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Monday, May 20, 2013

Somali prime minister to face confidence vote in parliament

Somalia's prime minister is expected to face a vote of confidence next week, lawmakers said, and backers of the challenge said they were frustrated with the pace of political reform.

Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid heads a fledgling government Western capitals say is the best the strifetorn country has had for decades, determined to improve security, impose the rule of law and end corruption.

A vote against the prime minister could threaten the delicate recovery of a nation Western powers have long seen as a launchpad for militant Islam across east Africa and beyond, analysts said. One said Saaid was likely to survive, Reuters reports.

"(The government) vowed to tackle many things in the first six months but they have achieved nothing," said legislator Dahir Amiin. "The ministers just sit on their seats, they do not know what is going on."

Other lawmakers confirmed the motion had been filed and said a debate in the 275-seat chamber was expected on May 22.

The prime minister's office was not immediately available for comment. Saaid was a relative newcomer to politics when he was appointed in October last year and widely viewed as untainted by the clan rivalries that plague Somalia.

Amiin said about 100 parliamentarians backed the motion against the prime minister. He singled out what he said was the government's failure to pay the armed forces battling al Qaeda-linked militants as a key disappointment.

Tensions have also escalated between Mogadishu and the outlying regions over how much central power should be devolved to the provinces, in what analysts said boiled down to a struggle to control resources.

A vote of no confidence would be a blow to Somalia as it strives to shake off the tag of "failed state" after more than 20 years of civil war and anarchy.

"It would disrupt whatever progress has been made over the last eight months and hurt international confidence in Somalia," said Abdi Aynte, director of the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies think-tank.

That sentiment is echoed by Saaid's backers in the chamber.

"Our government is now recognized internationally. If the parliament starts dismantling it, the world will see us as chaotic," said lawmaker Khalif Mohamed.

A security analyst predicted the prime minister would survive the vote.

"The vote will fail," the analyst said. "This is not a massive rebellion in parliament, it is the first shot by MPs who are uneasy with the government's policy and approach."
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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ethiopian peacekeeper killed, two wounded in Sudanese clash

(Reuters) - One Ethiopian peacekeeper was killed and two others wounded when a U.N. convoy was caught up in a tribal clash in the Abyei border region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, the United Nations said on Sunday.

Sudan and South Sudan in March agreed to resume cross-border oil flows and defuse tensions which have plagued them since the South seceded in 2011 after an independence vote.

But they were unable to decide on the ownership of Abyei, which both the Dinka tribe allied to South Sudan and the Arab Misseriya tribe allied to Sudan call their home.

Kuwal Deng Mayok, the top Dinka leader in Abyei, was travelling with a U.N. convoy when he was killed by members of the Misseriya in a clash on Saturday that risked fuelling new tensions in the flashpoint area.

An Ethiopian peacekeeper was also killed and two others seriously wounded by a Misseriya tribesman, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office said.

"The Secretary-General urges the governments of Sudan and South Sudan and the ... Dinka and Misseriya communities to remain calm and avoid any escalation of this unfortunate event," it said in a statement.

Abyei straddles the border between the neighbors, who fought one of Africa's longest civil wars. It is prized for its fertile land and small oil reserves.

Like South Sudan, Abyei was meant to have an independence vote, agreed under a 2005 peace deal which ended the civil war between the north and south. But both countries have been unable to agree which tribe members should participate.

Ethiopian peacekeepers have been running a temporary administration for Abyei since Sudan seized it in May 2011 following an attack on a convoy of U.N. peacekeepers and Sudanese soldiers which the United Nations blamed on southern forces. Khartoum later withdrew its forces under a U.N. peace plan.
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At least eight killed in Somalia bomb attack on Qatari officials

A suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden car into a convoy carrying Qatari officials through the centre of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu today, killing at least eight Somalis, officials said.

The visiting delegation of Qataris, who were travelling in the Somali interior minister’s bullet-proof vehicle, were “safe”, a security officer told Reuters, without going into further detail.

The minister was not in the car at the time.

The Islamist rebel group al Shabaab said it was behind the attack and threatened further strikes against Somalia’s government, which it called a “puppet” of Western powers.

“More explosions are on the way,” al Shabaab’s military spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters by telephone.

The al Qaeda-linked rebels, who want to impose their version of Islamic law or sharia on the country, have kept up a campaign of guerrilla-style attacks since African peacekeepers pushed them out of bases in the city and other major towns.

Western powers, long worried Somalia is a launch pad for militant Islam in east Africaand beyond, fear it could slide back into chaos if security forces cannot cement security gains.

The blast tore through the busy Kilometre 4 road junction in the centre of Mogadishu’s commercial and administrative district, hurling metal debris over a wide area. Nearby buildings were blackened and power cables hung loose from poles.

It was not clear in the confusion that followed the blast how many people had been killed. A coordinator for Mogadishu’s emergency services said ambulances had carried away the 15 bodies.

Earlier, the chairman of the city’s Hodan district, where the attack took place, told reporters at the blast site eight people had died.

“A silver 4x4 sped around the roundabout blaring its horn as it chased the convoy,” college student Abdullahi Ismail told Reuters at the scene, nursing a gash in his forehead. “It hit the last car in the convoy.”

Qatar has been forging closer political ties with Somalia in recent years as it seeks to expand its influence in the Horn of Africa region.

The bomb was a stark reminder of two decades of civil strife in a country where the central government depends heavily on a near 18,000-strong African peacekeeping force for its survival.

While there has been a significant improvement in the coastal capital since African Union troops drove the Islamist al Shabaab group out of the city in 2011, the attack showed the relative ease with which the militants can still strike.

Parts of Mogadishu were in lock-down last week after security officials received a tip-off about an imminent attack, but security was relaxed yesterday.

The intersection connects the city’s fortified airport, where the United Kingdom opened an embassy on April 25th, with the presidential palace, parliament and other ministries.

The state of Somalia’s security forces will top the agenda at conference in London on May 7th. Britain and Somalia are hoping to use the event to drum up more international support at a time when al Shabaab are weakened as a fighting force but can still inflict devastating strikes.

Civil war after the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 left Somalia without effective central government and awash with weapons. The turmoil opened the doors for piracy to flourish in the Gulf of Aden and deeper into the Indian Ocean.

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Friday, May 3, 2013

London conference awaits 'vision to take Somalia forward'

Somali president expected to present plans for rebuilding military, police and justice systems, as civil society calls on nascent government to empower women and provide jobs

On Tuesday next week, the UK hosts yet another big conference on Somalia, bringing together officials from 50 countries and organisations, including the UN, African Union and International Monetary Fund.

The most significant difference from last year's London event is that instead of a tottering and discredited transitional regime, Somalia now has a fully fledged government, led by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Elected last September, the 57-year-old professor and activist is the first leader chosen inside Somalia since the 1991 overthrow of president Siad Barre, which sowed the seeds for the country's descent into chaos.

Next week's gathering can be seen as a concerted attempt to bolster the Somali government's legitimacy as it seeks to rebuild the country after more than two decades of conflict. The conference will be co-chaired by Mohamud and David Cameron, the UK prime minister, and its main aim is to signal international support for Somalia as the new government sets out its vision. But in a setback to the UK, Somaliland, which broke away from Somalia in 1991, refused British entreaties to attend on the grounds that it would not have been treated as equal to the Somali government. Somali officials, however, are upbeat.

"We hope the international partners will support Somalia's implementation of its plans and priorities," Nuradin Dirie, a presidential adviser, speaking from Mogadishu, the Somali capital, says. "We will be presenting plans for rebuilding the military, the police, the justice and public financial management systems. It is a vision of a political process to take Somalia forward."

There may be some announcements of financial commitments, but those are expected to come at an EU-hosted conference in Brussels in September. Somalia will be very much on the international agenda this year. It will feature in meetings of the G8 group of industrialised countries, and the Tokyo international conference on African development, culminating in the Brussels meeting on the new deal for fragile states.

The new deal – strongly backed by countries recovering from conflict such as Timor Leste and Liberia – seeks to put poor countries in the driving seat on development strategy rather than donors. At its core are five peace- and state-building goals: legitimate and inclusive politics; security; justice; economic foundations (jobs); and revenues and services. The thinking is that unless aid focuses on peace, money will go to waste. Somalia has enthusiastically embraced the approach and now wants donors to back its plans.

Britain – which has pledged to spend £80m this year and next on aid – is on board. It has voiced support for the new deal, which seeks to align donor funds with the priorities of the recipient country, and has emerged as a strong cheerleader for the new Somali government. Last week, Britain reopened its embassy in Mogadishu, the first EU country to do so since Barre's overthrow. Turkey is committing diplomatic and financial resources.

Somalia needs all the international support it can get. Although security has improved since al-Shabaab militants were driven out of Mogadishuby Amisom peacekeepers, the group continues to kill.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, this week expressed concern that the Islamist insurgents seem to be targeting Somalia's legal system, after the Somali deputy state attorney, Ahmed Malim Sheikh Nur, was killed by gunmen as he was leaving a mosque after Friday prayers. The threat posed by al-Shabaab explains the urgency behind the government's efforts to build a credible military and police to deal with hardcore elements who remain implacably opposed to reconciliation.

The Somali government says it will welcome dialogue with those who turn their backs on violence. "The doors are open to those who renounce violence [to] be part of the political process and we will take every step to include people," Dirie says, adding that the president and prime minister want to rebuild the security infrastructure to provide law and order.

While noting the importance of peace- and state-building, civil society representatives, who attended events in London in the runup to the conference, say it is important to maintain development, particularly after the 2011 famine in which nearly 260,000 people died.

"Although the drought has ended, we need to build capacity to prepare for future emergencies, we need to invest in farming and livestock," Aydrus Daar, executive director of Wasda, an NGO that works in the Horn of Africa, says. "There are short-term recovery projects but no three- to five-year programmes."

Fartuun Adan, executive director of the Elman peace and human rights centre in Mogadishu, urged the Somali government to embrace civil society. "We have lots to contribute, we have been working in Somalia for the past 22 years, whereas the government is very new in its job," she says, adding that the government should do its utmost to empower women and ensure enough jobs.

Abdirashid Duale, chief executive of Dahabshiil, a remittances company, who will take part in an investment conference following the event in London, is confident there will be jobs as Somalia rebuilds. "The young generation in Somalia is where the future lies and yes there will be jobs," he says, "because we need people to build airports, electricity systems and infrastructure."

Laura Hammond, senior lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies, however, says it is important not to get carried away with expectations. "The new government is a real gift to the international community and much better than it was expecting," she says.

"But there is a danger of letting euphoria cloud our judgment. I hope people are patient enough with it and yet able to hold it to account, although international engagement has to be on Somali terms. That will be part of shoring up the government's legitimacy."

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Somalia Islamists ban food aid, child deaths ‘off the charts’

Nairobi, Kenya • A decision by extremist Islamic militants to ban delivery of food aid and a "normalization of crisis" that numbed international donors to unfolding disaster made south-central Somalia the most dangerous place in the world to be a child in 2011.

The first in-depth study of famine deaths in Somalia in 2011 was released Thursday, and it estimates that 133,000 children under age 5 died, with child death rates approaching 20 percent in some communities.

That’s 133,000 under-5 child deaths out of an estimated 6.5 million people in south-central Somalia. That compares to 65,000 under-5 deaths that occurred in all industrial countries in the world combined during the same period, a population of 990 million, said Chris Hillbruner, a senior food security adviser at FEWS NET, a U.S.-sponsored famine warning agency.

"The scale of the child mortality is really off the charts," Hillbruner said in a telephone interview from Washington.

FEWS NET was one of two food security agencies that sponsored the study. The other was the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit - Somalia. The two agencies had warned the world as early as fall 2010 that failed rains in Somalia meant a hunger crisis was approaching.

"The world was too slow to respond to stark warnings of drought, exacerbated by conflict in Somalia, and people paid with their lives. These deaths could and should have been prevented," said Senait Gebregziabher, the Somalia director for the aid group Oxfam.

The new study put the total number of famine deaths at nearly 260,000. The Associated Press first reported the death toll on Monday, based on officials who had been briefed on the report.

In March 2011 some 13,000 people died from famine, the study found. In May and June 30,000 people died each month — at least half of them children. The U.N.’s formal declaration of famine didn’t happen until July.

Why was there such a slow humanitarian response? One reason Hillbruner indicated was the feeling that Somalis are always suffering.

"I think that one of the key issues is that there was this normalization of crisis in south-central Somalia, and that I think the international community has become used to levels of malnutrition and food insecurity in southern Somalia that in other parts of the world would be considered unacceptable," Hillbruner said.

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Somalia famine killed nearly 2, 60,000 people: UN

London: Over a quarter of a million people, including young children died in a famine in Somalia between October 2010 and April 2012 because the international community did not act quick enough, according to a UN report. 

The report was commissioned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network. 

The study estimates that 4.6 percent of the total population and 10 percent of children younger than five (about half of 258,000 Somalis) died in southern and central Somalia, the reports said. 

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Philippe Lazzarini said that the number of deaths in famine have confirmed that much should have been done before the famine was declared in July 2011, adding that warnings back in 2010 about the starvation following the drought period did not trigger sufficient action and people needing most help have been the most difficult to reach. 

According to FAO, lower Shabelle has been the hardest hit area in Somalia as one in five children younger than five have perished there. Southern Somalia also received less humanitarian assistance in 2010 and much of 2011 than it had in 2008-2009, the report said.

Researchers claim that this has been one of the worst famines in the past 25 years. 

Lazzarini further said that humanitarian community in Somalia witnessed huge mobilization once the famine was declared that ‘helped mitigate the worst effects of the crisis.’ 

At the peak of the crisis, between May and August 2011, about 30,000 more people died each month, according to the study. 

The International humanitarian organization Oxfam said that the mistakes committed in Somalia in 2011 reflect catastrophic political failures and must never be repeated, adding that the humanitarian officials made a slow response that took a huge toll on lives.

Stating that the world leaders meet next week must ensure better steps for improving the situation in Somalia, Oxfam officials have said that they must plan to invest in long-term development by creating jobs, supporting farmers and pastoralists and properly training security forces. 

Lazzarini confirmed that since 2011, the UN community and its partners have changed their operating methods as they are aware that about 2.7 million people in the state are still in need of life-saving assistance and moral support to rebuild their lives and overcome their crisis and want to ensure that Somalia never goes through a famine again. 

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Britain Re-Opens Embassy in Somalia

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, right, shakes hands with
Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, at the opening of the newly built
British Embassy in the Somali capital Mogadishu, Apr. 25, 2013.
Roopa Gogineni

April 25, 2013
British Foreign Secretary William Hague flew to Mogadishu on Thursday to re-open the British Embassy - making his country the first Western nation to resume a permanent diplomatic presence in Somalia in 22 years.

The British Embassy in central Mogadishu was forced to shut its doors in 1991 after Mohamed Siad Barre's government collapsed and Somalia plunged into chronic civil war.

Twenty-two years later, British diplomats are planning a return to Mogadishu. Foreign Secretary William Hague attended a flag-raising ceremony at the site of a new embassy Thursday.

“I said we would open an embassy as soon as the security situation permitted it,"Hague said. "So it is a sign of confidence in the future that we are opening it.”

The reopening follows major strides made by African Union forces in securing the capital city from al-Shabab militants.

But the peace is tenuous. Just last week al-Shabab attacked a Mogadishu courthouse, killing or wounding dozens of people.
The new embassy sits in the airport compound behind mortar-proof sandbags and heavily guarded by African Union troops.

Hague expects this location to be temporary. "I hope over time this will be an embassy that is able to move into the city itself," he said.

Matt Baugh, the first British ambassador to Somalia in 21 years, was appointed last February but has been based in neighboring Kenya.

The Foreign Office is expected to soon announce a new ambassador to take up post in Mogadishu when the embassy becomes fully operational in late July.

Other nations are expected to follow the British Embassy's move from Nairobi to Mogadishu. Turkey, Iran, and Ethiopia have already reopened their embassies in the Somali capital.

On May 7, London will host its second international conference to coordinate the stabilization of Somalia. Prime Minister David Cameron has prioritized Somalia in his role as president of the G8.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

UNICEF says genital mutilation on decline in Somalia

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Attitudes in Somalia toward a practice that critics decry as torture may be changing, as new data released by the U.N. children's agency on Tuesday showed that female genital mutilation among children in northern Somalia is on the decline.

The survey released by UNICEF and the governments of Somaliland and Puntland found that 25 per cent of girls from the ages of 1 to 14 years old have undergone the practice, compared with 99 per cent of women in those regions.

UNICEF has been working with community and religious leaders in northern Somalia to try to change attitudes toward female genital mutilation. Sheema Sen Gupta, the chief of child protection for UNICEF in Somalia, said that 28 communities in Somaliland have declared an end to the practice, and UNICEF hopes to have that number up to 60 by the end of this year.

"If you ask the average Somali woman why they practice FGM now, they will tell you it's for religious reasons. But it's not religious because FGM predates Islam," Gupta said.

In December the U.N. General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution calling for a global ban on female genital mutilation, a centuries-old practice stemming from the belief that circumcising girls controls women's sexuality and enhances fertility. It has also been linked to religious and cultural practices, although Muslim and Christian leaders have spoken out against it.

"When religious leaders are able to come out and say this is not a religious practice, then people start listening," said UNICEF chief Gupta.

Female genital mutilation is commonplace in 28 countries in Africa as well as in Yemen, Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia and among certain ethnic groups in South America, according to Amnesty International. But the issue is a worldwide concern because it is also practiced by immigrants in diaspora communities.

The U.N. said in 2010 that about 70 million girls and women had undergone the procedure, and the World Health Organization said about 6,000 girls were circumcised every day.

Aside from religious reasons, Somali women say that they choose female genital mutilation for their daughters so that they are more eligible for marriage, said Gupta.

"Even the women who are educated, including Somali women living in the U.K., for example, when we talk to them and try to understand why they practice FGM they say, 'My daughter is not going to be marriageable if she is not circumcised,"' Gupta said. "So the social pressures are such, the traditional norms are such, that even when people know that it's painful, it's barbaric, etc., people are saying, 'Can my daughter be married?"'

But Gupta said that when she talks to Somali men and asks if a woman should be circumcised, the men say they don't know and that the women say it needs to be done.

The survey data released Tuesday is only the fourth multiple-indicator cluster survey to be carried out in Somalia, a notoriously difficult place to gather solid information over the last 20 years.

The survey also found that the literacy rate among women in northern Somalia is on the rise, as is school attendance. Access to quality drinking water is also up.

However, Susannah Price, a spokeswoman for UNICEF, said that new information showing a low number of children being vaccinated was "depressing," and it showed more work needs to be done.

The future does appear brighter for reducing the number of girls subjected to female genital mutilation, said Gupta. She noted that Somalia's new constitution, passed last year, bans the practice. Al-Shabab, the militant group that controls large parts of south-central Somalia, also bans it, she said.

"I think we've made a dent and I think, for us, I think there's going to be quite a bit of progress from now on," Gupta said.

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Somalia's Shabaab 'a serious threat'

Nairobi - A spectacular attack on Sunday by Shabaab Islamists in Mogadishu, unprecedented in Somalia in terms of its operational complexity, has enabled the extremists to show they remain a serious threat.

Though they are widely described as severely weakened, the attack by the al-Qaeda linked militants shows that the authorities have not restored security to Mogadishu as they like to claim.

Nine assailants, wearing police or army uniforms and likely all wearing explosive belts, attacked the main courthouse in the Somali capital.

Three of them blew themselves up to clear the way for the six others, who took hostages and started battling the Somali and African Union troops guarding the courthouse. The gunfight lasted for several hours.

Thirty minutes into the attack, as military reinforcements were arriving and the wounded were being evacuated, a car bomb was detonated in the zone.

The attack, which left at least 34 people dead, is the bloodiest since October 2011, when more than 80 people were killed some two months after the Shabaab abandoned fixed positions in Mogadishu.

Experts said the modus operandi of Sunday's attack is one frequently seen in Afghanistan, but so far unprecedented in Somalia.

"The combined use of suicide bombers, light weapons and car bombs is a first in Somalia," explained a military source in the African Union force (Amisom), who, like all the other sources questioned, asked to remain anonymous.

"There has not been any attack of this level of complexity in Mogadishu. It's a first," confirmed a regional security expert.

Significant efforts

A convoy from the Turkish Red Crescent was also hit by a car bomb on Sunday. According to the regional security expert there is no evidence the Turks were targeted. The car bomb may rather have been destined for the attack on the courthouse.

This "spectacular attack" demonstrates on the part of Somalia's Islamists "a will to regain a foothold in Mogadishu and to prove to the outside world that the situation in Mogadishu is not so good, despite the line often repeated by the president and the prime minister over the past few months", the Amisom source said.

The Shabaab want to "create a threatening climate and show that they're not finished yet", though often described as a spent force, the source added.

The Amisom source went on to say that Sunday's operation probably took four months of "significant efforts" and that it was likely prepared by Amniat, the Shabaab’s intelligence cell, which has agents operating in Mogadishu.

According to the expert questioned by AFP, "over the past month or two the Shabaab have been regaining strength."

He cited a recent spate of attacks on Kismayo, one of the final bastions of the Shabaab that they abandoned at the end of September.

"It seems that they got a new lease of life after the failure of the French commando operation [in January, aimed at freeing a French intelligence agent taken hostage]" and from the announcement of the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.

This type of attack that the Afghan Taliban is known for would seem to confirm the increasing presence in Shabaab ranks of fighters who have operated in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The increasing sophistication of the explosive devices used by the Shabaab, notably the appearance a few months ago of remote-controlled bombs, would tend to confirm this hypothesis.

State of shock

At least one Pakistani jihadi has been reported in the Shabaab ranks in the past few months, one of the analysts questioned said.

Sunday's attack did not give the Shabaab any tactical advantage but it enabled the Islamists to undermine the impression - both locally and internationally - that the new administration and Somali armed forces are up to the task of ensuring security.

"The population [of Mogadishu] - and probably the security forces as well - are in a state of shock," said another analyst.

But he said only time will tell whether this attack represents a new tactic for the Shabaab, or whether it is a one-off.

One of his colleagues said that Mogadishu is "tremendously more secure than it was" and said that Somali soldiers, backed by Amisom forces, managed to limit the damage on Sunday.

But the military source with Amisom said: "If something like this is repeated, questions will be asked" on infiltration and on the ability of the Somali forces really to maintain security.

"This is clearly a show of force" on the part of the Shabaab, even if "from a military point of view they are really in a critical situation," one analyst said.

"It is indeed difficult to organise this sort of attack, but it is still easier than holding a military front," the expert said.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Brits warned to leave Somalia: Terrorist attack is ‘imminent’

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office believes terrorists are in the final stages of planning attacks in the capital Mogadishu.

Officials have warned against all travel to every part of the war-torn country.

They advised all expat Brits to leave, adding there is a specific threat to Westerners in the autonomous region of Somaliland.

A spokesman for the FCO said: “We have amended our travel advice for Somalia.

“Our advice makes clear that there continues to be a big threat from terrorism and that the FCO believes that terrorists are in the final stages of planning attacks in Mogadishu.”

The high threat from terrorism includes kidnapping. There is no British representation in any part of Somalia and the FCO said it is unable to provide consular assistance there.

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