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Opinion

Somalia’s Resurgence: Mogadishu attack masks rising tide of Somali unity

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Aisha Ahmad / @ProfAishaAhmad
Assistant professor of political science, University of Toronto

This past weekend in the heart of downtown Mogadishu, suspected al-Shabaab terrorists detonated two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices in the busy K5 neighbourhood, killing over 300 people and wounding hundreds more. It was the deadliest attack in Somalia’s history.

Yet despite an outpouring of global goodwill, was this attack just another sad day in war-torn Somalia? Absolutely not. The reality on the ground is clear: after over two decades of civil war, Somalia is finally re-emerging from the ashes.

So what should policymakers know about the Mogadishu bombing? Two key factors explain the attack and its implications for Somalia and the region: the decline of al-Shabaab and the rising tide of Somali national unity.

First, although al-Shabaab have not yet claimed responsibility for the attack, security experts on the ground insist that the bombing is clearly their handiwork. Yet the fact is, al-Shabaab has systematically lost power across Somalia over the past five years. In 2012, African Union and Somali forces pushed al-Shabaab out of Kismayo, a southern coastal city, causing the terrorist group to lose tens of millions of dollars in revenue from taxing the port. Since then, the group has lost its control over other lucrative land routes, including the strategically significant Afgooye corridor.

“Al-Shabaab are now weak,” explained internationally decorated humanitarian doctor Deqo Mohamed, who runs a clinic in Mogadishu and a hospital along the Afgooye corridor. “They have a small number of checkpoints between Mogadishu and Baidoa, but they’re running out of money, they’re far away [from the key areas], and people are fed up with them.”

Indeed, analysts who have been tracking the group know it is desperate and lashing out, just as it did with the 2013 Westgate Mall terrorist attack in Kenya. “When I was in Mogadishu late last year, it was clear that al-Shabaab was tottering,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “The government’s defection program was gutting levels of trust within the organization and everyday people were totally sick and tired of them.”

Even the scale of the recent attack appears to have been a lucky shot on the part of the alleged al-Shabaab terrorists. Some observers have commented that the reason the blast was so deadly was because the bomb happened to be near to a fuel truck, which unintentionally amplified the explosion. “Somalia’s law enforcement is stretched thin and these kinds of attacks will happen from time to time, but we shouldn’t confuse luck for strength,” said Amarasingam.

Second, since al-Shabaab has been pushed back, the political landscape in is undergoing a remarkable transformation. A crucial moment was the surprising presidential election victory earlier this year of popular Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, affectionately nicknamed “Farmaajo” because of his love of cheese. Unlike the many warlords and thugs who have fought over Somalia for the past 20 years, Farmaajo is a technocrat with a demonstrated record of fighting corruption. His unexpected election victory gave Somalis hope that the country was turning a new leaf.

“The Mogadishu attack aimed at crushing that momentum, pushing out businesses, scaring off investors.”

On the ground, the results have been striking. “There are no checkpoints from Afgooye to Mogadishu now; only 1-2 security stops, but no harassment,” said Dr. Mohamed, whose medical teams travel these roads regularly. “And Mogadishu is much easier. Business is booming. People are out on the streets, even at night.” Despite many challenges, Somalia has been on an upward trajectory towards political stabilization and economic growth.

The Mogadishu attack aimed at crushing that momentum, pushing out businesses, scaring off investors, and forcing people back into the shadows. Through a combination of malicious planning and dumb luck, the bombers pulled off an attack with a larger casualty rate than usual. Their plan to shatter the new Somalia, however, has completely backfired. Rather, the attack appears to be fanning the flames of a national unity movement.

Street protests erupted against the terrorists in Mogadishu, bringing together members of historically rival clan factions. Solidarity protests emerged in the city of Kismayo and elsewhere. Youth have even flown in from the northern city of Hargeisa in separatist Somaliland, in a surprising display of goodwill. President Farmaajo has galvanized public support, lining up to donate blood to the victims of the attacks. He also organized the new Somali national military to help with the rescue mission, digging survivors out of the rubble.

For a country that has long seen its armed men as symbols of death and division, this virtuous display of military power has had a profound effect on public opinion. “For the first time, we love and respect our military,” said Dr. Mohamed. “We are standing with our mayor, our parliament, and our president. It is a revolution of unity.”

This unity revolution could signal a new era of hard-won peace in Somalia, and presents a tremendous opportunity for the international community to finally stabilize a troubled region. After the disastrous 1992-95 UN mission, Canada and the rest of the international community have been shy to engage with a Somalia led by warlords, criminals, or Islamists. This new unity movement in Somalia is changing the game. But the international community must rally.

“Now is the time to back the legitimate government,” urged Dr. Mohamed. “It has to happen now.”

In the fight against terrorism, state failure, and political unrest, hopeful moments such as these are rare. And so, this is a chance for the international community to finally make it right. If the tragedy of Mogadishu attack can be turned to supporting the momentum of a new Somalia, the lives lost will not have been in vain. The end of the long war is in sight.

Opinion

For Africa to root out modern day slave trade, youth empowerment is crucial

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Libya has become a modern-day slave market, keeping migrants at the mercy of a complex trafficking web tolerated by the country’s many militia groups, an issue largely ignored by the world, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer said on Wednesday. Narciso Contreras, who spoke to migrants kept as slaves during a documentary photography project in Libya, said global attention focused on the North African country as a gateway for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea.

 

Ambassador Amina Mohamed
Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Republic of Kenya

If the thought of a man armed with a rifle and driving with whips a group of African men, women, and children to sell them at a slave market makes you marvel at what kind of greed motivated such revolting barbarity centuries ago, the shocking truth is that we are witnessing a 21st century repeat of that abhorrent practice on African soil.

Kudos to the team from CNN led by International Correspondent, Nima Elbagir, who uncovered a human trafficking ring in Libya which specializes in selling human beings as slaves and sex workers.

Now we know.

For those of us who were at the Durban World Conference Against Racism 16 years ago when slavery and slave trade were declared crimes against humanity, our horror and sadness at reports that sub-Saharan migrants are being sold at slave markets in Libya is immeasurable. That the world would be silent as this heinous crime was reported is something we cannot comprehend and tolerate.

That a people and country that claim African citizenry can practice this repulsion in a continent that bears so many scars is scary at so many levels. For several years now, Libya has continued to serve as the primary departure point for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, with more than 90 percent of those crossing the Mediterranean Sea departing from Libya.

Often, migrants to forced labour and forced prostitution through fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt bondage.

Reports of auctioneers advertising a group of West African migrants as ‘big strong boys for farm work’, and references to the migrants as ‘merchandise’ indicates a new low, and human rapacity that is difficult to comprehend in the modern age.

It defies at a horrid level international statutes such as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights that prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude as well as the more recent UN Palermo Protocol that made the abolition of modern-day slavery a part of international law.

The conscience of the Libyan nation must be roused; its propriety must be startled. All Libyans must vehemently reject the inhumane practice of slave auctions that will forever blight their history and shred to pieces their relationship with the rest of humanity. I know that the frightened faces of human beings turned into merchandise and put in cages that haunts our collective psyche also affects Libyans of goodwill.

The African Union Commission has condemned this trade as an ‘egregious abuse of human rights’ and demanded that the culprits be brought to justice and this violation of fundamental human rights be immediately ended. As Africans we will discuss the slave auctions in Libya at all fora, African and otherwise until we finally and conclusively deal with it.

Horrifying as the situation in Libya is, migration elsewhere in the world continues to be an avenue through which many men, women, and children continue to live in modern-day slavery through the scourge of human trafficking.

Unlike the ages gone by, today’s victims may not be in iron fetters, but most are poverty-stricken and forced to migrate for work, believing it presents an opportunity to change their lives and support their families. It is a desperation that comes with extreme costs in the form of modern slavery.

While everyone must denounce everything that serves to perpetuate slavery, African countries must now begin confronting the factors that force thousands of people to risk their lives seeking a fighting chance for survival abroad through illegal migration.

A report from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has shown that that seven in ten of those heading for Europe are not refugees fleeing war or persecution, but economic migrants in search of better lives.

Africa must give special priority to those SDGs that will give the continent a competitive edge through its youth. These include ending poverty, ensuring healthy lives and ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, all which have particular resonance with the challenge of empowering youth and making them effective economic citizens.

With between 10 and 12 million Africans joining the African labour force each year and a continent that creates only 3.7 million jobs annually, there is hard work to be done if we are to extirpate the shame of modern slavery.

The UN Secretary General Mr Antonio Guterres remarked, “Slavery has no place in our world and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity”

Like our forefathers who fought against the obdurate slave-drivers of yesteryears, we too must be determined that development priorities are geared towards nipping all circumstances that abet the horrid human trafficking trade.

This Article was published in Huffington Post.

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Briefing Room

Saving Somalia Through Debt Relief

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KEVIN WATKINS

Kevin Charles Watkins is the Chief Executive of Save the Children UK

Somalia needs humanitarian aid to stem its short-term suffering, but that cash will not break the country’s deadly cycles of drought, hunger, and poverty. To do that, the IMF must forgive Somalia’s crushing debt, just as it has for nearly every other heavily indebted poor country.

LONDON – Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, once asked his country’s creditors a blunt question: “Must we starve our children to pay our debts?” That was in 1986, before the public campaigns and initiatives that removed much of Africa’s crushing and unpayable debt burden. But Nyerere’s question still hangs like a dark cloud over Somalia.

Over the last year, an unprecedented humanitarian effort has pulled Somalia back from the brink of famine. As the worst drought in living memory destroyed harvests and decimated livestock, almost $1 billion was mobilized in emergency aid for nutrition, health, and clean water provision. That aid saved many lives and prevented a slow-motion replay of the 2011 drought, when delayed international action resulted in nearly 260,000 deaths.

Yet, even after these recent efforts, Somalia’s fate hangs in the balance. Early warning systems are pointing to a prospective famine in 2018. Poor and erratic rains have left 2.5 million people facing an ongoing food crisis; some 400,000 children live with acute malnutrition; food prices are rising; and dry wells have left communities dependent on expensive trucked water.

Humanitarian aid remains essential. Almost half of Somalia’s 14 million people need support, according to UN agencies. But humanitarian aid, which is often volatile and overwhelmingly short-term, will not break the deadly cycles of drought, hunger, and poverty. If Somalia is to develop its health and education systems, economic infrastructure, and the social protection programs needed to build a more resilient future, it needs predictable, long-term development finance.

Debt represents a barrier to that finance. Somalia’s external debt is running at $5 billion. Creditors range from rich countries like the United States, France, and Italy, to regional governments and financial institutions, including the Arab Monetary Fund.

But Somalia’s debt also includes $325 million in arrears owed to the International Monetary Fund. And there’s the rub: countries in arrears to the IMF are ineligible to receive long-term financing from other sources, including the World Bank’s $75 billion concessional International Development Association (IDA) facility.

Much of the country’s current debt dates to the Cold War, when the world’s superpower rivalry played out in the Horn of Africa. Over 90% of Somalia’s debt burden is accounted for by arrears on credit advanced in the early 1980s, well before two-thirds of today’s Somali population was born.

Most of the lending then was directed to President Siad Barre as a reward for his abandonment of the Soviet Union and embrace of the West. Military credits figured prominently: over half of the $973 million in US debt is owed to the Department of Defense. Somalia got state-of-the-art weaponry, liberally financed by loans. The IMF was nudged into guaranteeing repayment through a structural adjustment program.  Repaying the debt today would cost every Somali man, woman, and child $361.

None of this would matter if Somalia had qualified for debt reduction. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), created in response to the great debt relief campaigns of the 1990s, has written off around $77 billion in debt for 36 countries. Somalia is one of just three countries that have yet to qualify. The reason: the arrears owed to the IMF. (Eritrea and Sudan have also not qualified, for similar reasons).

The IMF view is that Somalia, like earlier HIPC beneficiaries, should establish a track record of economic reform. This will delay a full debt write-off for up to three years, exclude Somalia from long-term development finance, and reinforce its dependence on emergency aid. Other creditors have endorsed this approach through silent consent.

Somalia deserves better. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government has demonstrated a commitment to economic reform, improved accountability, and transparency. For two years, it has adhered to an IMF program, achieving targets for improving public finance and the banking sector. More needs to be done, especially in terms of domestic resource mobilization. But this is the first Somali government to provide the international community with a window of opportunity to support recovery. We must capitalize on it.

Waiting three more years as Somalia ticks the IMF’s internal accounting boxes would be a triumph of bureaucratic complacency over human needs. Without international support, Somalia’s government lacks the resources needed to break the deadly cycle of drought, hunger, and poverty.

Somalia’s children need investment in health, nutrition, and schools now, not at some point in the indefinite future. Investing in irrigation and water management would boost productivity. With drought-related livestock and crop losses estimated at around $1.5 billion, government-supported cash payment programs would help aid recovery, strengthen resilience, and build trust.

The benefits of these investments would extend to security. Providing the hope that comes with education, health care, and the prospect of a job is a far more effective weapon than a drone to combat an insurgency that feeds on despair, poverty, joblessness, and the absence of basic services.

There is an alternative to IMF-sponsored inertia on debt relief. The World Bank and major creditors could convene a creditor summit to agree to terms for a prompt debt write-off. More immediately, the World Bank could seek its shareholders’ approval for a special mechanism – a “pre-arrears clearance grant” – that would enable Somalia to receive IDA financing. There is a precedent for this: In 2005, the US championed World Bank financing for Liberia, which at the time had significant IMF debt after emerging from civil war.

The technicalities can be discussed and the complexities resolved. But we should not lose sight of what is at stake. It is indefensible for the IMF and other creditors to obstruct Somalia’s access to financing because of arrears on a debt incurred three decades ago as much through reckless lending as through irresponsible borrowing.

Somalia’s children played no part in creating that debt. They should not have to pay for it with their futures.

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Opinion

United Arab Emirates plays destructive role in Somalia

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SHAKIR HUSAIN

Somalia suffered two big terrorist bombings in October. The carnage caused by the car blasts on Oct. 28 was immense, although nowhere close to the death and destruction following the Oct. 14 attacks that killed 358 people.

Western news reports regularly blame terrorist acts in Somalia on the shadowy al-Shabaab group. Such media coverage ignores the fact that Somalia is a victim of ugly geopolitics that seeks control of the nation, while seeking to annihilate its population through wars, terrorism and man-made disasters.

The United States and its Western crime partners have tried to destroy and subjugate Somalia for many years. Whether the U.S. bombs Somalia in the name of fighting the al-Shabaab terrorist group or Britain tries to cause misery to its people through curbs on remittances, their goals are sinister in seeking extermination of a part of the human race. They are trying to achieve what Europe’s colonialism failed to accomplish.

Countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia also have geopolitical goals in trying to control Somalia. There is an element of power madness in the Saudi bloc these days, as abhorrent as it may seem, but their egos get satisfaction from serving Western bloc leaders be they American, British, French, Israeli or German. They are salivating at the prospect of grabbing more than 3,300 kilometers of coastline, energy and marine resources. They are willing to spill Somali blood as long as there is the slightest chance of even partially achieving their goals. A clear message must be sent to these saboteurs to cease their destructive acts forthwith.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia can be accused of such behavior as they are unable to explain what benefits their military and foreign policy adventures bring to their own populations or to the wider region. Prima facie, their actions advance the West’s colonial and imperial interests. The conduct of these countries is hostile toward Somalia. Their arrogance requires them to try to overpower a country that is struggling economically and politically.

The UAE and those who control its leaders appear to have suddenly woken up to Somalia’s significance as a nation. One of their goals is to destroy Somali-Turkish friendship and alliance. If Somalia was so important to them, they could have used their resources to help it recover from war and famine. But that is not how the UAE operates.

To cause suffering and misery to the maximum number of people is always a deliberate act of any U.S.-led war. American actions in Somalia are in line with this policy. When Saudi Arabia and the UAE use their resources for apparent charitable causes, they do so as per the wishes of their Western masters. It should not surprise anyone that these two countries showed neither Islamic nor regional solidarity with Somalia when it was reeling under severe famine. Islamic concepts of welfare and justice are anathema to them. Joining “jahiliyyah” and Zionist causes has become fashionable in the Gulf region.

The geopolitical calculations of the UAE and Saudi Arabia along with the Western gang seem to have changed following Turkey’s determination to help Somalia. They understand that in Turkey they are dealing with a serious nation that is capable of helping Somalia defeat international terrorism.

Since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Mogadishu in 2011, Turkey has become involved in numerous projects in Somalia to help it become a stable, strong nation in every way. But this relationship works against the interest of those who seek to exploit and rob both Somalia and the wider African region. The international alliance of neocons and Zionists knows how to manipulate Emirati and Saudi officials.

The recent Qatar crisis was another episode in the wider geopolitical game being played in the Middle East and Africa. According to reports, Saudi Arabia and the UAE offered tens of millions of dollars in bribes to get the government in Mogadishu on their side against Qatar. They failed, but that did not discourage these countries from trying to find new ways to put pressure on Somalia.

The UAE exploited instability in parts of Somalia to secure logistics projects. These include a concession from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland for Dubai-based DP World to develop the port of Bosaso. In Somaliland, DP World has a 30-year concession to develop a port at Berbera and plans to develop a so-called economic free zone.

After the terrorist attacks, influential Somali commentators mentioned the UAE as an agent of destruction against Somalia. They pointed out its dubious deals and unwarranted interference in Somali affairs. There have been calls to shut down its diplomatic mission in Somalia.

The UAE and its allies and masters see Turkey as a threat to their hegemonic plans for Africa. The ongoing war in Yemen is part of the same calculations, as the Arabian Peninsula nation is located near key maritime routes. Destabilizing Yemen was a Western plan being carried out through the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It is widely believed that Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, is influencing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to join his dead-end schemes.

Somalia’s enemies would like to find an excuse to launch an open war, but have opted for naked terrorism instead. Another type of terrorism is carried out by the U.S. through drone attacks, ensuring no Somali feels secure from America’s destructive power. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is also seen as playing a role in fomenting trouble in the country instead of carrying out its mandate of peace.

The newly established Turkish military facility will help Somalia develop strong defense capabilities, which in turn would work against Western excuses for creating the kind of military presence they have in neighboring Djibouti. Intelligence reports suggest the intended target of the massive bombing on Oct. 14 was this facility. These reports may or may not be accurate. After all, terrorists and their sponsors would have to take into account inevitable Turkish retaliation.

It must be noted that terrorism directed at Somalia has deliberately targeted civilian facilities. Mosques, government buildings, hotels, restaurants and markets have been bombed to ensure Somalia is kept destabilized for the vultures to invade it at a suitable opportunity. However, it would be a miscalculation on the part of the Western sabotage brigade and their Gulf minions to harbor such hopes. Somalia will grow stronger. Somalia will be victorious. The UAE, which is getting increasingly ambitious in its foreign activities, should try not to bite off more than they can chew.

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