Google+ Followers

Sunday, September 30, 2012

American Refugee Committee wins award for Somali program

By: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune

American Refugee Committee of President Daniel Wordsworth with Somali immigrant leaders Imam Sheikh Saad Musse Roble (center) and Ali Yusef
The American Refugee Committee (ARC) has won the prestigious 2012 Peter F. Drucker Award in the nonprofit category for its grass-roots "I Am a Star" program. The initiative engages the Somali community in Minnesota and around the globe to help shape ARC's response in order to strengthen the Somali community here and abroad.

Minneapolis-based ARC credits local Somali business- people, hundreds of volunteers as well as corporate-partners such as UCare, Greater Twin Cities United Way, Mosaic Co. and General Mills. ARC topped a field of 614 nonprofit nominees for the award, which includes a $100,000 prize.

"This award is a real tribute to the incredible work of the global Somali diaspora, who have co-created 'I Am a Star,'" said ARC President Daniel Wordsworth. "There are people all around the world who are ready to work together across geographic and cultural distances to help tackle some of the world's biggest challenges."

The Star program has expanded globally -- engaging Somali communities in the United States, Norway, Sweden, Malaysia and the United Kingdom -- to help provide relief in Somalia, home to one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. For 30 years, ARC has worked through 2,000 staff members, businesses and countless volunteers to help the indigent and dislocated of Africa and Asia. More information: www.ARCrelief.org.

AFTER 7-YEAR EFFORT, HCMC GOES PAPERLESS

Hennepin County Medical Center has gone paperless, capping a $110 million, seven-year effort by the state's largest public hospital. The computerized system has improved care and saved taxpayers money, HCMC officials said.

"It's important from the technology perspective, but it's also impacting patient care outcomes, patient safety and, in the end, the patient experience and patient satisfaction," said Joanne Sunquist, HCMC's chief information officer. "That's the main reason you do it."

The hospital and its clinics use an electronic health records system that incorporates patient information with lab results, prescriptions, X-rays and other digital images, and allows a doctor to get a real-time view of a patient's chart. It also ties in claims and billing data.

Earlier this month, HCMC became the first Twin Cities hospital system to be recognized by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, which does an on-site test of the system before awarding hospitals with its pinnacle achievement.

The Mayo Clinic's digital health system has also been recognized by the group. Only 95 hospitals in the nation have implemented widespread health IT systems.
JACKIE CROSBY

PR VETERAN SIGNS ON WITH BEST BUY

PR veteran Amy von Walter will work on Best Buy's image after recent upheaval that ranged from lousy performance and an ousted former CEO to an ongoing attempt by founder Richard Schulze, who was forced off the board, to buy the Richfield-based company and take it private. Von Walter, 38, has joined Best Buy as senior director of public relations. She comes from Medtronic, where she worked for the past 11 months as communications director. Von Walter's résumé includes stints at HealthPartners, Target, the Transportation Security Administration and the Washington D.C.-area Metropolitan Airports Commission.

"Medtronic is a great organization," Von Walter said. "[Medtronic CEO] Omar Ishrak is a really smart, authentic leader. But the opportunity at Best Buy was once in a lifetime. I'll get a chance to reframe the story. ... It's a Fortune 500 company with a strong foundation. There are lots of good things ahead."
JIM SPENCER

SHORT TAKES

Former Minnesota Public Radio broadcaster Bob Potter, also a veteran financial planner, has joined with a partner to form Sound Money Group, a financial planning and money-management firm.
Potter hosted "Sound Money" for 15 years before leaving MPR a decade ago to become a financial planner. Potter, 65, and business partner Scott Haakenson, 47, purchased the Sound Money registration rights to launch the new firm.

"This is a meat-and-potatoes shop," Potter said. "Sound Money Group will give people the kind of advice they expected from the radio program but personalized to their unique circumstances and integrated with health care and financial advice. During all those years I was yakking on the radio ... Scott was slogging through the trenches dealing with people's real money issues in a very personal way." More info: www.soundmoney group.com.

•There's still room at the Oct. 11 annual finance conference of the Collaborative to hear Minnesota Wild boss Craig Leipold talk about his $200 million investment in a couple 20-something pucksters; Brad Cleveland, CEO of Proto Labs, Minnesota's most successful IPO of recent years; Mark Heesen, head of the National Venture Association, and a lot of promising young companies who are looking for expansion capital. More info on cost and agenda: www.collaboratve.net
.

The U.S.-China Business Connections, a local organization dedicated to helping businesses succeed in relationships with China, is sponsoring six monthly meetings featuring experts on Chinese history, philosophy, culture, current events and more beginning Oct. 17. The charge is $475 for UCBC members or $90 per session. More information: Larry Mahoney at lmahoney_adr@yahoo.com.

Source: Star Tribune

Somali port falls, but Shebab's campaign far from over

By Daniel Wesangula (AFP)

The Al-Qaeda-linked Al Shebab, regarded by the West as a credible threat to global peace, may have pulled out of their last Somalian stronghold of Kismayo, but the new national government must move quickly to make their defeat more than a minor setback.

Analysts however warn that despite the fact that Shebab have withdrawn from the port city, peace is still elusive in the war-ravaged nation.

For almost one year, Kenyan Army and African Union forces have waged a slow but consistent campaign against the Shebab.

After days of threatening an invasion, the troops launched a beach assault Friday on the southern Somali port city of Kismayo.

A day later, the rebel group's spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage announced their abandoning of Kismayo, explaining the "tactical retreat" with the need "to prevent civilian casualties" brought by an all-out confrontation.

Analysts agree that the loss of Kismayo was the biggest military and political setback the Shebab have faced since the war against the Islamist organization was launched.

"The fall of Kismayo is a game changer because a key source of revenue for the Shebab has been stifled," Joakim Gundel, a Nairobi-based academic with local think-tank Bridges Analytics told AFP.

"This represents an end to Shebab as an insurgent group with ambitions for territorial control," he added.
Many believe that Shebab will be hardest hit financially by the fall of the key port city, the latest to have gone into the hands of African Union and Somali forces.

"They rely on the port for financial support, benefiting from the charcoal and sugar trade," Laura Hammond, a senior lecturer at London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), told AFP.

Gundel said that the fall will take Shebab outside their comfort zone and force them to seek financial support elsewhere.

"They will have to be dependent on external resources... In a world in which regimes supporting groups such as Shebab are falling, this will not be an easy task," he said.

He added that the financial pressures may also cause fault lines among the smaller militias that came together to form the Al-Qaeda linked group.

The odds may be firmly stacked against them, but it is emerging that Kismayo's fall does not spell the end of Shebab.

"They still control large areas of the countryside in southern Somalia, as well as some secondary towns," said Hammond. "There have been reports of Shebab members fleeing to remote mountainous areas in the contested territory between Somaliland and Puntland.

"I would expect them to lie low for a while, carrying out indiscriminate attacks like those seen in Mogadishu in recent weeks," she added.

The change of tactic by Shebab from open military warfare to guerrilla attacks will not only pose a problem for the forces fighting them, but for the new Somali government too.

Gundel said "Shebab gained a lot of support by playing into the historic rivalries among Somalia's clans... these differences are still strong, and if the new government fails to address them, the Shebab might find a way back." All major clans in Somalia -- such as the Harti, Ogaden, Marehan, Rahanwein and Galjel -- have major interests in the Lower Juba region, whose commercial capital is Kismayo.

"The only way out of this will be for the new government to invite all these clans into the post-Shebab peace process," Gundel said.

Former Kenyan ambassador to Somalia, Mohamed Abdi Affey, agrees that inclusion would be the key to prevent a possible return to violence.

"I am sure the government, together with the Inter Governmental Authority on Development, will put in place an inclusive arrangement because in Somalia, governance can never be left to only one, two or three groups.

"It must be inclusive for sustainable peace to be achieved," said Affey.

Kismayo had long been a target for the allied forces, and its fall has raised questions on the issue of an exit plan for the foreign armies.

"Foreign troops should leave Somalia soon, but if they leave before the Somali military is strong enough to take over, Shebab will jump at the opportunity and try to regain territory," said Hammond.

Before they pull out of Somalia some differences amongst the individual armies might first need to be ironed out.

"Almost all foreign governments involved in the liberation of Somalia have their own interests at heart," Gundel said.

"Ethiopia waged war in western Somalia because it was against a strong Ogaden influence in that part of the country... on the other hand the Kenyans are supporting Ogaden factions.

"This might be a future point of contention between the two nations," Gundel said.

As Shebab's reign in the port city comes to an end, Mogadishu will be forced to look inwards and reflect upon methods of keeping a peace that has escaped it since Siad Barre's regime fell in 1991.

"Now is the season for peacemakers," Affey said, pointing to Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Somalia's new president on whose shoulders lies the responsibility to lead Somalia into peace.

"This man has the capacity, the knowledge, the experience, the passion to pacify Somalia and to reconcile all Somali clans."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Al-Qaida group al-Shabab withdraws from its last stronghold in Somalia

Stringer / AFP - Getty Images
The al-Qaida-allied al-Shebab militant group said it had left the city of Kismayo, seen above Friday, after it was attacked by a Kenya-Somalia force.
 Somalia's al-Shabab rebels withdrew from the southern Somali city of Kismayo overnight, the rebel group and residents said Saturday, a day after Kenyan and Somali government forces attacked the militants' last bastion.

“We moved out our fighters ... from Kismayo at midnight,'' al-Shabab spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, told Reuters.

He threatened to strike back soon. “The enemies have not yet entered the town. Let them enter  Kismayo which will soon turn into a battlefield,” he said.

African Union troops from Kenya, Uganda and Burundi have combined over the last 18 months to kick al-Shabab out of the Somali capital Mogadishu and take a series of smaller towns that the insurgents fled to.

Al-Shabab, which formally merged with al-Qaida in February, had earned money by collecting taxes on goods arriving at the Indian Ocean port, so the loss of the stronghold is a double blow to the armed fundamentalist group that began attacks in 2007 and went on to control all but a few blocks of the capital.

The assault is likely to send al-Shabab fighters underground. Hardcore fighters may unleash suicide bombs and ambushes but less dedicated fighters could melt back into their communities, further reducing al-Shabab's strength.

The African Union force said that some al-Shabab fighters have already contacted military officials in recent days, saying they wanted to defect from al-Shabab.

Speaking on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York Friday, Kenya's Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi called the entry of Kenyan forces into the Somali port "a significant victory."

"This is a major blow to them and we think it's positive for the region and for Somalia," he said.

Source: NBC News

Friday, September 28, 2012

D-Day for al-Qaida in Somalia? Troops storm beaches at last stronghold

At an international one-day summit Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron said the world would "pay a price" if it fails to help Somalia overcome terrorism, piracy and starvation. ITV's Lee Comley reports.

Troops launched an amphibious assault before dawn Friday on the al-Qaida militant group al-Shabab's last stronghold in Somalia.

Other African Union forces were traveling overland to link up with the joint Kenyan-Somali force in the port city of Kismayo.

The commander of the U.N-backed African Union troops, Lt. Gen. Andrew Gutti, said the aim was to "liberate the people of Kismayo to enable them to lead their lives in peace, stability and security."

Col. Cyrus Oguna, the Kenyan military's top spokesman, said the attack met minimal resistance, but al-Shabab denied that the city had fallen and said fighting was taking place.

Oguna told The Associated Press that al-Shabab, which formally merged with al-Qaida in February, had incurred "heavy losses" but that Kenyan forces have not yet had any injuries or deaths.

"We came from the beach side and we're moving towards the main city. Our surveillance aircraft are monitoring every event taking place on the ground," he told Reuters.

"For now, we're not everywhere. We've taken a large part of it without resistance, I don't see anything major happening," he said.

Residents in Kismayo, a city of about 193,000 people, contacted by The Associated Press said that Kenyan troops had taken control of the port, but not the whole city.

"Al-Shabab fighters are on the streets and heading toward the front line in speeding cars. Their radio is still on the air and reporting the war," resident Mohamed Haji told The Associated Press. Haji said that helicopters were hitting targets in the town in southeastern Somalia.

Another resident, Ismail Suglow, told Reuters that he could hear shelling from the ships and that the rebels were responding with anti-aircraft guns.

"We saw seven ships early in the morning and now their firing looks like lightning and thunder. Al-Shabab have gone towards the beach. The ships poured many AU troops on the beach," he added.

On Thursday, residents said planes had dropped leaflets on Kismayo warning civilians to evacuate within 24 hours, Reuters reported. More than 10,000 residents fled Kismayo in the last several weeks.

Resident Faduma Abdulle said Friday that she is now leaving too.

She said al-Shabab made an announcement on its radio station Friday to trick residents into moving toward the invading troops.

"They told residents through their radio to loot a Kenyan ship that washed up on the coast, but instead the residents who rushed there were attacked by helicopters," she said. "Some of them have died but I don't know how many. The situation is tense and many are fleeing. It's a dangerous situation."

A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Cdr. Dave Hecht, said the U.S. Africa Command, known as AFRICOM, is closely monitoring the situation but that "we are not participating in Kenya's military activities in the region."

Militants: Taking city not 'a piece of cake'

Al-Shabab said it would not give up Kismayu easily.

"Going into Kismayo is not a piece of cake. We are still fighting them on the beach where they landed," Sheik Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab's spokesman for military operations, told Reuters on Friday. "For us, this is just the beginning, our troops are spread everywhere."

Oguna said the assault is part of a four-prong attack involving Kenyan forces currently in villages outside Kismayo.

The amphibious assault landed between 10:30 p.m. Thursday and 2 a.m. Friday local time (3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday ET) , he said. Some of the troops had night-vision goggles, he said.

African Union troops pushed al-Shabab out of Mogadishu in August 2011, ending four years of control of the capital by the fighters.

The Ugandan and Burundian troops that make up the bulk of the African Union force in Mogadishu have slowly been taking control of towns outside of Mogadishu.

The expanding control by AU troops sent al-Shabab fighters fleeing south toward Kismayo, north to other regions of Somalia and across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, according to American and African Union officials.

Al-Shabab still holds sway across many small, poor villages of southern Somalia. The loss of Kismayo would be significant.

The militants taxed goods coming into its port. Al-Shabab lost its major source of financing last year when it was pushed out of Bakara market in Mogadishu, where it also charged taxes.

The march toward Kismayo by the Kenyan forces has been nearly a year in the making.

Kenyan troops entered Somalia last October after a string of kidnappings inside neighboring Kenya, including of Westerners in and around the beach resort town of Lamu, which is also seeing the construction of a new port and could one day be final point of a new oil pipeline from South Sudan.

Kenyan forces were bogged down by rain and poor roads for months but have making slow and steady progress toward Kismayo in recent weeks.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Source: NBC News

Thursday, September 27, 2012

‘No time to lose’ to advance peace and democracy in Somalia


Delegates attend a plenary session of the National Constituent Assembly in Mogadishu, Somalia. UN Photo
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today praised Somalia for the progress in its democratic transition and called on the international community to continue supporting the East African nation, stressing that “there is no time to lose” as the country is still facing serious humanitarian and security challenges.  

“Today the change we have awaited so long has come,” Mr. Ban said in his remarks at the mini-summit on Somalia, held in New York on the margins of the high-level debate of the 67th General Assembly.  

After decades of warfare, Somalia has been undergoing a peace and national reconciliation process, with a series of landmark steps over recent weeks helping bring an end to the country’s eight-year political transition period. These steps included the adoption of a provisional constitution, the establishment of a new parliament and the selection of a new president. 

“The process of ending the transition was not always smooth. But it was more inclusive and representative than any such efforts Somalia has seen in a generation,” noted Mr. Ban. “In full view of the Somali people, young and old, men and women from all clans took part. They showed courage and integrity in the face of immense pressure.”  

Among those attending today’s meeting were senior African Union officials, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), Augustine Mahiga, and Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali. The new Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, joined in by video link from the capital, Mogadishu.  

“Today we begin a new partnership for peacebuilding in Somalia – on that is led by Somalis and grounded in shared principles – to build peace and opportunity for the long term,” Mr. Ban said, adding that continued support is needed to address the security and humanitarian situations.  

In recent weeks, there have been several attacks which have led to numerous deaths, including a member of parliament as well as journalists and civilians. In addition, two million people affected by drought and violence are in need of humanitarian assistance.  

“I urge you now, immediately, to redouble your efforts to support Somalia,” Mr. Ban told participants at the meeting. “We must also pave the way for Somali institutions to assume primary responsibility for security. I appeal to each of you to consider how you can contribute to democracy, justice and state-building in Somalia.”  

The Secretary-General also emphasized the importance of supporting Somali authorities to meet their human rights obligations and rebuild their institutions so that the country can successfully hold popular elections and a constitutional referendum in the next four years. However, he underlined that for progress to be long-lasting, Somalia would need continued international support.  

“Our focus must be on helping to enable Somali institutions to rebuild and reconcile after two decades of war,” Mr. Ban said. “Somalia’s people have taken risks for peace and they will need to show even more courage in the years ahead. We must match their courage with our commitment.”  

The meeting resulted in a communiqué, in which participants committed to forge a new partnership for peacebuilding and statebuilding, work with Somali authorities in capacity building in the areas of security, justice, economic recovery and human rights, among others, and pledged to enhance their support for the country’s justice sector.  

Participants also reaffirmed their support for humanitarian efforts in the country and agreed to meet again to discuss concrete steps to show their support.  

“Moving forward, we look forward to building a new partnership based on Somali priorities and leadership, competent and representative national institutions, and mutual trust and accountability,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told reporters after the meeting.  

“The international community will insist on a serious effort by the Somali leadership and institutions to manage resources transparently and accountably and to govern inclusively in the interests of all Somalis.”  

During a meeting yesterday, Mr. Ban congratulated the Somali Prime Minister on the important political progress that has taken place with the completion of the transition period, and discussed the need for support for stabilization efforts in the coming months.

Source: UN News Centre

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Somali Spring

 

BY KEN MENKHAUS

Is the poster child of failed states finally getting its act together?


After the twin suicide attacks that killed 14 people in Mogadishu last week and an assassination attempt on the president a little more than a week before that, predictions of a Somali Spring would seem to be, at the very least, premature. But buried beneath the grisly headlines of the last few weeks was some unexpectedly good news: The newly appointed Somali parliament elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to serve as the first post-transition head of state. This is a seismic event in Somalia -- but not for the reasons many observers presume.

Mohamud's election does not signal an end to Somalia's 21 years of state collapse. Nor will it bring a quick end to the country's systemic political violence. The new president is taking the reins of a failed government that exercises only nominal control over the capital, Mogadishu, and faces a real, if diminished, threat from the al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab. Even in a best-case outcome, it will take years for the government to extend and deepen its authority. And though it brings to a conclusion Somalia's deeply flawed, eight-year political transition, Mohamud's new administration must still take on a host of difficult, unfinished transitional tasks.

The real significance of Mohamud's election -- as well as the election two weeks earlier of Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Osman Jawari -- is that it demonstrates that Somalia's civil society is alive and well, after years of political violence that forced many of Somalia's best and brightest to flee the country or withdraw from public life. The election constituted a well-executed civic mobilization against the corrupt, illegitimate government of transitional President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and the mafia that surrounded him. According to U.N. investigations, 70 percent of foreign aid and other revenues flowing to Sheikh Sharif's transitional government in 2009 and 2010 went unaccounted for, earning Somalia the top spot on Transparency International's 2011 ranking of the world's most corrupt governments.

This may be the start of a Somali version of an Arab Spring, with all the uncertainties that entails. It has involved no street protests and no bullets, just ballots -- and a lot of commitment, savvy, and collective action by a coalition of professionals and civic leaders who jumped into what looked like a fixed game and beat the incumbent.

Practically no one saw this coming. The last year of the Transitional Federal Government was grim. Key transitional tasks -- like the drafting of a constitution -- were rammed through, circumvented, or only partially completed; the transitional government was paralyzed by infighting and corruption; and the country was emerging from a serious famine. Desperate to produce a sitting parliament, U.N. diplomats engineered what became known as an "appointocracy" -- appointees appointing appointees. Understandably, the process had little legitimacy in the eyes of Somalis.

Most observers were convinced that appointed members of parliament would be in the pockets of Somalia's "moneylords" -- a quarreling, dysfunctional coalition of political entrepreneurs who have used control over transitional-government finances to rent allegiances and enrich themselves since 2009. Instead, a combination of nationalists, moderate Islamists, business people, and cross-clan interests outmaneuvered Sheikh Sharif and his supporters. Mohamud, a civil society leader, educator, and peace-builder, emerged as a finalist in a runoff vote against Sheikh Sharif and won resoundingly.

Critics of the vote argue that money was passed around by both sides, and they are probably right. But what matters is this: In a power struggle between two rival coalitions, the "constructive elite" -- the group known and admired for having built universities, hospitals, charities, and businesses in the country during the long civil war -- defeated a parasitic elite coalition that had devoted all its energies to diverting public funds.

Mohamud's victory electrified Somalis and both surprised and relieved the international community. Only two groups emerged as losers: the moneylords and warlords who sought to maintain the status quo, and al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab has taken a big hit with this election. For years, the corruption and misbehavior of the transitional government was one of the jihadi group's biggest recruiting tools. Many angry and disaffected Somalis passively supported al-Shabab, in part because the alternative was so uninspiring. Now that support could evaporate as Somalis rally behind the new government.

Mohamud's government thus poses an existential threat to al-Shabab, which, though weakened, is still capable of carrying out devastating terrorist attacks. As a result, we should expect al-Shabab to take desperate actions to attack and discredit the government, including widening its terrorist campaign into neighboring countries.

But Mohamud's government must also wage a rear-guard battle against the mafia of marginalized warlords and moneylords. They have demonstrated a willingness to resort to intimidation and political violence, and they could end up being as great a danger to the new government as al-Shabab.

Yet for all the challenges, this is a critical window of opportunity -- and the international community must approach it with the right policies. These cannot be the usual gift box of good-governance and rule-of-law foreign aid. More than anything else, Mohamud's administration will need political space. Somalis want to own their government and its policies. They want an end to warlordism and jihadism, but they also want an end to foreign domination. Mohamud will be under domestic pressure to reduce the influence of the United Nations and donor states, and gradually to exert more say in the operations of the African Union peacekeeping forces in Somalia. Outsiders need to respect Somalis' desire to reclaim their sovereignty and need to let the new government take the lead in proposing mechanisms to improve accountability and good governance.

The international community should also anticipate the possibility that Mohamud's government will reach out to "redeemable" wings of al-Shabab with an eye for reaching a negotiated settlement. Now that a post-transition government is in place and al-Shabab is sufficiently weakened, this may be a good moment to attempt that strategy. Mohamud may also have to cut deals with some of the moneylords and warlords to keep the peace.

These and other policies may create anxiety in neighboring states and Western donor countries, but foreigners need to understand and accommodate the complex negotiations among Somalis that will come next. Mohamud is a decent and experienced man who has the respect of Somalis at home and in the diaspora. If ever the stars were aligned for Somalia to emerge from its 20-year crisis of war and state collapse, this is it. Let's try not to get in the way.

Source: Foreign Policy

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Nuruddin Farah: a life in writing




Somalia is no longer what it was. It's past reconstruction. How can you reconstruct a country that's self-destructing continuously?'


In a hotel beside a Norwegian fjord, encircled by snow-streaked mountains, the novelist and playwright Nuruddin Farah has his mind on warmer waters."Are they pirates?" he says of the Somalis who hold ships hostage off the Horn of Africa, where he was born. "What they do has the characteristics of piracy. But that wasn't how it started." He fixes his eye on the Arctic trawlers in the harbour. "The majority were fishermen who lost their livelihoods to Korean and Japanese and European fishing vessels, fishing illegally in Somali waters. I'm not condoning the things they're doing. But there are unanswered questions. Someone is not telling us the truth."

Over 45 years, Farah has pursued complex, elusive truths as one of Africa's greatest novelists, and a cosmopolitan voice in English-language fiction. He was driven into exile by the Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, who ruled from 1969 to 1991, and he now lives in Cape Town. But all 11 of his novels (translated into 20 languages) are set in Somali-speaking lands, one impulse being to "keep my country alive by writing about it". When I first met him in London in the 1980s, he was with Salman Rushdie at a Royal Court play, and his became a staunch Muslim voice against the fatwa. Rushdie writes in his new memoir of seeking his friend's advice on how to depict a country lost to him: "'I keep it here,' Nuruddin said, pointing to his heart."

For Nadine Gordimer, Farah is one of the continent's "real interpreters". Aged 66, he has lived in 10 African countries and is often cited by other African writers as overdue for the Nobel. His novels scourge received opinion – whether of female inferiority (he writes women characters who make their own destinies), religious dogma, nationalism (Maps), foreign aid (Gifts) or clannism (Secrets). They trace the history of a region long an arena for proxy wars and great power rivalries, in an oblique, metaphorical style that marries proverbial wisdom ("a dead man's shoes are more useful than he is") with daily life in a modern African state awash with sim cards and AK47s.

Crossbones is the final volume of a trilogy, Past Imperfect, set in the civil war that erupted when Siad Barre was ousted. In Links (2004) a Dante scholar returns to the seaside capital Mogadishu to find StrongmanNorth and StrongmanSouth battling with US Marines in the infernal, Italianate ruins. In Knots (2007) a Canadian-Somali actress arrives as the warlords have been vanquished by bearded men in white robes, foisting "body tents" on women. By Crossbones, the ascendant Islamists – whom Farah terms "religionists" – are spoiling for war with Ethiopia, while piracy proliferates off the breakaway coastal region of Puntland.

I spoke to Farah as a peace process was under way in Somalia that culminated in the inauguration last Sunday of the country's first elected president in decades. The author was in Tromsø, a tranquil town of clapboard houses and silver birch trees 360km north of the Arctic Circle, to address global Ibsen experts

He was already "pregnant" with his first published novel, From a Crooked Rib (1970), when he read Ibsen's plays as a student of philosophy and literature in India. The novel-in-progress was the tale of a fight for selfhood in a world where women are "sold like cattle", told through the eyes of a 19-year-old nomadic woman. "I could not have written From a Crooked Rib if I had not read A Doll's House," he said at Tromsø University.

Growing up in Somalia and Ethiopia, and studying in India, he tells me, "I saw, on a daily basis, women beaten, girls not sent to school, and the injustices meted out to women. But at 19 or 20 I lacked the courage to articulate it." The gulf between Ibsen's Nora and his unlettered pastoralist clarified his task: "For Ebla, even in a metaphorical sense, there was no door to slam."

From a Crooked Rib became a Penguin Modern Classic in 2004. At a time when fiction in Africa was more focused on colonial power and emerging nationhood, Farah scrutinised the intimate power play between men and women. The novel was subversive in other ways. Some women berated Farah for trespassing on their realm for exposing the horror of female genital mutilation practised among Somalis (a practice banned last month under Somalia's new constitution).

His second trilogy was conceived when he returned to Somalia in 1996, for the first time in 22 years, and was taken hostage by a minor warlord. In Kismayo, "I was kept incommunicado for a few days. The warlord sent a technical [vehicle] with 16 gunmen; he'd been told wrongly that I was a journalist, and wanted me to write an article praising him." The warlord's sister-in-law pleaded for Farah's release: he had been her school teacher in the early 70s. Reconsidering, his captors demanded that he deliver lectures. He complied, since there was nowhere to escape to. He shrugs at the absurdity: "I was held hostage and gave lectures to the community."

Later in Mogadishu, he was "shocked by the destruction. It was a country I didn't recognise, and many of the people in it were newcomers." Since the 10th century, he argues, Mogadishu had been a cosmopolitan city-state, but with the civil war, "it lost its old inhabitants – some of Persian, Arab and Indian origin who had intermarried. Its character changed." In an essay, "Of Tamarinds and Cosmopolitans", Farah wrote of a clash not of clans, but between pastoralist nomads and urbanites, in a once "open city with no walls". But he was moved by his welcome as one of Somalia's most famous sons (a celebrity matched only recently by the British Olympian Mo Farah): "People touched me and said, Nuruddin is back, life is here. Others will come."

Born in 1945 in Baidoa, in Italian Somaliland, Farah went to school in Ogaden (ceded by the British to Ethiopia) and Mogadishu. His father was an interpreter for the British governor, and his mother an oral poet.

He used English textbooks, took Qur'anic lessons, and spoke Amharic, Arabic and Italian too. He claims an American typewriter had much to do with his choice of literary language. But his efforts to write in Somali, once it gained a written script in 1972, were curtailed by censorship. All his novels were later banned, and read only in smuggled copies.

His first wife was a student from Bangalore whom he met while studying in Punjab ("her father and I played chess"), and their son is now an auditor in Detroit with two small daughters. Leaving Somalia in 1974 to do a master's degree in theatre at Essex University, Farah worked at London's Royal Court ("making tea").

When his second novel, A Naked Needle (1976), riled Somalia's despot, his brother advised him not to return. He was sentenced to death in absentia. "The country died inside me, and I carried it, for a long time, like a woman with a dead baby," he says. "It became the neurosis from which I write."

After a trip that took in the Soviet Union, Greece under the colonels and Sadat's Egypt, he wrote his first trilogy, Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship (1979-83), consisting of Sweet and Sour Milk, Sardines and Close Sesame. He once challenged fellow Somalis to "study the structure of the Somali family and you will find mini-dictators imposing their will … We become replicas of the tyrant whom we hate. When you rid yourself of a monster, you become a monster." Somalia's implosion, which he predicted as early as 1988, fuelled a personal crisis. His mother died in 1990, when it was still unsafe to return. He got married for a second time, to a British-Nigerian academic, and moved to northern Nigeria, then South Africa.

In his talk in Norway, he described being in a "very difficult marriage, much worse and more debilitating than Nora's, even though I stayed in it ... maybe because I was in mourning". As he sees it now, the collapse of Somalia "necessitated the creation of a foundation. I was afloat, and needed an anchor. Marrying became an anchor – which was probably wrong." When the couple eventually split, and his children were taken to California, "it reminded me of when I couldn't see my [elder] son." At that time, "I couldn't go back; I was being hunted down. Two attempts at killing me were made, in Nigeria and Rome."

As his second marriage foundered, "writing became hard; living a lot harder." It took a dozen years to complete his second trilogy, Blood in the Sun (1986-98), begun with Maps, set during the 1970s Ogaden war, and Gifts, at a time of famine. Secrets unfolds on the eve of civil war, and he deems it a pessimistic book. "I was pretending to be happy, but wasn't. It's a novel that predicts terrible days." As a nation ruptures along bloodlines, the novel evoked incest and bestiality, "to make everyone sit up and see the ugliness of what was happening. The entire country was a death camp".

Farah met his father for the first time in 17 years in a hospital in Mombasa, Kenya, and was told: "We fled because we met the beasts in us, face to face." Farah's son and younger sister also fled by boat. In the non-fiction Yesterday, Tomorrow (2000), based on conversations with Somali refugees, Farah extrapolates from his own exile the anguish of people without means, education or a writer's creativity, when their country ceases to exist. The voices are "raw, tearful, pained". The book was spurred by "two types of Somali: the poor in refugee camps in Kenya; and the rich, corrupt sons and daughters of the dictator and his cronies, staying at the Hilton in Nairobi and flying in private jets. I was interested in where the future of Somalia lay."

He has been back often since 1996, and played peace- broker between armed groups in an effort curtailed by the Ethiopian invasion of 2006. Somalia, he says, is "full of stories. We say, 'one sick person; a hundred doctors'. Somalia is a sick country and everyone has an opinion. Mine is one version; in a civil war, there are millions." In Links he wanted to offer an alternative angle on the US intervention of 1993 to the film Black Hawk Down. The trilogy was conceived, he says, in the context of "misunderstandings, misconceptions and missing the point", chief among those being that the conflict is clan warfare. Farah does not see himself as belonging to a clan. "Anyone who claims to represent a clan is a dastardly liar. You can represent people who elected you. I can't represent my own brother."

Crossbones also casts doubt on reports of boom towns rich on piracy. Farah visited Puntland, and says: "I did not see that wealth." The novel suggests those up the food chain, and abroad, take their cut. "Nobody wants to talk about illegal fishing or the destruction of the environment – the marine life and coral reefs. What we talk about is the consequences of this destruction. There's enough UN information about nuclear and chemical waste dumped on the shores of Somalia – the tsunami unearthed it. Entire communities in Puntland have children born with deformities."

Crossbones takes place against the rise of al-Shabaab, the military wing of the Union of Islamic Courts, which has claimed allegiance to al-Qaida. Farah, who is a professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, says susceptible teenagers were "told they were fighting an enemy: infidels, unbelievers, Ethiopians, the federal government." The militant leaders are hypocrites, he adds, who "leave their own sons and daughters in school, and recruit other people's." Taxliil in the novel, a troubled teenager briefly inducted by the militants, has no exit but via Guantánamo. Farah is indignant that "he is going to prison. He's been misled by people who don't go to prison, but their names are known."

Al-Shabaab's withdrawal from Mogadishu in August last year heralded the city's rebirth, with the return of many expatriates. Rather than having been routed by peacekeepers, Farah says, "Shabaab's beastly attitudes alienated people, with stories of women raped and pregnant, whipped, killed. People were afraid; now no longer. More understand that Shabaab has nothing to do with religion; it's interested in political power." He was once attacked online for insisting the "Afghan-type body tent is not culturally Somali. I said: 'My mother never wore a veil, nor my sisters.' They said my mother was not a Muslim." In the diaspora, he argues, "the majority could not articulate their Somali culture. The less you know about Islam, the more conservative people become."

When the National Theatre in Mogadishu was devastated by a suicide bomb last April, only two weeks after reopening, Farah's response was to write a short play in Somali, though its staging may take time.

Three more of his recent plays are being translated into Somali. As Jean Anouilh set Sophocles in Nazi-occupied Paris, Farah's Antigone in Somalia is set during the Ethiopian occupation of Mogadishu of 2006-09. Antigone's brother, whose corpse cannot be buried, is a suicide bomber. In areas al-Shabaab controls, says Farah, they have "forbidden song and dance because they're closer to Wahhabism than most Somalis".

Theatre that is verse-based, and sung to music, "challenges everything such groups represent. They say it's evil, Satan's work, and that a woman's place is not on the stage." Yet visiting Mogadishu in the spring, he found people "playing music and singing in tea houses and at parties. Women have created their own space."

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, elected by MPs, took power last week, four days after surviving a suicide bombing for which al-Shabaab claimed responsibility. Though Farah has reservations about "electing MPs and president on a clan-based formula", he believes there is no present alternative, given years of war. The president, whom he has met, "struck me as trustworthy, a man capable of uniting the country and taking it forward, away from attrition and in-fighting."

Though his protagonists strive to leave their homeland better than they found it, good intentions go awry. Farah notes a pessimistic turn in his fiction, "and the reason is, Somalia is no longer what it was. No matter how the characters struggle, how can you reconstruct a country that's self-destructing continuously?" Then, under a blazing Arctic summer sun that refuses to set over the harbour, he rallies: "I'd like the dust to settle first. It will take five more years of peace. Then good things will come."

Somali lawmaker shot dead in Mogadishu


Gunmen shot dead a Somali lawmaker Saturday in Mogadishu, the speaker of parliament Mohamed Osman Jawari said.

"Mustaf Haji Mohamed was killed by elements that are known for cruelty," the speaker said, in what appeared to be a reference to the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents.

Witnesses said the lawmaker was gunned down after leaving a mosque in southern Mogadishu's Waberi district where he had performed his evening prayers.

"They shot him several times and escaped," Mohamed Adan, a witness said, adding that the lawmaker had died on his way to hospital.

"Merciless elements have shot and killed Mustaf Haji Mohamed," the parliament speaker Osman Jawari said in a statement.

"We send our condolences to the relatives of the victim and to the Somali people whose cause he served."

"Such acts will never deter us from fulfilling our responsibilities to serve the nation," he added.

While no one has so far claimed this latest attack, the Shebab have vowed to kill Somali government officials and the external forces propping up the administration.

The dead man was the father-in-law of former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

He is the first lawmaker to be targeted since the new 275-member assembly was selected in August.

On Thursday, a double suicide attack in Mogadishu targeting an upmarket restaurant recently opened by Somalis from the diaspora killed 18 people.

Shebab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage told AFP the restaurant bombing had been carried out by the group's supporters.

Among those killed in Thursday's attack were three journalists.

A fourth journalist, Hassan Yusuf Absuge of independent Radio Maanta, was gunned down on Friday in the Somali capital as he left the radio station after working a night shift.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the murder of the journalist.

Press rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called 2012 the "deadliest year" on record for Somali journalists with 13 killed so far, surpassing 2009 when nine died.

After more than two decades of war, the seaside city has seen modest improvements since the Shebab left frontline fighting positions, with a boom in building and businesses.

However, the hardline Shebab fighters switched to guerrilla attacks -- including suicide bombings -- and remain a potent threat.

Earlier this month they killed three soldiers during a failed bid to assassinate the newly elected president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

But the Shebab faces growing pressure on the last major city they hold, the southern port of Kismayo, where Kenyan troops serving with the African Union force are closing in.
Source:  AFP

Egypt’s New Leader Spells Out Terms for U.S.-Arab Ties

President Mohamed Morsi will travel to New York on Sunday for a United Nations meeting.
On the eve of his first trip to the United States as Egypt’s new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi said the United States needed to fundamentally change its approach to the Arab world, showing greater respect for its values and helping build a Palestinian state, if it hoped to overcome decades of pent-up anger.
 
A former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mr. Morsi sought in a 90-minute interview with The New York Times to introduce himself to the American public and to revise the terms of relations between his country and the United States after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, an autocratic but reliable ally.

He said it was up to Washington to repair relations with the Arab world and to revitalize the alliance with Egypt, long a cornerstone of regional stability.

If Washington is asking Egypt to honor its treaty with Israel, he said, Washington should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule. He said the United States must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values.

And he dismissed criticism from the White House that he did not move fast enough to condemn protesters who recently climbed over the United States Embassy wall and burned the American flag in anger over a video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad.

“We took our time” in responding to avoid an explosive backlash, he said, but then dealt “decisively” with the small, violent element among the demonstrators.

“We can never condone this kind of violence, but we need to deal with the situation wisely,” he said, noting that the embassy employees were never in danger.

Mr. Morsi, who will travel to New York on Sunday for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, arrives at a delicate moment. He faces political pressure at home to prove his independence, but demands from the West for reassurance that Egypt under Islamist rule will remain a stable partner.

Mr. Morsi, 61, whose office was still adorned with nautical paintings that Mr. Mubarak left behind, said the United States should not expect Egypt to live by its rules.

“If you want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment,” he said. “When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the U.S. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt.”

He suggested that Egypt would not be hostile to the West, but would not be as compliant as Mr. Mubarak either.

“Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region,” he said, by backing dictatorial governments over popular opposition and supporting Israel over the Palestinians.

He initially sought to meet with President Obama at the White House during his visit this week, but he received a cool reception, aides to both presidents said. Mindful of the complicated election-year politics of a visit with Egypt’s Islamist leader, Mr. Morsi dropped his request.

His silence in the immediate aftermath of the embassy protest elicited a tense telephone call from Mr. Obama, who also told a television interviewer that at that moment he did not consider Egypt an ally, if not an enemy either. When asked if he considered the United States an ally, Mr. Morsi answered in English, “That depends on your definition of ally,” smiling at his deliberate echo of Mr. Obama. But he said he envisioned the two nations as “real friends.”

Mr. Morsi spoke in an ornate palace that Mr. Mubarak inaugurated three decades ago, a world away from the Nile Delta farm where the new president grew up, or the prison cells where he had been confined by Mr. Mubarak for his role in the Brotherhood. Three months after his swearing-in, the most noticeable change to the presidential office was a plaque on his desk bearing the Koranic admonition, “Be conscious of a day on which you will return to God.”

A stocky figure with a trim beard and wire-rim glasses, he earned a doctorate in materials science at the University of Southern California in the early 1980s. He spoke with an easy confidence in his new authority, reveling in an approval rating he said was at 70 percent. When he grew animated, he slipped from Arabic into crisp English.

Little known at home or abroad until just a few months ago, he was the Brotherhood’s second choice as a presidential nominee after the first choice was disqualified. On the night of the election, the generals who had ruled since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster issued a decree keeping most presidential powers for themselves.

But last month Mr. Morsi confounded all expectations by prying full executive authority back from the generals. In the interview, when an interpreter suggested that the generals had “decided” to exit politics, Mr. Morsi quickly corrected him.

“No, no, it is not that they ‘decided’ to do it,” he interjected in English, determined to clarify that it was he who removed them. “This is the will of the Egyptian people through the elected president, right?

“The president of the Arab Republic of Egypt is the commander of the armed forces, full stop. Egypt now is a real civil state. It is not theocratic, it is not military. It is democratic, free, constitutional, lawful and modern.”

He added, “We are behaving according to the Egyptian people’s choice and will, nothing else — is it clear?”

He praised Mr. Obama for moving “decisively and quickly” to support the Arab Spring revolutions, and he said he believed that Americans supported “the right of the people of the region to enjoy the same freedoms that Americans have.”

Arabs and Americans have “a shared objective, each to live free in their own land, according to their customs and values, in a fair and democratic fashion,” he said, adding that he hoped for “a harmonious, peaceful coexistence.”

But he also argued that Americans “have a special responsibility” for the Palestinians because the United States had signed the 1978 Camp David accord. The agreement called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza to make way for full Palestinian self-rule.

“As long as peace and justice are not fulfilled for the Palestinians, then the treaty remains unfulfilled,” he said.

He made no apologies for his roots in the Brotherhood, the insular religious revival group that was Mr. Mubarak’s main opposition and now dominates Egyptian politics.

“I grew up with the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “I learned my principles in the Muslim Brotherhood. I learned how to love my country with the Muslim Brotherhood. I learned politics with the Brotherhood. I was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He left the group when he took office but remains a member of its political party. But he said he sees “absolutely no conflict” between his loyalty to the Brotherhood and his vows to govern on behalf of all, including members of the Christian minority or those with more secular views.

“I prove my independence by taking the correct acts for my country,” he said. “If I see something good from the Muslim Brotherhood, I will take it. If I see something better in the Wafd” — Egypt’s oldest liberal party — “I will take it.”

He repeatedly vowed to uphold equal citizenship rights of all Egyptians, regardless of religion, sex or class. But he stood by the religious arguments he once made as a Brotherhood leader that neither a woman nor a Christian would be a suitable president.

“We are talking about values, beliefs, cultures, history, reality,” he said. He said the Islamic position on presidential eligibility was a matter for Muslim scholars to decide, not him. But regardless of his own views or the Brotherhood’s, he said, civil law was another matter.

“I will not prevent a woman from being nominated as a candidate for the presidential campaign,” he said. “This is not in the Constitution. This is not in the law. But if you want to ask me if I will vote for her or not, that is something else, that is different.”

He was also eager to reminisce about his taste of American culture as a graduate student at the University of Southern California. “Go, Trojans!” he said, and he remembered learning about the world from Barbara Walters in the morning and Walter Cronkite at night. “And that’s the way it is!” Mr. Morsi said with a smile.

But he also displayed some ambivalence. He effused about his admiration for American work habits, punctuality and time management. But when an interpreter said that Mr. Morsi had “learned a lot” in the United States, he quickly interjected a qualifier in English: “Scientifically!”

He was troubled by the gangs and street of violence of Los Angeles, he said, and dismayed by the West’s looser sexual mores, mentioning couples living together out of wedlock and what he called “naked restaurants,” like Hooters.

“I don’t admire that,” he said. “But that is the society. They are living their way.”

Source: The New York Times

Insurers face tougher times as Somali piracy drops


By Myles Neligan and Jonathan Saul

* Private armed guards helping cut attacks
* Gulf of Guinea emerging as growing pirate hot spot

A dramatic fall in pirate attacks off the Somali coast is forcing down the cost of piracy insurance for commercial ships, taking the shine off a fast-growing and lucrative market for London-based insurers.

International navies have cracked down on pirates, including strikes on their coastal bases, and ship firms are increasingly using armed guards and defensive measures on vessels including barbed wire, scaring off Somali seaborne gangs.

That reduced the number of incidents involving Somali pirates to just 69 in the first half of 2012, compared with 163 in the same period last year, according to watchdog the International Maritime Bureau.

"The chance of pirates being able to carry out successful hijackings are now very slim, which is probably deterring many would-be pirates from going to sea," said Rory Lamrock, an intelligence analyst with security firm AKE.

War torn Somalia is next to the Gulf of Aden's busy shipping lanes, and poverty has in recent years tempted many young men to take up piracy, storming commercial vessels and holding their crews and cargo to ransom.

Last year, they netted $160 million, and cost the world economy some $7 billion, according to the American One Earth Future foundation.

The drop in Somali pirate activity is weighing on the market for so-called marine kidnap and ransom insurance, which has grown for scratch to be worth about $250 million in little more than five years, according to informal industry estimates.

Spending on marine K&R cover, which indemnifies shipowners against the cost of paying ransoms and recovering vessels and crew, has halved compared with two years ago, estimates Will Miller of Special Contingency Risks, a unit of insurance broker Willis.

"We are seeing a softening in the rates that underwriters are charging for piracy cover," Miller said.

"The key driver is the implementation of more robust security measures on board by the shipping community."

Brokers and insurers say a key factor in the downturn is the spread of on-board armed security, which has allowed shipowners to negotiate discounts of up to 50 percent on their premiums in recognition of the reduced risk of being hijacked.


GUN CONTROL

Guards equipped with guns are seen as the best deterrent as no ship carrying them has ever been seized, although critics say they risk escalating conflict with heavily-armed pirates.

Governments including Britain last year dropped their opposition to armed maritime guards, triggering a big increase in their use. SCR's Miller says about two thirds of his clients now deploy armed security, compared with just 10 percent in 2010.

While the cost of piracy insurance is falling, the drop in the number of hijackings will reduce claims, helping to preserve insurers' profits.

That is encouraging a string of new entrants amid lacklustre conditions elsewhere in the insurance market, ratcheting up competition and putting prices under further pressure.

"More people are competing for the same slice of cake," said Michael Sharp, an underwriter at Lloyd's of London insurer Beazley.

"With so many people writing the same business, that's driving prices down."

Still, insurers are confident demand for piracy cover will remain buoyant, pointing to other trouble spots including the Gulf of Guinea on the other side of Africa and the Straits of Malacca in Asia.

"If Somali piracy goes away, sadly there seems to be a number of other hot spots around the world where protection is needed," said Sean Woolerson of insurance brokers Jardine Lloyd Thompson.

Many in the industry also warn that it would be premature for shipowners to let their guard down in the Gulf of Aden. Somali gangs have responded to the drop in successful hijackings by ratcheting up their ransom demands, and the inflationary spiral is expected to tempt retired pirates back into business.

"As far as the pirates are concerned, they are being paid more for less work," said J. Peter Pham, Africa director with U.S. think tank the Atlantic Council.

The average ransom payment this year is $6.5 million, up from between $5 million and $6 million in 2011, according to Peter Dobbs, head of asset protection at Lloyd's of London insurer Catlin.

"I don't think piracy has gone away," he said.

Source: Reuters

Family: Minnesota Somali left to join al-Shabab

Abdirizak Bihi testifies during a March 2011 House committee hearing on "the extent of the radicalization" of American Muslims.
A Minnesota man recently traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabab, a spokesman for his family said, renewing fears that the terror group is continuing to recruit Somalis living in the U.S. to return to their homeland to fight.

The investigation into al-Shabab's recruitment of young men has been going on for years, and authorities have never ruled out that more men could be traveling from Minnesota -- home to the largest Somali population in the U.S. -- to join the terror group. Still, there have been no public reports of travelers from Minnesota since 2009, and the investigation has been largely out of public view for more than a year.

But in recent weeks, some Somalis here have been visited by the FBI and subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury --possible signs that the investigation has picked up. The reasons for the subpoenas were not immediately clear. Authorities would not confirm that additional men have recently traveled to join al-Shabab, and they would not say whether any increased FBI activity is connected to reports of recent departures or to the overall investigation.

But according to a spokesman for his family, 21-year-old Omar Farah left Minneapolis several weeks ago and called his aunt after his departure to say he was in the Somali town of Merca -- and that he was with al-Shabab.

Abdirizak Bihi, a member of the Minneapolis Somali community who has worked with families of some men who left Minnesota, spoke to The Associated Press on behalf of Farah's family. He said Farah told his aunt he wouldn't return to the U.S.

The date of Farah's departure was not immediately known because Farah had moved out of his aunt's home about 10 months ago and she did not realize he was gone until he called from Somalia, Bihi said. Farah's aunt, who brought him to the U.S. and raised him, declined a request to speak to the AP directly.

"When he told her that he was in Somalia and with al-Shabab, she was shocked," Bihi said Thursday. "As of today, she is still confused."

Bihi said Farah, who also went by the name Khalif, went to Edison High School in Minneapolis and attended the University of Minnesota for a year, but was not in school last year and was unemployed. Minneapolis Public Schools confirmed that a student by the name of Omar Farah graduated from Edison in 2010; the University of Minnesota confirmed a student by that name was enrolled in fall 2010 and spring 2011, studying electrical engineering.

Since 2008, Minneapolis has been the center of a federal investigation into travels and recruiting of people from the U.S. to train or fight with al-Shabab, which has ties to al-Qaeda and is considered a terror group by the U.S.

Authorities have previously confirmed that more than 20 young men left Minnesota starting as early as 2007. Some of those men have returned to Minnesota and been charged. Four have been confirmed dead by family members or authorities.

E.K. Wilson, the supervisory special agent overseeing the FBI's investigation in Minneapolis, said he could not confirm whether there have been any recent departures or whether the FBI is currently investigating those reports.

"The whole investigation into recruiting and the departures of Somali kids from the Twin Cities in 2007, 2008 and 2009 is definitely ongoing," Wilson said. "We're continuing to look hard at the possibility of continued recruitment and radicalization."

Reports of travelers and recruitment have died down in the past year, possibly because law enforcement has tried hard to stop it, and those who have supported al-Shabab or returned from camps in Somalia have been prosecuted, said Evan Kohlmann, a terror consultant who has assisted government investigations into al-Shabab recruiting.

But Kohlmann said there is now a sense that al-Shabab is under siege in Somalia, as the group faces increasing military pressure from African Union forces, so supporters might feel drawn to help. Recruiting also could just be a matter of timing.

"If you happen to have somebody who is an effective recruiter in a particular area, when he is there, there's a spike in recruiting," Kohlmann said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations' Minnesota chapter said that after about a year of quiet, it has seen a dramatic uptick in calls from concerned Somalis who have been contacted by authorities. Executive director Lori Saroya said that since the start of September, her office has heard from several Somalis who got calls or visits from the FBI or received grand jury subpoenas. Saroya said the purpose of the calls and subpoenas wasn't clear because the callers hadn't yet met with the FBI or gone before the grand jury.

U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Jeanne Cooney said she could not confirm whether a grand jury had been convened.

Bihi, the family spokesman, lost his own nephew, Burhan Hassan, after Hassan traveled in 2008 to Somalia, where he died. Bihi testified before a U.S. House committee in 2011 on Islamic radicalization.

He said this week that he believes recruiters are preying upon vulnerabilities of young Somali men who are often without a father figure and looking for a sense of belonging.

"I believe that the root causes of this problem, are a lack of programs for young people," Bihi said. "We have to have a door that they can come in. They are outside, looking in."

Source: The Associated Press

Friday, September 21, 2012

Suicide bombers kill 15 in Somali capital

By Abdi Sheikh and Mohamed Ahmed


Two suicide bombers walked into a restaurant in central Mogadishu and killed at least 15 people on Thursday, police said, highlighting the security challenges facing the country's new president.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. However, suspicions will fall on the Islamist militant group al Shabaab which has carried out a campaign of suicide bombings since it withdrew from the capital last year under military pressure.

The al Qaeda-linked group claimed responsibility for suicide bombings last week outside a hotel where President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was holding a news conference just two days into the job, an attack interpreted as a warning from the insurgents that they are far from defeated.

Police spokesman General Abdullahi Barise told Reuters 15 people were killed in Thursday's attack. A Reuters photographer saw several bodies, the severed heads of the two bombers and pools of blood on the floor.

The blasts targeted The Village restaurant, owned by well-known Somali businessman Ahmed Jama, who had returned to his home country from London to set up business against the advice of friends.

"My relatives, whom I created jobs for, have perished. My customers have perished. All innocent people. I cannot count them, their dead bodies are before me," a distraught Jama told Reuters.

Three local journalists were among the dead, including the director of the state-run Somali National Television, the National Union of Somali Journalists said.

The al Shabaab-linked website www.somalimemo.net said in a statement that those killed "supported the infidel government" but stopped short of saying the group was behind the attack.

Mohamud's election was hailed by his supporters as a vote for change in a country mired in conflict for more than two decades.

These attacks underscore the security challenges faced by the political newcomer as African forces battle to quash a five-year insurgency waged by al Shabaab.

HOPE "MELTING AWAY"

"We still have hope in the new president and the new speaker (of parliament) that Somalia will sooner or later change for the better," said Ahmed Ali, a second-year student at a Mogadishu university.

Shopkeeper Asha Farah said she felt the optimism Mohamud's poll win had brought was "melting away."

"We all applauded the election victory of the new president but things in Mogadishu look like they're deteriorating. Al Shabaab have redoubled their suicide bombings," Farah said, echoing the widespread belief the militants were behind the latest attacks.

Expelled from a string of cities, cut off from revenue sources and struggling for its survival, al Shabaab this week fell back on its last bastion in the southern port city of Kismayu, raising fears of a military showdown with advancing African Union troops.

Defeat in Kismayu, a hub of al Shabaab operations throughout its insurgency, would badly hurt the rebels' morale and weaken their capacity as a fighting force.

However, it might not deliver the knockout blow sought by Mogadishu and its regional allies, and western diplomats expect the militants to turn increasingly to guerrilla tactics.

Al Shabaab has shown it can still regroup and easily infiltrate government-controlled areas. And there remain disenchanted, radicalised Somalis ready to strap on explosive belts.

"The new president and the speaker look honest but this is not enough to make Somalia peaceful. I am sure it will take a long time to bring total peace," shopkeeper Farah said with resignation.

(Writing by Richard Lough; editing by Andrew Roche)

Source:  Reuters

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Two more Canadian-Somali men shot to death

By Kim Mackrael and Oliver Moore


Two Canadian-Somali men were shot to death overnight in a notorious part of west-end Toronto.

Suleiman Ali and Warsame Ali, both 26, were found around Jamestown Crescent, in Etobicoke, suffering obvious gunshot wounds. Both were pronounced dead at the scene, only steps from Greenholme Middle Junior School.

Both men are from Vaughan, police said. They are not related.

Abdifatah Warsame, who co-founded a mentorship program for Canadian-Somali youth in Toronto, said both men are from the city’s Somali community.

They are the fifth and sixth Canadian-Somali men to be killed in Toronto since early June of this year – a stark number that has left parents and community leaders reeling. All of the victims were young men and many, like Suleiman Ali and Warsame Ali, were shot and left for dead in residential areas on the outskirts of the city.

“It’s out of control,” Mr. Warsame said in an interview on Tuesday. “At this point, we don’t care what people say about us in the media … but I think just like any other Canadians, we want the government to intervene.”

Parents and community leaders held meetings throughout the summer in a bid to understand why so many young men have been killed – and what they could do to help keep them safe. They have also lobbied federal and provincial politicians for more programming and services to help young people get through school and find good jobs.

Early on Tuesday morning, Toronto Police Service spokesman Constable Victor Kwong said that the complaint was called in by a woman who heard gunshots at about 1:20 in the morning.

“She looked out and observed two males on the ground, not moving,” he said. “She also observed a third male, fleeing on foot.”

Police are seeking the person spotted fleeing, but it was too early to know if there would be other suspects. They described him as about 5-foot-10, black, and said he was last seen wearing a black sweatshirt with a hood.

Suleiman Ali and Warsame Ali’s deaths come just over a week after another Canadian-Somali man was found dead in a residential Scarborough neighbourhood. Police believe Abdulaziz Farah, 28, was shot by someone who later abandoned Mr. Farah’s car in a parking lot about eight kilometers away.

The Jamestown Crescent area, often referred to as Doomstown, is well known to police as the scene of numerous shootings and other crimes.

Source: Theglobeandmail.com

food & grocery: Exotic spices and secret family recipes in authentic Somali food at Samosa House

restaurant review

By Kim Bayer AnnArbor.com Community Contributor

Ypsilanti resident Linda Underwood eats a meal at Samosa House on Tuesday. Underwood says she was going to get a pizza when she discovered this restaurant and decided to try it. Daniel Brenner I AnnArbor.com
Ypsilanti resident Linda Underwood eats a meal at Samosa House on Tuesday. Underwood says she was going to get a pizza when she discovered this restaurant and decided to try it. Daniel Brenner I AnnArbor.com
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, Amina Hassan has owned Samosa House restaurant on Washtenaw Avenue with her sister, Hawa, since November 2011. She says that in high school she used to make her family's Somali samosas for Red Cross fundraisers, and friends told her, "You need to do this every day." So when she started thinking about a name for her new place, "it had to be something with samosas."


Although the name is the same and the common influences are apparent, Somali samosas are different from Indian samosas. The smaller tri-corner Somali version is deep-fried golden brown with a shatteringly crisp wrapper. The wrapper dough, called foliyo, is rolled out as thin as a veil, and Hassan says they make it by hand with just flour, salt and water.

SamosaHouse.jpg
Tri-corner Somali samosas: vegetarian, beef, chicken or lamb

Inside a hot, crispy samosa is a savory filling of grated potato and carrot with peas, flavored with curry, onion and a tiny hint of jalapeno. The vegetarian version has coconut, and others have ground beef, chicken or lamb. No pork is served at Samosa House, and all of the food is halal.

Hassan says that in Somalia, a popular way to eat samosas is stuffed inside deep-fried vanilla mandazi bread and eaten for breakfast with a cup of cardamom-scented tea. She says that fish and beef samosas were the most popular types in Somalia, but "when the war started, people couldn't afford meat and started making veggie. You only make that when you don't have enough money to use beef. But here, veggie and lamb are what most people order." Maybe it's not traditional, but they make a delicious appetizer, served with a spicy tamarind sauce.

RESTAURANT REVIEW

Samosa House
1785 Washtenaw Ave., Ypsilanti, MI
734-340-6121
  • Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
  • Plastic: Mastercard, Visa
  • Liquor: None
  • Prices: Inexpensive
  • Noise level: Quiet
  • Wheelchair access: Yes
Another appetizer on the Samosa House menu with a familiar name but a deliciously novel preparation is the falafel. The Somali version is a blend of six different beans, including black-eyed peas, garbanzos, lentils and three other beans of which Amina Hassan says: "I don't know the name in English." Deep-fried until crisp, the inside of these small disc-shaped treats is amazingly light and fluffy, flecked with peppers and delicately spiced with curry and onion.
Hassan says that they make their own curry mixture in-house. It's a secret recipe that her mother has developed and still makes herself. Hassan doesn't know what she puts in it.

The spicy potatoes are another delicious appetizer that uses the secret spice mix. Curry-scented mashed potatoes are formed into a dainty egg shape, dipped in a spicy lemon and saffron batter, and deep-fried.

Mandazi bread, among the many traditional, house-made Somali breads, is a saucer-sized disc of of what tasted like deep-fried brioche. Crisp outside, fluffy and slightly sweet inside. Other traditional house-made breads include chipati, anjeero (similar to Ethiopian injera, but smaller and thinner), and muufo, which Hassan says is "like a cross between cornbread and pancake. It tastes like cornbread, but looks like pancake."

For drinks, a traditional malted (but non-alcoholic) beverage called Laziza is served alongside Somali coffee and spiced chai tea, and huge fruit smoothies.

Hassan says that the several Somali curries on the menu are mainly cream based, whereas many Indian curries are tomato based. Hassan says, "We make it with everything fresh." The beef curry included large chunks of potato, carrot, tomato, and green pepper, with cilantro and small chunks of beef bathed in a mild, creamy curry sauce. We ordered it with a side of dark basmati rice pilaf, redolent with spices including clove and cumin.

Somalia is a predominantly Muslim country with almost 2,000 miles of coastline along its outer boundary. Part of the Horn of Africa that juts out on the East African coast; Somalia's northern boundary looks out at the Gulf of Aden and to the east is the Indian Ocean. To its west Somalia borders Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The food of Somalia reflects the influences of its many neighbors, trading partners and invaders.

For example: Somali-style spaghetti. Hassan explained that in the 1920s, "Somalia was conquered by Italians, so we have a lot of bread, spaghetti and cheese in our food." I wanted to order the Somali-style spaghetti, but since they were out of it, Hassan recommended the creamy spinach with chicken cutlets served on pasta as a popular substitute.

In this dish, spinach in a creamy sauce with small peas and carrots is served on top of thick spaghetti noodles. Alongside are golden brown chicken cutlets, breaded and fried with a delicate crust. The chicken was flavorful and juicy with tart, lemony flavors that Hassan said come from marinating a long time. The spaghetti was a bit overcooked to the western palate, but the overall dish was delicious with smooth and crunchy textures, and delicate, creamy, tangy and spicy flavors.

Hassan's parents were in the restaurant business for 30 years and she says, "The recipes my parents used are very traditional, what people eat every day. And we make the same food here."

Recently painted periwinkle-blue with textile-based art on the walls and new hardwood floors, the Samosa House space was previously home to the Red Sea Ethiopian restaurant. It is still oddly proportioned and some of the tables awkwardly positioned. But the welcome is warm.

Currently, Hassan's sister and partner, Hawa, is finishing her bachelor's degree, so Amina Hassan plays the roles of hostess, chef and server. Because each dish is made individually by hand, the wait can be long.

However, I was glad to be be able to try the family-style food of an entirely new (to me) cuisine that was clearly made with care and attention. The exotic spices in many of the dishes, the delicate touch with the fryer, and the handmade breads were especially appealing.

It seems a good number of customers sidestep the question of waiting by calling ahead for a take-out order. However, that deprives them of the opportunity of sipping cardamom spiced chai tea, and talking with and enjoying the warm hospitality of Amina Hassan.

Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.