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Briefing Room

Straight Talk On Somalia Insecurity



Abukar Arman is a writer, a former diplomat and an activist whose work on foreign policy, geopolitics and faith is widely published.

There is a broad-based consensus that security in Somalia has been deteriorating at an alarming rate. In the past few weeks, hundreds of people have been killed by truck bombs at two prominent locations in Mogadishu. The lethal potency of the explosives and the scale of death and devastation resulting from the Oct 14th one was far beyond what Mogadishu has witnessed in over quarter of a century of violence.

These successive deadly terrorist operations combined with allegations that attackers have used intelligence services ID cards have turned the spotlight on Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). Serious questions regarding the agency’s leadershipcompetence and the scope of its authority are being raised.

But how does one reveal unpleasant realities and tell a traumatized nation what appeared like a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ was in fact a runaway train coming at them? How does one do that without shoving them into state of self-defeating despair? These indeed are the dicey challenges, but truth must be told.

Somalia is in an existential race against time. Much like all other critical issues facing the nation, the Somali government does not control its intelligence or security. Worse, the government does not have the political will to address the real causes and effects.

The Ownership Dilemma

Somalia is the center of gravity of international predatory capitalism. Not only because of its untapped natural resources since many countries would qualify, but because Somalia is the gold standard of these three systematically destructive elements: corruption, ineptitude and disloyalty to the nation. How many nations do you know that host dozens of security and intelligence forces with various (domestic and foreign) commands and control? Here are some examples:

There is the revolving door syndrome of failed security leadership that recycles the same has-beens. Every year or so when a new commander is appointed and another is sacked. The former brings in his own clan comrades and cronies and the latter takes with him the manpower that he brought in.

There are former al-Shabab leaders with long ugly record who, despite never seeking the forgiveness of their victims, been co-opted by the government, and, yes, been giving highly sensitive positions at NISA and other branches of government.

There is the cottage industry of intelligence serves ID cards. These IDs are readily available for anyone willing to pay the going rate. Apparently it is the agency’s failure when individuals in charge of issuing these IDs make little over $200 for monthly salary and the going price for a false ID is twice their monthly salary. While civilians try to possess these IDs for various reasons, the most common is the need to get through roadblocks and checkpoints since there is no logging system to verify authenticity of employment.

There are multiple security and intelligence agencies that emerged within the five clan-based federal states that may share a name with NISA but functionally have nothing to do with that ‘national agency.’ Most of them take their substantive orders from one neighboring state or another.

There are the corrupt leaders in the political upper echelon that readily put Somalia’s national interest behind anyone with a bag full of cash or has the capacity to aid them in attaining or keeping a position.

There are many in the circles of influence, including ministers and parliament members, who own their own private security companies and directly benefit from increased insecurity.

There is the underground business cartel that considers the status quo a heavenly blessing.

There is the Blackwater project to advance what might be called ‘world peace according to Erik Prince’ while UAE and DPI provide the diplomatic and commercial façades.

There is UK –guised as UNSOM—to guard the Soma Oil and Gas interest by any means necessary. It is mandated face that governs the Halane compound where a mishmash of the good, bad and ugly and their mercenaries are hosted. In their possession is the carrot and stick that boost or undermine security, at will.

There is the US. In addition to AFRICOM drone operations, the US runs routine covert operations in cooperation with a Somali counter-terrorism unit that is trained, paid, and commanded by the US. Though this was a thinly veiled secret, it entered into the public discourse on US’ controversial activities in Somalia since the recent killing of a Green Beret, and its role in Africa when four other Green Berets were killed in Niger a few months later.

This needless to say raised both media and congressional interests in the US clandestine operations in Africa. For years, AFRICOM has been effectively managing perception by offering ocean-cruise version of embedded journalism.

Against that backdrop it is extremely difficult to pinpoint who, or which combination, has triggered the latest wave of terroristic atrocities.

Knee-jerking Into the Oblivion

As usual, the government immediately reiterated its counter-terrorism motto: al-Shabab and ISIS have committed this atrocity. They are out to eradicate the Somali people, therefore, we should all join hands to fight them in their bloody swamps. We should wage an all-out war in many fronts and many regions and “I will be the first in the line”, said President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo).

Never mind the fact that the terrorists—be they al-Shabab or one of the other clandestine candidates—are executing their deadly operations behind the roadblocks and barricades across Mogadishu. And never mind that the mightiest nation on the face of the earth could not defeat terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan in a conventional warfare involving hundreds of thousands of its best soldiers. President Farmajo declared a war and went off to solicit more military support from Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Djibouti to ‘defeat al-Shabab, once and for all.’

So How Does One Get Out Of This Mess?

In order to stabilize Somalia all pieces of the insecurity puzzle must be accounted for. In addition to al-Shabab’s suicidal vision, the ever-worsening security condition is driven by the interplay of the aforementioned domestic and foreign elements.

Somalia continues being a lucrative project of international appeal, a regional cash cow, and geopolitical pretext for exploitation and military expansion. Except the government which, in theory, is the guardian of the Somali national interest, all others are entrenched in advancing their zero-sum strategies and interests. Out of that condition emerged a deadly system of ‘a favor for a favor’ that keeps insecurity ever-present, but manageable.

The Somali people need and deserve more than a cosmetic accountability fix that is intended to cover the wrinkles of incompetence and corruption.

Somalia needs competent leadership that puts its national interest in its appropriate place; leadership that is mindful of the fact that security does not exist in vacuum; leadership with strategic vision who are mindful that genuine national reconciliation is essential to harmonizing hearts and minds; leadership with the political will to demand immediate overhaul of the current dysfunctional security system; leadership willing to demand streamlining the command & control of the intelligence sector; leadership that demands a front-door entry into Somalia and thoroughly vets to select the right strategic partnerships.

Unless and until these fundamental issues are addressed, neither Somalia nor its (official and unofficial) guests could be safe. Security would be nothing more than an extended respite between one terrorist attack and another.

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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Briefing Room

A dream of a continental free trade area deferred



DAILY MAVERICK — A dream of establishing a continental free trade area in Africa has slipped back again after a last-minute decision by Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari not to attend the summit in Rwanda where an agreement was set to be finalised. South Africa, the other large economic player on the continent, also has its reservations.

There was a hint of dejection as ministers filed into the beehive-shaped Kigali Convention Centre on Monday morning, in the midst of the rainy season, to hammer out the details of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.

The special summit was called by Rwandan president Paul Kagame, who this year also chairs the African Union, and talk in the weeks ahead of the gathering was that the agreement only needed a few final touches and that everyone was on board.

It was supposed to be the breakthrough Africa needed before finally rising, and the no-nonsense Kagame was the one to drive this.

The process started in 2012, and free trade was already supposed to have been a thing by 2017, so there was a goal to meet.

Ambassadors had on Saturday already pored over the paperwork, and it was up to the ministers to fine-tune it before the presidents arrive on Wednesday to sign the agreement.
After this, it would have to go through individual country processes, such as parliaments, to be ratified and come into force.

On Sunday, however, news came from Nigeria, which was bidding to host the CFTA secretariat and which chaired the technical negotiations team, that president Muhammadu Buhari had abruptly cancelled his trip to Rwanda.

ThisDay reported that he was already on his way to the airport on Saturday, but was then told to turn back. This was after business groups in Nigeria objected to the signing of the agreement, saying there had not been enough consultations.
They feared that Nigeria would be overwhelmed by business from the outside without Nigerians benefiting from it.

Also, incidentally, the country is having presidential elections next year, in which Buhari might be running again, which might explain the sudden – some would say undue – pressure from within.
Still, Nigerian foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama arrived at the ministers’ meeting where he possibly had a lot of explaining to do.

Outside of the fight about where the secretariat should be located (indications were that even though both Nigeria and Ghana made a bid for it, it was decided to have it at the African Union’s headquarters of Addis Ababa for now), countries had concerns about the dispute resolution mechanisms in the AfCFTA, and also about whether it would effectively be able to prevent dumping.

That would occur if a country outside Africa used an African country with weak import controls to bring goods in from the outside, using it as a springboard to distribute duty-free to the rest of the continent. Instead of promoting business in Africa, as the AfCFTA is supposed to do, this would undermine it.

South Africa, another leading economy on the continent, also had some reservations about the fine print as well as the Protocol on the Free Movement of People, even though President Cyril Ramaphosa apparently indicated that his pen was ready.

Most of the AU’s 55 member states seemed to have no principled objection to signing the agreement and the legal instruments to establish the AfCFTA, which really means nothing much until it’s ratified by all. This happens when local laws and regulations are brought into line with the agreement through a parliamentary process.

South African officials on Monday morning were still unclear about whether Ramaphosa would sign the agreement or not, although some in the Nigerian delegation seemed to be under the impression that Ramaphosa would join Buhari in abstaining.

Ramaphosa himself was expected to attend the summit, and he even arranged to arrive earlier on Tuesday afternoon to attend an AU-organised business summit ahead of the heads of state gathering where the agreement would be signed.

On Monday, international relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu was left to deal with the negotiations even as South Africa’s brand new administration was still busy settling into the continental body (this is her first summit in her new position, and it’s likely that she would have a few bilaterals with her counterparts from other countries to introduce herself).

There was also reported disagreement on how many states needed to sign the agreement for it to come into force. At the lower end, some said 15 states would be enough, while others wanted at least 37. Leaders could eventually settle for something in between, such as half of the states.

As the meeting broke for lunch on Monday, it still wasn’t clear exactly how many states would sign, but an official involved in the negotiations said it was “a good number” and that he was optimistic.
AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahammat imparted the urgency of getting the AfCFTA going in a hard-hitting opening speech, and he seemed to urge leaders to come to an agreement:

“Our continent is at a crossroads,” he said.

“What path will she choose? That of maintaining the status quo, which means making cosmetic changes relating to borderline adjustments which have no real impact on the lives of our populations, or that of effecting a paradigm shift which requires us to look far into the horizon for a truly integrated Africa?”
This would be “structurally reformed economically, guaranteeing the freedom of movement and settlement to all her daughters and all her sons, as well as offering, in the final analysis, fulfilling and promising living conditions for her youth, in a bid to reverse migratory flows”, he said.

Rwandan foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in her opening speech that the agreement should enter into force as soon as possible, but “with everybody feeling comfortable about it”.

She said the agreement would be to the advantage of Africa, which could then act as “a global player” to promote the continent’s economic interests and attract investment, create jobs and improve things for the people.

The official line is that the AfCFTA agreement would grow intra-African trade, which is still lower than trade between African countries and the outside, by 55% by 2022, and Africa’s exports to the rest of the world would grow by 6%.

Life would also be better for small cross-border traders.

The agreement would open a market of 1.2 billion people, and is one of the flagship projects of the AU’s Agenda 2063, a 50-year plan for a transformed Africa.

The other projects are the Single African Air Transport Market and the Protocol on the Free Movement of People.

Even though the protocol was still in draft on Monday, AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga promised that it would be ready for signing when heads of state meet on Wednesday.

The dream, however, would have to be deferred for a little while longer. DM

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Briefing Room

In a Man’s Death, a Glimpse of Libya’s Horrors



HRW — A young Eritrean man died on Tuesday in Sicily of tuberculosis compounded by severe malnutrition. His name was Segen.* He was 22.

There is so much about Segen we may never know. Did he prefer to read books or play football? What music did he like? Had he ever been in love? Who did he leave behind?

This is what we do know: Segen was rescued from the Mediterranean on Sunday by Pro Activa Open Arms, a Spanish group, and disembarked in Sicily on Monday. He died in the hospital. He told rescuers he was held captive in Libya for 19 months.

Segen may have been held in an official detention center or by smugglers – in today’s Libya, both are similar and brutal. He may have been held for ransom, or tortured while forced to call home so his family could hear him scream as he begged them to send money. He may have been sold from one smuggling network to another or forced to work without pay.

These possibilities are based on accounts I heard from migrants who escaped Libya. When I went out on a rescue ship run by SOS MEDITERRANEE and Médécins sans Frontières, they rescued many Eritreans and Somalis who had spent many months in captivity in Libya; some were severely emaciated.

If Segen had survived, there’s a good chance he would have been granted the right to stay in Europe; most Eritreans are because of serious repression, including indefinite military conscription, in Eritrea.

Yet European governments are empowering Libyan authorities to stop migrant boat departures and intercept – including in international waters – ones that do launch. All of those on board are then indefinitely detained in Libya.

While implementing policies that effectively trap people like Segen in horrible abuse, European governments are failing to resettle people the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, evacuates from Libya to Niger. Just over 1,000 people have been taken to Niger, but only 55 have been resettled to Europe, leading Niger to ask UNHCR to temporarily suspend the program.

Europe can and should do more. Our governments should focus on ending the cycle of captivity and violence in Libya and help as many people as possible reach a place of safety. Ramping up resettlement is a good place to start.

*Italian authorities registered his name as Tesfalidet Tesfon, but he was known as Segen.

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