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Friday, November 30, 2012

Somali Boy’s Greek Detention Story Shocks

Greek Reporter

By Christina Flora

A video for Greece cited on website, shocked with the appalling living conditions of the infamous immigrant detention center of Pagani, in Mytilene.

The video has been the trademark of the Global Campaign to End Child Immigration Detention. Abdi, who left his country Somalia and moved to Greece in hope of a better life, ended up as a detainee. He narrated his story of 17 grueling days in the detention center.

All the detainees ate, slept, and stayed in a large room which had only one toilet. He was released on condition that he would leave Greece within a month. “This was a jail. We were 50 people living in the same room,” he said.

He tried to escape with a fake passport, but when he arrived at the airport he was arrested with some other immigrants. Abdi states in the video that he was not arrested because he was a minor. He said he was detained in a narrow room at the airport.

“I stayed there for 17 days, without bathing or changing clothes, and I was allowed to go to the toilet only two times a day. After this experience, I hated my life, I was praying to God to release me. At the airport it was really hard experience. I will never forget it,” he said.

Racial attack victim says she feels unsafe

By Michael Purvis

What has stuck with Monira Farah most since she was accosted two weeks ago is not the physical act of being doused with water, though that was traumatic enough.

Farah said it was the apparent racial motive behind the attack that has most unsettled her.

“I felt weird, like I didn't belong and this wasn't my home,” said the 25-year-old Algoma University student.

Farah, who is black, said she was out for a stroll on Russ Ramsay Way, walking toward the waterfront, when a dark four-door car headed toward her slowed down. Someone shouted 'Go back to your own country,' and dumped what seemed to Farah like a bucket full of water on her.

Farah grew up in Canada, having come here from Somalia when she was two years old. She said she has never known any other country than this one, which makes her attacker's words all the more hurtful.

“They're telling me to go back to your 'own country,'” she said.

Police are investigating the brazen Nov. 18 incident as a hate-motivated assault. Investigators have talked to witnesses and looked at surveillance footage from that night, but so far no arrests have been made and police say they have no suspects yet.

Upset and drenched, Farah said she ran to a nearby Tim Hortons immediately after and phoned a friend who arranged a ride to the police station to report what happened.

The incident has left Farah shaken, and feeling like she would be safer back home among a more diverse population.

“I've never encountered this in Toronto,” said Farah.

The incident has sparked unease among visible minorities at Algoma U. and other students have since come forward with other reports of racism and discrimination. The Algoma University Students Union has organized a town hall meeting at the school on Friday in a bid to examine the depth of the issue.

Richard Myers, the school's president, said he thinks what Farah experienced was “an awful thing,” and he said the school is aware of other racially-based harassment this school year, including threats, though none involving an assault like the one that happened two weeks ago.

“The fact that it's one of a few incidents that have occurred in the last couple of months indicates that it's not something that we would ignore as an isolated incident that is unlikely to be repeated,” said Myers.

Algoma University's student body includes nearly 17% international students and Myers said administrators have met with student leaders about the attack on Farah and have encouraged them to try to gather more information about the kind of discrimination students are facing. He said a number of ways to address the recent incidents have been suggested and the school is looking at them.

Myers said he saw similar behaviour in Saint John when the University of New Brunswick campus there first began to bring in large numbers of international students. He said the community there made it clear that kind of behaviour was unacceptable, and he said it is important for the Sault to do the same.

“It's gratifying that so many people in the community have expressed their disgust at this, but I think what we need to do is make sure this message is clearly heard by everybody in the community, because it appears we've got a few people in the community who think this is all just fine,” said Myers.

Farah, who lives in the university's downtown Windsor Park residence, was attacked just steps from her home. She said she doesn't think it was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She said she believes whoever assaulted her was out to find a visible minority and deliberately targeted her because of the colour of her skin.

“They were driving downtown. They know there are international students who live there, people of colour,” Farah said.

She said she has had racial slurs hurled at her before while walking off-campus, since transferring to Algoma U. in August from George Brown College.

Lydia Yamane came from Toronto to study at Algoma U. around the same time as Farah. Yamane said she too has been the subject of racial harassment.

She said shortly after the pair came to the Sault someone hurled ice at them. She said other students have told her of similar incidents, some involving eggs being thrown from vehicles.

She said it seems like the work of drunken teenagers, and much of it goes unreported, though she finds the fact that Farah was physically assaulted worrying.

“How long do they wait until something crazy happens?” said Yamane.

Farah said this recent incident, and the others she has encountered since moving to the Sault in August weren't what she was expecting. She said she avoids going out alone now and makes sure to text a friend to let them know where she is going.

“I was expecting hospitality, kindness. I was expecting safety, and I don't feel safe anymore,” said Farah.

Source:  Sault Star

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kay vs K'naan: Who s\wins this Somali Rap battle?

B y Dave McGinn
Yhe Global and Mail

Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan has had holes poked into his waving flag by a relatively new rapper and†countryman – Kay.

K'naan image for CP video.

If you’ve been wondering whether the trend of rappers dissing one another died in the ’90s, look no further than the hip-hop hotbed of Minnesota, where the artist known as Kay has taken Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan to task for failing to keep it real.

In a song called T.I.A. Trouble in Africa (K’naan Diss), Kay, who calls himself Minnesota’s Future and is also of Somali descent, accuses K’naan of “selling his soul,” implies that K’naan no longer cares about the plight of Somalis and warns him to “watch the throne.”

The video on YouTube, which has been viewed all of 23,047 times since it was uploaded by Kay in July, ends with an image of K’naan in a coffin – a sight that would more disturbing if it wasn’t preceded by one of a dog in sunglasses.

One YouTube commenter has already pleaded for a ceasefire, lest there be a Tupac vs. Biggie “Somali version,” but no one has yet suggested settling the score with a good, old-fashioned snowball fight. Come on, cold-weather rivals, that’s how to keep it really real.

Somali Refugees Rank Third in Highest Population

By Kim Lewis

Somali women and children wait for relief supplies from the UN High Commission for Refugees, in Galkacyo, Somaliland, December 2010. (file photo)
New figures released by the UNHCR reveal that Somali refugees now stand as the third highest number of refugees in the world, ranking just under numbers for Afghanistan and Iraq.  While there have been some recent successes in overtaking the militant group Al-Shabab, the country continues to deal with insecurity, drought and a poor economy.

The UNHCR says Somalis are facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of today. It says one in every three children living in the south-central region of the Horn of Africa is malnourished. The country is also the worst hit in the Horn by drought, and the rain failures have caused food prices to skyrocket.

In this year alone, the UNHCR said 66,227 Somalis have sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Kenya, Yemen, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Tanzania and Uganda.  In addition, the UNHCR reports, a total population of 700,000 internally displaced persons, IDPs.

Andy Needham, UNHCR spokesman, described the magnitude of the situation. “At the moment, the number of Somali refugees in the region is still just over one million, . . . so the figure hasn’t changed significantly over the past number of months.  What we are seeing are some increased arrivals, particularly in the Dollo Ado camp in Ethiopia.”

He said his colleagues at Dollo Ado have told him new arrivals have tripled in recent weeks. In addition, farmers and pastoralists are experiencing difficulties from the weather, and are also leaving their farms in search of assistance.

Needham explained that what people are in need of now are the basics.

“They need shelter. . . and what they are looking for is anything from basic rudimentary shelter, which is a plastic sheet, up to transitional shelter, which, would be something more sturdy, with wood and corrugated iron.  And in certain parts of Somalia, we are even providing permanent housing,” said Needham, who added the refugees also need distribution of food and access to clean water.

The UNHCR as well as other non-governmental organizations are working diligently to provide these basics.

Source: VOA

Africa Oil Announces $193.75 Million Private Placement

Africa Oil Corp. (TSX VENTURE:AOI)(OMX:AOI) ("Africa Oil" or the "Company") reports that it will sell, on a non-brokered, private placement basis, an aggregate of up to 25 million common shares at a price of Cdn $7.75 per share for gross proceeds of up to Cdn $193.75 million.

A 4% finder's fee may be payable on all or a portion of the private placement.

Net proceeds of the private placement will be used towards the Company's ongoing work program in East Africa as well as for general working capital purposes.

Shares issued pursuant to the private placement will be subject to a four month hold period under applicable Canadian securities laws.

The private placement is subject to regulatory approval.

The securities offered have not been and will not be registered under the U.S. Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or applicable state securities laws, and may not be offered or sold in the United States absent registration or an exemption from such registration requirements. This press release shall not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy nor shall there be any sale of the securities in any jurisdiction in which such offer, solicitation or sale would be unlawful.

About Africa Oil

Africa Oil Corp. is a Canadian oil and gas company with assets in Kenya, Ethiopia and Mali as well as Puntland (Somalia) through its approximate 45% equity interest in Horn Petroleum Corporation. Africa Oil's East African holdings are in within a world-class exploration play fairway with a total gross land package in this prolific region in excess of 300,000 square kilometers. The East African Rift Basin system is one of the last of the great rift basins to be explored. New discoveries have been announced on all sides of Africa Oil's virtually unexplored land position including the major Albert Graben oil discovery in neighboring Uganda.

Africa Oil's recent Ngamia-1 discovery extends the Albert Graben play into Kenya where Africa Oil along with partner Tullow Oil plc hold a dominant acreage position. Newly acquired seismic and gravity data show robust leads and prospects throughout Africa Oil's project areas. The Company is listed on the TSX Venture Exchange and on First North at NASDAQ OMX-Stockholm under the symbol "AOI".

Source: Africa Oil Corp. AOI

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Desperate in debt, 62-yr old dad jumps from hotel's 4th floor

By Mohammed El Sadafy & Majorie Van Leijen

The area in front of the Gloria Hotel in Internet City after it was cordoned off by Dubai Police at noon on Tuesday. Picture by: Majorie Van Leijen/ Emirates 24/7
The identity of the man who was found lying dead in front of Gloria Hotel in Internet City on Tuesday has been established following initial probe by Dubai Police.

Even as investigations are continuing, it appears to be yet another case of a distressed expatriate unable to cope up with the financial burden.

The deceased is an elderly Somali national aged between 62-68 years, according to Brigadier Mohamed Nasser Razzuqi, Deputy Director, Criminal Investigation for police stations.

Initial forensic reports rule out any foul play, the official said and added that it is believed he had committed suicide by throwing himself down from the fourth floor of the hotel.

The man who was working in the country was reportedly staying at the hotel with his daughter, who was visiting him on a visit visa. Brigadier Razzuqi said that he had financial problems and was also reported to be mentally unstable.

The deceased had sought his daughter’s help in sorting out his debts, but she allegedly declined any assistance, which forced him to end his life.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

USA: Alexandria’s deputy police chief Hassan Aden steps down to take job in N.C.

By Allison Klein

Deputy Police Chief Hassan Aden spent more than half of his life working for the Alexandria Police Department, so leaving was not an easy choice.

He essentially grew up in the agency, first working patrol, then undercover vice and internal affairs. He experienced an officer’s nightmare, watching fellow officer Charles Hill die in a shootout with a drug dealer. Another officer shot and wounded in the incident committed suicide several years after.

“That showed me the realities of this profession,” said Aden, who retired in mid-November after 25 years with the department.

Aden, 47, is moving his wife and two young sons to Greenville, N.C., where he will be chief of the city’s 250-person force.

“I’m going to miss working for the Alexandria Police Department,” he said in a recent interview. “But I’m excited to take what I’ve learned to another staff.”

Greenville is a city of 90,000 people, 33,000 of them students at East Carolina University and other colleges.

Aden, who was head of the Alexandria department’s 200-person patrol bureau, took a common-sense approach to policing and was an advocate for technology, according to people who worked with him.

He helped put police officers in schools as resource officers so children would have positive interactions with them, implemented “hot spot” policing in Alexandria’s higher crime zones and helped bring in automated license plate readers to catch car thieves and other criminals.

Sgt. Mike Kochis, former head of the police union, who is now with the criminal investigation division, said Aden helped cut through departmental red tape. As an example, Kochis cited unmarked police cars that Alexandria went without long after they were commonplace in departments across the country.

“Nobody could tell us why — we just didn’t have them,” Kochis said. “Chief Aden asked why not and got it approved. Now we have them.”

Aden is the son of an Italian mother and a Somali father. He spent his early years in Rome, moving to Alexandria when he was in the sixth grade. His stepmother worked for the State Department, a job that took the family to Brussels for Aden’s high school years.

When he came back, he attended American University. He said he always admired police officers and wanted to become one.

He joined the force in 1987 and worked his way up in the agency, leaving his mark by overseeing the patrol bureau during a period of declining crime. Serious crime in the city is down 12 percent from the same time last year.

“He is going to be missed,” Kochis said. “He builds good relationships. You can tell he really cares about the line officers.”

Source: Washington Post

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Kenya: Are the Somali Third Rate Citizens?

The Star (Nairobi)

By Mugambi Kiai


Lawyer Mohamed Ibrahim said he felt "like a third rate citizen" following the announcement and implementation in November 1989 of an obviously illegal nationwide operation by the Kenyan government to screen the Somali community.

This characterisation is apt: this week has been witness to unbridled attacks against the Somali Community sparked by two reprehensible events.

In one instance, a clear terrorist attack on a matatu in Eastleigh, Nairobi led to reprisal attacks against the sizeable Somali community resident there.

Despite the reality that most of those recently reported to have executed terrorist attacks in the country are not Somali, the fact that the prime suspects in this case were Somalis inflamed the situation to near-total social conflagration.

In the second instance, a surprise gun attack in Garissa on members of the Kenya Defence Force by suspected terrorists led to a viciously brutal response by their colleagues who essentially shut down Garissa and violated local residents with wanton and ruthless abandon. Again, the target community was primarily Somali.

As one analyst wondered aloud, would this have been the response of KDF personnel had these events occurred in say, Nyeri, the President's home town?

The argument being advanced here is simple: the Kenyan state has been nakedly hostile to the Somali community. This predates independence: the British colonial administration kept the Northern Frontier District which is now North Eastern Province (it was redrawn as North Eastern Province in 1963 and became almost exclusively Somali) "a closed district: As such the NFD was isolated administratively - no person could enter the area without a special license. Development has remained virtually frozen since its days of colonial isolation."

At independence, the overwhelming majority of the Somali wished to secede because of their cultural, political and economic attachment to Somalia but the new Kenyan government would have none of it: The newly independent Kenyan government justified its claims in the face of strong opposition by promising full integration of the territory into the new nation.

This promise of integration, however, has not been achieved; it has barely been attempted. The area has remained isolated and underdeveloped, and ethnic Somalis are treated as an alien community in their own country.

The independent Kenyan government instead used extraordinary powers to contain the secessionists and subdue what was perceived as a hostile and essentially proscribed community.

The government's response to the demands of the secessionists was a special regime of emergency powers introduced in the new constitution applicable only in Kenya's newly-named North Eastern Province.

And so have continued pernicious practices against members of the Somali community. Even the nomenclature commonly associated with the Somali community "shifta" is not only derogatory of them but also a dehumanizing socio-cultural stereotype that rationalizes the diverse violations constantly visited on them. For shifta actually means bandit. To advance this denuded argument: what is wrong in using strong-arm tactics against a community that "naturally" engages in banditry?

Because of this attitude, it is then possible for the vast majority of Kenyans to feel no iota of outrage when the KDF can, in retaliation of what was clearly an unacceptable attack against their own, reportedly close down Garissa, shoot, rape and maim residents and also burn and destroy property worth millions of shillings.

Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim and several other legislators lamented: "The women have been raped, schoolchildren shot and even Duale (Dujis MP Adan Duale) was held hostage in the town...Right now the entire Garissa is in tatters, millions have been lost after the military officers went burning businesses in the town."

Questions arise over the (dis)proportionate response by state officers. Moreover, another set of questions arise regarding the respect of the rule of law and protection of human rights which dictate that all are to be deemed and treated as innocent until proved guilty, that individuals can only be sanctioned by the state after the due process of the law has been sedulously followed, and that individuals are protected from communal punishment because responsibility is individual rather than communal.

Clearly, all these principles and values - explicitly spelt out and enshrined in the 2010 Constitution - are considered by state officials (and even Kenyan citizens going by the events in Eastleigh) as merely "pious platitudes"; especially with regard to the Somali community.

Tragically, the clear lack of movement with regard to the protection of the human rights of the Somali community is underlined and amplified by the fact that the atrocities perpetrated in Garissa this week echo another incident in this town's history. This is the massacre of Bulla Karatasi. Here is one description of this saddening episode:

In November 1980, security forces burned down Bulla Karatasi, an entire village in...Garissa, after six government officials had been killed. Security forces swept through the village in arbitrary and gruesome retaliation.

Hundreds of people died and many were wounded as they tried to flee. Bodies of those killed in what the government called "a necessary security measure" were buried early in the morning in a mass grave; other bodies were said to have been thrown in the river.

The massacre reportedly began following revenge killings by a local Kenyan-Somali nicknamed "Madhobe."

He killed six government officials before being arrested and was then castrated by members of the Anti-Poaching Unit...After the massacre, the local population was rounded up and interrogated.

Thousands of Kenyan-Somalis were beaten by the security forces and accused...of harbouring anti-government elements...They were deprived of food, water and sleep for thirty-two hours. Provincial Commissioner Benson Kaaria said "a thousand Somalis will die" for every government official killed, and threatened to "eliminate" all Somali-speaking Kenyans. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was announced."

Clearly, not much has changed from those dark days. This was a time when former Minister of Internal Security, GG Kariuki was reported in the daily press saying "the only good Somali is a dead one." What a pity that Kenya has not at all progressed from the bondage of such a biliously hateful mind set!

Mugambi Kiai is the Kenya Programme Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA). The views expressed in this article are entirely his own and do not reflect the views of OSIEA.

Briton stars in Somali terror videos

Briton stars in Somali terror videos

The videos feature suicide bombers, the corpses of African peace keepers and describe military operations by the militant group al-Shabaab, which is closely linked to al-Qaeda.

The footage is the latest addition to a well-oiled media machine which has attracted nearly 16,000 followers to its English-language Twitter account since it was set up last December.

It is unclear whether the reporter is the same man behind the Twitter account and a press office that has churned out online press releases giving updates on battles and “martyred” fighters in recent months.

MI5 is concerned that the conflict has drawn in dozens of young Britons and last September Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, warned that it was “only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabaab.”

this year three men from East London were jailed for channeling thousands of pounds to three associates who are still with militants in the East African conflict zone.

US Judge: Somali Colonel Responsible for Torture

Angry crowd confronts police in child-abuse case

Read more here:
By Rob Carson

A large number of angry Somali immigrants trying to keep Tacoma Police from placing children into protective custody on Friday, turned into a scene so threatening that officers made an emergency, all-agency request for assistance.
According to Tacoma Police Lt. David O’Dea, the incident began with the investigation into a child abuse case involving a single Tacoma child. In the course of the investigation and the removal of that child to Child Protective Services, police noted that six other children in the home were also in potential danger.
Officers revisited the home later in the day and discovered the family was visiting other family and friends in the 5600 block of North 37th Street.
When they arrived at that location to pick up the rest of the children, O’Dea said, they were confronted by a large number of Somali immigrants who were angry and hostile toward the officers and prevented them from taking the children.
The officers called for back-up, O’Dea said, and managed to regain control of the situation.
Police arrested three people, one adult and two juveniles, for resisting arrest and obstructing justice.
The adult was booked into Pierce County Jail. The juveniles were taken to Remann Hall.
All seven children are in CPS custody.

Read more here:
Source: The News Tribune

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Canada: Somali community joins politicians to hear and be heard

By Jayme Poisson

Habiba Adan, with a force of conviction wrought by grief over her son's violent death, was instrumental in bringing together members of the struggling Somali community with provincial and city leaders to see what can be done about violence, unemployment and other major issues facing youth.
At the end of a day spent talking about some of the most intractable issues in this city, Laurel Broten, the province’s education and now newly minted children and youth minister, gave this message to Toronto’s Somali community:

“Today is just the beginning.”

The remarks came at the closing of a conference held to discuss issues affecting Somali-Canadians, particularly young men, six of whom have been shot dead in Toronto since June.

“We need to continue to have conversations; we need to look at working in partnership with our police, with our schools, with our community agencies, to respond to some of the issues that are specific to the community and tackle broader issues that have an impact on the Somali community, but there’s no doubt, have an impact on many communities,” Broten said in an interview with the Star.

About 200 people packed into a conference centre on Dixon Rd. on Thursday — a large contingent from the Somali community, as well as representatives from the Toronto District School Board, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and MPPs. City staff were also on hand.

Canadian-Somali hip hop artist K’Naan flew in, making a rallying call for action.

The conference, as the government labeled it, (though many in the community that asked for it called it a summit), was closed to media.

But attendees said Blair encouraged Somali youth to apply to be police officers, addressing concerns that there is only one Somali cop in the city. There were discussions on how the criminal justice system interacts with Somali youth, as well as the lack of employment opportunities. Currently, the unemployment rate for Somali-Canadians is above 20 per cent, the highest of any ethnic group.

“I’m really hopeful something will come,” said Habiba Adan, whose 26-year-old son, Warsame Ali, was shot to death in Jamestown in September. In the months before her son’s death, Adan had joined a group of women working to lobby politicians and decision-makers for systemic change in the midst of a mounting crisis.
After her son’s death, her resolve took on the force of the bullet that killed him.

She convinced then-youth minister Eric Hoskins, also on hand Wednesday, to call the meeting. She and the women of her group, Positive Change, have been showing up at politicians’ offices armed with whistles.
“We will blow the whistles until something has changed,” she said Wednesday.

“Everyone has a role to play in this. Every level of government. Every generation in the community and the broader community and all of our community partners have a role to play so young Somali-Canadians have every opportunity ahead of them that we aspire for,” said Broten, adding that she plans to take away and analyze what was said Wednesday, then continue working with the community.

In the wake of this summer’s Danzig St. shootings, the province launched a $20 million Youth Action Plan aimed at addressing some of the root causes of youth violence.

Highlighting some of its components, Broten noted the government’s commitment to family literacy centres and Tuesday’s announcement of dozens of new after-school programs.

On Wednesday she was interested in discussing various ways in which the plan could be part of the solution for Somali youth, and youth across the city.

One issue unique to Toronto’s Somali community is education. Somali-Canadian kids — boys, in particular — are dropping out of high school at double the average rate.

On Tuesday, trustees with the Toronto District School Board voted to establish a task force aimed at addressing the issues faced by Somali students. Portuguese students, who also have high dropout rates, got a similar task force last year.

“We know that a number of Somali students are struggling to reach their full potential. Together with the community, we hope to engage our Somali students and work toward closing the achievement gap,” TDSB chair Chris Bolton said in a statement.

Positive Change member Faduma Mohamed, a passionate, no-nonsense woman, was buoyed by the atmosphere Wednesday, but added it was “a lot of talk of the same issues.

“We will see ... if the government now will take the recommendation of some of the people.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Massive deforestation risks turning Somalia into desert

By Boris Bachorz

Hassan Hussein cuts down 40 trees every month to fuel his charcoal business, fully aware of the impact his action has on the environment.

But for the livestock keeper, the forests are the last remaining resource. And he is not alone.

Hundreds of thousands of Somalia's traditional pastoralist herders do the same, putting their impoverished country on a path of heavy deforestation that risks turning large swathes of it into desert.

"I used to keep animals, but I lost my herd to famine and disease and am the eldest in the family," said Hussein, 27, adding that he had 10 mouths to feed back home -- two children, seven brothers and his mother.

Four years ago, Hussein had 25 camels and 300 goats. Now, only three camels and 15 goats from his once respectable sized herd are left.

Every morning, with an axe slumped over his shoulder, he sets off in search of wood for charcoal.

Once he locates and cuts down a tree, it takes two days of burning, and two more days of cooling the smouldering heaps before he can sell the charcoal, at six dollars (five euros) for a 20 kilogramme sack.

The village of Jaleo, in the northern self-declared state of Somaliland, once prided itself on being at the heart of the savannah.

British explorer Harald Swayne recounted, in his 19th century memoirs, the adventures he had while tracking and hunting "a large herd of elephants."

But the last elephant was killed in 1958, and were Swayne to retake his journey today, he would only find the smallest of game in a rocky landscape dotted with shrubs and charred tree stumps.

"Twenty percent of the forest has disappeared in the last ten years -- definitely this country is turning into a desert," Ahmed Derie Elmi, director of forests in Somaliland's environment ministry, told AFP.

"If the deforestation continues at this pace, this country will be a desert in two or three decades," said Ahmed Ibrahim Awale of the Candlelight organisation, which tackles environmental and health issues in Somaliland.

'All the trees will have disappeared'

Charcoal burning has not always been preferred in Jalelo.

Three years ago an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in the Horn of Africa forced Gulf states to suspend importation of animals or animal products from the region, forcing the herders to look for alternative sources of income.

But it is urbanisation and a population explosion that are the biggest threats to the country's environmental well-being.

Somaliland's capital Hargeisa has a population of 850,000 people, six times its population in the 1970s, which consumes approximately 250 tonnes of charcoal daily.

Elmi says that charcoal is the main source of energy, as electricity is rare and expensive for many.

The rampant deforestation is not unique to Somaliland. In southern Somalia, Al Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents turned charcoal burning and exportation into one of their major sources of income.

In a report, the UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea says the Islamist group made up to 25 million dollars every year from charcoal trade.

Several regions of southern Somalia were declared famine zones by the United Nations last year, with the deforestation contributing to an extreme drought.

In a bid to put an end to rampant deforestation, Somalia's newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in one of his first official duties banned all exportation of charcoal, in line with a UN embargo in February.

However, much more than a UN declaration and a presidential decree are needed to bring the deforestation to an end.

"The underlying causes of poverty and the general decline of the size of livestock herds have to be addressed," said Awale.

Alternative sources of energy must be harnessed to cater for the population, massive reforestation campaigns need to be initiated and some of the pastoralists need to switch to agriculture.

In a country where the government faces numerous challenges, environmental matters are not a priority.

"The Ministry of Environment has the smallest budgetary allocation that only covers the salaries of 187 employees," said Elmi.

"All the mature trees have disappeared.... In the past one could get six or seven 25 kilogramme sacks of charcoal from a tree. Today, maybe one or two," Awale said.

As a consequence, charcoal prices in Somaliland have doubled in the past four years, to 10 dollars a sack.

"Each time I cut down a tree, I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth," Hussein said. "The future is bleak.... All the trees will have disappeared."

Source: AFP

Thursday, November 22, 2012

In Kenya, Reports of Police Abuse in Mostly Ethnic-Somali Town

By Mohammed Yusuf

The Garissa Halgan Quran House Resort Hotel is engulfed in flames after Kenyan security personnel, according to residents, swept into the predominantly ethnic-Somali town beating people and burning property, northern Kenya, Nov. 19, 2012.
Kenyan army and security forces clashed with locals in the predominantly ethnic-Somali town of Garissa on Tuesday, leaving scores wounded and many residents fuming with accusations of arson and physical abuse.

At least seven people are nursing bullet wounds from violence that broke out a day after unknown gunmen killed three soldiers who had stopped to change a tire on their truck in the northeastern region that borders war-torn southern Somalia.

Residents say security officers burned down some businesses in the course of searching for the attackers on Monday, prompting some locals to riot in protest.

According to a report by Agence France-Presse, Red Cross officials in Kenya have said that one person had died and 48 others were being treated at Garissa hospital in the wake of Tuesday morning's violence. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the shooting of Kenyan troops, the French news outlet also says Somali-based al-Shebab militants have vowed revenge for Kenya's military involvement in southern Somalia.

According to Billow Kerrow, a former member of parliament from Kenya’s primarily Muslim northeastern region, both government officials and civilians habitually target his community in the aftermath of terror attacks. Some Muslim leaders have also criticized the government for carrying out collective punishment in Garissa.

But Kenya military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna said people are spreading lies about the military's behavior in Garissa.

“The military were on the outside of the village stopping anybody from fleeing out of the village, and the police carried out the search inside the village," he said of the recent crackdown on riots. "Where the village was and the fire [occurred] are on different areas, and therefore the allegations that the military or the police burned [a business] — that is unfounded and has got no basis whatsoever.”

Kenyan security forces have been on edge after more than 40 police officers were killed in an ambush by cattle rustlers in northwestern Kenya just over a week ago.

Meanwhile, calm has returned to Nairobi's predominantly ethnic-Somali neighborhood of Eastleigh, where paramilitary officers patrolled mostly empty streets a day after clashes involving Kenyan and Somali youth broke out in the wake of a bombing on Sunday. The explosion on a Nairobi bus killed at least seven and injured 29.

Shortly after than explosion, Iman Burran, chairman of the Eastleighwood youth forum, said he believes police are unfairly targeting the city's ethnic-Somali population.

"We need to do further investigations instead of targeting one community," he said. "Me, I am Somali Kenyan, but still I am Somali, I look like a Somali. I can be arrested because I am of Somali origin. We do know who is creating these problems, these bombs. We don't know whether its al-Shabab or other elements, unless we have independent investigations, we cannot verify."

New York-based Human Rights Watch has expressed concern about tactics used by Kenyan security officers, particularly in northeastern Kenya. The group accuses security officers of subjecting locals to beatings, torture, and other abuses.

Peter Cobus contributed to this report.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Horn Petroleum Third Quarter 2012 Results

Horn Petroleum Corporation HRN

By: David Grellman



Horn Petroleum Corporation (TSX VENTURE:HRN) ("Horn" or the "Company") is pleased to announce its results for the third quarter of 2012.

During the nine months ended September 30, 2012, Horn increased its investment in intangible exploration assets by $30.0 million. The majority of the costs incurred during 2012 related to drilling the Shabeel-1 and Shabeel North-1 exploration wells in the Dharoor Valley block. The remaining expenditures are PSA related expenditures and general and administrative costs. The Company and its Partners fulfilled the initial exploration period work commitments under the Dharoor Valley and Nugaal Valley PSAs with the drilling of the Shabeel wells.

While the Company was disappointed that the first two exploration wells in Puntland (Somalia) did not flow oil, the Company remains highly encouraged that all of the critical elements exist for oil accumulations. Horn recently completed demobilization of the drilling rig and associated equipment and both well sites have been restored to original condition.

Horn and its partners have entered into the next exploration period in both the Dharoor Valley and Nugaal Valley PSAs which each carry a commitment to drill one exploration well in each block by October 2015.
Efforts are now focused on making preparations for a seismic acquisition campaign in the Dharoor PSA which will include a regional seismic reconnaissance grid in the previously unexplored eastern portion of the basin as well as prospect specific seismic to delineate a drilling candidate in the western portion of the basin where an active petroleum system was confirmed by the recent drilling at the Shabeel-1 and Shabeel North-1 locations.

Operating expenses of $0.5 million were recorded during the third quarter of 2012 ($1.6 million during the nine months ended September 30, 2012). These were offset by finance income of $23.0 million during the third quarter of 2012 ($9.0 million during the nine months ended September 30, 2012). Finance income primarily relates to fair market value adjustments of the Company's warrant liabilities. These fair market value adjustments are performed as the Company has an obligation to issue shares for a price (denominated in Canadian dollars) that is not fixed in the Company's functional currency (United States dollars).

As at September 30, 2012, the Company had cash of $16.1 million and working capital of $12.4 million as compared to cash of $27.6 million and working capital of $25.9 million at December 31, 2011. The Company's liquidity and capital resource position has been reduced during 2012 primarily due to expenditures incurred on the drilling of the Shabeel-1 and Shabeel North-1 exploration wells offset partially by the non-brokered private placement which raised CAD$15.0 million in June 2012.

Horn continues to investigate potential joint venture partnerships and also is reviewing new venture opportunities in the region.

The Board has approved granting 2,820,000 incentive stock options to certain directors, officers and other eligible persons of the Company. The options will have a three year term, vesting provisions consistent with the existing outstanding options, and will be priced at $0.32 per share (or the closing price on November 21, 2012 if higher).

Horn President and CEO, David Grellman, commented, "We remain very encouraged by the exploration potential of our Jurassic rift basins in Puntland. We have committed to the next exploration phase in both PSAs and plan to aggressively explore both areas to confirm this potential. We are also optimistic that the political progress in Somalia will continue and allow oil and gas exploration in the region to expand."
Horn holds a 60% working interest in the Dharoor and Nugaal Valley blocks and is the operator. The other partners in the blocks are Range Resources (20%) and Red Emperor (20%). Africa Oil Corporation holds an approximate 45% equity interest in Horn.

Horn Petroleum Corporation is a Canadian oil and gas company with assets in Puntland, Somalia. The Corporation holds a 60% interest and operatorship in the Dharoor and Nugaal blocks encompassing a Jurassic Rift Basin on trend and analogous to the large oil fields in Yemen. The Corporation's shares are listed on the TSX Venture Exchange under the symbol "HRN".


David Grellman, President and CEO

UN Children's Fund predicts that by 2050, 1 in 3 children will be African


This handout photo released by the African Union-United Nations Information support team shows a child from a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) posing at the Somali Women Development Center near the AU force in Somalia (AMISOM) base in Mogadishu on Universal Children's Day on November 20, 2012. Photograph by: TOBIN JONES , AFP PHOTO/AU-UN IST PHOTO
Shifting population trends mean that one in three children born by 2050 will be African, the U.N. Children's Fund said Tuesday.

UNICEF's new study also says the United States is the only high-income country projected to have an increasing proportion of children by 2025.

The demographic shifts will present policy makers and planners with "major challenges" in the decades following the 2015 deadline for achieving the U.N.'s anti-poverty goals, UNICEF said in a press release.

The study drew its findings from U.N. Population Division projections.

"Though China and India will continue to have a major share of the world's population, in absolute terms, Nigeria will see the highest increase in its under-18 population of any country, adding 31 million children, a rise of 41 per cent, between 2010 and 2025," the study says.

The study adds that the deaths of children under age 5 will increasingly occur in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in pockets of poverty and marginalization in heavily populated, low-income countries.

Co-author Danzhen You highlighted the need to safeguard children's rights, especially as the aging global population increases pressure to shift resources away from children.

"Children do not vote," You said. "Their voices are often not heard when governments make decisions about funding."

According to projections, the 49 U.N.-designated Least Developed Countries will account for around 455 million of the two billion global births between 2010 and 2025. Five populous middle-income countries — China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Nigeria — will account for about 859 million births between 2010 and 2025. 

Deqa Abshir exhibits at the Italian Institute of Culture

Artist Deqa Abshir in front of 'Kafia's Caution'

To reach their potential, those with an aptitude for art must continue to nurture their talent. Heartily sowing the seeds, contemporary Somali-Kenyan painter, Deqa Abshir, continues to evolve her technique. Assertive and unafraid, she is optimistic about a career in the arts and, without a doubt, if she harnesses her talent, harvest will come.

Using the silkscreen images superimposed on an acrylic backdrop, Abshir’s current exhibition “Gates”, at the Italian Institute of Culture in Nairobi, showcases 20 new works, all of which feature a pensive Somali woman, either standing or sitting, naked or half-dressed, close by the swirly, ornate grills of a certain style of gate prevalent on this side of the world.

Branded by clear-cut, minimal forms and figures, the images have a template quality about them. Semi- geometric patterns in bright contrasting colours give the feeling of a cut-out collage decorated in ink stamps and stencil drawing.

Like “Warsan’s Gateway”and “Samantha’s Seat”, each title consists of a traditional name, from Somali folklore, and a detail about where each woman is posed.

Conscientious and thoughtful, Deqa Abshir speaks about her work. A Somali born in Kenya, she has been exploring the idea of identity. Is it rooted in our nationality, where we live, who our strongest influences are, what our ancestors did or is it our design entirely? “What you see here is a patchwork,” she begins, “Through feeding off nostalgia, of all the stories I hear about Somalia, I’m building an identity. Living in a different country, in Kenya, I’m trying to weave it all together.”

With a supportive mom proud in the crowd on opening night, Abshir tells us that women have been a strong influence in her life. “My mother protected me and also told me all kinds of stories about where I am from,” she shares.

In 2006, Abshir graduated from Hunter’s College in New York with a double major in Studio Art (concentration in painting) and Women’s Studies.

She has found a way to combine her passions. Her current work focuses specifically on what identity means to women. Through her artwork, she explores the role of woman as both storyteller and guardian of the family unit.

“The Tower of Elba” reveals a Somali woman, Elba, naked except for a red necklace. She stands in front of the image of a minaret, an architectural design of Muslim influence, quite prevalent in Somalia.

There’s a faded gate by her side and another minaret in the backdrop. The colour is particularly powerful. Somalia’s warm oranges, yellows and browns, its sunlight and fever, are juxtaposed with cerulean blues and hints of stark white from a cool, wistful reverie.

Abshir’s painting “Kafia’s Caution” discloses a ghostly woman in a brassiere looking out of an arch window. Also blue, she carries an expression that is at once morose and elegiac.

Like these, Abshir’s works unveil an introspective woman in an illusory atmosphere. Somewhat nebulous, a small excerpt from her biography on the main table tells us, “Her artwork endeavours to highlight the juxtapositions between the realistic and the poetic, the traditional and the modern, the global south and the global north.” We get a slightly clearer and certainly more eloquent description of the message she hopes to convey when we ask Deqa Abshir personally about her use of the gate symbol.

“So why gates?” I ask, to which she responds articulately, almost poetically. “The gate is the most interesting of symbols. It represents restrictions of identity and culture but also protection and new starts.” Subtly hinting at the religious propaganda perpetuated in Somalia, Abshir alludes to the positive aspects of Somali culture. For her, there’s a strong dichotomy. She has enjoyed how women have protected the collective family and other interesting elements of Somali tradition.

It was revitalising to witness Abshir’s positive outlook. The skeptics call it naivety, but realists today have learned that through focusing on your ambition, you can surely design your reality.

With a great turn out on opening night on November 8 and some red stickers on the wall, Abshir is evidence that there are patrons of the art in Kenya looking to support new talent.

If Dega Abshir, who identifies equally with Somali and Kenyan ways, continues to investigate her world and refine her genius, diligently persevering in her practice, she will reach her potential. That’s the way. 'Gates' by Deqa Abshir will close on November 22

Kenya: Garissa residents shot after army launches crackdown

At least eight people have been shot and more than 50 wounded in an army crackdown in the north-eastern Kenyan town of Garissa, officials say.

A student told the BBC soldiers had shot at pupils waiting to go into an exam at a school near a military base.

It was the second day of violence after the killing of three soldiers by gunmen in town that borders Somalia, where Islamist militants are based.

Reporters say scores of troops beat and detained residents.

Kenyan Defence Minister Mohammed Yusuf Haji has told the BBC he did not authorise the army action in Garissa, which is about 350km (215 miles) north-east of the capital Nairobi.

'Ghost town'

Dr Musa Mohammed, the medical superintendent of Garissa Provincial Hospital, told the BBC that following "skirmishes" on Monday, 45 patients were admitted - two of whom had gunshot wounds.

The hospital received another 15 casualties, including three boys, on Tuesday morning.

"Out of them six are gunshot injuries - they are undergoing treatment. Currently up to now nobody has been reported dead," Dr Mohammed said.

The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) said it had recorded that one person had died in the violence and that a blood donation area had been set up to help treat the wounded.

On Tuesday morning, the medial aid charity said in a statement that it had "rescued four males, four females and two children, eight of them being gunshot casualties".

Soldiers are also reported to have gone into a school and shot at students.

Hussein Yarow Ali, the head boy at County High School, told the BBC soldiers came into the school at 0900.

"We were waiting exam, we heard a lot of tension from the students - after a few moments two students were injured," he said.

"The one who was shot in the hand - he was in front of the class, he was just revising for the exam that he was waiting [for]."

Residents say Garissa has been like a ghost town on Tuesday, with all businesses and government offices closed and soldiers patrolling the streets.

Garissa's main market was set alight on Monday.

There have been several recent attacks on Kenyan security personnel in Garissa, which have been blamed on the Somali militant group al-Shabab.

Garissa and nearby parts of Kenya are mainly populated by ethnic Somalis.

Kenya sent troops across the border last year to fight al-Shabab but its forces have since been merged with the African Union force in Somalia.

The military says the soldiers who were shot were part of the AU mission in Somalia.

They were killed as they fixed a puncture on their truck, and the gunmen escaped into the crowds of people who gathered after the shooting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rising xenophobia against Somalis in Kenya

By Catherine Wambua-Soi

Twenty-one victims from Sunday’s explosion of a minibus in Nairobi’s Somali-dominated Eastleigh suburb popularly known as “little Mogadishu” are still recuperating at the country’s main hospital, Kenyatta national hospital.

I went to visit them. They had head, arm and leg injuries. Some had burns. At least eight people died in the blasts on Sunday from that deadly explosion that ripped apart the minibus. Three people especially caught my eye.

Three-year-old Kennedy Mbuvi was crying in pain. He had a fractured leg. He was playing by the bus terminal when the minibus exploded. For two hours following the blast his desperate mother did not know where he was. She finally traced him to the hospital.

Five beds away from Kennedy is Ahmed Abdi, a Kenyan Somali who was also crying in pain. He had leg injuries. He was walking home when the explosion knocked him off his feet.

At the far end of the ward, a Somali. Immediately after the blast an angry mob tried to lynch him. He was rescued by police.

The three - a non-Somali child, a Kenyan Somali and an ethnic Somali – all victims.

The attacks –and they’ve been many since Kenya’s army went into Somalia to battle the armed group al-Shabab last October - have been indiscriminate, devastating in equal measure non-Somalis and Somalis.

Yet, you get a very deep sense of growing xenophobia against Somalis be they refugees or even Kenyan Somalis.

The attacks are carried out by a few elements. People know this, but out of frustration or maybe even just ignorance, they want to blame something - someone they can see, not some group that is just a word to them.

You don’t need much to see what is mutating. Some in Kenya are translating the war on al-Shabab as a war on Somalis. They have little adequate background on who al-Shabab are. They do not have much sympathy anymore of the reasons why hundreds of thousands of Somalis fled from Somalia in the first place.

The country’s leadership sometimes does not help. When the grenade and improvised bomb attacks begun in October last year, the then internal security deputy minister, the late Orwa Ojode, referred to al-Shabab as a snake whose tail may be in Somalia but the head is in Eastleigh and it must be decapitated. The statement was seriously faulted as irresponsible and with the ability to raise serious reprisals.

It did raise tensions and following every attack, fingers have been pointed at al-Shabab and by extension the Somali community – whether or not anybody has claimed responsibility.

The clashes that have rocked Eastleigh in recently just go to show the deep mistrust between non-Somalis and ethnic or even Kenyan Somalis. Buildings owned by Somalis are pelted with stones and looted. We have heard reports of Somalis being beaten up. After the Sunday explosion the media reported on Somalis being forced out of public service vehicles.

The police themselves frequently carry out massive swoops – arresting anyone who looks like a Somali.

Don’t get me wrong –I’m not saying that the security arm should not do its job. It’s a known fact that Eastleigh is a conduit for small arms. Police have on many occasions recovered explosive materials, grenades and guns in the homes or shops of some.

It’s also a known fact that Eastleigh as well as other areas across the country where many Somalis live have been used to harbour sympathisers or even al-Shabab combatants.

But actions that seem to target a whole community do not help ethnic cohesion in any way.

There needs to be a delicate balance when trying to weed out the chaff from the wheat. It’s not easy – but with good intelligence it can be done.

The harder task perhaps is trying to tell an angry non-Somali whose child has died from a grenade explosion and who needs someone to blame that not all Somalis are al-Shabab fighters or sympathisers.

A month ago, after another grenade attack on a Sunday school killed a child, there was heavy fighting in Eastleigh. Police arrested many Somalis including four journalists who had gone to report on the blast.

I spoke to one of the journalists then. He told me that he fled from Mogadishu in 2009 and that the al-Shabab administration that controlled Mogadishu at the time tortured and detained him.

“We are suffering just like everyone else. We suffered the same fate in Somalia. This is where we thought we’d be safe and now we're not, is there no reprieve? I don’t blame Kenyans for suspecting us – but they must not stereotype,” he told me.

More bomb attacks in Kenya will most likely translate to more ethnic clashes, maybe even worse than we’ve witnessed before.

The government needs to step up and stem out this growing xenophobic attitude before it’s too late.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Culture shock awaits Somali returnees

By Boris Bachorz
Hussein has just opened a coffee shop that has become the rendezvous point for Hargeisa's affluent class
(AFP, Simon Maina)
Two years ago, fashion designer Ayan Hussein left the high-end stores of Britain's capital for a stab at promoting fashion that was in line with Muslim tradition in her Somali homeland.

But she and her family, along with thousands of other Somalis who have returned in the hope of drumming up business or out of nostalgia, often find themselves facing culture shock.

"It is not the same as in London... not the slightest," says Hussein's 18-year-old son Guled, who does not speak a word of Somali.

"There is dust everywhere. You can't skate here," he says in impeccable English.

It is Somaliland, an autonomous territory of around four million people in the north of Somalia along the Gulf of Aden, that has played host to many returnees in recent years.

The region, which declared self-rule in 1991, has provided a haven of relative peace and stability in a land otherwise known for decades of brutal war.

Ayan Hussein was only a young woman when she left Mogadishu in 1997. Now in her late thirties, she decided to return to the land of her birth in 2010 to look after her ailing mother as well as to venture into business.

But in making the switch from Britain's high-end fashion industry to a boutique in Hargeisa, the worldly and sophisticated Londoner had to make some sacrifices.

Her clothes stock is now limited only to long flowing robes as per Muslim custom, albeit in loud colours.
"We have to convince our clients that they are not obligated to be in all black," she explains to AFP recently, her hair neatly tucked under a flaming red head scarf.

Directly opposite the clothes shop, on the noisy and dusty main street, another new business venture is trying to establish itself.

Hussein has just opened a coffee shop that has become the rendezvous point for Hargeisa's affluent class, who come complete with sunglasses and smartphones to sip on their cappuccinos while exchanging gossip in English.

And indeed the differences between those who stayed in Somalia and the returnees go beyond the language used.

"It is like we have two different societies here," explains one returnee from Britain, who came back to work at a recently opened soft drinks plant.

"Because we are Somali, they expect us to be like them," adds another young woman on condition of anonymity. "This poses some difficulties."

Twenty doctors and health workers have taken from six months to one year off work in Finland, their country of exile, to work in Hargeisa's public hospital and provide training to local staff.

"This was an opportunity for me to give back to my country and also show my gratitude to Finland," says Ahmed Abukar, a nurse.

But the first month of interaction between the local staff and the returnees was sometimes tense.
"At the beginning there was a bit of an issue because we needed to get to know each other," says Abukar.

"Of course there is always a bit of a clash, the locals fear they (diaspora members) are taking over... they feel threatened," says Ayan Rabi, who is in charge of the programme, backed by the International Organization for Migration.

"But they are all Somalis and after a while, all this goes away," Rabi adds.

The trip home has also offered some interesting lessons for the returnees too.

"Appreciating the simple life is one of the things you learn here," Abukar says.

For the new general manager of Somaliland's state television Ali Hassan Khader, coming back home has allowed him to better understand the importance of the clan dynamics that form the base of traditional Somali society.

"In one way it is an insurance policy in a country where there is none," he says. "If I injure somebody, if I have a car accident, I know the clan will step in."

However, even with a boom in returnee numbers, Somaliland's much coveted status of being an island of peace in a tumultuous country is slowly being challenged by an emerging Mogadishu, the capital in southern Somalia.

Once a byword for anarchy, the war-ravaged seaside capital has enjoyed a degree of relative stability since Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents fled from fixed positions there in August 2011.

Ibrahim Chama, 32, left his job as a government employee in the Welsh capital Cardiff to set up and manage a grocery store in Hargeisa.

"We are trying to settle down before it becomes too crowded and businesses stop doing well," says Chama, who left in 1988.

"Now Somalia is getting better, maybe we might try to set up something in Mogadishu as well," he adds.

ource: AFP

Friday, November 16, 2012

Medina: Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam's history

Authorities are building a mosque so big it will hold 1.6m people – but are demolishing irreplaceable monuments to do it.

Three of the world’s oldest mosques are about to be destroyed as Saudi Arabia embarks on a multi-billion-pound expansion of Islam’s second holiest site

Three of the world’s oldest mosques are about to be destroyed as Saudi Arabia embarks on a multi-billion-pound expansion of Islam’s second holiest site. Work on the Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina, where the Prophet Mohamed is buried, will start once the annual Hajj pilgrimage ends next month. When complete, the development will turn the mosque into the world’s largest building, with the capacity for 1.6 million worshippers.

But concerns have been raised that the development will see key historic sites bulldozed. Anger is already growing at the kingdom’s apparent disdain for preserving the historical and archaeological heritage of the country’s holiest city, Mecca.  Most of the expansion of Masjid an-Nabawi will take place to the west of the existing mosque, which holds the tombs of Islam’s founder and two of his closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar.

Just outside the western walls of the current compound are mosques dedicated to Abu Bakr and Umar, as well as the Masjid Ghamama, built to mark the spot where the Prophet is thought to have given his first prayers for the Eid festival. The Saudis have announced no plans to preserve or move the three mosques, which have existed since the seventh century and are covered by Ottoman-era structures, or to commission archaeological digs before they are pulled down, something that has caused considerable concern among the few academics who are willing to speak out in the deeply authoritarian kingdom.

“No one denies that Medina is in need of expansion, but it’s the way the authorities are going about it which is so worrying,” says Dr Irfan al-Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. “There are ways they could expand which would either avoid or preserve the ancient Islamic sites but instead they want to knock it all down.” Dr Alawi has spent much of the past 10 years trying to highlight the destruction of early Islamic sites.

With cheap air travel and booming middle classes in populous Muslim countries within the developing world, both Mecca and Medina are struggling to cope with the 12 million pilgrims who visit each year – a number expected to grow to 17 million by 2025. The Saudi monarchy views itself as the sole authority to decide what should happen to the cradle of Islam. Although it has earmarked billions for an enormous expansion of both Mecca and Medina, it also sees the holy cities as lucrative for a country almost entirely reliant on its finite oil wealth.

Heritage campaigners and many locals have looked on aghast as the historic sections of Mecca and Medina have been bulldozed to make way for gleaming shopping malls, luxury hotels and enormous skyscrapers.

The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past 20 years.

In Mecca, the Masjid al-Haram, the holiest site in Islam and a place where all Muslims are supposed to be equal, is now overshadowed by the Jabal Omar complex, a development of skyscraper apartments, hotels and an enormous clock tower. To build it, the Saudi authorities destroyed the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress and the hill it stood on. Other historic sites lost include the Prophet’s birthplace – now a library – and the house of his first wife, Khadijah, which was replaced with a public toilet block.

Neither the Saudi Embassy in London nor the Ministry for Foreign Affairs responded to requests for comment when The Independent contacted them this week. But the government has previously defended its expansion plans for the two holy cities as necessary. It insists it has also built large numbers of budget hotels for poorer pilgrims, though critics point out these are routinely placed many miles away from the holy sites.

Until recently, redevelopment in Medina has pressed ahead at a slightly less frenetic pace than in Mecca, although a number of early Islamic sites have still been lost. Of the seven ancient mosques built to commemorate the Battle of the Trench – a key moment in the development of Islam – only two remain. Ten years ago, a mosque which belonged to the Prophet’s grandson was dynamited. Pictures of the demolition that were secretly taken and smuggled out of the kingdom showed the religious police celebrating as the building collapsed.

The disregard for Islam’s early history is partly explained by the regime’s adoption of Wahabism, an austere and uncompromising interpretation of Islam that is vehemently opposed to anything which might encourage Muslims towards idol worship.

In most of the Muslim world, shrines have been built. Visits to graves are also commonplace. But Wahabism views such practices with disdain. The religious police go to enormous lengths to discourage people from praying at or visiting places closely connected to the time of the Prophet while powerful clerics work behind the scenes to promote the destruction of historic sites.

Dr Alawi fears that the redevelopment of the Masjid an-Nabawi is part of a wider drive to shift focus away from the place where Mohamed is buried. The spot that marks the Prophet’s tomb is covered by a famous green dome and forms the centrepiece of the current mosque. But under the new plans, it will become the east wing of a building eight times its current size with a new pulpit. There are also plans to demolish the prayer niche at the centre of mosque. The area forms part of the Riyadh al-Jannah (Garden of Paradise), a section of the mosque that the Prophet decreed especially holy..

“Their excuse is they want to make more room and create 20 spaces in a mosque that will eventually hold 1.6 million,” says Dr Alawi. “It makes no sense. What they really want is to move the focus away from where the Prophet is buried.”

A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – and endorsed by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz al Sheikh – called for the dome to be demolished and the graves of Mohamed, Abu Bakr and Umar to be flattened. Sheikh Ibn al-Uthaymeen, one of the 20th century’s most prolific Wahabi scholars, made similar demands.

“Muslim silence over the destruction of Mecca and Medina is both disastrous and hypocritical,” says Dr Alawi. “The recent movie about the Prophet Mohamed caused worldwide protests... and yet the destruction of the Prophet’s birthplace, where he prayed and founded Islam has been allowed to continue without any criticism.”

Mecca and Medina in numbers
12m The number of people who visit Mecca and Medina every year
3.4m The number of Muslims expected to perform Hajj (pilgrimage) this year
60,000 The current capacity of the Masjid an-Nabawi mosque
1.6m The projected capacity of the mosque after expansion

Source: The Independent