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Kenya invited to US party for abstaining on Jerusalem vote at the UN



Kenya has been invited to a January 3 US “friendship” reception for United Nations member-states that did not vote in opposition to Donald Trump’s decision to move Washington’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem.

The invitation intended “to thank you for your friendship to the United States” was extended to Kenya and 63 other countries by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN. She and President Trump had earlier warned of possible US retaliation against states that opposed the embassy move.

Kenya was among 21 countries that failed to vote in the UN General Assembly on Thursday. The resolution that in effect condemned Mr Trump’s decision won overwhelming approval, with 128 countries voting in favour, nine in opposition and 35 abstaining.


In a Twitter message after the vote, Kenyan UN Ambassador Macharia Kamau said Kenya would have joined the group of abstainers had Nairobi’s UN mission in New York been operating on Thursday.

The envoy noted on Twitter that the mission had shut down on Wednesday for the festive season, with the result that Kenya was “officially MIA” [missing in action] for the UN vote.

Ambassador Kamau did not respond to a Nation query as to why the Kenya mission had closed while those of 172 other UN member countries were functioning sufficiently to cast votes on the Jerusalem resolution.

“KE has voted for ALL liberation movements consistently for 53 years and even hosted meetings on Palestine in Nairobi and elsewhere,” Ambassador Kamau tweeted on Thursday.

He added that it is Kenya’s policy to abstain on UN resolutions specific to particular countries, with the exceptions of Palestine and Cuba. Ambassador Kamau said Thursday’s resolution was specific to the US.

Kenya’s actual absence or its projected abstention may also reflect a reluctance to jeopardise its standing as the top recipient of US aid in sub-Saharan Africa.


Kenya also likely wished to avoid offending Israel, which provides development aid and security assistance aimed at thwarting attacks by Al-Shabaab.

According to the US Agency for International Development, Kenya was given a total of $1.1 billion in assistance from all US agencies in fiscal 2016.

Uganda, which ranked as the sub-Saharan region’s third-largest recipient of US aid, also chose not to risk a reduction of its $741 million in assistance. Uganda abstained on Thursday’s vote, as did Rwanda ($268 million in US aid) and South Sudan ($708 million).

Tanzania, however, voted against the US position despite receiving $629 million from Washington last year. Somalia also defied the US on the Jerusalem issue. Somalia’s US aid total is listed as $275 million, but the country benefits from hundreds of millions more in US assistance in the form of subsidies to the African Union force fighting Al-Shabaab as well as training of Somali troops by US instructors.

Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia were among other African countries that voted against the US on Thursday. Togo was the only sub-Saharan nation to cast a vote in favour of the US embassy shift.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s overall showing on the UN Jerusalem resolution may be regarded by Israel as a generally positive outcome.


Some Israeli commentators are arguing that the total of seven African abstainers and eight no-shows, including Kenya, points to the partial success of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent diplomatic forays into the sub-Saharan region.

“Israel is coming back to Africa; Africa is coming back to Israel,” he declared in July.

Explaining why he is undertaking a political offensive in Africa, Mr Netanyahu further stated, “My goal is to erode this majority, this great blocking majority of 54 African countries that is the basis of the automatic majority against Israel in the UN and other international bodies.”

Israel’s attempts to win friends in Africa have also been rebuffed.

An Israel-Africa summit scheduled for October in Togo was cancelled after Palestine urged a boycott of the event. Israel said the cancellation was due to unrest in Togo.


In 2016, the Jewish state angrily recalled its Senegal ambassador after the West African country co-sponsored a UN Security Council resolution demanding a halt to Israeli settlement activity in occupied Palestinian territory.

But Israel later returned its envoy to Senegal.

Again defying Israel, Senegal voted on Thursday in support of the UN resolution condemning the US embassy move to Jerusalem.

Senegal may have calculated that it can count on receiving Israeli assistance regardless of whatever threats or diplomatic gestures the Jewish state might initiate.

African recipients of US aid who voted in the UN against Mr Trump’s stance may have similarly decided that the US president’s threats of retaliation were mere political bluster.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert implied after the UN vote that the US is backing away from its warnings of a possible aid cut.

“The president had said yesterday that the UN vote is really not the only factor that the administration would take into consideration in dealing with our foreign relations and countries who have chosen to go one way or the other,” Ms Nauert told reporters.

Briefing Room

‘Sense of duty’ sees Somali refugees head home



Slapping a large piece of equipment wrapped in packing materials, Dr Mohamed Hussein Aden smiles: “The Swiss sent us this but unfortunately not with the instruction manual so we don’t know how to use it. It’s sat here for a good few years now. Shame really.” The ceiling of the theatre is sagging and the operating table stained and split. It’s a far cry from Harrow, north London, where Aden lived and worked before returning in 2012 to Somalia, from where he fled as a refugee in 1994.

Now he is the director of Galkayo hospital, the main facility for the inhabitants of Somalia’s third city and for those living for hundreds of miles around in the drought-hit countryside.

“I came back in 2012. We Somalians have always felt a duty, an obligation, to support those back home, and now we are coming back, bringing the skills back, engineering, building, medicine. So many of our politicians are from the diaspora,” said Aden, 62, who harbours political ambitions. Four of his six children have returned with him, he said, seeing Somalia’s fragile peace as an opportunity.

Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, has dual US and Somalian citizenship. In his cabinet and ministries British accents vie with those from US, Canada and other parts of Europe. The aid agencies and civil society are full of young people like Saredo Mohamed, 22, born in Canada to Somali parents, who is relearning her mother tongue and culture.

“You see a lot of people in my age group coming back, it is a wonderful opportunity to give back and also to learn about my culture,” she said. Mohamed is working at Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, founded by her aunt Hawa Aden Mohamed, another returnee from Canada.

The sheer numbers of diaspora returnees is unique to a country that has seen decades of war and lawlessness. In 2015, two million Somalis living outside the country were sending home so much money to support the households who stayed behind that the remittances accounted for 23% of GDP.

There have been tensions. Local Somalis have sometimes demanded more rights than those who have spent decades or whole lives abroad while returnees have been accused of assuming superiority due to their education and experience. A symposium was held in the capital Mogadishu last June to attempt to bridge such gaps.

“Such efforts hope to see people who have stayed and foreign returnees rebuilding Somalia together,” said Aden. “The diaspora has a big role, many of the young people come back and have a real culture shock. My son, 25, was really shocked when he arrived from London, it took 35 days for him to assimilate, now he is drinking camel’s milk!

“Myself, I came back after 28 years because my sister was dying. I said I would stay three months. Here I am after five years.”

Aden shows the work being done on a new building in the hospital’s compound: “Eighty per cent of the funding comes directly from the diaspora, mainly Europe, the Scandinavians, Denmark. We are really changing the town.” The construction work is being done by a company owned by Ali Dhaaf Abdi, aged 42, fresh from Norway. His Norwegian-born wife is still adjusting to this dusty city where only a handful of buildings are over one storey, and only one more than two storeys. “We will soon change that,” said Abdi. “For $25,000 I can build you a house for a family of four … I am building houses here for people from Sweden, from Canada, from the UK.

“I came back because while it is easy to make a business in Europe, it is difficult to grow bigger. Here I can expand. And this is my country. Now I have 120 employees. They welcome me here for the jobs.

“I do miss the security, Galkayo is very fragile. I also miss supermarkets and the high quality of clothing, but the education is the same. We have good wi-fi, my children come and go between here and Oslo.”

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Briefing Room

A Child Dies, a Child Lives: Why Somalia Drought Is Not Another Famine



DOLLOW, Somalia (Reuters) – At the height of Somalia’s 2011 famine, Madow Mohamed had to leave her crippled five-year-old son Abdirahman by the side of the road to lead her eight other starving children toward help.
When she returned to search for him, she found only a grave. He was among the 260,000 Somalis who perished.

“You can never forget leaving your child to die,” she says, wiping away tears at the memory seven years later. “It is a hell that does not end.”

This time, the drought has been harsher. Three seasons of rains have failed, instead of two. But none of Mohamed’s other children have died – and the overall death toll, although unknown, is far lower. The United Nations has documented just over 1,000 deaths, mostly from drinking dirty water.


Earlier donor intervention, less interference by a weakened Islamist insurgency, a stronger Somali government and greater access for aid workers have been crucial.

Another reason is that aid agencies are shifting from giving out food to cash – a less wasteful form of aid that donors such as Canada, Europe and Australia have embraced, although the United States still has restrictions on food aid.

The U.S. Congress will debate a move toward cash-based aid this year when lawmakers vote on a new Farm Bill. Christopher Barrett, an expert on food aid at Cornell University, is one of many scholars, politicians and aid agencies demanding reform.

“A conservative estimate is that we sacrifice roughly 40,000 children’s lives annually because of antiquated food aid policies,” he told Congress in November.


In 2011, a few donors gave out cash in Somalia, but the World Food Programme only gave out food. It was often hijacked by warlords or pirates, or rotted under tarpaulins as trucks sat at roadblocks.

Starving families had to trek for days through the desert to reach distribution points. Their route became so littered with children’s corpses it was called “the Road of Death”.

Now, more than 70 percent of WFP aid in Somalia is cash, much of it distributed via mobile phones. More than 50 other charities are also giving out cash: each month Mohamed receives $65 from the Italian aid group Coopi to spend as she wants: milk, medicine, food or school fees.

Cash has many advantages over food aid if markets are functioning. It’s invisible, so less likely to be stolen. It’s mobile so families can move or stay put.
WFP said it gave out $134 million directly to Somali families to spend at local shops last year.

“We … basically gave confidence to the market to stay active,” said Laurent Bukera, head of WFP Somalia.

And money is more efficient than bags of food: in Somalia, cash aid means 80 cents in every $1 goes directly to the family, rather than 60 cents from food aid, said Calum McLean, the cash expert at the European Union’s humanitarian aid department.

Cash might have saved little Abdirahman.

“I could have stayed in my village if I had had cash. There was some food in the markets. It was expensive, but if you had money, there was food to buy,” Mohamed said sadly.


Aid groups have been experimenting with cash for two decades but McLean says the idea took off five years ago as the Syrian civil war propelled millions of refugees into countries with solid banking systems.

Donors have adapted. Six years ago, five percent of the EU’s humanitarian aid budget was cash distributions. Today, it is more than a third.

Most of the initial cost lies in setting up the database and the distribution system. After that, adding more recipients is cheap, McLean said. Amounts can be easily adjusted depending on the level of need or funding.

“Cash distributions also becomes cheaper the larger scale you do it,” he said.

Most U.S. international food assistance is delivered by USAID’s Food for Peace Office, which had a budget of $3.6 billion in 2017.

Just under half those funds came through U.S. Farm Bill Title II appropriations, which stipulate that most food must be bought from American farmers. The U.S. Cargo Preference Act requires that half of this be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels.

Despite these restrictions, Food for Peace increased cash and voucher programs from 3 percent of the budget in 2011 to 20 percent last year.

But sourcing food aid in the United States is expensive and wasteful, said Barrett, who oversaw a study that found buying grain close to an emergency was half the price and 14 weeks faster. Arguments that food aid supported U.S. farmers or mariners were largely false, he said.


Aid groups use different systems to distribute cash, but most assess families, then register them in a biometric database, usually via fingerprints. Cash is distributed using bank cards or mobile phones or as vouchers.

Some charities place no restrictions on the cash; others, like WFP, stipulate it can only be spent at certain shops with registered shopkeepers.

In Dollow, the dusty town on the Ethiopian border where Mohamed lives with her surviving children, families say the cash has transformed their lives.

Gacalo Aden Hashi, a young mother whose name means “sweetheart”, remembers trudging past two dead children in 2011 on her way to get help. A third was alive but dying, she said, and her weakened family had to press on.

When she arrived at the camp, men were stealing food aid to give to their families, she said.

“Men were punching each other in line every time at food distributions,” she said. “Sometimes you would be sitting and suddenly your food would be taken by some strong young man.”

Now, she says, no one can steal her money – Coopi uses a system that requires a PIN to withdraw money. Most of her cash goes on food but with a group of other women she saved enough to open a small stall.

“The cash may end, but this business will not,” she said.


Cash won’t work everywhere. In South Sudan, where famine briefly hit two counties last year, the civil war shut markets, forcing aid agencies to bring in food by plane and truck.

Sending cash to areas hit by earthquakes would drive up prices. But in a drought, where livelihoods have collapsed but infrastructure is intact, cash transfers are ideal, experts say.

Some problems remain. There’s often little co-ordination among donors – for instance, there are seven separate databases in Somalia, said McLean, and monthly stipends can vary widely.

In Uganda, authorities are investigating reports of fraud after the government used its own biometric registration system for refugees.

And if there’s no clean water or health service available, then refugees can’t spend money buying water or medicine.

But most scholars agree that switching to more cash aid would save more lives, a 2016 briefing paper by the Congressional Research Service concluded.

(Additional reporting by George Obulutsa; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Briefing Room

In Somalia, women defy strict rules to play football



MOGADISHU – (AFP) – Shortly after sunrise, a group of young women arrives at a football pitch in Mogadishu, where they shrug off their hijabs — some changing underneath the billowing veil — to reveal their team kit.

Young Somali men stand nearby, some disapproving but all watching closely, as the women jog up and down, dribble a worn-out ball between colourful cones and do sit-ups, less than 200 metres (656 feet) from a heavily guarded security checkpoint.

The sight of young women playing football is highly unusual in Somalia, due to societal pressures as well as fear of Al-Shabaab.

The Al-Qaeda linked Islamist group launches regular attacks in Mogadishu and considers forms of entertainment, such as football, to be evil, worse still if women are involved.

“It is obvious that we are scared despite the fact that we put on heavy clothes over our shorts and T-shirts (until) we get to the pitch. It is very difficult to walk normally with sports clothes — we never wear sports clothing in society,” said Hibaq Abdukadir, 20, one of the footballers.

She is among 60 girls, who have signed up to train at the Golden Girls Centre in Mogadishu, Somalia’s first female soccer club.

‘Think differently’

Mohamed Abukar Ali, the 28-year-old co-founder of the centre, said he was inspired to create the club after he realised that Somalia had no female footballers.

“We are… trying to make these girls the first Somali female football professionals,” he said.

However this is not an easy task.

Somali football players of Golden Girls Football Centre, Somalia’s first female soccer club, attend their training session at Toyo stadium in Mogadishu, on March 5, 2018. PHOTO | MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB |AFP

“When the girls have to attend training sessions, we have to organise to pick them up and bring them here and back home after the session because they are girls and we think about their security,” said Ali.

“There are so many challenges, from security to lack of resources… but that will not deter our ambition to establish female football clubs in this country,” he said. “We believe it is the right time and we should have the courage to think differently.”
‘They look naked’

Many of the girls who have joined the club said they had always wanted to try playing football but never had the opportunity.

“I have been playing football for seven months, but my family has only known about it for two months,” said Sohad Mohamed, 19.

“I used to dodge my mother about where I was going because she would not allow me to play football, but at least my mum is okay with it now, even though the rest of my family is not happy.”

In Somalia, it is taboo for women to appear in public dressed in shorts, trousers or T-shirts, with Islamic scholars saying sports clothing is not appropriate Islamic dress for women.

The players wear tights underneath their baggy shorts, and cover their hair, but still face criticism for their dress.

“I come to watch them train but frankly speaking, I would not be happy to see my sister doing it, this is not good in society’s eyes because they look naked,” said Yusuf Abdirahman, who lives near the football field.

Mohamed Yahye, another onlooker, is happy to see women playing football but is also concerned about how they are dressed.

“I think there is nothing wrong with women playing football, the only thing they should change is the dress code, they need to wear something that is not slim-fitting. But as long as their body is not seen, they are in line with the Islamic dress codes,” he said.

However the Golden Girls are not fazed.

“My ambition is so high that I aim for the same progress as those female footballers who play for Barcelona,” said Abdukadir.

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