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.