Category Archives: Somalia

(Some) African Producers

How uplifting! Makes me wonder, who, besides Somalis, actually drinks camel milk? It tastes pretty damn good though.

Believing in Africa

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Discredited Liar Matthew Bryden Fired by UN

What a great few days to be Somali. Meles Zenawi dead after a long illness, the end of the Transitional Federal Government (not a wholly positive affair, but its a start), and now to top it off I hear this biased hack has been fired by the UN.  I’ve only seen this firing reported on Eritrean forums which makes me a little sceptical but it wouldnt be completely surprising that he would be dumped by the UNSC just as it appears that President Sharif (a target of Bryden) looks to be re-elected. Just to be clear, I agree with the general message of the latest report by Bryden’s UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea. The TFG have obviously plundered state funds shamelessly.  However, I’m less likely to completely accept plausible claims like how only $7 was accounted for every $10 recieved by the TFG, when Bryden’s Group has previously made outrageous false claims about events in Somalia.

These politicised reports by Bryden, riddled with falsehoods, have been broken down well by the Somali Special Envoy to the US, Abukar Arman, in this article.  Falsehoods including the unfounded/bizarre claim that radical Sunni militants from Somalia were assisting the (very) Shia Hezballah in 2006. As Arman highlights, these lies helped sway US support for Ethiopia’s brutal invasion of Somalia that year. Bryden has written extensively in favour of Somaliland’s right to independence, which he is entitled to do, but not as an impartial watchdog employed by a body which respects Somalia’s sovereignty. During his tenure, the Group has consistently ignored the violations of the arms embargo by the Somaliland government, even after fighting in the peaceful region broke out this year. Looking at the list of experts on the latest report, I understand the reluctance to include Somali experts on the conflict because of fears of clan/regional bias, but the idea that white ‘experts’ on Africa are not biased is dangerous and needs to stop.

An inspirational little story

I came across this story as I was sorting through some old papers today and thought it was the most uplifting things I’ve read in a while. I found it in a set of US State Department unclassified documents on the Somali civil war I ordered last year but didn’t get to read through. It was in a memo authored by an exasperated US official desperately trying to arrange a UN sponsored peace conference in May 1993, but found himself hitting a brick wall with the objections of the powerful warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed, who wanted to essentially chair the conference rather than attend as a representative of his USC faction. In the memo the US official recounts a conversation with the chairman of the SSDF (Somali Salvation Democratic Front), Abshir Musa, who was disappointed with the failure to hold the conference because of Aideed’s resistance. In a “wistful, nostalgic mood”, Musa spoke of his previous close relationships with other Somali political leaders. Leaders like Mohamed Egal, the former Prime Minister of Somalia and subsequently the President of Somaliland following its secession during the civil war. Here is the recollection of the US official of the rest of the conversation;

He spoke with emotional tones of his close personal friendship with the “Somaliland” President Ibrahim Egal, with whom he was imprisoned under the dictatorial Siad regime. “Egal once gave me the greatest present I had in my entire life” Abshir told us. When Abshir was imprisoned, he said, he and Egal were both placed in solitary confinement, but in adjacent cells. They communicated with each other by tapping on the wall between their cells in the prison alphabet. One day, Abshir recounted, the prison guards took away all of Abshir’s  books — “Even my Koran. They had to handcuff me and force me to give up my copy of the Koran.” Abshir was left without human companionship and with nothing to occupy his mind. A few weeks later, Abshir said, at the time when some prisoners, including Egal, were being returned to their cells after their daily 20 minute walk for exercise, he heard a scratching at the door of his cell. Under the door, Egal had managed to slip to Abshir a few pages torn from a notebook on which he had carefully copied out several suras (chapters) of the Koran. “I memorized those verses,” Abshir told us, “And they gave me the strength to continue.”

50 Cent visits Somalia

No, this is not a story from The Onion. Of all the random celebrity humanitarian ‘missions’ to Somalia or the neighbouring refugee camps heaving with Somali refugees, this one really baffled me. 50 Cent Curtis Jackson, visited the Gedo region as part of a mission sponsored by the World Food Program, doesnt strike me as the type to spend much time thinking about hunger and global poverty. Pretty much because of the picture below and the crude materialism espoused in his music. The star of a film called ‘Get rich or die tryin’ visiting people whose challenge was to get to the camps or die on the way. Something about that doesn’t sit right with me.

One positive aspect of his interest in the crisis in Somalia is that he has committed to providing 1 billion meals for the hungry (no specifics) which is pretty remarkable despite the fact that it is tied to a cheesy promotion of his energy drink brand.

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Kenya’s ‘sea grab’

As suspected, Kenya’s military adventure in Somalia has not limited itself to the goal enforcing a buffer-zone on its border. The Kenyan government’s sudden hands-on approach to the long-running conflict in Somalia may in fact be more focused on exploiting the chaotic political situation in the country to expand its territorial waters by 150 nautical miles, a move which requires the consent of neighbouring countries. Kenya first applied for this expansion to the UN in 2009, claiming the support of the unelected and comically inept TFG in a memorandum of understanding between the countries, which was quickly voted against by Somali MPs in Parliament and condemned by the Puntland administration. Kenya is of course continuing with its bid,which will be determined by 2014, to expand its marine territory despite these protests because of the improved prospects of striking oil offshore. Prospects made ever more likely with recent news that two Western companies have begun drilling for oil in Puntland as part of a three month exploration project.

This whole project, to me at least, is clearly a brazen attempt to circumvent international law, steal and exploit the natural resources of a troubled but sovereign (technically) nation. And yet, it has received barely any media coverage or better yet, any non-Somali condemnation. This is not to say that the media have no interest in Somalia’s plight, every tragedy seems to have been documented to capture each indignity suffered by Somalis over the past 21 years. But perhaps a story of one poor African country screwing over another isn’t ‘sexy’ enough to stir the Western media’s interest.

Somalia after al-Shabaab

With recent news that al-Shabaab have lost the town of Beledweyne, which borders with Ethiopia, leaving their remaining strongholds increasingly vulnerable, many (including myself) are hopeful that 2012 may herald the military defeat of the group once and for all. It also raises the incredible possibility that after over 20 years of anarchy, the country (well the South at least) can be unified under the control of a central government. But what measures are being taken to ensure that a power vacuum is not created, and the south does not plunge into the clan based fighting which consumed the country before the 2006 formation of al-Shabaab? After all, despite their many, many, MANY crimes against the Somali people living under their brutal rule, in regions like Bay their administration has provided the first semblance of law and order to places where warlords previously ruled with violence and lawlessness reigned.  So what to look forward to in this shiny new year? Not much in Somalia. As wonderful as the potential news of al-Shabaab’s downfall may seem, there appears to be greater dangers emerging in the future. The greatest potential conflict zone appears to be the newly-declared state of Azania, (or Jubaland depending on who is advocating for it), in the south.

If the Kenyan invasion is successful in removing al-Shabaab from the bordering territory of Azania/Jubaland and installing a satellite administration (Azania) under Mohamed ‘Ghandi’ Abdi Mohamed, as Wikileaks revealed was the Kenyan’s motives for their invasion, Ethiopia will likely not stand idly by. Since the loss of Eritrea in 1991, Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia has largely been concerned with ensuring access to its ports. Jubaland includes Somalia’s third largest port city; Kismayo. Consequently, Ethiopia is backing its own favoured factions to ensure access. The end result in an al-Shabaab free region would therefore entail placing two clan-based  factions against each another, both backed by Somalia’s two most powerful neighbours. This does not look good.

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Disaster Pornography once more from Somalia

Images of the humanitarian crisis in East Africa this year, and particularly the ongoing famine in Somalia, have been pretty difficult to avoid. As a Somali I’m already painfully aware of the scope of the crisis on a more personal level. Which is why I have come to recognise that even for me, these cynical but harrowing descriptions of the famine tend to evoke apathy rather than anything else. On TV news items, countless well-meaning articles describing heart-wrenching stories of struggle in the refugee camps, and thanks to Google’s AdSense, on pretty much every website I visit I see the tiny frame of Baby Hashim. His large, vacant eyes staring back at me almost in judgement. Are these images of absolute despair totally necessary to remind us that these skeletal children are deserving of life? I’m not so sure.

The front page of the New York Times this summer.

A starving child during the famine in the early 1990s (Bardera, Somalia, 1993)

This apt term, disaster pornography, was originally coined by human rights activists Rakiya Omaar and Alexander de Waal to describe the voyeuristic Western media coverage of the 1991/2 famine in Somalia, a depressing angle which has re-emerged for this latest catastrophe. This attempt at eliciting charity and sympathy is doubly exploitative. Most dangerously, it perpetuates the humiliating depictions of the poor in the global South. For Somalia, since the outbreak of civil war in 1991 to the present day, these images have focused on the starving child and its helpless mother or the young gunman.  These media images also exploit its target audience by reducing an entire people to objects of pity without seizing on the opportunity to educate the masses on the true causes of famine. It is for this reason those of us living comfortably in the West will so often hear the maddening question; “Why don’t they just have less children?”