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Briefing Room

Legal ICT Framework Is Pivotal Moment for Somalia

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After more than two-and-a-half decades of crippling conflict, Somalia faces the considerable challenge of rebuilding its economy and institutions.

This process took an important step as Somalia’s President signed into law a Communications Act providing the tools to regulate a sector that, until recently, had made only a limited, formal contribution to the Somali Treasury, but could potentially contribute as much as 11% of Somalia’s GDP.

Somalia’s new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, was elected to office in February 2017. In August, the draft of the Communications Act received approval from both the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament, having been halted three times at those stages during Somalia’s internationally backed Federal Government, which was first established in 2012.

Compared to some countries in Africa, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have experienced relatively high levels of penetration and low prices in Somalia, with private enterprise leading the way. But while this progress is significant, the absence of any formal regulatory framework or independent regulatory body had resulted in uncertainty, creating vulnerabilities for the development and scalability of ICTs across the country.

Somalia is estimated to have over six million mobile phone users (of a population of about 14 million) but lags behind most African countries in terms of international capacity, national connectivity, and Internet take-up. Mobile money has also proved highly popular, with some 72% of Somalis over the age of 16 using it, and the total value of transactions taking place in it amounting to about US$ 2.7 billion a month.

But, in the case of fraud, consumers have previously had no legal recourse to appeal.

The lack of a solid legal framework for the ICT sector is a significant risk for the economy, specifically in areas of remittances, mobile banking, mobile-money services, and mobile-telecom services. By fostering a sense of certainty, and by promoting investment and infrastructure, a clear legal framework will result in major benefits for the people who use the ICT services now considered critical to Somali’s economy.

Security, connections, and tax revenue

The new law should mean Somali consumers benefit from an increasing array of mobile phone services, such as roaming, interconnection, and secure mobile banking services. The law protects consumer rights and provides the basis for issuing licenses to mobile operators and levying taxes, generating additional tax revenue for the government.

The possibility of interconnection among operators that opens the way for international roaming was previously held back by the fact that none of the operators had internationally accepted licenses. It creates the basis for the registration of SIM cards—an essential step for national security—and provides protection for national ICT assets, such as the +252-country code and the .so domain for internet addresses.

The World Bank’s ICT Sector Support Program has been providing expert technical assistance to the Federal Government of Somalia, the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Technology, and the Ministry of Finance, closely supporting them since 2013.

The program was itself initially supported by the State and Peacebuilding Fund and, more recently, by the Somalia Multi-Partner Fund and Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Fund. It has convened stakeholder consultation workshops and provided advice on areas of best practice in regulatory frameworks, licensing, and translation.
Other support includes the creation of a national broadband network linking 15 government institutions, formally handed over in August 2017, and Internet connectivity for universities through a Research and Education network, which has been operational since September 2017.

Another arm of the World Bank Group, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) assisted in the making of the new law through an ICT Public Private dialogue forum, which held its first meeting in Nairobi in March 2017, with subsequent meetings dedicated to coordinating comments on the draft law in Somali federal member states.

The Bank plans to help Somali’s federal government as it implements all the provisions of the Communications Act, with its central element the establishment of the independent regulatory body, the National Communications Agency (NCA).

The NCA is expected to expand connectivity, improve the efficiency of the sector, and boost market competition. It will be able to regulate the telecom and the technical elements of broadcasting—the standard practice globally—and grant formal licenses. It can also oversee important regulatory issues, such as the spread of mobile money.

Before making any major decisions, though, the NCA or independent regulator will be required to consult its major stakeholders, like its consumers and private sector firms. And it will be held accountable for the actions it takes.

The Communications Act and the creation of an independent regulator are significant steps in the process of reestablishing the rule of law and creating sound public institutions in Somalia. The adoption of the act is a milestone that signals the country is committed to reviving fundamental institutions, ones with solid regulations for vital industries.

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Briefing Room

U.S. military denies Al-Shabaab killed its soldier in Somalia

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MOGADISHU, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) — The United States military confirmed Tuesday no American soldier was killed or injured in southern Somalia as claimed by the Islamist militant group, Al-Shabaab.

The U.S. Africa Command (Africom), which oversees American troops on the continent, dismissed the report as incorrect that the insurgents killed the American soldier on the outskirts of Kismayo during a gun fight early Tuesday.

“We are aware of the reports, but they are incorrect. No U.S military were killed or injured in Somalia, as alleged in the reports,” Africom spokesperson Samantha Reho told Xinhua.

The militants through their radio station, Andalus had reported that the American soldier was killed in a gun battle that took place outside Kismayo town on Tuesday morning.

The allegations came amid intensified security operation by the African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) backed by Somalia National Army (SNA) on Al-Shabaab controlled areas in the Lower Shabelle region, destroying several militant bases, checkpoints and explosives including an FM station run by Al-Shabaab.

The allied forces have ramped up offensives against the militants as the African Union forces continue with the drawdown which started with 500 troops last December.

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Al-Shabaab plundering starving Somali villages of cash and children

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Jason Burke

Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia are extorting huge sums from starving communities and forcibly recruiting hundreds of children as soldiers and suicide bombers as the terror group endures financial pressures and an apparent crisis of morale.

Intelligence documents, transcripts of interrogations with recent defectors and interviews conducted by the Guardian with inhabitants of areas in the swath of central and southern Somalia controlled by al-Shabaab have shone a light on the severity of its harsh rule – but also revealed significant support in some areas.

Systematic human rights abuses on a par with those committed by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are being conducted by the al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist militants as the west largely looks away because most analysts do not see the group as posing a threat to Europe, the UK or the US.

The group has put to death dozens of “criminals”, inflicted brutal punishments on gay people, conducted forced marriages, and used civilian populations as human shields.

In one 2017 incident investigated by the Guardian, a man was stoned to death for adultery. In another, four men and a 16-year-old boy were shot dead by a firing squad after being accused of spying for the Somali authorities. In a third, a 20-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy were killed in a public square after being found guilty by a religious court of homosexuality.

Last year at least five people were lashed publicly after being accused of “immoral or improper behaviour”. They included a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old who were given 100 lashes each for “fornication”.

UN officials said they had received reports of stonings for adultery. The former al-Shabaab leader, Hassan Dahir Aweys, who defected in 2013, described the group’s aim as “Islamic government without the interference of the western powers in Somalia”.

Al-Shabaab, which once controlled much of south and central Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, was forced to retreat to rural areas by a military force drawn from regional armies seven years ago. Since then it has proved resilient, and remains one of the most lethal terrorist organisations in the world, but appears to be suffering a crisis of morale and financial pressure, prompting the drive to squeeze revenue out of poor rural communities.

One recent defector from central Somalia told government interrogators that the group forces “Muslims to pay for pretty much everything except entering the mosque”. Another said that al-Shabaab’s “finance ministry” – part of the extensive parallel government it has set up – is “hated”.

Al-Shabaab used to demand money or children from clans: now they demand both

The former mid-ranking commander, who defected four months ago, described how wells were taxed at $20,000 (£14,000) per month and a fee of $3.50 levied at water holes for every camel drinking there. One small town in Bai province was forced to pay an annual collective tax of a thousand camels, each worth $500, and several thousand goats, he said.

In addition, trucks using roads in territory controlled by al-Shabaab have to pay $1,800 each trip. Five percent of all land sales is taken as tax, and arbitrary levies of up to $100,000 imposed on communities for “educational purposes”, the defector said. There is also evidence that the movement is suffering from manpower shortages.

A third defector said al-Shabaab now insisted that all male children attend its boarding schools from the age of about eight. The children train as fighters and join fighting units in their mid-teens.

“By that age they are fully indoctrinated. They are no longer under the influence of their parents,” said Mohamed Mubarak, research director of the Horn Institute for Security and Strategic Policy thinktank.

According to Somali authorities, troops stormed a school run by al-Shabaab in January and rescued 32 children who had been taken as recruits to be “brainwashed” to be suicide bombers. “Al-Shabaab used to demand money or children from clans: now they demand both,” the defector said.

Al-Shabaab has also told people they will be punished – possibly put to death as spies – if they have any contact with humanitarian agencies.

Somalia has been hit by a series of droughts, and only a massive aid effort averted the deaths of hundreds of thousands last year.

A new military campaign launched by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and supported by the US has seen intensive drone strikes on al-Shabaab targets, putting the militants under significant pressure. Fears of spies have led to a series of internal purges. Suspected agents are jailed and brutally tortured.

Al-Shabaab cuts thieves’ hands and kills looters . Everyone is scared of them

“Distrust is so high that when they go into battle, everyone is afraid of being shot in the back by his comrade,” one of the defectors said. “When soldiers get leave, half come back. Al-Shabaab now send patrols to collect people who have fled home. They stay in jail until they agree to rejoin.”

Abdirahman Mohamed Hussein, a government official overseeing humanitarian aid in southern central Somalia, told the Guardian that extremists used local populations as human shields. “They do not want people to move out because they are worried that there could be an airstrike if the civilians leave,” Hussein said.

Al-Shabaab also imposes tight restrictions on media, the defectors said. “Most people only listen to al-Shabaab radio stations or get news from al-Shabaab lectures which go on for hours and which cover religion and which all must attend,” one said. Another said some people risked harsh punishments to listen in secret toVoice of America and the BBC.

“Life is really tough in al-Shabaab-controlled areas. There is no food, no aid and children are being taken,” said Mubarak, the thinktank director. “Al-Shabaab are still trying to portray themselves as defenders of Somali identity. The message has a lot of sympathy but is not translating into active support.”

The draconian punishment, seizures, taxes and abductions run counter to the strategic guidance issued by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has called for affiliates of the veteran group to build consensus and support among local communities. Their practices do, however, recall those of Isis.

Al-Shabaab also manipulates rivalries between clans and tribes, and benefits from the failures of local authorities to provide basic services. Several interviewees said they preferred using al-Shabaab’s justice system, and that the group had brought security.

In once case in May last year, two clan elders in Beledweyne in Hiran region agreed to seek al-Shabaab justice to settle a case of rape. The attacker was found guilty and stoned to death.

“We decided to go to the al-Shabaab court because the judge rules under the Islamic law and there is no nepotism and corruption,” said Abdurahman Guled Nur, a relative of the rape victim, in a telephone interview. “If we went to a government court, there would be no justice because the rapist could have paid some cash to the court and he would be freed.”

Mohamed Hussein, a farmer in Barire, a town 40 miles south of Mogadishu that has seen fierce fighting, returned home when al-Shabaab took control of the area in early October. “When the government soldiers were here, there was looting, illegal roadblocks and killing,” he said. “But al-Shabaab cuts thieves’ hands and kills looters. The Islamic court gives harsh sentences for the criminals, so everyone is scared of them. That way we are in peace under al-Shabaab. If you do not have any issue with al-Shabaab, they leave you alone.”

Additional reporting by Abdalle Mumin

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Briefing Room

Somalia Appoints New Security Chiefs to Combat al-Shabab

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VOA — The Somali government has appointed new security chiefs, nearly four months after firing the previous commanders after a series of deadly al-Shabab attacks. But experts warn that the new security chiefs are not “miracle” workers and need support from the public and their own government to win the war against the militants.

During a special meeting in Mogadishu on Monday, the Cabinet approved the appointment of Hussein Osman Hussein to become director of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) and General Bashir Abdi Mohamed to be the commissioner of the police.

Also appointed was Major General Bashir Mohamed Jama, known as “Gobe,” who returns as commander of the prison guards, a position he lost less than a year ago.

New blood, old blood

Hussein, who currently serves as the deputy minister of health, has been a long time member of the parliament and previously held the position of deputy security minister. He will lead a small agency with about 4,500 personnel, half of whom are plain-clothed officers.

General Mohamed is a career police officer who held various positions within the department, including chief of police engineers, commander of training department and head of the central investigations department. He joined the police in 1971.

Last year, Somali leaders agreed to create a police force of about 32,000 nationwide. The current force is about half that size.

Hussein and Mohamed’s predecessors — Abdullahi Mohamed Ali Sanbalolshe of NISA, and General Abdihakim Dahir Saaid of the police — were fired on October 29 last year, a day after an al-Shabab attack on a Mogadishu hotel left nearly 30 people dead. Two weeks earlier, a massive truck bomb in the capital killed 512, making it the largest terrorist attack in African history.

State minister for the office of the prime minister, Abdullahi Hamud, defended the long process it took to appoint new commanders.

“It was just a matter of caution and for the government to pick the right person who can fit in the job, it wasn’t because of other things,” he said.

Former NISA director General Abdirahman Mohamed Turyare said the new commanders have a chance to do well if they learn from “mistakes” made by predecessors.

“They can look back on mistakes made so as to avoid them, and bring on board ideas that worked,” he said.

Turyare urged the commanders not to confine operations to Mogadishu but to spread the war against al-Shabab beyond the capital, take care of their agencies’ personnel and make sure they get better technology.

He cautioned that the new commanders could probably not solve security failures immediately.

“They bring experience, work ethic and dedication but they are not miracle people,” he said.

There have been no major al-Shabab attacks in Mogadishu in almost four months, since the firing of the previous commanders back in late October. The new commanders will hope to continue that streak.

Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle contributed to the report from Mogadishu.

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