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Interesting times in Somalia

So interesting in fact, that it’s distracted me from keeping up with this blog, which was kind of a New Year’s Resolution for me. In truth, I’ve stopped paying attention to Somali news in recent weeks because I’ve come to realise that investing any real interest in Somali politics, which is essentially a series of almost always head-scratchingly awful events, is a pathway to madness. If this conclusion could be represented in video form, it would look a lot like the two below which surfaced online in the last couple of weeks. The first is kinda funny at first, then depressing. It was recorded at the recent Istanbul Conference, which was meant to be focused on humanitarian issues, but being about Somalia, politics is never off the table. For non-Somalis, the lady speaker by accident (or was it?!) (who cares) , calls the Speaker  of Parliament (is he really?!) Sharif Hassan (no, really, do you know?)by his offensive naaneys (nickname) (last parenthesis, I promise), Sharif Sakiin (razorblade) (I lied). Yeah, I don’t understand how it’s that offensive either. As you can see from the video, most people find the humour in it, because he really is incredibly corrupt (he takes cuts, geddit?). His clansmen in the audience do not find it as funny, see their reaction and the whole thing from about a minute in, laugh and then weep.

The next video is less funny, and more sad. Sad really because it shows that someone so accomplished in the humanitarian sector in the Horn, has failed to accomplish true humanitarianism on a personal level. This is Edna Aden, founder of the eponymous women’s hospital in Somaliland, and advocate for the recognition of the state, using Somalia’s current suffering as a tool for this end. In this long lecture she mentions that Somalis in Somalia don’t want peace, and will export their industries of piracy and terrorism to Somaliland if the international community doesn’t hurry and recognise it. Failing, of course, to mention where certain leaders of certain Somali terror groups hail from.

For now, I’ll look out for more fluffy stories on Somalia, less of this crap.

The UN’s constitution for Somalia

There were a couple of articles online this week on Somalia’s proposed new constitution that really underlined the disgraceful manner in which the UN has approached the drafting of the document. The first was an article on the contribution of second and third-year American law students to the new Somali constitution. No, this wasn’t an interesting hypothetical task in a constitutional law class, but as their professor Muna Ndulo (he’s not a Somali woman, despite the name), who is consulting on the document, described it;

“The students really are having a role in history,” said Ndulo. “Their work is very significant, and the U.N. acknowledged their contribution to the process.”

Remarkable. Degrading for most Somalis, who have been largely shut out of the process (I, and most Somali observers, cant name one Somali individual who has taken a lead in the drafting process), but I’m sure would have been an interesting diversion for these students from their other, less internationally important, assignments. As one student explained, she had “learned quite a bit throughout about the challenging process of nation-building.“. You’re welcome.

More recently, I came across this article describing a meeting the committee preparing the new constitution held with the elders of the Kakuma camp in Kenya, to gather their suggestions on the document. It would appear that the UN are taking the contributions of these respected Somali elders and those from second year American university students with some parity. In fact, I don’t believe either of their contributions will be considered by the UN, not in in any real sense. As far as this ‘drafting process’ is concerned, all consultations (with or without Somali participation), are a sham. The international community are aware of what they want to see in this new constitution, they are the only one’s demanding it after all.

The Somali political scientist, Abdi Afyare Elmi, offered an excellent analysis of the UN’s reasons for demanding the replacement of Somalia’s 1960 constitution in order to end the transitional period. Most significantly, for it’s regionally powerful neighbours Ethiopia and Kenya, being the irredentist claims made in the 1960 document to one day unite the Somali people under one state. Although I disagree with the claims Elmi makes against federalism in Somalia, he exposes the international community’s bullish imposition of its will on the Somali people very well;

 It argues that the government cannot amend or change the content of the draft constitution. Yet, it wants the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to ratify the draft constitution – a contradiction in terms.

Even more offensive than consulting a group of American students on a supposedly Somali national constitution, is doing so and forcing the unelected, but Somali, Transitional Federal Parliament to ratify it without their input. If this were happening to any other country it would be an international scandal. This has been Somalia’s political reality for the past two decades, and if this constitution is ratified, it will become a more permanent arrangement.

Somalia Report’s integrity problem

More precisely, Somalia Report’s problem with honesty.  When I first started casually reading Somalia Report I sensed its sketchiness, something felt off. I couldn’t figure out why I felt that its reports were unreliable so I ended up just ignoring the site all together. That is until I stumbled upon this excellent takedown of the website and its owner Robert Pelton (I’m 99.99% sure he wrote that wiki entry himself) which was followed by a number of rude and kinda racist responses by the non-Somali ‘reporters’ at SR. So I wasn’t too surprised to find out that they have been busted for making up interviews and stories this week on Twitter.

Here is the wonderful charity Horn Relief pointing out Somalia Reports completely fabricated story on an Al Shabaab looting of Horn Relief’s non-existent office in Afmadow:

Also yesterday, Somalia Report’s editor published a retraction of its interview with Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdiweli Gaas, which also turned out to be completely fabricated.  Revealingly, this demonstrates that anyone in Somalia, or claiming to be in Somalia, can write up any old nonsense, email it in an become a Somalia Report journalist. Interestingly, according to this retraction, the lapse in judgement was not made by the publishers at SR, but the hoaxer alone, who has apparently let down her family and community. As a member of this hoaxer’s community, I would like to thank you, Ms Abdi, for revealing the ineptitude and lack of professionalism of this website which has high-jacked our voices. It also backs up AfroLens criticisms of the website and their editor’s shortcuts into journalism.

I hope the folks at Somalia Report come to realise that this complete lack of understanding of journalistic ethics and cultural awareness is an obvious result of hiring non-Somali experts and individuals with no qualifications in journalism. I don’t see that happening too soon though given their previous responses to criticism. I do however hope this episode leads to greater efforts by Somalis, and all Africans, to use our own voices in the media more forcefully to tell our story. Honestly.

London Somalia Conference: A Betrayal of Somali Optimism

I would be lying if I said I had any real expectations for the much hyped  London Somalia Conference, and yet when the day came my deeply buried optimism emerged. I noticed myself obsessively checking the BBC Somali news service and other news outlets for updates and watched snippets of the opening speeches. I was especially pleased with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emphasis on ending the TFG come August 2012 and the pledge of a new stability fund. There was of course no serious discussions on how to solve the deep seated political problems in Somalia before the August deadline, piracy and the threat of terrorism were given far more weight than the massive humanitarian crisis faced by Somalis,  but then again it was just one day conference organised by the U.K, no big surprises. Despite this, all in all the London Conference didn’t seem to display any of the the sinister motives some commentators were fearing, raising fears that British meddling could lead to Somalia’s ‘ultimate demise’.

These sinister motives, however, became all too clear yesterday with the report published by The Observer. The story reveals whilst world leaders were meeting in London giving lofty speeches on how the world can no longer ignore Somalia’s myriad of problems, British officials were exploiting Somalia’s lack of a legitimate government and poverty to gain a stake in Somalia’s future energy industry. Prime Minster Abdeweli Gaas himself admitting that he would trade Somalia’s natural resources in return for aid. It’s pretty remarkable how in the space of less than a week, the optimism this conference raised amongst Somalis back home and abroad was so quickly replaced by the default cynicism toward the West’s interventions in Somalia. All hopes raised on the day, that the international community were taking serious steps to solve Somalia’s problems if not for the sake of its long-suffering people, but to defend the West from terrorism, have been swiftly dashed.

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Progress I suppose…

It’s sad that an agreement to raise the representation of women in Somalia’s parliament up to 30% is viewed as a ground breaking step in the right direction. I understand anything is an improvement on the current composition, where the only female cabinet minister for years has been the Minister for Women’s Affairs, but 30%? Really?

I’m going to read on the results of the Garowe Conference some more to get a better idea on what to expect from next weeks major conference in London.

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When the West gets it right and the Left don’t

Russia and China’s recent UN Security Council veto of the US and Arab League-backed resolution calling for the removal of President Bashar Assad, despite the vote coming after the massacre of Homs, was despicable. What really surprises me amongst the ongoing bloodshed in Syria is the lack of real condemnation of the regime from left-wing anti-war movements in the West. So far it seems only Western governments are making the most noise in condemnation of the violence. Strange.

Browsing the Stop the War Coalition website , which played a large role in the early protests against the Iraq war in the UK and is now focused on working against any potential strike on Iran, proves fruitless. The only articles on the Syrian uprising are focused on the perils of any Western military intervention à la Libya 2011. That’s it, the killing of Syrian civilians only matters if they are killed by Western bombs.

Netherlands to ban Khat

I was surprised to read today that the Dutch government is to ban Khat (a mild stimulant used mostly by Somalis and Yemenis), especially considering that this is the country whose drugs policy is so liberal that cannabis coffee shops are open for business across the country. In the BBC article, it cites ‘concerns’ that Khat can bring on schizophrenia, failing to mention that long-term cannabis use can have an greater affect of inducing psychosis, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

Khat has a lower level of harm and dependency compared with alcohol and cannabis 

In fact, the mental health problems of older Somali males who chew khat may have more to do with war-related PTSD or the the difficulties of refugee life. I suspect this ban has more to do with a failure to grasp why so many Somali’s living in Europe struggle to find work or otherwise integrate fully in their adopted countries.  Gerd Leers, the Dutch immigration minister supportive of the ban, explained that the drug has led Somali male chewers to “refuse to co-operate with the government or take responsibility for themselves or their families”. Instead of addressing the true causes of social exclusion of Somali immigrants in the Netherlands, such as the increased instances of racism and Islamophobia accepted into European political discourse, the Dutch government have laid blame on the  a substance which has the effect of an espresso.

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