Wednesday, December 29, 2010 0 comments

Al-Shabab admit to public cruelty and abuse of power

By Guled Mohamed

Mogadishu, December 26 –The notorious Al-Shabab militants have finally admitted to mistreating the public blaming their barbarism to recent crushing defeats in the hands of the poorly funded Somali government and their backers African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi.

In a rare public appearance in the agricultural rich district of Afgoye, 30 km west of the capital Mogadishu, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf aka Shongole, a senior Al-Shabab commander warned his accomplices of a severe blow to their fading rule should they continue mistreating the public.

Al-Shabab rose from obscurity into power by default as an off-shot of the once powerful Islamic Courts Union which controlled Mogadishu and large swathes of land in southern Somalia between mid 2006 to late December after rooting out a US-backed coalition of warlords who had divided up Somalia into a patchwork of fiefdoms.

“The reason the Mujahedeen’s have failed to emerge victorious against the infidels is largely due to the bad relationship between the public and Al-Shabaab. If we are stronger than the public we should remember that Allah is also stronger than us… We need to fairly treat the people if we are to succeed,” Shongole was quoted on local radio on Saturday while addressing residents of Afgoye town, which they recently usurped together with Hizbul Islam their former copy-cat Islamist gang who were in charge of the sleepy town along the shores of river Shabelle.

The latest remarks by Shongole, a close confidant of Al-Shabab Commander Ahmed Abdi Godane – who is rarely seen in public and is believed to moving around dressed in a woman’s veil -- is short of admitting constant public mistreatment, killings, robbing and rape as they stand accused in the public opinion which has unfortunately became a way of life in many Al-Shabab held regions of southern Somalia.

Analysts say Shongole’s remarks is not likely to change the groups cruelty against the public largely due to the unlettered nature of the thousands of their underage militias who only believe in enforcing their strict application of Sharia law devoid of wisdom unto the war weary public many of who adhere to the more tolerant Sufist belief.

From the southern port city of Kismayu to the central regions of Somalia where Al-Shabab’s autocratic rule extends, the group is accused of widespread human rights abuses contrary to the same Islamic belief they so adamantly claim to adhere to.

For the ordinary Somalis who languish in poverty and have nothing to eat as a result of Al-Shabab’s ban on humanitarian aid agencies. Many have either fled or a contemplating fleeing from areas controlled by the group not knowing what next to expect in the immediate future under Al-Shabab’s terrible reign.

Just 15 km from Afgoye where Shongole was speaking, Al-Shabab militias were reportedly robbing people around the Elesha Biyaha internally displaced persons (IDP) camps located along what has come to be known as the Afgoye corridor in the humanitarian circles where the worlds biggest concentration of IDP camps are located with more than half a million people living in squalid camps in a 20-mile stretch of land along the busy Mogadishu-Afgoye road.

Many of these poor IDP’s were actually rooted from their homes in Mogadishu by Al-Shabaab’s unsuccessful attempts to unseat an interim government struggling to assert its authority in a country that has virtually become a byword of anarchy with an incessant war that span for 20 years since the ouster of the last central government in 1991.

Witnesses said heavily armed Al-Shabab militias riding heavily tinted vehicles kidnap anyone seen coming out of the various Hawala’s or money transfer companies located in the camps to secret locations where they lock their victims, robbed them of any US Dollars they had been sent by relatives abroad before beating them up in the pretext of punishing them for cooked-up crimes according to their scriptures.

“Al-Shabab militias kidnapped him and drove to an undisclosed location where he was robbed, kicked and accused of being a spy for the government and AMISOM. He had gone to pick our monthly bill of $100 sent by our sister living in the US. He was released in the evening and threatened to be killed if he revealed what happened to him. He has fled to Mogadishu and left us without food. There are many other victims of this daylight armed robbery,” said a young Somali teenager, speaking by phone from Elesha IDP camp sounding really worried.

If you thought this is to much wait until you hear of other merciless acts committed by Al-Shabab militias who seem to simply be getting away with anything they do in Somalia.

A poor potter is still struggling to survive from a harrowing experience with Al-Shabab after his tongue was cut-off with a live electricity wire for apparently being suspected to be a spy after he was spotted carrying goods several times on his wheelbarrow for a client from the insurgent held sprawling Bakara market to the government-held Hamarwayne district.

And as if that is not enough, they recently killed 2 pastoralists near Kismayu for refusing to pay Zakat or alms. A Mogadishu teenager was shot dead by an Al-Shabab militiaman after he refused to pick up his hair after it had been forcibly clipped. The reason, he had kept an un-Islamic hairstyle.

“If these ridiculous crimes are anything to go by, Shongole and his accomplices have a right to be really worried because Al-Shabab is slowly fading away. Since it is an ideological belief it is very hard to fight it head on. Their inhuman treatment of the same public who supported them yesterday will deprive them of recruits and the economic muscle they badly need. They stand no chance and the likes of Shongole cannot redeem their already bloodied hands with any public relations gimmick,” a Somali analyst said declining to give his name for his own safety.
Sunday, December 19, 2010 0 comments

Worst new year message for Somalia.

By Guled Mohamed

December 20, Mogadishu - Somalia's restive capital woke up to shocking news of the merger of two militant groups, Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab which continues to fight against government forces and African Union peacekeepers in the lawless country.

The word in the streets of Mogadishu is this latest amalgamation after it emerged on Sunday that Hizbul Islam has officially joined Al-Shabab, their former perennial rivals. There could never be a worse New Year message to the war-weary Somalis like this latest merger.

Hizbul Islam chairman Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys and a few of his top commanders reportedly joined Al-Shabab following recent secret talks in a bid to save their own skin following recent battles with Al-Shabab which captured several towns from Hizbul Islam including Bur Hakaba.

Al-Shabab fighters were actually preparing to retake Afgoye town from Hizbul Islam before news of the merger emerged. Afgoye is a rich agriculral village located 30 km east of the capital Mogadishu. It is also a commercially important town as it is located at an intersection of the roads leading to Kismayu, Baidoa and the central regions of Somalia.

These two rival Islamist groups have been fighting for supremacy in Somalia at the expense of ordinary poor population. They recently squad-off in Bakara market killing dozens of one another. Assassination attempts of their top leadership had become a daily norm and they have also fought over the limited resources in Somalia.

Many people are wondering what their merger will add to the already volatile situation in Somalia. To be sincere their marriage of convenience will not add anything given that they were both fighting the TFG and AMISOM and that they had their own internal rifts and infighting.

Mohamed Osman Arus, a spokesman for Hizbul Islam confirmed the merger saying, "Yes, we have merged and we are now one group. Our forces are now fighting together," witnesses confirmed that Hizbul islam fighters in several locations in Mogadishu are now fighting as Al-Shabab militants.

The latest merger is however opposed by some Hizbul Islam hardliners including Maalim Hashi, Hassan Mahdi and a few other top commanders who are believed to be contemplating to join the government should the said merger materialize. This could not however be independently verified as both Maalim Hashi and Hassan Mahdi's phone numbers were off.

Mogadishu residents are skeptical of the latest merger of the two rival Islamist groups and believe it will only add fuel to the already volatile situation in Somalia.

“Somalia is so unfortunate and has so many enemies. The people were really enthusiastic about the new Prime Minister and his cabinet. I sometimes wonder because whenever there is a glimpse of hope in Somalia someone somewhere simply scuttles it. This merger between Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab will only add fuel to the fire. They have no good intentions for us, they simply want to finish off the few ordinary Somalis who have survived their unholy war,” Resident Osman Mohamed, 60, said looking pensive

These two groups have traditionally been Somalia's biggest opposition groups. They continue to jointly control large swathes of land in Somalia including pockets of the capital Mogadishu, Kismayu and most other parts of southern, eastern and western Somalia.

Some believe the merger is a plot by Sheikh Aweys, Somalia's cynical Islamist leader and the father of militancy in Somalia to topple Al-Shabab, his biggest opponents to ascending to power in Somalia.

But for Sheikh Aweys it looks like he has decided to take his worst enemy from within. Well as they say if you cannot beat them, simply join them.

Will it be easy for Sheikh Aweys or the Red Fox as he is known around for his red dyed beards to topple Al-Shabab from the inside? Many Somalis would gladly hope so but it will not be a walk in the park for Mr. Aweys.

Al-Shabab is led and financed by foreign fugitives who have no intention of seeing peace in Somalia simply because their survival depends on the raging war. The more fighting and people dying in Somalia, the safer they are. That is the unfortunate reality Somalis find themselves in.

"These fugitves are playing the religious card to their advantage. If the jihad they are propagating is really true why didn't they start it in their own home countries, I sometimes wonder who is fooling who. My Somali brothers who have fallen for this religious nonsense are either doing it for the money or simply too ignorant to know the truth," wondered Ali Abdullahi, another Mogadishu resident.

This is what might happen in the coming weeks if the said merger is true and is actually implemented.

Expect bloodier fighting in the Somali capital Mogadishu meaning many innocent civilians will continue to die in this unnecessary war. The new Al-Shabab outift might not necessarily make any progress in the battle fields simply because the African Union peacekeepers in Somalia are too strong for the ragtag Islamist militias.

Worse of all for Al-Shabab is that the Somali government forces are said to be in high spirits following plans to finally pay them their dues or stipends in the coming weeks or so. TFG Soldiers often fight alongside AU peacekeepers and actually make up the first frontline. News of their long awaited stipends will surely given them a reason to resist any Al-Shabab offensive.

This can only mean one thing then, we should expect a stalemate in the ongoing battles in Mogadishu.

As it has always been it is the Somali public that has and will continue to suffer the greatest burden of this totally unnecessary war in Somalia and until the ordinary people say enough is enough the situation will unfortunately remain the same. More deaths and suffering for the ordinary poor Somali man, woman or child.

As I pen off, I can already hear loud explosions in Mogadishu. Perhaps it’s just another Al-Shabab reminder that they are still around and that the merger is a reality.

Whatever the case I just wonder when the Somali people will eventually realize that bullets, artillery fire and suicide bombers will only cause more deaths and suffering for the poor and further destruction to their already damaged and bullet-poked capital city Mogadishu.

Surely, when will this madness end?
Thursday, December 2, 2010 0 comments

AMISOM captures former interior ministry offices from Al-Shabab.

By Guled Mohamed

December 2, Mogadishu – African Union peacekeepers from Uganda on Thursday captured the former ministry of interior offices from Al-Shabab militants after several days of heavy fighting, AMISOM spokesman Major Ba-Hoku Barigye confirmed.

The interior ministry office is located in Bondere district and is located west of the former Italian embassy building in the Somali capital. This is a significant victory for the AU peacekeepers who have been battling Al-Shabab militants for some times now.

“Our forces have captured the ministry of interior offices from Al-Shabab just now. They are now securing it. Al-Shabab has been attacking the peacekeepers in the last few days and we took this opportunity to expand our areas of responsibility by capturing this important building. We know Al-Shabab deployed 70 women fighters in those areas and one of them was killed. This is all I can say at the moment,” Major Ba-Hoku said.

Al-Shabab, who have a pact with the global jihadist group Al-Qaeda, has been loosing public support in Somalia largely due to their brutal treatment of ordinary Somalis. At least 700 families of displaced farmers and pastoralists have fled into Mogadishu’s Dharkanlay district after Al-Shabab ordered them to pay taxes.

Majority of these families are so poor that they could not afford to pay the taxes Al-Shabab was demanding. They were threatened with a severe punishment and that is why they had to run away to Mogadishu.

There is an interim government in place in Somalia which is struggling to pacify the country with the help of AU peacekeepers from Ugandan and Burundi. Somalia’s last central government was ousted by clan militias in 1991 who plunged the Horn of African country into anarchy.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010 0 comments

Brace for change, new Somali PM tells his people

Mogadishu, November 30 – Somalia’s youthful Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi is urging his war weary countrymen to be prepared for change as a new lean cabinet made up technocrats he recently swore in prepares to turn around events in the lawless Horn of African country plagued by 19 years of conflict.

Security, government accountability, reconciliation and revenue collection are the top priorities for the 48 year Prime Minister who hopes to achieve them with help from a team of 18 ministers majority of who are from the Diaspora just like him.

Many ordinary Somalis have high hopes of the new cabinet and see them new as the best chance for the beleaguered Somali government to assert its authority amid an Islamist onslaught led by the ruthless Al-Shabab militias who have completely made it impossible for the young administration to provide much needed social services to its majority poor population.

The biggest challenge facing the new team is time. They have less than a year before the mandate of the transitional federal government expires in August 2011. However, Prime Minister Mohamed is optimistic his team can deliver the peace and stability that has eluded Somalis since 1991 when the previous government was overthrown.

The 48 year old Mohamed served as a colonel in the Somali army before moving to the Foreign Ministry of the ousted government of President Mohamed Siad Barre. He later worked in the Somali embassy in Washington from 1985 to 1989 where he remained until his recent appointment to the challenging office of Premiership.

“Our people should know that time has come to embrace peace and stability. This is something my government intends to accomplish. Its time for change. If every Somali citizen can play his part and work with this government we will achieve our goal. The people should not loose hope. I think we can defeat this enemy called Al-Shabab and bring peace and stability to this great country called Somalia,” he said, speaking from a roof top at the main base of African Union peacekeepers backing his government

Prime Minister Mohamed says the new cabinet he chose is made up of professional and promises to change the way the government conducts its businesses. He is also very keen to see government forces getting stipends and salaries, something that previous governments failed to honour and which is believed by many people as single biggest reason why previous administrations have flopped.

“Our troops should be given first priority not only on material or monetary things but we also have to provide them with anything they need in order to give them a reason and purpose to fight for their country. After we fix the issue of insecurity in Mogadishu then we have to think of ways to settle the political issues through genuine reconciliation and then we can start collecting revenues or taxes. In future, the government must be self sufficient,” Prime Minister Mohamed said.

Unlike his predecessors, Mohamed comes with knowledge of financial management from his previous jobs in New York where he managed funds estimated to be hundreds of thousands of dollars. He warned corrupt government officials saying he would not tolerate corruption.

“We have to make sure our people feel proud of their government. Every government revenues or expenditure has to be made public and anyone who tries to engage in corruption will be exposed and put to trial. This new cabinet knows the problems the previous governments have been through and we have to learn from past mistakes. This is our country and we cannot gamble with it. We have to restore hope and bring back peace. There is no any other option for us since our people are suffering,” he said, choosing his words very carefully.

He heaped praise on President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda who this week become the first head of state to visit Mogadishu. Museveni is also the first President to have sent his forces in Somalia in 2007 to serve as African Union peacekeepers, where they are still stationed together with Burundian forces who later joined them.

“I think the people of Uganda are really fortunate to have a President like Museveni who is a great leader. The courage and leadership he showed to come to Mogadishu and send his forces is simply tremendous. I hope his visit will pave way for other leaders to follow suit and visit Somalia which has been portrayed as an inhospitable place where nothing but war is going on. This is a fallacy and we hope the world will not close its doors on us,” he added.
Monday, November 29, 2010 0 comments

Its now or never in Somalia.

By Guled Mohamed

November 29, Mogadishu – “What should we do to turn around our country’s troubles?” I recently tossed this question to a group of journalists visiting the capital Mogadishu who had come to cover the latest Somalia upheavals.

My intention was to create a brainstorming session about the problems facing the Horn of African country and the best possible solutions to end the nearly 20 years of chaos.

My timing of the question was perfect as it caught everyone unawares on a cool serene night in Mogadishu. It elicited a well heated and honest response from the six visiting foreign journalists and seven of my colleagues.

This discussion happened hours after parliament approved a cabinet of technocrats appointed by the new Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo”

Many ideas came out of this rare session held late at night close to the Indian Ocean.

The below statements stood out among many brilliant ideas.

Somalia needs a charismatic leader who can rally the masses and who will be above petty clan interests to steer the country out of its current debacle.

Somalia needs an economic development to bring about hope to the majority poor population giving them a reason to live and stop them from supporting extremists groups.

Somalia needs security that can only be achieved if the government pays its soldiers.

The internationally community should stop the lip service and genuinely help Somalia get out of the mess.

The Somali government is a sham. It is corrupt and ineffective. The Somali people need a government that is both sensitive to their needs and which

At the end of the day, nothing can be achieved without the local population taking the lead in solving their problems.

All the above ideas and many more others that I have not made public conclusively point to one major solution: Somalia needs a pragmatic leader or simply a saviour who should be patriotic and honest in order to lead the masses to a better future.

It said that leaders are born and not made.

I can’t wait to see that leader emerging in the ruins of the never-ending conflict that has ravaged Somalia.

I have a feeling that we might not wait for too long to see a glimpse of this leader Somalia badly needs at this hour of need.

President Sheikh Sharif’s recent appointment of PM Farmajo, a relatively unknown personality within Somalia’s political elite might actually be a good start for Somalia if what is said about the young Premier is anything to go by.

My instincts tell me that new PM Farmajo has all the qualities to be that rare leader who has eluded Somalis.

If my instincts come to happen, then Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, Somalia’s current president will take the credit for his latest appointment.

The president, PM and the new cabinet has nine months to turn around the huge challenges into a success.

Farmajo has just appointed a lean cabinet of 18 ministers comprised mainly of technocrats from the Diaspora. After weeks of politicking, canvassing and opposition by parliament, the Somali lawmakers finally approved the cabinet.

Their single most important task ahead is the rampant insecurity that has made it impossible for the interim government to provide much-needed services to the war-weary populace.

Is Farmajo, the saviour Somalia has been waiting for?

Many ordinary Somalis believe so.

However, time will tell.

One last advice to Farmajo and his new team.

Please break away from the old politics of clan, nepotism, corruption and unnecessary visits to regional and western capitals that previous cabinet members were known to do.

Get your priorities right by securing Mogadishu and the rest of Somalia. Resuscitate the collapsed state by ensuring all ministries are operational in Mogadishu. We are tired of the so-called-briefcase ministries and the behind the scenes shoddy dealings in the name of Somalia.

Please pay government police and military and other government civil servants and slowly and carefully implement quick economically viable projects that will provide jobs and livelihoods to the poor population.

Nothing will happen overnight. You will have to be patient and expect a real battle from individuals and groups who have no intention of change in Somalia and whose sole aim is to maintain the status quo for their own selfish gains.
Sunday, November 28, 2010 0 comments

Museveni makes a surprise visit to Somalia

By Guled Mohamed

Mogadishu,, November 28 – President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda made a surprise visit to Somalia on Sunday in his second visit to Mogadishu since 1992 to check on his forces serving under the African Union peacekeeping mission as well as paying a courtesy call to President Sheikh Sharif of Somalia.

President Museveni landed around 1pm where he immediately met with dozens of Ugandan peacekeepers at an open field in the main AMISOM southern Halane base in Mogadishu. He flew out few hours later after chatting with ordinary soldiers sand meeting with his top commanders and Somali leaders.

Museveni’s visit caught everyone in surprise including Ugandan peacekeepers who were only informed of the visit after he landed at the Aden Ade international airport in Mogadishu.

“I think you have done well her for the last 4 years. We should be happy that our country is taking the lead in helping solve the Somalia problem which has eluded many others. You must adhere to the culture of the people of Somalia. I just want you to adhere to our strict code of conduct and treat the people of Somalia with dignity,” he said, wearing green military fatigues with a matching green safari cap, his famous trade mark head gear.

The troops were simply mesmerized by his visit. They welcomed their leader to Mogadishu with songs and dance. “Jeshi yetu ni jeshi ya watu. Tuko hapa kusaidia nchi ya Somalia kupata amani,” the troops sang in Swahili. The old man danced and clapped to the patriotic songs.

He later held a private meeting with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi and Speaker of parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden at a UN compound within the main AMISOM base amid tight security.

Before flying out after 4pm, President Museveni visited the AMISOM main hospital run by Ugandan peacekeepers where he consoled wounded and sick AMISOM peacekeepers from Uganda, Somali government forces wounded in the ongoing battles in Somalia as well as civilian patients receiving free treatment at the hospital. The civilians he saw were mainly those who have been wounded as well as young women patients suffering from fistula, a common problem in Somalia largely due birth complications as a result of early marriage.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to welcome our brother President Yoweri Museveni to Somalia. He is the first president to visit Somalia in the last 20 years. We see his visit as historic and we warmly welcome him,” President Sheikh Sharif of Somalia said.

Museveni said he was happy to see the three top Somali leaders together.

“I came to check on our troops but also to consult with the President. I am very pleased to see the President, the speaker and the new Prime Minister united. So am very very happy and our troop’s morale is high,” he said.

He chose his words carefully when asked when his forces would pacify Mogadishu.

“The question of taking the capital is not something very crucial. It can be taken if the troops are enough. I don’t think that is the problem, the problem is enough manpower and equipment. It is not just taking the capital it is also this is Somalia, Somalia belongs to Somalis. The most important thing element or help our Somali brothers are to rebuild their soldiers including the army. That is the most important thing. Any other thing is just temporary,” he added.

Ugandan peacekeepers were simply elated to see their President in Mogadishu, a city riddled with bullets and destroyed by nearly 20 years of a never ending conflict that has left many people dead and many more wounded.

“I am very happy to see our President in Mogadishu. His visit will improve our morale. He has told us that we have been granted a pay rise in accordance with United Nations peacekeeping standards. We will now be paid $1,028 up from $750 of which $250 was deducted by the government for the mission maintenance. This is really positive news,” said Sergeant Fred Baguma.

For private Mukona Eliya, a waiter at the senior AMISOM officers mess where President Museveni went for a brief from his top commanders including Force Commander Major General Nathan Mugisha, the visit by his commander in chief will go a long way in motivating them.

“I am very happy to see the President coming to our mess. His visit will surely motivate us to work even harder to support our Somali brothers. He spoke to us and give us morale and urged us to work closely with the Somali people,” he said with a big grin.

Below are some more questions in italics President Museveni responded to during his rare visit to Somalia.

Are you disappointed with the international support you have been getting?

“Yes, they don’t take the Somali problem very seriously. I hear they are in oceans having a nice time in the oceans but the problem is on land. I don’t know how much money they are spending in the oceans. But pirates who got to steal ships in the oceans come from land. I don’t know whether the Somalis have been aquatic. Have they become aquatic? Sea animals, I think they are land animals. The efforts should be here on land to help the transitional government to build an army and then help us who are playing support role,”

How do you feel to be the first president to visit Somalia? What message do you think this will send to other African leaders?

Well I was here 20 years ago when I visited Aideed and Ali Mahdi. Now I came back to check on Sheikh Sharif.

The situation was different then than now.

“Even then there was a problem. I had come to advise Aideed and AlI Mahdi to agree. That is what I was appealing to them but today I am happy to find the President, speaker with the Prime Minister all together. I am very happy. I think it’s a good nucleus,”

What is your message to the Somali people?

“To the Somali people my message is that they really should know that power is important but destiny of a country is more important to me or him or anybody. For instance the Somali people have lost a lot of time you know how much can you do in 10 years. If you loose 10 years or 20 years without doing anything for building it’s not really fair to the Somalis. Really I would call upon the faction leaders to bring peace and then go constitutional. If you want power look for it constitutionally have peace, have a transitional period which is agreed upon like these people even those people who are not in the government and then transitional govt results into elections and then the Somali people will gain their sovereignty. Because sovereignty of the Somali people has been usurped by people with guns. That should be reversed, the people of Somalia should regain their sovereignty they should be the ones to lead their country not the people with guns,”
Saturday, November 27, 2010 0 comments

ANALYSIS – Is Al-Shabab loosing its grip on Somalia?

By Marian Yarisow.
Mogadishu, November 26 – Mogadishu witnessed one of its heaviest clashes in 2010 during the holy month of Ramadan after Al-Shabab militants ferociously attacked Somali government and African Union peacekeepers with all the manpower and firepower they could harness in a desperate attempt to take over Mogadishu.

The above offensive not only backfired on Al-Shabab but it also badly denting its image causing serious ramification to its unity. Even though they still do attack the government and their AU backers to date, Al-Shabab seems to have lost its clout and vigour in Somalia and Mogadishu in particular.

Its top leadership is facing a serious split likely to affect its future operations. For the ordinary Somali living in parts of the capital Mogadishu and elsewhere in the country controlled by Al-Shabab. This latest news is a really positive development simply because Al-Shabab has managed to stay in power largely due to its brutal nature by coercing the public into submission.

However, the latest development in both military and the political infighting within Al-Shabab sends one clear message: That Al-Shabab can be beaten and that they are not mortals as they often try to depict themselves.

Credible intelligence sources indicate that Al-Shabab lost around 500 to 700 fighters and approximately 2000 others were wounded in the month-long pitched battles in Mogadishu where at some stage the militants came close to a touching distance of the hilltop presidential palace protected by AMISOM peacekeepers only to be pushed back by the AU peacekeeping force.

Majority if these casualties were illiterate youths conscripted from across Somalia.

A 20 year old young man who only gave his name Mahamed was among the unlucky youths. He was lured into the war by money wielding bearded men in the thick jungles of Bakol region.

“I was herding goats in the bush when one day some men approached me and gave me $50. They told me I could get more if I joined them. That is how I became Al-Shabab fighter. I had never been to Mogadishu before. When we came they showed as a huge building and said it was the Presidential palace. We were made to believe that Al-Shabab was going to take over the country. I feel stupid and used but at least I have known the truth. I will never re-join them. I better die than go back to be their slave,” he said, a month after he was caught in combat.

His story is both fascinating and saddening. It’s the reality on the ground in Somalia where Al-Shabab has managed to hold into power using all possible means. They simply do not care how many of our young brothers die in the unpopular war.

As a result of the botched attacks, Al-Shabab lost hundreds of mostly youthful fighters forcing the group back to the drawing board amid finger pointing by its top leadership forcing Al-Qaeda to step into the raw to try and reunite them.

Hizbul Islam which is led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is the other opposition force fighting the Somali government which also does not enjoy good relations with Al-Shabab. The two groups are only united in fighting the government and AMISOM peacekeepers in a bid to win Al-Qaeda’s support but have serious differences within themselves that often end up in armed conflict.

Sheikh Aweys is a long time Islamist leader in Somalia who believes he is the most senior Islamist and therefore does not understand why young men in the name of Al-Shabab should take the mantle of the so called holly war in Somalia.

A high powered meeting was convened in Baidoa after Ramadan where a visiting Al-Qaeda leader sought to reunite the fractious Somali Al-Shabab commanders in vain as well as tried to reconcile Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab.

Sources say that the Al-Qaeda leader urged the two Islamists groups to continue fighting the Somali government and the African Union peacekeepers and that Al-Qaeda will only recognize the party that emerges victorious in the ongoing battles in Somalia.

Within Al-Shabab the rift is mainly between Ahmed Abdi Godane aka Abu Zubeyr, the group’s top commander who enjoys close ties with foreign jihadists in Somalia. Godane hails from Somaliland and he has been at odds with another senior commander Sheikh Mukhtar Robow aka Abu Mansur who is also a former Al-Shabab spokesman. Robow hails from the Rahaweyn clan in Bay and Bakol regions of southern Somalia which apparently lost most fighters in the botched Ramadan offensive.

Godane has usurped power using a well funded hit squad within Al-Shabab known as Amniyad and comprised of mainly under aged youths. The hit squad is responsible for all the executions, assassination and any other dirty tasks ordered by Godane. This unit has created fear among the group giving him an absolute grip on power and more importantly keeping him put as the supreme leader.

It is believed that Godane -- who is reportedly trained in Afghanistan just like most Al-Shabab commanders -- orchestrated the dismissal of Robow from Al-Shabab’s Executive Committee, the militant group’s most powerful entity who make final decisions.

Godane is also accused by Robow of ordering the execution of his close ally called Sheikh Ayub a commander of Eastern Bay region after he sustained injuries during the Ramadan offensive.

This assassination as well as the fact that Robow lost 183 fighters in the battle, the highest figure from a single entity meant that he was getting a raw deal from Al-Shabab forcing him to withdraw hundreds of his troops from the capital Mogadishu prompting his clansmen, the Rahanweyn to also quit Al-Shabab in Kismayu and the central region returning back to their Baidoa backyard where it is believed they would seek to govern their home regions Bay and Bakool separately from Al-Shabab.

Sheikh Mukhtar Robow’s exit from Al-Shabab is a major blow to the group. This means that the group will loose support and funds from Bay and Bakool regions, which have unanimously been very supportive of Al-Shabab.

It’s also believed that some Al-Shabab financiers and sympathizers are not happy with the rift and more importantly Al-Shabab’s unclear motivation to continue fighting a war whose victims still remain to be ordinary Somalis. For the financiers, business has not been good largely due the seemingly endless war led by Al-Kadab, a name the group has been brandished in Mogadishu simply meaning the liar!

For the war weary ordinary Somalis who have had to live with the sustained Al-Shabab’s brutality since mid 2006, the latest infighting within the group come as a big relief. Many residents accuse Al-Shabab of being the biggest obstacle to finding permanent peace in the troubled Horn of African country.

“I greet you Major. Try to attack every place Al-Shabab is staying. They are our enemy and the enemy of Somalia. The Somali people are happy for your progress by Allah’s will. Win, win win, Ameen,” read an SMS from a Somali man living in Al-Shabab controlled area in Mogadishu to AMISOM Spokesman Major Barigye Ba-Hoku.

Somalia’s myriad clans have always stood against any mighty force. They have again proved a hard ball to crack for the global jihadist group Al-Qaeda and their Somalia henchmen Al-Shabab.

Clan chiefs who previously supported Al-Shabab for fear of being hacked to death have now started asking questions following the botched attempt at taking over Mogadishu which Al-Shabab leaders made it look so easy to the elders when they went round the villages conscripting innocent youths who have no religious knowledge nor wisdom to challenge their sinister motives.

“Certain Somali clans are not happy after loosing hundreds of their young men in the so called holly war which also claimed many more civilian lives. Some clans are asking whether paradise which Al-Shabab promised is only meant for certain clans. I think it’s the start of their end,” a clan elder in Baidoa said asking not to be named.

Few years ago such an outcry against Al-Shabab was never publicly uttered in Somalia largely due to Al-Shabab’s ruthless response to anyone seen defying their exported foreign ideologies.

This leads to the big question which I believe many Somalis and every other peace loving sane person would gladly want to hear in favour of Somalia, a country ravaged by almost 20 years of fighting. Is Al-Shabab loosing its grip in Somalia?

Experts on Somalia believe the group is slowly loosing its grip on Somalia largely due to their own ruthless treatment of the Somali public. They kill anyone seen defying their foreign ideology sometimes even inside a mosque something that has never been witnessed any where else, they lash people in public for any misdemeanour offenses and as if that is not enough have even gone to the point of slitting throats of people accused of spying for their opponents without any concrete evidence.

Their inhuman nature has earned them many nicknames among the local population like “Rer Burburshe” or the destructive clan, Al-Shaydan, or the devil and Al-Kadab, the liar.

Their acts of terror are contrary to the Somali culture and the true teachings of Islam.

As if to prove their unpopularity Al-Shabab is now forcefully conscripting youngsters to join them as they massively did across southern Somalia prior to the botched Ramadan offensive, they have also ordered business owners, farmers and even pastoralists to pay tax by force and worse of all their ragtag militia is reportedly engaging in wicked acts like gang raping girls reminiscent of the warlord era in Somalia.

All the above facts point to only one conclusion. Al-Shabab days in Somalia are numbered. But how can we make sure when they finally fall which is very imminent given the above facts, they will never rise again.

This is a golden opportunity for the interim government to put their house in order and stop wasting time on enriching themselves but turn Al-Shabab’s loss into victory for the majority of the Somali people who simply wish to live in peace.

The writer is a freelance journalist working in Somalia.
Monday, September 20, 2010 0 comments

Media wars in Somalia.

Mogadishu, September 19 - Al-Shabab militants early on Sunday morning seized another radio station in Mogadishu bringing to five the number of private radio stations they have confiscated since the start of the year.

This times round, it was not just another radio station but they went for the kill by confiscating radio and TV equipments belonging to HornAfrik Radio and TV station, the pioneer of private broadcast and TV station in Somalia. They did not stop there but also confiscated radio equipments belonging to its sister station called Capital Voice.

HornAfrik has also a working relationship with the global news agency Reuters, my former employers. Reuters buy's video footage from HornAfrik TV, also Somalia's first private TV station. They got away with a professional camera and a laptop belonging to Reuters and which was under the care of HornAfrik. Fortunately a B-gan, also belonging to Reuters was left behind by the gunmen who thought it’s a useless gadget!

After the Al-Shabab raid, its copycat Hizbul Islam group also decided to take over the Global Broadcasting Corporation GBC radio in a bid to outwit the Al-Shabab. The Somali media are again caught up in the middle of this battle to control the media by the two antagonist groups.

I spoke to a HornAfrik staff who was present during the 2:00am morning raid that involved 60 heavily armed Al-Shabab fighters at the station. Below is an excerpt from his interview describing the early morning raid. The staff’s name has been concealed for his own safety.

"They came around 2am this morning and knocked the main door. They were around 60 heavily armed Al-Shabab gunmen. One of our guards sought to know who was knocking that late, they ordered him to open the door threatening to kill if he did not heed their call. He had no option but to open it, they forced their way into the compound and beat him up before locking him into a room. They also beat up the second guard. They then went to look for another staff member who had the keys to all the rooms. They were well informed and knew what they want. I locked myself in another room praying all the time to Allah to protect me from them. It was a very nervous experience for me and I thank God for the protection,"

"They took away radio equipments for HornAfrik radio and television, its sister station capital voice as well as all the archived audio and video tapes. They also got away with a professional camera and a laptop belonging to Reuters news agency. Fortunately they threw away the B-gan thinking it’s a power supply,"

"The estimated total cost of equipment taken is estimated to be around US$200,000. This is a huge blow to our operation. HornAfrik was Somalia's biggest private media house and it will for sure have a negative effect in the Somali media in generation. Our station has been closed so many times by different factions but the equipments have never been seized until this morning. This is really a dark day in Somalia,"
Thursday, September 16, 2010 0 comments

The story of Somalia, Al-Shabab boys and drugs

Mogadishu, September 16 - I returned to the city of Mogadishu this morning for yet another reporting assignment. After spending the early part of the morning in meetings, I got an opportunity to meet a former Al-Shabab "tender" fighter aged just 14. He calls himself Abdi. The teenager is undergoing treatment at the AMISOM hospital.

His story is as baffling and intriguing as his former masters, the notorious Al-Shabab militant group.

Abdi is one of thousands of brainwashed boys who have been promised heaven on earth by men as old as their parents and who seem to have mastered the art of religious deception and specialize in sending these kids to unpopular war's while they enjoy in the backdrop of the unceasing violence that has now become synonymous with the Somali capital Mogadishu.

However, before I can tell you anything about his confused past. The boy had wounds all over his body and his right knee is so swollen, you'd think it will burst the next second. As any curious person would ask I was so touched by his plight and sought answers from the skinny boy who claims to originate from the insurgent-held area of Ali Kamin of Wardhigley district in north Mogadishu.

This is what I deduced from his conversation that lasted nearly an hour and a half most of which he kept himself busy doing insane stuff like pouring water on his body in his confused state of mind.

I must admit the boy is seriously suffering from a drug withdrawal. Don't ask me what drug he was on because that is what is baffling even the AMISOM doctor’s treating him.

Before I bore you with other finer details of Abdi’s state, below is his story according to his rescuers, AMISOM.

Abdi was caught in Mogadishu's Shangani district 5 days ago which recently witnessed one of the heaviest battles between the government supported by AMISOM peacekeepers and Al-Shabab. He was found confused largely due his swollen knee that was hit by one of flying shrapnel’s in the bloody battlefield never ment for kids, his entire body is full of wounds that covers most parts of his body including the head. When they asked him what happened to him all he could utter was "Al-Shabab"

The African Union peacekeepers rescued him and brought him to their hospital at their main base in southern Mogadishu near the main Aden Ade international airport. He has been undergoing treatment for several days now and although his wound has started slowly healing according to medics but is still in a state of shock and absent mindedness common with drug addicts.

He says he was drugged and forced to fight an enemy who have now turned to be his saviors.

"I don't know what drug they gave me. They often mix drugs with water. I felt good after taking the drugged water and took was given a gun and told to go and fight the enemy without even a proper training. I have really committed a bad sin. I have shot people... Now look at me. I am as good as dead, am dead. Please take me to my mum," he pleaded holding his swollen knee and looking really remorseful and sad.

This is the sad story faced by many other Somali boys, some even younger than Abdi. Allegations that Al-Shabab drugs their young fighters is the talk of the town in major Somali cities and elsewhere in the region. Ordinary Mogadishu residents who are tired of Al-Shabab's heinous acts will simply tell you: "Forget about these thugs, they drug their fighters and force youngsters to join them. Its not a secret,"

Does Al-Shabab really drug their fighters?

I sought answers from one of Mogadishu's resident. Its important to note that the people of Mogadishu have seen Al-Shabab growing over the years. Many of them helped this group to fight the warlords in mid 2006 and later to fight the Ethiopian troops. The overal belief then was that Al-Shabab was a good Islamic military group committed in bringing peace to Somalia. Many were wrong and have only came to realized their mistake later after Al-Shabab grew roots and was simply out of their league!

Al-Shabab originally grew over the years from a bunch of youths secretly led by anonymous commanders in hiding and who used to lead them via mobile phones. But today it has grown into a huge force with thousands of fighters and a major source of employment for many of the poor youths of Somalia. The militant group uses its financial clout to marshal resources and manpower for their own selfish gains.

Unfortunately, most of their fighters today are basically brainwashed kids like Abdi who have no clue of what war is, what religion is and basically follow the orders of their commander without daring to question them. Even they are told to go and kill their parents, they obidiently do so like robots!

"Al-Shabab deceives these boys. They drug them then promise them heaven on earth. The youths are trained in the bushes with AK-47 rifles, old anti-aircraft missiles and other Stone Age armaments. But when these boys are deployed in the battle field in big cities like Mogadishu and then they hear the heavy tank shells and other sophisticated armaments Many of them simply die in the battlefields while others go crazy and start running around as others simply go into shock," said a Mogadishu resident who has never fled the sea side city 25 years ago since he was born, raised, educated and married in the same city.

He is utterly concerned of his countries future, just like any sane nationalist would be worried.

"Its a pity, a whole generation of Somalia's future population is being completely wiped out,' he added in a low tone.

The verdict is yours.
Monday, September 13, 2010 0 comments

Somalia's human shield - Child soldiers and the civilian population

Nairobi, September 13 - There has been growing concern over the last few months about the ever-rising civilian casualties in the protracted war in Somalia. Mogadishu the capital, has been the epicentre of this bloody endless war that actually claims more innocent Somali civilians than the fighters themselves!
During last week's Eid Celebrations in the outskirts of Mogadishu, Hizbul Islam officials were seen praying in an open space surrounded by young armed men also saying their Eid prayers!

It might sound funny but believe me its very serious. What the AK 47 wielding young men most of who are actually child soldiers were simply doing is to provide cover for their commanders incase of any attack. In simple terms they were a human shield protecting their commanders from any surprise assault.

God forbid, should there have been an attack, the first to be hit would have been the boys while their big-bellied leaders would confortably have sped off. Its like the leaders were prepared for any eventuality because they even prayed with their shoes on!

Jokes aside, civilian casualties is a huge problem in Somalia. However, the answer to this pressing issue lies with the tactics used by the insurgents. They use the population as human shield hence endanger many innocent civilians.

There is a growing public resentment against the insurgents and its just a matter of time before the same public take's arms against their biggest tormentors who wrongfully use the religion to achieve their personal political ambitions.

Remember the warlords? They were ousted by layment some of who now claim to be Shabab and Hizbul islam commanders. If they continue transgressing against innocent civilians they should expect no mercy but the same treatment meted against the warlords

People have been pushed to the wall and its just a matter of time before they turn back. May Allah guide our lost brothers and peace prevail in Somalia, Amiin.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010 0 comments

Students perish again?

Three girls studying business administration at Simad Institute in Mogadishu died late on Tuesday after a roadside bomb planted by Al-Shabab went off killing them as well as other bystanders. The latest attack targeting civilians come's barely a week after two Al-Shabab suicide bombers stomed the Muna hotel and assasinated 35 people including 4 lawmakers. The 3 girls we driving in their college van when the attack occured. Two other public busses plying the same route also lost civilians as a result of the cowardly blast. This reminds me of the Shamow blast where the first ever medical graduates were simply waisted by A-Shabab. What I just want to know is until when will our students be perishing in the hands of these blood-letting gangs who seems to have no clue of what they are doing: This isn't Islam, someone should tell them please.
Thursday, August 26, 2010 0 comments

Another dark day in Somalia

August 26 – Somalis living in Mogadishu woke up to yet another dark day on the 24th August after the militant group Al-Shabab executed at least 35 people including an 11year old boy, a woman and six lawmakers.

Many of those who died were fasting the Holly month of Ramadan.

The latest attack by the group claiming to be fighting a holy war in Somalia was intended to inflict maximum damage and kill as many people as possible. The way they executed their heinous intention is sufficient proof they intended to wipe out everyone at the Muna Hotel.

On that fateful day at around 10 am two Al-Shabab suicide bombers disguised as Somali security personnel and wearing uniforms stormed into the Muna hotel in Hamarweyne district. They then started firing at the bodyguards protecting the MPs killing 4 lawmakers and wounded 5 others before going into a civilian killing spree.

They executed almost everyone inside the building. Most of those killed were assassinated from close range and as if that is not enough they went ahead to blow themselves up just to make sure no one survived. In total they killed at least 35 people including an 11 year old boy shoe shiner and a Somali woman selling tea outside the hotel.

Without doubt this attack was intended to inflict maximum damage to the Somali population. Their murderous campaign left a trail of Somali-blood flowing in the corridors and even inside the rooms. This was simply a killing field.

Al-Shabab killed all these people in the name of Islam and on the pretext of fighting a holly war. Surely, who is clearly transgressing here?. The truth remains that their barbarism is totally against Islam which forbids killing a believer or even harming anyone during the holly month of Ramadan let alone killing him/her.

Instead of any remorse feelings they even had the audacity to claim for responsibility of the callous act. Bragging to have butchered so many enemies! What a cowardly act. Were the innocent lives they wasted who were merely poor Somalis trying to make a living including hotel staffs, an 11 year old teenage shoe shiner and a woman selling tea, the enemy?

I wonder under what Islamic Sharia law the innocent Muslim blood was shed. This is the stark reality many Somalis blindly supporting Al-Shabab don’t realize.

It is also no longer a secret that Al-Shabab commanders use under-aged children to spread their extremist beliefs. Many of these children come from poor families and were born and raised in the midst of the anarchy in Somalia and so have no knowledge of peace and have little or no formal education making them easy prey’s .

One of the Muna Hotel suicide bombers was 16 year Adan Hussein who was a former bodyguard to a senior Al-Shabab commander.

Their cruelty is unlimited. It was only on Dec 3rd 2009 when one of their suicide bombers blew himself up at a medical graduation ceremony in Mogadishu killing many would-doctors, the first the country produced since 1991. Four Ministers, several journalists and professors also died in the same blast.

Or the 18 June 2010 when yet another of their brainwashed suicide bombers killed the highly regarded late Security Minister Omar Hashi in Beletweyene together with 23 other people.

These and many other vicious attacks against civilians has forced Somalis to hate Al-Shabab. But again, few years ago people viewed them as saviours. How did they suddenly turn from heroes or villians? The answey is in their nature and purpose.

I remember back in 2006 and partly in 2007 when the Ethiopian troops were in Somalia the Union of the Islamic Court (ICU) enjoyed massive support. Then, Al-Shabab was the military wing of the ICU.

Somalis fell in love with them for simply turning Mogadishu into a relatively safe city and for fighting the Ethiopians who are traditionally reviled by the Somalis due to a long history of bad blood between the two countries.

Al-Shabab fighters were housed, clothed and fed by the public. During the long and bloody battles with the Ethiopians, their wounded were treated by the public and their dead preserved for simply bringing peace to Mogadishu that made them local heroes.

Howerev, that is no longer the case these days. They are loathed by majority of the public because they have turned against the same people who sheltered and supported them when they were weak and vulnerable. They have repayed the kindness and genuine love of the Somali people by killing so many innocent civilians. Some of who might have extended a hand during those days when Al-Shabab was weak and wounded. Is this how a person claiming to be religious return's favours?

Their support actually started to dwindle when the Ethiopians pulled out of Somalia in early 2009 and their former Chairman Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was appointed Somalia's next President. Many people expected them to join him to usher in a new Somalia.

But that did not happen. Why? Because peace is the biggest threat to their ascension to power. Why, because they are a minority in Somalia. No one would voluntarily support them and that is why they have to terrorize the people in order to submit to their foreign brand of religion and practices.

That is why they continue to fight to date against President Sheikh Sharif's government and the African Union peacekeepers who were deployed by the African Union to replace the Ethiopians

What many people don’t know is that Al-Shabab is led and mainly funded by a group of foreign fugitives calling themselves “foreign Mujahidiins“ who are wanted back in their home countries in the Middle East, Europe and North America.

The survival of these fugitives is dependant on Somalia being in chaos. That is why they would do everything to make sure the country never enjoys peace. The few Somalis who side with them are doing so purely on material ground and not on religious zeal as they might appear or sound to you.

In short, Al-Shabab does not care how many Somalis die. That is why they generalize whoever they kill as a "Murtid" or infidel. Who that 11 year boy or the woman selling tea, a Murtid? Surely not. They just want to wipe everyone and take over the country. So, whether they kill you for simply selling tea or shining shoes or worse in their eyes working for the government doesn’t bother them at all or even matter . In fact it simply excites them!

These are very hard times for the ordinary Somali man and woman living in Somalia and particulary the capital Mogadishu. Their country has been in chaos for almost 20 years. Whenever a little hope of peace presents itself they find themselves back to square one.

Yesterday, it was the warlords who were viewed as the biggest obstacle to peace in Somalia, today Al-Shabab tops as the biggest enemy of the Somali people towards achieving peace. Their barbarism has been revealed by their continous killing and maiming of civilians on flimsy religious grounds. I sometimes wonder what more they are capable of achieving if and when they ever take over the country.

Generally People seem to be pessimic of peace in Somalia. Well, they have their reasons. But for those poor people who continue to suffer under Al-Shabab, peace is their only saviour.

I strongly believe that Somalia has a chance. If every sane Somali and non-Somali who has an iota of dignity, faith and humanity joins or supports the ongoing efforts to stop these crazy fanatics from taking over the country. That way, we can be assured of a peaceful Somalia however long or treacherous that road to peace might look now.

But for us to actually see any changes we have to support the interim government of Somalia -- however weak it may seem -- because it is the only way out of the current mess spread by extremists groups whose survival depends on shading more blood.

That is what I think is the solution to the protracted war in Somalia. Do you have a better idea?

Please share.
Friday, July 30, 2010 1 comments

The Mogadishu you never hear about

By Guled Mohamed

People visiting the Somali capital Mogadishu for the first time are being fallaciously petrified that as soon as they step out of the plane at the city's international airport they should expect to be greeted by a mortar shell or sniper fire.

I sometimes also get similar sentiments thrown my way in spite of living and working in Mogadishu even under worse conditions than the present flare-ups. Every other time I am about to travel to Mogadishu my friends and family in Kenya give me that weird look as if to say: Do you really have to go there?

If you have never been to Mogadishu you will probably be thinking in the same lines, that the Somali capital has nothing to offer a part from the violence that we are constantly reminded of by the blinking breaking news on our television sets or in our local newspapers.

But, there is an image of Mogadishu that is rarely told by the media. You will hardly hear of any positive development except war and ruins which have unfortunately became synonymous with the city and the country of Somalia.

The following are just but a few of the positive things that you should expect if you ever visit this white-washed seaside city that is much-talked about albeit negatively.

The city of Mogadishu enjoys the services of some consulates or embassies belonging to several African and Arab countries which give visas to Somalis wishing to travel mainly for medical and educational reasons.

There is a thriving international airport called Aden Ade International airport renamed after Somalia's first president who recently died and who also went into history books as the first ever African president to peacefully relinquish power after loosing an election.

Built by the Italians in the late 50s, the 300o meter long facility is adjacent to the sky-blue Indian Ocean and just like any major airport has a waiting lounge, immigration services, air traffic controllers, fire fighters, baggage system even though it’s sometimes chaotic.

There is even a VIP lounge where if you happen to be a Very Important Person you should expect to be served with a hot cup of cappuccino, tea, a cold coca cola or bottled water both of which have been manufactured in Mogadishu.

Along the same coastline, you will find a 24 hour functioning seaport with the stunning view of the Somalia coastline where ships dock day and night bringing in almost everything from food, building material to vehicles while 90 percent of all humanitarian suppliers also come through the same port.

Back to our city guide, once you leave the airport, you will find the metropolis of Mogadishu waiting for you.

As you drive or walk out of the airport, you will see the imposing city of Mogadishu. You can afford to relax in the neighbourhoods around the airport because its controlled by the interim government, its relative peace has added some vibrancy and life compared to the northern districts controlled by extremist groups like the notorious Al-Shabab.

Generally, the further you go from the airport the less people you will see. This is simply because these areas enjoy relative peace and have social amenities like hospitals, schools that are operational compared to the opposition controlled areas further in the north where their strict application of Shariah law has forced many residents to flee.

As you leave the airport you will also see long telephone masts and huge dishes mounted on top of buildings belonging to the various multimillion dollar telecommunication companies that offer one of the cheapest tariffs in sub-Saharan Africa as they help connect the people and drive Somalia’s economy at very cheaper rates of less than half a US cent per minute for calls to anywhere in the world.

Local Mogadishu landline calls are free of charge! Yes its absolutely free, while local mobile to mobile calls are also as lows as 10 US cent compared to your phone network. The companies who have made it possible for the Somali people to enjoy such low cost calls are namely Hormud, Telkom, Nation link and Somafone.

You will also find running tap water and 24 hours electricity also provided by other similar private entrepreneurs at nominal prices. There is a Coca-Cola plant in Mogadishu as well as many other light industries that manufacture other household essentials.

These huge investments have all been overshadowed by the fighting in Somalia to paint a lawless country that has nothing to offer except war and destruction. As you might probably know by now, this is not the entire truth, as these privately run companies employ tens of thousands of people and continue to defy anarchy to help create jobs in Somalia as well as restore the country’s dented image that is badly needed if the country is to attract any any foreign investements.

“Mogadishu has been painted as the world’s most dangerous city. If this was the truth would we still be a live or would the huge investments prosper? The answer is No. We know there are some little security problems but that cannot stop us from living. We have to rebuild our country,” Businessman Mustafa Sheikh who operates a textile shop in Bakara market said.

The main seaport is one of the busiest ports in the region and a major lifeline to the big-time businessmen importing electronics, state of the art vehicles, designer clothes and perfumes from Europe, the Far East and the Middle East.

“Can you believe I saw a 2010 latest Toyota Land cruiser LX in Mogadishu? This latest model is hardly available in many African cities. The owner told me he bought it straight from Japan. Before coming to Somalia I was made to believe that I will be dead as soon as I step out of the plane. I just can’t believe it was all hype,” said a foreigner who works in Mogadishu and who did not wish to be named.

The plenty of sunshine and the picturesque image created by the beautiful sight of the sky-blue Indian Ocean joining the bright red sand dunes and the stretching white beaches surely qualify to be among the world’s best spectacular tourist attractions.

During one of my recent interviews with the African Union peacekeepers or AMISOM marine unit near the airport at a bay surrounded by huge coral reefs in the shores of the Indian Ocean, my guide Captain Chris Magezi, the Ugandan Peacekeepers Spokesman in Somalia could not hide his admiration of the serene view.

“This place is really beautiful. Even during the war it is still beautiful. If there was no war it would have been paradise,” Magezi said as we drove past a stunning view of the sea as huge tides pounded the rocky reefs to send a cloud of water droplets high in the sky.

In terms of higher education, the city has over 10 universities. The Mogadishu University was recently ranked ahead of other established institutions in Africa.

If you are fond of fruits like me, then the city to be is Mogadishu. Somalia is generally known for its sweet grape fruits, mangoes, papayas, sweet melon and other citrus fruits.

Mogadishu gets its fruits and vegetable suppliers from a small but agriculturally rich town called Afgoye some 30 km west of the city along the shores of river Shabelle.

Since the Somali people are pastoralists there is also a constant supply of fresh goat, cow, sheep and camel meat and milk.

The huge sea provides the city with lots of fresh fish including the rare yellow fin tuna as well as other marine life depleted in most parts of the world but which are in plenty in the rich Somali waters that have attracted international illigal fish hunters to pray in the unpoliced waters.

“If I were in a position to live in Mogadishu I would never have thought twice. I have worked in so many capital cities in the world. But nothing is comparable to Mogadishu where life is so cheap, the people are so friendly and the food is just so sweat,” an Arab diplomat in Mogadishu once told me before his term ended.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010 0 comments

WITNESS-Getting married in Somalia's war zone

Guled Mohamed, a Kenyan of ethnic Somali origin, has covered Somalia for two years for Reuters. He moved to Mogadishu in mid-2006. In the following story, he describes the problems of arranging his wedding during the country's recent conflict.

By Guled Mohamed
MOGADISHU, Feb 4 2007 (Reuters) - The war in Somalia ruined my first attempt to marry Anisa on New Year's Eve.

I had planned to throw a splendid party in the central town of Baidoa, my young bride's hometown, then entertain friends in the capital Mogadishu, where I live.

But at the eleventh hour, I was forced to cancel the nuptials when Ethiopian and Somali government forces in Baidoa began their long-expected war with Islamists in Mogadishu.

"My son, I think we should postpone the marriage," my mother-in-law called from Baidoa to tell me.

I fell silent digesting the news, balancing the twin pulls of journalism and the heart.

"This war will continue. I don't think you and Anisa can travel to Baidoa in time before the wedding," she continued. "We should set another date after the war is over."

She was right. Fighting raged for days near Baidoa, then spread toward Mogadishu as the Islamists were beaten back.

The battles were the worst in Somalia for decades. Thousands of people were killed, many left for dead on the road between Mogadishu and Baidoa where my marriage party would have traveled.

At one point, with many foreseeing a bloodbath and street fighting in Mogadishu, I thought about leaving Somalia for my own safety. But Anisa has no passport, so I had to stay.

Then, two weeks after the open warfare began, the Islamist fighters, taken by surprise by Ethiopia's aerial firepower and sensing defeat, melted out of Mogadishu without a stand.

Better late than never, the wedding was back on.

I married Anisa on January 18 at her family home in Baidoa. Those in attendance included militiamen with rifles whom I had hired as bodyguards in the still tense atmosphere.

The religious ceremony where I had to shake a Sheikh's hand and mumble prayers after him to be lawfully wedded took place in the morning in a well-decorated room in my fiancee's house.

Once proclaimed man and wife, elders offered me a cold glass of camel milk. They said it would help relieve the stress of trying to pull off this wedding.

I drank the milk in two gulps.

Local women applauded and ululated.

The wedding reception was held in the evening at a restaurant in central Baidoa where guests were served drinks and cookies amid tables decorated with flowers.

Anisa wore a black dress with a feather collar that went well with her silver ear rings and necklace. I was in a black Armani suit and light blue Italian shirt.

The war seemed a distant rumble. Only the absence of my family and friends from Kenya who could not attend because of the insecurity was a reminder of Somalia's troubles.

Two days later, we drove back to Mogadishu for our honeymoon. But to be honest, since then I have rarely had a serene night with my wife.

Anarchy is slowly crippling Mogadishu again. Day and night, ambushes by Islamist remnants against the Ethiopian army and Somali government have become almost a ritual.

Mortars have hit police stations and even the presidential palace. Gunmen open fire in broad daylight. And dead bodies appear in the street with daylight.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, Anisa and I are woken by explosions, rocket fire and gunfights.

Understandably, she is complaining.

She cannot go out and visit relatives for fear of being caught up in the attacks, so she is forced to stay indoors.

But for me, duty calls.

I have cut short my honeymoon to cover the news, torn once again between my work and staying close to my sweetheart.

Danish warship steers food aid past pirates to Somalia

Guled MohamedON BOARD HDMS THETIS March 19, 2008 (Reuters) - Bristling with heavy machineguns and computerised grenade launchers, the HDMS Thetis with its crew of Danish marines is shepherding vital food aid through one of the world's most dangerous waterways.

In the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, pirates have attacked several vessels in recent months carrying relief supplies to the anarchic Horn of Africa country, holding the ships and their crews for ransom.

The United Nations has appealed for rich nations to help it get humanitarian aid to impoverished Somalis, and the militaries of France and Denmark have answered the call.

"This is the noblest mission I've ever been involved with and I'm ready to die," said one Danish commando on board the MV Fade 1, a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship trailing the Thetis and carrying 5,300 tonnes of aid for the U.N. World Food Programme.

"This operation is better than those useless political battles," said the soldier, clad in camouflage and toting an M16 assault rifle, a 9mm pistol strapped to his right thigh.Piracy has been rife off Somalia since warlords there toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

But the attacks have reached unprecedented levels due to instability onshore as the interim government battles Islamist insurgents.

In the latest incident, hijackers freed a Russian ship on Tuesday that they captured last month. The crew were unharmed.

A local Somali official said a $700,000 ransom had been paid, but the vessel's owners said it would be "irresponsible" for it to give any details of contacts with the hijackers.Doing so could encourage more attacks, it warned.

The 3,500-tonne, 112-metre Thetis is on its second humanitarian mission in the region since February, escorting food aid from Mombasa in Kenya to the Somali capital Mogadishu.WFP hopes to feed close to 2 million Somalis by August.

Up to 1 million of Somalia's total population of 9 million are living as refugees after 17 years of conflict, and the United Nations has described the situation in Somalia as Africa's worst humanitarian crisis.

Sitting aboard the MV Fade 1, 56-year-old Syrian captain Mustafa Al-Jendi, is overjoyed with the Danish help."We are safe from pirate attacks," he told Reuters, smoking contentedly as he navigated the vessel weighed down with stocks of sorghum, peas, other vegetables and non-food items.

"Some areas between Mombasa and Mogadishu are not very safe. We are happy the troops are here to provide security."

After this mission, the Thetis will be sailing back to the northern hemisphere to resume its usual tasks of ice-breaking and monitoring fishing fleets.

A Danish sniper in his mid-20s keeping a watchful eye from the deck of the Fade 1 had a message for any pirates who tried to interfere with their important work.

"We will shoot at their engine to show them they are not wanted here," he said. "We're not interested in killing them."

FEATURE-Mogadishu port slowly changing lives in Somalia

By Guled Mohamed

Mogadishu, March 24, 2008 (Reuters) - African Union peacekeepers have turned Somalia's biggest port into a thriving business centre providing a vital lifeline to war-weary residents.

Speaking after a cargo ship chartered by the United Nations to deliver food aid docked in the Mogadishu harbour, the port's AU commander, Captain Cyprian Odong, said his soldiers had been able to turn it into one of the safest corners of a dangerous city.

"Ships are coming day and night," Odong told reporters, flanked by other officers from AMISOM, the AU mission in the Horn of Africa nation. "Security at the port has really improved since we took over in January. People move freely."

Nearby, soaked bare-chested porters swarmed over vessels to unload their cargos, mostly of food.

A rickety white boat with Somali marine officials onboard acted as traffic controller, directing ships to anchor.

Two AMISOM dinghies mounted with heavy machineguns and carrying troops clutching AK-47 rifles patrolled further out at sea, while heavily armed soldiers on the shore guarded the gates into the harbour.

"We get cargo from Dubai, some from Indian, Pakistan and now from Mombasa ... The ships are bringing in food," Odong said, his head pressed to a radio telephone with a long aerial."Our mission in Mogadishu is to support the peace operation ... It is very hard but we are trying."

About 2,600 AU peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi have been unable to stem a persistent Islamist insurgency in Somalia's capital -- and like the AU mission in Sudan's Darfur region, they complain of being under-funded and under-staffed.

Built by the Italians before Somalia gained independence from Rome in 1961, the harbour is about 2,500 metres long with several piers where big ships anchor, and a sandy beach to the north that is often filled with swimming children.

Since closing to commercial vessels for nearly 15 years after former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown by warlords in 1991, the harbour briefly opened during a strict but relatively peaceful Islamist reign in June 2006.

It closed down again after they were ousted at the end of that year.Since then, continuing lawlessness in the white-washed city has deterred many would-be investors -- even though the run-down port and some determined businessmen have defied the anarchy.

In January 2007, several mortar shells fired by insurgents opposed to Somalia's interim government hit the harbour, killing at least 5 people and temporarily disrupting port operations.

Up to a million people out of Somalia's total population of nine million currently live as refugees after 17 years of war.The United Nations says nearly 20, 000 people flee Mogadishu every month to escape Iraq-style attacks including assassinations, grenade blasts and roadside bombings that have left parts of city completely deserted.

Mustafa Al-Jendi, the captain of the Fade 1 cargo ship delivering 5,300 tonnes of food aid for the United Nations' World Food Programme, recalls the old days under the Barre regime when the city was at peace.

"Mogadishu was beautiful then. We used to dock and go to enjoy the city life. Nowadays, there is fighting everyday. At night you hear loud explosions. But the port is safe," he told Reuters, smiling as he steered the vessel towards the port.

Clay Aiken appeals for world attention on Somalia

By Guled Mohamed

HARGEISA, June 25 2008 - (Reuters Life!) - US pop star Clay Aiken appealed on Wednesday for the world not to forget Somalia, where conflict and hunger have created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Aiken said U.S. and international interest in Somalia had been minimal since failed military intervention in the early 1990s.

"There hasn't been much discussion of Somalia since the early 1990s in the U.S.," said Aiken, a U.N. goodwill ambassador, on a visit to Somalia.

"The American population kind of got a bad taste of Somalia in the early 90's and hasn't really had much interest in the country since."

Somalia has suffered relentless civil conflict since the 1991 toppling military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

In the latest cycle of violence, an Islamist-led insurgency against the Somali government and its Ethiopian military advisers since the start of 2007 has killed thousands and made one million people homeless.

"It's the most dangerous place for a child to be," Aiken said. "In the lower part of the country, southern part, I feel it's a more desperate situation than any place we've ever been."

Aiken, 29, who was traveling on behalf of U.N. children's agency UNICEF, was in Somaliland, a relatively peaceful northern enclave of Somalia that has declared itself independent but not been recognized internationally.

While there have skirmishes with neighboring province Puntland, Somaliland has functioning political institutions.

"In Somaliland, you really do have a sense of people who really want to help themselves, who want to do better, who want to effect change for themselves, that is very hopeful," he said.

Somaliland authorities hope a high-profile visit like Aiken's may bolster their case for world acceptance of their separation from Somalia.

For 12-year-old, Ubah Mohamed, her wants were simpler.

"I understand he is famous. I hope he will give us food and build a school for us," she said, near to a refugee camp.

Somali wedding planners rejoice in new freedom

By Guled Mohamed
MOGADISHU, July 28, 2007 (Reuters) - Women decked out in brightly coloured gowns, gold jewellery and elaborate hairstyles dance with men to the slow tunes of Somali love songs.

A pianist, guitarist and female singer entertain the crowd packed into a small, stuffy hall for a wedding reception.

Such a scene would have been unthinkable in Mogadishu just months ago when a hardline Muslim movement ruled the seaside capital and much of southern Somalia, imposing sharia law and shutting down many forms of entertainment seen as un-Islamic.

But business is back after the interim government, with Ethiopian military help, in January ejected the Islamists and their strict form of Islam.

Revelling in their new freedom, excited guests cheer and shower the singer with scarves and a confetti of Somali money.

"I'm very happy," wedding planner Muna Omar said as the reception at a former military compound starts to wind down.

"During the Islamic reign we would never dare organise such a party," she said. "They considered it unlawful."

When the Somali Islamic Courts Council was in charge last year, they banned wedding parties, shut video halls screening foreign films and World Cup football matches, outlawed a hugely popular narcotic, khat, and harassed men's barbers.

They also ordered women to wear the hijab, an outfit covering the body and head.

At first, many residents praised them for bringing relative stability to much of a country that had become a byword for anarchy since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

But they were abhorred by others for imposing restrictions on a Muslim society that is traditionally moderate and they drew unfavourable comparisons to the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

One guest taking a break from dancing recalls how he was at a secret party in Mogadishu last year that the Islamists heard of and decided to break up.

"We invited a few guests and the music was on low volume. I don't know who tipped off Islamist troops, but they stormed in and disrupted the party," he said. "They flogged and chased away guests. I was so shocked."

Then he returns to the heaving dance floor, a group of young men looking on with grins, clapping his every twist and turn.

Mogadishu remains one of the world's most dangerous cities, and remnants of the Islamist movement are blamed for almost daily insurgent strikes targeting interim government troops, Ethiopian patrols and African Union peacekeepers from Uganda.

A major peace conference under way in the north of the city has been attacked with volleys of mortar shells -- which missed and crashed down onto residential streets nearby.

But many were relieved to see the back of the Islamists, especially the Somalis whose livelihoods they choked off.
Deqo Afrah, another Mogadishu-based party planner, says business is booming again. She charges about $200 for most weddings, which includes applying the henna, the red dye used to decorate the bride's skin.

"I organise at least two or three weddings per week," she said. "I am very busy, unlike during the Islamic Courts' rule. People can now party freely. It is good for business."

Standing nearby wearing heavy make-up and a flowing semi-transparent gown, her fellow planner Omar heartily agrees.

"Nobody had the guts to dress like this," she said with a laugh. "We were unhappy and bored. I hope the Islamic Courts do not hear me and come for my head!"

FEATURE-Returning to Somaliland to shape the future

By Hussein Ali Nur and Guled Mohamed

HARGEISA, Aug 8, 2008 (Reuters) - Almis Yahye Ibrahim remembers when he and his friends hit on the idea of building a university in one of the world's most neglected corners, the breakaway republic of Somaliland.

It was the winter of 1997, and they were hanging out in Helsinki's cafes, keeping the Finnish winter at bay. That's when they dreamt up the International Horn University.

Four years ago, armed with diplomas and savings and driven by a desire to make a difference, the three men and another friend who had been in Malaysia returned home to build their dream.

The towering university now stands in Somaliland's hilly capital Hargeisa.

"We had better lives and jobs in Europe," said soft-spoken Ibrahim, the university's president."It was not an easy decision to leave all that and return to a totally destroyed country wrecked by civil war."

Investments by returning refugees provide a lifeline to millions in Somaliland, which does not receive any direct foreign aid as it is not recognised internationally.

This trend of Africans returning home to do business is taking tentative hold in several sub-Saharan countries.

As nations shake off war, adopt better governance and cash in on a commodities boom, former refugees and other members of the African diaspora are coming back, drawn by patriotism and investment opportunities in a region which the International Monetary Fund expects to grow by 6.5 percent this year.

In Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia and elsewhere, these returning nationals are using skills acquired abroad and local knowledge to do business.

"The returnees have transformed Somaliland," said Abdullahi Ali, who drives a taxi for a returning refugee in Hargeisa.

A former British protectorate, Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 when former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted, plunging the Horn of Africa country into anarchy.

Thousands of people left the north during Barre's reign. He bombed Hargeisa to crush anti-government forces in 1988, killing thousands of people.

Some refugees began to return in the mid-1990s. Officials say the returnees now number in the thousands, with Somalis from other regions also attracted here by the relative stability.

Ibrahim left in the 1980s and first went to Egypt before ending up in Finland. Of his friends, another also fled Somaliland while the two others are from Somalia.

Slightly larger than England and Wales, Somaliland has enjoyed relative peace and prosperity and has held democratic elections, with a presidential vote scheduled for next year.

Analysts say it is not recognised globally because of concerns that rewriting colonial borders would open a Pandora's box of other secession claims.

The enclave's annual budget stands at approximately $35 to $40 million. Analysts say around 80 percent comes from customs duties and earnings from the port of Berbera, on the Gulf of Aden. The diaspora contributes around $450 million annually in remittances.

In a move to lure refugees home, the administration has introduced tax waivers on new investments to fuel more growth.Half of Somaliland's cabinet and lawmakers are former refugees, who came back mainly from Europe and America.

Former refugees have also become small factory owners or created businesses, for example in telecommunications.

Ibrahim, the university president, has even bigger dreams: he wants to fashion future leaders.

"We don't have leaders in our country but we have managers. Our aim is to produce visionary leaders in future who can bring back hope and amalgamate our people. There is a huge appetite for such leadership and we hope to be the source," he said.

Ibrahim and his friends used their savings to start building the university. After they opened, they won grants from Islamic banks and institutions, mainly from Gulf states.

He estimated they had so far spent nearly $500,000. The grants help fund the day-to-day running of the university, including paying staff salaries.

Ugandan, Kenyan and Asian lecturers provide tutorials in the the university, which offers master degrees and PhD courses, in conjunction with Malaysia Open University. A

round 500 students pay an average of $450 per semester.

Despite its poverty, Somaliland and the region offer investment opportunities for those brave enough to return.

According to a European Union study seen by Reuters, the area has substantial untapped resources of oil, coal and metals such as gold, platinum, copper, nickel and zinc.

Oil majors such as ConocoPhillips, BP Plc, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron staked out claims in the 1980s in Somalia but suspended operations when the country imploded in the 1990s.

Somaliland's 850 km (528 miles) of coastline also offer potential for a fisheries industry.

The mayor of Hargeisa, Mahamud Jiir, a former refugee who lived in Britain, says fresh investment has fuelled a construction boom in Hargeisa, a city still speckled with ruins from the 1988 bombing attack.

"Diasporas are the heart of our economy," said Jiir, an engineer who also owns a construction company which builds up to 50 new buildings in Hargeisa every month.

"We now waive tax on factory parts and other goods to encourage more diaspora investment. The economy is built on them. They are our lifeline," he said, referring both to those who return and those who send money back.

Hassan Mahamud Hassan, 32, returned from neighbouring Djibouti in January last year. He invested $500,000 to build the Imperial hotel in Hargeisa. The hotel now employs 40 people and caters mainly to returning refugees and aid workers.

"The country depends on us. Our staff are better paid than government workers. There is a need to educate new returnees on the best investment opportunities available," Hassan said outside his hotel, as a group of men drank Italian cappuccinos at a next-door coffee shop.
(Writing by Guled Mohamed; Editing by Clar Ni Chonghaile

FEATURE-Maasai warrior hairdressers break taboos

By Guled Mohamed
Monday, Sept 8, 2008
Mombasa, Kenya (Reuters) - Maasai warrior Lempuris Lalasho went to Kenya's tourist haven Mombasa to find a white woman to marry, but he ended up working as a hairdresser, a profession that is taboo in his culture.

His story opens a window on the strains faced by this ancient tribe as it adjusts to modern life in east Africa's largest economy, whose Indian Ocean beaches lure thousands of tourists, including women seeking sex.

Maasai warriors, or moran, are a familiar sight on Kenya's beaches and in its renowned safari parks -- dressed in distinctive red robes and wearing beaded jewellery, they often act as guides or work in security.

But sometimes, the eager young men who flock to the coast hoping to make their fortunes -- some with dreams of marrying a white tourist -- have to go against their traditions.
Lalasho's status as a moran means he is charged with protecting and providing for his people, and it makes his transgression all the more serious.

Maasai warriors are not allowed to touch a woman's head: it is regarded as demeaning in the patriarchal culture. Moran who become hairdressers risk a curse from the elders, or could even be expelled from the community.

"If my father finds out what I am doing he will be very mad at me or even chase me from home," said Lalasho, who comes from Loitoktok, near Mount Kilimanjaro on the border with Tanzania.
"But I have to eat, that's why I broke my taboo since city life is very expensive," he said.

An estimated 500,000 to one million Maasai live in scattered and remote villages across northern Tanzania and southern Kenya, eking out a semi-nomadic existence with herds of precious cows.

As drought and hunger bite harder in their rural homes due to climate change and increased competition for resources, hundreds of Maasai men are heading to towns and cities.

In tourist resorts like Mombasa, these men end up as hotel workers, night guards, herbalists and hairdressers.

Lalasho, who is illiterate and does not know his age, was inspired by the good fortune of a friend, Leishorwa Mesieki.

"My friend Leishorwa is now rich. He married a mzungu (white) woman who took him to ... is it New Zealand or Switzerland? I don't know. He came back to build a big house and bought so many cows. I envy him," he added, shaking his head.

Lalasho did not have such luck and he was forced to use his skills at spinning hair, which he learnt during his initiation into moranhood in a thicket near Mount Kilimanjaro.

Morans learn to weave hair into thin, rasta-like dreadlocks during the initiation, which takes place when boys are aged between 17 and 20. The warriors' hair is often dyed red as well, and the red style is popular among women in cities.

For Maasai elder Michael Ole Tiampati, the fate of men like Lalasho threatens the wider Maasai culture.

"It's an abomination and demeaning for a moran or Maasai man to touch a woman's head," said Tiampati, media officer for the Maa Civil Society Forum, which protects Maasai traditions.

"They have gone against the cultural fibre ... They have to pay a price to be accepted back into the society," he said.

Kenya's Maasai are based in the picturesque Great Rift Valley region, home to the famous Maasai Mara game park. But the tribe who gave the park its name earn little from tourism, which is among Kenya's top three foreign currency earners.

This lack of revenue pushes young Maasai into other activities, but their increasing renown in tourist resorts is also bringing competition.

Men from tribes like the Kikuyu or Samburu are disguising themselves as Maasai on the beaches of Mombasa and elsewhere.

"Foreign tourists love Maasai for their sincerity. We are good-hearted people who do not feel jealous," Lalasho said.

Tiampati is more explicit.

"(Maasai) warriors are perceived to be erotic, that is why women pensioners from Europe come to look for them. The warriors take a lot of herbs -- some known to have Viagra-like contents like the bark of black acacia tree -- to re-invigorate their loins."

The copy-cat trend has angered some Maasai.

"It's the beginning of an end of Maasai culture," said tour guide Isac Oramat in Nairobi.

"Soon our tradition will just exist in books ... I warn tourists to be aware of these fake Maasais."

But for the morans in Mombasa, survival for now takes precedence over preserving their traditional ways.

"I have not gone to school. This is the only thing I can do," said hairdresser Ole Sambweti Ndoika, 35.

"The women here love our style. We get good money ... I hope to save enough to marry my second wife ... by end of the year," said the father-of-four from Narok in the Rift Valley.

Longishu Nyangusi, 25, also works as a hairdresser and like Lalasho came to Mombasa to find a white tourist wife. He says his lack of English has held him back.

"I could have hooked a white woman by now. I regret refusing to go to school. I was fooled by our fat cows and thought life is just fine," he said near his open-air salon-cum-shop.
(Editing by Clar Ni Chonghaile)

Somaliland hopes election will lead to democracy

By Hussein Ali Nur and Guled Mohamed
HARGEISA, Somalia (Reuters) - The breakaway state of Somaliland hopes next year's presidential elections will lead to international recognition of the northern Somali enclave as an independent country, officials said on Sunday.

The polls are seen by many as an acid test for the former British protectorate which broke away from Somalia in 1991 when the ouster of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre plunged the Horn of Africa country into anarchy.

Somaliland has enjoyed relative peace and prosperity and has held previous democratic elections, but analysts say it is not recognized globally because of concerns that rewriting colonial borders would open a Pandora's Box of other secession claims.

"The election is a test for Somaliland's recognition bid," electoral commission chairman Mohamed Ismail Mohamed said. "So many countries are waiting to see how we will conduct our election. It will be transparent, free and fair."

According to a European Union study seen by Reuters, the region has substantial untapped resources of oil, coal and metals such as gold, platinum, copper, nickel and zinc.
Somaliland's 850 km (528 miles) of coastline on the Gulf of Aden also offer potential for a fisheries industry.

Presidential elections were postponed in 2007 and again this year due to what officials called technical problems, including inadequate voter registration and planning time.

The polls are due to be held before April 6, 2009, following a civil registration process.
Somaliland's system of government consists of a house of representatives elected directly by the people and an upper chamber, or Guurti, consisting of traditional elders representing the different clans and sub-clans.

"We will do everything to make sure the elections are held. We have a unique infant democracy combining a traditional chamber and a parliamentary system. We can not afford to fail," Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullahi Mohamed Duale told Reuters. (Writing by Guled Mohamed; Editing by Caroline Drees)

INTERVIEW-Somali pilot returns to the city he refused to bomb

By Hussein Ali Nur and Guled Mohamed
Hargeisa, Friday June 27, 2008 5:29am EDT(Reuters Life!) - On July 13, 1988, Somali fighter pilot Abdi Mohamed Hassan was ordered to bomb Hargeisa city as part of operations by dictator Mohamed Siad Barre to crush anti-government forces.

Hassan defied his superiors, and instead dropped his load on bare mountains close to the hilly city in north Somalia that is now capital of the breakaway region of Somaliland.

Then he crash-landed on a beach in neighbouring Djibouti after running out of fuel, handed himself in to local authorities, and eventually won asylum in Luxembourg despite Somalia's bid to extradite him.

Twenty years on, Hassan -- now a businessman in Luxembourg -- is back in Hargeisa for the first time, invited by the government as a guest of honour during this week's celebrations of Somaliland's independence from Britain on June 26, 1960.

"The instruction was to bomb Hargeisa city using Russian made Fab 500kg bombs," the 56 year-old father-of-four told Reuters in the city, where ruins still bear witness to the massive bombardment of 20 years ago.

"But I had already made up my mind never to drop the bombs. As a soldier, I swore to protect my people. There was no way I could hurt my own countrymen."

Now Hassan is thinking of moving back to his homeland -- either Hargeisa or Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, where he was born.

In Hargeisa, a camouflaged metal replica of Mig fighters like the one Hassan flew stands in Independence Square as a memorial to the bloodshed and terror unleashed by Barre, who was toppled in 1991.

Somaliland, a former British protectorate, won independence in 1960 just four days before Italy relinquished the south. The two territories joined together to form modern Somalia.

Inter-clan hatred ensured the union was a difficult one, and those four days in 1960 now form the legal case for Somaliland's 1991 declaration of independence.

Although it lacks international recognition, the northern enclave has held democratic elections and is relatively peaceful compared to the rest of Somalia, especially in the south.

The bespectacled and bearded Hassan is disgusted by daily violence in Mogadishu and elsewhere in the south, where Islamist insurgents are battling the Somali government and its Ethiopian military allies.

"Innocent civilians die every day in the south. I wish to urge the combatants to spare our country and people. I long for the day when peace will prevail in my beloved country," he said.

In Somaliland, Hassan is lauded for his decision 20 years ago. Peace activists gave him a certificate of appreciation.

"I am glad I did not drop those bombs here...I got a hero's welcome. I miss home and will one day return to settle in Hargeisa or Mogadishu," he said, showing the certificate. (Writing by Guled Mohamed; Edit by Matthew Jones)