For over a week now, since the shocking attack that killed hundreds of people in Mogadishu, I’ve been seeking to raise money for the only free ambulance service in the Somali capital. But as the days have gone I’ve noticed just how muted the public and official response has been to what – with 358 dead, 56 missing and 228 injured – must count among the world’s worst terror atrocities.
On hearing the first reports and seeing pictures of the vast black plume of smoke, I realised this was unlike the typical, low-level terror attacks that have plagued Mogadishu.
The Zoobe district was a lively area shaded by palm trees, full of small traders, businesses, hotels and cafes – with a busy four-lane highway cutting through it. At 3pm on the day, people were shifting gears: from primary school to home, from university to socialising, from siesta to work. Suddenly every building in the district was flattened, ash and dust billowing away to reveal total devastation – as if the district had seen months of war and heavy shelling.
The remains of the first 165 unidentified victims were so badly damaged that what could be found was hastily buried in a mass funeral the next day. The truck bomb went off beside a fuel tanker so there are people who will never be traced, whose disappearance has left families emotionally and financially crippled.
You see their names and faces on Gurmad252, a crisis response organisation staffed by volunteers who aim to identify the victims of the attack and raise funds for the survivors. Many of the missing were just starting their lives, unsurprising for a country where 62% of the population is under 24 years old: they include first division footballers (Mustaf Qoor), medical students just about to qualify (Maryan Cabdullahi), shoe-shiners (Catar Aden) and so many more.
The militant group al-Shabaab, which has lost much of the territory it controlled in Somalia over the last few years, continues to snipe away at soft targets. It is yet to take responsibility for the Zoobe attack, but there is little doubt regarding its culpability.
The famed make-do-and-mend resilience of Mogadishu is built on the reputation of groups such as Aamin Ambulance. I had first seen their work online, a few months ago, when they responded to a much smaller attack.
They rushed to the scene even though security forces often fire at ambulances in the confusion of smoke and crowds. And when I contacted them via Twitter on the night of the attack their primary concern was not for themselves, but whether there would be another attack that they would not have the resources to deal with.
Led by a dentist, Abdulkadir Adan – who was inspired by the work of the Pakistani humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi – the service rushes into danger zones in a fleet of second-hand ambulances that once belonged to the fire service of a tiny Japanese island. They needed radios urgently, Adan said, because they relied on mobile phones to communicate, and the network was jammed with people trying to locate loved ones.
The GoFundMe appeal for Aamin Ambulance quickly took on a life of its own with donations from the supermodel Iman, the rapper K’naan and the group Coldplay: from Finland to South Korea, money arrives.
We raised our target two times, and were elated when the United Nations donated 36 radios – so we could concentrate on other urgent supplies. I saw humanity and solidarity and didn’t think to ask who hadn’t been moved by this catastrophe – until I realised that London, my home city, had not marked this atrocity the way it has those in western cities: no flags at half-mast, no illumination of the London Eye in the blue and white of the Somali flag – not even a tweet from mayor Sadiq Khan. This failure to respond publicly was not inevitable but a choice – a choice that was not made in Istanbul, Toronto, Paris or Kuala Lumpur.
So how many dead Somalis does it take to muster the kind of sympathy that gushes out for cities closer to home?.Well, it seems that 358 dead is too low.
Despite some western newspapers, including the Guardian, putting the attack on their front pages, compassion seems to be ebbing daily. There are many out there who prefer easy, flippant excuses – “That’s the religion of peace for you” – than to use their imagination and curiosity to offer sympathy to an individual who suffers and grieves no less than they.
Donate at : https://www.gofundme.com/HelpAaminAmbulance
Turkey’s foray into Somalia is a huge success, but there are risks
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.
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
Islamic Hijab Is More Than Sexuality
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.
Chairman of London Somali Youth Forum, a London based, UK, Social Activist
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, Gubanmedia.com, a 24/7 online magazine of news analysis and commentary on the greater Horn of Africa region. email@example.com.
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