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Monday, April 30, 2012

London model's return to see Somali roots

For the first time since the age of three, successful London fashion model, Samira Hashi, has returned to the country where she was born, Somalia - one of the most troubled regions in the world. She writes about what she found:

Growing up in a city like London I almost never saw extreme poverty.

All I knew of Somalia was from the media - the malnutrition, famine, drought, terrorists, pirates and bloodshed.

When I was born in 1990, the civil war had just broken out, which has been present in Somalia ever since. My family fled the country when I was three and moved into the UK to settle and we began our new lives here.

As I've grown older I've started to realise that there is a part of me that's missing. I've often wondered what my life would have been like if my mother had not fled and brought me up in London.

But returning to Somalia after 18 years was one of the hardest and most shocking experiences I've ever had.

Samira was signed by a modelling agency when she was 17 years old

I couldn't go anywhere without extreme security, and the severity of the situation there hit home when I was introduced to a Somali girl the same age as me called Shukri.

Unfortunately she wasn't given the opportunity to escape like us, so she has spent all her life knowing nothing but war, violence, destruction and bloodshed.

Three of her children - aged just three, two and seven months - died in 2010 because of a mortar attack by Islamist group al-Shabab. I could see she was heartbroken and the trauma of the war was written all over her face.

I thought of how my life would be if my family had stayed in Somalia and whether I would be alive or dead.

Devastating conditions

I was lucky enough a few years ago to be scouted by a modelling agency, which is where I began my career in modelling.

The creativity and artistic part of fashion excites me, as well as connecting and conversing with a wide range of people from different backgrounds.

I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to be able to travel with my work. But travelling to Somalia was very different. I spent my first day in the Dolo Ado refugee camp crying as I couldn't bear to sleep in the tents provided.

The camp in Ethiopia was overcrowded and had become home to more than 120,000 Somali refugees, but that is less than half the number of Somali refugees in Kenya's Dadaab camp, which hosts more than 300,000.

I found it extremely embarrassing to later on realise Somali refugees have no choice but to share the same tent with 20 other people.

The conditions of the camps were devastating to see. Inadequate shelter meant that Somali refugees would wait weeks, sometimes months, for basic accommodation.

Shocked at sexual abuse

Millions of Somali lives have been lost and millions more are in danger as a result of poor health care, insufficient distribution of food and lack of clean water.

I was shocked when Somali women told me of the sexual abuse they have endured. During my visit to the refugee camp, two women were raped after they went to collect firewood.

"The rape went on for several hours. We feared that we could have died," one victim told me.
"We used to feel safe here in the past. But now, every time we go to the woods we get raped. The same could happen to our children."

I was appalled to discover the endemic nature of rape in the camps. This was the fourth incident of rape in a month. The number of sexual abuse that take place is extraordinarily high.

My trip ended in Hargeisa in Somaliland, an area that is seen as safer than the rest of the region, but where female genital mutilation remains so common that 98% of women have had the procedure done to them. It's one part of my Somali culture that I refuse to accept.

My journey back to Somalia was mind-blowing as it fulfilled all my desires in gaining a connection with my motherland and understanding its current state.

I come away from my trip with the utmost respect for Somali refugees; they have humbled me with how amazingly they cope in their sometimes unbearable situations.

With the punitive conditions and a daily battle for survival, Somali refugees have no break or gap in their lives to complain, they have no choice but to deal with it.

Somalia's tragedy in numbers
  • 21 years of conflict
  • 18,000 African Union troops
  • Despite the end of the worst famine in 60 years, 2.34m people still need food aid
  • Close to 2.5m people have been forced from their homes - 27% of the population
  • Somali pirates are currently holding 10 ships and 159 hostages, at a annual global cost of almost $7bn (£4.4bn)
Sources: AU, UN, ICC International Marine Bureau

Source: BBC News

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Somalia to have new Constitution

For the first time in twenty years, Somalia is on the verge of having a new constitution.

Among the major aspects that are to be addressed in the Roadmap signed by Somali leaders last September in Mogadishu are, creation of a national security and stabilization plan, obtaining a new constitution, political outreach and reconciliation and good governance. All this are to be implemented before the end of the transition period in August 2012.

An independent committee was tasked with drafting the constitution and has been meeting in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. The team is set to meet local elders from all the regions of Somalia in the capital Mogadishu in May for the adoption of the draft document.

The process of drafting the new constitution, which is conducted by both the United Nations and the constitution committee, has raised eyebrows among politicians and religious groups in Somalia.

Lawmakers are also angry at the Somali Transitional Federal Government and are accusing the President and Prime Minister of undermining the Somali parliament. Omar Dalha, former deputy parliament speaker and a member of parliament, said the Somali leaders should respect the parliament, which elected and approved both the president and speaker.

Officials sat the new constitution will grant more powers to civilians and allow the establishment of regional states, like Puntland, based on Islamic principles. Lawmakers are warning Somali leaders to respect the comments of Muslim clerics during adoption of the draft document to avoid possible differences.

Somali al-Shabaab fighters have warned of the adoption of the draft constitution ahead of a major conference that will bring together elders in Mogadishu in May.

The Somali public is of the view that getting a new constitution will solve many standing issues but currently the constitution delivery task has proved more complicated than it was expected, with lawmakers and Muslim clerics opposing its adoption.
Source: PressTV

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Somali man found guilty of piracy and hostage-taking

By Carol Cratty, CNN


  • Mohammad Saaili Shibin negotiated ransoms in two boat seizures
  • He is the highest-ranking Somali pirate brought to U.S., prosecutor says
  • Shibin will be sentenced in August

A Somali pirate was convicted Friday for his role in last year's seizure of the U.S. yacht Quest and the hostage-taking of the four Americans aboard who were killed during their ordeal.

Mohammad Saaili Shibin worked from the Somali mainland and his job was to negotiate ransoms. He was not charged with the actual murders of Scott and Jean Adam, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, who were fatally shot aboard the Quest in February 2011. But he was found guilty of numerous charges including kidnapping, hostage-taking, piracy and conspiracy.

"Today's verdict marks the conviction of the highest-ranking Somali pirate ever brought to the United States," said Neil MacBride, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "Mr. Shibin was convicted as part of a hijacking that resulted in the summary execution of four Americans. He was among an elite fraternity of pirate negotiators -- the vital link to any successful pirate attack."

Law enforcement officials said the FBI worked with Somali forces on the ground to capture Shibin on April 4, 2011.

Shibin also was found guilty of piracy and hostage-taking of the German-owned vessel Marida Marguerite. The ship's crew of 22 men was held captive off the coast of Somalia from May until December 2010. Shibin negotiated the ransom for that vessel and received a share of at least $30,000, according to prosecutors.

"Today's verdict should send a clear message to pirate negotiators and financiers alike, no matter what your role -- in a pirate skiff or demanding a ransom from the shores of Somalia -- you are not beyond the reach of American justice," said Janice Fedarcyk, FBI assistant director for the New York Field Office.

Shibin, who is believed to be in his early 50s, is scheduled to be sentenced in Norfolk, Virginia, on August 13. Several of the charges he was convicted of carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Source: CNN News

Jury in Tenn. to start deliberations on Monday in sex trafficking case against Somalis

A federal jury will begin deliberating in Nashville on Monday in the trial of nine defendants accused in a child sexual trafficking conspiracy operated by Somali gangs.

Attorneys finished their closing arguments Friday and the jury of six men and six women will return Monday morning to start deliberations after more than two weeks of testimony.

This is the first trial from an indictment that alleged 30 defendants, mostly people of Somali descent, were involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy to commit child sex trafficking and operated in Minnesota, Ohio and Tennessee. Other defendants in the case could be tried at a later date.

Defense attorneys argued that the main government witnesses, identified in court as Jane Doe No. 2 and Jane Doe No. 5, were unreliable and inconsistent.

Jane Doe No. 2, who is a Somali female, described during the testimony earlier this month being taken to several apartments around suburban Minneapolis to have sex with other Somali men for money, sometimes as little as $40. She said the sexual acts began at the age of 12.

She later described a trip to Nashville in 2009 with several of the gang members where she was found by police.

Defense attorneys questioned her age because her birth certificate was revealed to be fake. The jury will have to decide whether she was a juvenile when the sexual acts occurred.

Jane Doe. No. 5 testified earlier this month that she was being used to have sex with men in Minnesota when she was around 15 or 16 years old. She said she later moved to Nashville as an adult and said she saw girls and young women being used as prostitutes at a Nashville apartment.

Defense attorneys in closing arguments this week said that Jane Doe No. 5 was mentally ill and was inconsistent on dates and events during her testimony. They argued that prosecutors had failed to present proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants in the trial were part of the conspiracy.

All nine defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion and conspiracy to benefit financially from sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion. Some of the defendants face additional charges of sexual trafficking of children or attempted sexual trafficking of children.

Source: The Associated Press.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

East Africa: White House on Horn of Africa Humanitarian Crisis


Statement by the White House Press Secretary on the Horn of Africa Humanitarian Crisis:

In 2011, the worst drought in 60 years struck the Horn of Africa. The United Nations declared famine in six regions of Somalia, threatening the lives of over 250,000 Somalis, and requiring urgent humanitarian assistance for more than 13.3 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and other parts of Somalia. The international community responded and famine conditions abated in January 2012. Nevertheless, today, more than 9 million people still remain in need of emergency assistance in Horn of Africa.

To prevent a worsening of the fragile humanitarian situation and more people requiring emergency aid, the United States Government is providing an additional $120 million to those in need of emergency assistance in the Horn of Africa. This assistance is targeted to avoid the crisis from escalating in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia where the lateness and insufficiency of rains are expected to have a significant negative impact on crop production. We commend Ethiopia and Kenya for building the resiliency of their nations to mitigate the shock of food insecurity and drought, as well as their effort to host and provide a safe place for Somali refugees. This contribution brings the total U.S. assistance for the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa to more than $1.1 billion since the crisis began in 2011.

We urge the international community to continue their support and assistance to those in need of emergency assistance in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia with the objective of building resiliency in order to save lives.

Source: AllAfrica

Sharing to ease a stigma

By: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune

Fartun Weli hopes her experience helps Somali women facing infertility to strip away any shame.
Fartun Weli talked about her struggles conceiving a child at her Hopkins, MN home, Monday, April 16, 2012.(ELIZABETH FLORES/STAR TRIBUNE) ELIZABETH FLORES �

Fartun Weli knew something was wrong.

She and her husband, Jamal Mohamed, had been trying to have a baby for a few years. No luck. Then came hot flashes, night sweats and her doctor's diagnosis: Her ovaries were failing, and she was in menopause. At 32, her dreams of becoming a mother and, in her view, fulfilling her purpose as a Somali woman were shot.

She stopped meeting with other Somali women. Their constant questions and stares at her empty belly deepened her sense of failure. In America, infertility is a disappointment. In Somalia, it is shameful. Motherhood is a woman's "ticket of acceptance," she said, admission into a sorority and a sign they've achieved life's purpose.

From Weli's isolation, however, came a new mission. She reached out -- counseling other Somali women, starting a support group and beginning to strip away the cultural stigma surrounding infertility.

On Sunday, to mark the start of National Infertility Awareness Week, she was host of a community-wide discussion on the problem at Safari Restaurant & Banquet Center in Minneapolis.

"I said, well, there was a reason why maybe God's not giving me the babies. I have to do something else," Weli said. "Then I thought, there were so many nights when I sat somewhere and I had no support except Jamal. At least, let me create some kind of conversation about this topic."

'Incredibly taboo'

Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed knows the emotional pain of Somali women who are childless.

A Somali-born physician and chief of staff at AXIS Medical Center in Minneapolis, he sees many Somali patients who are having trouble conceiving and don't want anyone to know.

"It's an incredibly taboo issue,'' he said. "Women suffer in silence with this issue."

Somali women expect to start having children soon after they're married and to bear many children, Dr. Mohamed said. When that doesn't happen right away, the questions from community members begin, adding to the pressure and the stress.

Statistics show that one-third of all infertility cases stem from women's reproductive problems and one-third are caused by men's reproductive complications -- yet the prevailing perception within Somali circles is that the woman is responsible, Dr. Mohamed said.

Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex for women younger than 35 or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth, according to Dr. Deb Thorp, an ob/gyn specialist at Park Nicollet who also has many Somali patients.

The problem affects one in eight couples nationally, regardless of race and ethnicity, Thorp said.

One challenge for Somali women, Dr. Mohamed said, is that they will not easily accept the prognosis. They will consult other doctors, often seeking out a specialist at Mayo Clinic or somewhere in Europe -- or perhaps travel to Asia to try alternative remedies, he said.

A second issue is the fear of being labeled as a person who may be "cursed," he said.

Opening up

Like most women she knew, Weli always expected she'd become a mother.

She met her husband on a blind date nearly 10 years ago, got married and began planning for a family. He wanted three, four, maybe more children. She thought two or three were all she could handle. They worked and went to school, and when Weli reached age 30, she began to worry.

After she learned she was in early menopause, she started to panic.

"It kind of hit me -- no babies? Oh, my God. What next for me?" Weli recalled.

She also began to prepare herself for what she felt was inevitable -- her husband leaving her because of it.

Not once, Mohamed said, did he think of divorcing his wife. Finally, Weli began to believe him and relax. She also started to envision her life without children. "The more educated I became, the bolder I got and the more I said, 'No, I can live without babies. This will not define me.'"

She attended a meeting of the local chapter of RESOLVE, an organization that supports infertile couples. At the meeting, people openly spoke of their struggles and traded information.

Weli sought to create something similar especially for Somali couples. "It's become so secret that it's making us sick. So I thought, let's open it up," Weli said.

In Somalia, she said, women used to support one another through something called a "women's circle." If someone had just given birth or was sick or had some problem, all the women in the neighborhood would come to her house to sit with her, she said. They would take turns telling the woman a story to help her deal with the challenge.

In the fall of 2010, Weli started a nonprofit group to educate Somali women about infertility and other health issues. She started meeting women one-on-one in their homes or at coffee shops, then began holding monthly meetings at her apartment building in Hopkins. Last week, she moved into a new office in the Sabathani Center in Minneapolis. With the help of a $50,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation, she hired consultants to create a strtegic plan.

Weli named her organization the Isuroon Project, using a Somali word that means a strong woman who takes care of herself.

At the meetings, women discuss all kinds of health issues, from infertility to diabetes to obesity to HIV. Weli said she fields phone calls from Somali women living as far away as London who have heard about Isuroon and want to talk about their infertility struggles.

"The more I felt confident in myself trying to talk to women about my experience, the more they would talk," she said. "Then I realized this has to change."

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

Source: Star Tribune

Somali gang sex trafficking trial wrapping up in Nashville

A federal trial involving nine defendants accused of conspiring in a child sex-trafficking ring involving Somali gangs with Twin Cities ties is wrapping up in Nashville, Tenn., earlier than expected.

The defense attorneys for the defendants, most of whom are of Somali descent, rested their cases Tuesday, April 24, and closing arguments were expected to start Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors had expected the trial to take more than a month, but after several last-minute delays, testimony has taken just over two weeks. At trial, the government has attempted to lay out a complicated case for a wide-ranging conspiracy among multiple defendants to use a young Somali refugee as a prostitute in suburban Minneapolis.

The unidentified witness, called Jane Doe No. 2 in the indictment, testified earlier this month that she was in sixth grade when Somali gang members started making her perform sexual acts for money. Another witness, identified as Jane Doe No. 5, testified that young girls and women were being used as prostitutes in an apartment in Nashville.

The nine defendants are among a total of 30 who were named in an original indictment unsealed in 2010. It claimed young girls were being sexually trafficked in a ring operated by three Somali gangs in Minnesota, Ohio and Tennessee. The other defendants might stand trial at a later date.

But defense attorneys tried to dismantle the government's case by noting that Jane Doe No. 2's exact age is unclear because her birth certificate was falsified. They also told jurors the witness was a runaway and a "party girl" who willingly had sex with multiple defendants and lied about it so her conservative Somali family could save face.

Her age is key to the government's case to prove conspiracy to commit sexual trafficking of children younger than 18. Prosecutors used pictures of the witness in middle school in an attempt to show she was very young when the prostitution occurred.

Inaccurate birth dates on immigration paperwork are common in U.S. Somali refugee communities.

Source: The Associated Press

Farah Jama, wrongly convicted of rape, walks free after prosecutors admit there may not have even been a crime

A STUDENT freed today after being wrongly convicted of rape says he feels "angry and depressed" after his ordeal.

Farah Jama with his lawyer Kimani Boden. Picture: Andrew Tauber Source: Herald Sun

Farah Jama was just 20 when he was accused of raping a woman found unconscious in a locked toilet cubicle in 2006.

He was acquitted today after prosecutors admitted there might not have even been a crime.

A man who had no prior convictions, Mr Jama will seek compensation after spending 18 months locked up for a crime he didn't commit.

Walking from court this morning with his father, Mr Jama said he was happy but had little faith in the justice system.

Mr Jama said while he was confident the truth would prevail, he was angered by his treatment.

"I know that the truth always will come out one day, everybody will see that I am innocent,'' he told reporters.

He described what happened to him as "very, very bad''.

"I feel really depressed and cannot imagine it, what happened. I feel really angry and depressed.''

He said his parents supported him throughout his ordeal and he planned to celebrate tonight.

The woman, aged in her 40s, had no memory of the night but a DNA swab was taken and later matched to a sample taken from Mr Jama.

He said he was at home praying with his family that night and not at the Doncaster over-28s nightclub where the woman was found.

Today, the Court of Appeal was told it was likely that the sample taken from the woman had been contaminated.

The same forensic officer who conducted the tests on the alleged rape victim had done another unrelated test the day before that involved Mr Jama's DNA.

No charges stemmed from the other test and it is unknown exactly how the contamination occurred.

The Court of Appeal was told it was possible the woman had not been raped at all.

She had never complained of sexual assault and could not recall the evening.

The court was told it was "improbable" that Mr Jama had even been at the nightclub.

Justices Marilyn Warren, Robert Redlich and Bernard Bongiorno overturned his conviction after the prosecution conceded contamination of the only evidence against him was likely.

His lawyer, Kimani Adil Boden, told his client and his family had suffered greatly.

"His life has been put on hold," Mr Boden said.

Mr Jama's mother had begged him to help her son and after visiting him in prison, and Mr Boden was convinced he was not guilty.

"He assured me he was innocent. I then had to find a way to prove it," he said.

After fighting to have DNA tests taken again it became clear there had been a mix-up at the lab.

Mr Jama was bailed last month pending further investigation and on Friday got the news that he would be acquitted.

Mr Boden hailed a "momentous'' day for Mr Jama whose case he described as "tragic''.

"He's been in custody for close to one-and-a-half years on charges he didn't commit.

"Justice has finally been done, however, at a price.''

Mr Boden said Jama felt relieved at the decision.

"He always knew he was innocent. From his point of view, there was never any doubt,'' he said.

"The mother and the rest of the family always knew that he was innocent, they always believed that and the only thing that he was convicted on was the DNA evidence.

"So he is relieved, definitely relieved, but he is definitely traumatised to some extent.''
Source: The Herald Sun

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Somali rapper K'naan makes songs in the key of love

 From Isha Sesay and Jessica Elils, CNN

K'naan is a superstar from Somalia and a global hip-hop sensation. Critics have compared him to both Bob Marley and Eminem.

His name means "traveler" and Somali-born poet, rapper and musician K'naan has certainly come a long way.

The hip-hop sensation, who's been compared by critics to both reggae hero Bob Marley and rap star Eminem, fled war-torn Somalia as a teenager to eventually settle down with his family in Canada.

Strongly influenced by his native country, his socially conscious lyrics stem from life as a refugee and memories of civil war. Yet, the talented rhymesmith says today that he is more interested in emotional journeys, penning songs about the battles of the heart instead of street ones.

"In some ways, love can be harder than war -- it's a very difficult thing when human beings acknowledge their vulnerability," he says.

"War has a way of making life painfully factual and love has a way of making life completely painfully dreamy, and I wanted to try to be honest about where I'm at in life," adds K'naan, whose latest album, "Country, God or the Girl" is expected to be released early next month.

Blessed with an uncanny lyrical gift, K'naan fuses a wide array of styles and rhythms to deliver his African-influenced rap.

In 2010, his upbeat tune "Wavin' Flag" became a global hit after it was chosen as the official Coca-Cola anthem for the 2010 South Africa World Cup, the first time that football's biggest tournament was held on African soil.

For K'naan, the selection of his song was a "surreal" and "magic" moment.

"That perspective is not lost on me, you know that I was someone who was raised and born in that continent," he says. "That moment of the continent's recognition and glory, that my music is the soundtrack for that, is a pretty huge privilege and that something to this day I'm still trying to kind of get a hold of."

With two full length albums already under his belt, his impressive roster of collaborations features a wide array of high-profile names, including rapper Nas and Mos Def, singer Nelly Furtado and Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett.

In his latest offering, he also joins forces with Rolling Stones legend Keith Richards and rapper

It's a long journey from where K'naan imagined he would be when he and his family boarded one of the last commercial flights to leave Somalia in 1991, at a time when the East African country was descending into chaos, mired in the grip of a long civil war.

"I think I felt quiet a bit of guilt," he recalls. "Leaving was both a privilege and a burden because you saw the people around you who also deserved the chance to leave but weren't going to get that chance and you were getting that chance."

K'naan first spent some time in New York before relocating to Toronto. Without speaking a word of English, he turned to music to learn how to express himself in his new environment.

"I picked up rap records because rappers seemed to me like they ... could be great orators, so I would listen to them," he says. "Luckily I did come upon people who were great poets like Naz and Rakim and people who use similes, imagery, metaphors, things that could teach me something."

In the end, he says he learned the new language very quickly "because it was like a survivor's manual -- it wasn't a leisurely activity for me, it was what I needed to live because language is so important in my culture."

K'naan released his first full-length album -- dubbed "Dusty Foot Philosopher" -- in 2005 to critical acclaim. Yet, his first outing to a truly global stage came a few years earlier, in front of a rather unusual audience for hip-hop standards.

A relatively unknown artist, K'naan was invited in early 2000s to perform at a United Nations' event marking the 50th anniversary of the organization's refugee agency.

Standing in front of some of the world's most powerful men, K'naan stopped his performance to recite a politically-charged poem, blasting the U.N. for its failed relief mission in Somalia.

"At this time I said what do I have to do, I have no career, nobody cares, I can't live with myself if I don't say something now that I have the opportunity to address all these people of stature and political clout.

"It was like honest in the moment. It was something that was about what's happened over there and how it was treated how it was ignored, how it was undervalued by leadership and all of that."

The crowd's initial silence quickly gave its place to a standing ovation, prompting Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour to storm up on stage and congratulate him.

Passionate about the country he was born, K'naan says Somalia is a country with an incredible amount of potential.

"If you're ever around Somali people you know how enterprising they can be, how sophisticated and intelligent they can be and you have only circumstances which enhance the negativity of such wealthy people," he says. "So I would say that while all this is happening the truth about it is that Somalia is untapped in its potential. And so, as long as there is potential, there is hope."

Source: CNN

Somali Film Company Launches in Kenya

Somalia, with help from its African neighbors, is trying to re-establish a central government in Mogadishu. But since the state's collapes in 1991, many citizens of the country have had to establish roots elsewhere. A pair of Somalis in Nairobi are trying to establish a film company in neighboring Kenya.

In the Somali neighborhood of Eastleigh, in the eastern suburbs of Nairobi, two businessmen have launched a Somali film production company called Eastleighwood.

Ahmed Shariff, one of the founders, hopes to change people’s impressions of Somali society. “What has been dominant in the mass media outside was an image that represents a people that are violent and extremists, people who are starving to death. With Eastleighwood, what we want to show is the other side of the story," he said.

Eastleighwood aims to fill in the gaps by depicting the everyday lives of Somalis, mainly of those living in the diaspora.

Hassan Abdul, an Eastleighwood actor, fled his Somali hometown of Kismayo in 2003. Still under the control of al-Shabab militants, residents of Kismayo are forbidden from listening to music or watching movies. Now in Nairobi, Hassan is free to pursue his career as an actor and singer. “We are trying [to] make Somali movies, talking about love, talking about culture, Somali culture, talking about the reality, the reality in Somalia," he said.

Love is Blind, a film currently in production, tells the story of a blind girl living in Eastleigh who is courted by three different men. It illustrates key themes in the lives of the diaspora, such as the vital financial remittances sent from the U.S. and Europe that support many in Eastleigh.

With limited funding, almost everyone who works on the films is a volunteer. The production sets are often crewmembers’ homes and the actresses double as singers.

Though Eastleighwood is not turning a profit yet, many see opportunity in Somali-language programming. The audience is global. In Somalia’s two decades of statelessness, millions have fled the country and settled abroad. There are now more Somalis living outside Somalia than within.

Iman Burran, the chairman of Eastleighwood, knows this well. “My mom lives in LA, my brother also lives in California, my other brother lives in the UK, my younger brother lives in Lahore, Pakistan, so you see we are global, so Eastleighwood is targeting a global Somali community," he said.

Four films are currently in production. When complete, they will broadcast on two Somali satellite TV stations reaching Somalis from Mogadishu to Minneapolis.

Somalia is a place that is largely captured by images of war and famine. Eastleighwood hopes to show something markedly different, that there is great diversity in the Somali people and their stories no matter where they are living now.

Source: VOA

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

SOMALIA: Burkas to tracksuits

Photo: Phil Moore/IRIN
Going for gold: Female runners at Mogadishu's shelled-out Konis Stadium

The Somali Athletics Federation will select one female runner from a field of 10 to compete in the 400-metres at this year's London Olympics. The youngest of those currently training in Mogadishu is Najma, 10. She started running six months ago, shortly after Al-Shabab left the city. “My father encouraged me,” said Najma.

She knows she is lucky - most girls in Somalia do not enjoy such freedom. The head coach of the Athletics Federation, Ahmed Ali Abikar, said it is very difficult for female athletes in Mogadishu to train. "Society doesn't understand about sport for girls. They cannot train everywhere, they are teased. But they know why they're doing it," he said.

Najma and Leila, 15, meet every Saturday to race around the 400m track at the bullet-ridden Konis Stadium in downtown Mogadishu, a city which until August 2011 was occupied by Al-Shabab insurgents. Leila, a slight and self-possessed young woman with a bright red scarf covering her hair and glittering gold earrings, remembers a time when she had to conceal her tracksuit beneath a burka until she was in a secure compound where it was safe to run. "The stadiums were closed because of the fighting", she said.

Leila has been training for three years and says she has always been interested in sport - something which both the mayor of Mogadishu and the prime minister of Somalia regularly express their desire to promote. She says girls in Mogadishu can now choose from basketball, handball and athletics. "When I'm running, I'm happy. It gives me real pleasure", she said.

Determined girls like Leila are staking their claim to freedom and choice.

Nick Birnback, spokesperson for the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), agrees that change is in the air. Following the decision to grant women 30 percent representation in parliament, he said many had sought advice from UNPOS to understand their rights and request support. “They're willing to be really engaged in the political process knowing that the context of Mogadishu is a very hard environment,” he said.

At a February conference in Garowe, the administrative capital of Puntland, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) convened the second in a string of UNPOS-facilitated meetings to work towards the completion of, and transition to, a new constitution by 20 August 2012. Currently women have 12 percent representation in government, but it was agreed that in the new federal parliament of Somalia they will have at least 30 percent.

“Historic” Women’s Day celebrations

The head of the Somali Women's Federation, Asha Omar, is another determined character. She was responsible for organizing Women's Day celebrations in Mogadishu this year. Omar returned to Somalia two years ago after 21 years in Sweden. “We are the peace-lords, we're working hard,” she said. “It's the men who left their work - they're just fighting between themselves. Everyone wants to be a president. I tell them, be a president in your own home."

Omar says decades of male migration and drought have promoted women to non-traditional roles; many now are at the head of their families. "Women have no tribes, they have families", she explained, adding that Somali women lose their ties to the clan structure on marriage.

However, on women running for parliamentary office, Omar warned that because the clan structure has no tradition of female leadership, it will be a case of the men choosing for them, perpetuating inequality.

Abdi Hosh, TFG minister for constitution, described this year's Women's Day celebrations as historic. "It was the first such event I ever observed in Somalia; it was the first such event held at the venue in 21 years, as it was being used by IDPs [internally displaced persons], and it was significant for me because I fought for 30 percent membership for women in the next parliament," he said.

The city centre was awash with the vibrant colours of ceremonial outfits, hand-painted signs and flags, with many wearing matching turquoise and white dresses in the print of the Somali flag. "We are wearing the same dresses to show we are organized", said Hawa, a 22-year-old from Mogadishu, at the celebrations.

A long way to go

But a source at the Ministry for Information described the move towards 30 percent representation in parliament as a “gesture”. He called for action: economic empowerment such as loans for women, mandatory education for girls, a legal framework to promote equal rights and “a sensible reinterpretation” of social, traditional and religious norms.

Many of the women entering politics in Mogadishu now are either from the diaspora, or have spent time in Nairobi - like Omar.

While some women are returning to Somalia, many are still moving away. Ahmed Ali Abikar, the athletics coach, has dealt with the disappointment of promising runners moving abroad to seek better opportunities.

Samia Yusuf Omar, the girl he trained to run for Somalia at the Beijing Olympics, now lives in Ethiopia having made contacts abroad through her training with the Somali team. Mo Farah, one of Britain’s top Olympic hopes whose family fled Mogadishu shortly before the fall of the Said Barre's regime, is perhaps the most high profile example of this.

Osman, a 66-year-old security guard at Konis Stadium, says he has not missed one day of work in the last 21 years, and has bandages covering the bullet wounds on his left arm and right ankle to show for it. He will be watching Somalia's Olympic runners on TV and firmly believes sport for females will continue to win acceptance. "They can't help but play," he said, of the young girls and boys who use the track. "It's good for everyone."

Somalia has been caught up in a devastating 20-year civil war. Al Shabab militants have threatened to carry on their war against the government and the African Union despite having been evicted from much of Mogadishu and losing territory to Kenyan and Ethiopian troops in the south: Two top Somali sports officials were among at least six killed by a suicide bomber in a Mogadishu theatre in early April.

Source: IRIN

Somali pirates free Italian chemical tanker

Somali pirates have released an Italian chemical tanker with 18 crew captured off the coast of Oman in December, the foreign ministry in Rome said on Monday.
The Enrico Ievoli, owned by Naples-based shipping company Marnavi, was carrying caustic soda from the United Arab Emirates to the Mediterranean and has seven Indians, six Italians and five Ukrainians on board.

"The foreign ministry confirms the release of the crew of the Italian ship 'Enrico Ievoli' off the Somali coast," the ministry said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi was quoted as expressing his "great satisfaction" and said it was part of "a wider diplomatic effort carried out also with Somali authorities in recent months."

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in February asked his Somali counterpart Abdiweli Mohamed Ali to do "everything in his power" to ensure the release.

"This incident is further confirmation of the gravity of the security threat posed by the phenomenon of piracy," Terzi said on Monday.

Ship owner Domenico Ievoli was quoted by ANSA news agency as saying: "The ship has already left Somalia and there are Italian military on board."

An Italian warship met the Ievoli after it came out of Somali waters and sent a party of armed marines aboard to protect it on the remainder of its journey.

The Ievoli, a 138-metre (453-foot) vessel, was carrying 15,750 tons of caustic soda when it was hijacked in the Indian Ocean.

The Italian navy, which is taking part in anti-piracy operations in the region, had already thwarted an attack on the same ship in 2006 near Yemen.

Three other hijacked Italian vessels were freed from Somali pirates in November and December, two of them reportedly following ransom payments, among dozens of ships that have been captured in recent years.

There are no Italian vessels now in Somali captivity but pirates still hold hundreds of hostages and dozens of ships.

The Savina Caylyn, an oil tanker with five Italians and 17 Indians on board, was freed on December 21 after more than 10 months in captivity.

In November, the cargo ship Rosalia D'Amato with a crew of 21 was released after seven months in the hands of Somali pirates.

Also in November, British and US commandos freed another Italian vessel, the Montecristo, with seven Italians, 10 Ukrainians and six Indians on board.

Kalashnikov-wielding pirates prowl far out across the Indian Ocean from their bases in war-torn northern Somalia, seizing foreign ships which they hold for several months demanding multi-million dollar ransoms.

Source:  AFP

The Story of Mandeeq – A Modern Somali Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a land called Mandeeq which fell under the grip of an evil tyrant called Jaws – he was called Jaws because he ate the heart and soul of any unlucky or unwise soul who ventured too close to him. After suffering under his evil rule for many years, the people of Mandeeq freed themselves and their land from his cruel and evil rule. Their freedom did not come easily or cheaply as it was won only after a long and costly war in which many of their people died and many more were forced to flee for their lives and live in the forest like wild animals. But their will was strong and their hearts were brave and slowly, bit by bit, they were able to defeat the evil hordes of Jaws’ Red Heads and chase them from their lovely land. Jaws’ soldiers were called Red Heads, because they wore red hats and helmets to signify the blood of their enemies and so strike terror in their hearts. However, once the people overcame their fear, the red hats and helmets made Jaws’ soldiers easy targets for the Mandeeq freedom fighters which came to appreciate that their enemies made their job easier.

After defeating the evil tyrant Jaws, the people of Mandeeq were happy and excited and they rejoiced and celebrated their hard won victory. However, after the celebrations were over, they woke up to the hard truth that they now had to govern themselves and establish freedom, equality and justice for all. So they gathered all the elders and wise men from all the different communities and regions of the land and asked them to come up with a solution to this difficult and vexing problem. After long debate and discussion during which everyone had their say, the wise men agreed that the land should be governed by a leader chosen by all the people through a free vote and that this leader and his appointed Ministers should be overseen and answer to a parliament of representatives chosen by the people of each region of the land. The wise men also agreed that the first leader should be Wadani – a wise and noble man that was much loved by all the people and who had been the leader of Mandeeq before Jaws seized control of the land and imprisoned him.

The people rejoiced and were happy – at last Mandeeq was not only free, but would live up to the hopes and dreams of its entire people. Wadani proved to be a wise and humane leader as the wise men had hoped and Mandeeq began to thrive and grow. The parliament was established and the people started to get used to governing themselves and rebuilding their lives and their homes after the long years of war. Everything was looking good and the people got on with their lives and raising their children. After some time, Wadani became sick and various men began to covet his position as leader. Prominent among these pretenders to the position of leader were four: Isqor, Mitit, Macaangag and Kubood. These four pretenders began touring the land proclaiming their readiness to become leader and promising to make things even better than they were. After some time, Wadani died from his illness and his death caused great sadness and suffering among the people. They came out in droves for his funeral and there was much weeping and wailing.

In his will, Wadani implored them to continue with the system of government established by the wise men and choose their leaders for their character and their merit and not for any other reason. The people and parliament honoured their dead leader’s final request, and his deputy, Dulqaad, duly assumed the position of leader. Dulqaad proved to be a calm and steady leader, and he slowly won the trust and respect of the people as he worked to ensure that the peace and stability he had inherited from his predecessor was maintained and protected. Meanwhile, Isqor, Mitit, Macaangag and Kubood continued their tireless campaigns with each presenting himself as the true successor of Wadani. Let us draw a picture of these four campaigners, two of whom had worked for Wadani at various times while he was leader, one which had earlier sought to replace him as leader, and the fourth which had been encouraged by Wadani to pursue a political career.

Isqor had been a Minister and supporter of the evil Jaws during most of the time that Jaws had ruled Mandeeq. During his long years as one of Jaws’ Ministers, Isqor had learnt the tyrant’s secret of leadership which was to rule by dividing, then conquering his enemies. Isqor only fell out with Jaws when Jaws sought to imprison him towards the end of his rule. Isqor then joined the rebellion in Mandeeq and was elected the third leader of the rebellion. Isqor had never before been leader of any group of people, instead he had spent his life following the instructions and commands of other leaders. This quickly became obvious as he managed to antagonise nearly all the military commanders of the rebellion and the other civilian leaders of of Mandeeq. Despite his lack of a clear vision behind which to unite the people and, therefore, his inability to win their confidence, Isqor nurtured a cherished and towering ambition to become the leader of Mandeeq, and he was prepared to do anything, promise any rainbow and sacrifice any principle to achieve this ambition. Early in his leadership Wadani had appointed Isqor as one of his Ministers, but it soon became clear that Isqor was so preoccupied with campaigning to succeed Wadani that he had no inclination or time to discharge his Ministerial duties. Accordingly, Wadani politely thanked him and replaced him with someone who was prepared to fulfil the job.

Mitit had also been a supporter and confidant of the evil Jaws, and he had also run away from Jaws and sought exile in foreign lands when he began to suspect that the tyrant was going to turn on him. After Mandeeq was liberated, he returned home and sought a position in government with single minded determination. Wadani appointed him to a very important position from which Mitit quickly managed to antagonise the elders and wise men as well as the poets, the learned and the young. After receiving endless complaints about Mitit and his high handed behaviour, Wadani politely asked him to quit. Mitit immediately declared his conviction that he would be Mandeq’s future leader and began his campaign towards this objective. Like many educated people, Mitit held an exaggerated, if evidently false, estimation of his own abilities and the role he could or would play in the advancement of Mandeeq and its people. He was absolutely convinced that he was indispensible to the future growth and development of the land although, as anyone can tell you, no individual is indispensible in the history of nations.

Macaangag had been one of the founders of Mandeeq’s rebellion against the evil rule of Jaws and was widely known for his honesty and his frankness. After the liberation of Mandeeq, he was put in charge of rehabilitating the destroyed capital of the land. He did such a good job that he quickly became one of the most loved and admired leaders of the land. Macaangag showed what hard work and honest administration could accomplish in a short time and the people responded to his service and determination to accomplish good works with widespread admiration and took him into their hearts. Unfortunately, Macaangag misread this genuine public adoration for his work in the capital as an endorsement to rule, so he decided to challenge Wadani for the leadership of the land. Many of his friends as well as the elders and wise men advised him to reconsider and not seek that which he wasn’t qualified to attain. They assured him that while he had all the qualities to become the leader of Mandeeq in the future, he should serve an apprenticeship under Wadani to prepare himself for this role. Macaangag pointedly refused such advice and sharply sent the elders and wise men on their way with the riposte that he required no advice from them, with the result that his challenge to Wadani was resoundingly defeated.

Kubood was a young man with no experience in politics or leadership who had fled the land during the latter part of Jaws’ evil rule. Upon his return after liberation, he was eager to get into government and play a role in the development of Mandeeq. He met Wadani many times and impressed him with his energy and his evident desire to contribute to the advancement of his people and their land. Wadani advised him that instead of seeking governmental office, he should start a political organisation for like minded young people and strive to contribute to the future of Mandeeq by seeking leadership through elective office. After some reflection, Kubood happily agreed and Wadani assisted the young man by providing him with advice and support to establish his organisation. Thus, without any experience or background in leadership or management of people, Kubood jumped into the dangerous waters of politics with the energy and optimism of youth and the bravery of ignorance. He quickly endeared himself to many, particularly among the young, for his many tactless, but honest, declarations on various matters that amused many and angered some.

These, then, were the men who sought to inherit the mantle of leadership that had been vacated by the death of Wadani and was now worn by his faithful deputy, Dulqad. For his part, Dulqad was determined to avoid any hasty or unwise action during his leadership that would undermine the peace, stability and spirit of brotherhood that he had inherited from Wadani. He finished Wadani’s term of office with a cool and steady hand that delivered the continuity that he had promised the people. When the time came for the people to choose a leader once more, they had a choice between Dulqad, Isqor and Kubod since Mitit and Macaangag had not been able to fulfill the requirements set by the wise men. However, they were united in their opposition to Dulqad and spent their time belittling him and decrying his rule. After much soul searching, the people of Mandeeq chose Dulqad over Isqor and Kubod by a small margin.

Having secured the leadership on his own merit by winning the support of the people, Dulqad’s confidence grew and he continued his approach of maintaining his predecessor’s legacy, while seeking to improve where he felt it necessary. During his time, many good things were achieved for the people of Mandeeq, however, as the period of his leadership grew longer, Dulqad came to rely more and more upon a few trusted advisors and officials, and these advisors and officials became more and more powerful. As always happens, these advisors and officials became ever more high handed and arrogant in their dealings with the people as their power increased. It is said that the more distant a leader grows from his people, the less popular he becomes as his officials fill the gap that has grown between the leader and the people. The more high handed and arrogant these officials are to the people, the more the people begin to dislike and distrust the leader and his rule. Many leaders have fallen into this trap and Dulqad was no exception.

During this time, the four pretenders, Isqor, Mitit, Macaangag and Kubod, had licked their wounds and emerged even more determined to unseat Dulqad and claim the leadership. They decided that they could not defeat him while also competing against each other, so they had to agree upon one of them to unite behind. They decided that this person had to be Isqor, and Mitit and Macaangag agreed to cancel their campaigns and join Isqor’s campaign directly. In return, Isqor promised them their pick of positions in his government, upon defeating Dulqad. Kubod maintained his organisation, but he agreed to exhort his supporters to give their support to Isqor in the campaign. In return, Isqor agreed to include Kubod officials and supporters in his government. Having thus secured the support of his potential rivals, Isqor proceeded to seek support from the people of Mandeeq by promising them any and everything that they requested of him. He even travelled to foreign lands to promise their leaders whatever they requested of him, in order to secure their support for his campaign.

Thus, when the second leadership contest came about, Dulqad’s campaign suffered since the people had become fed up of the high handed arrogance of his officials, while Isqor was riding a wave of popular support generated partly by his numerous promises and partly by the strong support of his new allies, Mitit, Mcaangag and Kubod. Isqor, duly won the leadership by a wide margin and proceeded to demonstrate a new approach to leadership. Firstly, he appointed Mitit and Macaangag to their chosen positions in his government as he had promised them. Secondly, he took on some of Kubod’s most senior colleagues as his advisors and confidants, again as he promised. Finally, he promised the people of Mandeeq that his leadership would bring a new dawn of prosperity, peace and brotherhood. The people were happy and there was great jubilation and anticipation of a new era of progress and peace throughout the land.

Now, some two years after this change of leadership and promise of a bright and hopeful new future, the people of Mandeeq are not only disappointed and disheartened, but also very worried about their future. Already, it seems that the Isqor era may lead to the reversal of the progress that Mandeeq has achieved since winning freedom from Jaws. The first two years of Isqor’s rule has given some clear indicators of this negative potential outcome. Firstly, both Mitit and Macaangag have been ousted from government under a cloud, with Mitit loudly declaring that he had committed a crime against the people of Mandeeq by urging them to choose Isqor as leader. Secondly, Isqor and his supporters have successfully fomented a plot against Kubod and his organisation that has split it into two thereby wounding it, perhaps fatally. Thirdly, the people of Mandeeq have been pitted against each other, community against community and region against region, such that they have never been so divided since the defeat of evil Jaws and his expulsion from their land. Fourthly, the promises made by Isqor and his cohorts to all and sundry have come to haunt them since they cannot all be fulfilled, thus filling the people with anger and feelings of betrayal. Finally, Isqor and his Ministers have resorted to imprisoning or beating anyone that criticises them or tells the truth about any of their mistakes.

The people of Mandeeq are now passing through the most difficult period of their recent history, and they will need all their resources of patience, fraternity and good will to weather it. They are indeed fortunate that when things get tough, it is precisely these qualities of determination, fortitude and unity that define their national character. What is the moral of this story? It is said that all great truths are eternal and that history and the experiences of each generation merely work to illuminate these great truths time and again. The morals of this story are simply that not all that glitters is gold; that silver-tongued promises more often lead to folly than to wisdom; that a bird in the hand is better than ten in the bush; that leaders must be judged by their history, their character and their actions and not by empty promises, nor by appeals to kinship; and that nations, as with men, must look before they leap.

Ahmed M.I. Egal

April 2012

Biggest English-Somali news portal

Reported by Goth Mohamed, Somalilandpress, Hargeisa

In Egypt Race, Battle Is Joined on Islam’s Role

He has argued for barring women and non-Muslims from Egypt’s presidency on the basis of Islamic law, or Shariah. He has called for a council of Muslim scholars to advise Parliament. He has a track record of inflammatory statements about Israel, including repeatedly calling its citizens “killers and vampires.”

Mohamed Morsi is also a leading candidate to become the country’s next president.

Mr. Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s dominant Islamist group, declared last week that his party platform amounted to a distillation of Islam itself.

“This is the old ‘Islam is the solution’ platform,” he said, recalling the group’s traditional slogan in his first television interview as a candidate. “It has been developed and crystallized so that God could bless society with it.” At his first rally, he led supporters in a chant: “The Koran is our constitution, and Shariah is our guide!”

One month before Egyptians begin voting for their first president after Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Morsi’s record is escalating a campaign battle here over the place of Islam in the new democracies promised by the Arab Spring revolts.

Mr. Morsi, who claims to be the only true Islamist in the race, faces his fiercest competition from a more liberal Islamist, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a pioneering leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was expelled from the group in June for arguing for a more pluralistic approach to both Islam and Egypt. He is campaigning now as the leading champion of liberal values in the race.

Both face a third front-runner, the former foreign minister Amr Moussa, who argued this week that Egypt cannot afford an “experiment” in Islamic democracy.

The winner could set the course for Egypt’s future, overseeing the drafting of a new constitution, settling the status of its current military rulers, and shaping its relations with the West, Israel and its own Christian minority. But as the Islamists step toward power across the region, the most important debate may be the one occurring within their own ranks over the proper agenda and goals.

Mr. Morsi’s conservative record and early campaign statements have sharpened the contrast between competing Islamist visions. The Brotherhood, the 84-year-old religious revival group known here for its preaching and charity as well as for its moderate Islamist politics, took a much softer approach in the official platform it released last year. It dropped the “Islam is the solution” slogan, omitted controversial proposals about a religious council or a Muslim president and promised to respect the Camp David accords with Israel. Its parliamentary leaders distanced themselves from the Salafis, ultraconservative Islamists who won a quarter of the seats in Parliament.

The Brotherhood’s original nominee was its leading strategist, Khairat el-Shater, a businessman known for his pragmatism. He had close personal ties to Salafi leaders, but he did not leave much of a paper trail besides an opinion column in a Western newspaper stressing the Brotherhood’s commitment to tolerance and democracy. Mr. Shater was disqualified last week because of a past conviction at a Mubarak-era political trial. In his short-lived campaign he stressed the Brotherhood’s plans for economic development and rarely, if ever, brought up Islamic law.

By contrast, Mr. Morsi, 60, is campaigning explicitly both as a more conservative Islamist and as a loyal executor of Mr. Shater’s plans. He campaigns with Mr. Shater under a banner with both their faces, fueling critics’ charges that he would be a mere servant of Mr. Shater and the Brotherhood’s executive board.

But Mr. Morsi is also courting the ultraconservative Salafis, whose popular candidate, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, was also disqualified. Mr. Morsi may be tacking to the right to court the Salafis as a swing vote in the contest with Mr. Aboul Fotouh, or he may merely be expressing more conservative, older impulses within the Brotherhood.

“Some want to stop our march to an Islamic future, where the grace of God’s laws will be implemented and provide an honest life to all,” he proclaimed Saturday night at his first rally, in a Nile delta town. “Our Salafi brothers, the Islamic group, we are united in our aims and Islamic vision. The Islamic front must unite so we can fulfill this vision.”

Although he received a Ph.D. in engineering at the University of Southern California in 1982, Mr. Morsi spent the past decade as a public spokesman for the Brotherhood’s political wing, where he left a far more extensive and controversial record than Mr. Shater did. Last year, for example, Mr. Morsi led a boycott of a major Egyptian cellphone company because its founder, Naguib Sawiris, a Coptic Christian, had circulated on Twitter a cartoon of Mickey Mouse in a long beard with Minnie in a full-face veil — a joke Mr. Morsi said insulted Islam.

When the Brotherhood first considered trying to start a political party under Mr. Mubarak, in 2007, Mr. Morsi was in charge of drafting a hypothetical platform. One provision called for restricting the presidency to Muslim men. “The state which we seek can never be presided over by a non-Muslim,” he said at the time on the group’s Web site, arguing that the Brotherhood wanted both a tolerant constitutional democracy and an expressly “Islamic state.”

In “a state whose top priorities include spreading and protecting the religion of Allah,” he said, Islam assigned the president some duties and powers that “can’t be carried out by a non-Muslim president.”

Another provision called for a council of scholars to advise Parliament on fidelity to Islamic law. But unlike Iran’s Guardian Council, he said, it would be independent of the state, and its findings would be nonbinding.

Mr. Morsi also brings to the race a reputation as an enforcer of Brotherhood rules of obedience, even in politics. When a group of young online activists known as the Brotherhood bloggers argued that the platform Mr. Morsi oversaw contradicted the group’s stated commitment to pluralism, Mr. Morsi met with a group of them at his office.

“He said, ‘This is the Muslim Brothers’ interpretation of Islam, and this is Islam, and it’s nobody else’s business,’ ” recalled Mohamed Ayyash, a former Brotherhood blogger who helped organize the meeting. “He said: ‘You can’t talk like that. You can’t talk to the media.’ ”

“He said, ‘This is Islam the way the Muslim Brotherhood sees it,’ ” Mr. Ayyash recalled. (The Morsi campaign declined to comment on the meeting.)

Mohamed Habib, a former deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood who years ago appointed Mr. Morsi to oversee its political arm, said, “There is no doubt that Morsi is more conservative than the conservatives” in the Brotherhood, including Mr. Shater.

The presidential race is now shaping up in some ways as a rematch of the internal debate over that hypothetical platform. Mr. Aboul Fotouh, Mr. Morsi’s current opponent in the presidential race, was one of the few Brotherhood leaders who openly opposed the scholars council and presidency restrictions. Two years later, he was removed from the executive board in a conservative purge.

While Mr. Morsi has the Brotherhood’s organization behind him, Mr. Aboul Fotouh is considered more charismatic and carries strong Islamist credentials. While Mr. Morsi was working toward his engineering degree in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, Mr. Aboul Fotouh was founding an Islamist student movement that went on to merge with and revitalize the more established Muslim Brotherhood. He stood up to former President Anwar el-Sadat in a face-to-face confrontation at Cairo University.

Mr. Aboul Fotouh, a physician, also led the Brotherhood-dominated doctors’ syndicate, which ran the field hospitals during the protests that toppled Mr. Mubarak last year.

Addressing a crowd of thousands last week in Imbaba, a poor neighborhood of Cairo, Mr. Aboul Fotouh all but brushed off questions about Islamic law.

“Egypt has been proud of its Islamic and Arabic identity for 15 centuries,” he said. “Are we waiting for the Parliament to convert us?” Besides, he said, the correct understanding of Islamic law should not be reduced to penalties or restrictions but should mean “all mercy and justice.”

As at many stops, Mr. Aboul Fotouh was also asked to confront rumors circulated in an online video — by Brotherhood operatives, his supporters charge — that if elected president, he would order the arrest of all the group’s members.

After the overthrow of Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Aboul Fotouh said, the Egyptian public would never allow another president to detain Islamists, leftists or anyone else for political reasons. “If he did this, the Egyptian people would be the ones to detain him!”

As for his former colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Aboul Fotouh said he believed that they should be treated just like any other nonprofit group. “They have to be legal associations and to work with transparency and clarity,” he said repeatedly. “All associations and all parties are equal before the law.”

To the Brotherhood, though, it was also a threat. The enforcement of Western-style financial and disclosure requirements could force the Brotherhood to separate its political party from its charitable and preaching organizations, depriving the party of much of its financing and clout while simultaneously diminishing the Brotherhood board’s control of the party.

As for Mr. Aboul Fotouh, Mr. Morsi suggested that he had brought on his own expulsion by defying the Brotherhood, in part by running for president. When a member breaks away, Mr. Morsi said in the interview, “we don’t blame him; we pity him.”

Mayy El Sheikh and Dina Salah Amer contributed reporting.

Source: The New York Times

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Somali women escape to the gym

Somalia is often described as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman, with violence, drought and restrictions from al-Shabab Islmists, who controls much of the country. But the BBC's Mary Harper found that some Somali women are doing surprising things, and their future may be looking a little brighter.

Every morning in a building in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, women can be found pumping iron, pounding running machines and spinning furiously on exercise bikes.

Unlike in the bullet-scarred streets outside, where suicide bombers are a constant threat, these women are not completely covered in veils and robes. They are wearing track suits and T-shirts.

The BBC's Mohamed Dhore in Mogadishu says the women-only workout sessions at the gym are becoming increasingly popular - an indication that things are changing in the city.

People feel a little safer now that Mogadishu is no longer an open battleground between al-Shabab and government troops backed by African Union peacekeepers.

The fact that growing numbers of women are going to gym suggests al-Shabab is losing its grip on their minds. They no longer feel forced to so completely restrict their behaviour, hiding themselves away under thick, dark robes.

Locked doors

But things are not entirely normal at the gym. The women may appear relaxed and happy indoors, but the windows are all shut and barred. In front of the tightly locked door stand security guards, who are paid above the market rates by the gym's owner.

He says he needs the best guards in town to make sure men do not burst in and rape the women, and to stop suicide bombers from striking.

There are no such guards outside the doors of another Somali gym, the Bilxeeh Bodybuilding Centre, which is adorned with images of muscle-bound men and bodybuilding machines that look alarmingly like instruments of torture.

This is because it is hundreds of kilometres away from Mogadishu, in Hargeisa, the capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland, a far more peaceful part of Somali territory.

But like the Mogadishu gym, the door and windows were firmly closed when I visited. It took several minutes of hard banging on the metal door before a slim woman opened it and let me enter.

Inside it was a world apart from the streets of Hargeisa where women dress modestly and do not have much of a voice in public life.

Loud music blared out as skimpily dressed women sweated away on an impressive array of exercise machines.

A young woman with short hair and an aggressive expression thumped a large punch bag swinging from the ceiling. Dressed all in black, she delivered high kicks at the bag, thwacking it loud and hard. She looked strong, fit and slightly terrifying.

'Fat is the enemy'

An older woman worked the running machine at a sedate pace. Like the other women in the gym, she was open and keen to talk, an attitude very different to that prevailing outside.

She clutched a large roll of fat on her belly, encouraging me to give it a squeeze. "Fat is the enemy," she said.

"I come to the gym every single day for five hours at a time. I arrive at 10 and leave at three - just before the men get here."

A group of young women burst in through the door. They tore off their long dresses, petticoats and veils, to reveal tight, shiny Lycra outfits in bright oranges, yellows and reds. They stood in front of large, unforgiving mirrors, squeezing each other's bits of fat, and collapsing in fits of giggles.

"This is my first day at the gym," said a teenager called Nimo as she was on the running machine. "I already feel better. I would like to have a go on everything in here, on all the machines.

"I need to start exercising so I can lose some of this," she said, pointing to the wobbly bits on her body, patting them and smiling. "I also need to get fitter because I get out of breath easily."

Unlike southern Somalia, which is still torn apart by conflict, Somaliland has rebuilt itself from the rubble of civil war. It is moving beyond the economy of recovery, and people are starting to spend more money on non-essential activities.

It is women who are catering to some of these requirements, starting all sorts of imaginative projects and businesses.

A short walk away from the gym is an art gallery, the first of its kind in Somaliland. It was opened this year by a young woman called Ebony Iman Dallas.

Bright paintings hang on the walls, with images not of war, but of the positive and beautiful things in Somali life, including women dressed in rainbow colours, and nomads herding their camels across sandy landscapes.

Women have also set up beauty parlours, the buildings decorated with images of intricate henna designs, neatly manicured fingernails and eyes made up in a sultry, seductive manner.

Shops selling fashionable clothes are also opening in Hargeisa. One is Nannies' Superstore owned by Hodan Hassan Elmi.

She caters for the young, fashionable crowd, selling a vast range of shoes, bags, hats, dresses, jeans, brightly coloured lingerie, and abayas - long, loose fitting gowns.

Biggest breadwinners

"Abayas are the most popular at the moment," she says. "Most young women wear abayas these days because they're comfortable, relaxing and flattering. They hide all sorts of bumps and lumps.

"You might not think it, but tight tops and jeans are also popular. Girls like to wear them hidden under their abayas. They also like the colourful lingerie because they like bright, cheerful things."

Somali women do far more than cater for the lighter, brighter side of life. Even though they are under-represented in politics and other areas of public life, their voices often drowned out by men, they are in many ways the backbone of the economy.

A former first lady and foreign minister of Somaliland, Edna Adan Ismail, who has set up a maternity hospital in Hargeisa says: "Somali women are the biggest breadwinners. Many of the men died during the civil war, so many women became heads of families.

"Most of the small businesses, most of the trading that takes place in the markets is either part owned, entirely owned, or managed by women."

Despite this, says Ms Ismail, women remain marginalised in many other areas of life. "Somali women feel that they are not getting a fair share of what this country is giving to its people.

"Having contributed so much to it, they are being denied many privileges that women have a right to have. A right to authority, a right to inheritance, a right to making decisions about their marriages, a right not to be physically molested, a right to be treated as equal partners, equal people with men."

It is possible that, in the not too distant future, Somali women will gain more rights.

Somalia's long period of political transition is due to end this August, and according to a set of agreements about the country's future, known as the Garowe Principles, women should hold at least 30% of seats in the new Somali parliament.

If this new parliament ever becomes a reality, it is likely that women will start pushing for and achieving more rights and that the vibrant, noisy confidence of those women in the gym will be seen in public.

Source: BBC News

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Kenya, Somalia border row threatens oil exploration

By Kelly Gilblom

A row between Kenya and Somalia over their maritime border may deter multinational oil companies from exploring for oil and gas offshore east Africa, and a Somali official warned that the argument could escalate.

The two coastal nations disagree over the location of their boundary line in the Indian Ocean. At stake are their legal claims to sell rights for exploration and collect revenue from any discovery.

Kenya recently identified eight new offshore exploration blocks available for licensing, and all but one of them are located in the contested area.

"The issue between Somalia and Kenya is not a dispute; it is a territorial argument that came after oil and gas companies became interested in the region," Abdullahi Haji, Somalia's minister of foreign affairs, told Reuters in Mogadishu.

"If the argument continues unsolved, it will change into a dispute that may result at least in souring the deep relation between our two countries and (cause a) war at last," he said.

East Africa has become a hot spot for oil and gas exploration, spurred by new finds in waters off countries including Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique. In the Horn of Africa, Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland and Somaliland regions have also licensed exploration blocks.

Kenya announced its first oil discovery in March by British oil firm Tullow Plc, which was on land.

The row between Kenya and Somalia threatens to upend some exploration rights that Kenya has granted to oil and gas companies, which have already started exploring in the area.

French firm Total and Texas-based Anadarko and the only two companies so far holding licenses from Kenya to blocks in the disputed area. They have no immediate plans to drill there. Both companies declined to comment on the border issue.


Martin Heya, Kenya's petroleum commissioner, said he was confident the United Nations, which could be requested to help delineate the border, would agree with his country's view, and he expected companies to continue their exploration activities.

"Do you stop working just because the boundaries have not been determined? No," he told Reuters.

Consultants involved in border demarcation said the two countries won't have a legitimate boundary until they sign a treaty that delimits the border, but that is unlikely to happen until Somalia has a stable government.

Heya says the maritime border between the two countries should run horizontally east from the point at which the two countries touch on land. The practice in east Africa has been for boundaries to run along the line of latitude, Heya said.

"For the time being, this is where we believe the border should be," he said, referring to the horizontal east-west maritime border.

Somali officials say the onshore border continues into the ocean diagonally southeast and that a horizontal border would be unfair.

If the Somalia-Kenya border was continuous from land into the ocean, making it lie diagonally from the northwest to the southeast, Kenya would be left with a small triangle in the Indian Ocean over which it could claim mineral rights.

Kenya has had stable diplomatic relations with its war-torn neighbor, but the east African economic powerhouse sent troops into Somalia last October in pursuit of al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab rebels, accusing the militants of cross-border attacks on its territory.


Joshua Brien, a legal adviser with the Commonwealth Secretariat, who has consulted with Kenya on maritime border matters, said the two countries won't have a legitimate boundary until they write and sign a treaty.

The absence of a stable government in Somalia could hinder this process, he said.

Somalia's government has been battling an insurgency by al Qaeda-linked rebels for years and barely controls the capital, even with the help of an African peace-keeping force executing a U.N. mandate to prop up its Western-backed government. It is unlikely it would have the ability to wage a war on Kenya.

Brien also said the two countries' border disagreement is not unique. Throughout the world there are unresolved maritime boundaries.

"It is not uncommon for maritime boundary issues to become heated, especially where petroleum exploration and development is concerned," he said.

"In the case of Somalia, the matter is exacerbated by the governance and offshore security situation in that country, both of which are well known."

Kenya is pushing on with oil and gas exploration, but petroleum commissioner Heya acknowledged the border dispute could cause problems in the future.

Heya said companies will be unable to drill in their respective blocks until the boundary is settled, because it will be unclear where to direct revenue from a resource discovery.

"Where the revenue goes is not apparent," Heya said.

(Additional reporting by Mohamed Ahmed in Mogadishu; Editing by James Macharia and Jane Baird)

Source: Reuters

Friday, April 20, 2012

Witness: Minn. Women, Girls Among Those in Sex Trafficking Ring

A Somali woman testified in a federal child sexual trafficking trial on Thursday that young girls and women from Minnesota, Ohio and Atlanta were being used as prostitutes in a Nashville apartment.

The trial includes nine out of a total of 30 people who have been accused of being involved in a child sexual trafficking ring that prosecutors say was run by Somali gangs from the refugee communities in Tennessee and Minnesota.

The witness, who was only identified as Jane Doe 5 in the Nashville courtroom, said that one of the defendants would bring men to the apartment to have sex with girls and women who 15 to 20 years old.

She is the second witness to testify under anonymity in the trial that has drawn crowds of Somalis to watch the proceedings. Federal prosecutors have had difficulty getting people from the Somali communities to testify. And on Thursday a witness chose jail time rather than to testify against the defendants, several of whom are of Somali descent.

Jane Doe 5 said that other Somalis have called her a "snitch" and a prostitute and they think that she was responsible for the arrests. But she said the men and women who were using the girls for prostitution were the ones who were hurting their communities.

"I am sick of them and what they are doing for the Somali community," she told jurors.

She said that like many Somali refugees, she doesn't know her exact date of birth, but her immigration papers say she was born in 1983. She said that she can't read or write and was being used to have sex with men in Minnesota when she was around 15 or 16 years old.

One of the defendants, Dahir Nor Ibrahim, who went by the street name of "Dahir Lucky" told her that he had money and cars and that he wanted her to move from Minnesota to Nashville to work for him. She said that the girls involved in the prostitution were also Somalis with didn't have family or any money.

She said when she moved from Minnesota to Nashville around 2003 or 2004, she was living on-and-off with one of the defendants, Fadumo Farah. Farah, she said, would bring men to the apartment to have sex with the girls and young women.

She said she would have sex with men that Farah introduced her to, but only later learned that he was getting paid. She said she overheard Farah make trades for sex for drugs and cash.

But defense attorneys who questioned her told the jurors that she had been in psychiatric custody. She admitted that she used to be a heavy drinker and would use marijuana daily and had at one point lost custody of her child.

Luke Evans, the defense attorney for Farah, asked the witness if she was ever diagnosed as being delusional and paranoid, and she replied that she believed the entire Somali community was "out to get her."

The witness had trouble at times remembering exact dates for events that she described and said she would drink to forget what had happened to her. She also denied that the federal prosecutors were helping her or giving her gifts.

The case was delayed several times before starting earlier this month. Another witness, who was identified in court as Jane Doe 2, testified last week that she was used as a child prostitute in Minnesota and Tennessee, but her exact age is unknown because prosecutors have said her birth certificate is a fake.

Many Somalis who came to the United States as refugees from the civil war do not have accurate birth records and some of the defendants have claimed that they were also juveniles at the time. The unclear ages are an added burden on government prosecutors.

On Thursday, prosecutors attempted to force a witness, Abdullahi Farah, to testify for them, but he refused and was ordered to be detained in civil contempt by the U.S. Marshals until the trial ends. According to court records, Farah said that he didn't want to testify because the government had lied to him and he felt a risk to his safety and that of his family.

He could face criminal contempt if he doesn't testify and could face additional jail time.

Source: The Associated Press.

Egypt Protests: Thousands Gather In Tahrir Square To Demonstrate Against Military Rule

Tens of thousands of protesters packed Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square on Friday in the biggest demonstration in months against the ruling military, aimed at stepping up pressure on the generals to hand over power to civilians and bar ex-regime members from running in upcoming presidential elections. Islamists and liberals turned out together in force for the protest to show the widespread anger at the military over the country's political chaos ahead of the first presidential elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago. The confusion has raised suspicions the generals ruling since Mubarak's ouster are manipulating the process to preserve their power, ensure the victory of a pro-military candidate and prevent reform. "Down with military rule," protesters in Tahrir chanted, and banners draped around the sprawling plaza denounced candidates seen as "feloul," or "remnants" from Mubarak's regime. Liberals and youth groups called for all factions to agree on an antimilitary "revolution" candidate in the presidential vote, but the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists – who have their own ambitions in the race – refused to sign on. The Brotherhood, Egypt's strongest political movement, has been frustrated that the military has prevented their domination of parliament from translating into real political power. The group was angered when the military-appointed election commission over the past week disqualified its initial candidate for president, along with nine other hopefuls. In response, the Brotherhood is calling for a "second revolution."

Liberals and the youth groups who led the revolt against Mubarak, however, are also skeptical, accusing the Brotherhood of abandoning the revolution to pursue their own quest to rule. The Brotherhood largely stayed out of antimilitary protests and accepted the generals' running of the transition, betting that the process would pave their way to political power. Nada al-Marsafi, a 21-year-old student protesting Friday in Tahrir, questioned the Islamists' intentions. "The Brotherhood is using this (rally) as a chance for self-promotion to campaign for their candidate," she said. Many in the secular camp demand the Brotherhood "apologize" for its actions over the past year and show it is not intent on monopolizing power. "First they must make an apology for the revolution whose image they ruined," says Amr Hamzawy, a liberal lawmaker. Khaled al-

Balshi, editor of the leftist el-Badeel news site, said he feared that Islamists are once again using the protests as a card to pressure the military council and would go back to striking deals with it again later. "I am afraid that right now there is something being cooked," he told Al-Jazeera television. Another major force in the square were the ultraconservative Salafis, an Islamic movement that is more hard-line than the Brotherhood. Many of them are furious over the disqualification of their favored presidential candidate, Hazem Abu Ismail, who was barred from the race because his mother held American citizenship. Election rules bar a candidate's close family from having dual citizenship. Many of his supporters accuse the military and election of commission of forging documents to force out the popular Abu Ismail. His supporters marched through the square Friday carrying a long banner with Abu Ismail's image, demanding that he be reinstated. The presidential elections are scheduled for May 23-24. A new president will be announced on June. 21. The military council has pledged to transfer power to the elected civilian administration by early July. Members of military council have said more than once over the past weeks that they don't intend to postpone elections and are not in favor of any candidate. But the council raised worries that they intend to push back the election and hold power longer when the generals said in a closed-door meeting with political parties that they believe the writing of Egypt's new constitution should be finished before a president is seated. The constitution-writing process is already in turmoil, and few believe it could be completed in that time frame.

"Today we came to demand that presidential elections take place on time, without delay even for a single day," Muslim cleric Muzhar Shahine told protesters in a Friday sermon in Tahrir. "Let's forget the mistakes of each other ... for the sake of our nation's interest." Islamists captured nearly 70 percent of the seats in parliament in elections held late last year, with the Brotherhood alone capturing nearly half the legislature. Parliament then demanded the removal of the military-backed government headed by Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, which the Brotherhood hoped to replace with a government it would dominate. The military refused, however, and parliament has been unable to force the Cabinet's ouster. In retaliation, the

Brotherhood reversed a previous promise not to field a presidential candidate from its own ranks and nominated its chief strategist, Khairat el-Shater. However, Egypt's election commission on Wednesday disqualified el-Shater from presidential elections on legal grounds related to his past conviction and imprisonment. At the same time, parliament created an Islamist-dominated assembly to write the constitution, angering secular forces and fueling the perception that the Brotherhood is trying to go it alone in determining the country's future. However, a court disbanded the 100-member panel, in a blow to the Brotherhood on that front as well. The Brotherhood has a back-up candidate to run in the presidential election, its political party head Mohammed Morsi. After what they see as the Brotherhood's attempts to control every facet of Egypt's future ruling system, some in the "revolution" camp have doubts over their sincerity in the new protests. Mustafa el-Naggar, co-founder of the El-Adl Party, created after Mubarak's fall, said he was boycotting Friday's rally. "I will not enter Tahrir square today because it doesn't represent me," he said, referring to the Islamists' agenda.

Source: The Huffington Post

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Somali Woman convicted of terror to leave jai

A federal judge ruled that a woman convicted last year of raising money for the terrorist group al-Shabaab can await sentencing in a halfway house instead of jail.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis granted a request by Amina Farah Ali's attorney, rejecting objections by federal prosecutors, and ordered Wednesday, April 18, that the woman be moved from Ramsey County's jail to a St. Paul halfway house Thursday.

The judge said he'd establish conditions of her stay in a later order.

Ali, 35, is one of two Rochester women convicted by a federal jury in Minneapolis in October of conspiring to provide support for al-Shabaab, a group fighting Somalia's U.N.-backed government.

Ali was also found guilty of 12 counts of providing support. The other woman, Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 65, also was convicted of two counts of lying to the FBI.

After trial, Davis sent Hassan - a mother of nine who had been a teacher in Somalia - to a halfway house while she awaited sentencing. He ordered Ali jailed.

Ali's attorney, Daniel Scott, asked Davis this month to let his client await sentencing somewhere other than the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center. He said that it wasn't set up for long stays and that she'd been there six months already and it could be another six months before she is sentenced.

"It has no programs or work opportunities," he complained of the Ramsey County lockup. "Mostly all there is to do is sit and read or watch television."

Ali, a married mother of two, had been free for the 16 months between her indictment and trial and never failed to make a court appearance. Scott told the judge she had strong ties to the community and wouldn't flee.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen opposed the move to a halfway house, telling Davis the crime required detention and there were no "exceptional reasons" for her to be released.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, both women could face up to 30 years in prison.

Testimony at trial showed Ali and, to a lesser extent, Hassan, had collected clothes and money to be sent to the poor and orphans in their native Somalia. The East African country has been torn by two decades of civil war and natural and man-made disasters.

Much of what they did was legal. But in February 2008, the State Department declared al-Shabaab a foreign terrorist organization, making it a crime to provide aid.

In its indictment, the government claimed that over a 10-month period after the terrorist designation, Ali sent $8,608 to members of al-Shabaab in Somalia. Some of the clothes were intended for al-Shabaab soldiers, according to trial testimony.

Hassan is under 24-hour lockdown at her halfway house, and Davis had ordered her to wear a GPS device that monitored her whereabouts.

But in March, the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Office asked Davis for permission to remove the monitor. Officials at the halfway house reported Hassan had been following house rules "and she has exhibited a positive attitude with the facility staff and all other residents."

David Hanners can be reached at 612-338-6516.

Source: Pioneer Press