Tag Archives: somalia

“No to Al Shabaab”

As Somalia’s government continues to warn Al Shabaab that they are about to launch a “major offensive”, the Somali hip-hop collective, Waayaha Cusub, has unveiled a more musical attack.

Apparently it’s getting a lot of airplay in Somalia. Waayaha Cusub, understandably, are based in Nairobi.


What Somalia’s military chiefs can learn from Ben Stiller films

"Al Shabaab won't be expecting this."

In Ben Stiller’s award-winning Night at the Museum 2 General Custer gathers his forces (which includes a six-inch tall Roman emperor and a monkey) and suggests a cunning plan of attack against the enemy (Al Capone, Napolean and Egyptian pharaoh, Kahmunrah).

“I’ll yell ‘attack’ and then we’ll attack,” says Custer. Sacagawea suggests it’s not a very good idea. Won’t they know we’re about to attack, she points out.

I’m not sure if Night at the Museum 2 has made it to Mogadishu yet. If it has, Somalia’s military chiefs should probably watch it. They appear to be following the Custer plan and, so far, there is no Sacagawea prepared to point out it’s not a very good idea.

Most of Mogadishu is currently controlled by Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, militant Islamist groups that are trying to oust the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government. The TFG presides over just a few streets in Mogadishu and only the presence of 5,000 African Union soldiers is preventing them being over-run.

TFG officials have been talking about an “imminent offensive” against Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam for months. In recent weeks the threats have become louder.

“Our soldiers have made their final preparations to deal with the security and will soon take action,” Yusuf Mohamed Siyad, Somalia’s state defense minister, told AP in early Feburary.

Last Friday, Jean Ping, the head of the African Union commission said the TFG was “gearing towards a major offensive.”

Security Minister, Abdullahi Mohamed Ali, today told the Wall Street Journal that his troops are “trained and equipped now, so they are ready to clear the rebels out of the country.”

So while the TFG and Amisom forces have been talking up the imminent attack, their opponents have been making preparations of their own.

“We have information on the planned offensive by the apostate government against the positions we control here in Mogadishu and other regions as well, and we are fully prepared to counter-attack them,” Mohamed Osman Arus, a spokesman for Hizbul Islam said.

As ever in Somalia, it is the civilians who will bear the brunt of the fighting. At least the warnings have given them time to leave – not that many residents of Mogadishu still live there.

What next for Somalia…

…Caught in the middle, as ever, are Somalia’s civilians – those that have stayed in the country anyway. As many as 8,000 Somalis a week now cross the border into Kenya, while tens of thousands a year attempt to make the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Inside the country, an estimated 3.6 million people are in need of emergency aid.

Getting that aid to them is no easy task and requires large amounts of funding. While western nations have been willing to spend the estimated £60,000 a day it costs to send a warship to patrol the Indian Ocean searching for pirates, they are less prepared to spend money on aid. The UN received $516m of the $849m it requested in 2009 – and half of that was carried over from the year before.

Little is likely to change in the coming year. Piracy and terrorism will remain the West’s priorities. If Somalia’s civilians happen to benefit, it will be by accident, not design.

From my latest column in Monocle. The rest is here

Funding terrorists to fight hunger: bad; Funding terrorists to fight terrorists: good

The US is currently refusing to fund life-saving aid in Somalia because it believes some of the food will be diverted to Al Shabaab. At a time when half the population in Somalia is in need of aid, 40m pounds of food is sitting in a warehouse in Mombasa while US and UN officials try to work out new protocols which would include:

“…demanding that aid transporters not pay fees at roadblocks, which are ubiquitous and virtually unavoidable in a nation widely considered a case study in chaos.”

The US government is being idiotic. Dangerously idiotic. Al Shabaab control most of the areas where aid is needed most. Either you strike deals with local commanders to let the aid through and thus save lives or you let people die. It’s not perfect, no, but let’s go over that other option again: LET PEOPLE DIE.

So it was with some interest that I read this story in today’s Guardian:

guardian articleSomething tells me this might be brought up by UN OCHA officials at their next meeting with their US counterparts.


Pirate PR

No story about Somali pirates is complete without a suitably bloodcurdling quote from a cutlass-wielding Jack Sparrow wannabe. Luckily for journalists there are plenty of Somalis willing to pretend to be pirates spokesmen for us to choose from.

Following the kidnapping of Paul and Rachel Chandler, a British couple sailing from Seychelles to Tanzania, the pirate PRs have been out in force. By my count 11 people has so far claimed to be spokesmen for the pirates and had their quotes faithfully recorded in the western media.

Here’s your rundown of pirate spokesmen. Must rush, I’m waiting on a call from a pirate spokesman who goes by the name Abu Sharati.

Nor Abdiwali in The Independent

“Anyone who tries [a] rescue will kill the ones they want to rescue,” said Nor Abdiwali, who claims to be the commander of the group holding the Chandlers, in an interview with The Independent yesterday. “Our guns will randomly exterminate them. We are not afraid and we [have] kept them in a safe place,” he added.

Mohamed Shakir in The Independent

According to one report a “pirate leader” called Mohamed Shakir called from Haradheere to say: “We have captured two old British people, a man and a woman in the Indian Ocean. They were on a small boat that we have hijacked. The people are healthy and they are in our hands.”

Abdinor in The Guardian

A spokesman for the pirates, who identified himself only by his first name, Abdinor, said the couple would be moved to a ship anchored off the coast of Somalia. He said it would be safer for the couple to be kept on a ship with other hostages.

Hassan in The Times

A pirate called Hassan said: “We warn them any attack on us, this is a good advice for them, otherwise they will burn their two people’s bones. If warships surround us, we shall point our guns at the British tourists. They are old and we will take care of them — that is if we are not attacked.”

Red Teeth in The New York Times

A Somali pirate boss named Red Teeth said Saturday that his gang of pirates had whisked the British couple kidnapped at sea last month to a lair on shore, and apparently the pirates have begun bickering among themselves about what to do next.

Farah Siad in The Daily Telegraph

A spokesman for the pirates told The Daily Telegraph that the couple are unharmed and promised to treat them well unless a military rescue operation was launched. Farah Siad, speaking from the pirate stronghold of Harardhere town, Somalia, said: “This message should be heard by Britain, we will do many harmful things to them if rescue attempts take place.”

Warmoge in The Sunday Times

“We can defend ourselves and, if there is an attack on us, the captives will die before us,” said Warmoge, a pirate who was in the group that captured Paul, a structural engineer, and Rachel, an economist.

Ahmed Gadaf in The Sunday Times

Yesterday Ahmed Gadaf, who claimed to speak for the gang, accused western vessels of “harassing local fishermen and destroying their nets”.

Mohamed Hussein on Sky News

“We are telling Britain that any bullet of our friends on the yacht will be big cries for the families of the two old people we hold.”

Gedow on Sky News

Talking to a Sky News reporter Gedow insisted he was a voluntary coastguard and the Chandlers were seized as a precaution against “international violators”. Gedow said: “Our naval forces met them in the deep ocean, but it was the Somali ocean. “They didn’t have permission to sail in the Somali waters, so that is why we captured them.”

Shamum Indhobur to EFE, the Spanish news agency

In one call, a pirate who gave his name as Shamum Indhobur, reportedly told the Spanish news agency EFE that any rescue attempt on either vessel would result in suffering for those aboard the other. “We have the Spanish ship and this new yacht, and we warn naval forces that they must avoid any military action, because if one is attacked, we will punish those from the other,” he said in a call from Harardhere, a Somali pirate haven.

Ahmed Sheikh to AFP

Ahmed Sheikh, who claimed to be a member of the gang, reportedly told the French news agency AFP that about 60 gunmen had arrived in Harardhere to protect the pirates, adding: “We have made proper contact with the boat and everybody is OK. The hostages’ fate will be discussed when the boat gets here.”

Kudos to the Indy and AFP for using the word ‘claimed’.


Rebranding Somalia

Somalia doesn’t get a very good press. If it’s not war, it’s pirates. And if it’s not pirates, it’s a weird story about a 112 year-old man marrying a 17-year-old girl:

Ahmed Muhamed Dhore – who says he was born in 1897, the year that Queen Victoria celebrated her diamond jubilee – already has 13 children by five wives, but said he would like more with his newest, Safiya Abdulle…

“I didn’t force her, but used my experience to convince her of my love, and then we agreed to marry,” the groom said. The bride’s family said she was “happy with her new husband”. Somali adolescent girls are often married off to older men.

This has been a particularly bad week for Somalia’s international reputation. The capture of two Britons, Paul and Rachel Chandler, by pirates in the Indian Ocean has sparked off yet another round of stories featuring wild quotes from alleged pirates.

The Times quoted a pirate called ‘Hassan’:

“We warn them any attack on us, this is a good advice for them, otherwise they will burn their two people’s bones.”

Sky News had a pirate called Mohamed Hussein:

“We are telling Britain that any bullet of our friends on the yacht will be big cries for the families of the two old people we hold.”

Our view of Somalia is based upon what we know about a country. If all we read about is comically bloodthirsty pirates and the world’s creepiest marriage will we care about the fate of Somalia’s people?

Somalia needs peace, regular rains and law and order. But first it needs rebranding. This guy could help:



“We cannot just die here”

‘We cannot just die here,” Siida’s husband told her. Mohammed stood at the doorway of what remained of their five-bedroom house in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, their three eldest children at his side. “If I don’t come back let us forgive each other. You must take care of the rest of the family.”

Inside the crumbling house, three-year-old Nimo, the couple’s youngest child, was wailing. Mohammed turned and walked down the street, determined to take his three teenage children to school.

The fighting in Mogadishu had been particularly fierce during the past few weeks. Siida and Mohammed had stayed in the city throughout all the previous wars that had battered the once-beautiful seaside capital over the past two decades. It had never been as bad as this, though. Their house had been hit by mortars and bullets. One night uniformed fighters – Siida didn’t know from which faction – had come to their house and stolen everything they owned. “Even my scarf,” she recalled. Her younger sister was raped; her children were terrorised.

The morning Mohammed left to take the children to school the fighting was on their street. Within hours Siida realised it wasn’t safe enough to stay. She gathered her seven remaining children and left Mogadishu.

From my piece in last weekend’s Sunday Herald about the Bush administration’s other dumb ‘war on terror’ policy. The rest is here.

Brendan Bannon also took some wonderful photos, but I can’t find them on the website, which is a shame. Take a look at his slideshow on Congolese refugees in South Sudan instead