~ Somalia and the Westgate Mall Attack in Kenya ~
Just as reports were coming out about Al Shabaab’s decline and internal dissent, on 21 September, the group carried out a coordinated attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The BBC reports on the attack and its aftermath:
“Kenya [began] three days of national mourning following the end of the four-day siege by Islamist militants on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said 72 people had died, including six security personnel and five militants.
Eleven people have been arrested in connection with the attack.
Al-Shabab, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said 137 hostages had died, but the statement cannot be verified.
Across Kenya, flags flew at half mast, as grieving friends and relatives continued to hold funerals for victims of the attack.
As the clearing of the mall continues, the death toll is expected to rise.
Several bodies, including those of some attackers, are thought to be trapped under rubble after three floors of the building collapsed following a blaze.
At least 18 foreigners are among the dead. They include six Britons as well as citizens from France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China.
About 175 people were wounded, including 62 who remain in hospital.
(…) Somali Islamist group al-Shabab said it had carried out the attack in retaliation for Kenyan army operations in Somalia.
The militants stormed the Westgate centre on 21 September, throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately at shoppers and staff.
Twitter posts on an al-Shabab account said the group’s militants had held 137 people hostage, and claimed the hostages had died after security forces fired chemical agents to end the siege.
The posts could not be verified. A government spokesman denied any chemical agents were used, and authorities called on Kenyans to ignore militant propaganda.
Both sides blamed the other for causing part of the shopping centre to collapse.” (BBC)
While there are still unanswered questions about the attack, the implication that Shabaab is still able to carry out such an operation outside of Somalia has produced a flurry of responses. Paul Shinkman if U.S. News and World Report offered several expert responses that “Nairobi Mall Attack Could Signal New Rise of Al Qaeda”:
“Al-Shabab’s attack on an upscale mall in Kenya could be a bitter taste of future violence from a surging international coalition of al-Qaida fighters, says a former top U.S. official for Africa.
This latest strike, which left more than 60 dead and hundreds wounded, could further destabilize the region, says former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson. It could allow for a resurgence of al-Qaida in East Africa, he says, and for Somalia to descend into an “international arms bazaar.”
It requires a strong response from international supporters of the fledgling government in Somalia, which is still trying to rise above its “Black Hawk Down” history.
“This is not something the new Somali government will be able to do on its own,” Carson tells U.S. News. The veteran Foreign Service officer, who also served as an ambassador, heralded Somalia’s recent political transition as one of the continent’s greatest success stories.
“We must do everything we can to continue the progress into the future. Much remains to be done there,” says Carson, who retired earlier this year. “One should not look at the incidents over the weekend – as terrible and horrific as they are – as indicators of backsliding.”
Other experts say al-Shabab will likely continue to make similar headlines.
J. Peter Pham is the director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, and frequently advises Congress and administration officials about African Affairs. He spoke Tuesday before a high-level meeting at the United Nations.
Removing al-Shabab from its traditional strongholds in Somalia has allowed it to focus on becoming an extremist organization with a broader reach, he says.
“The [Nairobi] attack is probably just the first of what is likely to be several from al-Shabab now that it has transitioned from a guerrilla force into a full-fledged terrorist outfit, with its hardliners having consolidated their control over the remenant of the organization,” Pham said at the U.N. meeting, according to a statement provided to U.S. News.
(…) “Future assistance to Kenya and other African countries will need to include a broader menu than just military aid,” says Pham. “I do hope…that U.S. policymakers re-examine their overly optimistic assessments and pivot accordingly.” (U.S. News & World Report)
Other experts argue that this attack was a sign of desperation, “a final effort to reverse a decline – rather than some form of resurgence.” Ariel Zirulnick at the Christian Science Monitor sheds light on this discussion, “Kenya Mall Attack: Is Al Shabab Terror Group Desperate, or Resurgent”:
“Ken Menkhaus, a professor at Davidson College in North Carolina and a close observer of the militant group, casts the mall attack as the former.
…Shabaab is weakened. It is still one of the strongest armed groups in south-central Somalia, and still capable of daily assassinations and terrorist attacks in Mogadishu, but it is in a state of serious decline. Over the past two years, it has lost control of almost all urban areas and the lucrative revenues from seaports like Kismayo. Its deep internal divisions exploded in armed conflict this year, resulting in the deaths of several of its top leaders and the splintering of the group. Most foreign mujahedeen have become disillusioned and left Somalia. And, most importantly, far fewer Somalis, both in country and in the large Somali diaspora, actively support the group.
The Westgate attack is the latest sign of the group’s weakness. It was a desperate, high-risk gamble by Shabaab to reverse its prospects.
Mr. Menkhaus dismisses those who argue that the siege was an effort to prove Al Shabab’s “relevance” to Al Qaeda, writing that the Somali group’s tendency to stage attacks with high civilian casualties has “appalled” the global terror group.
The goal of the attack is to provoke a backlash in Kenya against ethnic Somalis, Menkhaus writes. Somalia and Al Shabab observers have long worried about an attack
The goal of the attack is to provoke a backlash in Kenya against ethnic Somalis, Menkhaus writes. Somalia and Al Shabab observers have long worried about an attack on a civilian target in Kenya, but the group has held back to avoid upending the economic interests of hundreds of thousands of Somalis who flocked to Kenya, opened up businesses there and made investments. Had an Al Shabab attack provoked a backlash against Somalis in Kenya, a backlash against Al Shabab in Somalia would have likely followed.
But, Menkhaus writes, if Al Shabab’s influence deteriorated enough, experts expected it would lash out in the form of a high-risk terror operation abroad – a last ditch effort to provoke a heavy-handed enyan response that could turn Somalis against their host government and send them into Al Shabab’s arms.
Clinton Watts, a fellow at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute, writes at Foreign Policy (subscription required) that Kenyan security forces drove Al Shabab into Somalia’s rural interior, but failed to deliver the final blow, allowing the militant group “an operational safe haven” from which it “transitioned from conventional fighting to asymmetric warfare using guerrilla and terror attacks.” The goal of this attack is to drum up popular support among disenfranchised Muslims in Kenya and “re-energize” the group, he writes.
Somalis are becoming disillusioned with Kenya’s involvement in Somalia and many Kenyans are tiring of the continued military engagement abroad, according to Mr. Watts. The mall attack could cause Kenyans to doubt the utility of the Somalia operation.
Or Al Shabab could be hoping that Kenya responds to the Westgate attack by upping its military involvement in Somalia.
(…) The sophistication of the attack on Westgate and the presence of many obviously non-Somali combatants has security experts wondering if the group had assistance from other militant groups. “This whole thing seems more advanced than anything the Shabab has ever done,” a Western security official told The New York Times.
“They are clearly a multinational collection from all over the world,” said Julius Karangi, chief of the Kenyan general staff.
(…) But Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studied (CSIS), argues that the attack did not reflect the level of sophistication exhibited by other terrorist groups, reports the Monitor. (Christian Science Monitor)
Though experts are in vast disagreement over the implications of the Kenya mall attack, there are certain fundamental elements of the group that are known. Dana Liebelson at Mother Jones provides an excellent backgrounder on the group, “How Dangerous is Al-Shabaab, the Group Behind the Kenya Mall Massacre” touching on key points such as their relationship with al Qaeda, their connection to America and Americans, their revenue stream, and their internal dissent:
“What is al-Shabaab, and what is its relationship with Al Qaeda? Al-Shabaab, also known as “The Youth,” is a designated foreign terrorist group based in Somalia that has been publicly affiliated with Al Qaeda since 2012, according to the US State Department. The group told Al Jazeera on Monday that it considers Al Qaeda a partner in the Nairobi attack and is taking orders directly from their leadership. It’s widely believed that the group’s senior leaders trained with Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and received funding from Osama bin Laden. Al-Shabaab was originally the military workhorse for a political group called the Islamic Courts Union, which in 2006 seized control of most of southern Somalia before the organization was swiftly ousted by Ethiopian troops backing Somalia’s then-transitional federal government. Most of the original ICU members headed to Somalia’s neighboring countries, but al-Shabaab forces stayed in the south of Somalia, where they radicalized and instated Shariah law across the areas they controlled. Since then, they have been engaged in guerilla warfare against the Federal Government of Somalia, which took over from the transitional government in 2012 and is backed by an African peacekeeping alliance that includes Kenya and Ethiopia, plus the United Nations and the United States. The green areas on this Somalia map are currently under al-Shabaab control, according to the BBC:
How big is al-Shabaab? Are there any Americans in it?! There are at least several thousand members of al-Shabaab, as well as a few hundred foreigners, according to NBC News. In 2011, US officials reported that at least 40 Muslim Americans—some of whom were recruited from the vibrant Somali American community in Minnesota—as well as 20 Canadians, were fighting for al-Shabaab. One of the terrorist group’s top leaders, who was killed this summer, was a “rapping Jihadist” from Alabama named Omar Hammami. Al-Shabaab also claims that three of the gunmen who stormed the Nairobi mall over the weekend were Americans, but the FBI is still investigating.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, there is no direct connection between al-Shabaab and the Somali pirates, who in the last eight years have hijacked boats from more than 100 countries, held at least 3,740 crewmembers hostage, and thwarted climate change research. In general, the pirates are primarily focused on money, not jihadist ideology. However, as al-Shabaab has become increasingly desperate for funding, it has entered into financial agreements with the pirates.
So where does the group get its money? In 2011, the United Nations reported that al-Shabaab was getting between $70-$100 million per year by collecting taxes from the areas it controls. Until 2012, for example, al-Shabaab ran the port city of Kismayo, and it made a bunch of money from a racketeering business that exploited the city’s thriving coal industry. But after foreign forces kicked the group out of Somalia’s capital and Kismayo, it lost much of this revenue. The BBC says that Eritrea is now the group’s only ally in the region, although the country’s government has denied sending arms to al-Shabaab. (Google: Where is Eritrea?) According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the group also gets funding from kidnapping operations and allied terrorist groups.” (Mother Jones)
Following the Kenya attack, Reuters reported on the group’s funding stream, “Shabaab Finances Face Squeeze after Kenya Attack”:
“Al Shabaab emerged as a regional threat funded by millions of dollars from activities ranging from extortion to taxing charcoal exports, but its attack on a Kenyan shopping mall is expected to provoke a counter-terrorism response aimed at crippling the Somali Islamist group’s finances.
The money is important to al Shabaab, a group whose aims include the wider imposition of Islamic law but whose ability to attract fighters in one of the poorest countries of the world is based largely on its ability to pay them.
A report by U.N. monitors in July estimated al Shabaab earned more than $25 million a year from illicit exports of charcoal to Gulf Arab states and from taxing the trucking of charcoal to the Somali ports of Kismayu and Barawe.
Other funds come from informal taxes on small businesses in areas of Somalia that al Shabaab controls, and from donations from Somalis overseas, although these transfers are thought to be declining due to a general disenchantment with the increasingly violent group in the diaspora, diplomats say.
A security source in the capital, Mogadishu, said al Shabaab was expert at extorting money from small businesses and at setting up front companies whose income was funnelled to the group. Both sorts of company also acted as informers.
“It’s the small little shops where you repair your vehicle, or charge your mobile phone,” the source said. “It’s a myriad of little businesses, who also help them in their surveillance.”
“There’s no need for heavy-handed daily enforcement because everyone knows the penalties for non-compliance are drastic,” he said, referring to the amputation of limbs or execution.
Suspected additional sources of income include militant Islamists overseas and, according to U.N. sanctions monitors, the nearby state of Eritrea.
The monitors said Eritrea was destabilising Somalia by paying political agents and financing a warlord linked to al Shabaab.
The Eritrean government, accused by its critics of seeking to use Somali territory to undermine Ethiopia, its old enemy, has long denied meddling in Somalia, saying it has no links to al Shabaab’s fight against the Somali government.
Al Shabaab has been waging an insurgency since 2007 and formally became part of al Qaeda in 2012. It remains Somalia’s most powerful non-government armed group despite being pushed out of Mogadishu by an African Union force in 2011.
Al Shabaab’s economic strength is vital to its operations because it can pay its thousands of fighters a monthly salary normally varying between $100 to $300 a month.
That, more than its declared aim of imposing a strict version of Sharia or Islamic law, is the main incentive to join up, Somali researchers say.
Ironically, al Shabaab’s income may have benefited from an upturn in the Somali economy that followed the partial restoration of order in Mogadishu over the past two years and a growth in investment amid hopes of an end to years of war.” (Reuters)
Al Shabaab’s activities provide an interesting case within the broader context of terrorist organizations and their methods. Al Shabaab expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross contextualizes “The Westgate Mall Attack and the Future of Terrorism” in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs:
“An immutable law of jihadist groups is that they carefully monitor attacks—both successful and unsuccessful—in order to replicate and build upon those that worked and to avoid repeating errors. Even before the Somali jihadist group al-Shabaab executed its devastating attack at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, shopping malls were a rather obvious terrorist target, and they will certainly feature prominently in future terrorist plans.
The Westgate attack is itself a variation of a previous highly successful operation: an urban warfare assault in Mumbai, India, that the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba executed in 2008. In that plot, ten attackers split into four teams and struck multiple targets—including a train station, a café, and taxi cabs—with bombs and firearms before seizing hostages in the Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal hotels, as well as the Nariman House (a Jewish community center). Due to this mix of tactics, rather than ending the attack in a matter of hours, Indian security forces took days to clear out the Mumbai attackers.
Westgate represented a more limited target set than Mumbai, but the attack was based on the same principles.
(…) Therein lies another benefit to striking malls, from the terrorists’ perspective: if an attack succeeds, it presents the adversary with a dilemma about how to respond. Would Western countries implement stringent defensive measures—and thus make malls less attractive destinations—or would they allow the vulnerability to remain?
A similar dilemma caused another al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), to do something that surely seemed odd to many observers. In November 2010, AQAP produced a special issue of its English-language online magazine Inspire celebrating an apparently failed attack. The previous month, AQAP had hidden bombs in printer cartridges then shipped them from Yemen on United Parcel Service and Federal Express planes. It was a close call, but ultimately good intelligence was able to prevent any casualties; the bombs were found and disabled before they were set to explode.
Why, then, did AQAP choose to celebrate a plot that killed nobody? As the radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki explained, the act of simply getting the bombs on board the planes could be considered a success, as it exposed a vulnerability. “With all the intelligence information the enemy had,” he wrote, “they could not detect the explosives even though the printers were inspected twice in the U.K. They only discovered the explosives when they had the exact tracking number of the package.” (Awlaki’s last claim was correct: one of the bombs was so difficult for screeners to find that British authorities actually needed the tracking number to locate it.)
(…) It is not a question of whether the Nairobi attack will be modeled; it will, and likely with a Western country as the target. It should be noted, though, that Western countries enjoy two advantages when it comes to attacks like this. First, it was easier for Shabaab to slip operatives into Kenya undetected than it would be for them to place an attack team in the United States or Europe. Hopefully, Western security services could break up attempts to carry out a Nairobi-style attack before it became operational, just as they disrupted an attempted Mumbai-style attack in Europe in late 2010. Second, Western countries have greater capabilities in responding to such attacks once they are operational; they have a better chance of ending the crisis before days have slipped by.
(…) Often we seem blindsided by terrorist events. After failing to anticipate a particular attack, we struggle to respond, and our response might not address the underlying risk or may even be counterproductive. Considering possibilities is not the same as paranoia or fear, and the implications of a mall attack in the West are worth thinking through before it happens. (Georgetown Journal of International Affairs)
More News on Somalia and Al Shabaab
Kenya Seeks UK Woman Samantha Lewthwaite’s Arrest
International police body Interpol has issued a wanted persons notice for Briton Samantha Lewthwaite, at Kenya’s request. Ms Lewthwaite, 29, is the widow of one of the four suicide bombers who attacked London on 7 July 2005. Known colloquially as the “white widow”, she has been linked with Somali militant Islamist group al-Shabab. Interpol did not link the warrant to the Nairobi shopping complex attack that left at least 67 dead. However, it comes after much speculation linking Ms Lewthwaite to events there. Al-Shabab was behind the attack and subsequent four-day siege at the Westgate shopping complex in the Kenyan capital. An Interpol statement said she was “wanted by Kenya on charges of being in possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony dating back to December 2011”. The Interpol alert, known as a “Red Notice”, requires member countries to detain the suspect pending extradition procedures. Ms Lewthwaite – who is believed to use the alias “Natalie Webb” – had previously only been wanted for the alleged possession of a fraudulently obtained South African passport. She is the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of the four bombers involved in the 7 July terror attacks in London in 2005 in which 52 people were killed and hundreds more injured.
For more on the story of the “White Widow” see Foreign Policy’s “Meet the British Mom Who May – or May Not – Have Been Involved in the Nairobi Terror Attack.”
Omar Hammami, American Jihadi, Slain by Rivals in Somalia, Militants Say
An American who became one of Somalia’s most visible Islamic rebels and was on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list with a $5 million bounty on his head was killed on 12 September by rivals in the al Qaeda-linked extremist group al-Shabab, militants said. The killing of Omar Hammami, an Alabama native known for his rap-filled propaganda videos, may discourage other would-be jihadis from the U.S. and elsewhere from traveling to Somalia, terrorism experts said. CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, a former FBI assistant director, described Hammami on “CBS This Morning” on 13 September as “the all-American boy.” “He played soccer, dated cheerleaders, played football,” said Miller. “He was a regular kid from town who was drawn into the messages on the Internet and went to Somalia seeking adventure and fighting.” Hammami, whose nom de guerre was Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, or “the American,” was killed in an ambush in southern Somalia following months on the run after falling out with al-Shabab’s top leader, the militants said. Reports of Hammami’s death have cropped up every few months in Somalia, only for him to resurface. But J.M. Berger, a U.S. terrorism expert who closely follows the inner workings of al-Shabab, said he thinks the current reports are accurate. The rebels did not immediately present proof of Hammami’s death. Hammami was highly critical of al-Shabab’s leadership over the past year and freely shared his views in Internet videos and on Twitter, making him a marked man. Somalia has long been an attractive destination for foreign fighters, and al-Shabab counts several hundred foreign fighters among its ranks, including about two dozen Somali-Americans from Minneapolis recruited over the past several years. Hammami’s death will hurt the group’s recruitment efforts, said Abdirizak Bihi, an advocate for the Somali community in Minnesota and the uncle of a young man killed in Somalia in 2008. (CBS News, Associated Press)
Somalia’s ‘New Deal’ Tackles Old Problems
In Brussels, it was hailed as a “New Deal” for Somalia. That after more than two decades of killing and chaos, the Horn of Africa country now has a government and enough international backing to start delivering peace and economic growth for its people. The agreement on 16 September between rich donors and Somalia’s one-year-old government in Mogadishu involves plans for general elections by 2016, a new constitution and security gains, in return for international funding pledges estimated at about $2.4bn. But back in Somalia, the Euro-gathering was not seen as incentive enough for people to throw their lot in with a government in Mogadishu that depends upon foreign soldiers, and has yet to stamp its authority across much of the fragmented nation. “The government in Mogadishu is not a full government because it doesn’t control the country. It’s still a baby,” said Mohamed Jamal Emil, a 21-year-old living in a camp outside Hargeisa, the main city of the self-governing northern region of Somaliland. “Here in Somaliland, we don’t want to join Somalia. People die there every day; militiamen kill people endlessly. When the former Somali government controlled the country, many Somalilanders were murdered. It was a long time ago, but we remember.” Similar concerns are echoed further south in Garowe, the main city of Puntland, a northeastern breakaway region that is within the federal structure but exercises substantial autonomy, and cut ties with Mogadishu in a row last month. “We need to see somebody serving Somali people without corruption and regardless of clan and colour. Then the people will feel the trust and return,” Kasim Abdulkhadir Elmi, a teacher at a college in Garowe, told Al Jazeera. “The last three presidents have only managed to hold Mogadishu. They need to get international actors out, hold Mogadishu and hold southern Somalia. Then, with good administration, they can come to Puntland and ask us to join with them.” (…) Opinion is divided over whether Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who is based in the capital Mogadishu, can capitalise on military gains against Islamists to restore nationwide security, promote growth and bring breakaway regions back into the fold. (…) The World Health Organization describes a polio outbreak that has infected 179 people in the region this year. Many Somalis fear cash transfers from overseas relatives will dry up when Barclays closes accounts for Somali transfer brokers later this month. Corruption remains a key issue for donors. In July, UN monitors said Mogadishu’s central bank was a “slush fund” for politicians and accused the governor of irregularities. The government denies this and accused the report authors of launching “obsessive and unrelenting” attacks on its credibility. (Al Jazeera)
U.S. Pledges $69 Million in Support of Somalia’s New Deal Compact
At the 16 September 2013 New Deal conference for Somalia, in Brussels, a delegation of U.S. government officials underlined U.S. support for the priorities of Somalia’s New Deal Compact and pledged $69 million to promote and strengthen already existing programs in community stabilization, economic growth, education, and enhancing democracy, governance, and rule of law. Through this New Deal platform, America’s longstanding commitment to Somalia and the Somali people will continue to deepen. We are committed to working with the Somali people and the Federal Government of Somalia to improve the lives of everyday Somalis, and enhancing our diplomatic and development relationships. The United States recognizes the significant progress made in Somalia over the past year. This progress would not have taken place were it not for the dedication and commitment of the many members of the Somali community who make a daily decision to focus on a future built on hope and peace, rather than on conflict and despair. We, and the international community, stand with them. (U.S. Department of State)
Statement of the President of Somalia at Woodrow Wilson Center
I am pleased to present my appreciation to the Wilson Center for this invitation to discuss “Somalia one year on”. After all, it was Woodrow Wilson who once famously said: “it is just as hard to do your duty when men are sneering at you as when they are shooting at you.” Therefore, it is important to note that leading a country of Somalia’s nature is not an adventure or conventional in which one leader replaces another just by virtue of inheriting a functional office, state apparatus, systems, instruments and institutions amassed with relevant memory. Instead it is about inheriting a fragmented country where everything has to be started from the scratch, and firefighting in all fronts remains order of the day. On a positive note, although challenges are varied and more than expected, we have inherited a skeleton to build-on and new pages demonstrating a shift from the past, albeit empty. Every area or agenda reflected deserved an immediate attention and priorities with a sense of urgency to address. and I believe that after one year on the job, we are making slow but steady progress. And it is that progress that I am here to speak to you about today.
After one year in office, we have made some modest progress. We have achieved a level of normalcy; we have established a degree of governmental authority, created hope for governance in the population, My government had presented to the world a set of priorities and plans that is not only budgeted but illustrates the financial architecture that regulates the cash flow and provides mechanism for disbursement which levels the highest standards of transparency and accountability. I can say, Today’s Somalia has a plan for those who want to assist. (RaxanReeb)
2 Blasts Leave over A Dozen Dead in Somalia’s Capital
Two bombings killed at least 15 people on 7 September at a popular restaurant in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, the latest in a series of deadly attacks that have undercut recent security gains here, officials said. The fearsome Islamist militant group known as the Shabab claimed responsibility for the attacks, a car bomb and a suicide bombing, which left bodies in the street near the twisted, blackened wreckage of cars. The militants appeared to have calculated their attacks to undermine the image of a safer Somali capital as much as possible. An assault on a fortified United Nations compound in June, which left 15 people dead, including seven attackers, was particularly chilling. Before that, the court complex was the scene of a similarly brazen attack. “Such cruel and cowardly acts of terrorism serve to remind us that the people of Somalia desperately need peace,” Nicholas Kay, the United Nations special representative for Somalia, said in a statement.
The year-old government has won recognition from the United States and the International Monetary Fund but is struggling to get its footing, as security remains an overriding concern. Mogadishu has experienced what passes here for relative calm after African Union forces and the Somali Army pushed the Shabab into a hasty retreat from the city in 2011. The Somali government has recently been holding a series of reconciliation and national policy conferences in Mogadishu, inviting expatriate Somalis to return in light of the improved security. The Village restaurant is run by Ahmed Jama, an expatriate who returned to Somalia after running a successful cafe in London. The restaurant is popular with government workers and journalists, but remains an inviting target to the Shabab. Last September, suicide bombers attacked the restaurant, killing 14 people. The Shabab have recently focused terrorist attacks on popular sites, determined to disrupt normal life. The Lido Seafood restaurant at the busy Lido Beach was hit by a remotely detonated car bomb in February. A well-visited sports bar was attacked, as was the National Theater. Government convoys have been repeatedly targeted as well, as have foreign dignitaries and missions. Last month, two Somalis were killed and a visiting Swedish politician was shot and wounded in what was believed to be a failed kidnapping attempt. (New York Times)
Somalia Gets Aid to Educate Children
Somalia, which has one of the lowest primary school enrollment rates in the world, has started a three-year, $117 million, basic education program with financial support from Unicef, Unesco, the U.N. World Food Program and a consortium of international aid agencies. After two decades of civil war, Somalia has 4.4 million children out of school, according to Unicef. The program, which began this month, aims to bring education to a million children aged 6 to 13. (New York Times)
Rights Group Accuses Somalia of ‘Large Scale’ Abuses
The forced evictions of thousands of Somalia’s poorest from makeshift camps amid rebuilding efforts in the war-ravaged capital has led to “large-scale human rights abuses,” Amnesty International said on 13 September. The group said forced evictions in Mogadishu have “gathered pace” in recent months despite the government’s failure to find an alternative safe location. Amnesty International’s Somalia researcher, Gemma Davies, said government has “a responsibility to protect this vulnerable sector of society.” Amnesty says more than 300,000 people live in settlements in the seaside capital where the international organization says Somalis are “sheltering from cyclical drought, famine and a two-decades-long armed conflict.” “It is completely unacceptable for people who have fled to the capital for protection to be forcibly evicted,” said Davies. In August, an eight-year-old child and a mother of nine were killed when members of Somalia’s armed forces opened fire in response to a protest by residents facing eviction. Amnesty International has called on Somalia to halt all the evictions until “safe and adequate” alternatives in line with “obligations under international human rights law” can be provided. Davies said now that Somalia “finally has a central government, it’s high time” to focus on a durable solution for Somalia’s displaced that allows them to be part of the country’s reconstruction. (Voice of America)
Life Inside Somalia’s Refugee Camps
At certain points, Mogadishu, longtime synonym for anarchy, terrorism, and urban warfare, is indistinguishable from many other cities in the developing world. Along Maka Al-Mukarama road, a former front line during Somalia’s civil war years, new storefronts and sidewalks have turned the few remaining stripped or sandbagged buildings into isolated novelties, relics of a conflict that the city seems eager to leave behind. (…) This narrative of tentative progress, however, dissolves once you reach Mogadishu’s refugee camps. In 2010, the southern part of Somalia was gripped with one of the worst famines the country had ever seen, a catastrophe that killed well over a quarter-million people and wiped out the region’s mostly nomadic and livestock-based economy. It didn’t help that the worst-hit areas were under Al Shabaab’s control–and that the jihadis were curtailing the delivery of life-saving outside aid. In 2010, Mogadishu was home to the largest concentration of internally displaced persons on earth, a city-within-a-city of 400,000 refugees living in a spontaneous sprawl of rag tents on the city’s devastated outskirts.
It’s unknown exactly how many IDPs still remain, but during a recent visit to the city I saw a full horizon of tents, a wood frame and tarp metropolis that stretched for miles in each direction. There were tents on either side of the high, broken-glass-topped walls of ruined compounds, tents surrounding a gutted former military hospital, and tents on either side of the broad avenue former dictator Siad Barre constructed for military parades. Perhaps fittingly–it was Barre’s oppressiveness and eventual overthrow that triggered the past 20 years of violence–Barre’s former presidential reviewing box, a high, concrete structure where the dictator and his clique would watch the army march by, has collapsed in on itself. Children play in its pulverized remains, and IDPs huddle in what little shade it provides. Tents surround it on all sides.
The IDP camps represent a unique challenge to Somalia’s newly installed government. In an effort to disconnect them from Mogadishu’s still-recovering urban fabric, the municipal government articulated plans to move the IDPs to a new, more manageable location farther from the center of town, shortly after the restoration of Somalia’s central government in mid-2012. The government believes that resolving the IDP problem will bring a measure of order and control to Mogadishu, a city that’s seen little of either since Barre’s overthrow in 1991. But one glance at the tent city on Mogadishu’s edges reveals how herculean that task would be, even if the local government actually had the capacity to move them. (The Atlantic)
Somalia Names Abrar as Its First Female Central Bank Governor
Somalia named Yussur Abrar as the country’s first female central bank governor, replacing Abdusalam Omer, who resigned after a United Nations monitoring group accused him of mismanaging the government’s money. Abrar has spent the past 30 years working for international banks and insurance companies, Shador Hajji, a press officer in the presidency in the capital, Mogadishu, said by phone on 20 September. She will formally assume the role after a handover, the date of which has yet to be confirmed, he said. Omer, who held the job for seven months, said he presented his letter of resignation “after the president told me that he was going to reshuffle all the government institutions, so before that I decided to quit,” he said in a phone interview. Somalia’s government said on Sept. 6 that an investigation into a UN monitoring group report published in July showed its “condemnation of the Somali Central Bank Governor Abdusalam Omer’s stewardship of the bank was entirely unwarranted.” An allegation by the UN monitors that $12 million had gone missing from a $16.9 million transfer to the central bank was incorrect, and all the money “is fully accounted for,” the government said in a press statement. FTI Consulting Inc. (FCN), based in Florida, and a group of U.S.-based lawyers conducted the investigation, it said. The Horn of African nation is rebuilding its economy from scratch after taking control of rebel-held territory over the past two years, bringing a measure of stability to the country. (Bloomberg)
Aggressive Patrolling Has Deterred Piracy in Somalia: Experts
Piracy in open waters off the coast of Somalia has dropped significantly as a result of aggressive patrolling by international naval forces coupled with the use of private armed security contractors onboard vessels, experts said.
Piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia have now plummeted to the lowest levels since 2006 as a result of increased patrolling by navies from the US, Europe and Asia as well as the employment of armed guards onboard ships, organisers of Seatrade Middle East Work Boats and Offshore Marine 2013 said. Seatrade is the region’s leading event for workboat operators, builders and the offshore marine market. “According to Thomas Kelly, the US State Department official in charge of counter-piracy policy, four out of five container ships and tankers now deploy armed guards. Once pirates realise this, they will look for a softer target,” Seatrade Chairman, Chris Hayman, said.
In the Gulf of Aden and Somalia, eight piracy incidents, including two hijackings, were recorded by the International Marine Bureau’s (IMB) global piracy report in the first half of 2013. In 2012, 49 attacks were recorded including seven hijackings during the whole year and in 2011, the corresponding numbers were even higher, 75 incidents including 14 hijackings. It is estimated that the annual cost to the shipping industry is between USD 6.6 and USD 6.9 billion, according to Oceans Beyond Trade. (Economic Times)
For more on piracy in Somalia, see also Kingdom Donating $300,000 to Help End Piracy in Somalia (Arab News); Piracy War: UAE Renews Somalia Commitment (Khaleej Times)
Uganda Suspends Officers Sent to Somalia on AU Mission
Uganda has suspended 20 army officers accused of corruption in Somalia while battling Islamist militants as part of an African Union (AU) force, a Ugandan army spokesman has told the BBC. The officers are accused of selling food and fuel, meant for troops, on the black market, reports say. The Ugandan contingent head, Brigadier Michael Ondoga, is among those being investigated. Uganda is the biggest contributor to the AU force of about 18,000.
The force, funded mainly by the United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) is fighting the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia. (…) The suspended officers would be court-martialled and dismissed from the army if found guilty, he added. Uganda’s privately owned Daily Monitor newspaper said in a report that Ugandan soldiers in Somalia often get only one meal a day because of the alleged theft and sale of food to private companies. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni had cancelled Brig Ondoga’s appointment as military attache to Kenya, it reports. He was due to have taken the post when his term as head of the Ugandan contingent in Somalia ended at the end of the month, the Daily Monitor adds. Uganda has more than 6,000 troops in the AU force in Somalia. Other countries that have deployed troops to Somalia as part of the AU force include Burundi, Kenya and Djibouti. (BBC)
As Somalia Struggles, Can Neighboring Somaliland Become East Africa’s Next Big Commercial Hub?
The autonomous region of Somaliland is angling to become a trade and transit hub for East Africa, pouring millions of dollars into infrastructural development with the help of international financiers. But its plans are complicated by its ties to Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu. Though Somaliland has long functioned as a “de facto autonomous state,” the international community nominally recognizes it as a territory of Somalia, which endured two decades of civil war, famine and poverty before implementing a new constitution and national government last year. Somaliland, a region with a population of 4 million located in Somalia’s northwest (bordering Ethiopia and Djibouti), has long been petitioning for formal independence. Somaliland has its own government, constitution, currency and economic ambitions. A newly reopened airport in Somaliland’s capital city of Hargeisa is being touted by officials as a step in the right direction. Egal International Airport was badly damaged in the 1991 civil war with Mogadishu following Somaliland’s self-declaration of independence, but a fresh round of refurbishments worth about $10 million began on 2012, mostly funded by Kuwait. Last month, the airport reopened amid great fanfare, and Hargeisa authorities are hoping to attract more international traffic to the facility. They’re particularly focused on Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s fastest-growing carrier, whose central hub in Addis Ababa is about 365 miles (587 kilometers) away. (…) Somaliland hopes to tap into Ethiopia’s relative wealth by turning Berbera into a similar hub. Some Ethiopian trade already flows through the city, and total revenues from the port generate up to 80 percent of Somaliland’s annual budget, which is at an all-time high of $125 million this year. But the government is keen to rake in even more. The demand is there; maritime traffic often overwhelms the Djibouti port, as it does at nearby ports like Mombasa, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. “The economic case for developing Somaliland is just mind-blowing — [the] Berbera port is key,” James McCue, of the Berbera Development company said, according to the Financial Times. McCue, a British citizen who also serves as an envoy for Somaliland independence, is working to find investors to build up Berbera’s infrastructure on land and at sea. (International Business Times)
~ Continued Conflict in the Central African Republic ~
Central African Republic: The Continent’s Latest Failed State?
Targeted killings, widespread looting, kidnapping, torture and terrorism. Six months after rag-tag rebels officially seized power in a coup, the Central African Republic (CAR) is oscillating dangerously towards what the UN is calling a “complete breakdown of law and order”.
To be clear, there was never much of a fall from grace. The CAR, a landlocked country of approximately 4.5 million people, has traditionally ranked lower than Afghanistan in the UN Human Development Index and is one of the poorest countries in the world. Despite the country’s considerable natural wealth, with sizeable timber, copper and diamond resources, the CAR has continually fallen victim to self-serving governments and disastrous economic policies. Nevertheless, international leaders insist that the current situation is different, that things are far worse than at any point in recent memory.
In a Security Council report, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon deplored the CAR’s catastrophic humanitarian situation, brought about by increased rebel activity in the country’s rural areas that has left over 1.6 million people in “dire need of assistance”.
“The current security situation in the Central African Republic […] is characterized by a total breakdown in law and order”, the Secretary General stated. “The plight of the people of the Central African Republic must be brought to an end.”
The political history of the Central African Republic resembles a game of musical chairs. Shortly after its independence from France, David Dacko came to power and, after turning the new country into a one-party state, was unsurprisingly elected President in 1964. In a move foreshadowing things to come, his cousin, army commander Jean-Bedel Bokassa ousted Dacko one year later and promptly declared himself Emperor. In 1979, following an incident where Bokassa ordered the massacre of protesting students, the Emperor was deposed in a coup supported by French troops and Dacko was once again granted the Presidency.
However, Dacko’s second reign was to be just as short-lived. Army Commander Andre Kolingba, replaced him in a bloodless coup two years later. In 1993, the CAR’s first multiparty elections took place, with Kolingba losing the Presidency to Ange-Félix Patassé, and then losing again in 1999. Seeking revenge, Kolingba attempted to oust Patassé in 2001 with the help of a certain François Bozizé, a young army Chief of Staff. The attempted coup failed and Bozizé fled with considerable loyalist forces. In 2003, while President Patassé was out of the country attending a meeting in Niger, Bozizé and his backers succeeded in taking the country’s capital, Bangui.
Bozizé’s coup set off a seemingly interminable conflict between his national army and groups of rebels seeking to overthrow him. Known as the Bush Wars, the battles tore the CAR apart, officially lasting 4 years and displacing approximately 215,000 Central Africans. The latest rebel offensive against Bozizé began in December 2012 as a loose coalition of rebel groups rallied under the name Sénéka and took the capital on March 23rd 2013, with President Bozizé fleeing to neighbouring Cameroon.
Central Africa’s new mystery man
The leader of the CAR’s latest coup, Michel Djotodia, emerged on the international scene as a man of relative mystery. Since then, more details on his earlier life have come to light. A Muslim in a predominantly Christian country, Djotodia left the CAR in the 70s to study in the USSR, where he learned to speak Russian fluently, as well as French, Arabic and Gula. Reportedly a man who has never hidden his political ambitions, Djotodia attempted twice to be elected Deputy after his return to the CAR but failed both times. Ironically, it was through siding with Bozizé once Ange-Félix Patassé was overthrown that Djotodia landed his first position as Consul to Nyala (Sudan).
Djotodia later emerged as the ‘intellectual’ of the rebel movement against Bozizé during the Bush Wars and was forced to flee to Benin for the duration of the conflict. Soon after returning to his home country, he was named as leader of the new Séléka rebel movement and led the charge towards Bangui.
A land where killers thrive
The question now is whether the CAR can ever emerge from its seemingly endless pattern of coups and civil war. Though Michel Djotodia was sworn in as President on August 18th 2013, the country seems to have descended into anarchy. There are approximately 200 policemen in charge of assuring the protection of the CAR’s 4.6 million inhabitants, which has left many Séléka rebels free to do as they please, especially in the country’s notoriously lawless jungle regions. (The World Outline)
Central African Republic: Leader Turns Against Rebels Who Put Him in Power
The rebel group that swept to power in March was dissolved on 13 September by a decree issued by the very president it had installed, according to state radio. ”The Seleka coalition,” said the statement broadcast on the afternoon of 13 September, ”is dissolved over the length and breadth of the Central African Republic’s territory. Only the Central African security force is in charge of protecting our territorial integrity.” The Seleka coalition invaded the capital on March 23, ousting President François Bozizé and installing Michel Djotodia as the country’s new leader. Since then, the rebels have turned into a band of marauding thugs, looting businesses and killing civilians, according to reports by human rights groups and aid organizations. International charities say they have been forced to put Seleka rebels on their payroll as guards. As evidence mounted of abuse by the rebels, Mr. Djotodia tried to distance himself from them. It remains unclear if he can dissolve the group that brought him to power without repercussions. (New York Times, Associate Press)
France Pushes for U.N. Action on Central African Republic
France’s foreign minister called on 25 September for the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution next month to boost U.N. operations in the Central African Republic, which he said risked becoming a new Somalia if it did not get immediate support. The landlocked, mineral-rich Central African Republic, or CAR, has slipped into chaos since northern Seleka rebels seized the capital, Bangui, and ousted President Francois Bozize in March. U.N. officials and rights groups say both sides may have committed war crimes. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius co-hosted a meeting with the European Union and U.N. humanitarian affairs officials on 25 September in an effort to raise awareness for a crisis that has struggled to galvanize international interest, shadowed by other conflicts such as the Syrian civil war. “CAR has become a lawless state and in a lawless state, the exactions increase and without any action it can become the refuge of all terrorists,” Fabius told reporters, having earlier told delegates that radical Islamist groups were already operating in the country.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the meeting on the Central African Republic that the United States was “deeply alarmed” by the prospect of the country becoming a safe haven for violent extremists. “The devastating events in Kenya the last few days only underscore how terrorist groups and other extremists take advantage of lawless or ungoverned spaces,” said Power, referring to the deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall on 21 September claimed by Somali Islamist militants. She said the situation in the Central African Republic “constitutes a terrible human tragedy and a threat to international peace and security, and that merits the full and immediate prioritization and attention of the international community at the highest levels.”
The country’s former colonial power, France – which intervened earlier this year to oust Islamist rebels from another one of its former colonies, Mali – has been reluctant to get directly involved in the crisis. It has urged African nations and the African Union to do their utmost to resolve the crisis among themselves. But while the African Union plans to deploy a 3,600-strong peacekeeping mission – known as MISCA – in the country, incorporating a regional force of 1,100 soldiers already on the ground, it is unlikely to be operational before 2014. The African Union has asked financial, logistical and technical support from the United Nations, and senior U.N. officials recommended last month that the U.N. Security Council approve this request. (Reuters)
Western Diplomats Secure C. African Republic Help
Diplomats from the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations sought 25 September to pull the collapsing Central African Republic under the international spotlight, calling the security crisis in the poor, landlocked country “in one word, desperate.” The meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly included U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, who attendees said noted how the recent violence in Kenya was the result of years-long neglect of the crisis in neighboring Somalia. Central African Republic borders some of the most tumultuous countries on the continent, and some fear the state of near-anarchy will allow rebels and other armed groups to flourish there. “Today, we have the choice of stopping the (Central African Republic) from turning into another Somalia,” said Kristalina Georgieva, the EU commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid. She called it a “forgotten crisis” and said the country is collapsing outside the capital, Bangui. The meeting followed a call from French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday for the U.N. Security Council to support a plan to authorize logistical and financial support for the African Union peacekeeping force in Central African Republic. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on 25 September said the country’s situation threatens regional peace and security as a “gray zone, a stateless zone, a zone without backbone.” The force is expected to eventually include up to 3,500 troops, though critics question whether that is sufficient to address the violence not only in the capital but in the country’s distant provinces where massacres have been reported in recent weeks. (…) The diplomats emerged on 25 September with “very clear commitments” to the urgency of building up the force, plus financial commitments including 10 million euros from France, Georgieva told reporters. She mentioned a commitment from the U.S. as well but did not specify how much. (NPR)
Why The Central African Republic is the Worst Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Central African Republic — or CAR — was a country conceived for a television show, baring an improbably simple name and lacking much in the way of resources and population. But the country is not only real, it’s in the middle of a spate of lawlessness that has left the population terrorized and the government nearly non-existent. It has been six months since the CAR’s president Francois Bozize was overthrown, ending his ten-year reign in the landlocked country, sending him fleeing to nearby Cameroon. Bozize was no model democrat, having taken power himself in a military coup in 2003. The ragtag collection of rebel groups that swept into the capital of Bangui — known as Seleka, a word that means ‘alliance’ in the Sango language — at least has promised elections in the near year. (…) A new report out from Human Rights Watch — provocatively titled “I Can Still Smell the Dead” — details the campaign of terror the rebels now in power have unleashed towards civilians. (…) [A]ccording to Enough Project researcher Kasper Agger, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. “No one is investing anything in getting this country back on track,” he said. And given the relatively small numbers involved in the humanitarian crisis — as of June there were 206,000 internally displaced persons within the CAR, and another 58,000 who’ve fled to neighboring countries, out of a total population of only 4.25 million — none of the world’s major powers seem very much interested in the tiny African country. (Think Progress)
Read the Human Rights Watch report here: “‘I Can Still Smell the Dead’: The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic”
The 79-page report details the deliberate killing of civilians – including women, children, and the elderly – between March and June 2013 and confirms the deliberate destruction of more than 1,000 homes, both in the capital, Bangui, and in the provinces. Many villagers have fled their homes and are living in the bush in fear of new attacks. Human Rights Watch documented the deaths of scores of people from injuries, hunger or sickness. (Human Rights Watch)
Death Toll Rises in Battles in Central African Republic
The death toll in clashes between gunmen loyal to Central African Republic’s former president and the ex-rebels who ousted him, rose to at least 73 following fighting on 9 September, residents, government and a regional peacekeeping force said. A government spokesman accused fighters loyal to former President Francois Bozize of trying to retake power. The latest clashes took place around Bossangoa, in Bozize’s home region, about 300 km (185 miles) north of the capital. (…) The fighting came after a U.N. warning that the country was on the brink of collapse. The former French colony has slipped into chaos since northern rebels captured the capital, Bangui, in March, overrunning South African troops protecting Bozize. (…) Bozize, who fled to neighboring Cameroon, told French media in Paris last month that he still had ambitions of returning to power. The peacekeeping force confirmed pro-Bozize gunmen were involved in the fighting but said little other information was available. (…) Bozize came to power in a 2003 coup and won two subsequent elections. However, his government never stamped its authority on the landlocked nation, which is caught between regional conflicts and local competition over diamonds and gold. (Reuters)
In the Central African Republic, “We Still Hope to Live Together in Peace”
As the conflict between the rebels of Sékéla and the national army of the Central african Republic rages on, tension mounts in the city of Bossangoa. Locals fear that the conflict may not spill into open fighting between the christian and muslim communities. Some still hold hope for appeasement though, like the Iman of the downtown mosque [fr]:
“C’est notre pays, nous sommes aussi natifs. Mais nos frères chrétiens nous prennent toujours pour des étrangers. Ils nous assimilent à leur malheur et nous ne comprenons pas. Nous demandons aussi la paix..”
Translation: “This is also our country, we were born here. But out christian brethren still see us as strangers.They think we are the cause of their sorrow and we do not know why. We too still hope for peace..”The humanitarian crisis in the country is getting worse by the day. (Global Voices)
Central African Republic: UN Agencies Scaling-Up Aid Amidst More Displacement
The United Nations food relief agency is reopening its offices in the northern parts of the country and using mobile teams to reach some of the 500,000 people estimated to be in dire need of aid in the Central African Republic (CAR), as fresh fighting in the northwest is displacing more families. Wrapping up a two-day visit to the country, UN World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director for West Africa, Denise Brown, said the UN agency is committed to scaling up operations, “The presence of the international humanitarian community in CAR in full force is extremely important.” (…) In meetings with President Michel Djotodia, Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, and members of the transitional government, WFP said that Ms. Brown stressed security guarantees for WFP and its partners so they can safely carry out food assistance programmes. Brown also met Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Babacar Gaye, and with Humanitarian Coordinator Kaarina Immonen and partners to underscore the importance of the international community’s involvement, as well as education as priorities for CAR. Staring next month, the UN agency said it plans to provide emergency school meals at schools that will reconvene. Many will remain closed and teachers are absent due to security reasons. (…) In Bossangoa, some 300 km northwest of Bangui, an inter-agency mission with the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), WFP and partners arrives to asses the extent of the displacement. (…) The fighting appears to have subsided but situation remains tense, according to the UN agency. It continues to provide aid kits consisting of tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, jerry cans, buckets, soap and hygienic kits to women and girls in the area, as part of distribution to some 3,000 recently uprooted people.
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