Tag Archives: Somalia

How do you solve a problem like Somalia

BBC

A Somali soldier stands guard next to the site where al-Shabab militants carried out a suicide attack in MogadishuImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Recent al-Shabab suicide bombings in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, have targeted the UN, hotels and military leaders

This Thursday, the great and the good will descend on London to discuss Somalia, a country that has topped the Fragile States Index for eight of the past 10 years.

The London Somalia Conference, co-chaired by the UK, Somalia and the United Nations, will be held in Lancaster House, a grand mansion in the exclusive district of St James’s. Many of the delegates will stay in swish hotels nearby.

This is the third such London gathering since 2012, and there is an element of “cut and paste” to its agenda, which focuses on security, governance and the economy.

The official conference document emphasises how much progress has been made.

But its description of Somalia from the time of the first meeting still applies: “Chronically unstable and ungoverned”, and threatened by Islamist militants, piracy and famine.

Map showing which groups control parts of Somalia, as of November 2016

There has been some improvement.

Piracy, which at its height cost $7bn (£5.4bn) a year, is much diminished, although there has been a recent resurgence.

US drones, African Union troops, Western “security advisers” and Somali forces have pushed al-Shabab from most major towns, although the jihadists still control many areas and attack at will.

A recent electoral process resulted in a new and – for the time being – popular president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, nicknamed Farmajo, and more female and youth representation in parliament.

Life-threatening malnutrition

Somalia is in a “pre-famine” stage rather than the full-blown disaster of 2011, in which more than 250,000 people died.

But it is perhaps surprising that the current water shortage will not be a headline topic at the conference.

The country is in the grip of its worst drought in decades. Four successive rainy seasons have failed.

Even before you enter Burao Regional Hospital, in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland‘s drought-stricken Togdheer region, you hear the haunting, high-pitched wailing of malnourished children.

Two severely malnourished children in Baidoa regional hospital
Image caption Severely malnourished children in Baidoa regional hospital

One boy, dressed in purple, stares blankly at the wall. “His brain is damaged due to a prolonged lack of adequate nutrition,” says Dr Yusuf Ali, who returned home to Somalia from the UK two years ago. “He will never recover.”

According to Unicef, the number of children who are or will be acutely malnourished in 2017 is up by 50% from the beginning of the year, to a total of 1.4 million, including 275,000 for whom the condition is or will be life-threatening.

Most are too sick to go to school or help herd animals, making the life of the country’s many nomads even more precarious.

People are already dying from hunger and diseases that strike those weakened by lack of food.

Severely malnourished children are nine times more likely than healthy ones to die from illnesses such as measles and diarrhoea.

The World Health Organization says there were more than 25,000 cases of cholera in the first four months of 2017, with the number expected to more than double to 54,000 by June.

More than 500 people have already died from the disease.

It is not just humans who are suffering.

‘Triangle of death’

In Somaliland, officials say, 80% of livestock have died.

Livestock is the mainstay of the economy – the ports in Somaliland and nearby Djibouti export more live animals than anywhere else in the world, mainly to the Gulf.

A Somali family crammed into a small tent on the outskirts of Baidoa
Image caption Tens of thousands people fleeing drought and al-Shabab live in tents on the outskirts of Baidoa

In south-western Somalia, tens of thousands of drought-affected people have fled to Baidoa, clustering into flimsy, makeshift shelters on the outskirts of the city.

This area – known as the “triangle of death” – was the epicentre of the famines of 2011 and 1991.

“Al-Shabab is harvesting the boys and men we left behind on our parched land, offering them a few dollars and a meal,” says one woman. “Against their will, our children and husbands have become the jihadists’ new army.”

“The biggest problem in dealing with this drought is insecurity,” says Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, president of South West State, in his modest palace in Baidoa.

The city, which is protected by a ring of Ethiopian troops, is right in the heart of al-Shabab country. “The militants have closed all the roads so we cannot deliver help to those who need it most.”

Deadly clashes

This brings home in the starkest of terms why security is top of the London Somalia Conference agenda.

As long as Somalia remains violent, with different parts of the country controlled by a multitude of often conflicting armed groups, it will be impossible to deliver emergency assistance, let alone long-term development.

Al-Shabab fighters perform military drills at a village about 25km outside MogadishuImage copyright AFP
Image caption Al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda, is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters

The recently created South West State is one of the regions making up the new federal Somalia.

Critics fear this will lead to balkanisation, and risks introducing another dimension to conflict, as the new states rub up against each other and start fighting. This has already happened in central Somalia, where last year there were deadly clashes between Puntland and Galmudug states.

The attitude of people in South West State shows how much of a gamble the federal system is.

“We have always been marginalised and looked down on by other Somalis,” says a farmer, Fatima Issa.

“We do not want the federal troops here. They don’t hunt down al-Shabab the way our local militias do. We should push for more autonomy, maybe even break away and declare independence like Somaliland did in 1991.”

One aim of the London Somalia Conference is to push for more progress on the sharing of resources between the regions and the centre. This contentious issue has been debated since before the first London gathering in 2012.

‘Predatory carnival’

South West State has a special friendship with Ethiopia, which is not on the best of terms with the new federal government. This highlights another possible problem – some foreign powers have started to sign bilateral agreements with regional states.

For instance, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is building a military base in Somaliland, a territory the federal government considers an integral part of Somalia. The UAE has also given military hardware to Jubaland State in southern Somalia.

Somalia’s former special envoy to the US, Abukar Arman, has described the London Somalia Conference as a “predatory carnival”, with foreign powers gathering to slice up Somalia for their own benefit.

Black Hawk Helicopter flying over MogadishuImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption The loss of two Black Hawk helicopters in Somalia in 1993 made the US wary of intervening in African crises

Some in Somalia see it as a waste of time.

“It is an expensive talking-shop,” says Ahmed Mohamed, a rickshaw driver in the capital Mogadishu. “The politicians and diplomats are obsessed with the conference instead of taking action on the drought.”

But lessons have been learned, and there is now a far more nuanced approach to Somalia than there was when the crisis began, in the late 1980s.

The US response to the Somali famine of 1991 was to send in nearly 30,000 troops. This ended in a humiliating withdrawal, following the shooting down of two US Black Hawk helicopters in 1993.

Now, much of the talk is of “Somali-owned” processes, although the shadows of a growing number of foreign powers can be seen lurking in the background.

UNICEF says acute malnutrition surging among Somali children

Reuters

By Stephanie Nebehay | GENEVA

GENEVA About 1.4 million children in drought-hit Somalia are projected to suffer acute malnutrition this year, 50 percent more than estimated in January, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

They include more than 275,000 children potentially facing a life-threatening severe acute form of malnutrition, who are nine times more likely to die of diseases including cholera or measles, UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said.

“The combination of malnutrition and disease plus displacement is deadly for children,” Mercado told a Geneva news briefing after a trip to the central city of Baidoa.

“A severely malnourished and dehydrated child can die in a matter of hours if they do not get treatment for diarrhoea or cholera. Measles, which can be transmitted via air, can spread like fire in congested displacement camps,” she said.

About 28,400 cases of cholera or acute watery diarrhoea, including 548 deaths, have already been recorded across Somalia, nearly double the rates last year, she added.

An estimated 2.9 million people in Somalia are facing famine, along with 17 million in northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, the United Nations says. Famine has already been declared in pockets of South Sudan.

UNICEF has treated 56,000 Somali children for the most severe form of malnutrition since the beginning of year, an increase of 88 percent over last year, Mercado said. The known death rate among them was one percent, she added.

The agency, which supports nutrition and cholera centres, had no figure for the overall number of children who have died so far of hunger and disease in Somalia. But Mercado noted that in the 2011 famine an estimated 258,000 people died over an 18-month period, including 133,000 young children.

“Every mother I spoke to said their children were sick, either with diarrhoea, or vomiting or feverish. Most had never been vaccinated before because of the insecurity across the country,” Mercado said. “The pace and the scale of displacement have risen exponentially.”

Some 615,000 Somalis have fled their homes due to drought and failed crops since last November, joining 1 million previously internally displaced, U.N. spokesman Jens Laerke said.

The U.N. has received nearly 60 percent towards its humanitarian funding appeal of $720 million for Somalia this year, he said, adding: “We are still in a race against time.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans

Somalia – roadside bomb kills six soldiers in Puntland

Al Jazeera

Al-Shabab claims deadly attack with improvised explosive device on a military pick-up truck, 40km south of Bosasso.

Al-Shabab fighters display weapons as they conduct military exercises in northern Somalia [File: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP]

A military vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region on Sunday, killing at least six soldiers and wounding another eight.

The al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, which happened on the outskirts of the region’s port city of Bosaso.

Al-Shabab is fighting to topple the Horn of Africa country’s Western-backed government and wants to rule the country according to its strict version of Islamic law.

It also wants to drive out of Somalia Africa Union peace keeping force AMISOM that helps defend the country’s central government.

Mohamed Ibrahim, a major in Puntland’s military, told Reuters news agency the vehicle, a pick-up truck, was from Galgala hills, about 40km southwest of Bosasso.

“Our military pick-up hit a roadside bomb today, six soldiers died, eight others were injured,” Ibrahim said, adding two of the wounded were in a serious condition.

Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operations spokesman, said the group carried out the bombing.  “We are behind the attack,” he said.

Al-Shabab once controlled much of Somalia but in 2011 it was driven out of the capital Mogadishu and has since lost most other former strongholds.

But its fighters remain a formidable threat and constantly carry out bombings against both military and civilian targets in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

Officially called the Puntland State of Somalia, the region in northeastern Somalia declared autonomy 1998. However, it does not seek independence.

Source: Reuters news agency

Somalia – US sees increase in piracy linked with famine

Reuters

 

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis is greeted by Djibouti’s Minister of Defense Ali Hasan Bahdon as he arrives at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport in Ambouli, Djibouti April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
By Idrees Ali | DJIBOUTI

DJIBOUTI The United States is closely watching a recent increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia, a senior U.S. military official said on Sunday as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited an important military base in Djibouti.

The rise in piracy attacks has at least partially been driven by famine and drought in the region, the top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa said during Mattis’ visit as part of a week-long trip to the Middle East and Africa.

The United States uses the base in Djibouti, a tiny country the size of Wales at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, as a launch pad for operations in Yemen and Somalia.

The sudden string of attacks by Somali pirates comes after years without a reported incident. Attacks peaked with 237 in 2011 but then declined steeply after ship owners improved security measures and international naval forces stepped up patrols.

This month has seen a new rash of attacks, with two ships captured and a third rescued by Indian and Chinese forces after the crew radioed for help and locked themselves in a safe room.

“The bottom line is there have been a half dozen or so(incidents),” Marine General Thomas Waldhauser said at a press conference standing alongside Mattis.

“We’re not ready to say there is a trend there yet but we’ll continue to watch,” he said, adding one reason for the increase was famine and droughts in the region since some vessels targeted were carrying food and oil.

According to the U.N. World Food Programme more than 20 million people from Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen are at risk of dying from starvation within the next six months.

In South Sudan alone, more than 100,000 people are suffering from famine with a further million on the brink of starvation.

Mattis added that while the situation was being watched, he did not expect a U.S. military response to the surge in piracy.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said international shipping companies had started to become complacent about their security, which could also help explain the rise in piracy incidents.

MILITANCY IN THE REGION

Djibouti is strategically important as it is on the route to the Suez Canal. The barren nation, sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, also hosts Japanese and French bases.

The U.S. base, which has about 4,000 personnel, is located just miles from a Chinese one, still under construction, which has caused concern to some U.S. officials.

Mattis’ visit to the base comes as the United States has been increasing pressure on militant groups such as al Shabaab in the region.

The White House recently granted the U.S. military broader authority to strike al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants in Somalia.

Waldhauser told reporters that he had not yet used the new authorities given to him by the White House.

Al Shabaab has been able to carry out deadly bombings despite losing most of its territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the Somali government.

On Sunday, a military vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Somalia’s semi autonomous Puntland region on Sunday, killing at least six soldiers and injuring another eight.

The United States recently sent a few dozen troops to Somalia to help train members of the Somali National Army.

It is also carrying out strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

AQAP boasts one of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and it has been a persistent concern to the U.S. government ever since a 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Clelia Oziel)

Somalia – Kenyan forces say 52 Al Shabaab fighters killed

Reuters

Colonel Joseph Owuoth, spokesman for Kenya Defence Forces, said the incident happened in Badhaadhe in Lower Juba.

Rifles, three improvised explosive devices and bomb making materials were recovered in the assault, he said.

“The intelligence led operation was executed after surveillance assets sighted al Shabaab terrorist concentration on the location. Ground troops supported by mortar and artillery fire were employed to neutralise the camp thereafter,” the statement said.

“Following the operation, the initial assessment indicates that 52 terrorists were killed while others fled with injuries.”

Al Shabaab, whose assessment of casualties often differs markedly from official versions, could be immediately reached for comment.

Kenya has thousands of its troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to help curb al Shabaab and improve security as part of a reconstruction drive after two decades of civil war that shattered the country.

Kenya initially sent troops into Somalia in 2011 after a series of attacks on Kenyan soil by the al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab.

The Islamist group has been fighting for years to impose its own harsh interpretation of Islam on Somalia.

It once controlled much of Somalia and wants to topple the Western-backed government in Mogadishu and drive out the peacekeeping force, which is also made up of soldiers from Djibouti, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and other African countries.

In January, al Shabaab said its fighters killed dozens of Kenyan troops when the group attacked a remote military base in Somalia, while Kenya’s army said nine soldiers had died and 70 militants were killed.

In January 2016, al Shabaab said it had killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in El Adde, a camp near the border with Kenya.

The military did not give details of casualties in that attack, but Kenyan media reports suggested a toll of that magnitude.

(Reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Elias Biryabarema and Alison Williams)

African migrants sold in Libyan “slave markets”

BBC

Gambian migrants who returned voluntarily from Libya stand in line with plastic bag from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as they wait for registration at the airport in Banjul, Gambia April 4, 2017Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Reports of African migrants being bought and sold mark a new low in the crisis

Africans trying to reach Europe are being sold by their captors in “slave markets” in Libya, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says.

Victims told IOM that after being detained by people smugglers or militia groups, they were taken to town squares or car parks to be sold.

Migrants with skills like painting or tiling would fetch higher prices, the head of the IOM in Libya told the BBC.

Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 Nato-backed ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.

Hundreds of young sub-Saharan African men have been caught up in the so-called slave markets, according to the IOM report.

A Senegalese migrant, who was not named to protect his identity, said that he had been sold at one such market in the southern Libyan city of Sabha, before being taken to a makeshift prison where more than 100 migrants were being held hostage.

Women, too, were bought by private Libyan clients and brought to homes where they were forced to be sex slaves, the witness said.

Map showing Central Mediterranean migrant routes

The IOM’s chief of mission for Libya, Othman Belbeisi, told the BBC that those sold into slavery found themselves priced according to their abilities.

“Apparently they don’t have money and their families cannot pay the ransom, so they are being sold to get at least a minimum benefit from that,” he said.

“The price is definitely different depending on your qualifications, for example if you can do painting or tiles or some specialised work then the price gets higher.”

A migrant hangs from a boat as they wait to be rescued as they drift in the Mediterranean Sea, some 12 nautical miles north of Libya, on October 4, 2016.Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many thousands of migrants each year try to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean

An IOM staff member in Niger said they confirmed the reports of auctions in Libya with several other migrants who had escaped:

“They all confirmed the risks of been sold as slaves in squares or garages in Sabha, either by their drivers or by locals who recruit the migrants for daily jobs in town, often in construction.

“Later, instead of paying them, [they] sell their victims to new buyers.”

Some migrants, mainly Nigerians, Ghanaians and Gambians are forced to work “as guards in the ransom houses or in the ‘market’ itself”, the IOM employee added.

The organisation has called the emergence of these markets “a disturbing new trend in the already dire situation for migrants in Libya”.

Somalia – Al Shabaab takes town in Galmudug after Ethiopian force pull out

Reuters

MOGADISHU Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamist group has taken control of El Bur, a town in the Horn of Africa’s semi-autonomous region of Galmudug, after Ethiopian forces left, a government official has said.

Al Shabaab is seeking to drive the African Union-mandated peace keeping force, AMISOM, out of Somalia and topple the country’s Western-backed central government.

The Islamist militants also want to rule the country according to a harsh version of sharia, or Islamic law.

“Ethiopian troops left the town … thus al Shabaab captured it today,” Burhaan Warsame, Galmudug’s minister for ports and sea transport, told Reuters late on Monday.

Ethiopian forces, who are part of AMISOM alongside troops from Uganda, Kenya and other countries, had captured the town from al Shabaab in 2014, officials from the area said.

Most residents fled into nearby bushland with the arrival of Ethiopian forces in El Bur, and Warsame said the town was deserted when al Shabaab fighters entered.

Al Shabaab has been driven out of its strongholds in Somalia by AMISOM and Somali army offensives, although the group still controls some rural areas and often launches guerrilla-style assaults and frequent bomb attacks in the capital, Mogadishu.

Sheikh Hassan Yaqub, al Shabaab’s governor for Galmudug’s Galgadud region, where El Bur is located, confirmed the group had retaken the town.

“We captured it, there were no residents for over the three years Ethiopian troops controlled the town,” he said.

“We are sure residents will come back to the town.”

(Reporting by Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Paul Tait)