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Blackened Waters of Somalia



Abukar Arman is a writer, a former diplomat and an activist whose work on foreign policy, geopolitics and faith is widely published.

At this critical juncture and in this particular ‘do or die’ moment in Somali history, objective assessment of new trends has an existential significance. Early this year when the previous Somali President was voted out of the office in favor of a more popular one, the euphoria was so contagious, and expectation so high. Sadly, that was eclipsed by leadership strategic errors and vicious strings of terrorist attacks and targeted assassinations.

With over 30 such attacks since February, the belligerence, frequency and lethal accuracy have set a new precedent. Ironically this came at a time when the new government launched a controversial campaign of what many—especially in Mogadishu—considered selective disarmament, declared an “all-out war” against al-Shabaab and promised to eradicate them within two years.

Naturally, almost all fingers are pointed at the usual suspects, al-Shabaab. And it is hard to dispute when they themselves continue to claim responsibility, though sometimes through spokespersons that are barely known to the public. However, to accept that never-changing narrative that there is only one actor who solely benefits out of conditions of insecurity is to naively assume that all other clandestine armies, scores of shadowy experts and deadbeat ‘security’ gangs across Somalia are there for shark-fin-gazing in the Indian Ocean. In addition, there are the domestic profiteers of chaos who in the past three decades been investing heavily to defend the status quo by any ruthless means necessary.

Dyslexic Priorities

Whatever the end result, no one can accuse the new government of not trying. The government has launched initiatives such as cleaning the city, attending public events to boost public morale, and conducting random office inspections to keep ministers and staff on their toes. While these are good initiatives, there are more critical issues waiting for the government’s full attention. On some of these issues the government has already taken ill-advised approaches.

After declaring war against al-Shabaab, a stealth enemy that is part of the social fabric, and promising to eradicate them “in two years” the government launched a controversial disarmament campaign that many interpreted as a de-fanging process of certain clans and interest groups. Launching such initiative before any attempt was made toward confidence-building or managing perception would only make genuine conciliation facilitated by current government dead on arrival.

The government also declared war against corruption without providing comprehensive definition or what constitutes ‘corruption’, and without pushing through the Parliament all anti-corruption laws and the establishment of an independent commission to fight corruption; especially when clouds of suspicions hover over certain government officials. In clear conflict of interest, some ministers (and MPs) own private security companies that compete for projects. Both the President and the Prime Minister stated publicly that they and all their ministers will declare their individual assets for transparent public scrutiny. Several months into office, officials are yet to make good on those promises.

They also aggressively expanded the selective taxation that targets the likes of fruit venders and Tuk Tuk or Bajaj drivers (3 wheeled taxis) while exempting the conglomerate businesses such as money remittances and phone and internet services.

Private Security Branding

In a clever marketing strategy that exploits consumer biases, major manufacturing companies of household products commonly have several competing brands of the same products side by side in super markets. They even hire different brand managers to advance one product against another, though profits generated from all those products ultimately go to the same owners.

The private mercenary industry clearly duplicated the same strategic marketing, and nowhere is that more apparent than in The Horn.

Horn of Africa is a tough and a high volatile neighborhood. It’s only second to the Middle East where it, in fact, shares many traits- natural resource wealth, historical grievances and suspicions, and leaders with myopic vision and gluttonous appetite for corruption. With Donald Trump being in the White House and UAE establishing its intelligence network and loyal militia in Somalia, the stage is set for a new theater of lucrative clandestine operations. The current volatile political and security landscape could not have been more ideal for Erik Prince, founder of the infamous Blackwater, and companies. If it did not exist, they would’ve invented it.

Erik Prince and companies’ clandestine operations in Somalia began in 2010 when Saracen International appeared in Mogadishu and in Puntland regional administration. However, with Blackwater’s record of crimes against humanity, a loaded name (Saracen), and a good number of their mercenaries being remnants of Apartheid era enforcers, it didn’t take long to attract UN and other human rights groups’ attention. So, Saracen turned into Sterling Corporate Services.

Against that backdrop, the Prince-led Frontier Services Group Limited (aka The Company) comes to the scene to provide “security, insurance and logistics services for companies operating in frontier markets”. So, is it not within the realm of rational skepticism to question the good-faith of any Mafia group offering business protection services, life insurance, and luxury burial/cremation package for a price that you cannot refuse?

Modified Hegemony

In recent decades, Ethiopia has secured itself certain level of authority that made her the de facto hegemon of The Horn. With IGAD being a political rubberstamp where Ethiopia sets the agenda, decides the when and why of every meeting and which one of her concocted initiative gets mandated, it was not that hard.

The good news is with current government, Somalia is no longer entirely obedient to the marching orders of its hegemonic master. Moreover, the Oromo and Amhara peaceful insurgency has on the one hand exposed the repressive tendencies of the Ethiopian government; on the other, the vulnerability of its ethnic federalism. So, Ethiopia was compelled to re-strategize for its own survival. It has settled—at least for now—to remain low profile and calibrate its previous ambition to directly control a good number, if not all, of Somalia’s coveted ports and other resources.

As the de facto custodian of Somalia security that can stabilize or destabilize at will is the guarantor in each of the DP World deals. They are set to make 19 percent in Berbera seaport deal, maybe much more lucrative deals in the Bossasso and Barawe.

The X-Factor

Recently the US has removed Mukhtar Robow out of its terrorist list. This, needless to say, placed Robow on a dangerous stage and under a lethal spotlight. Robow was an enigma. He was considered the man who always gave credence to the narrative that al-Shabaab is not a terrorist organization driven by Somali issues but an organization driven by global ambition that has 700 plus foreign fighters.

Robow was also one of the last high profile Shabaab leaders to be added to the terrorist list. He also had very close relationship with warlords from his region who were loyal to Ethiopia. Days after he was taken out of the list he became under Shabaab attack. Oddly, the Somali government sent its army to defend Robow against his comrades. But this might make clear sense if, in the coming months, Robow and company flee to Barawe and settle there.

Dollars and Dysfunction

The Somali government must muster the courage to call the current international community sponsored and lead counterterrorism and stabilization system what it is: a failed system with a high price tag. Any foreign-driven reconciliation project intended to simply clear the anchorages for lucrative but controversial commercial (and military base) seaport deals in Berbera, Boosaaso, and Barawe will in due course fail. Make no mistake, without effective institutions of checks and balances and political stability, ‘foreign investment’ is euphemism for predatory exploitation or looting.

The new government either failed to understand al-Shabaab for what it truly is: a symptom of a number of root causes such as lack of reconciliation and trust, inept leadership and lack of national vision, chronic reliance on foreign security and funding.

All eyes are on President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo. Somalia cannot afford another four years of sleepwalking into catastrophe- a reinvented web of political, social, economic and geopolitical problems. This nation direly needs a shock therapy.

Therefore, President Farmaajo must go to the Parliament to declare all foreign energy and security related agreements unilaterally signed by regional administrations as null and void. The current trajectory would not only keep Somalia in perpetual dependency but in perpetual violent conflicts.

On September 19th the UN General Assembly debates will open. President should articulate a new vision on that global platform and put pressure on the Security Council to convert AMISOM—minus front line states and private securities—and other forces on the ground (US, UK, UAE, Turkey, etc.) into a U.N. peacekeeping mission. This may achieve three essential objectives: minimize the negative roles played by certain actors, control free flow of arms and centralize the command and control of all militaries on the ground. Equally important, it will sideline the frontline states and private military services.

The UN mission should last no longer than two years- a period long enough for a genuine, Somali-owned and sponsored reconciliation.

Wherever they operate, the latter abides to neither local nor international laws. They thrive in impunity and that is why they have a long atrocious record and that is why they constantly keep reinventing themselves.

Rest assured, in the court of public opinion, every bone they break and every person kill will be blamed on President Farmaajo, UAE and US for ‘ushering in’ these merchants of death and suicide deals.

Meanwhile, unless we change our thinking and attitude, things will remain the same or get worse. Streets will get cleaner for the next tragedy, and Somalia will remain the most attractive playground for zero-sum games, for quick riches, and for undermining political or geopolitical opponents. It is an ever-morphing dangerous environment where the hunter is being hunted.

Abukar Arman is a writer, a former diplomat and an activist whose work on foreign policy, geopolitics and faith is widely published. He also blogs at Foreign Policy Association


Civil strife in Ethiopia has the potential to destabilise the whole region



Ethiopia is experiencing ethnic and political tensions that could have far-reaching implications for its neighbors in the Horn of Africa, and beyond.

Abukar Arman is a writer, a former diplomat and an activist whose work on foreign policy, geopolitics and faith is widely published.

The Horn of Africa is among the most congested, eventful, and most volatile geopolitical intersections on earth. It is where the West meets the East in a highly competitive game of strategic positioning for economic or hegemonic advantage.

China and Turkey who, more or less, employ similar soft-power strategies have tangible investments in various countries in the region, including Ethiopia. However, the widespread discontent with Ethiopia’s repressive impulses and its ethnic favoritism that led to a particular ethnic minority (Tigray) to exclusively operate the state apparatus has inspired Arab Spring-like mass protests. These protests have caused serious rancor within the ruling party. It is only a matter of time before this haemorrhaging government might collapse.

So, who is likely to gain or lose from this imminent shockwave in the region’s balance of power?

The Nile Tsunami

Ethiopia — a country previously considered as a stable regional hegemon, a robust emerging market, and a reliable counter-terrorism partner — is on the verge of meltdown, if not long-term civil strife.

Today, the Ethiopian government is caught between two serious challenges of domestic and foreign nature: the Oromo/Amhara mass protests tacitly supported by the West, and the water rights conflict with Egypt, Sudan and Somalia.

Ethiopia is claiming the lion’s share on the Nile that runs through it and other rivers that flow from its highlands for the Grand Renaissance Dam – thus presenting existential threats to the connected nations.

For the third time in three years, the Shabelle River has dried up, putting millions of Somalis at risk of starvation.

But the current government is not ready for a substantive change of guard. The longer the mass protests continue and the minority-led government continues to offer artificial or symbolic gestures of prisoner releases — while declaring a second ‘state of emergency’ in two years— the faster Ethiopia will become destabilised and the faster foreign investments will fizzle away.

Worse — though seemingly unthinkable — the ‘favorite nation’ status granted to Ethiopia after becoming the US’ main partner in the global ‘War on Terroris’ is slowly corroding.

Despite this week’s visit from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the US State Department is gradually turning its back on Ethiopia for a number of reasons; chief among them, is its double-dealings on the South Sudan issue.

Despite the facade of US/China collaboration to end the South Sudan civil war, the geopolitical rivalry between these two giants has been pressuring Ethiopia to pledge exclusive allegiance to one over the other.

With China’s huge investments on Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan’s oil fields – making a choice won’t be too difficult.

The Kenya Factor

Several years ago I wrote an article arguing that the two most stable nations in the Horn (Kenya and Ethiopia) will become more unstable as Somalia becomes more stable.

Today, the Ethiopian government is facing the most serious threat since it took power by the barrel of the gun, and Kenya has a highly polarised population and two presidents ‘elected’ along clan lines.

Kenya — the nerve center of the international humanitarian industry — could just be one major incident away from inter-clan combustion.

The Somalia Factor

The Ethiopian government has launched a clandestine campaign of strategic disinformation intended to fracture or breakup opposition coalitions and recruit or lure potential comrades.

Ethiopian intelligence officers and members of the diplomatic corps together with some ethnic-Somali Ethiopians have been recruiting naive Somali government officials, intellectuals and activists with a Machiavellian disinformation campaign.

Meanwhile, IGAD — Ethiopia’s regional camouflage — calls for an open-borders agreement between member states. Despite broad-based public perception that for a fragile state like Somalia, such an agreement would be tantamount to annexation, some Somali politicians are eagerly carrying its banner.

These kinds of desperate campaigns and the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn only underscore the fact that the government’s days are numbered.

The Sudan Factor

Sudan is caught in a loyalty triangle (Ethiopia, Egypt and Turkey) with competing powers. Sudan needs Egypt to address threats faced by the two nations regarding the diminishing access to the Nile by reasserting rights granted through the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty.

It needs Ethiopia to protect China’s economic partnership and to shield President Omar al Bashir from Western harassment through IGAD.

It also needs Turkey for development and for a long-term strategic partnership. Sudan has become the second country in Africa to grant Turkey a military base, with Somalia being the first.

The Eritrea Factor

When neocons dominated US foreign policy and the global ‘War on Terror’ was the order of all orders, Eritrea was slapped with sanctions. It was accused of being the primary funder and weapons supplier to al Shabab.

Today, though neither the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia or Eritrea nor any expert free from Ethiopian influence holds such a view, yet the sanctions have not been lifted.

The Ethiopian lobby and certain influential elements within US foreign policy-making circles continue to label Eritrea as a Marxist rogue state that undermines regional institutions such as IGAD and international ones like the UN Security Council; a closed society that espouses a deep rooted hatred towards the West.

Against that backdrop, the UAE has been investing heavily in Eritrea since 2015 or the beginning of the Yemen war that has created one of the the worst humanitarian disasters. The Emirati military (and its Academi/Blackwater shadow) now operates from a military base in Assab. Whether that’s a Trojan Horse or not, is a different discussion altogether.

Ins And Outs

The current wave of discontent against the Ethiopian government is likely to continue. But, considering how the Tigray has a total control on all levers of power, a transition of power will not be an easy process.

Ethiopia is also rumoured to have created an ethnically Somali counterinsurgency force in the Liyu Police. This ruthless force has already been used against the Oromos as they were used against Somalis of various regions that share a border with Ethiopia.

The extrajudicial killings and human rights violations are well documented. Despite all this, the Oromo and Amhara are set to reach their objectives albeit with bruised and bloody faces.

Will their coalition remain or, due to their historical distrust, will each eventually invoke its constitutional right to secede?

Whatever the outcome, any scenario of civil war or chaos in Ethiopia could put the entire Horn in danger and create a potential humanitarian catastrophe, especially in Somalia.

Meanwhile South Sudan is a lightyear away from sustainable political reconciliation especially since the foreign elements fueling the fire are not likely to stop any time soon. Djibouti remains the host of the most intriguing geopolitical circus. So, that leaves Eritrea as an island of stability in the region.

In the foreseeable future, Turkey could divest her investment out of Ethiopia into Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. China will diversify her portfolio to include Eritrea. And the US — with no new policy — will continue droning her way through geopolitical schizophrenia.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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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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