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May 8, 2013

Somalia’s Future Depends on Educating its Youth

April 18, 2013 by

A young Somali in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Tobin Jones/UN

Nearly taken for granted by the West, education is a noble struggle in Somalia, requiring generous contributions from citizens and foreign donors to help ensure a future of stability and prosperity for Somali children.

Devastated by drought, famine and conflict in recent years, Somalia offers an arid, hardscrabble existence in which much of the populace subsists on just $1 per day. It has one of the lowest primary-school enrollment rates in Africa, and education is available to less than 20 percent of the country’s children. Only one-third of the students are girls.

But “with basic reading skills, a child has the opportunity to be lifted out of poverty,” says Hodan Guled, founder of the nonprofit Somali and American Fund for Education (SAFE).

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Somalia: Symbolism of American Diplomatic Recognition

January 22, 2013 by

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton with President of Somalia Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in Washington, D.C.

January 17, 2013 was a memorable day for Somalia. It was the day the United States abandoned its misguided policy towards Somalia and formally recognized the central government after 22 years. Going forward, two challenges that need to be addressed are the mobilization of an international aid package and within Somalia the overcoming of internal divisions based on clan loyalty, past injustices, collective mistakes, and fear of the future and a tendency for Somalis to look out for political self-interest.

Somalia should be grateful for the decision of the Obama administration not only to liberate Somalia from Al Shabaab and lead an effort to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden. This historical move must be a vindication for Michael Zorick, a former US State Department Political Officer for Somalia, who was removed in 2006 from his position after he dissented from the Bush administration’s counter-terrorism policy towards Somalia and late congressman Donald Payne who challenged Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia.

The announcement is also a triumph for Professor Michael A. Weinstein of Purdue University who has consistently argued for the best interests Somalia, and for John Prendergast who wrote in 2006, Our failure in Somalia, for The Washington Post.

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Somali-Turkish Relations: Opportunities and Challenges

January 22, 2013 by

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife Emine Erdogan visit a camp for displaced people in Mogadishu August 19, 2011. Umit Bektas/Reuters via Al Jazeera

Since the end of “transition” last year, the world seems willing to be engaged in Somalia once again after twenty years of meaningless chaos and conflict. This has happened because of many factors on the ground: al-Shabaab is becoming a non issue, there is sound leadership with clear vision on how to rebuild Somalia, and engage the world, and most importantly, the Somali people are ready for peace and governance although there are still some obstacles.

With that in mind, however, the visit of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Somalia in August 2011 was a turning point that opened Somalia to the world, and shaped renewed relations between Turkey and Somalia. Since the visit, Turkey has shown an interest in Somalia by opening the doors of cooperation between the two countries.

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Foreign Policy for Somalia Needs a Boost

November 8, 2012 by

Mogadishu is experiencing unprecedented economic activity. Tobin Jones/AU/UN

On November 4, 2012 Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman visited Somalia and met with President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud, government leaders, military leaders, UN representatives, community and business leaders. A State Department release noted, “Under Secretary Sherman is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia in more than twenty years, and her visit underscored the U.S. Government’s commitment to Somalia’s stabilization efforts.”

In 1991 the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu was closed, leaving a diplomatic void. In the chaos that followed secular and Islamic warlords fought for control of the country. Had we stayed, we could have helped guide them through the democratic governing and election process. Instead we returned two years later on a humanitarian aid mission, and became embroiled in trying to capture a local Islamist warlord. In the process our military killed a number of innocent clan leaders. In a subsequent battle we lost eighteen of our soldiers. Ever since we have tried to undermine the Islamists, and establish a democratic style of government.

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Somalia’s Conundrum: How to Fix a Broken Nation?

October 4, 2012 by

Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, Somali’s newly elected president. Image via Globe and Mail

For quite some time, the narrative heralding Somali politics has been one wielded by a few leaders arguably driven by the tendency of prioritizing personal interests over public interests. Now that narrative seems to be in its death throes. Or so jubilant Somalis would like to tell us, citing substantive new developments that have recently unfolded in the country.

Somali lawmakers have elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to lead Somalia, to what is hoped, a better future. Although the new leader is described as a political novice, he has managed to eke out a landslide victory over politicians believed to have possessed unequivocal political leverage and unequaled assortments of networks.

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Priorities for Somali State Rebuilding

June 6, 2012 by

AMISOM personnel carriers are seen in front of a war-damaged building in Mogadishu, Somalia. Stuart Price/UN

Even though some may be slow to accept it, Somalia is a failed state and has been for some time. Moreover, despite past efforts at rebuilding Somalia, including billions in aid over the decades, there is a renewed effort to rebuild Somalia.  

However, Somalis are the only ones that can make a difference. The international conference in Istanbul is, among other things, an effort to put together the development project that Somalia will need in order to achieve progress in the short term.  Since the Djibouti conference in late 2008, and the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG), led by President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, there have been glimmers of hope in Somalia, and especially in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, especially after the ousting of al-Shabaab by AMISOM forces.

This is not to heap praise on the TFG.  Outside and within Somalia, the TFG is known for its widespread corruption and endless political crisis.  The World Bank recently published a report that large sums of money received by Somalia’s interim UN-backed government have not been accounted for.

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Somalia: U.S. Dual Track Policy

May 18, 2012 by

Abandoned Al-Shabaab ‘technicals’ in Mogadishu’s stadium. Image via Enough Project

Let’s be sure we understand what the United States means by the dual track policy towards Somalia and Somaliland. In October 2010, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson announced the dual track approach. Track one involved continuing support for the Djibouti Peace Process, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), its National Security Forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Track two recognized that there were large pockets of stability in Somalia that merited greater engagement.  These areas included Somaliland, Puntland and regional and local anti-al-Shabaab groups throughout south/central Somalia. Track two included additional support for Somali civil society groups and clan leaders.

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It is Crucial to “De-Nairobify” Somali Affairs

March 27, 2012 by

Somali civilians look on as a Ugandan police officer walks past during a foot patrol in the Kaa’ran district in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Stuart Price/UN

For a number of years, Nairobi (Kenya) has been the de facto capital of Somalia after the State has disintegrated into anarchy. It has been where Somalis sought refuge, re-started their lives, and networked with the rest of the world. By the same token, it has been where almost all of the eighteen or so failed “reconciliation” conferences were concocted, and Somalis found the funding and the nourishment for the indigenous political demons that kept them divided and at war with one another for over two decades.

Yet, to this day—at least from the international community’s point of view—all initiatives related to peace, security, humanitarian, and development must be conceived, crafted, and executed via Nairobi; through a network of international institutions and organizations with sullied reputation of money squandering, laundering, and rewarding corruption with more contracts. And so long as this continues, so too will the status quo.

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Somalia: With the Transition Ending, the Fight for Political Power is in Progress

March 1, 2012 by

London Conference on Somalia. Image via UK Foreign Office

The new political dispensation beyond August 2012 points to a positive ending of the transition in Mogadishu. However, a political squabble between President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali is likely, as both men will contend for the presidency once the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) term ends.

This, in the view of many Somali political analysts, may make the internal Somali political process bumpier than envisaged in The Roadmap and reiterated at the recently concluded, London Conference on Somalia at Lancaster House on February 23.  Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has publicly declared his intention to run for the presidency of Somalia. Similarly, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali has put together a team that will manage his campaign including cabinet ministers.

With each man vying to become the next president of Somalia, each will try to insure that potential members of parliament are loyal to their respective sides. Not only that, but each will try to influence the Interim Independent Electoral Commission.

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Somalia: The International Community can’t Afford to Get it Wrong

February 28, 2012 by

London Conference on Somalia. Image via UK Foreign Office

In a February article published on International Policy Digest (IPD), Somalia’s Special Envoy to United States, Abukar Arman, wrote, “Since the collapse of the military government 21 years ago, Somalia went through various levels of problems perpetuated by clan militias, warlords, economic-lords, religious-lords, regional-lords, and a group that I would refer to as the Ghost-lords.”  In Arman’s analysis, the Ghost-lords are meant to denote “a loose association of paradoxical powers of the Good, Bad, and Ugly of the International Community”.

Arman contends that the Ghost-lords are “the most elusive and perhaps the biggest obstacle to the reconstitution of the Somali state”.  In other words, Arman suggested that such behavior and meddling by the international community in Somalia is a cancer.  While not the primary cause of Somalia’s internal tumults, it is, at least, a significant cause of what ails Somalia.

European ships are hovering over Somalia’s seas rampantly dumping chemical waste and plundering the waters of Somalia’s coast and robbing her resources. The United States is bombing the country left and right based on the pretext of chasing terrorist fugitives hiding within Somalia. Arabs are exporting their draconian interpretation of Islam with impunity and proselytizing to Somalia’s youth.

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Somalia: Under the Tutelage of Ghost-Lords

February 2, 2012 by

London Conference on Somalia. Image via UK Foreign Office

At this dreadful moment in its history—when the obituary of a nation on life support is being written—political correctness is a luxury that Somalia cannot afford. Yes, Somalia is a failed state. But, failure is not a permanent condition, unless people choose to make it so by retiring their dignity and spirit of resilience.

Since the collapse of the military government 21 years ago, Somalia went through various levels of problems perpetuated by clan militias, warlords, economic-lords, religious-lords, regional-lords, and a group that I would refer to as the Ghost-lords.

All except the latter were domestic phenomena, and as counter-intuitive as it may seem, the Ghost-lords is the most elusive and perhaps the biggest obstacle to the reconstitution of the Somali state. Yet it remains the highest international authority that oversees every aspect of the political process in Somalia.

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Al-Shabaab and Somalia in the 21st Century

January 25, 2012 by

A soldier from Burundi serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is seen manning a frontline position in territory recently captured from insurgents in Deynile District along the furthest most northern fringes of the capital Mogadishu. Stuart Price/UN

My starting point is that Somalia today is not what it was in the 1960s. I am not referring to the obvious fact that Somalia became a failed state in 1991. I am referring to subtle and not so subtle changes in the nature of society itself. While clans remain important and, in some circumstances, are still the single most important feature of society, the role of Islam has changed dramatically. This has been accelerated by the breakdown of traditional society following years of civil war, broken families, failure of governmental institutions and the movement of large numbers of Somalis from rural areas to Mogadishu, other cities in Somalia and the overseas diaspora.

Political Islam, admittedly a term that holds different meaning for different people, has been present in Somalia for decades. It was a minor factor in the early years after Somali independence and harshly repressed during the Siad Barre regime.  Even following the overthrow of Said Barre in 1991 and the breakdown of government, warlords initially filled the void before political Islam could assert itself.

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“SSC” is the Last Hope to Bridge Somalia Back Together

January 24, 2012 by

World Food Programme in Kobe refugee camp in the Dolo Ado area of Ethiopia. Photo by Petterik Wiggers via Hollandse Hoogte

Like many nations in Africa, Somalia has endured the legacy of the foreign expedition of greed throughout the continent. After the Berlin Conference 1884, Western European powers sought to divide Somaliland—one of the most homogeneous regions of Africa—into British Somaliland, French Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, Ethiopian Somaliland (the Ogaden), and the Northern Frontier District (NFD) of British Kenya. Thus, sowing the seed for the current ongoing inter and intra-regional unrest of Somalia.

Fast forward to 1991: a mix of northern and southern clan-based militias armed, financed, and supported by Ethiopia toppled Somalia’s central government and, in due course, brought the strategic collaboration between these militia groups to an end as each went to secure its area of influence (read clan-based). This formula would work for some and not the others.

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The Somali Famine, Despair and Resilience

December 21, 2011 by

A man arrives at the Badbado camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Mogadishu, Somalia. Stuart Price/UN

Viewing through computer and television screens the grim images of women, children, and elderly suffering from the agony of protracted civil-war and the worst famine in Somalia does not prepare the human mind for the reality that awaits on the ground.  I was confronted with that reality upon arriving in what many consider the land of misery - my homeland, Somalia.  It goes without saying that this human tragedy did not develop overnight; it has been in the making for several years. The prolonged drought, unrelenting instability and the ever-present external interferences have created the right condition for the current famine.

In December 2007, in an article entitled, The War on Terror and the Worst Humanitarian Crisis in Africa, this author, among others, cited 40 international NGOs who released a joint statement “ominously warning against a gathering cloud of humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia and urging the international community to respond to this man-made calamity…”

Yet, the international community continued to ignore all the warning signs until July 2011 when the UN finally declared certain regions famine-stricken.

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U.S. Policy towards the Horn of Africa

October 13, 2011 by

U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 helicopters during inflight refueling over Djibouti on Jan.19, 2008

The problems of the Horn of Africa are frequently interlinked and often cross international borders. The root causes of the conflicts include economic inequality, political marginalization, poor governance, ethnic tension, competition for scarce resources such as water and good land, periodic drought and poverty.

Contributory factors are porous borders, widespread availability of arms, corruption, a poor record by governments on human rights issues and interference in the region by organizations and countries outside the Horn. When you add the fact that the Horn is located on a religious fault line, you have a recipe for frequent conflict. It has arguably been the most conflicted corner of the world since the end of World War II. The Horn has constantly posed a serious challenge for U.S. policy.

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