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Saturday, March 31, 2012

At least one dead, 14 wounded in Mombasa attack

Mombasa, Kenya (AFP) - At least one person was killed and 14 others were wounded in attacks on a restaurant in the Kenyan city of Mombasa and a church gathering in the nearby town of Mtwapa, police said.

In Mtwapa "what appears to be a grenade" was thrown at a Christian religious gathering injuring 12 people, Coast province police chief Aggrey Adoli told AFP.

A second police source, who asked not to be named, said one of the 12 died from his injuries on his way to or on arrival at hospital.

Adoli said that a second grenade was "hurled at a restaurant in Mombasa" and that three people, including one police officer, sustained minor injuries.

He had earlier said no one was injured in the Mombasa attack, which local people said targeted a restaurant next door to the football stadium popular with non-Muslims and renowned for serving pork delicacies.

"It's people from upcountry who go there and they go for the pork dishes," another local police officer told AFP.

Adoli said the first blast in Mtwapa occurred after 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) and the second within minutes of it.

Since Kenya sent tanks and troops into Somalia late last year, a whole series of grenade attacks and explosions have taken place, both in Nairobi and in eastern towns and camps housing Somali refugees close to the border.

Targets have ranged from police vehicles to local bars to churches. The Kenyan authorities often blame such attacks on Somalia's Al Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels.

Blasts in Nairobi have targeted bus terminuses and back-street bars. Attackers who lobbed grenades into a church compound in the eastern town of Garissa in November, killing two, were heard shouting about the consumption of alcohol.

A later attack on Garissa on New Year's Eve killed five people and injured 21 when attackers threw grenades into an open air bar and then gunned down party goers as they scattered.

Saturday's blasts were the first reported in the coastal areas, which are among Kenya's great tourist magnets, since the Somalia incursion.

Mombasa's resort hotels line the coast, away from the town centre.

Earlier this month attackers tossed four grenades into a busy bus terminus in Nairobi, killing nine people and wounded more than 60. The attack was the deadliest since an Al Qaeda-claimed bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa in 2002.

Somalia's extremist Shebab rebels whom Kenya blamed for staging that attack denied responsibility, but threatened to launch attacks on a much bigger scale against Nairobi, in retaliation for its crossing into Somalia.

Some observers see the attacks as the work of isolated Shebab sympathisers, arguing that they have so far spared the high-profile international targets such as luxury resorts or safari camps that would cause significant damage to Kenya's economy by hurting tourism, a sector that has only just recovered from the impact of the post-election violence in 2008.

Source: AFP

South Sudan: Indians, Somali, Lebanese Occupy Local Markets

The Advisor in the South Sudan Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agricultural Land Matters who is also Chairman of Import & Export Garang Gout Chol said last Monday in his office during an interview on his role and duty that eighteen National Units to control the markets plus other things have been working for three months in the department of imports and exports.

The national unit for exports and imports, that for small industries and professions, the one for transport which are composed of (a) road transport, (b) river transport, (c) air transport (d) railway transport unit. The units of national agricultural and animal production, the national wholesale, the national retailers and the national services and economic units.

He said his role and duty are to supervise the goods coming from outside and inside the country and to control the flow by monitoring all wholesalers in the markets.

For example sugar bought from exporting countries like Dubai, Brazil, Cuba, America is to be brought with reasonable prices and receipts of all stores.

In the South what are exported are rice, groundnuts, sesame, sorghum/dura, cassava, red and white meat. Different kinds of fruits are also produced in western Equatoria State, Upper Nile and Bahr- El- Ghazal in addition to those items like gum of South Sudan, skin from cattle, oil/petroleum etc.

Guot however said that there is no control in the markets where oil is very expensive in the stations, e.g. 5 liters of oil/ petroleum & diesel cost 30 SSP. He said these high prices were because the government itself allowed the sellers to sell with those amounts. On their part he said they don't want the economy of the country to be in the hands of foreigners.

Gout said, governments are supposed to support national companies through banks, especially the commercial ones. He said it would be a danger to give licenses of exports to foreigners and now the market itself are occupied by them.

He pointed that foreigners who have come to South Sudan form commercial organizations or chambers but that it is not good for the government of South Sudan to allow foreigners to form chambers especially by Somali, Indians and Lebanese.

Gout said, the foreigners who entered South Sudan don't have any source, but they occupy markets and even some of the residences are all full of foreigners who sign plots contracts with the citizens of South Sudan for more than 30 years and that is dangerous.

As a chamber of commerce, he said they have called for introduction of laws to regulate business activities. The Ministries involved would be of Commerce, of investment, of Finance and Economic Planning, of Justice, of Agriculture, because it will supply machines for cultivation, of Health to deal with clinics, pharmacies, of Wildlife, Animal Resources and of Interior which will help them in case when the traders/retailers bring expired goods.

In addition to that, the 10 states of South Sudan chambers of commerce will cooperate with them in the same system.

Meanwhile he said, they now are planning to build markets near borders between South Sudan with Zaire/Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan. So those small traders can bring there goods from those markets.

He explained that the license for exports comes from the Ministry of Commerce and they will go the citizens. The laws for foreigners make up 69% and national companies have 31% in term of investment. As a chamber they don't allow this, because anyone who wants to invest is to have at least 20,000 SSP to 40,000 SSP.

They want investors for agriculture, industry plus others and the license is only allowed to the national companies. Some of their people are now working for the local laws soon it will be out, he concluded.

Source: AllAfrica

Somali man sentenced in Virginia to life in prison for yacht hijacking that left 4 dead

A Somali man has received a life sentence for his role in the hijacking of an American yacht.

A federal judge in Norfolk, Va., sentenced Said Abdi Fooley on Friday. He had pleaded guilty to piracy, which carries a mandatory life term.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith recommended the Bureau of Prisons consider Fooley’s language barrier when placing him so that he can further his education.

Fooley is among 11 men who pleaded guilty to piracy for hijacking the Quest off the coast of Africa in February 2011. The owners of the yacht, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., and their friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle were fatally shot after negotiations with the U.S. Navy broke down.

Three other men face murder charges.

Source: The Associated Press

Somali, AU Forces Seize Area From al-Shabab

African Union forces supporting the Somali government say they have seized an area near the capital from Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

A spokesman for the AU force, known as AMISOM, told VOA that al-Shabab was driven from the Daynile district Friday.

“AMISOM conducted an operation, and the objective was to capture district of Daynile. We have captured it successfully, including Daynile hospital…. and we are now operating farther forward to get the Daynile airfield.”

The spokesman, Paddy Ankunda, predicted AMISOM would capture the airfield as well, and plans to attack other al-Shabab strongholds in the coming days.

He said one AU soldier was killed in Friday's fighting, and four others injured. A local VOA reporter put the overall death toll at six.

Al-Shabab once controlled most of southern and central Somalia, including most of Mogadishu, but has been pushed out of the capital by AU and Somali government forces.

The al-Qaida-linked group is also facing pressure from Ethiopian troops in central Somalia, and Kenyan troops in the south.

The militant group is trying to overthrow the U.N.-backed Somali government and impose a harsh version of Islamic law on the country.

Source: VOA

Friday, March 30, 2012

Minnesota Somali named to federal autism panel

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has named a Minnesotan to serve on a federal autism advisory committee.

Somali-American Idil Abdull, who lives in Burnsville, has a son with autism and is co-founder of the Somali American Autism Foundation. She'll serve on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. She has helped push for more research of the illness.

Abdull said autism appears to be more prevalent among some ethnic groups, and she hopes to represent those communities — many of which face language, cultural, or economic barriers in healthcare.

"I will like answers — I will like answers for better services for better treatment, for equality for children of color, and all kids, and also for real, good, hard-core research that tries to find the answers," Abdull said.

The federal government released new estimates Thursday showing that about one in 88 children in the United States has autism or a related disorder. That's the highest estimate to date.

Abdull said the new estimate validates what she's seen in her community.

"The numbers are there," Abdull said. "Autism is just so common right now. If you live in Minnesota, it's as common as the lakes."

Abdull said she plans to make regular appearances in Somali media to update parents on the federal committee's progress.

Source: Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)

Pro-Somali troops under scrutiny

Fighters loyal to the transitional government in Somalia are suspected of torture and summary executions, Human Rights Watch said.

Ethiopian forces allied with two Somali militias in December to run al-Shabaab out of an area near the shared border with Ethiopia.

Civilians in the area told Human Rights Watch that the situation was tense because of abuses allegedly committed by forces allied with Ethiopian troops.

"Civilians in Beletweyne and Baidoa hoped that threats, fear, and repression would diminish with al-Shabaab's departure," Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement from Nairobi. "Instead, the arrival of the Ethiopian forces and their militia allies has meant that one set of abusive authorities has been replaced by another."

The rights group said it was told of summary executions and torture at the hands of militia groups. Somali nations said the security situation in the region was unpredictable.

"Wartime attacks never justify summary executions," Lefkow added. "All armed groups need to stop such atrocities."

The interim government in Somalia was praised for gains made recently. It's been able to extend its authority beyond the capital Mogadishu as al-Shabaab loses ground in the war-torn country. The tenure for the interim government expires in August.


Tunisia: Teenage Somali Refugee Aims to Become a Hip Hop Superstar

Saber, a young Somali refugee in Tunisia's Choucha camp, wants to become a hip hop artist. (Photo Courtesy UNHCR/R. Nuri)

Saber has his future mapped out. "It's clear to me I'm going to be a big star," says the budding hip hop artist. But then he adds, "Without my family, my dream is nothing," and it hits you that however confident he may be, he's still a vulnerable teenager who needs help.

The 17-year-old refugee has been stuck at the Choucha transit centre near the Tunisian-Libya border crossing for a year and now waits anxiously to hear if the United States - the home of hip hop - has accepted him for resettlement. It's a slow process, but as an unaccompanied minor he is regarded by the UN refugee agency as particularly vulnerable.

Isabelle Misic, a senior UNHCR protection officer, said unaccompanied minors "not only face the hardship of staying in another country as children, but they are also at risk of abuse and exploitation in the absence of their parents." UNHCR closely monitors the situation of children in Choucha and has helped establish community networks to support some 100 unaccompanied minors still in the camp, in addition to providing schooling, sport and recreational activities through the Danish Refugee Council.

Saber fled the war in his native Somalia five years ago, ending up in Libya before fleeing to Tunisia in March last year after anti-government protests that led to the eventual downfall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime. He clearly wants to get out of Choucha. "It's too cold, or too hot. It's windy. I dont feel happy in this place." Seeing other unaccompanied children leave for resettlement in Europe recently has been difficult.

But the teenager has been making the most of his time, gathering a loyal following among the more than 3,000 refugees and asylum-seekers - mainly single young males from sub-Saharan Africa - for his hip hop wizardry. The young man, as "S'Joe," performs once a week at a community centre run at the site by the Danish Refugee Council. When UNHCR visited, he was entertaining dozens of young children at a party held to keep spirits up for those awaiting news on resettlement to third countries.

Saber has clearly never suffered from a lack of self-belief. When he was just 12 he decided to leave Mogadishu without telling his family, as "I was afraid they would say I couldn't go because I was too young," and headed off with a neighbouring family to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

"There was a security problem in my country," he told UNHCR, understating the bitter conflict that began ravaging Somalia four years before he was even born. "Also, I never had any opportunity to get a proper education in Mogadishu," added Saber, the eldest of nine children, citing his other key reason for leaving the Somali capital.

After two months in Ethiopia, his Mogadishu neighbours left for Europe, leaving the youngster on his own. He fell in with a group of young Somali men who agreed to take him with them to the Sudan capital, Khartoum. "I stayed in Khartoum for eight months and I tried to get work, but employers said I was too young." So he joined another group who were going to Libya. "I didn't have to pay. We entered Libya at Kufra [in the south-east]."

His luck ran out near the eastern town of Ajdabiya, where he and his guardians were arrested and detained for six months, only being released after paying money. Saber's next stop was Tripoli, at the end of 2008, where his musical career began.

"I liked music so I created a group called 'Oncod Again' [Thunder Again]," he said. The teen rapped in Somali, while his older bandmates - three girls and one guy - provided backing. He also learned "from Libyan friends, who bought me a guitar" and says now that, "When people saw me, I said I was trying to be a musician and they supported me."

The band performed mostly in people's homes, but were ready to move to the next level. "On March 17, we were planning to do a big concert," Saber recalled, "But the war intervened." Nine days before the gig, he had joined the tens of thousands of other foreigners streaming across the border into Tunisia at Ras Adjir, just seven kilometres from Choucha. "I was afraid about the war and sought safety," he explained.

There's not a lot to do in Choucha, but Saber has been pursuing his dream here. And he's found a mentor and teacher, a 30-year-old rapper who introduced himself as "SD." The Nigerian has been teaching "S'Joe" how to rap and write lyrics. SD saw his pupil performing at the Danish Refugee Council's community centre.

"I thought this guy is good," but lacked musical training and decent equipment, said SD, who has been sharing his knowledge. For starters, they have to use a mobile phone to download backing music because they don't have a computer that would allow them to create their own sounds.

"We look for beats and then do whatever we want," SD said, adding: "We sing about the things around us." Saber also regularly watches MTV on a neighbour's set for inspiration. And the two have already created a portfolio of work, with titles like "Tears of Pain," "Disguise my Limits," "Choucha Gospel" and "Don't Go Back," which is a message to those in Choucha who think of returning to Libya to make the dangerous sea crossing to Europe.

And aside from fuelling his ambition and optimism, hip hop is also helping with Saber's education. He sings mostly in Somali, but notes that for real success "there is something missing - English." So he's been attending language classes, determined to add another string to his hip hop bow.

Meanwhile, two things prey on his mind - his family and resettlement, following referral of his case to the United States for consideration. With the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross he talks to his kin every Friday by telephone. He hopes that one day they will be reunited in a new country, where they can all follow their dreams.

Source: AllAfrica

Somali-American photographer presents a new view of his community

By Nikki Tundel, Minnesota Public Radio

Gallery goers check out Mohamud Mumin's photographs at the Whittier Gallery in Minneapolis, Minn., on March 24, 2102. (MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel)

A photography exhibit at the Whittier Gallery in Minneapolis aims to showcase young Somali men who are improving the lives of others in the Twin Cities.

After years of seeing images of Somali terrorists in the news, photographer Mohamud Mumin wanted to offer a different picture of his community. His first solo show will do just that.

"For me, it's being able to capture an image," Mumin said. "And also trying to tell stories that often times don't get heard or seen."

The exhibit features larger than life-sized images of 13 Somali men who are, as Mumin puts it, "dedicated, passionate and positively engaged in the community."

As Mumin unrolls a portrait of a Somali teenager, the necktie appears first. Then the lips and the crinkled nose. And then the eyes -- which must measure 2 feet across.

The portrait itself is huge -- more than 5 feet tall and more than 3 feet wide.

"I wanted something big," Mumin said. "It's always good to see something up close."

The young men in Mumin's photos include artists and teachers, a youth ambassador to the White House and the founder of the Somali Basketball League. For them, getting to this point hasn't been easy.

Like all the subjects, Kaamil Haider is a refugee. His family fled their war-torn homeland when he was 6 years old, crammed onto a cattle boat heading to Yemen. They were stopped within sight of the shore, and were not allowed to go any farther because the coast guard was concerned there were militia members on the boat.

"People started jumping off the boat," Haider recalled. "My brother dragged me on his back. On the way, we bumped into little children that passed away. I will never forget that image, moving them to the side so we could get to the coastline."

Haider said the war in Somalia profoundly shaped his identity. Still, "refugee" is just one part of who he is. Today he's a graphic designer and volunteers much of his time at a mosque. He's grateful that Mohamud Mumin's photographs represent the lives people are living now.

"I believe Mohamud's work is shifting away from being a refugee, being an immigrant, and moving towards shining a light on young Somali men that are doing something for the community, for the world, for themselves," he said.

The show opened last Saturday night at the Whittier Gallery in south Minneapolis. Photographer Mohamud Mumin stood quietly in the corner, surveying two years' worth of work.

"Maybe I'll need a moment to just take it all in," he said quietly.

Gallery goers -- both Somali and non-Somali -- positioned themselves squarely in front of the portraits. Some moved in closer and closer, until their cheeks almost brushed those on the images in front of them.

"That's me right there," called Ahmed Ali.

Ali is a teacher and mentor in the Somali community and one of the men showcased in the exhibit.

"This guy here, Ahmed Ali," said Ali, pointing at his picture, "he is black, he is Somali, he is Muslim. But he is also a great citizen, a taxpayer. He cares for his community and he's not so scary. Ha!"

Nearby, Abdifatah Farah, a community activist and youth advocate, posed for a few photos in front of his portrait.

"Honestly speaking, I really, really like looking at that picture," said Farah. "It looks like a mug shot, but a good one. If you were to take a mug shot for people doing great things, this is what it looks like. I think the Somali community is going to look at all these photos and be like, 'We are SO proud of them. They are our brothers. They are our sons. They are our family and this is our community.'"

It's a story photographer Mohamud Mumin says he's privileged to be able to share.

"I'm hoping it brings people from different walks of life together," he said.

Then Mumin locked eyes with the giant portrait in front of him and smiled.

Source: Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

JICA to Support Water Project in Ethiopia’s Somali Region

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is to launch a project named, “Jerrer Valley and Shebele Sub-Basin Water Supply Development Plan, and Emergency Water Supply”, to formulate the water supply development plan and to provide the emergency water supply equipment in the Somali Region of Ethiopia.L-R - Mr. Ota Koji, Chief Representative of JICA and Mr. Moses Okello, UNHCR Representative in Ethiopia

JICA has signed agreement with Ministry of Water and Energy of Ethiopia to implement the project estimated to cost 9 million US dollars within the one and half year duration of the project. This is the first time for JICA to directly implement a project in the Somali Region with the deployment of Japanese experts on the ground, even though JICA has 40 years of history of technical cooperation in Ethiopia.

The project is in response to the official request of the Government of Ethiopia to the Government of Japan. The 2011 drought crisis in the Horn of Africa has been the most severe emergency of its kind in this century. More than 10.4 million people remain affected in the region including a large number of Somali refugees still displaced. This part of the continent is prone to climate change and characterized by erratic and unpredictable rainfall. The Somali Region of Ethiopia is frequently affected by droughts resulting in acute water shortages.

The project outcomes include i) assessment of the potential of water resources and preparation of the water supply development plan in Jerrer Valley and Shebele Sub-Basin; ii) developing capacity of the counterpart personnel in the planning of the water supply; iii) improving the water supply in Kebribeya town; iv) conducting a feasibility study in Gode town; and v) providing emergency water supply equipment.

In order to implement the project, on 28 March 2012 JICA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Office in Ethiopia. UNHCR, with its long history and presence in the area and thorough knowledge of refugee and host communities, will assist JICA in the implementation of this project particularly in Kebribeya town which is located less than 75 kilometers from the border of Somalia. In total more than 56,000 people from the local community, who have limited access to the safe water as well as 16,400 Somali refugees in the camp will benefit from this project.

At the ceremony of signing of the MoU UNHCR Representative in Ethiopia Mr. Moses Okello expressed his gratitude to JICA, the Government of Japan and the people of Japan for extending of their assistance to the people of Ethiopia who have been generously hosting refugees. The local population and refugees need assistance, including water, what is the focus of this project, noted the UNHCR Representative. Mr. Ota Koji, Chief Representative of JICA said that Japan itself is prone to various natural disasters, therefore needs of the people of Ethiopia are well understood by the people of Japan. He added that Japanese experts are ready to start the work in the Somali region in the nearest time.

The contribution from JICA to Kebribeya town will include the drilling of two boreholes, replacement of three surface water pumps, procurement of two generators, a construction of the generator house, pipes and fittings for connection with the main water supply system as well as a construction of five communal water supply points.

This is the second joint project between JICA and UNHCR in Ethiopia. The first project was completed in September 2011 with the provision of the emergency supplies (tents and generators) from JICA to UNHCR for the Dollo Ado refugee camps which host a large number of Somali refugees, some 149,000 since July 2011.

Source: New Business Ethiopia

On the cultures beat: Somalis find out what's in a name

By ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune

Last week I wrote a story about a group of Somali poets including one who goes by his nickname, Abdi Phenomenal.

The unusual nickname got me thinking about all the other local Somalis I've encountered who have colorful nicknames.

There's "Happy" Khalif, the upbeat barber at the oldest Somali mall in Minneapolis.

And "Halloween," a video producer and aspiring actor who looks, well, kind of scary.

I'm not sure how the whole nickname thing got started in Somali culture, but some say it was a matter of necessity.

"There are so many 'Mohameds,'" explained Abdirahman Mukhtar, the outreach liaison for the Hennepin County Library system.

Ditto for the Abdis.

Somali nicknames are distinctive. In fact, some only know a person by his or her nickname.

The first name of the owner of a popular Somali restaurant in town is Osman, and in naming the place after himself, he chose to use his flattering nickname.

So instead of "Osman's," the restaurant is called "Qoraxlow," meaning "handsome."

Somali nicknames usually describe a physical feature. For example, people with baby faces are given the nickname "yare," which means "small," a reference to looking young.

Sometimes, the nickname is something that would be considered derogatory in the dominant culture. For example, a stuttering child may be called "shigshigaaye," meaning "stutter" in Somali.

And while members of the older generation have nicknames in the Somali language, those who grew up here have new nicknames -- ones that reflect their American upbringing.

Mukhtar rattled off a few he's heard: Machiavelli, Mo (short for Mohammed) and Biggie (for someone who's fat).

"One thing I find," he said, "is that someone will give you that nickname one day and it will stick with you forever."

Maybe that's why, so far, he has avoided getting one.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

Source: Star Tribune

Pakistani negotiator says Somali pirates agree to free Malaysian-owned ship for ransom

A Pakistani negotiator for a Malaysian-owned ship held by Somali pirates says he has reached agreement to free the crew in exchange for a ransom of almost $3 million.

The pirates have been holding MV Albedo for more than a year.

Negotiator Ahmed Chenoy says they would free its 23 crew members after agreeing to a ransom payment of $2.85 million. Chenoy did not say who would provide the money. He said it will be delivered to the pirates by plane by April 20.

The Kenya-bound ship was hijacked in November 2010 in the Gulf of Aden. Its crew members come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Iran.

Chenoy is an official in Pakistan’s Sindh province. He said Wednesday he reached out to the ship’s hijackers through Dubai-based Somali merchants.

Source: The Associated Press

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rochester, NY center a base camp for Somali refugees

They savor freedom in U.S., but worry about future; some struggle

Smell the food and listen to the voices. On Saturdays at the Somali Community and Development Association in Rochester, it’s as if you’re far away in Somalia.

But look out the cracked front-door window of the association’s community center in a chilly Rochester, and Somalia is yet again a distant land.

Refugees from the ravages of civil war in their East African homeland, the Somalis at the center on South Plymouth Avenue can feel caught between two worlds.

They enjoy and cherish the gift of freedom the U.S. offers. They are glad and grateful to be here.

But the gift brings challenges: How do you adapt to the new culture, a new language, different weather and different food? How do you change but not change? How do you walk the tightrope of being both Somali and American?

“Growing up here wasn’t all fun and games, as I faced normal teenage issues along with cultural ones,” says Halima Aweis, 14, of Henrietta, who was born in this country six months after her parents arrived from Somalia. “Balancing the (issues) was difficult at first, but I found a way to make it work. Especially with the support from my family, friends, and Somali community.”

Aweis, a freshman at Rush-Henrietta High School, is a regular at the center, attending with her parents. She’s one of several young people who help smaller children polish their Somali-language skills as a way of keeping their culture alive. (They work on English, as well.)

“I know I’m making a difference in the little girls’ lives as I assure you, they’ve made a difference in mine,” she says. “The support from the community has been amazing and I want to make sure that it stays around to help the next generation coming up.”

Seeking help

The center thrives on volunteers like Aweis, but there is a worry about its future.

The association’s finances are “kind of shaky,” says Mohamed Gazali, 27, the association’s vice president.

Some of the Somalis themselves pay the center’s expenses — about $2,000 a month. However, money is tight, as many of the adults work at low-paying jobs. They’re health care assistants, cleaners in hotels and hospitals, taxi drivers — typical work for refugees new to a country.

Gazali and Ahmed Omar, 28, the center’s president, are hoping that there is a church or community organization that could provide space for the center for free or at a minimal cost. They would like to receive funding for after-school programs. They could use volunteers to help teach English to adults who struggle with the language.

While its members search for help — and any help would be welcome — the center continues to operate, assisting the growing number of Somalis in the area.

Figures for the number of Somalis in the area are hard to come by. The Catholic Family Center has settled about 800 Somali refugees here since the late 1990s, says Jim Morris, the agency’s associate director for Refugee, Immigration and Language Services.

That number doesn’t include Somalis who came here after first settling elsewhere. In addition, Somali children born here after their parents came here also have expanded the number of people here with roots in the country.

“My best guess is that there are over 1,500 persons who are members of Somali families presently in Rochester,” Morris says.

Most of the Somalis here are spread about the city, but some have moved to the suburbs. Many, like Hamila’s parents, have been in this country long enough to see a new generation grow up. Some are seeing grandchildren come along.

It’s not surprising that there are generation gaps. The older Somalis worry that their children will forget or abandon their native culture. At the same time, younger Somalis can find themselves having to assume adult burdens, serving as translators for their parents at medical centers and at parent-teacher conferences.

The community itself is not completely united — tribal identities, tribal grudges can divide here as they did in Somalia. But, regardless of those differences, Gazali says the Somalis are brought together by shared problems and by a concern for each other.

New arrivals are mentored and monitored by those who are already here. Those who speak English help those who can’t.

Gazali lost his sight after he arrived here in 1997, having fled Somali three years earlier. But he has persevered and, having finished at Monroe Community College, is now a student at The College at Brockport. Married with two small children, he devotes a significant time to helping other Somalis transition to life in Rochester.

“I often go with people to the hospital or to the Department of Social Services to help them to interpret what doctors and social workers say and what the forms they fill out,” he says.

“I also go to schools to help parents enroll their children. When our children have difficulty in school, I go with their parents to talk to the teachers and the principals.”

That’s just the short list of what he and other Somalis do, with the Somali center serving as a base camp for their efforts.

Coming home

On this Saturday, perhaps between 75 and 100 people, young and old, are present. In one room the young girls gather, in another the boys sit in rows and listen to lessons on language and culture. A larger room in the rear of the building serves as a prayer center and gathering room.

Khadija Abdalo, 16, a junior at East High School, is a regular at the center, who, like Halima Aweis, serves as a teacher for the younger girls.

And like Halima, she seems comfortable in both the Somali and the American culture. They speak Somali at home; as Muslims, each wears the hijab on her head, as well as an abaya or gown.

But they are doing well in school, having mastered the English language and working hard to succeed.

“Monday through Friday, we’re at school,” Khadija says. “We come here on the weekend and we learn about our culture. It helps us learn where we come from.”

Mohamed Abdulkadir, 16, a sophomore at Wilson Commencement High School, was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and then came to this country,
“I come here to the center to help the kids with their homework because they face language barriers,” he says. “I want to be an example to future Somalis. That’s why I study harder.”

There are some young people who don’t overcome the language barriers and the culture shock of being in schools here. They drop out of school, get into trouble, drift about. “I visit these young Somalis in jail,” Gazali says. “It really hurts. They’re here for a better life and they fall in with the wrong crowd.”

Worries about lost Somalis never go away, but on this day at the center the problems are put on hold for a while, especially as everyone partakes of the food that members have brought to the center.

“We eat, we talk, we feel like we are home,” Gazali says.

Source: Democrat and Chronicle

Somali pirates seize Bolivia-flagged Eglantine

Somali pirates have hijacked the Bolivia-flagged Eglantine merchant ship in the Indian Ocean, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday.

There is one Ukrainian sailor on board.

The rest are eleven Iranians, ten Filipinos and one citizen of India.

Earlier, the International Maritime Bureau reported the hijacking but did not specify the name of the ship or the nationality of its sailors.

The pirates are steering the ship towards Somalia.

Source: The Voice of Russia

Briton held for suspected links to Somali terror group

A British man was arrested in the Somali capital yesterday for suspected links to the Islamist rebel group al-Shabaab.

The suspect was apprehended at the Mogadishu airport before heading to Kismayu, a southern port city held by al-Shabaab, an al-Qa'ida-aligned group battling Somalia's transitional federal government and the African Union's (AU) troops.

"A British man linked to al-Shabaab is in our hands," police spokesman Abdullahi Barise said. "He is under investigation."

Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the AU's force Amisom, said the suspect had been arrested by an Amisom intelligence official before being handed over to Somali police. Mr Ankunda identified the suspect as Cleve Everton Dennis and said he had previously travelled to Ethiopia in 2010.

Source: Reuters

Ottawa, Canada: Somali refugee guilty of fatal beating

By Megan Gillis, QMI Agency

Actions speak louder than an 11th-hour apology, a prosecutor argued Tuesday as she sought 12 years for the "brutal, senseless and completely unprovoked" attack that left 51-year-old Sean Murphy dead.

Mohamed Jama Yusuf, 23, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, admitting he punched Murphy, a complete stranger, as he rode his bike towards Yusuf outside a Mac's Milk store just after midnight on Aug. 26, 2008.

He then stomped and kicked the older, slighter man on the ground.

"Mr. Murphy was minding his own business and had no inkling his life was about to be snuffed out by a perfect stranger for no reason," prosecutor Lisa Miles said.

Yusuf then coolly returned with his friends to the Raven's Nest bar — where both men had been drinking — leaving Murphy convulsing from critical head injuries, Miles said.

"He did not lift one finger to help the victim," she said. "He did not demonstrate one iota of remorse."

While Murphy's family sat at his bedside until he died 21 days later without waking up, Yusuf returned to Edmonton where he bragged about stomping an old man in Ottawa, Miles said.

He was arrested in January 2009 after a witness to the beating fingered him to an undercover cop. Yusuf got bail, breached it repeatedly then went on the lam instead of attending court in October 2011.

He was arrested in January but gave false names and had to be identified with fingerprints.

Defence lawyer James Foord asked for five years, arguing the Somali refugee comes from a good family, has four siblings in university or on their way and is a young first-time offender who's never been violent before or since.

Yusuf turned to apologize to the family, saying he didn't expect the "tragic" consequences of the "selfish act" for which he, alone, is to blame. He also said he wants to change.

He ran, he said, because he was afraid of prison.

Murphy's family described the horror of watching the good-natured man, whom they said had a live-and-let-live attitude and happy-go-lucky spirit, slowly die.

But brother Michael Murphy hopes Yusuf is a young man who made a mistake but can make something of his life.

"I lost a brother," he said. "No verdict or sentencing could bring him back. But there is hope that Yusuf can yet be redeemed and spare his family the loss of their son."

Yusuf will be sentenced May 15.

Source: Ifpress

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

EU urges credible new Somali government

The European Union called on Tuesday for a credible government in Somalia after the mandate of the current transitional authority, accused of rampant corruption, expires in August.

Donors have ruled out extending the term of its eight-year-old Transitional Federal Government, which has failed to deliver on its mandate, and are backing efforts to set up a new administration.

“The outside world could satisfy itself by just ticking 100 boxes and saying something’s being done,” Alexander Rondos, the EU special representative for Somalia, told reporters in Nairobi.

“The issue is, what is going to be good and right for Somalis (is what) the Somalis themselves would judge is appropriate for their own political dispensation.”

Under a new roadmap supported by Somalia’s Western donors, the country has to draft a new constitution, hold elections and improve security among other tasks in order to set up its next government.

Analysts have warned against imposing a political system on the clan-based nation, where several international bids to establish an effective central government have failed to reverse 21 years of lawlessness and bloodletting.

“Let’s not cock up things (from) outside. The issue is what do Somalis feel they can live with. That to me is the litmus test,” said Rondos.

“We should make sure that there is a clearly discernible, demonstrable new political system that is emerging.”

The absence of a government with a nationwide authority in Somalia has seen the country carved up by warlords, extremist militia and pirates ruling vast regions while civilians have been plagued by lawlessness, hunger and death.

Neighbouring countries Ethiopia and Kenya have sent troops to crush the Al Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab militia, the latest prominent armed group blamed for hampering peace efforts in the Horn of Africa country.

A multi-nation African Union force is also protecting the government in Mogadishu and has stifled Shabaab efforts to overthrow it.

Source: AFP

Syracuse Somali-Bantu community group spreads out in larger quarters

By Maureen Nolan / The Post-Standard

Khadija Mohamad , left, speaks with Habiba Adan after an English class in the new location of a center run by the Somali-Bantu Community Association

It’s an American tale of gaining a foothold and then moving up.
The Somali-Bantu Community Association of Onondaga County now has its own center, where it can offer more programs and better services to the refugee families who turn to it for help. So many of them have been doing that the association outgrew the space it shared with the Boys & Girls Club at the Central Village housing complex.

In a few years, the number of people it serves has grown from 20 to 60 clients a year to more than 200, Executive Director Abdullahi Ibrahim said.

When a Syracuse Housing Authority building opened up this winter, the nonprofit association and authority struck a deal on rent.

In February the center moved into 302 Burt St. and what has to be five times as much space as it had before, Ibrahim said.

The nonprofit association, with support from other organizations, uses the center as a platform to provide a wide range of free services to refugees, among them English and citizenship classes, help with paperwork, rides to appointments, and classes in basic skills they need to land a job.

“We are trying to bridge the gaps,” Ibrahim said.

Before the move, center staff and volunteers had access to one office, now they have several, plus two big open rooms for classes and a kitchen.

“Getting this office space has meant a lot to us. It really changed the way we are helping people,” said Haji Adan, literacy program coordinator and office manger.

As many as 10 people used to work out of the same single office, jockeying for computer and desk time. In the old space, Adan could work with eight to 10 people a day, now he can see 20 to 25, and in the other offices, other staff are doing the same.

The center survives on volunteers, donations, grants and other community support and has an annual budget of $40,00 to $60,000 mostly in in-kind services, Ibrahim said.

“We have a great partnership with different organizations like Syracuse University and also Syracuse City School District, Boys and Girls Club, Junior League of Syracuse,” he said, to name a few.

The association can use the help.

Refugees typically arrive in Syracuse with few resources of their own after years of life in camps, where they found shelter after violence and strife forced them from their homes. Many have had little or no chance formal education and are illiterate in their native languages.

On Friday morning, a dozen men and women, some with children at their sides and others middle aged, sat at two tables in front of volunteer teacher Martha Bonney to work on their new language.

“Are you a student?”

“I am a student.”

“Is Bhadra a student?”


“Are Ambika and Bhadra students?”

“Yes they are students.”

When Omar Ahmed arrived in the U.S. in 2003, he spoke no English and could not write his own name. Now he is an outreach worker at the center, one of five part-time staff. He works full time hours to help refugees who are where he was once.

The center serves people from many ethnic groups and countries, Nepal, Burma, Yemen, Bhutan and more, but it was the leaders of the Somali-Bantu refugee community, Ibrahim included, who founded the association in 2004.

Even as they were building a life in their new country, they wanted to create an organization that would help others like them.

“When we grow up, while we’re young, we used to see that our leaders, they are doing the same thing we are doing right now - helping each other,” said newly chosen association president Sheikhnoor Adan. (He is not related to Haji Adan.)

You ask your neighbor if he has food for dinner and if he doesn’t, you share what you have, he said.

“We hope our kids follow us,” Adan said.

The majority of clients are Somali-Bantu or other Somali refugees. Syracuse Housing Authority has 217 Somali tenants from 78 families, which is why it helps support the center and its move to larger quarters, said authority resident services director Michelle Haab.

“We had never anticipated how quick the service part would grow,” she said.

After only a couple of months in the new building, Haji Adan, who was sworn in Thursday as a U.S. citizen, is looking toward the next step up for the center.

“The next step is to get even a bigger space than this because we are improving, we are progressing, day by day. The number of different ethnic groups that seek for help in this office is increasing daily,” he said.

He’d like a building with office space to accommodate staff from other ethnic groups.

Contact Maureen Nolan 470-2185 or

Source: The Post-Standard

Somali pirates hijack Iran cargo ship in Maldives

Somali pirates seized an Iranian-owned cargo ship and its 23-strong crew in the first hijacking within Maldivian territory, a senior security official said.

The vessel identified as MV. Eglantine, had been seized off the north-western Hoarafush island in the Indian Ocean atoll nation of the Maldives, the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) said.

"The incident is seven miles inside our Exclusive Economic Zone," MNDF chief spokesman Colonel Abdul Raheem Latheef told AFP. "The ship appears to be drifting and we are sending our vessels to the area."

He said the Maldivian authorities were coordinating their efforts with the naval authorities of neighbouring India.

The MNDF was alerted to the hijacking by the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, the emergency communications system for global shipping, which maintains an operation in the Maldives, the Maldivian spokesman said.

In November, the Maldives announced it was working with Sri Lanka and India on a strategy to deal with Somali pirates. The Maldives had arrested 37 Somali pirates who were drifting near the archipelago.

Sri Lanka has also arrested an unspecified number of Somali pirates.

Two decades of lawlessness have carved up Somalia into mini-fiefdoms ruled by gunmen and militia, encouraging rampant piracy.

At least 40 vessels and more than 400 hostages were still being held in or just off Somalia at the end of last year, according to the Ecoterra International group which monitors piracy in the region.

Source: AFP

Al-Shabab forces lose Somali base of El Bur

Ethiopian forces and Somali pro-government troops have captured a major base from al-Shabab militants, residents say.

The central town of El Bur was one of the main bases still controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked group, analysts say.

But residents say al-Shabab fighters had withdrawn before the pro-government forces arrived.

Al-Shabab still controls many southern areas but is also under pressure from Kenyan and African Union forces.

Kenyan troops invaded from the south last year, while the AU force has pushed al-Shabab out of the capital, Mogadishu.

Residents of El Bur say they have seen Ethiopian armoured personnel carriers move into the town, which was taken without a fight.

BBC Somali service analyst Mohamed Ibrahim Mwalimu says the capture of El Bur opens the way to other nearby areas.

Ethiopian forces were accompanied by fighters from moderate Islamist militia Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, which is allied to the UN-backed government.

Despite pressure on the militants, al-Shabab continue to carry out attacks, especially in Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab said it carried out an attack on Monday at a camp for the displaced that killed two civilians and left eight injured.

Militants targeted the site, near the presidential compound, with mortar bombs.

The attack was the third this month against the heavily guarded compound in Mogadishu.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991 and since then, has been convulsed by conflict.

The UN-backed government only controls the capital, Mogadishu.

Source: BBC News

South Africa: Residents Protect Somali Traders From Local Business Owners

By Nombulelo Damba

Residents in Khayelitsha came to the defence of Somali traders on Wednesday when local business owners threatened to burn down the Somali-owned shops.

In an attempt to enforce a 2008 agreement between Zanokhanyo Retailers Association and Somalian shopkeepers following that year's xenophobic attacks that no new Somali-owned shops would open, local business owners in Harare threatened to burn down Somali shops to force their closure.

But local residents stood in front of the nine shops under threat, preventing the local business owners from taking action.

Residents accused the local business owners of being disrespectful, jealous and racist.

"We are tired of these people's nonsense, we don't even know who they are and why they're closing our shops. No explanation was given to us as community members. The Somalis are not leaving," said a resident who asked not to be named.

Mambhele Tyathu said residents benefited from the Somali-owned shops.

"Somali shops open until late and open very early. The locals close at eight, sometimes they're short of stock and they are very expensive. They should have spoken to us first," said Tyathu

Residents who rent part of their property to Somali traders are also upset

Nosamkelo Nyawuza said she opened a case against the local business owners after they broke a wall on her property where a Somali was running a shop.

"I'm a pensioner, the Somalis are renting here. And who's going to give me that money every month?" she said.

Harare residents said they would meet on Saturday to discuss how to prevent local business owners from threatening Somali traders.

The local business owners accused their ward councillor Anele Gabuza of turning residents against them.

They claim residents are aware of the 2008 agreement.

"The community is aware of the agreement. The ward councillor is blocking the agreement. We called him so many times to our meeting but he doesn't want to attend," said local business owner Thembile Solani.

Gabuza, denied the accusations. He said he was aware of the 2008 agreement but things could change.

He said some of the people wanting to burn down Somali-owned shops were not from the Harare area and some of them did not even own a business.

He said one of the Somali traders told him the local business owners extorted R300 from him.

"That's corruption and I can not allow it on my ward."

Source: AllAfrica

The Turkish Model and International Aid to Somalia

By Abdulhaliim Rashid Abdirahman
Attorney At Law

Through this past decade, oil drilling and exploration in Somalia has been increasing. Today we are seeing international interest in a potential Somalia hydrocarbon industry increase exponentially. On November 14, 2011 the British Prime minister stated that “Somalia is a failed state that directly threatens British interests.” The British Prime Minister’s concern for Somalia is related to the world’s growing interest in Somalia’s potential hydrocarbon industry. Since then we have been hearing a lot about the “international community” and their desire to help the Somalia people. However, not all international aid is equal and not every country’s desire to help Somalia is genuine.

Somalia is on the cusp of a change. Our nation is at a crossroads. In a few years we may see a major change in revenues, governance, and stability. Based on current reports, there are just too many resources in Somalia, and the game has changed. The interested parties in the world want changes and stability in our homeland. The question is just how this change will come to pass. The fact is that countries from across the world, from nearly every continent have pledged to help Somalia, and they have every intention of being involved in Somali affairs. Corporate business interests from across the world have plans to be involved in Somalia.

The best way of judging a person’s character and worth is to look at his or her past actions and deeds. The same is true with nations. Somalia is on the cusp of opening up to the world and we must carefully judge the nations we choose to deal with in the infancy of our reemergence upon the world stage. This is especially important considering the wealth of national resources that are desired from our nation.

The consequences of not judging with acute precision the motives and desires of other, some of them seemingly friendly, could be disastrous. We have seen nations like France and other countries, who give aid under the guise of help only to facilitate colonial aspirations, and who only benefit the few chosen elite in a nation. In comparison, to nations like France with a checkered past in their dealings with other nations and a negative past in their dealings with Somalia, I look to Turkey. The contrast is self evident.

Most Somalis are aware of the historic ties Turkey has with Somali people. The town of Zeila, before there was a British Somaliland, was the beneficiary of Turkish influence including a Turkish built water system. I, myself, had lived in Turkey in the early 1980’s and remember fondly the hospitality the Turkish people showed us Somali students at the Middle East Technical University.

On August 19, 2012, the Prime Minister of Turkey, the Honorable Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stood at the Aden Abdullahi Osaman (Adde) Airport in Mogadisho and challenged the world not to forget or forsake Somalia. PM Erodogan stood at that airport, named after Somalia’s greatest president, with his wife and children. Since that day, Turkey has put its money and expertise into Somalia. Turkey has started a bi-weekly international flight service to the Somali capital, Mogadisho and built a tent city for 12,000 internally displaced people. Unlike many other aid workers the Turkish aid workers are living among the Somali communities they are helping to rebuild. It is a model of providing aid that others can and should follow.

On June 1st, 2012, the nation of Turkey will host an international conference on Somalia. It is expected that this conference will gather even more leaders and other dignitaries than the just concluded London Somali Conference (LSC). The Prime Minister of England Mr. David Cameron said that the London Somali Conference was the largest and most influential gathering that had ever come together on Somalia, but it is believed that the Turkey Somali Conference will eclipse the LSC both in scope and substance.

The construction of the new Turkish college in Mogadishu is underway. This college will have state of art materials and children will learn about apprenticeship skills.. such as electricians, pipe fixtures, and other apparatus of a water, gas, or sewage system in a building.

Somalis hope that this conference will continue the process of ending the Somali nightmare. They hope that this conference will not just address global concerns like piracy, that are not of urgent concern to the Somali people, however important those issues are on their own. Somalis are concerned with more immediate issues like security, famine, disease, infant and child mortality, and general health facilities.

A major concern for me is the recent talk of the establishment of an International Joint Financial Management Board (JFMB) who’s stated purpose is to help Somalia. The addition of the French Republic as a member of the JFMB is a concern. The history of the French with Somalis is a complicated and contentious one. Somalis remember the French involvement with Algeria, and closer to home, Djbouti. They remember that the French have never assisted Somalia. It may be assuring to the international world that France is part of the JFMB, but it is a concern that no African or Arab country is on this JFM Board.

The communiqué from the London Somali Conference with regard to the JFMB is vague, perhaps on purpose. The communiqué informs that some of the funds of the JFMB will come from Somali national assets. However, those assets are not defined or their use limited. Control over the prioritization of the use of those assets is not spelled out. Will those assets be used to irrigate Somali farms or to chase pirates from the Indian Ocean to the Bay of Bengal?

Well folks, the national assets are about to become significant to say the least. Perhaps it is instructive to look south and see that already this year, in the offshore areas of Tanzania, Mozambique, and Madagascar, substantial and very rich gas fields have been discovered. Ethiopia and Kenya have seen increased oil and gas explorations. However, the consensus appears to be that the mother lode is the off shore area belonging to Somalia. It has been said that this area and the lower East African coast could rival anything found in the Middle East and the North Sea. So what happens to the national assets? Who is in control?

Turkey would be an incredible addition to this board. Turkey has a thriving economy, is a stable Muslim democracy, and has been active in a supportive way in Somalia affairs throughout history. The fact is that we Somalis are responsible for our own fate but we need big brothers to look out for us as well. We know that we will eventually have to work together in a fair and representative way. We know that we will have to work with the international world. As Somalia opens up we will need to create schools, hospitals, post offices, government buildings, power plants, and the like. We will have to build regions and cities beyond the capital. Somalia’s sons and daughters have to come off the sidelines and participate as leaders.

I do not know what will happen in the future but one thing is for sure, our natural resources will find their way to the world market, and with that will come a wealth of funds that will either be drained from our nation or used to better every Somali. There is the real possibility of a united Somalia or, in contrast, a people splintered in to the lowest sub-sub-sub-sub clan. That is the choice facing Somalis.

Somalia is about the future now. Its contemporary history is too painful, and too shameful. Of course, at some point, we as people have to revisit and confront issues involving crimes against humanity committed in Somalia during the last 41 years. That is a Somali challenge. There needs to be some justice and accountability, and in the end we must come together as a people and move beyond this past to a future of stability, prosperity, and democracy. The next international event will be in Istanbul, Turkey in June. This will be part of a process marking the beginning of a long journey forward to reach our potential, and for a nation to find its place in the community of nations.

Source: Horseed Media

Monday, March 26, 2012

Iman: A model businesswoman

Iman is a retired model who isn't the least bit retiring. She talks about her past, present, and future with Rita Braver:

Iman! The dazzling Somali-born model lit up runways and magazines during the '70s and '80s, but she still remembers what a make-up artist asked on her very first shoot:

"He didn't ask the Caucasian model, he just asked me. And he said, 'Did you bring your own foundation?' And I said, 'No.' And so he proceeded in mixing something, and he put it on my face. And when I looked in the mirror, I looked grey. I did not look like a brown skin. It looked grey."

Obviously all was not lost that day. She went on to model for some of the greatest designers of all time. "I have been a muse to Mr. Saint-Laurent, Valentino, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Versace," she said.

But in 1994, after she retired from modeling, she founded Iman Cosmetics, designed specifically for women of color.

"Because every black or Latina woman who I've seen in the street always have asked me, 'What foundations and powders do you use, and where do you buy them?'"

Her products are sold on the web and in chain stores, doing about $25 to $30 million in business a year.

Not bad for a girl never used any makeup growing up in Somalia. Her father was a diplomat. It was a close Muslim family.

"Did people tell you [that] you were pretty your whole life?" Braver asked.

"No, nobody has ever said to me that I was pretty, 'til I met Peter Beard," she replied.

Beard was the professional photographer who spotted Iman walking down the street in Nairobi, Kenya, where she was a college student.

"He asked me if I have ever been photographed, and I was very insulted," Iman said. "Because I thought, 'Oh, here goes, a white man thinking Africans have never seen a camera before in their lives!'"

"Did you think he was propositioning you?" Braver asked.

"Oh, absolutely! I thought he was trying to pick me up."

But he had photography in mind - and she needed tuition money. "He said, 'I'll pay.' And that was my first business transaction I made!" she laughed.

The photo paid her tuition. It also got her a modeling contract and a ticket to New York.

But before she arrived, Iman says, Beard concocted a more exciting story about how he found her: "That I didn't speak a word of English, let alone other languages, that I was goat herding!' I am an ambassadors daughter!" she laughed.

It took her some time to set the record straight.

Meanwhile, her career took off. But it was in 1990 when some real changes came into her personal life. She fell for rock musician David Bowie.

She said their first meeting was very embarrassing: "We were set up by our hairdresser!" she laughed.

The modeling star and the rock star were wed two years later.

"Was there any clashing of these egos?" Braver asked.

"No, absolutely not," Iman said. "We respect each other. We have the hots for each other after 20 years, you know?"

They have a daughter together, as well one child each from previous marriages. In fact, Iman's eldest daughter, Zulekha, works in her company.

Now, Iman has expanded way beyond cosmetics, to accessories and a line of fabrics. One is called "Istanbul Sunset."

"Your husband loves to write: Do you ask him for his advice on this stuff?" Braver asked.

"Yes, I actually run it by him and sometimes he'll say, 'Oh no, that sounds really tacky,'" she said. "But look how beautiful that is!"

And speaking of beauty, at 56 Iman is proud of aging gracefully.

"I am so far more secure and more grounded and more know who I am than when I was in my 20s," she said. "And that you can get it, but only age can give you that!"

Source: CBS News

Life as a hostage of Somali pirates

By Colin Freeman | Agency: The Daily Telegraph

Officially , OF course, there is no such thing as a price on human life. Should you be kidnapped by Somali pirates, though, the going rate for a Westerner is roughly $1.3?million, preferably in bricks of $100 bills.

That is the hefty ransom sum thought to have been paid for Briton Judith Tebbutt, the 57-year-old social worker released from captivity last week after a violent abduction six months ago in which her husband was killed.

Yet watching the brief interview she gave as she was handed over on Wednesday, it struck me that her family certainly got more than value for money, for the cash has bought them back what seems to be a remarkably strong woman.

Despite looking somewhat gaunt, Mrs Tebbutt appeared astonishingly composed, given that she had suffered an ordeal appalling even by kidnapping standards.

Talking in calm, measured tones, she revealed how it was not until a fortnight into her captivity that she learned that her husband David, 58, an executive at the publisher Faber and Faber, had been shot by her captors during the kidnapping at a resort in northern Kenya.

"I didn't know he'd died until about two weeks from my capture, I just assumed he was alive," she said. "I feel extremely sad. But you have just got to pick up the pieces and move on."

A smile then lit her face as she spoke of her only child, Oliver, 25, who found himself in the extraordinary position of leading the negotiations for his mother's release. "I don't know how he secured my release, but he did, and I am very happy," she said.

For all the brave face that Mrs Tebbutt presented in public, I can only guess at what private trauma she is now dealing with. This weekend she returned to Britain, where her empty home in the Hertfordshire town of Bishop's Stortford will pose the fresh challenge of life not just as an ex-hostage, but as a widow.

I have, however, had an insight - albeit a mercifully brief one - into the kind of ordeal she has been through, having languished as a hostage in Somalia myself in 2008.

On assignment to report on what was then a nascent piracy problem, my photographer and I were kidnapped by the very men we had been sent to write about, and spirited off to a remote mountain range, where we lived, Stone-Age style, in caves.

During our time in captivity we endured occasional death threats and a terrifying gunfight when a rival gang tried to "steal" us, but six weeks later we were released unharmed, making it a comparatively short stay.

Mrs Tebbutt has not yet disclosed any real detail about her kidnapping, beyond saying that she was not mistreated. But based on my own experience. I can make some informed guesses as to what it would have been like.

Food is likely to have been goat meat, rice or pasta; monotonous by day two, never mind day 200, but actually rudely healthy; I lost a stone in flab on the pirate plan diet. It is, though, surprising how quick one's needs shrink; within five days, all I cared about was getting a cup of sweet Somali tea and a cigarette every few hours.

The hardest part, though, is passing the time which, unlike a jail sentence, has no fixed end date to focus on. I had neither books nor newspapers, but I did at least have a fellow hostage to talk to, something that most kidnap psychologists say is essential for fending off those darker moments.

Other aspects of Mrs Tebbutt's ordeal, I cannot begin to empathise with, in particular her bereavement. Others in her situation might have been tempted to take their own lives, as did some British soldiers when stationed here after the Second World War, driven mad by isolation in Somalia's uniquely harsh and barren landscape.

So how exactly did her son secure her release? In all likelihood, while he may have played a key role, possibly talking to the kidnappers by telephone, he will have been closely advised by one of the private security firms that also deals with commercial piracy cases.

Even so, with his mother's life on the line, it cannot have been easy taking part in a negotiation with such high stakes. And there would also be the knowledge that once a deal was struck, it would line the pockets of the very people who killed his father.

Where the ransom money came from remains unclear. Some reports have talked of family friends chipping in, raising the prospect of donations from wealthy authors at Faber and Faber, or whip-rounds in the Lakeland town of Ulverston, where Mrs Tebbutt's mother, Gladys, and five siblings still live.

Some within the private security world, though, believe it may have been paid by an insurance company.

"It has the hallmarks of a well-run corporate operation" said one negotiator. "No videos released by the pirates during her captivity, no uncontrolled publicity and so on." Last night, Somali journalists working for The Sunday Telegraph provided more detailed accounts of Mrs Tebbutt's time in captivity, relayed to them by people close to her abductors.

According to these accounts, which cannot be verified, when first taken hostage Mrs Tebbutt repeatedly argued with her kidnappers and demanded to know why they were holding her. She was also allegedly threatened during some telephone calls home: a tactic my own abductors used too.

"She acted as if she had no worries, but when communications were coming from London, she was made to feel intimidated," said one source. "This was to try to make her cry while speaking to relatives."

They also claimed her guards became increasingly nervous after a US special forces raid in late January that freed two Danish and American hostages, in which nine kidnappers died.

For a time she was moved almost every 24 hours, sometimes sleeping in a car or in bushland. Fearing that spies on the ground would give their location away, the gang also reportedly split into three different groups, all claiming to be holding Mrs Tebbutt, and refusing to let even their own ranks carry mobile phones when guarding her.

"They also had a group of pirates checking people passing through the area," said the source. "Any suspected spies were told to leave or threatened with death."

Whether Somalia's home-grown al-Qaeda franchise, al-Shabaab, had a hand in the abduction is a moot point. While the group denies involvement, many believe it was a militia allied to al-Shabaab that launched the original kidnap operation, in return for providing it with a cut of any ransom money. That militia is then said to have sold Mrs Tebbutt on to a pirate group for $300,000 shortly after, knowing the pirates could negotiate a considerably higher ransom. Then again, al-Shabaab was never likely to claim responsibility; while British government policy does not forbid the payment of ransoms to criminal gangs such as pirates, it does forbid them to terrorist groups.

Aside from concerns over whom such cash ends up with, there is increasing unease at the number of British firms involved in the ransom-paying business.

From City insurance and shipping law firms through to the private security outfits which deliver the cash, the operation is dominated by Britons from start to finish. Take, for example, the Nairobi-based security company Salama Fikira, which is said to deliver some 75 per cent of all pirate ransom drops, including last week's one for Mrs Tebbutt. Its managing director is Rob Andrew, a former SAS officer, who was previously regional counter-terrorism adviser with the British embassy in Nairobi.

Such firms argue that without their expertise, hostages would simply languish for far longer, and possibly end up dead. Yet at last month's international summit on Somalia in London, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, issued a call to stop ransom payments "because in the end they only ensure that crime pays".

The US feels the same way, and already, British lawyers involved in pirate ransom negotiations claim their work is being made more difficult.

"Until recently, I could go to a British bank like RBS or Barclays and ask them to hold money for me for a ransom delivery," complained one. "Now they won't do it for 'reputational reasons'."

Such concerns are now thankfully in the past for Mrs Tebbutt as she recovers, most likely with help from psychologists trained in dealing with hostage cases.

A sympathetic ear is also on offer from Paul and Rachel Chandler, who told me last week that they thought she stood a good chance of putting her ordeal behind her, as they have done. "I would say there is a 100 per cent chance of her getting back to normal," said Mr Chandler, whose elderly father died while he was in captivity. "She has suffered a bereavement of a different level to mine, as my father was 99 anyway. But as far as having been a hostage itself goes, yes, you can get over it and put
it down to experience."

He pointed out, though, that some 250 sailors are still held prisoner in Somalia - including fellow yachters Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz, from South Africa, who were hijacked 18 months ago.

"We were overjoyed when we heard of Judith's release," he said. "But there are still lots out there who aren't getting help."

Source: The Daily Telegraph

Sunday, March 25, 2012

'How Judith Tebbutt coped, I'll never know' - by fellow kidnap victim

As kidnapped British holidaymaker Judith Tebbutt returns home from Somalia, ex-hostage Colin Freeman gives an insight into her ordeal.

Fortitude in captivity: hostage victim Judith Tebbutt, who was held hostage alone for six months

OFFICIALLY, of course, there is no such thing as a price on human life. Should you be kidnapped by Somali pirates, though, the going rate for a Westerner is roughly $1.3 million, preferably in bricks of $100 bills.

That is the hefty ransom sum thought to have been paid for Briton Judith Tebbutt, the 57-year-old social worker released from captivity last week after a violent abduction six months ago in which her husband was killed.

Yet watching the brief interview she gave as she was handed over on Wednesday, it struck me that her family certainly got value for money, for the cash has bought them back what seems to be a remarkably strong woman.

Despite looking somewhat gaunt, Mrs Tebbutt appeared astonishingly composed, given that she had suffered an ordeal appalling even by kidnapping standards.

Talking in calm, measured tones, she revealed how it was not until a fortnight into her captivity that she learned that her husband David, 58, an executive at publishers Faber and Faber, had been shot by her captors during the kidnapping at a resort in northern Kenya.

Source: The Telegraph

It Is Crucial To ‘De-Nairobify’ Somali Affairs – OpEd

By Abukar Arman

For a number of years, Nairobi (Kenya) has been the de facto capital of Somalia after the State has disintegrated into anarchy. It has been where Somalis sought refuge, re-started their lives, and networked with the rest of the world. By the same token, it has been where almost all of the eighteen or so failed “reconciliation” conferences were concocted, and Somalis found the funding and the nourishment for the indigenous political demons that kept them divided and at war with one another for over two decades.

Yet, to this day—at least from the international community’s point of view—all initiatives related to peace, security, humanitarian, and development must be conceived, crafted, and executed via Nairobi; Through a network of international institutions and organizations with sullied reputation of money squandering, laundering, and rewarding corruption with more contracts. And so long as this continues, so too would the status quo.

Like Vienna (Austria) during the Cold War, Nairobi became a magnet that attracts both the positive and the negative. It is a place where a few good apples are found- those Somali patriots who are committed to work to bring an end to the misery of their people. It is also a place where many rotten ones are found- those who callously sellout everything about their country and people. Nairobi is where the buyers meet the sellers. Moreover, the city is one of the major hubs for security experts, “dealmakers” and deal breakers. It is also the center where around a $1 billion that is donated annually on behalf of Somalia is managed and mismanaged. It is where corrupted technocrats and other colorful characters compete for geopolitical strategic advantages or for crude economic exploitation. The city is also the center for a new breed of diplomats known as “gorilla diplomats”.

In dealing with countries such as Somalia, these types of diplomats are granted the flexibility and authority to make decisions without any direct involvement of their Foreign Ministries. This, needless to say, has its positives and negatives. One of the positives might be their less bureaucratic decision-making capacity. One of the negatives might be the inadvertent creation of diplomatic despots who haphazardly assert authorities far exceeding their professional titles. Against this backdrop, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Somalia, and the head of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia, Dr. Augustine Mahiga, had the liberty to nose dive into the intra-Somali politics of contention in his recent interview by Somalia Report.

As someone who occasionally freewheels beyond his diplomatic boundaries and subjectively tips the scale in favor of one convenient group to another, Dr. Mahiga pushed the limits with that interview. Without offering any substantiation to his claims, Dr. Mahiga offered this assertion when asked about the Somali politicians:

“There is a palace coup that has taken place in Villa Somalia. The Ala-Sheikh group is back in power, which should not be downplayed. The Ala-Sheikh group by definition never wanted any power sharing, they are against the Roadmap because of its inclusiveness to bring in the regions, to bring in Ahlu Sunnah, to bring in civil society.”

Why this crude accusation, especially when there is only 5 months left from the end of the transitional period?

Considering the timing of the message and the clout of the messenger, this was nothing but a desperate act to give traction to a baseless narrative that was being cooked since the Djibouti Agreement…that there is a clandestine Islamist cabal with sinister motives who are bent on high-jacking the political power. Consumed by that paranoia-based narrative and other erroneous assumptions that all organized Islamist groups, including those who are non-violent who are willing to legally partake in the political process, should not be trusted, Dr. Mahiga unleashes the following rant:

“They (Ala-Sheikh) are not very different than the Shabaab, except that they don’t take up arms. But for them, the fundamentals are the ideological purity, and they’ve reached a point where they have successfully staged a comeback, and they have just created a forum, which they have formed under Farmajo (former Prime Minister): an Islamic organization which they are going to transform into a political party”.

The boogieman, or the Al-Sheikh group that he referenced, are some of the students of the late Islamic scholar, Sheikh Mohamed Moallim during the 70s, 80s, and early 90s.

Contrary to the urban legend surrounding his influence, the Sheikh was in fact a progressive religious scholar who was ahead of his time. He graduated from Al-Azhar University, and his teachings were focused on bringing social and religious reform through non-violent means. He taught that the individual is part of the whole and that his/her actions either contribute positively or negatively to that whole- the society. And that the individual should never resort to bloodshed, or wreak havoc, or cause chaos even when living under an authoritarian government that publicly executed ten Islamic scholars and imprisoned a few others—including the Sheikh—for disagreeing with it.

As an active agent of positive change, the individual must rely on educating one self

(religious and secular) and on educating others, but to never impose his/her views on others.

A few individuals from that school of thought (and other Islamic thoughts) have joined the post Djibouti Agreement Transitional Federal Government. And though they were systematically cleansed out of the political structure through one “re-shuffle” or “accord”, their contribution and legacy stand out.

So, what threat does Dr. Mahiga fear? And even if it were true that that group and their allies in the Daljir Forum (a coalition of several political parties with diverse interests) have “successfully staged a comeback”, what is wrong with that? And more importantly, are we to deduce from Dr. Mahiga’s statements that there is a gatekeeper outside the will of the Somali people who should keep this wrongly implicated group in the periphery?

Considering the broad-based negative reaction his statements have generated and official grievances filed through the UN Secretary General’s office, Dr. Mahiga’s statements are not considered the result of judgment deficit. Rather, they are considered as statements that were deliberately crafted to sow the seeds of suspicion and conflict between certain political parties and groups. And since the groups under this attack were the very same groups that openly advocated for the transfer of all international community offices that deal with the Somalia issue to either Mogadishu or other parts of Somalia, this raises yet another question: Was this a payback for pressuring the UN and other international organization to leave their cozy environment in Nairobi and transfer their operations to Mogadishu- something that Dr. Mahiga had to do a few months earlier?

Be that as it may, the process of “de-Nairobification” must continue. In addition to bringing an end to the costly routine of multiple outsourcing of all projects and services to Somalia, such decision will bring an end to a detrimental sub-culture that developed since the break up of the State. A sub-culture that lures governmental officials and members of the Parliament to accept invitations and attend private meetings with various colorful foreign characters of multiple agendas at the privacy of their offices, hotel rooms, and residence.

Though this sub-culture has been under scrutiny for the past 18 months, enforcement has been all but effective. Mainly because these non-transparent and questionable freewheeling often takes place away from the government’s radar.

Abukar Arman is Somalia Special Envoy to the United States. He is also a widely published political analyst.

Source: Eurasia Review

Saturday, March 24, 2012

EU expands Somali pirate mission to include attacks on land bases

Ships to be authorised to target Somali pirates on shore and inland as well as at sea.

The EU is to expand its seagoing anti-piracy mission to include the Somali coastline and waterways inside the country for the first time.

The expansion of the operation appears to herald a significant shift in strategy for a mission that has focused until now on stopping pirates at sea.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday did not specify what they meant by "coastal territory and internal waters," but officials have said the new tactics could include using warships or helicopters to target pirate boats moored along the shore, as well as land vehicles used by the pirates.

The foreign ministers said the operation, which started in 2008, would be extended until at least the end of 2014. Somalia's transitional government had accepted the EU's offer for greater collaboration in the operation.

"Today's decision will enable Operation Atalanta forces to work directly with the transitional federal government and other Somali entities to support their fight against piracy in the coastal areas," the EU statement said.

The EU did not provide details about the areas that would now be open to its anti-piracy mission, but Somalia's long coastline provides a haven for pirate gangs that target shipping off the east African coast.

Pirate attacks on international merchant shipping in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea have been declining in the past 12 months. Pirates captured 19 ships during the first quarter of 2011 and only six in the rest of the year. Officials say the trend has continued this year.

The EU keeps five to 10 warships off the Horn of Africa in Operation Atalanta. Nato has a similar anti-piracy flotilla known as Ocean Shield, and other countries have dispatched naval vessels to patrol the region.

A Nato official said the alliance was revising its rules of engagement with a view to reinforcing them but that actions on land were not being considered.

The EU naval force is responsible for protecting World Food Programme ships carrying humanitarian aid for Somalia and logistic support vessels used by African Union troops. It also monitors fishing activity off the coast of Somalia.

Source: The Associated Press

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ailing former president dies at the age of 78

Somalia’s former president Abdullahi Yussuf Ahmed has passed away in Dubai hospital.

Somalia’s former president Abdullahi Yussuf Ahmed

The ailing president was in hospital in recent months.

His family sources confirmed the death of the former president in UAE.

Abdullahi Yusuf was an army colonel and led first armed rebellion group by the name Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF).

Abdullahi Yusuf was once quoted saying “I wouldn’t have started to take up arms if I knew Somalia would end up like this” referring to his armed resistance against former Somali president Mohammed Siad Bare.

He became the president of the transitional federal government of Somalia in 2004, and forced to resign in 2008 after an intense dispute with his prime minister Hassan Hussien (Nur Ade).

Yusuf was the founder of semi autonomous region of Puntland in 1998 and it’s first president.

Family sources say Abdullahi Yusuf will be buried in his birth-place Galkayo.

Source: Hiiraan Online

Somali castaways in Maldives say “no” to repatriation

By Hawwa Lubna

Forty Somali castaways under the custody of Maldivian authorities have recently refused to return home despite arrangements that were made for their safe repatriation, Minivan News has learned.

According to a top government official, who spoke to Minivan News on condition of total anonymity, the government had devoted “immeasurable amount of time and effort” over the past three years to safely repatriate several Somali nationals who have been discovered in Maldivian waters in dinghies lost at sea.

Many were found in frail health conditions due to dehydration and malnourishment, and had to undergo long treatments before being transferred to Dhoonidhoo Detention Center, where they were provided temporary refuge until negotiations on repatriation were finalised.

“However, after all their identities were verified, passports and a chartered flight was arranged for their safe transportation, they refused to go back to Somalia,” said the source, who has worked closely with the case.

“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s delegation arrived in Maldives to confirm their preference because no refugee can be repatriated without consent under the international conventions,” he said. “So the delegation asked them one question – Are you willing to go? All of them said ‘no!’” he recalled.

He observed that the Maldives cannot resort to the option of forced repatriation as Somalia is recognised as a unsafe state.

Maldives has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol citing “financial and technical capacity constraints” but the convention prohibits all states, regardless of whether they have acceded it, from returning a “refugee to a territory where his or her life or freedom is threatened”.

“So the project is now a big failure,” he concluded, adding that the Maldives can face “increasing pressures from the international community if it continue with the forced repatriation.”

Minivan News could not get a comment from the foreign ministry at the time of press on how the state intends to move forward in solving the repatriation block.

Authorities have earlier echoed concerns over the increased financial burden to the state in providing shelter to the Somalis, who are said to be now in good health and actively involved in prison-based agricultural projects.

A Maldivian expert on combating human trafficking meanwhile noted in an interview to Minivan News that “if repatriation does not work out, the only legal solution would be for Maldives to sign the international conventions on refugees and Rights of Migrant Workers Families and accept the Somalis as refugees, and provide necessary protection granted under these conventions.”

“The Maldives will be pressured to sign the conventions. But, the question is are we ready to face that? We are already in a crisis with the current 100,000 expatriate population in the country which accounts to one third of the Malidives population. If these conventions are passed, it means, the expat population will be doubled or tripled,” he warned. “Are Maldivians willing to become a minority in their own country?” he asked.

Source: The Minivan News

Somali, Ethiopian troops seize town (Hudur), rebel fighters flee

By Abdi Guled
Associated Press

Ethiopian and Somali troops seized a town in Somalia controlled by al-Shabab militants who fled after battles with troops, residents said Thursday.

Hundreds of residents and rebel fighters fled Hudur, 420 kilometers (260 miles) southwest of Mogadishu, as troops moved into town. A resident said the fighting was over but sporadic gunfire could be heard.

"The Ethiopian troops have arrived in the town now, and al-Shabab left last night," Mohamed Mudey, a resident in Hudur, said by phone.

Hudur is the administrative headquarters of Bakool region. The town has served as a training base for the militant group al-Shabab.

The fall of Hudur is a big blow to the al-Qaida-linked group's control of southern Somalia.

Al-Shabab confirmed the withdrawal, saying its forces made a tactical retreat.

"Our mujahedeen forces have made a tactical retreat from Hudur as part of the plan to disable the enemy in guerrilla warfare," the group said in a statement on their website Thursday.

Al-Shabab has increased its use of suicide and roadside bomb attacks since it was forced out of Mogadishu last year by African Union troops. Troops from Ethiopia are attacking al-Shabab from the west, while Kenyan forces are attacking from the south. Al-Shabab still controls wide tracts of southern and central Somalia, but faces mounting pressure.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991, when long-term dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by warlords who then turned on each other.

Source: Associated Press

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The new Somali-American bards

By: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune

Tapping into their roots from the "land of poets," Somali-American youths are embracing the art and finding their voice.

Abdifatah Farah paused at the microphone before unleashing his words on the fidgety crowd of high schoolers last week.

"In a world of delusion," he began reciting, "I wait for a beginning, conclusion, a great mental confusion, one that perhaps can be called for a revolution."

The mostly Somali-American audience sat still, mesmerized by the young man's words:

"Put the guns to the side and let's reunite, put the guns to the side and let's reunite," he continued. "Let's cast the past and laugh tonight. Let's cast the past and laugh tonight. Now proceed, for you misconceive. 'Cause the key to life is faith indeed. 'Cause the key to life is faith indeed."

Then he closed his eyes and listened to the room erupt in applause and cheers.

Even before this live performance at Ubah Medical Academy in Hopkins, many students already knew of Farah, but by his stage name, Abdi Phenomenal. His face and melodic voice have become fixtures on YouTube videos and on the website

He's a founding member of Poet Nation, a cadre of young Somali-American poets formed two years ago in Minneapolis to unite Somalis around the globe through the power of poetry. Their videos have been viewed by hundreds of thousands worldwide.

The website features Minnesota artists who upload videos of their performances and invite Somali youths to do the same wherever they live. The Minnesota poets also perform around the state, by request, for school groups and at cultural events.

"The Somali communities all over are speaking up. They're getting into the poetry scene," said Phenomenal, 24, a senior at St. Cloud State University.

Today's poets walk in the footsteps of their ancestors, inspired by their homeland's history as a "land of poets," where poetry was used for communicating information and for offering social commentary.

It wasn't until 1972 that Somalia had a written language. Before then, history was recorded and preserved orally. So striking was the musical speech of the people of Somalia that 19th-century British explorer Richard Francis Burton famously wrote: "The country teems with poets."

Their poetry was as powerful as it was beautiful. And its influence was evident in the 1970s when then-dictator Mohamed Siad Barre tried to ban anti-government poetry. But neither Barre, nor the civil war that broke out in 1991 and led to the displacement of millions of Somalis, could extinguish the people's poetic spirit.

Those growing up outside Somalia are embracing their roots, albeit with a fresh spin.

Poets coming of age in Minneapolis, Toronto and London take their cues from the spoken word and hip-hop styles pioneered by African-Americans. Poems from this new generation take on issues that reflect their experiences as children of war, and the struggles that come with trying to make it in a new homeland.

"Being a young Muslim, Somali man, I realized I have a role in my community," said Phenomenal. "Poetry is not just a speech. It's an action."

Becoming Phenomenal

The man with the sleepy eyes and equally tranquil demeanor speaks passionately about poetry's ability to inspire and unite youths.

Born in Somalia, he fled with his family to the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, where he lived for five years. Then he came to New York and later to Minnesota.

In seventh grade, he discovered Maya Angelou's poems. He was especially fond of "Phenomenal Woman," and decided to write his own version, called "Phenomenal Man."

On stage for the first time, he performed his poem before a large crowd at a spoken word event in Minneapolis.

"Right after I shared it, something special happened," Phenomenal recalled. "When I got up there, I felt relieved. I felt as if I was holding a lot of different things inside me. And a lot of the weight dropped off my shoulders.

"I found my strength, and my strength was poetry."

That was also how he got his stage name.

"People just started calling me Phenomenal. I said, 'No it's Abdifatah.'"

But the name grew on him and now, he says, "I'm completely comfortable with that name because that's where my inspiration came from."

Poetry as conversation

He took poetry classes and continued to perform at open mike events around town and at Somali cultural events. It was at one of those events in the summer of 2010 where Phenomenal and his friend, Shirwa Hersi, met Matt Erickson. A former high school teacher who had lived and taught in Somalia, Erickson saw Hersi and Phenomenal perform and approached them with an idea.

He wanted to give the young Somali-American poets a platform where their work could reach more people. Together, they created the Poet Nation website.

"I saw there was a big need to show role models that are out there," Erickson said.

He felt that much of the news on Somalia and about Somali people was negative and ran counter to his own experiences with the people there. "We want to continue to create cool stuff," Erickson said.

Topics the young poets tackle include: the struggles of growing up without a father around, dealing with religious discrimination and the need to help Somalis suffering from a deadly famine.

Hersi is another founding member of Poet Nation. A junior at Minnesota State University, Mankato, he is also an ex-Marine. His poem "Terrorism Is Not a Religion" has generated almost 70,000 views on YouTube to date. That poem is based, in part, on his experience of being his unit's only Muslim soldier.

Some of his fellow soldiers asked him who he would shoot -- "us or them" -- if they were ever in a battle together. The question haunted Hersi, who put it into verse:

"See, I fought for this country and still got condemned," he recites in the video, clutching his dog tags. "Find myself marching with people who hated me, yet I managed to call 'em my friend."

In writing and performing his poetry, Hersi said he's able to put difficult subjects out there and start a conversation. Just as his forefathers in Somalia used to do.

"In a way, that breaks barriers and brings new ideas to the table," he said. "It allows people to discuss things that they wouldn't normally talk about."

Source: Star Tribune