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A Fierce Famine Stalks Africa



Nadifa Mohamed, a British-Somali novelist, is the author of the novels “Black Mamba Boy” and “The Orchard of Lost Souls.”

LONDON — Somalis traditionally did not number years but instead gave each a name that immortalized important events or crises.

Nineteen eleven was the year of forbidden food, meaning a hunger so profound that people were reduced to eating haram foods that Islam proscribes; nineteen twenty-eight was the year of registration, widespread drought forcing northern Somalis to finally submit to registration by their British colonizers in return for aid; nineteen seventy-four was the year of the long-tailed, an interminable drought in the whole region that contributed to the fall of Haile Selassie.

Famines have visited the Horn of Africa so regularly in the past 25 years that there has been no time for new poetic appellations.

As a child in the mid-1980s in Hargeisa in northern Somalia I suffered from malnutrition. My hair was just a pale fuzz on my head; I was small and sickly. The local hospital was starved of supplies and maintenance, and my mother got me treated by German aid workers in a sprawling refugee camp, some twenty miles away.

I was one of the lucky ones. My family had enough financial and social capital to ensure that I got whatever help was available in the dysfunctional, collapsing state. Other children must have died or been left with the long-term effects of severe malnutrition such as stunting or brain damage.

Today six million people are at risk of starvation in Somalia, and another fourteen million in South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen. It is the gravest emergency since the Second World War, according to the United Nations. The 2011 famine had hit the southern areas of Somalia, which are most hobbled by long-term conflict and poor administration; the current drought has affected all the states in the Horn of Africa.

Somaliland is dependent on livestock exports for 70 percent of its income. Lack of rain in three consecutive years has meant that 10 million goats, sheep and camels have already perished. Food prices have escalated and families must decide whether to stay with their livestock, in hope that the rains will arrive and be strong, or become refugees in their own country, looking for aid in whatever dusty camp has space for them.

My family migrated to England in 1986 when I was four but we maintained the ties with our ancestral home. Along with my extended family in the Somali diaspora, I help support a primary school near the Ethiopia-Somaliland border. The school, which opened four years earlier, served about a hundred students from a pastoral community near a settlement called Camp Rooble. Last year, our email discussions around the school moved from administrative matters to urgent requests for water supplies and food. And then the nomads had to disband the settlement, abandon the school, to look for water elsewhere.

Famines were commonplace across the world, but the last five decades have seen them generally limited to Africa, particularly to East Africa. Temperatures have risen in already arid parts of the continent, by one Celsius in Kenya and 1.3 Celsius in Ethiopia between 1960-2006. Communities across the region report droughts occurring every one to two years rather than the previous every six to eight years.

This climatic transformation is also seen in West Africa and when combined with conflict, food price spikes, and political and economic marginalization the result is famine, even in countries as wealthy as Nigeria.

The people facing drought and hunger aren’t passive victims, simply waiting for charities to save them. Families, especially women, make superhuman efforts to get by before they are finally forced to ask for help: meals reduced, new trades found, possessions sold, children dispersed, miles crossed.

My paternal grandmother in “the year of registration” walked dozens of miles through a desert painted red with the blood of goats, killed for their hides before they died and became worthless. She approached a relief center in Bulhar, with my father strapped to her back, only to be warned to return home, as an epidemic had spread through the camp. I don’t know how they both survived but they did.

In 2011 international donors were slow to respond and delivered aid after the majority of the 260,000 victims of famine had already perished. Today news of death from cholera or thirst even from areas without roads is shared on Somali social media within the day. Young Somali activists across the globe have created social media groups such as Caawi Walaal, Abaaraha and Somali Faces, who identify with the victims of the drought in a visceral, familial way.

Although they have been able to raise modest amounts of money, their network of local volunteers can reach remote places where the larger charities can’t. The young professionals behind Abaaraha used a Kenyan open source platform, Ushahidi, to gather real-time data from those affected by the drought and to coordinate Somali relief efforts.

Somalia is often described as a failed state, but famine is a symbol of failure in both a local and global community. The funds needed to prevent famine in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria are far from being met by the international community, the United Nations’ Appeal for Somalia is reportedly under target by 57 percent and underfunding has already cost lives in all four countries. Contrary to humanitarian concerns, President Donald Trump’s administration is focused on military interventions in both Yemen and Somalia.

A few weeks back, at the London Conference on Somalia hosted by the British government, 40 countries sent their representatives. Antonio Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General described the drought as Somalia’s “most pressing concern” but security and the intensifying war against the Shabab sucked most of the oxygen.

As Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, proceeds, people on the verge of starvation are turning their hunger to a spiritual cause. It opens up the question of how the richer Muslim countries will respond to the tragedy threatening their impoverished co-religionists.

In the late 1980s, at the beginning of the Somali civil war, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the first to send aid to refugee camps in eastern Ethiopia, but it came with strict instructions that young girls must be covered and the freedom of women restricted.

Perhaps, for this Ramadan, the Gulf countries can take the third pillar of Islam, charity, more seriously than they take hijabs and weapons purchases? In supporting those that have managed to survive this far we are honoring the sentiment found in both the Quran and the Talmud, “Whoever saves one life, is considered to have saved the whole of humanity.”
Nadifa Mohamed, a British-Somali novelist, is the author of the novels “Black Mamba Boy” and “The Orchard of Lost Souls.”


Turkey’s foray into Somalia is a huge success, but there are risks



Brendon J. Cannon is an Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities & Social Science at Khalifa University of Science & Technology (Abu Dhabi, UAE).

THE CONVERSATION –Turkey’s presence in Somalia certainly embodies one of the most interesting regional geopolitical developments in the past decade. It also represents one of the most misunderstood and confusing. Why did Turkey choose Somalia? And, after its initial humanitarian intervention in 2011, what internal and external forces have shaped and expanded that involvement? Furthermore, what explains Turkey’s reported triumphs?

Some have pointed to a shared history and a common Sunni Muslim heritage. This is questionable, at best, and alone cannot explain Turkey’s engagement with Somalia – let alone the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Others have noted Turkey’s economic clout and its status as a mid-sized country interested in trade rather than extracting resources.

Genuine humanitarian concerns have also, at least initially, driven Turkey’s engagement as well as the prospect of economic gain. Scholar Federico Donelli notes its approach to Somalia

“has made Turkey a regional actor different from the traditional western powers, as well as from the emerging non-western ones.”

Turkey’s approach in Somalia has been largely welcomed inside and outside the African nation. However, a cautionary note is required. Allegations of corruption and bribery have surfaced. Turkey’s recent opening of a military training base in Mogadishu to train the Somali National Army has also raised eyebrows across the wider Horn of Africa region.

Keys to success
Ankara has an understandable and deep seated desire for international recognition as an emerging power and G20 member state. Its status in Somalia is part humanitarian and part financial, but is at its heart about influence and prestige.

Turkish money and aid – delivered directly to key stakeholders in the Somali Federal Government – ingratiated Turkey with local power brokers and provided Ankara with access and power in Mogadishu. What soon followed is Turkish control and management of Somalia’s most lucrative assets, the airport and seaport.

Parallel to these were unilateral rebuilding efforts, offers of scholarships, renovations of hospitals, and the hosting of international conferences about Somalia. These have largely contributed positively to Somalia’s development and yielded the international acclaim and diplomatic clout craved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coterie.

For some parties inside and outside Somalia, Turkey is now viewed as indispensable to Somalia. The keys to Turkey’s reported success in Somalia – where so many other established powers have failed before – may revolve around four critical factors.

The first is approach. Most interventions in Somalia have been multilateral affairs by international and regional actors, such as the UN. Turkey’s approach, in contrast, has been largely unilateral and highly coordinated by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency. In this way, the efforts of business, government and humanitarian staff either do not overlap or do so effectively.

Second is novelty. Turkey’s Ottoman past and Muslim identity have been raised as major variables driving Turkey’s engagement with Somalia. But these assertions ignore or minimise one of its key strengths as a rising power: its distinct lack of a colonial past that devastated so much of the continent.

This approach is not only novel; it also represents Turkey’s first meaningful engagement with the continent. This contrasts sharply with that of the US, France, Russia and China, among others, which have a colonial or Cold War baggage.

The third factor is risk. Somalia has been the scene of thousands of capacity building and self-help experiments funded by a plethora of international organisations and states. Yet it is precisely where these efforts have failed that Turkey has found its niche.

This required a big appetite for risk. Naturally, as the risks rise the potential for significant rewards does too. The economic rationale for risk among Turkish businesses is particularly high, given experiences in difficult environments such as Iraq and Libya. This has contributed to sensible, if risky actions in Somalia.

Fourth is soft power. Turkey has deployed an array of soft power approaches. These include diplomatic support for Somalia and direct flights on the Turkish national airline from Mogadishu to Istanbul. These pragmatic approaches have also led Turkish businesses to reap major financial rewards and lucrative contracts.

Turkey’s interest has shifted from being primarily humanitarian to one that also takes into account the political and security aspects of the country. Doing so, as stated in the Becoming Global Actor: The Turkish Agenda for the Global South has made the country

“a hybrid non-traditional actor because it combines the traditional political-stability perspective of western powers with the economic-trade perspective of emerging ones.”

It also has broken with the traditional development model for Somalia that has characterised the past three decades.

Hybrid approach
Turkey’s hybrid approach may yet lead to mission creep and draw the country into Somalia’s infamous clan politics. Its increasing role could also put it on a collision course with other states, regionally and internationally.

However, its actions have arguably improved the situation in Somalia over the past six years. This is because Ankara has actually attempted to assuage rather than solve Somalia’s long-standing problems outright. Investment is largely driven by profits and assistance is targeted, coordinated and based on needs.

These interventions rarely come with the types of strings attached that characterise other efforts seeking to restructure Somalia. This has been welcomed by many Somalis for whom requirements for political reform or the creation of accountability mechanisms ring hollow.

Brendon J. Cannon, Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities and Social Science, Khalifa University

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Islamic Hijab Is More Than Sexuality




Mohamed Ibrahim
Chairman of London Somali Youth Forum, a London based, UK, Social Activist

In reference to the article published on the Evening Standard on 24 January 2016 and written by Nimco Ali who claimed that the Hijab sexualises little girls, I take the view this article is misleading and intended to cause further confusion on a subject, which the writer does not fully have knowledge of.

I respect and support the FGM campaign and the pursuit of equal rights for women and girls everywhere. However, it seems Nimco Ali is now moving the goal post to Hijab wearing young girls. This, I believe, is a distorted view that serves no purpose other than to confuse the public discourse. Hijab, Kippah and the Turban are personnel choice for parents intended to serve a religious purpose for modesty, social protection and religious entity. This is a religious freedom of choice for parents as they are the parental guardians for our children. It is my view the writer is right to start a discussion on the issue. However, the writer fails to understand the Hijab serves many other purposes other than modesty. It is a form of religious identity for our Muslim girls intended to encourage them about their values. It is my view the writer is attacking a value she has missed out on at young age and I would encourage her to seek further knowledge on the subject before throwing extreme form of liberalism on our faces.

I would like to encourage the mainstream media to seek people of knowledge on the subject matter other than channelling their own comforting views through people who clearly do not know what they are talking about. It is becoming a common trend in the media to have Muslims being represented by people who are themselves in need of rehabilitation, distorting the facts and confusing the wider public for personnel interests or beliefs. It is a comforting view for right-wing audience, but serves no purpose for community cohesion,mutual understanding and knowledge.

These writers or activists can express their own opinions. However, when their glass is half full, they can hardly contribute to progress on a subject matter they have no knowledge of. It is also ironic to have a freedom fighter for women/girls seeking to limit the religious freedoms of our parents and children. The writer’s views have no logic of reasoning, coherence and knowledge of this subject matter.

Mohamed Ibrahim

Chairman of London Somali Youth Forum, a London based, UK, Social Activist
@Mi_shiine (Twitter) 

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Bring Kenyan troops home from Somalia



On January 15, 2016, Kenyans reacted with anger and horror at the news that Al-Shabaab militants had attacked Kenyan troops at a military outpost in El Adde, southern Somalia.

The attackers claimed to have killed dozens of soldiers and captured scores of others, including their commander. To date, the Kenyan military has not released details of the attack, although some reports put the death toll at 100.

The El Adde attack raised serious questions about Kenya’s efforts in Somalia. Why is the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) still in Somalia? What are they trying to accomplish? Why was the outpost vulnerable? When will the troops come home?

The KDF first entered Somalia in 2011 on “Operation Linda Nchi”, aimed at securing the northeastern border with the Horn of Africa nation following a series of attacks on tourists and aid workers.

Until El Adde, things were going well for Kenya, with little violence. The KDF captured Kismayu port, a source of income for Al-Shabaab from charcoal trade and sugar smuggling into Kenya. Ironically, a United Nations report said the KDF was also involved in the illicit trade.


But the cost of Kenyan and Amisom efforts is staggering, with a heavy toll of African troops and Somali civilians. Although Amisom has kept a tight lid on its casualties, more than 4,000 soldiers are said to have been killed and thousands more wounded, making it the deadliest peacekeeping mission.

Due to lack of political progress on the ground, even the United States’ counter-terrorism efforts, billions of dollars in foreign aid and 28,000 AU soldiers from 11 countries are unable to impose order in Somalia. The Mogadishu central government is mired in political infighting over the spoils of foreign aid, factions and corruption.

The president of Somalia is holed up in a hilltop palace in the capital city — where a tenuous government exists that is unable to protect its people, administer justice and deliver basic services.

Al-Shabaab also exploits discontent among marginalised clans in the Shabelle River valley, who believe the US-trained, Al-Shabaab-infested, corrupt, one-clan-dominated Somali National Army (SNA) is using the fight against the Al-Shabaab to grab their fertile land. Although they don’t share the militants’ extremist ideology, they see them as defending their lands from State-backed clan militias.


But southern Somalia’s problems are not limited to Al-Shabaab. There is also small arms in the hands of clan militias and the second-generation of merchants of corruption and violence.

Moreover, the heavy-handed foreign meddling, including self-interested neighbours, impedes creation of a functioning, stable government. In fact, the 2006 US-backed Ethiopian incursion into southern Somalia midwifed the Al-Shabaab.

Then-President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga may have started the Somalia military mission on the wrong foot but President Uhuru Kenyatta has the opportunity to end it well. After all the Kenyan troops are accounted for, he should withdraw the KDF from Somalia in an orderly manner.


The policy on Somalia is neither protecting the homeland nor serving Kenya’s interest. In fact, it has made border counties more vulnerable to attacks.

There is no compelling reason worth risking more Kenyan lives or treasure in Somalia’s clan-driven terrorism or dictating the political outcomes in the war-torn neighbouring country. It’s time to bring Kenyan troops home and let the Somali fight for their own country and destiny.

Mr Mohamed is founder and editor,, a 24/7 online magazine of news analysis and commentary on the greater Horn of Africa region.

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