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How the Gulf crisis is destabilising Somalia

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The Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates (UAE) decision to break relations with Qatar, and more importantly their insistence for others to follow their lead, has pitted the Federal Government of Somalia (‘Somali government’) against many of its federal member states. This has created a serious challenge for the country’s nascent state-building process.

When Saudi Arabia cut ties with Qatar in June this year, it was the third time in three years that the nation (with the UAE close behind) had called on the Horn of Africa to remake its foreign policy in line with Riyadh. In 2015, Saudi Arabia convinced the entire Horn – except Ethiopia – to sign up to its coalition against the Houthi movement in Yemen; a key priority given Iran’s support for the Houthis, who are also Shia Muslims. Then in early 2016 when Saudi Arabia broke relations with Iran, Djibouti, Sudan and Somalia did so as well.

Both these developments demonstrated how Saudi Arabia views its relationship with the Horn first and foremost via the prism of its proxy war with Iran, and the success its incentive-laden foreign policy has had on this front. After the break in relations with Qatar, Somalia – under the newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo) – remained neutral. This threw Somalia into chaos, with the government coming under fire both internally and externally.

At heart are two interrelated concerns – unclear definitions of the roles and responsibilities between the Somali government and the six federal member states in practice; and the undercutting of the weak Somali state-building project by external actors.

In the first instance, Farmajo’s position has proved unpopular to many in Somalia who believe the potential benefits of siding with Saudi Arabia and the UAE far outweigh those associated with neutrality (which in essence is a vote for Qatar). Opponents note that the Saudi Arabia-UAE contingent offers Somalia much more in terms of a market for livestock exports, a source of migrant remittances and opportunities for ports management than Qatar can compete with. Nonetheless, Farmajo has held his ground.

In August Puntland announced it was breaking from the Somali government’s position of neutrality, citing its strategic relationships with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Dubai-based P&O Ports secured a 30-year concession for Puntland’s main port of Bosaso earlier this year, which probably influenced the decision and underlined the claim that siding with the Saudi-UAE camp was more beneficial.

This presented a clear challenge to the Somali government. Article 54 of the Somali Provisional Constitution allocates it the sole responsibility for foreign affairs, but Article 53 notes that the government should consult the federal member states ‘on negotiations relating to foreign aid, trade, treaties, or other major issues related to international agreements’.

It was the lack of consultation that Puntland cited. Its decision was followed in September by similar declarations from the South West and Galmudug administrations, openly challenging the Somali government’s policy. Both regions also cited the lack of consultation, again raising questions as to specific roles and responsibilities within Somalia’s federal system.

The challenges have not stopped there. Days after announcing his break with Farmajo’s foreign policy, Galmudug regional president Ahmed Duale Gelle Haaf was voted out of office by a faction of his region’s lawmakers. The Somali government supported the move, which Haaf claimed was illegal, orchestrated from Mogadishu and in reaction to his foreign policy stance. Other federal member states agreed, opposing Haaf’s ousting and the government’s apparent interference. Haaf himself maintained the support of another faction, in effect dividing Galmudug in two.

These developments demonstrate how the relationship between the Somali government and its federal member states is being threatened, with the resulting politicking a worrying prospect for building Somali stability at a local level. A similar no confidence motion may occur in the South West, while ex-HirShabelle leader Ali Abdullahi Osoble was also removed from office shorty after opposing the government’s stance.

The need for clearly defined roles and responsibilities in Somalia’s federal system is apparent now more than ever. The lack of agreement means that parties work together when convenient, but don’t when it’s not. It also allows for manipulation underpinned by a lack of trust, with accusations of the Somali government’s involvement in internal federal member state electoral processes, and the latter’s demands for a role in foreign affairs.

The tensions between the government and the federal member states go well beyond the Qatar crisis, and remain perhaps the biggest stumbling block to resurrecting a coherent Somali state.

Nonetheless, while the crisis has highlighted this internal dilemma, this has been exacerbated by outside actors. Not being able to convince Farmajo to change his mind, the UAE set out instead to undermine his position by appealing directly to the federal member states. For example, South West leader Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden reportedly visited the UAE right before his decision, while Haaf travelled there right after.

The UAE has always maintained relations with Somalia’s federal member states in a way that other external actors involved in Somalia, such as Turkey, have not. Yet the UAE’s active bypassing of the Somali government in this case undermines its authority, contributing to an erosion of the state-building process in which the international community has invested so much.

In this sense, it highlights another common problem inherent in the Somali arena – international actors may engage a weak Somali government when it suits their needs, but pursue other means when it doesn’t. (Saudi Arabia is taking a different tack than the UAE, however, as Farmajo recently visited the country and secured a $50-million donation for the Somali government.)

In short, the Qatar crisis has highlighted some major tensions in Somalia’s state-building process, demonstrating how easily this fragile project can become unhinged. Until there is clear agreement between the Federal Government of Somalia and the federal member states on the roles and responsibilities of each, combined with implementation mechanisms and respect from external actors, state-building in Somalia will be subject to persistent crises and incremental gains.

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Aamir Khan: The snake charmer – Witness

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Aamir Khan is one of the most popular and influential Bollywood actors in India today. He became a star of Hindi cinema in the 1980s, and his greatest commercial successes have been the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time.

Yet in 2012, Khan’s career took an unexpected turn. Together with a childhood friend, he created a TV series called Satyamev Jayate which became the first prime time TV show in India to expose the country’s most critical social issues – from rape to female foeticide and dowry killings.

Aamir Khan was used to portraying macho men on a quest for vengeance and belongs to an industry accused of denigrating women and encouraging sexual violence.

But now, the 48 year old actor with Peter Pan charm risks his career by challenging men to re-examine their attitudes and behavior towards women, confronting the spiraling wave of gender-based violence in India and defying age-old stereotypes.

The snake charmer follows Khan on a journey through India’s TV and Bollywood film industry, as he attempts to change the way Indians perceive and treat women.

From the set of Satyamev Jayate, the film follows Aamir Khan backstage to his new Bollywood blockbuster Dangal.

Khan’s quest ultimately opens a window into a country in crisis and into the changes it is undergoing.

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Somali News

Under Trump, The Pentagon Has Been Quietly Escalating Its Presence In Somalia

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Like Niger, the increase in US troops deployed to Somalia has gone largely unnoticed.

BUZZFEED — The Trump administration has been quietly but rapidly escalating its campaign against al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, launching almost daily drone strikes in recent days and increasing the number of US troops deployed there almost tenfold since May.

Like Niger, where a growing US military presence was widely recognized only after four US troops were killed last month, the expansion in Somalia has been largely unnoticed. But this week, the Pentagon acknowledged that the number of US troops in Somalia had grown to 500 from 50 in the spring and that US aircraft had struck targets of the al-Shabaab terrorist group six days in a row.

The growing Somalia presence now rivals the US presence in Syria, where defense officials say 503 US troops currently are operating.

Still, US officials deny that the US is ramping up its involvement in Somalia 24 years after 18 US soldiers died in conflict, as memorialized in the movie Black Hawk Down.

“I would not associate that with a buildup,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters on Thursday. “I think it’s just the flow of forces in and out as different organizations come in that might be sized a little differently.”

A series of five US air strikes in Somalia killed 40 al-Shabaab and ISIS fighters between Nov. 9 and 12, according to the Pentagon. A sixth strike killed “several” more on Wednesday. The US military has carried out 28 drone strikes in the country this year, with 15 of those happening in the last three months, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks the strikes.

There were 15 strikes against al-Shabaab in all of 2016. Even so, defense officials denied that this was an escalation.

“I certainly don’t think there’s a ramp-up of attacks,” McKenzie said. “There’s no particular rhythm to (striking targets), except that as they become available and as we’re able to process them and vet them, we strike.”

This month, the US also conducted the first strikes against ISIS targets in Somalia. Pentagon officials say the US is keeping a close eye on the movement of foreign fighters out of Iraq and Syria as ISIS is pushed back there, but gave no details on whether they might be trekking into Somalia.

“US forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats,” US Africa Command said Wednesday in a statement on the strikes.

While al-Shabaab has called for attacks on the US and the West, and even featured comments by President Donald Trump about Muslims in a 2016 recruitment video, it has not carried out any attacks outside the region. The insurgents, who seek to impose their strict version of Islam on the country, have been fighting to recapture territory they’ve lost to African Union peacekeepers and topple Somalia’s Western-backed government.

Last month, al-Shabaab was blamed for the deadliest terrorist attack in Somalia’s history, a truck bomb that killed more than 350 people when it detonated at a busy intersection in Mogadishu, the country’s capital. Al-Shabaab also has been blamed for many other attacks, including the September 2013 siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that left at least 67 dead. It also has stepped up the sophistication of its attacks, nearly succeeding in bringing down a Somali commercial aircraft in February by hiding a bomb in a laptop computer.

A small number of US forces have been in Somalia on so-called advise-and-assist missions since 2013, working with the country’s military to plan and support raids against al-Shabaab. One such raid, targeting a terrorist compound in May, led to the first US combat fatality in Somalia since the Black Hawk Down attack in 1993. A Navy SEAL was killed and two other US service members were wounded.

The recently intensified campaign comes after the Trump administration in March gave the military broader authority to carry out counterterrorism strikes in Somalia, relaxing rules meant to avoid civilian deaths. Two months earlier, the White House had made a similar move in Yemen, giving the military more freedom to target al-Qaeda militants.

“It’s very important and very helpful for us to have little more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of the decision-making process,” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who oversees US troops in Africa, explained in March. “It allows us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion.”

Under the previous restrictions imposed by President Barack Obama in 2013, raids and air strikes were vetted by multiple agencies, and targets could be struck only if they posed a threat to Americans and could be hit without killing civilians.

The loosened rules have led to some “very disturbing” incidents where civilians have died, setting off a furious debate among leaders of the fragile central government, said Roland Marchal, an expert on al-Shabaab at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, known as Sciences Po, who had just returned from Mogadishu when he spoke to BuzzFeed News on Friday.

In one incident, 10 civilians, including three children, were killed in a US-backed raid in August in the village of Barire. The wrapped bodies of the victims were displayed in the capital to garner media attention, as the deputy governor of the region described how unarmed farmers had been killed “one by one.”

US Africa Command confirmed that US troops had participated in the raid and that it was “aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Barire.” It said it would conduct an assessment but didn’t respond to a request for comment about the inquiry.

“This was a really bad moment for the government, a lot of infighting and turmoil with people saying contradictory things, they had to pay the families blood money, and at the end of the day nothing has improved on the ground,” said Marchal. “The US [efforts] are not becoming any more popular.”

Faulty intelligence has also hampered some previous US strikes. A September 2016 strike in Galcayo, a city more than 350 miles northeast of Mogadishu, killed local militia forces allied with the US, not al-Shabaab fighters as the Pentagon had thought.

Simply increasing the body count of al-Shabaab militants is unlikely to significantly change the group’s hold in the region, Marchal said.

“You may be counting the corpses of militants and make wonderful statements of victory, but politically you’re losing,” he said. “People have to be aware that this overwhelming military approach is dysfunctional. … On the ground there’s a situation where you may be killing important figures, but it’s difficult to believe that this will significantly harm al-Shabaab because it’s a widespread organization and the Americans are targeting military commanders who could be replaced.”

In May, Mattis attended a conference on Somalia in London, where he had a private meeting with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

“I came away from that heartened,” he told reporters returning from the trip.

Mattis said international partners were working on “a reconciliation program designed to pull the fence-sitters and the middle-of-the-roaders away from al-Shabaab.”

US operations in Africa have been under scrutiny since the Oct. 4 ambush in Niger that killed four US soldiers, which drew attention to the little-known US involvement on the African continent. Lawmakers admitted they had no idea that the Pentagon had deployed more than 800 troops to that country.

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Somali News

Somali Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry finds the rendition of Qalbi Dhagah was “illegal”.

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The rendition of Abdikarim Muse Qalbi Dhagax, ONLF commander and former Somali military officer to Ethiopian was illegal, a report by parliamentary committee said.

The report endorsed by Somali parliament on Saturday has also dismissed outlawing ONLF as a terrorist organization.

The parliamentary commission formed mid-September to probe the circumstances under which Qalbi Dhagah was extradited, blamed Somalia’s Intelligence agency for providing misinformation about the victim.

“Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency had provided the government leaders with wrong information and subsequently hid the case of Qalbi Dhagah from the justice department,” reads the report submitted to the House this morning.

The 15 member committee probed and reviewed the previous so-called Security agreement between Somalia and Ethiopian in relation to this matter.

“The government should mull over the previous deals and should keep away all matters that can lead insecurity,”  the committee urged the government in its report which overwhelmingly got 152 votes out 161 of  today’s session.

Qalbi Dhagah was handed over to Ethiopia on 28th August this year following a raid by Somali force on his hotel in Galkayo, central Somalia.

Days after the extradition, Somali cabinet had defended the rendition labeling as ONLF outlawed terrorist group.

The government of Ethiopia confirmed the handing over, citing a security partnership treaty between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu.

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