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.

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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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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Islamophobia should be classified as a type of mental illness

This is the only conclusion I could draw from this Huffington Post article on the former SNL comedian, now professional lunatic, Victoria Jackson. That someone can link a gay kiss on Glee to the impending take-over of the United States by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood screams either lunacy or performance art. Check out her web show, a tea-bagger version of The View, notice how a couple of them sound like they’ve been lobotomised.

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?”