Connect with us

Somali News

How the Gulf crisis is destabilising Somalia



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.

Somali News

Somali president sacks Mogadishu mayor, names replacement



The president, in a decree, named Abdirahman Omar Osman as the new mayor, replacing Taabit Abdi Mohamed. The president’s office did not give a reason for Mohamed’s dismissal.

Local media reported on Saturday that Mohamed and Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire did not get on, but it was unclear whether that was the reason for Mohamed’s removal from the post.

“After deliberation with the prime minister and interior minister, the Somali president appointed Abdirahman Omar Osman as the new mayor,” a statement on the Somali government website said.

Mogadishu residents said security forces had entered the mayor’s office on Saturday night and took control of it. They also closed most roads in the city and they were still blocked on Sunday.

The information minister could not be immediately reached for comment.

Somalia has been mired by security problems since 1991 when war lords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Backed by the African Union force AMISOM, the government is struggling to defeat an Islamist insurgency by the al Shabaab group.

Al Shabaab wants to topple the government and establish its own rule based on its interpretation of sharia law.

Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; writing by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Susan Fenton

Continue Reading

Somali News

Facebook plan to combat fake news draws scepticism



Social media experts have expressed doubts over the effectiveness of Facebook’s plan to combat fake news by surveying users on what news sources they find trustworthy.

In a post on his personal page on Friday evening, Facebook’s CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg said he wanted to make sure news consumed on the platform was from “high quality and trusted sources”.

“There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today,” wrote Zuckerberg.

“Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them.”

Zuckerberg’s plan to combat misinformation spread on the platform involves asking Facebook’s users whether they find particular news sources trustworthy.

Facebook, which is not expected to release the results of the survey, hopes that the results will “shift the balance of news” seen by users towards sources that are determined to be trustworthy.

However, social media analysts had reservations over the effectiveness of the plan, questioning whether this was the best way to go about tackling the issue.

Technology analyst Larry Magid told Al Jazeera’s NewsGrid that the survey risked taking into account opinions formed from prejudices against, or preference, for certain outlets instead of whether they were trustworthy or accurate.

“Simply because something is well liked by a percentage of the public, doesn’t mean it’s reliable,” he said.

“There are people who love news sites that are objectively untrue – that doesn’t require an opinion, that’s something you can establish by fact,” added Magid.

Magid explained that it was encouraging that Facebook had chosen to survey a representative sample but others were more blunt with their criticism of the plan.

Matt Navarra, the Head of Social Media at The Next Web, tweeted: “Facebook announces it will start asking users to decide which publishers are trustworthy in order to filter out news content. The same Facebook users who constantly fail to spot Fake News and share it widely.”
Not all analysts, however, were critical of the move. Renee DiResta, policy lead at Data for Democracy, said Facebook’s decision was “great news and a long time coming”.

“Google has been ranking for quality for a long time, it’s a bit baffling how long it took for social networks to get there,” she wrote on Twitter.

Concerns about so-called fake news have grown in tandem with the spread of social media.

The term is used to refer to deliberate publication and sharing of misinformation by ideologically motivated internet trolls and governments, but has also been used by politicians to dismiss critical coverage.

Continue Reading

Somali News

Bangkok’s Somali refugees persecuted and living in fear



Bangkok, Thailand – “I’ve never experienced cold like this,” says RK, a 19-year-old Somali refugee, as he sits in a downtown Bangkok alley one December morning.

It is 20 degrees, and opposite is the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Center, an office building concealing thousands of undocumented migrants.

It is a stone’s throw from Bangkok’s gregarious tourist district, and RK’s wife and nine-month-old daughter are being held inside.

“They kicked my door down and took my family when I was away,” RK says, referring to an immigration raid at his home three months earlier, as part of a crackdown on undocumented migrants.

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, told Al Jazeera that Bangkok is home to a growing community of approximately 4,500 refugees and 2,000 asylum-seekers from more than 50 countries.

Regarded as “illegal aliens” under Thai law, RK’s wife and daughter face a period of indefinite detention. They will only be released by relocation to a third country, a lengthy process.

An undocumented migrant and former detainee himself, RK relies upon volunteers to relay messages of hope on his behalf.

An exact breakdown of the origins of refugee communities in Thailand is not available.

But compared with Europe, Thailand is in seen as being in easier reach and more hospitable among Pakistani, Somali, Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian migrants and refugees – all of whom flock to the Asian country.

These were among the considerations that drew RK to the city. Three years earlier, when he was 16 years old, he fled Mogadishu, the Somali capital, after his father was killed in an al-Shabab car bomb attack.

Fearing for his life, RK’s family paid smugglers $2,000 to escort him on a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, one of the few countries where Somali citizens do not require visas.

From there, he was transported 1,500km in the back of a truck on a three-day journey up the Malay Peninsula to Bangkok – home to UNHCR’s Regional Office for Southeast Asia, and a city from where he could apply for asylum.

“They told me it would be safe to live and work here until I got accepted into another country,” says RK, talking of his smugglers.

But misinformation and false hope are the currencies that sustain the smuggling industry, with the reality on the ground remaining far bleaker.

Thailand is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and Thailand’s Immigration Act does not distinguish between refugees, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

Consequently, all undocumented migrants remain at the mercy of immigration officials who regularly arrest and incarcerate anyone unable to produce valid visas.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), this approach is central to the Thai government’s immigration policy informed by the magnet effect; a belief that making conditions as inhospitable as possible for refugees and asylum seekers will deter future arrivals.

As a result, they face crippling government-imposed restrictions on access to healthcare and education. Most debilitating is the inability to earn money legally.

UNHCR in Bangkok told Al Jazeera that due to financial shortfalls, the agency uses panels to assess the needs of refugees and “target assistance on the most vulnerable”.

Most are employed illegally and exploited.

“I received 1,500 thai baht ($47) for working 60 hours a week in a kitchen,” RK explains. “But my boss even took this away after three months because he was scared of getting caught.”

With the threat of arrest and detention constantly looming, avoiding unwanted attention from authorities is the foremost daily consideration.

With the vast majority of migrants confined to poorer Thai communities on the city’s outskirts, keeping a low profile is a must. Most spend long days confined to crowded and squalid apartments.

“Immigration [officials] bang on the doors almost every week shouting ‘Somalis come out!’. Sometimes they come inside and take people,” says 18-year-old Abdirahim, a member of a minority clan threatened with violence in his home city of Mogadishu. He arrived in Bangkok alone at the age 15.

He shares a single-room apartment with four other Somali men, none of whom are older than 20 and all are also members of minority clans in Somalia at risk of violence. The men estimate that there are seven other apartments in the building housing people of African and Middle Eastern origin living in similar circumstances.

This consigns them to a life subsisting on irregular handouts from increasingly stretched refugee support networks

Despite having had their claims of asylum verified through extensive interviews and background checks as part of UNCHR’s Refugee Status Determination – with all carrying identity cards stating as much – Abdirahim and his roommates remain too frightened to leave their home unless absolutely essential.

“I’m scared to go out or I will be arrested and locked up again … I’m powerless to do anything to help myself so I just sleep,” he says.

Life inside immigration prisons offers a different kind of misery.

With access heavily restricted, accounts of abysmal conditions are known only from the testimonies of former detainees released on a now-defunct bail system that was operated at the discretion of immigration officials until mid-2016.

“I was in a cell with 120 men, only three times as big as this room,” Abdirahim explains, gesturing to his cramped apartment of 350 square feet. “Food was rice and soup twice a day. I would sleep on the concrete floor and only saw the sun every three days.”

Despite several attempts, representatives of the Thai Immigration Bureau for comment did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Immigration detention of refugee and asylum-seeking children in Thailand violates the rights of children under international law.

Although he was a minor, Abdirahim spent two years in these conditions between the ages of 15 and 17 before being bailed out by a refugee support charity.

This practice of indefinitely detaining children among adults concerns rights groups. HRW says it violates Thailand’s obligations under international law and puts children at risk of sexual and physical abuse..

When Al Jazeera visited a detention centre, this reporter witnessed at least five children aged up to 10.

The Thai government has publicly affirmed its commitment to ending some immigration practices. In September 2016, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pledged to end the detention of refugee children during a speech at the US-hosted Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis.

But UNHCR said it was unable to access figures for the exact number of minors in immigration prisons in Thailand and was unaware of a definitive end date for this practice.

In practice, the future for Bangkok’s refugees and asylum seekers remains precarious.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, told Al Jazeera that the Thai government has “dragged its feet for decades” on the issue of immigration reforms.

Some officials simply believe that “migrants and refugees do not deserve any better”, he said.

With returning home tantamount to a death sentence for most, receiving asylum in a third country remains perhaps the best hope.

“I wish I never came here,” says Abdirahim, standing on his balcony overlooking a bustling Bangkok street below. “I will go anywhere now. Anywhere where I will be safe and can start living my life.”

Continue Reading