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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dangerous drug or harmless herb? Europe cuts Ethiopia’s khat

Dangerous drug or harmless herb? Europe cuts Ethiopia’s khat

For a town seen as a key trading centre for khat, a plant that is banned in many countries, Ethiopia’s Awaday can seem pretty drowsy and laid-back.

As the sun sets on the small eastern town, farmers and brokers of the amphetamine shrub rouse from an afternoon slumber to cut deals in the bustling market, one of the busiest centres of international trade for the leaves.
Khat, a multi-million dollar business for countries across the Horn of Africa and in Yemen, consists of the succulent purple-stemmed leaves and shoots of a bush whose scientific name is Catha edulis.
Chewing it for hours produces a mild buzz.
But Britain in June classified khat as an illegal drug, closing the last market in Europe in the wake of a similar ban by the Netherlands in January.
For the thousands of farmers and traders here in Awaday, 525 kilometres (325 miles) east of the Ethiopian capital, the ban has already had a severe impact.
Previously the plant was Ethiopia’s fourth largest export, earning more than $270 million (205 million euros) in 2012-13.
“All of the people, they are in big trouble, even the man who brings from the farm to the market, and the guy who buys from here to export,” said exporter Mustafa Yuye.
“For most of the people here, their living is by khat, they don’t have other jobs,” he added, speaking after an early morning shift at the manic market, where several tonnes of the herb change hands each day.
“In trouble without work”
For first-time chewers, the bitter leaves — stuffed in a squash ball-sized bulge in the cheek for several hours — offer little more than a sour taste, a sore jaw and the sensation that one has drunk several pots of coffee.
The UN World Health Organization says the plant causes irritability, insomnia and lethargy.
More experienced chewers describe a meditative, almost trance-like state, where one’s sense of time slips away. The user may sit still for hours, yet remain alert to conversation or reading matter.
While debates about khat’s effects on health go on, around 20 million people across the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula chew the plant every day.
In Ethiopia, where khat is intertwined with ancient traditions — Muslim clerics chewed it to help them study the Qur’an – the shrub is legal.
Crops are now sold to neighbouring nations, especially Somalia and across the Red Sea to Yemen.
Khat must be chewed fresh because its potency fades within hours.
After frantic trading, drivers pile bundles into airplanes or pickup trucks, dashing along dirt tracks at breakneck speeds for wider distribution.
Before the ban, Mustafa sent more than three tonnes a month to the Horn of Africa diaspora in Britain, but he is now restricted to supplying domestic and regional markets.
Prices have tumbled. “Our money is getting less,” Mustafa said, and farmers in Kenya share similar concerns.
Brokers like Mustafa can earn up to $30 (22 euros) per kilo (2.2 pounds) in the top markets, but as little as $5 (three euros) for the same quantity of low-grade khat in regional markets, according to local traders.
Redundant khat broker Tofiq Mohammed said the whole town of Awaday will be hit by the ban. He used to sell two tonnes to Britain a month but has now stopped working.
“From the farmer to the traders, we are in trouble without work,” he said.
“Social addiction”
Some farmers had switched to khat from crops like coffee or maize, because khat can be harvested year-round and previously fetched stable prices at the market.
Kadija Yusuf, surrounded by her chest-high bushes, says she preferred khat farming since it needs less water than coffee.
“There was not enough water, so I started growing khat,” Kadija said. “If they don’t allow us to export… we will stop this and return to coffee.”
Her earnings were low — about $38 (28 euros) in a good month — and she worries that her income will now drop further.
With prices falling it is cheaper to chew, but critics say that for those hooked on the leaves, the habit squanders their cash and time.
“When you chew khat you focus, you read a lot,” said Adil Ahemmed, sitting on the floor surrounded by friends and piles of khat stalks, while coffee beans roasted over a flame.
But he calls chewing a “social addiction”, and admits it is draining his money.
He spends about six euros a day on the plant, about 90 percent of his earnings as a computer technician.
“Economically it damages us,” Adil said, his cheek packed with leaves, swollen like a hamster. “That’s the biggest problem, especially for youth.”

Literature in a land with no alphabet | National News - WPTZ Home

Literature in a land with no alphabet | National News - WPTZ Home

In 1856, British explorer Richard Burton described Somalia as a nation of poets. It may seem an unlikely moniker for a country that has since become defined by piracy, state collapse, and the many horrors unleashed by Al-Shabaab -- the Islamic extremists who control much of the country.
But, much has changed since then. Despite appearances, the country used to be one of East Africa's most dynamic artistic enclaves, and much of the region's cultural activity took place in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, the internationally unrecognized state that broke away from Somalia in 1991.
"Hargeisa used to be the cultural hub for the Somali republic. There was a beautiful Chinese-built theater; also the main public library, at one time the biggest in Somalia," recalls Jama Muse Jama, who six years ago founded the Hargeisa Book Fair.
The theater and library, like much of Hargeisa, was flattened during the civil war that preceded Somalia's collapse and Somaliland's declaration of independence. Now, Jama is hoping to restore some of what his country lost.
"If at the end of the fair, we have one more reader, we have succeeded," he says.
The fair, which takes place during a week in August (this year's ended August 13), has become one of the most anticipated literary events in East Africa. Part book expo, part cultural festival (poets, musicians and dancers are as popular as the author panels), the fair attracts a variety of local literary legends like Hadraawi, widely considered the most famous living Somali poet.
Outside, the hundreds in attendance throng around stalls selling new books published by the likes of the Redsea Online Publishing/Ponte Invisible -- a publishing company run by Jama -- and second-hand tomes, all to meet demand in this literature-hungry city.
The city's dedication to the written word is particularly poignant, given that the Somali language didn't even have its own written alphabet until 1972. That year, Somali President Mohammed Siad Barre introduced a standard written version of the Somali language using Latin script.
The Barre regime's move -- driven by a 5% literacy rate (according to the United Nations) -- represented a new approach beyond the oral poetic tradition.
"Government workers were given three months to learn. Anyone who failed was fired," recalls Said Salah Ahmed, an author, playwright and teacher of Somali at the University of Minnesota, who was a school principal at the time.
As the campaign stretched from the cities to the towns to the smallest villages, he says teaching took place "wherever -- under trees, under walls, wherever there was shade."
Jama also considers that period fondly.
"It was one of the best things that happened in Somali society," he says.
While the first books to be published in the new language were mostly textbooks, there was also a smattering of European classics, with "Animal Farm," "Gulliver's Travels," and even Dale Carnegie's "How To Win Friends And Influence People" appearing on book shelves, according to Liban Ahmad, a Somali writer and teacher based in London.
The period also brought on new forms of Somali literature, alongside poetry.
"Modern trends started to emerge, including original fiction works," recalls Mohamoud Shiekh Dalmar, who was working with the Somali Broadcasting Service.
According to the UN, the Somali literacy rates climbed to 55% by the mid-1970s. Such progress wasn't sustainable though, as civil war and drought ultimately split the country. By 1990, literacy rates fell to 24%. Jama recalls books being burned at his school library. The official excuse given, he says, was that they fostered colonial sentiment, but he reasons that it was because they underlined Somaliland's separateness.
"It had been a flowering. But everything was killed," he says.
Still, in the Somali diaspora aboad, a handful of authors, like Saleh and Dalmar, did their best to uphold the literary traditions. Now, with the help of writing and photography workshops held at the book fair, a new generation of young Somali writers will hopefully pick up the tradition.
Saleh points out that new books are again being translated into Somali.
Jama himself remains dedicated to his path: using the occasion of the 2014 fair to launch a new, permanent, European Union-funded cultural centre in Hargeisa. Somaliland's capital may yet reclaim its cultural-hub status. All it takes is a little imagination, which Jama has in spades.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summary executions in Somalia | Human Rights Watch

Summary executions in Somalia | Human Rights Watch

Somalia's military court sentenced three men to death on July 30 for alleged membership in the armed Islamist group Al-Shaabab and involvement in attacks in Mogadishu, the capital. Four days later, the Somali media posted to Twitter photographs of their limp, hooded bodies tied to poles.

Such rapid executions once again call into question the quality of justice in Somalia's military courts. The government should try civilians before civilian courts, respect the presumption of innocence, ensure that confessions are not extracted under duress, and allow defendants adequate time for appeals. Sadly, Somalia's new military court chairman, Col Abdirahman Mohamed Turyare, has boasted of flagrant violations of these requirements under international law. He recently told the media that his court was waging a "new war against terrorists." Under international law, the death penalty is permitted only after a rigorous judicial process - a fair trial in which the defendant has adequate time to prepare a defence and appeal the sentence, among other requirements.

In March, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report detailing how Somalia's military court proceedings "fall short of international fair trial standards". Relatives of defendants and independent observers have very limited access to the hearings, allowing the court to operate without oversight. A central concern was the speed at which death sentences have been carried out. HRW opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and irreversible punishment. That concern is even greater given the due process concerns we identified with the military court.

Unfortunately, these practises appear to have been getting worse in recent months.

Thirteen executions have taken place in Mogadishu in 2014, nine been carried out just since July. Eleven of those executed were not members of the Somali armed forces; the majority accused of being Al-Shabaab members or fighters. A man accused of carrying out an attack on Maka al-Mukarama hotel in Mogadishu in November 2013 was sentenced and executed within just over two weeks in July. 

Carrying out death sentences so rapidly prevents defendants from filing an appeal. It also makes it less likely that the president will be able to review the case for a possible pardon or commutation.  

The military court has tried defendants for a broad range of crimes not within its jurisdiction, notably common crimes against civilians.

Turyare told the media that parents of Al-Shabaab suspects will be arrested and he claimed some were already in detention. "It is failure to exercise responsibility of parent-ship. It is your responsibility as father or mother to report to the police that your children are missing or went to terrorist group," he said. Arresting families of suspects is a form of collective punishment that is contrary to fundamental principles of justice.

In its recent decisions, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has called on countries to prohibit trials of civilians before military courts and to restrict the cases appearing before these courts to military offences committed by military personnel. Somalia should comply with these decisions by transferring civilian cases to civilian courts, rather than cementing an abusive practise.

Even the outdated Somali military law doesn't grant the court such powers. Turyare claimed that trying Al-Shabaab suspects under the military penal code is justified, but HRW's assessment of the code found the legal basis for the trial of civilians in the military court, including Al-Shabaab members not taking part in hostilities, to be doubtful.

Defendants are also often held in facilities run by Somalia's national intelligence agency, notorious for mistreatment during interrogations. Turyare told the media that those recently executed had "confessed". International human rights law and Somalia's provisional constitution state that no one can be compelled to testify against themselves or to confess guilt. This basic standard helps to protect defendants from being coerced or tortured into confessing.

The state-run Somali National Television has contributed to undermining the defendants' chances of a fair trial by broadcasting interviews with them during their detention and trial, describing their alleged involvement in attacks. This shows governmental disregard for the presumption of innocence.

Amid these swift executions, Somalia has called on Kenya to extradite to Mogadishu an alleged Al-Shabaab journalist who is reportedly under arrest in Kenya. While Kenya still has the death penalty on its books, it has not executed anyone in decades, and should not return anyone to Somalia who surely will not receive a fair trial.

The Somali government should reform its courts before making requests for extradition. The president should impose a moratorium on the death penalty, and his government should work to ensure that all national courts, civilian and military, respect fair trial standards. Without serious improvements in the quality of trials, the injustices of the past will continue.

As one Somali defence lawyer told me: "I believe that all human beings, including Al-Shabaab suspects, have the right to fair trial." Wise words that the head of the military court and the Somali authorities should hear if they hope to rebuild people's trust in their justice system.

Author: Laetitia Bader is an Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.  

Somali paradise flower chewers savour low-price bliss after UK ban | Reuters

Somali paradise flower chewers savour low-price bliss after UK ban | Reuters

"The president has arrived, the president has arrived," chant youths in Mogadishu's Beerta Khaatka market, as armed men in trucks mounted with machine guns escort lorries with horns blaring through the throng.
The joking salutation is not for Somalia's president, but hails a national institution nonetheless: white sacks brimming with leafy sprouts of khat, the narcotic shrub chewed across the Horn of Africa and Yemen in a tradition dating back centuries.
The ubiquitous sight of young men with rifles slung over their shoulders and green stalks of khat dangling from their mouths is emblematic of the Somalia of recent decades, where marauding Islamist rebels and warlords bent on carving out personal fiefdoms have fomented a culture of guns and violence.
Grown on plantations in the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia, tonnes of khat, or qat, dubbed "the flower of paradise" by its users, are flown daily into Mogadishu airport, to be distributed from there in convoys of lorries to markets across Somalia.
Britain, whose large ethnic Somali community sustained a lucrative demand for the leaves, banned khat from July as an illegal drug. This prohibition jolted the khat market, creating a supply glut in Somalia and pushing down prices, to the delight of the many connoisseurs of its amphetamine-like high.
"Those who exported to London have now made Mogadishu their khat hub," said Dahir Kassim, an accountant for a wholesale khat trader in Somalia's rubble-strewn capital where women under umbrella stands sell khat bundles wrapped in banana leaves.
The price of the cheap Laari khat popular in the impoverished country has halved to about $10 per kilogram since Britain outlawed the stimulant. A kilogram of "Special" or "London" khat has also gone down to about $18 from $30.
Before the UK ban, 27-year-old mason's assistant Mohamed Khalif could only afford to chew once a week. "Now I chew daily and my problems are over," said Khalif, blissfully.
The daily arrival of the khat trucks galvanises markets, sending female traders scrambling for the sacks of stems and leaves, whose potency wanes within a few days of plucking.
Other street vendors take advantage of the hubub to try to sell soft drinks and cigarettes.

TIME-OLD TRADITION OR A HARMFUL VICE?
"I bought my own houses from khat sales," said 55-year-old wholesale seller Seinab Ali in Mogadishu, distributing bundles of wrapped leaves to local traders.
But khat exporters in Kenya, a former British colony where the cash crop bolsters the local economy, say the UK ban has slashed their profits from sales to Somalia.
"Britain has made our khat business useless," said Nur Elmi, a khat trader in Kenyan capital Nairobi from where shipments to Somalia have almost doubled after Britain's ban.
"They cannot afford to buy it all (in Somalia), so we sell it at throwaway prices," he said.
The British decision to classify khat an illegal class-C drug was surrounded by heated debate, with critics saying it would create a lucrative clandestine market and even alienate immigrant youths, driving them into crime or Islamist extremism.
Home Secretary Theresa May had argued in backing the ban that it would help prevent Britain from becoming a hub for the trade, which was already banned in the United States and several European countries. She also cited evidence that khat had been linked to "low attainment and family breakdowns".
While defenders of khat-chewing hail it as a time-honoured social tradition comparable to drinking coffee, detractors say it shares part of the blame for the violent and destructive chaos suffered by Somalia for the last 20 years.
Somalia's cash-strapped government seldom collects health statistics. The spike in use is a concern but officials are too busy battling Islamist al Shabaab rebels and rebuilding Somalia's state institutions to dedicate much attention to it, said the Mogadishu mayor's spokesman Ali Mohamud.
"Somali people are wasting money, time and energy on khat," he said. "Khat has only advantaged those who grow it."
A 2006 World Health Organisation report on khat said it can increase blood pressure, insomnia, anorexia, constipation, irritability, migraines and also impair sexual potency in men.
Even many of those who make a living from the khat trade recognise that its consumption can be harmful.
"Khat is good for mothers who sell it but for those who consume it is a disaster. Day and night I pray to God so that my children do not chew khat," said wholesaler Ali.
Many Somali women point to wrecked marriages and abandoned children as testimony to the dangers of excessive use of khat.
"Men who chew are not good," said Maryan Mohamed, who said she had been married 13 times. "They chew alongside their hungry children."

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic and Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Gwynne Dyer: Italy rescuing asylum seekers, but where is the EU? | Georgia Straight, Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly

Gwynne Dyer: Italy rescuing asylum seekers, but where is the EU? | Georgia Straight, Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly

The last time “Mare Nostrum”(Latin for “Our Sea”) was used as a political slogan in Italy, Mussolini’s fascists were claiming dominance over the entire Mediterranean.
This time it’s different. It’s the name of the operation the Italian navy is running to save asylum seekers from drowning on the dangerous voyage in open boats from North Africa to Italy.
In a seaworthy vessel with a working engine and a reliable compass, it’s a 10-hour crossing and not very dangerous at all.
In a leaky, massively overcrowded wreck that was scavenged somewhere along the North African coast by the people smugglers and sent off to Italy after a few rudimentary repairs, it can be a death sentence.
An estimated 20,000 people went down with their boats before reaching Italy in the past 10 years.
The most recent victims, on August 23, barely made it one kilometre off the Libyan coast before their boat sank, leaving 170 people in the water. The Italian navy does not operate in Libyan territorial waters, and the Libyan coast guard station near Qarabouli, east of Tripoli, has no ships of its own. The coast guards borrowed a couple of fishing boats, but only 16 people were still alive by the time they got there.
The boats usually founder in international waters, however, and then it’s the Italian navy’s job. Operation Mare Nostrum began in October 2013, and since then over 80,000 people have been pulled from these sea-going death traps (though most were not actually sinking at the time) and safely landed in Italy.
Last weekend, the Italian navy rescued almost 4,000 more.
This policy honours Italy’s humanitarian traditions—but since all the people who are saved claim political asylum on coming ashore, setting in motion a legal process that can last for years, the Italian navy is actually increasing Italy’s problem as the first port of call for over half the undocumented immigrants entering the European Union.
Most of them have a good case for claiming asylum: a large majority of the people reaching Italy are refugees from war and tyranny in Syria, Eritrea, and Somalia, with smaller number from various West African countries. Nor do they really want to stay in Italy, which is going through a prolonged economic crisis and has very high unemployment. They would rather move on to more prosperous EU countries further north.
But international law says that refugees must claim asylum in the first safe haven they reach, and in the case of the EU that is almost bound to be Italy, because it is so near to Africa and because the post-Gaddafi chaos in Libya means that there is no control over boats leaving the Libyan coast.
Italy is now getting more than half of the EU’s entire refugee flow— probably well over 100,000 this year—and all of those people must stay in Italy. It’s expensive, it’s politically poisonous, and the country’s facilities for looking after these refugees are being overwhelmed. Yet Italy’s’s EU partners seem quite content to leave Italy to bear the burden all by itself.
With almost all of the Fertile Crescent now in a state of war, and new flows of refugees starting as a result of the fighting in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the numbers are going up fast.
Five Italian warships are dedicated full-time to Operation Mare Nostrum, and on many occasions in the past few months they have picked up more than 1,000 people in one day. This situation cannot last.
Italy has made no threats to stop the rescues and let the refugees drown. “We do not want a sea of death,” said Rear-Admiral Michele Saponaro, who runs the operation from the naval command centre.
But Rome is losing patience with its do-nothing EU “partners”, and there is another way to address Italy’s problem.
The Schengen Treaty does not include Britain and Ireland, which opted out, and four new EU members have not yet complied with its terms—but 22 of the EU’s 28 members allow free movement across their borders for legal residents of all the Schengen countries. This includes Italy, of course.
So in theory, if Italy just gives the asylum seekers an ID card and a document saying they have permanent residence, then they’ll leave for greener pastures.
“We’ll just let them go,” said Interior Minister Angelino Alfano last May. “We want to clearly say to the EU that they either patrol the Mediterranean border with us or we will send all those who ask for asylum in Italy where they really want to go: that is, the rest of Europe, because they don't want to stay in Italy.”
A previous Italian government briefly made the same threat back in 2011 and then the rift was papered over, but Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s new government seems to mean business. Italy not only wants its partners to contribute money and ships to Operation Mare Nostrum; it also wants them to share the job of looking after the refugees and not leave them all in Italy.
The EU is famously bad at making hard choices, but it’s finally going to have to face up to this one.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Piracy is a symptom of Somalia chaos | The National

Piracy is a symptom of Somalia chaos | The National

Piracy has fallen out of the headlines recently as the number of attempted hijackings has dropped. Back in 2009 and 2010, there were incidents weekly or even daily. Now, as The National’s report yesterday pointed out, there have been only a handful of attempts this year.

The change is mainly due to increased policing and vigilance. Ships now have armed guards and, in areas known to attract pirates such as the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, extra precautions are taken, such as increasing the ship’s speed and keeping a close eye on any vessels approaching or following. The European Union, which has its own anti-piracy force, has also conducted operations against pirate strongholds in Somalia.
But there is little room for complacency. As Mohammed Bisthamy, one of the 11 crew of the hijacked MV Albedo, who spent four years in captivity, told this newspaper, pirates are merely biding their time. They are patient and can wait for a few years until the ship owners get tired of the cost of extra guards and leave their ships defenceless.
Patient, yes. But also desperate. Because behind the criminality of piracy in Somalia lies the context of the nearly complete collapse of a country. Somalia has not been a functioning state across its entire territory since the early 1990s. For years, it has been wracked by conflict, creating widespread poverty and desperation.
It is out of that crucible that piracy emerged. It is merely a symptom of the disintegration of the country as a whole.
Therefore, without fixing the root causes of the problem, piracy is bound to come back, again and again. Indeed, there is sufficient time to fix the problem, there simply needs to be political will. If pirates are willing to lay low for several years before resurfacing, then surely, in that time, the international community can tackle the source of the instability in the country. That is particularly important for this region, both because of shipping and because of historical cultural and trade ties to Somalia.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

UN : must end child soldiers’ recruitment in Somalia | Diplomat News Network

UN : must end child soldiers’ recruitment in Somalia | Diplomat News Network

The UN envoy for children and armed conflict has called on Somalia to end and prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers, as well as the killing and maiming of children.
Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary- General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict, also urged the government to fully implement the two Action Plans it signed in 2012 to end the use of children by government forces.
“Somalia faces many challenges but making its army child free is possible and I am encouraged that the Somali Federal Government has committed to it,” Zerrougui said in a statement issued in Nairobi on Saturday after concluding a four-day visit to Somalia.
Zerrougui who also visited Nairobi for two days said all the necessary measures enclosed in the action plans should be put in place and implemented.
“Crucial to that process is the need to have the legal framework in which progress will happen,” she said.
The Action Plan outlines steps to be taken by the Somalia authorities to ensure a child-free national army.
According to the UN, full compliance with the Action Plan will result in the Government of Somalia being removed from the UN Secretary-General’s list of parties who recruit and use children.
Under the pact, the Horn of Africa nation commits to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in the armed forces.
The UN will support the reintegration of all children released from the forces, and the government will criminalize the recruitment and use of children through national legislation.
Zerrougui noted the Somali government has committed to expedite the ratification of the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its additional protocols in this symbolic year of the 25th anniversary of the CRC.
The country is one of the seven countries involved in the Campaign “Children Not Soldiers”, launched by the SRSG and UNICEF in March 2014 to end the recruitment and use of children by government forces by 2016.
Zerrougui has said a significant number of children affected by armed conflict live on the African continent.
The UN envoy, who visited UNICEF-supported reintegration center, saw how ground work done by the UN and its partners can help children reclaim their lives after months or years in armed forces and armed groups.
“Meaningful reintegration must be a priority and appropriate resources must be invested in these programs that are essential to build a stronger, more peaceful Somalia, governed by the rule of law,” Zerrougui said.
“And it is important for the UN and all partners to be creative where it is needed to overcome the specific challenges found in the Somalia context.”
Zerrougui called upon the Somali government to ensure accountability for the perpetrators of grave violations committed against children.
She also reiterated the UN’s commitment to continue its support to Somalia and to the children of Somalia.