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Friday, September 30, 2011

Somalia: Al-Shabaab destroy English and Somali business billboards

Al-Shabaab militants yesterday destroyed business billboards with non-Arabic scripts at Eelasha Biyaha Area, a strip of land in the southern outskirts of Mogadishu, where most people who fled the wars in the Somali capital had set up shelter and businesses.

The masked fighters stated that businesses in the affected area were ordered to remove English and Somali lettering from their billboards by September 30 of the Muslim month of Shawal, which coincides with September 28.

Failure to comply with the order landed at least 12 prominent traders in al-Shabaab custody, according to residents who contacted Kulmiye, a popular broadcaster in Mogadishu.
“The hostility against the merchants who resisted removing English and Somali scripts from their billboards inculcates fear in the business community,” a resident, who preferred anonymity said.

The order to use only Arabic on the signposts was given last week and appeared very unpopular. Other recent unpopular measures by al-Shabaab at Eelasha Biyaha area include the removal of the Somali flag from schools and the raising of the Islamist movement’s black banner.

Meanwhile, over a hundred families with scant belongings arrived in South Mogadishu on Monday. The large group settled between the main bases of the Burundian contingency of the AU’s Amisom peacekeepers in the Mogadishu, the former Somali National University Campus and the former Kabka factory.

The choice was obviously influenced by security reason and availability of open space. The arrivals testified to have come from Bay and Lower Shabelle, two regions declared by the United Nations as famine zones but fall under the strict rule of al-Shabaab, the radical Islamist group.

Al-Shabaab leaders continue to prevent the main humanitarian agencies, including the UN bodies from delivering humanitarian assistance.

Source: The

Somali pirates release Greek-owned ship

Somali pirates have released a Greek owned bulk carrier with 24 crew members in the Gulf of Aden, about 490 nautical miles southwest of Oman, EU anti-piracy taskforce said on Thursday.

EU Naval Force spokesman Harrie Harrison said the Cypriot flagged MV Eagle was attacked and pirated early on Jan. 17 by a single skiff, with pirates firing small arms and a Rocket Propelled Grenade before boarding the vessel.

Harrison said the ship which is now on her way to a safe port was released on Wednesday off the coast of Somalia following payment of a ransom. "The Cypriot flagged and Greek owned MV Eagle, deadweight of 52, 163 tonnes and a crew of 24 Filipinos was on passage from Aqabar (Jordan) to Paradip (India) when it was attacked," Harrison said.

Meanwhile, the EU warship disrupted a pirate group earlier on Wednesday some 70 nautical miles South West off Mogadishu, Somalia, 30 miles off the coast of the Horn of Africa nation.

Harrison said the warship, FGS KOLN, stopped and boarded a suspicious group of two small boats, a whaler and skiff. "A helicopter was sent to inspect the group of boats and 12 people with equipment usually associated with piracy were seen on board. The boats refused to stop when hailed. KOLN's helicopter fired warning shots ahead of the skiff which caused the boat to stop," he said.

Harrison said before the boats could be boarded by teams from FGS KOLN, the crew of the boats started to throw weapons and other items overboard.

He said the skiff, whaler and their engines were destroyed to prevent any potential future use for piracy and the men released close to the shore. "This disruption has undoubtedly hampered potential pirate action on merchant shipping and vulnerable vessels in the area," Harrison said.

The pirates have intensified their action in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden and most of hijackings end without casualties when a ransom has been paid, but often after several months of negotiations.

The Gulf of Aden, a body of water between Somalia and Yemen, is the main sea route between Europe and Asia. Tankers carrying Middle East oil through the Suez Canal must pass first through the Gulf of Aden.

Pirate gangs operating along Somalia's 1,900-mile-long (3,100- kilometer) coastline have become increasingly audacious over the past two years, hijacking dozens of merchant ships and their crews to earn ransoms that can top 1 million US dollars per ship.

So far the fledgling government has not dared go after the pirate strongholds, since pirate leaders have more power than the beleaguered Somali government.

Source: Xinhua

US officials: US attack in Yemen kills al-Awlaki

An American-born cleric killed in Yemen played a "significant operational role" in plotting and inspiring attacks on the United States, U.S. officials said Friday, as they disclosed detailed intelligence to justify the killing of a U.S. citizen.

Anwar al-Awlaki was killed early Friday in a strike on his convoy carried out by a joint operation of the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, according to counterterrorism officials. Al-Awlaki had been under observations for three weeks while they waited for the right opportunity to strike.

Following the strike, a U.S. official outlined new details of al-Awlaki's involvement in anti-U.S. operations, including the attempted bombing on Dec. 25, 2009, of a U.S.-bound aircraft. The official said al-Awlaki specifically directed the man accused of trying to bomb the Detroit-bound plane to detonate an explosive device over U.S. airspace to maximize casualties.

The official also said al-Awlaki had a direct role in supervising and directing a failed attempt to bring down two U.S. cargo aircraft by detonating explosives concealed inside two packages mailed to the U.S. The U.S. also believes Awlaki had sought to use poisons, including cyanide and ricin, to attack Westerners.

The U.S. and counterterrorism officials all spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters.

Al-Awlaki was killed by the same U.S. military unit that got Osama bin Laden. A U.S. official said that four individuals were killed in the attack.

Al-Awlaki is the most prominent al-Qaida figure to be killed since bin Laden's death in May.

U.S. word of al-Awlaki's death came after the government of Yemen reported that he had been killed Friday about five miles (8 kilometers) from the town of Khashef, some 87 miles (140 kilometers) from the capital, Sanaa.

The airstrike was carried out more openly than the covert operation that sent Navy SEALs into bin Laden's Pakistani compound, U.S. officials said.

Counterterror cooperation between the United States and Yemen has improved in recent weeks, allowing better intelligence-gathering on al-Awlaki's movements, U.S. officials said. The ability to track him better was a primary factor in the success of the strike, U.S. officials said. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

Al-Awlaki's death is the latest in a run of high-profile kills for Washington under President Barack Obama. Still, the killing raises questions that the death of other al-Qaida leaders, including bin Laden, did not.

Al-Awlaki is a U.S. citizen, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, who had not been charged with any crime. Civil liberties groups have questioned the government's authority to kill an American without trial.

U.S. officials have said they believe al-Awlaki inspired the actions of Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the attack at Fort Hood, Texas.

In New York, the Pakistani-American man who pleaded guilty to the May 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt said he was "inspired" by al-Awlaki after making contact over the Internet.

Al-Awlaki also is believed to have had a hand in mail bombs addressed to Chicago-area synagogues, packages intercepted in Dubai and Europe in October 2010.

Al-Awlaki's death "will especially impact the group's ability to recruit, inspire and raise funds as al-Awlaki's influence and ability to connect to a broad demographic of potential supporters was unprecedented," said terrorist analyst Ben Venzke of the private intelligence monitoring firm, the IntelCenter.

But Venzke said the terror group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula will remain the most dangerous regional arm "both in its region and for the direct threat it poses to the U.S. following three recent failed attacks," with its leader Nasir al-Wahayshi still at large.

Al-Awlaki wrote an article in the latest issue of the terror group's magazine justifying attacking civilians in the West. It is titled "Targeting the Populations of Countries that Are at War with the Muslims."

Al-Awlaki served as imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, a Washington suburb, for about a year in 2001.

The mosque's outreach director, Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, has said that mosque members never saw al-Awlaki espousing radical ideology while he was there, and he believes al-Awlaki's views changed after he left the U.S.

Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Source: The Associated Press

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Former Ramsey County sheriff Fletcher has new gig: informing public about Somalia

After nine months largely out of the public eye as a St. Paul police watch commander, former Ramsey County sheriff Bob Fletcher emerged this week with a new Somali educational venture he created in his spare time.

He sent out a brochure today to people, including elected officials, for a seminar that costs $150 a head called Understanding the People of Somalia, put on by the Center for Somalia History Studies. Fletcher founded the center in the past month and acts as director, he said.

"The training program had been a concept that I had while I was sheriff," Fletcher said. "I was always troubled that we weren't doing more to educate government employees about the history and culture of the Somali community. It was on my list of things I always wanted to do but never got to as sheriff."
In the brochure, Fletcher appears in a photo in his sheriff's uniform and mentions his experience with the sheriff's office from 1995 to 2010. He doesn't mention his current police job.

He didn't want to "blur lines," he said.

"If he's doing this as Bob Fletcher, then the photo should be of Bob Fletcher," said Randy Gustafson, a Ramsey County sheriff's spokesman. "He should not appear in the uniform."

The police department is not involved with Fletcher's effort.

The photo could be some variation of false representation, David Schultz, a Hamline University professor who teaches government ethics, said, based on its description.

Nothing prevents Fletcher from saying his expertise comes from being sheriff, Schultz said. Creating a false impression that Fletcher is still sheriff for financial gain has ethical implications, he said.
Fletcher was sheriff for 16 years until he was ousted in the November election by Matt Bostrom. While Fletcher was sheriff, he was criticized - and sued - for political retaliation.

As watch commander, Fletcher said he works 40 hours a week instead of 60 hours he worked as sheriff. He's been spending that extra time on developing the center.

He plans to apply for nonprofit status for the center.

The center's long-term goal is to continue collecting history of the Somali community, Fletcher said. Educating government employees and officials is one component.

In an email to elected officials, Fletcher wrote, "I have been working with leaders in the Somali community to develop a training program to help government employees better understand the complexity of the Somali experience."

The seminar, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul on Nov. 10, will cover topics including the history of Somalia, Al Shabaab, youth gangs, khat, the transition to the United States and Somali culture.

In addition to Fletcher, Omar Jamal, the former executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center; Dahir Jibreel, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center; and Abdirizak Bihi, director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center, will speak.

The registration fee will help pay for presenters and seminar expenses, Fletcher said.

During a follow-up call to Fletcher's phone Wednesday evening, voicemail went to the Center for Somalia History Studies.

Dave Orrick contributed to this report. Brady Gervais can be reached at 651-228-5513. You can follow Brady on Twitter at and


UN / Communiqué on Somalia mini-summit

NEW YORK, September 28, 2011/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The following communiqué was issued after the mini-summit on Somalia, held in New York, 23 September:

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, convened a high-level meeting on Somalia in New York on 23 September 2011. Participants included representatives of Burundi, China, Denmark, Djibouti, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Norway, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Uganda, African Union, European Union, League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, and Jean Ping, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, gave an update on recent political and security developments in Somalia, as well as the humanitarian situation.

Participants reaffirmed respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and unity of Somalia. They noted that recent political and security developments created an opportunity to further peace and reconciliation in Somalia, and stressed the importance of establishing broad-based and representative institutions through an inclusive political process. Participants welcomed the Kampala Accord and reiterated their support for the Djibouti Peace Agreement and the Somalia Transitional Federal Charter, which collectively constitute the political framework for a sustainable solution in Somalia.

Participants expressed appreciation for the international community's humanitarian relief efforts in Somalia, including from African countries, Arab countries and other non-traditional donors, and urged them to continue these efforts. They underlined the need to address the root causes of famine and to reconstruct Somalia's infrastructure and public institutions, including hospitals and schools. They also called for additional efforts in the provision of aid in south-central Somalia, “Galmudug”, “Puntland” and “Somaliland”.

Participants welcomed the recent adoption by Somali leaders of the Roadmap for ending the Somali transitional period by August 2012, consistent with the Djibouti Peace Agreement and the Somali Transitional Federal Charter. Participants welcomed the guiding principles of the Roadmap, namely, Somali ownership and inclusiveness; political outreach to all major Somali stakeholders, including the regional entities and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama'a; full engagement of civil society; efficient use of resources; and adherence to monitoring and compliance mechanisms.

Participants urged Somali leaders to fully implement the Roadmap and to complete the tasks it contains within the agreed time frame in the following priority areas: security, including the adoption of effective maritime security and counter-piracy policy and legislation; completion of the constitution-making process, reform of Parliament and holding of elections, including for the posts of President and Speaker of the Parliament; national reconciliation; and good governance. Recognizing that the primary responsibility for the achievement of peace in Somalia rests with the Somali leadership, participants stressed the critical importance of compliance with the commitments undertaken in the Roadmap as a key requirement to ensure the continued international support to the Transitional Federal Institutions.

Participants welcomed the growing cooperation among the United Nations, African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in promoting and facilitating discussions on the implementation of the Roadmap involving the Transitional Federal Institutions, Somali civil society, local and regional administrations, as well as regional and international partners. Participants also welcomed the expeditious formation of the Technical Committee for the implementation of the Roadmap. They committed to mobilizing international support for the implementation of the Roadmap, in line with a Resource Mobilization Plan to be agreed by the Transitional Federal Government and the international community.

Participants stressed the importance of conducting popular consultations on the draft constitution and the reform of Parliament to enable adoption of a new constitution by a representative body without delay. They called on the Transitional Federal Government to build on recent efforts in Garoowe and Gaalkacyo, notably the implementation of the cooperation framework with Ahlu Sunna wal Jama'a, and to bring other groups that renounce violence to join the peace process. They also welcomed the commitments made by the “Galmudug” and “Puntland” administrations to stop the fighting in and around Gaalkacyo and to increase cooperation between the two regions. Participants invited the regional entities to engage constructively with the Transitional Federal Institutions for the stabilization of Somalia.

Participants condemned all violence, including terrorist attacks on the Transitional Federal Government, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the civilian population and the obstruction of the delivery of humanitarian aid. They urged opposition groups to lay down their arms, join the peace process and ensure full, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid. Participants also called upon all States, particularly those in the region, to fully implement the arms embargoes imposed by the United Nations Security Council on Somalia and Eritrea.

The meeting affirmed the importance of the development of Government institutions and civilian capacity-building across Somalia. They urged the international community to mobilize additional support to the Transitional Federal Government, as well as the local and regional administrations in this regard. Participants urged early endorsement of the draft National Security and Stabilization Plan by the Transitional Federal Parliament. They called on the Transitional Federal Institutions to redouble their efforts to develop Somali national security forces with effective command-and-control structures and procedures. They encouraged the Transitional Federal Institutions to adopt additional accountability and transparency measures, and to facilitate and coordinate international humanitarian aid delivery and relief assistance.

Participants commended the significant security gains recently made in Mogadishu by Transitional Federal Government forces with the support of AMISOM, and expressed gratitude to Uganda, Burundi and the Transitional Federal Government forces for the sacrifices they continue to make to advance the cause of peace and stability in Somalia. Participants stressed the importance of consolidating these hard-won gains and preventing a re-emergence of warlords. In this regard, they agreed to mobilize support for the implementation of the Transitional Federal Government's Mogadishu Security Plan and the United Nations Mogadishu Stabilization and Rehabilitation Plan. Participants also recalled the commitments made in the Istanbul Declaration (May 2010). They welcomed Turkey's intention to host a follow-up conference to the Istanbul meeting and urged support for this effort.

The meeting expressed concern at the expanding reach and increased levels of violence employed by pirates and agreed that anti-piracy efforts needed to focus simultaneously on deterrence, security and rule of law, and overall development efforts. In this regard, the meeting took note of the communiqués of the Contact Group on Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia. Participants welcomed the work of the Kampala Process as well as the relevant benchmarks agreed on in the Roadmap, and encouraged the concerned parties to engage constructively and cooperatively in the process.

Participants emphasized the need for the Transitional Federal Institutions to continue taking concrete steps to improve the situation of human rights in Somalia. In this connection, they welcomed the inclusion in the Roadmap of measures for the protection of civilians in armed conflict and adherence to international humanitarian and human rights laws, including measures to prevent the presence of children in the armed forces. The meeting also stressed the role of women's leadership in peacebuilding and in conflict resolution, as called for by Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1889 (2010), as well as in the relevant provisions of the Somali Transitional Federal Charter, particularly the increased representation of women in public institutions.

Participants stressed the importance of predictable, reliable and timely resources for AMISOM in order for it to better fulfil its mandate. They urged as a matter of priority the rapid deployment of the remaining 2,500 troops for AMISOM to reach its authorized level of 12,000, and expressed support for the efforts being deployed by the African Union and donors to facilitate the deployment. Participants urged the international community, including new donors, to contribute urgently and without caveats to the United Nations Trust Fund for AMISOM, or make bilateral donations in support of AMISOM, particularly for contingent-owned equipment, force enablers and multipliers, and welfare provisions. The meeting urged donors to work closely with the United Nations and the African Union to ensure that the appropriate funds and equipment were provided promptly.

The meeting took note of the steps being taken by AMISOM to protect civilians, including, in particular, corrective measures where necessary. The meeting encouraged further efforts in this regard, such as enhanced support to the development of the Somali Police Force and the rapid and full deployment of the mandated (270) AMISOM police elements. Participants supported the intention of AMISOM to establish a guard force dedicated to the protection of United Nations and international staff, international visitors and specific properties in Mogadishu.

The meeting welcomed the efforts of the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, League of Arab States, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other regional organizations to promote peace and stability in Somalia. Participants encouraged the United Nations and the African Union to further increase their presence in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia. The meeting welcomed the re-opening of the Turkish Embassy in Mogadishu, as well as the intention by Italy and the United Kingdom to do the same. Participants called upon members of the international community to scale up their diplomatic presence in Mogadishu and their support to the efforts of the Transitional Federal Institutions aimed at consolidating peace and stability in the newly liberated areas in central and south Somalia.


Cognitive Dissonance in Somalia

By Brian Beyer
As in many other places around the globe, the United States has a bad track record of propping up leaders and groups in Somalia, only to watch them crumble months or years later. Siad Barre, the ruthless military dictator of Somalia, was kept in power by the US until the Somali people rebelled in 1991. In 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) established a pseudo-government that has been credited with bringing order to Mogadishu that hadn’t been seen in years.

Beyond establishing a level of peace and security unknown to the region for more than fifteen years and winning wide support from the Somali public, the UIC had a “severe dampening effect on the activities of maritime piracy in the waters off the Somali coast,” according to a UN Monitoring Group report.
In addition to relative peace and quiet on land, the UIC was successful in reining in pirates that used Somalia as a launch pad. Piracy, especially off of the coast of Somalia, has been of huge concern to American officials because of the volume of oil passing through these waters. It is puzzling, then, that the goal of the US was to abolish the UIC that so successfully policed Somali pirates.

The Official reason for doing away with the UIC was to prevent the establishment of a terrorist safe haven for al Qaeda, al Shabaab and other such groups. There was never, however, any immediate threat of terrorism against the United States by groups in Somalia. Therein lies the source of our beloved officials cognitive dissonance: Somali piracy—a big threat to the global economic order estimated at $12 billion a year—was left nearly unchecked after the US did away with the UIC in order to annihilate a terrorist threat that hardly existed. Such behavior is indicative of paranoia rather than sensible policy making.

The UIC was ousted by American backed warlords and neighboring Ethiopia—a country fiercely hated by most Somalis. While the objective of the American proxy war was bringing stability to the East African country, it hardly did that. Jeremy Scahill explains:

Rather than working with the Somali government to address what Somalia experts considered a relatively minor threat, the United States turned to warlords like Qanyare, and went down a path that would lead to an almost unthinkable rise in the influence and power of Al Qaeda and the Shabab.
Such blowback has been experienced in Somalia before. During the humanitarian intervention in the early 1990’s, many Somalis quickly began to despise the US and UN forces thanks to what was seen as indiscriminate brutality.

By the time of the 3 October battle, literally every inhabitant of large areas of Mogadishu considered the UN and U.S. as enemies, and were ready to take up arms against them. People who ten months before had welcomed the U.S. Marines with open arms were now ready to risk death to drive them out.
American intervention has once again started in Somalia, but this time using drones and proxy forces. It is worth noting that the last Somali intervention was done towards the end of a devastating famine. Somalia is currently in the midst of one of the worst famines ever seen. It should also be remembered that Colin Powell said that the intervention was a “a paid political advertisement” for maintaining the current military budget. Perhaps the recession and growing non-interventionist sentiment in the US has sent Washington a powerful message that Somalia is too expensive to tinker with. This could explain Washington’s newfound love affair with drones instead of Black Hawks.


Somali pirates demand $8 mn for MV Albedo release

which was hijacked ten months ago, Geo News reported Wednesday. The crew of the ship consists of 23 individuals including 7 Pakistanis.

7 Sri Lankans, 5 Bangladeshis, 2 Indians and 1 Iranian are also among the hostages. The ship belongs to a Malaysian citizen of Iranian heritage.

Capitan of the ship Javed Saleem belongs to Karachi, Chief Officer Mujtaba is from Manshera, Third Officer Raheel Anwar from Faisalabad, crew member Ahsan Naveed from Jhelum, Faqeer Muhammad Karachi and Fourth Engineer Zulfiqar Ali belongs to Gujrat.

The daughter of First Officer Mujtaba has appealed to the entire nation to secure the release of her father from Somali pirates. She said the nation should support like they supported Laila when her father’s vessel MV Suez was also hijacked by Somali pirates.

The MV Suez which had four Pakistanis onboard was released in July after a ransom was paid to the Somali pirates.


309 Somali students come to Turkey for education

Turkish charity organization Kimse Yok Mu on Wednesday gave 309 Somalis the opportunity to receive a quality education in Turkey, according to a news report from the Cihan news agency.

The students, along with Kimse Yok Mu officials and Somali Education Minister Ahmet Eydid İbrahim, arrived at İstanbul Atatürk Airport early Wednesday morning, where they were welcomed by more Kimse Yok Mu representatives.

İbrahim thanked the Turkish people and the government for their support and said that there is a particular need for education in Somalia. Kimse Yok Mu has done much for the country, İbrahim added, and he said that he has faith that aid will continue in the future.

Kimse Yok Mu Public Relations Coordinator Mevlüt Özkişi said the Somali people need sustainable aid and that for that reason the charity brought 309 Somali students to Turkey.

The students, who Özkişi said were overjoyed when they arrived, will be able to significantly contribute to the development of their country when they complete their education.

According to Özkişi, 49 Somali students were previously brought to Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's goal is to provide 500 students with an education in Turkey, Özkişi said.

One Somali student, Nesra El Hüseyin, said she is very happy to be in Turkey. After completing her studies, El Hüseyin said that she wants to be a doctor. She will move back to Somalia, where she said she wants to serve her people. Other students also said that they were excited to be studying in Turkey.

The 309 students, who hail from seven cities in Somalia, are high school and university-bound.

The student exchange program is just one part of a massive aid campaign undertaken by Turkey in response to East Africa's worst drought in 60 years. Turkey's relief efforts so far have included donating TL 500 million in aid to Somalia and distributing food to 12 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The UN's refugee agency recently declared that the east African drought is currently the "worst humanitarian disaster” in the world, and has urged other international actors to pledge additional assistance.

Source: The Todays Zaman

Do Muslims Really Care About Somalia?


A young, rail-thin, and gaunt Somali woman, cradling her starving child in her arms, looks straight into the camera. Her eyes are dead; she has seen too much suffering. "Where are the Muslim countries?" she asks. "We are dying."

The image is haunting, and her words keep coming back, though they were broadcast on the BBC a few weeks ago now. Her plea is real. The richest Muslims in the world live just across the waters in the Gulf states, where billions of dollars are spent on indoor skiing facilities, artificial islands to host luxury hotels and water parks, and frolicking in yachts and faux European villas. There is never a dearth of funds for magnificent mosques, but when it comes to alleviating the mass starvation of a people, Muslims are coming up short.

The only head of state or government to have visited Somalia since the famine began is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As if to emphasize the need to show support, he brought along his wife and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Erdogan also demonstrated that instability is no excuse for not aiding Somalis; he presided over the reopening of Turkey's Mogadishu embassy after two decades of its being shuttered. Other Muslim leaders, however, are conspicuous by their absence, ignoring the Quranic command to show charity and compassion to the poor and needy.

Erdogan has also put his money where his mouth is. In contrast with Saudi Arabia ($50 million), Kuwait ($41.4 million), and the United Arab Emirates ($40 million through a recent telethon), Turkey has raised $300 million and secured an additional $350 million in pledges from countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Even traditionally generous countries like the United States have been lukewarm in their assistance (about $130 million). This money, and more, needs to be sent without delay, as the United Nations requires $1 billion for the most immediate needs. With seasonal rains approaching, more funds will be needed as aid groups struggle to fight disease in addition to starvation.

Although this Somali woman may ask where the Muslims are, we can ask where the world is. Are we deaf to this mother's cry and blind to her dying child? Despite a steady stream of international media reports reflecting the direness of the situation -- the U.N. estimates that some 750,000 Somalis will face death in the coming months -- the world's response has been woefully inadequate. In the United States, media attention has waned substantially.

The paltry response and lack of interest can partially be explained by Somalia's negative image in the United States and around the world, including in some Muslim countries, as a terrorist- and pirate-infested, anarchic "failed state." Although Somalia has problems with terrorism and piracy, the overall perception is false -- it is ahistorical, apolitical, and acultural. We must not allow it to contribute to the destruction of a people.

The truth is that Somalia is not a "failed state" because in order to be "failed" it must first exist, and a state, as it is popularly conceived, has never existed in Somalia. The world's failure to understand the real sources of power and influence in the country has only contributed to its ongoing misery. In more than 1,000 years of history, the traditionally nomadic and independent Somalis, split into opposing clans and subclans that trace their descent to a common ancestor, have never fully submitted to the writ of central rule for any substantial length of time.

The millions of Somalis who have been absorbed into surrounding countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia due to European colonial policies have similarly proved difficult for their central governments to administer and integrate. Complaining of marginalization and seeking autonomy, Somalis have fought extended insurgent wars in both these countries and today face famine.

And yet Somalia is not a nation of anarchy. Somalis have a sophisticated locally administered system of tribal law called xeer that resembles democracy, in which elders (every adult male, though those with age, charisma, and valor are more influential and respected) collectively decide issues of clan concern according to ancient traditions. Their code of behavior emphasizes honor, hospitality, and revenge.

Although tribes and tribal law may seem quaint and even primitive, tribes are a reality in the Muslim world as are proud nations and provinces named after them -- Saudi Arabia is named after the Al Saud, Afghanistan after the Afghans, Baluchistan after the Baluchis, and Waziristan after the Wazir. Tribes tend to disdain hierarchy, which is why they are so persistent in resisting central rule. They are perhaps the most egalitarian people in the Muslim world today. Somalis, named after their mythological ancestor Samale, are one of the most tribal peoples on Earth. It is precisely for this reason that it has been so difficult to institute top-down rule in the country, as Somalia functions from the bottom up.

This system has remained in place for the last millennium in spite of the vagaries of European imperialism, a nascent but flawed democracy in the 1960s, and Mohamed Siad Barre's military dictatorship. Siad Barre, like others before him, attempted to curb tribal law in favor of a central state, but it imploded due to tribal resistance and the collapse of law and order. Yet tribal law proved resilient, and elders took advantage of the 1991 fall of Siad Barre's government to build a "bottom-up" state in the northern Somaliland region. Today, the area is a comparative oasis of calm, and despite its being more arid and inhospitable, famine conditions are not nearly as severe as they are in the south.

Overlapping with tribal law -- and sometimes opposed to it -- is Islamic law, which has been historically administered in coastal sultanates like Mogadishu but seldom in the interior. The exceptions are times of great crisis and social breakdown, in which religious leaders can consolidate and extend their authority over a large area. This has only happened a few times in history, and it is occurring today with the rule of al-Shabab, a religious group that was radicalized in the chaos following the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion and occupation in 2006 and 2007 -- a war conducted in pursuit of just three al Qaeda suspects. In contrast with the area's traditional mystical Sufi Islam and the sophisticated Somali sultans of the past, al-Shabab seems to be implementing the most violent and cruel aspects of its understanding of Islam. Far from uniting the Somali people, the group has now itself become a catalyst for further death and destruction.

Today, Somalia faces an existential crisis. The staggering levels of starvation, destruction, and dislocation have led to social disintegration of immense scale. The glue that held society together -- tribal law and the elders -- has been challenged as never before. The country is being further marginalized by both the Western-backed central government, which has more commonly relied on infamous "warlords" from the Said Barre era, and religious groups like al-Shabab, which condemn tribal law as anti-Islamic. Of the two groups, al-Shabab has proved more adept at negotiating with and gaining the support of elders, but this support can be very shallow. Indeed, al-Shabab has arrested or killed elders who opposed it.

Somalia's human tragedy is exacerbated by its status as a battleground in the war on terror. With the United States constructing what the Washington Post called a "constellation" of drone bases in the region, the conflict will likely escalate. The United States already funds and equips an imported force from other African countries under the banner of the African Union to fight al-Shabab, often through private contractors. Somalia's war-on-terror status complicates famine relief for the plethora of aid agencies working in the country, which are concerned they will run afoul of U.S. anti-terrorism laws by feeding people.

Al-Shabab is of course not blameless. Just as in Pakistan following the earthquake and last year's floods, where some Taliban figures condemned Western aid as an anti-Islamic plot, certain al-Shabab leaders have announced their opposition to and suspicion of such aid. Yet similar opposition in Pakistan did not prevent a massive American and international effort that saved hundreds of thousands of Pakistani lives. The same thing must be done in Somalia.

To deal with such an enormous social crisis, bold action and leadership are needed. The Muslim world must alter its views of Somalia and mount a colossal aid effort, heeding Erdogan's call.

Likewise, the American and international effort must dramatically increase. The United States should announce a moratorium on fighting until the famine is resolved. It needs to include a cessation of drone strikes -- the United States launched a series of such attacks on Somali targets on Sept. 25 -- as well as attacks by the U.S.-backed Somali government and African Union troops. This will build trust among all factions that have a common cause to stave off mass death. It will mean working with both al-Shabab administrators and traditional tribal elders. The Western urge to work exclusively through the central government should be put aside, as more effective authority lies elsewhere, as it always has. If anti-terrorism laws legally restrict U.S. access to any influential party, then non-American aid agencies, the United Nations, the Somali government, the Turks, or the Saudis can work with them instead.

U.S. President Barack Obama should host a fundraiser in the White House with top business and foreign leaders, and he and the first lady should travel to Somalia or at least visit the refugees in Kenya to see the situation for themselves. It is strange that Obama has traveled to Ireland and paid tribute to his distant Irish ancestors but has not returned to the land of his father that is suffering so much.

Somalia's problems are daunting, and they challenge all of the global community. But Muslim countries and international actors -- working closely with Somalis across the spectrum of society -- need to plot a new political course for the nation, which can only happen if there's an unbiased understanding of Somalia and the way this society functions. They can draw on the work and expertise of exasperated scholars who have spent their lifetimes studying Somalia and see the same wrong decisions being made time and time again. (Noted British anthropologist I.M. Lewis, for example, has slammed the West for imposing a top-down government on the independent Somalis instead of "building up a hierarchy of increasingly more inclusive local groups" -- an ill-fated choice he calls "Alice in Wonderland.")

The humanitarian crisis in Somalia is a special test for the Muslim world. While we have heard much talk about the need to come to the aid of the suffering global community of Muslims, or ummah, through jihad, they need to rediscover the more powerful notions of Islamic compassion and mercy. Especially given the tragic compassion fatigue in non-Muslim countries like the United States as far as Somalia is concerned, the Islamic world simply cannot allow this slow-motion death of an entire people to continue. Can Muslim leaders sleep peacefully at night with the words of the Somali woman ringing in their ears?


Analysis: Mixed responses to mixed migration in Africa

Abdul worked as a journalist in Somalia before death threats from Al-Shabab militia drove him to leave his native country and head for Mozambique where friends told him he would receive help at Maratane refugee camp in Nampula Province.

The boat he boarded in Mombasa had 110 other passengers - some Somalis with stories similar to his own, and others Ethiopians, either fleeing their own armed conflicts or drought or both - all crammed together in one vessel by a smuggler aiming to maximize profits.

Now Abdul and his fellow passengers are all being detained in the same prison in southern Tanzania. Neither the Mozambican police who arrested them in the northern town of Palma and then violently deported them to the Tanzanian border, nor the immigration officials who found them there - naked and stripped of all their belongings - attempted to determine which of the migrants were asylum-seekers entitled to receive protection and assistance, and which were economic migrants subject to immigration laws.

Countries like Tanzania are starting to realize that their immigration laws are not adequate to deal with the phenomenon of “mixed migration” whereby refugees, asylum-seekers, economic migrants and even victims of human trafficking may be using the same routes, means of transport and smuggling networks to reach a shared destination, but are driven by different motives and have different claims to protection and humanitarian assistance.

“It has become incredibly difficult to distinguish between different streams of migrants,” commented Vincent William, programme manager for the Southern African Migration Programme at the South Africa-based Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA). “There’s just a lot of uncertainty about how to manage mixed flows and concerns about not allowing people to abuse the asylum system.”

While much of this movement is originating from the Horn of Africa, the cycle of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has also generated large numbers of refugees as well as those simply seeking better employment and educational opportunities.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s complex and inter-linked political, social and economic crises of recent years have created the region’s largest cross-border movement with recipient countries struggling to distinguish between those fleeing political persecution, those in search of a livelihood and those driven by a combination of factors.

For many the preferred destination is South Africa, the country that not only offers the best prospects for employment, but also has the region’s most progressive refugee laws. While there are few legal channels for unskilled migrants to enter South Africa, foreign nationals who apply for asylum can remain in the country for as long as it takes to process their claim and during that time they enjoy freedom of movement and the right to work. The result is an asylum system that has been overwhelmed by more applications than any other in the world, according the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Roni Amit, a researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, said South Africa's Department of Home Affairs has dealt with the backlog of asylum applications mainly by rejecting more people. “The rejection rate is now something like 96 percent," she told IRIN. "Decisions are very cut and pasted and not really individualized.”

Business booming for smugglers

Under the UN Refugee Convention, refugees are defined as individuals who are forced to remain outside their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of persecution. The Organization of African Unity (now renamed the African Union) definition is slightly broader and includes people compelled to leave their country due to “events seriously disturbing public order”.

Most countries rely on the UN definition, but in countries like Tanzania, immigration officials lack the training or the resources to screen large groups of migrants.

“Every migrant is treated like a criminal so the same treatment is given to the migrants and their smuggler,” said Monica Peruffo of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which recently conducted an assessment of Tanzania’s immigration procedures and facilities.

The job of immigration officials is not made easier by the fact that migrants like Abdul, who have genuine claims to asylum, often delay applying for it until they have reached their chosen destination. Not only does this make them vulnerable to being treated as illegal immigrants in the countries they travel through, it can also harm their chances of being admitted to South Africa. In recent months, South African border officials have started denying entry to asylum-seekers based on the principle that they should have sought asylum in the first safe country they reached. Although no such principle exists in international or domestic law, it has not prevented South Africa from using it as a basis to turn away asylum-seekers from the Horn of Africa.

"If you try to enter through an official border post and you’re denied entry, then your next step is to enter the country illegally and that’s where smugglers come in," said Witwatersrand University’s Amit.

Sheik Amil of the Somali Community Board, which represents the interests of Somalis in South Africa, confirmed that business was flourishing for smugglers who charge up to US$3,000 to bring Somalis to South Africa from Kenya, where many begin their journeys at the refugee camps near the border.

"They have to get half the money before they leave and the other half when they arrive," said Amil, adding that migrants who failed to come up with the second instalment were often held hostage by their smugglers until a friend or relative produced the cash.

Others have paid with their lives. An unknown number of Horn migrants have died at sea with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reporting that 11 asylum-seekers drowned off the coast of Mozambique in January 2011 alone, while eight suffocated aboard a closed container truck driving from Maratane to South Africa in February.

Governments "increasingly paranoid"

In September 2010, Tanzania hosted a regional conference on the issue of mixed and irregular migration. Delegates from government and civil society talked about the need to respect the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their legal status and broaden legal migration channels to reduce dependence on smugglers and illegal border crossings. The meeting ended with calls for greater regional cooperation on migration issues, improved national laws and policies to deal with mixed migration, and better border management.

But in the last year, little has been done to implement the conference’s recommendations. While UNHCR and IOM have continued to advocate putting in place more protective measures, such as constructing refugee reception centres at border posts where proper screening of migrants could take place, and replacing forced deportations with voluntary return programmes, governments tend to view the irregular movement of large groups of migrants through their countries as a threat to national security and have responded by detaining and deporting them.

Horn migrants who do make it to refugee camps in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, often use them as a place to rest and regroup before continuing their journey to South Africa, a practice that has heightened concerns about security and abuses of the asylum system.

"Governments have become increasingly paranoid and it does lead to a situation where genuine asylum-seekers are excluded because of the actions of non-asylum seekers," said IDASA's William, adding that "worries about foreigners taking jobs" often formed a backdrop to such concerns.

In March of this year, South Africa passed amendments to its immigration legislation that decreased the amount of time asylum-seekers have to make a formal application for asylum after entering the country, and increased the penalties for those found guilty of violating immigration laws.

"They don’t really seem to have a policy perspective that provides a rational justification [for the amendments]," said Witwatersrand University’s Amit. "There's just a general perception that there are too many people entering the country and taking jobs."

A Southern African Development Community (SADC) protocol to facilitate the movement of persons has the potential to reduce irregular migration by creating more possibilities for legal migration, at least within the region, but has stalled since being adopted in 2005. For the protocol to come into effect, nine of SADC's 15 member states have to ratify it but so far only five have done so and no implementation plan has been developed.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) have agreed in principle on similar protocols but William said progress on implementation had been very slow.

"There’s concern about potential security risks, but the overriding concern is probably the economic one. There's a perception that migrants will flow to countries with the biggest economies."

Source: IRIN

The Somali Famine: Where Are the Bad Guys When We Need Them?

By Mary Anne Mercer

In a world where adequate food is produced to feed everyone -- why are so many people still starving to death? Can any of us imagine what it would be like to watch our small child starve slowly, over many weeks, to simply fade away, painfully, and miserably? Or perhaps more mercifully, succumb to the fevers of malaria or the violent diarrhea and vomiting of cholera -- knowing that somewhere in the world people live happily in their air-conditioned ranch houses with a full refrigerator and three cars in the garage?

The looming deaths of hundreds of thousands of Somalis from famine and disease should be on everyone's mind. What kind of a world allows this level of mass suffering? How could it be that, as the New York Times recently reported, "There's no mood for intervention" among Western aid agencies?

We haven't always been this indifferent. In 1979, tens of thousands of Cambodian refugees staggered into Thai refugee camps after the Vietnamese invasion of their country. Working in one of those camps was my first exposure to a true humanitarian disaster. Add tuberculosis to the above list of afflictions, and the problems were exactly the same. These people, too, were fleeing violence. They had traveled untold miles on foot, seeking food, shelter, clean water, refuge. They came with their children and the clothes on their emaciated bodies, nothing more.

And yet the world seemed to care then about the dying Cambodians. Well-organized camps were set up by the UN in Thailand to receive those streaming in, with food programs and medical care. The death rates graphed on the wall of the camp health office quickly dropped from dozens a day to a few deaths per month. Joan Baez visited to publicize their plight, and multitudes of NGOs joined the camps to provide services. There was a clear commitment from the Western world to respond.

What has changed? For decades, security concerns have plagued Somalia. Sadly, U.S. policy has contributed to those problems. In the early 1990s, U.S. forces went on a well-publicized "rescue mission" in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. But American troops were killed when two helicopters were shot down in the famous "Black Hawk Down" event. The U.S. quickly withdrew, killing several thousand in the process and leaving the country in the hands of warlords. After 9/11, in an antiterrorist frenzy, the U.S. froze the assets of an important Islamic charity, al-Barakat -- adding to the suffering of Somali peasants. In 2006, we again punished the wrong side, supporting the Ethiopian invasion and overthrow of the Islamic Courts government, which had been a stabilizing force in the country.

Fast forward to today. The al-Shabab militants have retreated from Mogadishu but the UN peacekeeping force is still needed there to provide a secure environment for the internal refugees streaming in. Existing camps within Somalia and in neighboring countries are underfunded, and migrants risk horrendous violence from roving bandits just getting to them. Clearly "the policy of the U.S. and the larger international community toward Somalia has failed," as noted in a recent Huffington Post blog.

Is there a deeper reason our response to the disaster in the Horn of Africa is so weak compared to what has happened with other crises? One explanation may be that we need villains -- identifiable Bad Guys -- to motivate decisive action when politically-based disasters arise. That's been true in other settings. In Darfur we had the president of Sudan to vilify, and what was said to be the largest humanitarian operation in the world was launched when media attention focused on that humanitarian crisis. We had high-profile villains in the days of the Cambodian exodus too: the infamous butcher Pol Pot, Communist regimes in both Cambodia and its invader, Vietnam. The Vietnamese had recently defeated us in an unpopular war, and to make things worse, they were allied with our archenemy, the Soviet Union. The situation in Somalia suggests that the real nature of much of the official "humanitarian" aid in today's world is undertaken for geopolitical concerns, not out of charity.

For whatever reasons, although the UN predicts up to 750,000 starvation deaths in Somalia over the next few months, their appeal for funds in July was a billion dollars short of the $2.4 billion needed to stave off that disaster. Although we can't blame any one source for the famine, violence and anarchy -- unless it might be our own foreign policy -- is it not worthy of a response? Political explanations won't help the Somali children who are being orphaned as their parents waste away from starvation.

Certainly long term solutions to the complex problems of the region need to be found by the African nations themselves. But in the short term, a massive outpouring of letters to our governmental representatives -- congresspersons, members of parliament, presidents, prime ministers -- could make the difference between life and starvation. The message: UN troops must have enough support to assure safe passage for refugees and secure provision of relief efforts, and enough food aid needs to be available to avert the disaster. For those who are also moved to donate funds as individuals, the ONE web site has a list of active relief groups.

There is still time to prevent this looming tragedy -- can we do it even without Bad Guys to blame?

SOURCE; THE Huffington Post

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Somalia: the struggle against food insecurity continues

The situation in Somalia remains highly critical. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis are still displaced from their homes in search of security and food. Although humanitarian aid has started to reach the drought- and conflict-affected people, many are still struggling to survive.

Much of the livestock has been decimated and there is no hope for an improvement in the situation until the next harvest in December. The deyr rainy season is set to begin in October, but even when it brings abundant rain it accounts for only 30 per cent of the yearly food production, which is not enough to meet the immense needs.

"Trying to lower the record high levels of malnutrition under such circumstances is an uphill battle," said Andrea Heath, who is in charge of the ICRC's economic-security activities in Somalia. "But we do have reason to be optimistic about children receiving treatment in therapeutic feeding centres run by the Somali Red Crescent Society. At least 95 per cent of them will be cured within two months."

Although military offensives have become less frequent in Mogadishu and are now taking place mainly in the border areas, the armed conflict continues to take its toll. Hit-and-run attacks and explosions of roadside bombs are reported several times a week in the capital. Tension is palpable along the Kenyan border, particularly in the Gedo region.

In response to the worsening situation, the ICRC has considerably stepped up its activities in the central and southern parts of the country over the past few weeks and is planning to help an additional one million people by the end of the year.

Alleviating food insecurity and malnutrition

The ICRC has strengthened its support for therapeutic feeding centres run by the Somali Red Crescent. The centres offer treatment for children under five and other vulnerable people such as pregnant and lactating mothers. Over 10,000 children are currently being treated for severe acute malnutrition.

The expanded set-up includes nine new outpatient therapeutic feeding centres in Gedo, Bakool, Middle Juba and Banadir and more staff for the 18 older centres. The ICRC and the Somali Red Crescent have also deployed nine mobile health and nutrition teams in addition to three that were mobilized earlier in the year.

In addition, three new feeding centres have been opened in Kismayo to offer supplementary feeding for displaced and other needy people.

In July and August, the ICRC and the Somali Red Crescent distributed one-month rations of beans, rice and oil to over 162,000 people in the areas of central and southern Somalia hardest hit by drought.

"Even as we strive to meet the most urgent needs, our long-term objective of reviving or boosting the livelihoods of the worst-off communities, wherever possible in a sustainable manner, remains unchanged," said Pascal Mauchle, the head of the ICRC delegation for Somalia.

In accordance with this aim, the ICRC distributed 134 irrigation pumps in July and August to help increase food production for over 6,200 people. In addition, more than 200 people are taking part in cash-for-work projects upgrading irrigation channels along the Shabelle River. Another 140 people have been given items to help them set up small businesses such as kiosks and salt production farms in Lower Shabelle.

Preventing waterborne disease and improving access to safe water

The ICRC provided support for a chlorination campaign carried out in all Somali Red Crescent clinics to stem the spread of acute waterborne disease. A million chlorine tablets were distributed to 17 clinics and emergency water filters to 39 clinics in order to ensure that water was safe.

The ICRC is maintaining its efforts to improve access to safe water by re-drilling bore holes and by upgrading hand-dug wells, rainwater catchments and other sources of water. It completed 11 projects in July and August providing water for more than 25,000 Somalis.

Over 100,000 people benefit from ICRC-supported health care

In July and August, the ICRC provided 1.2 tonnes of surgical and other medical supplies for Keysaney and Medina hospitals, the two referral hospitals for war casualties in Mogadishu. The supplies were used to treat more than 650 wounded patients, including more than 250 women and children.

The ICRC also provided three tonnes of wound-dressing materials and other supplies for the treatment of war-wounded patients for hospitals in the north of Somalia following clashes in Gaalkacyo. A further three tonnes of supplies were delivered to medical facilities on all sides of the front lines in Mogadishu, Kismayo and elsewhere.

The ICRC continues to provide support for 39 Somali Red Crescent health-care facilities in the southern and central parts of the country to ensure that the population has access to essential health care and to good-quality medicines. These facilities, which conducted more than 115,000 consultations in July and August, were also given equipment and their staff were provided with training.

In July and August, around 20,000 children were vaccinated against polio, measles, diphtheria and tetanus in these Red Crescent facilities.

Helping refugees and other displaced people maintain contact with their families

The ICRC helps family members separated by the conflict in Somalia stay in touch with each another. In July and August, through the network of Somali Red Crescent volunteers, the ICRC collected almost 1,500 and distributed nearly 3,400 Red Cross messages, containing brief family news.

Since the crisis began to worsen, hundreds of people have been crossing the border into Kenya every day to take refuge in the Dadaab camps. Together with the Kenya Red Cross Society, the ICRC gives newly arrived refugees the opportunity to contact their relatives left behind. Since mid-August, over 7,200 people, including almost 800 minors, have taken advantage of this service.

In coordination with the ICRC, the BBC Somali Service has broadcast the names of more than 1,100 people looking for their relatives in Somalia and abroad, and it has published almost 11,000 names on its website. As a result, 35 people found their relatives.

Promoting international humanitarian law

At a seminar for 40 Somali journalists held in Mogadishu at the end of July, the ICRC's activities in Somalia were presented, and the basic principles of international humanitarian law and their links to traditional Somali customs (biri ma gedo) were explained.

In mid-August, 10 traditional elders attended a seminar in Mogadishu on the history of the ICRC and the organization's activities in Somalia.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Concern raised over CIA work in Somalia

International rights groups want answers from Washington amid allegations the CIA was involved in questionable activity in war-torn Somalia.

Amnesty International and seven other human rights organizations said, in a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, that they had “serious” concerns about allegations raised in a series of articles about the CIA’s work in Somalia.

They allege the CIA was involved “in detention, interrogation and transfer operations in Somalia that may violate domestic and international law.”

The letter points to a July article in The Nation and an August article in The New York Times that alleges the CIA is involved in the interrogation of detainees in Somali using techniques that are questionable and potentially unlawful.

They point to a 2009 executive order from Obama that requires the CIA to avoid such activity and further obligates the U.S. government to uphold its treaty obligations regarding torture and other international human rights issues.

Clara Gutteridge, an official at British rights group Reprieve, told the BBC this month that she had evidence from “multiple, concurrent sources” that the CIA was running a secret detention center under the presidential compound in Mogadishu.

Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohammed Ali told the BBC the reports weren’t credible but said Washington was helping to “improve the security situation in the country.”

The letter to Obama states that “the United States and its officials may be liable for the unlawful actions of individuals, groups, or foreign states acting under its control, or for knowingly assisting in or conspiring to commit such unlawful actions.”

Read more:

Source: UPI

Monday, September 26, 2011

UN ambassador visits Minneapolis

Somalian ambassador's visit brings protest and dialogue.

Just 24 hours after debating the future of Somalia at a United Nations meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador to Somalia Augustine Mahiga stood before members of its largest diaspora in North America at the University of Minnesota Law School on Saturday.

The third installment of “Rebuilding Somalia: The Role of the Diaspora” was marketed as an opportunity for Mahiga to engage Somalis in a conversation about the U.N. roadmap to peace for the country facing the worst humanitarian crisis in 60 years. But conversations for peace gave way to peaceful demonstration.

Community members opposing Mahiga’s policies and non-Somali heritage made their voices heard both within the discussion and outside Mondale Hall’s front door.

Aman Obsiye, who helped organize the event, said the “Rebuilding Somalia” series aims to engage the community in dialogue toward a more positive future for Somalia. He said all forms of peaceful expression — including demonstration — are encouraged and embraced.

The event happened through collaboration between the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota Law School and the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, along with the Somali Institute for Peace Research.

“We hope they were not only able to gain some new information, but Mahiga was able to leave with the advice and concerns of the people in mind, as well,” said Obsiye, who is also an Oslo Center intern and law student.

The series is part of ongoing events to discuss rebuilding Somalia hosted at the University, said Kristi Rudelius-Palmer of the University’s Human Rights Center.

She said it gave the audience the opportunity to ask questions about how the U.N. is involved in the transitional process and created a space to discuss the international players involved in efforts to rebuild Somalia.

During his opening statements, Mahiga said the Somali diaspora in Minnesota is “not only the biggest, but also the most vibrant and probably the most connected to peace keeping efforts in Somalia.”

He also outlined his personal history with the country —something protesters outside of the event called into question.

The protesters expressed discontent with Mahiga’s involvement in the Kampala Accord which extended the tenure of the transitional government for another year.

“He’s not a Somali representative,” Faiza Aziz said of Mahiga, a Tanzanian native. “From the beginning, his actions have been against Somalia.”

Aziz, a University of Minnesota graduate, said she found no substance in what Mahiga said.

“You have no respect coming here and trying to tell me about my history,” she yelled out as Mahiga began his talk. Shortly after, she was asked to leave.

“That was a slap in the face of Somalis,” she said. “The one word everyone — even if they don’t even know where the hell Somalia is — ties with Somalia is crisis. He didn’t even address that crisis and how we can help.”

After being escorted from the event, Aziz joined the group of protesters outside, who held posters with red X’s over Mahiga’s face and chanted under the careful watch of four University police officers.

As “No Mahiga Minnesota” rang from megaphones, Hassan Togane looked on from within the Law School before the speech. Tailgaters for the Gopher football game curiously observed from the school’s parking lot.

Togane said he found beauty in the protesters’ actions, though he didn’t share their opinions.

“Had this happened in my country, you would have seen bullets flying all over,” he said. “Look at the beauty of the U.S. We are all protected by the Constitution. We can do that here.”

Rudelius-Palmer agreed that the peaceful protests added to the overarching message calling for more voices, especially women and youth, in the discussion of peace in Somalia.

Mahiga spoke with the Minnesota Daily about the power of youth voices many of which — such as Obsiye and Aziz’s — were highlighted through Saturday’s event.

“The youth voice has been fragmented. Youth in the mainland don’t have the same opportunity where they can see each other and organize,” he said. “But youth in the diaspora are accessible, educated and show great leadership.”

“They keep connected and educated even when they have never known peace in Somalia.”


Somali leader warns UN that militants are looking to export their violence

Islamist militants that have wreaked havoc in southern Somalia are now looking to strike outside the country and concerted international action is needed to prevent them from exporting their violence, Somalia?s Prime Minister told the United Nations today.

Islamist militants that have wreaked havoc in southern Somalia are now looking to strike outside the country and concerted international action is needed to prevent them from exporting their violence, Somalia"s Prime Minister told the United Nations today.

Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told the General Assembly"s annual general debate that while the recent retreat of al-Shabaab forces from the capital, Mogadishu, was welcome, "it may herald a new and more dangerous phase of the conflict as they increasingly turn to asymmetric tactics such as suicide bombings and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) targeting the civilian populace."

He said al-Shabaab and other groups affiliated with Al-Qaida were now "actively planning to strike further afield," with al-Shabaab leaders quoted only this week as saying the group wanted to destroy the UN and the United States.

"It is also a well-known fact that the al-Shabaab have been focusing their recruitment and radicalization efforts on Somali diasporas in Australia, Europe, Canada and in the United States."

Dr. Ali said it was "a small minority" such as those in al-Shabaab that was responsible for turning the drought afflicting the Horn of Africa into a famine in parts of southern and central Somalia.

This was because of "their policies of systematically looting grain stores; forcible recruitment of and extortion from farmers and their families; and preventing access to the most affected regions in the south to aid agencies."

But he said recent efforts to overcome Somalia"s chronic problems of instability, clan rivalries and a lack of governance gave hope that the militants can be defeated.

Dr. Ali cited the national consultative conference held in Mogadishu at the start of the month which produced a road map for the re-establishment of legitimate and representative government. Somalia has not had a functioning government over the whole of its territory in two decades.

"The road map is a significant achievement for the Somali peace process. Its adoption marks the first of many steps on the path to the eventual conclusion of the transition process in a responsible and productive manner. It has also shed light on the remaining transitional tasks, including the drafting and promulgation of a new constitution."

Today, the President of Somalia"s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss political and security developments in the country, the humanitarian situation across the Horn of Africa and the ongoing problem of piracy in the region.

Source: UN News

Squeeze al-Shabab and help Somali reformers to stop the famine

As if thing weren't bad enough in Somalia, there are now fears the October rains will bring malaria and other diseases to refugee camps in the Horn of Africa. This only adds a new urgency to help those affected by the worst famine in 60 years.

The main impediment isn't the West's lack of generosity. It is the difficulty in accessing those people affected by the famine who cannot make it out to neighbouring countries. More than 750,000 are at immediate risk of starvation inside Somalia.

More political will is needed to resolve this issue and overcome the challenges of bringing food aid to both the south of the country, controlled by al-Shabab, the Islamist group that won't allow in relief agencies, and to the capital of Mogadishu, under the tenuous control of an often-corrupt Transitional Federal Government.

Ken Menkhaus, a professor at Davidson College, N.C. and one of the world's foremost Somalia experts, is calling for a “diplomatic surge” to force al-Shabab to open routes for aid delivery, and to hold the transitional government accountable.

This is a welcome idea. The international community can mobilize “unrelenting, full-scale diplomatic pressure” on al-Shabab and on the government. Convincing these players to set aside their differences will not be easy. But in a new report, Prof. Menkhaus says the Islamic world must take the lead in what he calls a “Save Darfur” moment.

“Muslim scholars and opinion-makers from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia must insist that al-Shabab has a moral obligation to allow in famine relief,” says Prof. Menkhaus. “How does allowing hundreds of thousands of captive Muslims to starve advance any Islamic cause?”

For its part, the UN, which funds the transitional government, must let the warlords and others who steal food aid know they can be charged with crimes against humanity. There are willing reformers within the government, including Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali.

There is no guarantee that such aggressive diplomacy will work. But it is at least worth trying. Tens of thousands of lives are at stake, and the world must do everything it can to try to save them.

Source: The Globe and Mail

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Son Returns to the Agony of Somalia


ONE has to be careful about stories. Especially true ones. When a story is told the first time, it can find a place in the listener’s heart. If the same story is told over and over, it becomes less like a presence in that chest and more like an X-ray of it.

The beating heart of my story is this: I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. I had a brief but beautiful childhood filled with poetry from renowned relatives. Then came a bloody end to it, a lesson in life as a Somali: death approaching from the distance, walking into our lives in an experienced stroll.

At 12 years old, I lost three of the boys I grew up with in one burst of machine-gun fire — one pull from the misinformed finger of a boy probably not much older than we were.

But I was also unusually lucky. The bullets hit everyone but me.

Luck follows me through this story; so does my luckless homeland. A few harrowing months later, I found myself on the last commercial flight to leave Somalia before war closed in on the airport. And over the years, fortune turned me into Somalia’s loudest musical voice in the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, my country festered, declining more and more. When I went on a tour of 86 countries last year, I could not perform in the one that mattered most to me. And when my song “Wavin’ Flag” became the theme song for the World Cup that year, the kids back home were not allowed to listen to it on the airwaves. Whatever melodious beauty I found, living in the spotlight, my country produced an opposing harmony in shadows, and the world hardly noticed. But I could still hear it.

And now this terrible year: The worst famine in decades pillages the flesh of the already wounded in Somalia. And the world’s collective humanitarian response has been a defeated shrug. If ever there was a best and worst time to return home, it was now.

So, 20 summers after I left as a child, I found myself on my way back to Somalia with some concerned friends and colleagues. I hoped that my presence would let me shine a light into this darkness. Maybe spare even one life, a life equal to mine, from indifferently wasting away. But I am no statesman, nor a soldier. Just a man made fortunate by the power of the spotlight. And to save someone’s life I am willing to spend some of that capricious currency called celebrity.

We had been told that Mogadishu was still among the most dangerous cities on the planet. So it was quiet on the 15-seat plane from Nairobi. We told nervous jokes at first, then looked to defuse the tension. The one book I had brought was Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.” I reached a chapter titled “Hunger Was Good Discipline” and stopped. That idea needed some contemplation. The very thing driving so many from their homes in Somalia was drawing me back there. I read on. Hemingway felt that paintings were more beautiful when he was “belly-empty, hollow-hungry.” But he was not speaking of the brutal and criminally organized hunger of East Africa. His hunger was beautiful. It made something of you. The one I was heading into only made ashes of you.

By now, the ride was bumpy. We were flying low, so I could see Baraawe and Merca, beauties of coastal towns that I had always dreamed of visiting. The pilot joked that he would try to fly low enough for my sightseeing, but high enough to avoid the rocket-propelled grenades.

FOR miles along that coast, all you see are paint-like blue water, beautiful sand dunes eroding, and an abandoned effort to cap them with concrete. Everything about Somalia feels like abandonment. The buildings, the peace initiatives, the hopes and dreams of greatness for a nation.

With the ocean to our backs, our wheels touch down in Mogadishu, at the airport I left 20 years before to the surround-sound of heavy artillery pounding the devil’s rhythm. Now there is an eerie calm. We clear immigration, passing citizens with AK-47’s slung over their shoulders.

It’s not a small task to be safe in Mogadishu. So we keep our arrival a secret until after we ride from the airport to the city, a ride on which they say life expectancy is about 17 minutes if you don’t have the kind of security that has been arranged for me.

Over breakfast at a “safe house,” I update my sense of taste with kidney and anjera (a bread), and a perfectly cooled grapefruit drink. Then we journey onto the city streets. It’s the most aesthetically contradictory place on earth — a paradise of paradox. The old Italian and locally inspired architecture is colored by American and Russian artillery paint. Everything stands proudly lopsided.

And then come the makeshift camps set up for the many hungering displaced Somalis. They are the reason I am here. If my voice was an instrument, then I needed it to be an amplifier this time. If my light was true, then I needed it to show its face here, where it counts. Nothing I have ever sung will matter much if I can’t be the mouth of the silenced. But will the world have ears for them, too?

I find the homeless Somalis’ arms open, waiting for the outside world and hoping for a second chance into its fenced heart. I meet a young woman watching over her dying mother, who has been struck by the bullet of famine. The daughter tells me about the journey to Mogadishu — a 200-mile trek across arid, parched land, with adults huddling around children to protect them first. This mother refused to eat her own food in order to feed abandoned children they had picked up along the way. And now she was dying because of that.

The final and most devastating stop for me was Banadir Hospital, where I was born. The doctors are like hostages of hopelessness, surrounded and outnumbered. Mothers hum lullabies holding the skeletal heads of their children. It seems eyes are the only ornament left of their beautiful faces; eyes like lanterns holding out a glimmer of faint hope. Volunteers are doing jobs they aren’t qualified for. The wards are over-crowded, mixing gun wound, malnutrition and cholera patients.

Death is in every corner of this place. It’s lying on the mattresses holding the tiny wrists of half-sleeping children. It’s near the exposed breasts of girls turned mothers too soon. It folds in the cots, all-knowing and silent; its mournful wind swells the black sheets. Here, each life ends sadly, too suddenly and casually to be memorialized.

In this somber and embittered forgotten place, at least they were happy to see I had come.

Source: The New York Times

On Top of Famine, Unspeakable Violence


IMAGINE that you’re a Somali suffering from the drought and famine in that country. One of your children has just starved to death, but there’s no time to mourn. Depleted and traumatized, you set off on foot across the desert with your family, and after 15 exhausting days finally reach what you believe is the safe haven of Kenya.

But at the very moment when you think you’re secure, you encounter a nightmare broached only in whispers: an epidemic of violence and rape. As Somalis stream across the border into Kenya, at a rate of about 1,000 a day, they are frequently prey to armed bandits who rob men and rape women in the 50-mile stretch before they reach Dadaab, now the world’s largest refugee camp.

It is difficult to know how many women are raped because the subject is taboo. But more than half of the newly arrived Somalis I interviewed, mostly with the help of CARE, said they had been attacked by bandits, sometimes in Somalia but very often on Kenyan soil. Some had been attacked two or three times.

In short, this seems like an instance of mass rape — adding one more layer of misery to the world’s most desperate humanitarian crisis. The United Nations warns that 750,000 Somalis are at risk of starving to death in the coming months, and it’s increasingly clear that those who try to save themselves and their children must endure a gantlet of robbers and rapists.

“There were three places where bandits attacked us,” a 35-year-old mother told me. “The first two times they took money and food. The last time, I had nothing left to give them. So they raped me.” The rape, by three men, occurred inside Kenya.

Another woman, a 20-year-old, said she was raped twice during her journey, first in Somalia and then after she had crossed into Kenya. One time, she said, the rapists left her naked in the desert.

Although Somalian culture sometimes blames a woman for being raped, there seems less of that now, perhaps because so many have been brutalized. The 20-year-old said her husband would not divorce her: “My husband still loves me,” she said simply.

For unmarried women, rapes often involve tearing and physical injuries. That’s because Somali girls often undergo an extreme kind of genital cutting, infibulation, that involves slicing off the genitals and sewing up the vagina with a wild thorn.

The bandits, who are virtually all ethnically Somali, seem to fear the Shabab militia on the Somalian side of the border. On the Kenyan side, which is sparsely populated with little police presence, they feel impunity.

Aid groups have begun sending out vehicles to search for refugees near the border, sparing them the final few days of hiking. That has helped, but the vehicles can’t rescue everyone.

One obvious solution is to establish reception centers along the border, and then bus refugees to Dadaab. Kenya isn’t embracing that idea, however, for fear of an even larger Somali influx.

It would be unfair to beat up on Kenya, for by international standards it has borne its responsibilities and been quite hospitable to Somali refugees. It doesn’t turn people away from Dadaab, and so Kenya’s third-largest city is now a Somali refugee camp. Yet the fact remains: To avert mass rape and violence, Kenya must permit aid agencies to establish reception centers at the Kenya-Somalia border.

Americans also suffer from compassion fatigue, and that brings me to a final point. In a previous column from Dadaab, I told of a father of eight who had lost two of his children to starvation and feared that he would lose three more. Many readers responded bluntly that when men have eight children, it is pointless to help. Saving Somalis, they say, reflects a soggy sentimentality and runs against a Malthusian constraint of mouths multiplying more rapidly than food.

This view is both repulsive and wrong. I often write about the need for more family planning, but Somalis have eight children partly because they know that several may die. If we help save lives now so that parents can be confident their kids will survive, family size will drop. Likewise, educate girls and they will have fewer children.

That is what has happened around the world: In India, women now average 2.6 births, down from about six in 1950. This pattern is a reason to support family planning and girls’ education — not a reason to let children die.

We mustn’t turn away from starving children because their mothers had no access to education or contraception. It would be monstrous to allow Somalis to starve to death because they lost the same lottery of birth that all of us won.

Source: The New York Times

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Somalia’s future debated at UN

Two dozen countries debated the future of Somalia at the United Nations on Friday, weeks after a plan was launched to lift the country out of a political impasse.

The roadmap adopted on September 6 demands the end of the transitional government, which has proven incapable of restoring peace and authority to a country ravaged by 20 years of civil war.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the roadmap as a “crucial step toward building a stable, prosperous future for the Somali people” as she urged Somali leaders to take up the task.

“If Somali leaders do not follow the roadmap that has been negotiated by Africans for Africans, then I don’t know that the international community will be here next year and the year after with support. It is now up to Somalis,”the top US diplomat said.

One of the most delicate topics concerns finding agreement on a new government structure in a Somalia riveted by significant tribal tensions and bitter political rivalry.

“The Horn of Africa is the most complex, volatile and climatically challenged region in Africa today,” a senior US official said ahead of the UN meeting.

“Somalia is at the center of these many challenges and faces a humanitarian crisis, a security crisis and a political set of challenges.”

Meeting participants “stressed the importance of conducting popular consultations on the draft constitution and the reform of parliament to enable adoption of a new constitution by a representative body without delay,” a UN statement said.

“The meeting affirmed the importance of the development of government institutions and civilian capacity building across Somalia.” Delegations also expressed concern about the “expanding reach and increased levels of violence” of Somali pirates, and discussed the role of the African Union Mission in Somalia.

Last week, Somalia made a request at the UN Security Council for AMISOM’s personnel limits is nearly doubled from 12,000 to 20,000 peacekeepers.

The UN was expected to devote an entire meeting to the humanitarian crisis triggered by a drought in the region.

Some four million Somalis have been hit by famine and 750,000 could die, according to the United Nations. And the international community has increasingly denounced the Shebab for preventing aid to reach the needy, forcing a massive exodus to Kenya and Ethiopia.

Shebab’s efforts to block access to vulnerable areas of Somalia “has exacerbated this crisis,” said Clinton.

Source: AFP

Young Canadian-Somalis drawn to activism

By renata d’aliesio
From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Abdiqani Mohamed unleashes a chant, sensing his group’s spirits are reeling from tiredness after a day of downpours and blisters.

“God is great,” he bellows in Somali. “God is great,” the group responds, gaining vigour with each refrain before setting off from the parking lot of a beige-brick strip mall in Pickering, just east of Toronto.

They have a long walk ahead: 350 kilometres to reach the nation’s capital by Monday. Famine in their homeland has brought these 20 young Canadian-Somalis together. They’re bonded by a common goal: to raise money and awareness for a humanitarian crisis that the United Nations estimates has killed tens of thousands of people and threatens, over the next four months, to starve to death 750,000 Somalis.

Walk for Somalia is one of several youth-driven groups that has formed in Toronto in response to the drought, violence and famine ravaging the African country. Long-time community leaders say they’re seeing an unprecedented level of engagement among young Canadian-Somalis, a spirit they hope will eventually be channelled into challenges facing other Somali youth in Toronto.

In a sense, the crisis in the Horn of Africa has precipitated their coming of age. Many young Canadian-Somalis are recent graduates of college or university. They’ve grown up in Canada; their parents sought refuge in the early 1990s, when the current civil war broke out in Somalia.

Year by year, they’ve watched from afar their old country disintegrate into one of the most violent and impoverished places on Earth. Now, galvanized by stark images and news stories of starving mothers, fathers and children, young Canadian-Somalis want to make a difference.

The UN has declared famine in six regions of south Somalia, which is mainly controlled by Islamist militants known as al-Shabaab. The international agency estimates 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

“It’s a huge, huge catastrophe. We need to stand up. We need to do something about it,” Mr. Mohamed says as he strides past roomy two-storey houses, rows and rows of them in the suburbs of Pickering.

“Canada is a very unique society that can take leadership on this issue. It’s got so much to share with the world,” adds the 33-year-old entrepreneur whose brother, Somali-American Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, was briefly prime minister of their African homeland, from October, 2010, to June, 2011.

Toronto houses one of the largest Somali populations in North America and Europe. Canada’s official census pegs the Somali population at nearly 38,000, but the Canadian Somali Congress believes the figure actually stands around 200,000, with the majority residing in Toronto.

Canada’s Somali diaspora is an important contingent. Somalia’s Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, visited Toronto recently, appealing for financial aid and for government assistance in training military and police before attending a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York. His speech at a Toronto airport hotel last weekend drew about 1,000 Canadian-Somalis.

Famine has crippled Somalia before. Between 1991 and 1993, more than 200,000 people died and two million Somalis were displaced. For those who settled in Canada, fundraising wasn’t a big focus as they struggled to establish a new life, get their children to school and put food on the table.

“They couldn’t really respond in the way they have now,” says Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress. “We were trying to adapt. We didn’t have much purchasing power, economic power. We were much less integrated into Canadian society at the time.”

Famine fundraising efforts in Toronto this summer have ranged from small backyard barbecues to banquet-hall dinners and collections at subways and mosques. Canadian-Somali hip-hop artist K’naan has spoken out, pledging to establish the Somalia Legacy Fund next month to support Somali-led projects to alleviate poverty, famine and health threats.

Mr. Hussen doesn’t know how much money community events have raised, but estimates the tally is in the millions of dollars. And the constant flow of remittance hasn’t stopped. Around the world, the Somali diaspora sends about $1-billion each year to Somalia, Mr. Hussen says.

“Without remittances, Somalia wouldn’t stay afloat,” he notes.

In all, Canadians have pledged at least $36-million to famine relief. The federal government has agreed to match donations made by Sept. 16, but groups such as Walk for Somalia are advocating for an extension.

While touring Europe with her mother this summer, Fatouma Ahmed couldn’t get images of starving Somali children out of her mind. This was her first big vacation after graduating two years ago from York University, where she studied international affairs and sociology.

Ms. Ahmed, 25, felt guilty. Born in northern Somalia, she was seven years old when her family moved to Toronto in 1994. She has thrived in Canada, securing a good job with the federal government after university. She believes it’s her duty to help.

“We came here to have a better opportunity, and because we have a better opportunity, it doesn’t mean that we can turn a blind eye to what’s happening back home to our brothers and sisters,” she says. “We feel a sense of belonging. It’s our people, at the end of the day.”

When Ms. Ahmed returned to Toronto in early August, she immediately began phoning her friends in a bid to organize a fundraiser: Concerned Youth Bringing Hope to Somalia was born. Within a month, the group’s seven members planned a silent auction and a dinner for 200 people at Thorncliffe Banquet Hall, securing $90,000 in pledges for Human Concern International, a Canadian charity that works in Somalia and other poor and war-torn countries.

Tribal conflicts have long divided Somalis, but Ms. Ahmed sees a shift occurring at home, in Canada, especially among the younger generation.

“For the first time, I feel a sense of unity among all of us because we’re all fighting for one cause and we’re all fighting for a better Somalia,” she says.

Next month, Toronto youth groups that have formed in response to the Somalia famine plan to come together and talk. They want to learn from each other’s experiences and explore what to do next. Many see a role for themselves in building a better Somalia, even if that role isn’t entirely clear at the moment.

Faduma Mohamed has been a mentor to many of the Canadian-Somali youth groups. She says they’ve been at the forefront of the community’s famine-relief campaigns. The question now facing her and other community leaders is how best to foster this heightened level of youth engagement and make sure it lasts.

Mr. Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress, hopes to channel some of that energy into challenges facing young Canadian-Somalis in Toronto and other parts of the country. For him, education is top of mind. Toronto District School Board statistics have shown students from certain ethnic groups, including Portuguese, Persian and Somali, are dropping out of high school at a disproportionate rate.

Back on the sidewalks of Pickering, 20 young Canadian-Somalis are focused on the steps ahead, 350 kilometres’ worth on the way to Ottawa. They’re marching in 20 communities, hoping to inspire more Canadians to give and political leaders to act.

If all goes according to plan, they’ll end their journey at 2 p.m. Monday, hopefully with $1-million in donation pledges. Along the way, they also hope to change perceptions about their generation.

“Canada has invested in us and we have intense human capital. Why not actually indulge in it and utilize it?” says 27-year-old Shadya Yasin, who helped organize the walk. “This is an opportunity for us to do something.”

Source: The Globe and Mail

Transcripts of phone calls show Somali terror suspect talked of men who left, city in 'uproar'

Transcripts of phone calls recorded in the government's investigation into young Somali men believed to have joined al-Shabab suggest that a man accused of aiding some of the travelers was worried about an "uproar" in Minneapolis, thought about leaving town and planned what he would say if questioned.

Recordings of the calls were played in federal court in Minneapolis last week during a hearing for Mahamud Said Omar, 45, who faces five terror-related counts. The calls were translated from Somali to English, and transcripts were made public late Thursday.

The government said the calls are between Omar and another man, whom prosecutors did not identify.

Matt Forsgren, Omar's attorney, said in court last week that the second man was Abdifatah Isse — a young Somali who has pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists and is awaiting sentencing. Forsgren also implied last week that his client might not be part of the conversations.

When asked to elaborate Friday, Forsgren said: "I'm not accepting anything in this case, including the transcribed phone conversations, at face value." He said he planned to address them at a hearing Oct. 17.

Omar is charged in the investigation into the recruitment of at least 21 men who authorities believe left Minnesota to join al-Shabab, classified by the U.S. government as a terror group, in Somalia.

Court documents filed by prosecutors suggest Omar helped with recruiting and was involved with travelers who left in 2007 and 2008. They allege he gave money to some of the men who left for Somalia in 2007, that he provided funding for assault rifles and an al-Shabab safe house while in Somalia in 2008 and that he hosted a gathering for some travelers in Minnesota days before they left.

His family has said he's innocent.

But according to the transcripts, Omar told the person on the other end of the line how to get a visa and a ticket to Africa, and which route would be best to get to "M-town." Somalia's capital city is Mogadishu.

Omar said he would give his counterpart "the old man's telephone ... and he will take you right from there." Omar also talked about men who "left," about ongoing fighting in Somalia, and he said he gave $100 to someone named "Mustaf" — a common moniker among Somalis.

The calls were recorded by the FBI on Nov. 3, 2008, Nov. 10, 2008, and Nov. 12, 2008 — in the days surrounding the departures of at least six young men — five Somalis and one Muslim convert — who left Minneapolis for Somalia.

While Omar doesn't mention outright where the men traveled, on the Nov. 3 call, he said: "Some of them are leaving today and the others are leaving tomorrow." Court documents show that some of the men left Minneapolis on Nov. 3 and Nov. 4, bound for Somalia.

News of the alleged terror recruitment became public about that time as family members reported their young men were missing. While the city of Minneapolis is not mentioned by name, Omar is quoted as saying: "The whole city was in uproar." He says specifically in the Nov. 10 call: "the word on the street is ... the Majerteen clan ... is very upset."

"You can't imagine the atmosphere in this town," he added.

The family of Burhan Hassan, one of the young men who left Minneapolis Nov. 4, is from the Majerteen clan, and was among the most vocal in speaking out against the terror recruitment. Hassan, 17 when he left, later died in Somalia.

In the Nov. 10 call, when Omar was asked if the men arrived safely, he said he didn't know and hadn't heard from them. Two days later, the two men talked about the situation in the cities in Somalia.

"They have captured all the way to Marka and the surrounding area," Omar said.

"You mean our men?" the other man asks. "Yes," said Omar.

Marka is a city along the coast of Somalia, southwest of Mogadishu. The men go on to say that once the coastal area is captured, it will be "all over" and "like they entered Mogadishu."

Omar said: "That is really good news," according to the transcript.

Omar also recounts a conversation he had with someone at Abubakar As-Saddique mosque who he says taught the young men. Omar said he warned that man that he would be responsible if any men left. A message left at the mosque was not returned Friday, but the mosque has repeatedly said it played no role in recruiting.

Omar and the other man also talked about an unnamed boy who appeared to be with someone in Somalia, and Omar said he wanted to get out of town himself.

"I swear, I want to leave right away," he said, later adding: "Son, now, if all the youth leave ... and I am in the city somewhere ... they are coming flashing ... so today, I tempted to go to North Dakota."

Omar also detailed his plans to go to Hajj later that month, and expressed concern that he was in the "spotlight" and his travel plans might be affected. Omar did make that trip in late November, but did not return to Minneapolis as scheduled.

According to the transcripts, Omar also said he had a plan for what he would say if questioned about the travels.

"I am an innocent man who resides in this city," Omar said, adding that he would "tell the truth" to whomever questions.

"'I tried to make them understand everything, I told them there is nothing there, I told them everything, but they couldn't be convinced,' that is what I will say," he said. "I want to defend myself from any front, I swear."

E.K. Wilson, who is overseeing the FBI's investigation in Minneapolis, declined to comment on the recordings or transcripts because the case is pending in federal court. He said the investigation is still "very much ongoing."

Source: The Associated Press