spokesperson for Somali issues around the world is not something I ever wanted to do or felt qualified to do. It can often feel that rather than a book being taken as a work of fiction, as a work of art, it’s seen as an anthropological treatise on a group of people that people don’t know much about, around the world. I don’t want to be talking about Somalis as a problem, and I think that’s how people phrase it. I don’t want to be explaining strange Somali customs or behaviours or talking about how Somalis need to be better at finding employment in Scandinavia. You can end up talking about rather random topics that you’re not qualified to talk about…”


    At the same time, however, Mohamed’s prominence lends an opportunity for an alternative voice to be heard from beyond conventional partisan politics. She’s a writer, an artist, and her role frames the important potential for artists to assume prominent roles in addressing complex and turbulent political issues. It’s important, she said, for artists to share their insights in the political sphere.


    “I think it’s probably even more important than politicians, because you’re actually talking about things honestly… I don’t have an agenda, and there’s little benefit in me taking a particular position. I’m trying to reflect life as I see it and as I have heard it from people in certain situations. When you’re writing a novel, you sit with an idea for a very long time – three years, four years, five years. So you see it from pretty much every angle. And you’re talking about subjective experiences and that’s how people experience life.


    I don’t think most of us are objective. And the problem with politics is that it often presents an objective answer to every problem. And that’s not the case. And I think that most writers, or the writers that I most respect and admire, are interested in life from marginalized perspectives… I think that what writers have is authenticity at least, or some integrity at least, and frankly a lot of politicians seem to lack that.”


    Advice for Aspiring Writers


    Mohamed is quick to point out that she stumbled into a “circuitous” path to writing.


    “I didn’t have a desire to write and then found a story. I found a story that made me into a writer,” she notes, referring to Black Mamba Boy, which tells the story of her father’s youth. For her, the story is of central importance.


    “I would imagine that someone who wants to write first has to find that story that won’t let them go. A story that they must tell—no matter how broke they are, no matter how inconvenient it is—and follow that through. And you have to read a lot. You occasionally hear of people who want to write but who don’t read. I don’t believe in that.”


    In Orchard of Lost Souls, much of her inspiration for the book came from imagining herself in the situations she describes.


    “What would have happened if I’d stayed in Somalia? If we hadn’t left? If I’d been there when the tanks were rolling through the streets and the bombs were overhead and mercenaries were running sorties over the city every 15 minutes or whatever it was – what would that have felt like? And I couldn’t think about that without thinking—what would it have felt like right before? What happens on that day when a threat which was always just there, but always just over the horizon, is suddenly right in front of you?


    The way that my aunt described it is that they hadn’t packed, I think everyone had been hoping that their worst fears wouldn’t materialize. So nobody had prepared, really. So you just had to grab your children, some shoes, maybe a bit of food, and you fled. And you fled for Ethiopia, because that was the nearest border. Or if you had some relatives in the countryside, you’d try to find them. It was so desperate, and manic, and it took a lot for me to be able to imagine myself into that situation.”


    Mohamed has no shortage of stories to tell. She’s already at work on her third book. She’s coy on details, but does say that it’ll be set in London. She’s also currently working on a film project. Her parting advice is for writers to recognize that stories and inspiration can come from many sources, and that it’s important to be open to all of them.


    “Take influences not just from books, from music, all forms of art, photography, films… for me, writing and life are indistinguishable. They blend into one another. And that’s the only way it could be for me.”




  23. somali-chinese




    I was born in Mogadishu in 1968 and my father is an optologist, who trained in Italy. Back then Somalia was a military dictatorship under Mohamed Siad Barre.


    We had free health care and schooling but not much freedom of speech. Compared to the chaos you have now, however, Somalia was a nice place to live. A "normal" African country.

    Compared to the chaos you have now, Somalia was a nice place to live

    When I finished high school, I went to Delhi, in India, to study insurance. When I returned to Somalia, civil war had broken out. It was a mess.


    Somalia has the longest coastline on the African continent, bigger than South Africa's, and my family had started a seafood business. We were selling live lobsters to Dubai, so I moved to the UAE.


    The El Nino phenomenon was causing biological and physical changes to the environment that affected fish distribution in the oceans and made it harder for fishermen in Somalia to dive down and catch the lobsters. We folded the business and I moved into logistics.




    I have five sisters and four brothers and they are all over the world: London, Norway, Canada. When I visited my siblings and saw what kind of jobs they were doing - cab driver, security guard - I decided I was not interested in the West.


    I decided to go East; there was far more opportunity. After five years in Dubai, in 2002, Hellmann - the logistics giant I worked for - wanted a man in Hong Kong to do their African business. I snapped up that chance. They put me up in a fancy five-star hotel. I'd never meet my target clients there.


    So for that first year, I lived in Chungking Mansions. My clients are all ethnic Somalis living in Kenya, visiting Hong Kong and shipping Chinese-manufactured garments back home.

    For that first year [in Hong Kong], I lived in Chungking Mansions



    am the Hong Kong government's only Somali-speaking translator. There are maybe 65 to 70 Somalis in Hong Kong, but, apart from me, the rest are mostly refugees or asylum seekers.


    Since 2003, I have been helping any Somali who comes into contact with the police, the court system or immigration. Somalia is a failed state so people are just fleeing. I have to translate their story to immigration: most often they seek asylum from ethnic clan persecution or terrorism, like al-Shabab.


    Many people might disagree, but I think Hong Kong is a good place for refugees. Some Asian countries don't respect the UN - Thailand and Malaysia, for example. But in Hong Kong if you show documents to the police to prove you are an asylum seeker, they respect that. And, although it's too small, the government does give an allowance to asylum seekers. You don't have that in mainland China.

    I am the first Somali in the world to "become Chinese" - that's what the Somali embassy in Beijing told me



    In 2009, I became a Chinese citizen. I believe I am the first Somali in the world to "become Chinese" - that's what the Somali embassy in Beijing told me when I handed them back my passport.


    I applied for a home return permit (a travel document that allows Hong Kong and Macau residents entry to the mainland; above) as soon as I got permanent resident status in Hong Kong. People think it's hard to do but you could do the same, if you were to renounce your passport. Somali passports are not easy to travel on, so I didn't mind.

    I don't speak Mandarin. I have no relation in China. But I have a return to home permit.

    The South China Morning Post runs many op-eds calling the Hong Kong Immigration Department racist, because certain Africans and Indians are being denied visas. I say, "Look at me: I'm not Chinese, I don't speak Mandarin. I have no relation in China. But I have a return to home permit." I went to Canada last year and the immigration officer there was looking at my documents and at me and saying, "This is bizarre, bizarre …" Three times he said it. I was the first Somali he'd seen holding an SAR passport.






    I have known my wife, Naima, all my life. We grew up in the same neighbourhood and went to primary school together. In 2003, we got married in Indonesia; a Muslim country.


    I could not marry a Chinese woman; Somali men must marry another Somali. Naima lived with me in Hong Kong for a time, but at the moment she is in Canada, where the rest of her family now live. We have two children, a girl and a boy, aged seven and nine. They visit me during the holidays and, at Chinese New Year, when the factories close, I go to Canada. At some point, though, we will have to live together. We cannot be separated forever.

    I could not marry a Chinese woman; Somali men must marry another Somali



    The rise in Somali piracy means business is getting harder. There is now a security surcharge for freight going to East Africa. What's more, Hong Kong is losing out to Guangzhou. Now China is opening up, anybody can get a visa. I'm a typical Somali; I'll go where the opportunity is. In a few years time, maybe Vietnam will pop up and overtake mainland China. If so, I'll move there.


    I would miss Hong Kong, though, and its freedoms. In 2010, it took me half an hour to register my company here. Can I go to London and start a logistics company that easily? I sit in on many court cases, most often common assault. I'm sure in other countries, they'd say, "This guy is a refugee and he has beaten up a citizen of this country, lock him up." But there is rule of law here; it's impartial.

    I'm sure in other countries, they'd say, "This guy is a refugee and he has beaten up a citizen of this country, lock him up."

    Even with religion. I am Muslim and attend Kowloon Mosque, on Nathan Road. But sometimes the Chinese suppliers in Sham Shui Po will say, "Ali, it's time for you to pray." They have all their Chinese gods but will still offer me their prayer mats. They joke, "Will you ask your god to bless my business?"



  24. amanda-lindhout-somali


    On Sunday, Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout revealed that she believes that the Somali man whom the RCMP arrested in Ottawa last week was “Adam” – an educated, English-speaking Somali captor she met after being taken captive in Mogadishu in 2008 with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan.


    “He terrorized my mother, phoning her multiple times a day and at all hours,” Ms. Lindhout wrote in a Facebook post, recounting her 15-month hostage-for-ransom ordeal. “He also revealed things about himself, speaking to her about his desire to visit Canada, for example.”


    And that may have been a significant hint.


    Ali Omar Ader is now in an Ottawa-area jail cell, facing a hostage-taking charge, after being apparently lured to Canada by police so that he could be arrested.


    While courts must determine whether he and “Adam” are the same man, here is what Ms. Lindhout had to say about the latter in her memoir, A House in the Sky.


    Adam introduces himself


    “I am the commander,” he said. He shook Nigel’s hand but made no move to shake mine. When he spoke it was with only a slight accent. “What is your country?” …


    Adam took down our names and professions and addresses. I gave him my father’s phone number in Sylvan Lake. … Adam smiled and closed his notebook. “Inshallah, this will be over quickly,” he said. “You are my brother and my sister.” …


    A while later he returned to the room, offering some good news. “We no longer believe you are spies,” he said. Before anyone could get too excited he tacked on another announcement: “Allah” he said “has put it into my heart to ask for a ransom.”


    Adam says he has spoken to Ms. Lindhout’s mother and sister


    “I talked with your sister.” His face broke into a smile, showing the gap of his missing front tooth. “She is … what is the word for it? Panicked.”


    The thought tightened my throat. “My parents?” I said.


    “Your mother, she is good, very good,” Adam said nonchalantly. He offered nothing more.


    Who was Adam?


    Slowly, we began to extract information. Most of the boys had gone to some form of training camp to learn to be a soldier. …Ahmed and Adam had both worked as teachers. … The leaders – Ahmed, Adam, and a third tall man we’d come to call Romeo – appeared to be reasonably well-off, with cars and expensive-looking clothes.


    The RCMP advise Ms. Lindhout’s mother to stop talking to Adam


    The idea was that if she stopped picking up, Adam would be forced to deal with a team of Canadian intelligence agents based in Nairobi instead. … Adam’s frustration with the new phone situation was evident. He sometimes called my mother’s number more than ten times in a day, hanging up without leaving a voicemail. Denied phone access, he sent angry e-mails filled with misspellings to the Hotmail address my mother had used when arranging to send our care package in the fall. One message, sent back in January, around the time of our escape attempt, summed up his ongoing point in its subject line: ‘Danger is coming soon to Amanda and Nigel if you don’t pay the ransom we want !!!!!’


    Ms. Lindhout’s family offers $434,000. Adam wants more


    Adam dug in. The phone calls grew heated. He suggested that I must not be my mother’s biological child since she cared so little about me. Fed up with his unwillingness to drop the ransom demand even slightly, my mother at one point accused him of “playing games.” This ratcheted up Adam’s temper even higher. And led to a threat. “I am playing a game?” he said with blistering scorn. “You should see my game.”