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Friday, August 31, 2012

Somalia: Election Commission sets date for Somali presidential election

Presidential election for Somalia will be held on 10th September, says Spokesman of the presidential election commission, Osman libah.

The electoral commission said that it will start recieveing applications from presidential candidates commencing on 3rd to 6th September.

Many Somali politicians are aspiring for the top job including women.
Source: Bar-Kulan

Rise for the judge? It's religious freedom, says Muslim defendant; Chaos could arise, says prosecutor

By David Hanners

Allowing a Muslim woman to remain seated when a federal judge enters a courtroom is a path to chaos and violence, a federal prosecutor warns.  

In a legal brief filed this week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen told Minnesota's chief federal judge that the government has a keen interest in whether Amina Farah Ali sits or stands when court is called into session -- and that the need for order in the court trumps her religious beliefs.  

The Rochester woman, convicted last year of raising money for the terror group al-Shabaab in her native Somalia, evokes "strong emotions" in the state's Somali community, Paulsen wrote to U.S. District Judge Michael Davis.  

"The potential for those strong emotions to boil over into disorder or even violence in the courtroom cannot be discounted," the prosecutor warned. "Granting Ali an exemption from one of the most basic court rules of decorum would have undermined the government's compelling interest in courtroom order and security."

On Sept. 18, Davis will hear arguments on what he should do about Ali's refusal to stand during a pretrial hearing and the first two days of her trial last year.  

Davis told her he'd find her in contempt if she didn't stand. All told, he did so 20 times, and told her she'd spend five days in jail for each one.  

But in June, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out 19 of the 20 contempt citations, saying Ali's refusal "was rooted in her sincerely held religious beliefs."  

The appeals court told Davis he had a duty under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to find a way to accommodate her religious beliefs.

The court said the gist of Davis' ultimatum to Ali to violate her religious beliefs or face jail "substantially burdens the free exercise of religion."  

Davis was ordered to reconsider his actions and "reach a balance between maintaining order and avoiding unnecessary and substantial burdens on sincere religious practices."  

Davis' punishment of Ali stands in contrast to another federal judge's handling of so-called "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh last week in Indianapolis.  

Lindh, serving 20 years for fighting for the Taliban, is contesting limits on his religious practices at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. At the first day of a hearing in his suit, he did not rise when U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson entered the courtroom. 

The judge made no mention of it and took no action. When a federal prosecutor asked Lindh why he didn't stand, he replied that standing for people was "against my religion."  

That is the same reason Ali, 36, gave Davis last year during her trial for conspiracy. She cited an Islamic teaching attributed to the Prophet Muhammad in which he told a group of people they were not to stand as a show of respect to him.  

Ali reasoned that if she wasn't to stand for the prophet who founded her religion, it was wrong to stand for a federal judge.  

Davis, as well as Ali's co-defendant, Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 65, took a different view.

The judge told Ali that the "rising requirement" was a matter of court decorum and order and was directed to the court system in general and not the judge in particular. He ordered her to jail.  

After two nights behind bars, and after consulting with Muslim elders, Ali changed her mind.  

The two women were convicted of conspiring to raise money for al-Shabaab, a group fighting the United Nations-backed government in Somalia. Such fundraising became illegal in February 2008 when the State Department declared al-Shabaab a Foreign Terrorist Organization.  

Ali also was found guilty on 12 counts of providing support, while Hassan was convicted on two counts of lying to the FBI.   No sentencing date has been set. Each could face 30 years in prison.  

Davis ordered both sides to provide legal briefs suggesting what he should do about Ali's lone remaining contempt citation. They were filed Tuesday, Aug. 28.  

In the government's brief, Paulsen said the requirement to stand contributes to the functioning of the court. Nobody should be excused from standing, he said.  

"To the contrary, making exception to the rising requirement for the very people who already may be predisposed to question the court's authority, such as criminal defendants, would undermine the purpose of the rising requirement, erode the court's authority, and embolden non-risers to further challenge the authority of the court," the prosecutor wrote.

If Ali were allowed to remain seated when the judge entered or left, "it is entirely possible that her many sympathizers in the courtroom would have begun to emulate her in a show of support," he wrote.  

That could lead to more trouble, Paulsen predicted. 

"Moreover, allowing a defendant to 'passively' show disrespect for the court by remaining seated may encourage increasingly more active signs of disrespect: turning one's chair around, facial gestures, hand gestures, etc., which can quickly lead to a loss of control in the courtroom," the brief said.  

But defense attorney Daniel Scott wrote in his memorandum that Ali caused no commotion, did nothing disrespectful and didn't "engage in any theatrics to gain attention to herself."  

When offered a chance to explain her actions she politely told the court of her religious objection, making clear that she had no intention of disrupting the proceedings or to show any disrespect for the court personally or as an institution," Scott wrote.  

He rejected the notion that failing to stand was disruptive, writing that the practice was traditional and had nothing to do "with the orderly operation of a court session."  

Scott wrote that rising for a judge is a symbolic gesture and that it was wrong to force Ali to abandon her religious beliefs in order to abide by it.  

"It is the teaching of the Constitution and the Supreme Court that coercion cannot be used to force such speech whether orally or symbolically," Scott wrote.  

David Hanners can be reached at 612-338-6516

Source: TwinCities Pioneer Press

Thursday, August 30, 2012

SOMALIA Abandoned at sea - the forgotten hostages of the Somali pirates

By Colin Freeman

Somali pirates are holding hostages for ever longer Photo: AFP
The plight of a ship's crew held hostage for more than two and half years has become a "scar on the conscience of the shipping industry", reports Colin Freeman

SHE set sail from Aden in the spring of 2010, the start of a long journey that should have seen her deliver a cargo of electrical equipment to England. Then, barely ten miles out to sea, the Iceberg 1 suffered a fate all too predictable for a slow-going cargo craft in the Gulf of Aden: she was hijacked by Somali pirates.

Unlike the scores of other vessels snared there in recent years, though, no ransom has been forthcoming to free her crew of 24, nor has a foreign navy tried to rescue them. Instead, nearly two and a half years later, they are still in captivity on the high seas - seemingly abandoned by the ship’s owners, and with the dubious distinction of being the longest hijack case in modern maritime history.

Conditions on board are believed to be dire, with the crew kept huddled in a small room with only limited access to food and water. Many have complained that they are being driven mad by their ordeal, and for at least one, it already appears to have proved too much. In October 2010 the ship’s Yemeni third officer, Wagdi Akram, committed suicide by jumping overboard, apparently unhinged from stress. At least one other sailor, a Ghanaian, is also believed to have died - whether by his own hand, or by that of his pirate captors remains unclear. It is understood that the ship’s freezer is now being used as a makeshift morgue.

"The sailors' plight is now on the conscience of everyone in shipping," one shipping industry figure told The Sunday Telgraph. "The ordeal for the crew and their families is just unimaginable, yet there doesn't seem to be anybody coming to their aid."

The Iceberg 1 is one of several long-running hijackings on the Indian Ocean, and a stark reminder that despite reports earlier this month that the pirates' activities are finally being curbed, some 177 hostages still remain in captivity, according to the latest figures.

While the success rate of Somali pirate attacks has dropped dramatically thanks to improved safety measures and the use of armed guards on ships, those crews that do fall into pirate hands are likely to be held for much longer and treated more harshly in a bid to extract higher ransoms. The average length of a hijacking now is eight months, according to the recent Oceans Beyond Piracy study, which also highlights incidents of crews being beaten and tortured.

Such hijacks take place under the nose of the international anti-piracy fleet, which is still struggling to curb the problem after nearly four years in operation. The fear of suffering casualties - especially civilian ones - means the foreign navies seldom attempt to free hijacked vessels by force, preferring to let ship owners negotiate ransoms instead.

The problem comes in cases like the Iceberg 1, when there is apparently no ransom cash to be had. The ship, for which the hijackers initially demanded an $8 million ransom, is owned by Dubai-based Azal Shipping & Cargo, whose management have been accused of leaving the crew to their fate. Until last month, Azal had declined to even meet with the hostages’ families, who say they have also refused to pay wages in absentia for the sailors, many of whom are the main breadwinners in their households.

Calls and emails by this newspaper to Azal have never been returned. Shipping industry sources have told The Sunday Telegraph, however, that they believe the firm did not have kidnap and ransom insurance, which is now considered essential for shipping through the Gulf of Aden. “It doesn’t seem like there has been anyone negotiating on the ship’s behalf at all,” observed one industry figure.

“Unfortunately, it is not unusual for some smaller, less wealthy firms in places like the Middle East not to pay for kidnap and ransom insurance, and just hope that their ships don’t get hijacked."

Peter Swift, the UK-based chairman of the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP), a pan-industry alliance of shipping organisations set up to help kidnapped sailors, said: “We have grave concern for the well-being of the crew of the Iceberg 1, who have now been held for more than 29 months in appalling conditions, and great sympathy for their families, who are currently suffering extreme financial hardship, are deprived of reliable information and have only very limited communication with their loved ones. Alarmingly, the owner of the ship appears to have totally abandoned the crew. Presently, there are therefore no parties willing or able to meet the pirates’ demands for the sailors' release”.

Originally crewed by six Indians, nine Yemenis, four Ghanaians, two Sudanese, two Pakistanis and one Filipino, the Iceberg 1 was reportedly carrying a cargo of generators, transformers and empty fuel tanks for a British power rental company, Aggreko International Power Projects, and was due to head to England after visiting a number of other ports. According to EUNavfor, when the ship was attacked, on March 29, 2010, it was not travelling within the “International Recommended Transit Corridor” - a designated stretch of water regularly patrolled by the anti-piracy force.

It was then taken to an anchorage near Hobyo, an ancient Somali port town that is now a major pirate stronghold. Contact with the crew has since been limited to occasional phone calls home, and the exact picture on board remains unclear.

However, in an interview with the AFP news agency nine months into their captivity, the ship’s Yemeni captain, Abdirazzak Ali Saleh, said the crew spent almost their entire time locked up in a cabin just five metres square, guarded at all times by masked pirates carrying machine guns.

“Diseases have appeared among crew members, one has lost his eyesight and another has serious stomach problems,” he added. “The water we have is unclean and we have only one meal a day, boiled rice, that’s it.”
In a separate interview last year with an Indian television station, the ship’s chief officer, Diraj Diwari, 26, by then sporting a thick beard, said: “The owner of the ship doesn’t care even if all of us die. Other crew members are all sick and having mental disturbances. Please help us before another crew member dies.”
Last month, a meeting was finally arranged in Dubai between the ship's owners, two of the Indian families and a local Indian diplomat. However, hopes that it would lead to a deal to free the hostages are undestood to have failed. "We have no faith in the owner's ability to deliver," said Ansar Burney, a Pakistan-based philanthropist who helped broker the meeting.

The situation has been complicated by the crew’s multinational make-up, which is typical of modern commercial seafaring. While India’s navy is one of the few that has been willing to risk aggressive raids against pirate gangs holding its citizens hostage, authorising such operations is much more difficult when foreign nationals from so many other countries are involved.

The Indian government's robust approach, which has led to the arrest of scores of pirates, has also led to some pirate gangs keeping Indian hostages as bargaining chips to get their own brethren released. Such was the case in the MV Albedo, which was hijacked in November 2010. While other Albedo crew have since been released after the payment of a $1.1 million ransom, one Indian sailor has been kept back in what The Sunday Telegraph understand is an attempt to secure the release of a pirate leader.

Drawn mainly from poor backgrounds, many sailors in long-running hijack cases feel that their governments do not exercise much clout when it comes to kicking up much of a diplomatic fuss on their behalf. “Since we come from poor countries, nobody comes forward to help us,” Mr Diwari said in his interview with Indian television.

Roy Paul, another official with the MPHRP, added that tougher rules were needed to ensure that ship owners looked after their crews properly.

"The shipping industry needs to ensure that people who own ships are bona fide operators and can afford to protect the crews that they hire," he said. "Many companies have reacted well to this terrible situation and have supported seafarers and their families. However some have not, and appear to have simply abandoned their crew."

For the crew of the Iceberg I, the best chance of freedom may now be to convince the pirates that they are indeed worth less than sailors from wealthier countries. Earlier this year, some $9 million was exchanged for two sailors from a hijacked fishing vessel, the Vega 5, a pay-out which sent the “going rate” for a pirate hostage in Somalia “skyrocketing”, according to one shipping industry negotiator.

In the case of the Iceberg 1, a rather more bargain basement deal is being sought. With no help forthcoming from the owners, sympathisers within the shipping industry may end up putting together an offer to simply cover the pirates “expenses”, a solution that has worked in other cases where no ransom cash has been available.

“It will be a fraction of what the pirates would have wanted,” said one shipping industry source. “But it will hopefully persuade them to give up on a bad business prospect, and get the crew home.”

Source: The Telegraph

Somalia Food Crisis Seen Easing After `Exceptional' Crop

Somalia’s food crisis is easing after an “exceptional” harvest in the past season, while humanitarian assistance is still needed to stave off hunger in the region, the Famine Early Warning Systems network reported.

About 2.12 million people will experience “acute food security crisis” from August to December, 16 percent less than at the beginning of 2012, the U.S.-funded provider of food- security warnings wrote in a statement on its website dated Aug. 29. Food stockpiles after the country’s secondary, or so-called Deyr, harvest in January will help offset “significantly below average” output in the main harvest currently under way. Total production for 2012 will be “average,” FEWS said.

“The improved situation is attributed to sustained humanitarian interventions over the last 12 months, improved food stocks at the household and market levels following an exceptional January 2012 Deyr harvest, and improved milk availability and higher livestock prices in most pastoral areas of Somalia,” FEWS said. “Despite these improvements, lifesaving humanitarian assistance remains necessary.”

The number of children requiring nutrition treatment has dropped 27 percent since January, in part because of improved availability of milk, FEWS said. About 236,000 children are “severely malnourished,” with 70 percent of those in the south of the country, FEWS said.

A possible mild or moderate El Nino, a warming of Pacific Ocean waters that affects global weather patterns, may benefit growers in Somalia because the phenomenon may bring average to above-average rains from October to December, FEWS said. Still, El Nino may cause flooding if rains are too heavy, according to the report.

Rising international food prices, especially for wheat and sugar, may impact Somalia by the end of the year, FEWS said. While prices of maize and sorghum are likely to rise seasonally in the next six months, they may remain “substantially lower than in 2011,” according to the report.

Source: Bloomberg

Welcoming ‘landmark’ events, Security Council urges swift end to Somali transition

Members of Parliament vote to elect Speaker, First Deputy and Second Deputy Speaker. Photo: UNPOS

 The Security Council today welcomed the recent adoption of Somalia’s provisional constitution, the inaugural meeting of its new parliament and the appointment of that body’s speaker, and called on all parties to continue to work together to bring a swift end to the country’s transition.

The Council welcomed these “landmark” events in a statement issued to the press, after receiving a closed-door briefing on the latest developments on Tuesday from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga.
Yesterday, Professor Mohammed Osman Jawari was selected as speaker of the New Federal Parliament that was inaugurated on 20 August, in an election that laid the groundwork for an imminent round of voting to appoint the Parliament’s Deputy Speakers. This, in turn, would be followed by the election of the Horn of Africa nation’s President.
Some 260 Members of Parliament have now either been sworn in or are pending imminent ratification, with 15 names still remaining before the new Somali legislature reaches its total of 275 constituents.
After decades of warfare, Somalia has been undergoing a peace and national reconciliation process, with the country's transitional governing arrangements winding down with the implementation of the so-called Roadmap for the End of Transition.
“The members of the Council called on the new Federal Parliament to discharge its responsibilities with independence, transparently and free from undue influence or coercion,” said the statement.
They also underlined the importance of a fully functioning Parliament and that the remaining seats should be agreed and filled as quickly as possible.
In addition, the Council members urged all signatories to the so-called Roadmap for the End of Transition to continue to work together and bring a swift end to the transitional governing arrangements.
“They called on the signatories to refrain from unilateral action and to continue the process of dialogue and compromise,” the statement noted. “They underlined that Parliament should now elect a president without further delay.”
News Tracker: past stories on this issue
Source: UN News Centre

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

U.S. Reports That Piracy Off Africa Has Plunged

A Somali pirate in 2010 with a seized ship in the distance.
Data released by the Navy last week showed 46 pirate attacks in the area this year, compared with 222 in all of last year and 239 in 2010. Nine of the piracy attempts this year have been successful, according to the data, compared with 34 successful attacks in all of 2011 and 68 in 2010.

Even so, senior Navy officers have been careful not to declare victory.

“The pirates are very adaptable, and they are very flexible,” said Vice Adm. Mark I. Fox, the Navy’s deputy chief for operations, plans and strategy. “We are watching carefully.”

The prospect of renewed political turmoil in the region, especially in Somalia and Yemen, may again drive up attempts at the lucrative business of piracy, since lawless areas in these countries provide havens for pirates to launch their raids and to hold captured vessels and hostages. Further economic collapse may prompt more farmers and fisherman to choose piracy.

But the statistics so far this year are encouraging. As of last week, the last successful pirate attack in waters off East Africa had occurred on May 10, and the most recent attempted attack had occurred on June 27. The gap since that last raid represents the longest break in pirate activity in the area in five years.

Navy officers note the seasonal ebb and flow of piracy attacks in the region, influenced by the twice-yearly monsoons, and they warn that in October and November the waters and winds tend to be calmer and that pirate raids increase. But the statistics for 2012 are far below what could be explained by weather alone.

The decrease in attacks appears to be a result of increased security measures taken by commercial vessels and of sustained antipiracy patrols by the navies of more than a dozen nations, including the United States.

Admiral Fox said the shipping industry “can take a great deal of credit” for the trend. More commercial vessels are carrying “embarked security teams” of armed guards, he said, and no vessel with such a team on board has been hijacked.

Commercial ship captains are also following recommendations that they sail in international transit corridors that the navies patrol. More ships are taking measures to make it difficult for pirates to climb aboard from the waterline.

And American and European forces have conducted a handful of high-profile counterpiracy raids in which hostages have been freed and pirates have been killed or captured. Officials say those raids may be acting as a deterrent.

The effect can be seen in the busy Gulf of Aden, a hunting ground favored by pirates before the United States and other nations began patrolling a 460-mile-long shipping corridor through it. “It is now one of the safest” areas, Admiral Fox said.

The multinational counterpiracy effort, called Combined Task Force 151, was organized in 2009 and operates in and around the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and other areas of the Indian Ocean, with 25 to 30 warships on patrol on any given day. Overseeing the task force is Combined Maritime Forces, which is based in Bahrain along with the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Command of the task force unit itself rotates among participating nations, and it has been held by the United States, Denmark, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey and, most recently, South Korea.

The task force coordinates its efforts with other counterpiracy missions in the region operated by NATO and European Union members, and a number of other nations send out patrols independently.

“Piracy is like an ancient disease that should be extinct in this modern world,” said Commodore Simon Ancona of the British Navy, who is currently deputy commander of Combined Maritime Forces. “The cure is difficult and requires the disruption of pirate actions, building law and order and livelihoods ashore, and making the merchant prey less vulnerable. Although there are signs of remission, I would judge the medicine will be required for some time to come

Somali pirates in particular have hijacked hundreds of vessels in the past few years, ranging from the sailboat of a retired British couple to a 1,000-foot supertanker.

East African pirates routinely hold seized vessels and hostages for ransom that can run to hundreds of millions of dollars. Commercial shipping officials say that Somali pirates alone cause an additional $5 billion a year in expenses for insurance and security, with piracy in other regions adding billions more to the cost.

Source: The New York Times

Sweden: Somali community under threat by local gang

A Somali community in Foresrum, in southern Sweden, is being terrorized by a local gang to such an extent that the local Somali association has urged all its members to move away.
“We escaped from a country at war to be exposed to this in peaceful Sweden,” said Abdula Abdi Dhinbil to national broadcaster Sveriges Television (SVT).

According to SVT, one year ago there were 160 Somalis living in Forserum, near Jönköping in southern Sweden. Today, that number has dwindled to 95.

The reason that so many of the Somalis in Forserum are choosing to move is that they feel under threat from a local gang.

The group’s windows have been smashed for the third weekend in a row, Somalis resident in the area have been beaten up and many have been subjected to racist remarks.

According to daily Svenska Dagbladet, the perpetrators are a small group of younger males between 17 and 22, making the community feel unsafe.

According to the local Somali association, the police are not doing enough to come to terms with the harassment.

Somali children in the Nässjö area have been kept home from school since yesterday, as parents are too worried to let them out on their own.

According to one school principal, Annika Bertling, the local community had been unaware of how serious the harassment of the Somalis had become until last Thursday when a church in the area held a meeting to address the problem.

“They were worried about how they are being treated in society in general,“said Bertling to SvD, stressing that there are no reports of harassment reported in school.

According to the paper, police and local politicians held a crisis meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Anders Karlsson, mayor of Nässjö, promised on Wednesday that no one should feel unsafe on the way to or from school.

"If they don't feel safe it is our duty to make them feel safe again. This could mean being accompanied to school. If that is what is needed we shall do it," said Karlsson to SvD.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Somalia: Somali and African Union Forces Capture Marko After Al Shabaab Retreats

Somali and African Union forces have seized the coastal city of Marko after Al Shabaab militants fled the city, Garowe Online reports.

Somali military officials told media Monday afternoon that the city was captured by the allied forces after Al Shabaab retreated.

"The district of Marko is in the control of Somali and AMISOM forces and there was no resistance when our forces entered the city," said General Abdikarim Yusuf Adan.

According to local residents, before the Al Shabaab agents fled the city they had killed four people, it is unclear why they were killed.

"It was very tense in Marko we are still very worried. Before they [AL Shabaab] left they killed four people. We are waiting for change hopefully," said Omar Nuur a Marko resident who spoke to GO.

The city of Marko which is located approximately 80 kms south of Mogadishu had been under Al Shabaab control for all of former President Sharif's tenure.

The port city of Marko was used as a revenue base for the terrorist organization during that time which netted the organization supplies and income.

According to residents many top Al Shabaab officials resided in the city which only recently was titled the next target destination for allied forces fighting the lower Shabelle region.

As the political process continues the allied forces have continued there onslaught on Al Shabaab.

Source: AllAfrica

EU puts pressure on Somali leaders

The European Union revealed that its foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was in Somalia to meet with the country's new political leaders.

Somalia is putting the finishing touches on an administration that formally ends the country's political transition period. The United Nations welcomed the adoption of a draft constitution and the appointment of some members of Parliament.

The European Union announced Ashton met with Somali leaders this week as well as members of the African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force.

"The ending of Somalia's transition will bring with it the prospect of lasting peace, prosperity and stability for the country and for the millions of people who have suffered from 20 years of conflict," she said in a statement after her trip.

The European Union is the largest contributor of financial aid to Somalia, committing more than $1.25 billion through 2013.

Ashton said it was "essential" that Somali leaders act quickly to put the finishing touches on the new federal administration.

"I urge Somali leaders to act swiftly, decisively with integrity and in the interests of the Somali people," she said.

There hasn't been a formal government in Somalia since 1991. The leadership in Mogadishu struggles to exert its authority beyond the capital in the face of threats from al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida ally in control of parts of the country.

Source: UPI

$21M awarded in torture suit against ex-Somali PM

By MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press
FILE - This June 23, 2011 photo shows Aziz Deria in Washington. A U.S. judge has awarded $21 million to seven people who had sued a former prime minister of Somalia now living in Virginia, claiming he had tortured and killed his own people. The judgment against Mohamed Ali Samantar of Fairfax comes at the end of an eight-year legal battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez, File)

A U.S. judge on Tuesday awarded $21 million to seven people who sued a former prime minister of Somalia now living in Virginia, claiming he tortured and killed his own people more than two decades ago.
The judgment against Mohamed Ali Samantar, 76, of Fairfax comes at the end of an eight-year legal battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Seven Somali natives filed the lawsuit in 2004 in federal court in Alexandria against Samantar, who served as vice president, defense minister and prime minister throughout the 1980s under dictator Siad Barre, until the months before the regime collapsed in 1991.

The suit claimed Samantar personally ordered the killings and torture of members of the minority Isaaq clan.

Samantar denied the accusations and claimed immunity from the lawsuit. On the day the trial was to begin, he entered a default judgment. While he accepted legal liability for the killings, he denied wrongdoing.

One of the plaintiffs, Aziz Deria of Bellevue, Wash., said Tuesday that the ruling vindicates efforts to hold Samantar accountable.

"The case was never about money," said Deria, who has little expectation of recovering his $3 million share of the judgment against Samantar, who is bankrupt. "This case was about having an opportunity to be in court with Samantar and prove he was in charge of what was happening."

Samantar's lawyer, Joseph Peter Drennan, said he will appeal the ruling. In fact, the case is already on appeal. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether Samantar was properly denied immunity.

The case, first filed in 2004, has had a tortuous path through the courts. At first, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema dismissed the case, ruling that Samantar enjoyed legal immunity as a former foreign official. But the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that argument. Eventually, the State Department argued in a legal filing that Samantar could not claim immunity because Somalia had no central government that could claim immunity on his behalf.

Brinkema then allowed the case to go to trial. Samantar's lawyer objected, saying the judge was granting excessive deference to the State Department — Brinkema had said she would have dismissed the case if the agency determined it could harm international relations.

After Samantar defaulted at the outset of the trial in February, the trial proceeded without him.

During the shortened trial, the plaintiffs presented evidence including a 1989 BBC interview in which Samantar acknowledged a leadership role in the bombing of Hargeisa, a city in the northern part of the country. Hargeisa was home to a large Isaaq population and a stronghold of a regional movement to break off from Somalia.

The evidence also included testimony from an army colonel who said he overheard a series of radio communications in which Barre was urging moderation in a bombing campaign, while Samantar advocated a harsher attack.

Several plaintiffs — some who live in the U.S. like Deria and others who still live in Somalia — told chilling stories of narrowly escaping summary execution, suffering beatings and spending years in solitary confinement in jail. Deria sued on behalf of his brother and father, who were killed.

The San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability, which represented the plaintiffs, said Brinkema's ruling is the first anywhere in the world to hold a leader in the Barre regime responsible for the crimes it perpetrated.

"This is a remarkable result for our clients, who faced down one of the most powerful men in their country's history and forced him to concede liability for his crimes," said Steven Schulman, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers.

But Drennan said Samantar continues to deny wrongdoing, and believes that efforts to hash out these claims in a U.S. court are counterproductive to the efforts to promote reconciliation and a cohesive national government in Somalia.

The lawsuit "needs to be seen for what it is — politics and clan warfare in the courtroom," Drennan said.

Deria, on the other hand, said holding Samantar formally accountable for atrocities in Somalia's civil war is the best way for Somalia to move forward. He said that clan retribution can be set aside when people can be assured of justice through the legal system and that he hopes the case can highlight to the Somali people that justice is attainable.

"This is the civilized way of dealing with criminals," he said.

Somalis rediscover fun side of Mogadishu

Residents of once war-torn capital enjoy peace by flocking to restaurants and shops after dark.

The Somali capital Mogadishu is known for being one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

These days, however, residents are enjoying the city's most peaceful period in more than 20 years.

Somalis who were once too frightened to venture out after dark are now flocking to restaurants and shops at night.

Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri reports from Mogadishu.

Al Jazeera

Somalia still needs support, U.N. says

Mogadishu needs international support as it moves to resolve loose ends in its political transition, a U.N. special envoy to the country said.

Somali lawmakers have adopted a draft constitution and the selection of some members of Parliament by a special committee of Somali elders. Augustine Mahiga, U.N. special envoy for Somalia, said it was vital that Somalia gets the support it needs as political developments take place.

"We must all support this effort to ensure that the complete number of the new Somali lawmakers begin their vital work immediately," he said in a statement.

Somali leaders in Mogadishu are struggling to exert their authority beyond the capital. Al-Shabaab, a militant group aligned with al-Qaida, controls parts of the country.

The U.N. Security Council last week subjected military leader Abubaker Shariff Amhed to a travel ban and arms embargo for his support for al-Shabaab.

"Abubaker Shariff Ahmed has preached at mosques in Mombasa that young men should travel to Somalia, commit extremist acts, fight for al-Qaida and kill U.S. citizens," a resolution stated.

There hasn't been a formal central government in Somalia since 1991.

Source: UPI

Somali parliament elects new speaker

By Mohamed Ahmed
Mohamed Osman Jawaari
Former cabinet minister Mohamed Osman Jawaari was elected speaker of Somalia's parliament by a majority vote on Tuesday to lay the groundwork for a new government in the war-torn Horn of Africa country.

The next step in a Western-backed plan to end two decades of strife is the election of a president charged with the task of rebuilding institutions plagued by corruption and infighting.

Somalia has been mired in civil strife, grinding poverty, Islamist militancy and maritime piracy since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, leaving the nation without an effective central government.

Jawaari, a veteran politician and former transport minister under Barre who can speak and write in Arabic, English, Italian and Norwegian, won after the first round of voting.

His closest rival Ali Khalif Galeyr bowed out of the race after conceding defeat just before the second round of voting.

"I thank my friends who gave me the votes and all of you," Jawaari said, adding that he would give a formal speech later.

Government and African Union peacekeeping troops had tightened security around the School Poliscio, a former police training camp, where the election took place.

Galeyr said: "I hereby give up and say let my votes go to Jawaari - I congratulate him," Ali Khalif Galeyr said.

The speaker of a reformed parliament and a new president should have been elected before Aug. 20, but the deadline was missed.

The key question is whether the new government can break the pattern of ineffective interim administrations in recent years.

The election of Jawaari as speaker could be a stumbling block in the path of former speaker Sharif Hassan's political ambitions.

The two both hail from the Rahanweyn clan. It is expected that the country's top jobs will be spread out among the main clans.

"Hassan has clearly shown he wants to run for the presidency and although the clan issue is there, he is not constitutionally barred from the race," Rashid Abdi, an independent Horn of Africa analyst, told Reuters.

Under the terms of a political road map, Somalia must establish a legitimate government seen as inclusive by the country's fractious clans.

The new government will replace an 8-year-old Transitional Federal Charter and lead to the conclusion of the transition process.

An African Union force has managed to drive al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked Islamist group, out of the capital Mogadishu.

But the rebels remain the strongest of an array of militias which have a history of wrecking political settlements and perpetuating war, instability and famine.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Source: Reuters

Sunday, August 26, 2012

IGAD calls on Somali leaders to complete remaining tasks

A regional mediation body on Friday called on Somali leaders to swiftly complete the remaining tasks which it said are critical for the completion of the transitional process.

In a statement issued in Nairobi, the Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD) said the successful completion of these tasks will usher the Horn of Africa nation into a new phase of peace and development.

“While these tasks are huge, IGAD believes they are achievable, ” said the regional bloc which mediated talks that culminated in the formation of the Transitional Federal Government whose mandate expired on Aug. 20.

“IGAD encourages the Somali stakeholders to pursue these tasks with the patriotism, commitment and sense of responsibility that they have demonstrated since the commencement of the implementation of the Roadmap,” the statement said.

Some 215 of the total number of 275 Members of Parliament were sworn in on Monday at an inauguration ceremony in the capital, Mogadishu, passing the benchmark of 185 which allows for the new Federal Parliament to convene with a functioning majority.

However, the newly elected Somali lawmakers resolved to delay the election of the new president of the envisaged permanent government until Aug. 25 to 26.

The new parliament also includes a number of women lawmakers, following a strong push from the international community and the passing of a provisional constitution that guarantees more political rights for women.

Mussa Hassan Abdulle, a former army general was appointed interim Speaker.

The Monday’s inauguration came three weeks after a National Constituent Assembly overwhelmingly approved the Provisional Constitution.

The document was a key part of the Roadmap process, providing a legal framework governing the workings of the new Somali Federal Institutions after Aug. 20.

IGAD called upon the entire Somali political leadership to remain on course and urged the international community to remain vigilant and supportive of the Somali efforts.

The bloc said it hopes the Horn of Africa that which is expected to have a permanent new government will soon begin to play its rightful role among the community of nations.

The Transitional Federal Government was formed in 2004 with a five-year mandate to establish a new constitutional order with all groups represented.

The mandate was extended in 2009 to Aug. 20 when the mandate of the President, the Speaker and his deputies comes to an end.

At least 24 are contesting Somalia’s first post-transition president who, once elected, next month will then choose the prime minister.

However, many candidates gunning for the presidency including PM Abdiweli Mohammed Ali, former parliament speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden and current president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed have already served in a government that has been accused of abetting corruption.

The seven-member regional body said it was closely following with a keen interest in the political developments in Somalia particularly with respect to the political transition in that country.

IGAD said it has received with satisfaction the successful election and subsequent swearing in of the Members of Parliament.

“IGAD therefore congratulates the elected Parliamentarians and the entire Somali stakeholders for the implementation of the transition process thus far,” it said.

The regional bloc said it’s waiting with great anticipation for the convening of the ordinary session of parliament on Aug. 25 and 26 and the election of the speaker of parliament.

“This shall be a test for the commitment of the new Parliament and all political actors to end the transition and bring about lasting peace in Somalia,” the statement said.

Elections in the Horn of Africa nation were last held in the 1980s and during the civilian administration that existed prior to the seizure of power by the Supreme Revolutionary Council led by the late Siad Barre, in 1969, there were a number of local parties, but they were all outlawed thereafter.

Barre was ousted in 1991 following the civil war that led to emergence of autonomous and semi-autonomous regional states which came under the rule of rival militia groups.

Source: Xinhua

UN envoy urges Somalis to finalize list of new parliamentarians

The United Nations Envoy for Somalia Augustine Mahiga
The United Nations envoy for Somalia today voiced deep concern at the ongoing delays in finalizing the list of new parliamentarians, warning that it might threaten the electoral calendar.
After decades of warfare, Somalia has been undergoing a peace and national reconciliation process, with the country's transitional federal institutions implementing a so-called Roadmap for the End of Transition.

The measures to end the transition included the drafting of a new Provisional Constitution, and the selection of the Members of Parliament by a group of 135 traditional Somali Elders, with the advice of a Technical Selection Committee.

The Elders and the Technical Selection Committee need to ensure that all oustanding issues are resolved by tomorrow, 26 August, for preparations to be in place for the Parliament to elect a Speaker and Deputy Speaker on Tuesday.

Augustine P. Mahiga, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Somalia, urged them to continue working together “in a spirit of mutual trust and flexibility” to fulfill their responsibilities, according to a statement issued in the capital, Mogadishu.
“The candidates for the Speakership will deliver their speeches tomorrow and make their presentations in preparation for the Speaker's election day on Tuesday, 28 August. So there is no time for delay,” he said in a statement.

The inauguration last week of a New Federal Parliament marked the long-awaited end of the transitional period in the Horn of Africa nation.
“Last Monday, 20 August, the most qualified Parliament in the recent history of Somalia was inaugurated,” said Mr. Mahiga, who is also head of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS).
“We are just a few critical steps away from fully ending the transitional period. We must all support this effort to ensure that the complete number of the new Somali lawmakers begin their vital work immediately.”
Source: UN News Centre

Coming Home to Mogadishu

By Mo Yaxye


Dreams from my mother confront reality in the home I didn't know

Aden Abdulle International Airport
Mogadishu, Somalia
Somalia, Somali or Waryaa (as my Kenyan brothers/sisters would say) has been the identity I have been carrying for more than 30 years - an identity that I have come to accept but never understood. I was born in Mogadishu but left at around 4 years old never to return until a sunny morning on July 26. Growing up in Kenya and later in the UK I was constantly reminded of my otherness.

I remember asking my mother why they were calling me Waryaa at school and her reply instilled in me a sense of confidence and pride that became a cornerstone of my legendary self-confidence -if I am allowed to be a little bit immodest. My mum would say, "Well, it's because you're better looking than all of them and stand out in the crowd". She would constantly build in my young mind a sense of pride in being a Somali and coming from this wonderful place called Somalia.

Accepting the identity of being Somali was not necessarily easy, I was surrounded by Kenya ns who would at every opportunity attempt to puncture the bubble of the greatness of my identity that was constructed by my parents. As a young boy it is natural to want to belong, and that was never going to be easy, but with age I came to embrace my Somaliness at a time when Somalia itself was slowly beginning to crumble and later become a modern day Hobbesian nightmare where life was poor, nasty, brutish, and short. It is not easy to belong to an alien and failed nation, but the sense of pride constructed in my mind by my parents withstood the realities of failure, death and dysfunction that continue to plague Somalia. What kept my identity intact and shielded me from self-doubt was the resilience and entrepreneurship exhibited by ordinary Somali I encountered globally.

Although I always wanted to go back to Mogadishu;- a city which my in-house propagandist mother had constructed as a modern-day Atlantis prior to the violence that demolished it, I never, never imagined it would be as spontaneous a visit as it turned out to be. On July 20 on my way to Kampala from Entebbe with my good friend Andrew Mwenda, the Managing Director of The Independent, we hatched a plan for both of us to go to Mogadishu on July 26. I had agreed on the spot but somehow did not believe it would happen. On July 24 while in Nairobi, Andrew calls and asks me to buy the tickets. It's only then that the reality of my visit to my birthplace started hitting home. On one hand I was exteremly exicited, on the other I was concerned about the risks associated with going to a place where fanaticism and death freely roam.

On a sunny Thursday morning an ageing DC10 touches down at Aden Abdulle International Airport. The blue sky and the inviting Indian Ocean engulfed a dilapidating airport. After disembarking the plane and meeting with AMISOM representatives, I realised something strange was happening inside me. For the first time in my life I experienced an unadulterated sense of ownership and belonging. The ocean breeze, the sand, the tiny insects busy constructing their living quarters and the whitesand beaches all seemed to be mine - here I belonged. At last I had arrived home.

The airport is inside a vast compound where AMISOM HQ is based. After a short drive we arrived in our living quarters within the compound. We were AMISOM guests which meant we had to go everywhere protected by a convoy of at least two to three armoudered cars with mean and serious-looking Ugandan soldiers. On our first day we met with the hierarchy of the AMISOM and the UN, which was interesting from a journalistic perspective, but I was itiching to go out of the compound and see the destroyed utopia that has been firmly constructed over 30 years. In the afternoon we hit town with our armoured cars. What greated us was a living city - traders briskyly moving their goods, construction of new buildings emerging and dotting the ground - a sense of purpose seemed to engulf the citizens of Mogadishu. Our first stop was the Mogadishu port where laborers were busy unloading docked ships. I kept wondering - surely this is not the place that was visited by extereme human cruelty and selfishness. The ordinary Somalis seemed uneffected and busy dealing with the drudegry of daily life.

My first verbal engagement with Somali laborers confirmed my linguistic limitations; my Somali turned out to be worse than I had intially thought. Although my parents always engaged us in Somali, it was exculisively limited to our household. The rest of the times we would be speaking Swahili or English. Swahili was the language of my childhood and English the language of my education. It was dawning on me that my heart may have tricked my mind. The more I engaged with my fellow Somalis the more I was realising my otherness. Emotionally I was willing myself to belong, but practically I remained the other. I was after all a foreigner in my own home.

The first day finished with meeting Col. Kayanja Muhanga, the commanding officer of UPDF's Battle Group Eight and also deputy commander of the UPDF contingent in Somalia. We met him at the Stadium where his battle group was stationed. I had briefly met Kayanja in 2003 in Kampala at Andrew's home. So seeing him at the stadium on the phone ordering in Swahili the arrest of TFG soldiers who had stolen phones from ordinary peoples was another thing. Kayanja is a larger than life soldier, tall and highly educated with a deep sense of African solidarity.

The same is the case with elegant Brig Gen. Paul Lokech who is the head of the UPDF contigent in AMISOM. Being guarded by Ugandan soldiers from Karamoja, West Nile, Buganda, Busoga, Ankole, Toro etc. in my first home-coming was surreal. Regardless of the motives of the Ugandan government to send these young men to fight, and in some cases die, in the semi-arid lands of the Horn of Africa, I for one was exteremly grateful for their presence and was deeply impressed by their ideological clarity and commitment. I wondered what a mother in Tesoland or Gulu felt about losing a son in Somalia. Did she understand why her son, and most likely the only breadwinner, died in a faraway land? Do we as Somalis understand the commitment of these young African brothers and sisters to save us from the abyss we have happily dug for ourselves? These were the questions echoing in my mind and which remain largely unanswered.

The next day we headed to the newly liberated town of Afgoye. This is a region which is the breadbasket of Somalia and it is littered with farms. Seeing the Shabelle River, the big mango trees and banana farms I could see the potential source of Somalia's food security - a country that has recently become known for hunger and starvation. Back in Mogadishu we met with the new Diaspora Somali elites. These emerging elites hail mainly from Europe and North America. Many of them are graduates from third rate universities or were bus conductors and taxi drivers in European cities. With the security umbrella of AMISOM they were busy establishing predatory networks.

These new elites, rather than leading people out of the abyss of human tragedy, are busy fortifying clan enclaves. The same clan politics that led to the emergence of the fanaticism of the Al-Shabab is unfortunately being reconstructed with gusto. Recent evidence has suggested that mass embezzlement of public coffers is being systematically executed by Somalia's new elites. I wondered how one could steal from a country that is so wounded? I am not naïve about corruption and I understand it is a human phenomenon present everywhere - but stealing from a country where babies die from hunger, where millions live as refugees and entire generations are lost to war - one must be a particularly unpleasant human being to do that. I was left with a feeling that our leadership is squandering a great opportunity to heal this wounded nation.

On our last day in Mogadishu, the Somali Clan elders were meeting to ratify the draft constitution. We visited an old police training academy where the discussion over the constitution was taking place. I must declare upfront that I had opposed the constitutional process from the start. My opposition was anchored on the premise that this was an international process imposed on the Somalis. I have not met one Somali anywhere (outside the government members) telling me that after 22 years of civil war, displacement, starvation, mass-employment and a big chunk of the country controlled by marauding merchants of death - what we really need is a constitution.

How long did it take Uganda after the victory of the NRA to put together a constitution? A constitution is a document that tells us how we want to live with each other and is best done in an environment that is conducive to thorough debate. In the Somalia of today, comedians are murdered for telling jokes and journalist butchered for telling the truth. Certainly this cannot be the time for developing a constitution. I cannot but conclude that the constitutional process is nothing more than an attempt by the international community to make legitimate their engagement and support to a government they have conceived and created. Somalia's new elite has found in the current arrangement an environment conducive for their emergence and growth - and it is here that a marriage between the uninformed and the ambitious begins and the constitution becomes their marriage certificate.

I left Mogadishu feeling both hopeful and sad. Hopeful because of the colorful exhibition of humanity to survive extremes, dust itself off and launch a comeback. I was hopeful because in AMISOM, we see Africans attempting to solve their problems. Saddened, because I fear forces of primitive association are gaining strength. As for my own personal journey, I left feeling Somali and certainly more African than ever before. This journey laid some of my personal ghosts to rest. Yes, I am Somali and yes I am African with a billion fellow travellers. Leaving Mogadishu felt like leaving home and going to my other homes Nairobi, Kampala, Kigali etc.

With all the pain it has gone through Somalia has a lot to teach the world - it's where the human spirit is alight against all odds and a place where the legendary African resilience is redefined. We may not have the leaders to lead us from the abyss, but we certainly have people of unmatched entrepreneurship and perseverance. And when the decency and the entrepreneurship of the ordinary Somali are matched with good leadership, infinite opportunities will emerge not only for Somalia but the entire African continent.

Source: AllAfrica

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mogadishu Safer, but Still Dangerous

By Mohammed Yusuf

A Ugandan police officer serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia's first Formed Police Unit stands at the top of an armored personnel carrier at a police station in the capital Mogadishu, August 7, 2012.

Today whoever visits Somalia's capital will tell you how significantly security has improved in the city. Ordinary Somalis don’t have to face the constant street fighting they endured during the last two decades.  But those involved in the process of bringing stable institutions and government to the war-torn country still face an element of danger.  Targeted killings in the city are on the rise.

General security has improved in Mogadishu, but journalists, aid workers, and people working for government institutions still face threats to their lives.

Eight journalists and media professionals have been killed in Somalia this year, and suicide bombers tried unsuccessfully to attack the meeting where Somalia's new constitution was passed earlier this month.

The U.S. envoy to Somalia, Ambassador James Swan, praised individuals working with the government despite daily threats against them.

“Let me just say we are very much impressed at the courageousness, not only for media organs but also for example members of the technical selection committee and other involved in this transition process," said Dwan. "They have shown courage, great integrity, a genuine commitment to change here in Somalia.”

The technical selection committee that Swan mentions is working to screen and approve members of Somalia's new parliament.  The committee recently rejected more than 60 nominated legislators because of their connection to and involvement in Somalia’s civil war.

This step has angered many warlords in the city and residents fear war may break out between warlords' militias and the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM.

Mogadishu has enjoyed a year of peace since AU troops along with Somali government forces drove the militant group al-Shabab out of the city last year.

The threat of street violence has not disappeared entirely.  Nearly every street and alley in Mogadishu has a checkpoint administered by clan-based militias who portray themselves as official police.

Informed sources familiar with these checkpoints tell VOA that payment is made to the commander of each checkpoint, and depending how frequently one uses these checkpoints, drivers can pay up to $20 a day or about $200 monthly.

For militiamen manning these checkpoints, it is the only way they can earn a living.

Ambassador Swan said the security forces in the country, both African Union and Somali government forces, must provide a more secure environment for individuals and institutions affiliated with the country’s transition process.

The United Nations special representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, warned no one will be allowed to disturb the relative peace which the country has enjoyed for the last year.

“The force commander of AMISOM, he has given assurance to the international partners and to the process that AMISOM is fully equipped, is fully alert, is on top of the situation and we do not expect the peace that has been won so dearly to be disturbed," said Mahiga.

The peace will be tested in the coming days as the final members of the new parliament are selected and lawmakers then elect a new president.  The United Nations hopes the process will give Somalia its first stable central government in more than two decades.
Source: VOA News

Marginalising women in Somali politics

By Cawo Abdi

Somali women can become integral pillars of the "political survival" of future governments, writes Abdi.

Having 30 plus women in the Somali parliament is actually an enormous achievement which "shows that there are many women competent and willing to fill public office" [EPA]
Somalia has recently selected its parliament on Somali soil for the first time since the civil war of the late 1980s. This is a significant achievement since regional power brokers such as Ethiopia and Kenya, with the financial and logistical backing of the European Union, the United States and the United Nations, concocted Somali governments in neighbouring countries. 

Such success is unfortunately marred by controversies, with continuous allegations of corruption in the selection of the members of parliament, as well as persistent charges that millions of international donor funds intended for Somali security and basic infrastructure ended up in the pockets of a few men in top leadership positions

While international news coverage of the above shady political process is repeated ad nauseam, the status of the 30 per cent quota for women in current parliament-approved constitution rarely gets any ink.  

My reading is that international media outlets as well as Somali journalists take it for granted that failure of fulfilling this quota is best explained by the Islamic faith of the Somali people. This is often cited as being in conflict with decrees imposed from outside by international actors who allegedly paid for the hefty cost of $60m for the current constitution, and who also provide the salaries of former MPs and senior government leaders.

Sectarian and opportunistic men

Given the above power dynamic, Somalis acknowledge that though you should never bite the hand that feeds you, there can still be areas of serious contention between what international donors demand and what is possible in the Somali context. Thus the international community’s imposition of a 30 per cent quota for women in parliament is accepted to be included in the final draft of the constitution, even if all the signatories did not support such allocation. 

Sifting through the names of the 202 MPs released by the Technical Selection Committee in the last few days, 30 of the names are women, or approximately 15 per cent of the constitutionally mandated 30 per cent. This 15 per cent of women’s positions were achieved after weeks of haggling where male clan leaders were cajoled to include women in their nominations. 

Having 30 plus women in this parliament is actually an enormous achievement. It shows that there are many women competent and willing to fill public office. In fact, given the tremendously constructive role Somali women continue to play in Somali social and economic life since the wars of the late 1980s, Somali women have proven, beyond any shadow of doubt, that they are the backbone of the survival of Somali society. There is no reason to doubt that they can also become integral pillars of the political survival of future governments.  

My dozen years of sociological research with Somali women convinces me that Somali women know their invaluable contributions to Somali life. They also know that this contribution can be extended to the political process and in the search for durable stability and peace.  

So what is stopping Somali women from playing this vital role? Sectarian and opportunistic men who utilise clan and religious politics represent a threat for women and their prospects of political inclusion. Extending the nomadically inherited active and public role that Somali women occupy in the social and economic well-being of the household into the political sphere threatens the already stiff competition for limited leadership positions. 

The Chairman of the Supreme Religious Council in Somalia often leads the voices of those striving to impose a particular definition of what Islam is in Somalia and how any new government should deal with gender issues in “Sharia” complaint way. With the approval of the current constitution at the beginning of August for example, this council disputed some constitutional provisions that mostly relate to women, arguing that these provisions are contrary to Islam. 

Denying positions of leadership

While Somali elite politicians as well as traditional and religious leaders push for the exclusion of women in positions of power, they completely remain silent on the fact that the majority of Somali women spend their full days and at times part of the night eking their families’ livelihoods in the streets of all urban and rural areas.

These leaders refuse to admit that for the majority of the men selected as MPs, it is probably their wives, daughters and sisters who keep the home fire burning, feeding and maintaining the children, the elderly and even these MPs with their sweat, stubbornness and skillfulness.  
Selectively denying women positions of leadership, in the name of culture and religion, when accepting that these women are indispensable in all spheres of Somali society, is hypocritical. Somali sectarian politicians are abusing their male power in a very patriarchal society, but camouflaging this abuse with cultural and religious rhetoric. 
Somali women are part and parcel of everyday public life. The survival of the Somali nation rides on the backs of women. Men remain silent on this contribution as it underscores their inability to fulfill all family needs. Somali women remain silent about their contributions for fear of the type of abuse routinely inflicted on women in a politically unstable region, and for fear of challenging the untenable role of men as providers of their families. 

The current sectarian rhetoric imposed on Somalis is filled with contradictions, and is a deformation of what Somali culture and Somali Islam used to be. The culture that many of us grew up with, that thrived in this Horn African region for centuries, is unfortunately in retreat. A sectarian dogma confronted with Somali socio-economic reality is producing schizophrenic political and religious establishment detrimentally impacting Somali women and their potential contributions to the reconstruction of a viable nation state. 

Dr Cawo M Abdi is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota and a Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Source: Al-Jazeera

Somalis in Baidoa Expect More from New Government

By Roopa Gogineni

Ethiopian forces cleared Baidoa town of al-Shabaab militants in February of this year,
(Picture) August 24, 2012
Earlier this week, a new parliament was installed in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. Meanwhile in the smaller city of Baidoa, a city liberated from al-Shabab militants in February, Ethiopian forces are handing over control to African Union and Somali forces. In Baidoa, residents are grateful for the security, but wonder why aid has been so slow to follow. 
Sangaba Sheikh is a mother of ten. For the past 20 years she has sold miraa, a plant narcotic popular in Somalia, in the community of Baidoa. These days, business is slow.

“Miraa is very expensive and people are not able to buy because people do not have any income," she said. "We are hungry because we are not getting any money from business.”

Before February of this year, Baidoa was under the control of al-Shabab. The Islamist militants drove the miraa trade underground. Since the Ethiopians liberated Baidoa in February, Sheikh has been able to sell openly on the streets again, but she makes meager profits.

Residents of Baidoa expected aid from Mogadishu and beyond would arrive once they were free of al-Shabab. The city had been under siege for three years. No humanitarian aid was allowed in during this time - al-Shabab even stopped polio vaccines sent by the World Health Organization.

Abdifatah Mohamed Ibrahim, known as "Gesey," is the governor of Bay region, of which Baidoa is the capital. Speaking through a translator, he described his frustration with Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, or TFG.

“When the TFG took over Afgoye or Balade, immediately the president and the PM visited to show that the central government was supporting," said Ibrahim. "They took control of Baidoa around February. From then until now, it is six months down the line and no support has come.”

Getting aid to Baidoa is a challenge. Two hundred forty kilometers separate Mogadishu from Baidoa. Approximately 150 of these are still under al-Shabab control. This basically cuts off the city from government help.

Ali Hassan Abdi drives a truck between Mogadishu and Baidoa. He described an al-Shabab checkpoint at Buurhakaba, a town along the road.

“They take miraa from you, they torture you, they point guns at you, they take the cigarettes, they blindfold and torture you and then release you after five hours or so,” said Abdi.

Al-Shabab militias off-load all trucks and search through the cargo. If they find food aid, the bags of rice and sorghum are promptly burnt. Items that are not confiscated are taxed. Abdi estimates he pays 400 US dollars for every 1,000 dollars of cargo.

Despite the challenges, "Gesey" is cautiously optimistic about the new government’s potential. He explained, through a translator.

“The trend of the way things are happening is not bad," Ibrahim said. "Selecting individuals who are educated into the parliament and stopping people who have caused problems, warlords, from becoming part of this new parliament, we're going to at least improve the situation.”

One of the new government's main tasks will be to clear al-Shabab from the areas still under the militant group's control. The group has lost much of territory to a multi-nation offensive in the past two years but still controls the port city of Kismayo and other areas, including lands around Baidoa.

Source: VOA

Friday, August 24, 2012

N. Dakota: US man found guilty of Somali immigrant's murder

A man who admitted he hit an 18-year-old Somali immigrant whose dead body was found in a ditch in North Dakota was found guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy Thursday.

A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for a day and half before finding Leron Howard, 35, guilty in the April 2011 killing of Abdi Ali Ahmed.

Howard's attorney, Steve Mottinger, had asked the jury to find Howard guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter. Howard testified on his own behalf during the five-day trial, saying he hit Ahmed twice but that another person, Janelle Cave, stabbed him.

Cave was convicted in February of manslaughter and criminal conspiracy in the case and is serving an 11-year prison sentence. She is appealing.

The state medical examiner testified that Ahmed died from two severe blows to his head. He also was stabbed twice. His body was found in a ditch.

Following the guilty verdict, Judge Thomas E. Merrick ordered a pre-sentencing investigation, which could take up to eight weeks. Howard faces up to a life in prison without parole when sentenced.


Negligent landlord leaves Somali mall without water

By Eric Roper

A number of businesses at a predominantly Somali mall have gone without water and working bathrooms this week because of a negligent landlord.

Two of those businesses at the Riverside Mall, a coffee shop and a hair salon, have been forced to close their doors temporarily as a result. The mall, also known as the African International Mall, is home to about 40 shops that mostly sell clothing, bedding, rugs, spices and dresses.

Bathrooms were in a squalid condition when MPLS visited on Thursday afternoon.

The building is owned by Sherman Associates, but city spokesman Matt Laible said the bill payer is a company called Riverside Mall. The contact listed for that entity is Abdinasir Mohamed.

Laible said the property had an $2,456 unpaid water bill. Owners then paid $1,900 this afternoon and water will be restored sometime today, he added.

Abdi Mohamed, the owner of Banadir Barber Shop, said the people who collect rent (one of whom is Abdinasir Mohamed) are not fulfilling their obligations to the tenants. Abdi Mohamed pays $750 a month for his space to a man he knows only as "the old man," but has no lease.

"These guys, what they’re doing is just taking the money from us, paying Sherman [Associates], the rest they put in their pocket and they go," Mohamed said.

He added that trash pickup has been very unpredictable in the last several weeks, drawing many flies into the building. They have also had to fight throughout the summer to restore air conditioning, which is often turned off on hot days.

Heather Nelson, the commercial property manager for Sherman Associates, said the person who leases the space from them is responsible for the maintenance duties. The city later revealed that to be Abdinasir Mohamed.

MPLS left a voice message with the only Abdinasir Mohamed who has a Minneapolis address, but has not heard back.

Source: Star Tribune

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Somali Lobby Group warns Kenya and International Oil Giants

The East African Energy Forum has issued warnings to the Kenyan Government and four international oil companies today that are illegally exploiting offshore hydrocarbon concessions off the southern coast of Somalia. The lobby group has said in its directive (read here) to the oil giants that they have engaged in a gross infringement of Somalia's offshore resources, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

"These offshore oil blocks are solely owned by the Republic of Somalia as stipulated in the 1982 UN Common Law on the Sea (UNCLOS).  Kenya's move to sell these oil blocks violates international law" says Abdillahi Mohamud, the lobby's managing director.

He states that the oil blocks sold by Kenya in Somali waters are L21, L23, L24 purchased by Italy's Eni, L22 by France's Total S.A., L5 by USA's Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and Block L26 by Norway's Statoil.

The lobby group warned these companies risk being shut out of future Somali energy concessions which are estimated to hold large untapped reserves along with what he described as 'legal action' the group’s lawyers would pursue.

"They should deal directly with Somalia, appropriating these blocks from the rightful owner is not in the interest of these otherwise innovative and successful oil companies."

The lobby group has stated it is planning legal action against Kenya and the oil companies.

"We are not asking for compliance on a matter of dispute, this isn’t a dispute, it’s a violation of Somalia's international boundaries established by an international law of which Kenya is a signatory. We will file court proceedings against those involved in the coming weeks at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany."

He continues on saying it is in Kenya and the oil company’s best interest to cease allocating offshore blocks that rightfully belong to Somalia. 

"We will continue to take the matter to the highest courts, any attempt at illegally exploiting Somalia’s energy resources will be met with full opposition from us and our partners."

The lobby group has noted the total area of Somali offshore territory that is being illegally sold by Kenya and purchased by the four oil companies is approximately 116,000 square kilometers, an area about the size of Greece.

The East African Energy Forum is an international energy lobby group that works to protect Somalia's energy resources.

Source: The East African Energy Forum