Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hounding Somalis Hurts Terror Fight

This article first appeared in Kenya's The Star newspaper on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - where Guled Mohamed is a news contributor.

There is a new joke in Kenya these days which seems to belittle ethnic Somalis. If someone wants to express his dislike or ridicule for something, she or he will call you Al-Shabaab. Perhaps Dr. Mzalendo Kibunjia’s team need to remind Kenyans that such reckless utterances amount to hate speech and can put Kenyans behind bars.

Ethnic Somalis living in Kenya, whether they are legally Kenyans or not, have found themselves in an awkward situation recently. Their miseries during these hard economic times has been compounded by the grenade attacks in Nairobi which were quickly blamed on Al-Shabaab, even though the attacks do not conform to its normal style of retribution.

The grenade attacks have unearthed a very disturbing vilification of the mostly peaceful Somalis in Kenya irrespective of their nationality. Sometimes it seems that it is being driven by unknown individuals feeling threatened by the growing business influence of the hardworking Somalis positively contributing towards the Kenyan economy.

Such illogical targeting of the Somalis is likely to cause more harm than good especially during such a sensitive operation involving Kenyan intervention in helping the Somalis fend off the al-Shabaab menace. The Somali public in Somalia is tired of Al-Shabaab and has even come out to express their support for Kenya’s intervention despite a diplomatic goof by their leadership.

As the Kenyan military continue to scatter rogue elements of al-Shabaab in Somalia, it is very important for the public, and various government arms to positively contribute towards this gigantic war against a very canny and highly volatile militant group that has eluded many international efforts to eradicate it.

The Somali speaking people in Kenya, whether citizens or not, are the primary victims of the uncouth Al-Shabab and they loathe it more than other Kenyans. Many hardworking Somalis from Somalia living in Kenya, who have heavily invested in Kenya, were actually directly or indirectly forced to flee their country by the Al-Shabaab militants who emerged from years of lawlessness and lack of an effective central rule in Somalia.

Al-Shabaab is a terror organization whose membership cuts across the entire globe as with one seemingly 'madman' called Elgiva Bwire. The attacks should therefore not be viewed as an intrinsic Somali problem.

Our collective efforts in seeing the demise of Al-Shabaab will depend a lot on how we treat the innocent Somalis who have lived in Kenya for the last two decades. We should desist from using this unfortunate situation to settle political or economic scores. President Kibaki explicitly warned against such behaviour during his Mashujaa Day speech.

It is very easy to play into al-Shabaab hands by condemning innocent Somalis trying to eke out a living in the safety of Kenya. Ongoing police swoops across the country mainly target undocumented Somalis living in Kenya, many of whom are poor and hungry refugees. Some police officers are very corrupt. In Nairobi’s Eastleigh as well as other Kenyan towns, innocent Somalis continue to suffer as a few dishonest officers take advantage to milk the helpless Somalis of their legally hard-earned money.

This dangerous precedent will only create a hostile and uncooperative population who are otherwise very vital in helping to fight a common enemy. Logically your enemy’s enemy is your friend. This is the sort of relationship we need to cultivate. Yet in the current jungle rule, some innocent Somalis have been publicly harassed.

Somalia is currently going through a radical surgery with renewed hopes of lasting peace following the recent military defeatsof Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu and other strategic towns across Somalia, including the Kenyan military surge in the south. The Somalis in Somalia, I believe, will be happiest when and if the Al-Shabaab menace is finally laid to rest.

As is the case with our recent tribulations in Kenya, we and the rest of the world will also smile when that moment comes, this is eminent, but that victory will depend on how we jointly fight this monstrous gang and as such, hounding of innocent Somalis is a distraction from the real battle that we should focus on.

Guled Mohamed is a media consultant.
Thursday, April 26, 2012

Victimised In The Name Of Security

In the below article, Guled Mohamed, narrates how he was victimized by a policeman without any reason. The article was first published by Kenya's The Star newspaper on Saturday, November 3, 2012 - where the writer is a news contributor.

Nearly a year ago on November 2, 2011, I wrote an opinion piece published by The Star newspaper under the title, “Hounding of Somalis hurts terror fight” in which I was trying to inform the public and more importantly warn government security machinery from arbitrarily arresting or victimising innocent Somalis in the pretext of fighting terror.

What goes around comes around, on Tuesday October 30, 2012, I came face to face with such victimisation when a drunken male police officer from Central Police Station in Nairobi decided to use his powers to unnecessarily victimise me and to cause me undue distress and delay for a flimsy crime that does not even exist in our books or anywhere else.

These are tricks or side shows which unscrupulous police officer like him use against innocent Kenyans to legally rob them off their hard earned money.

The officer said he was arresting me for changing a foreign currency at night! I never knew changing of foreign currency at night has been “made” a crime in Kenya these days.

He arrested me because I walked into a Casino in the city centre to change a bill of $100 at around or before mid night to settle a medical bill that I was short of cash.

Just for your information casinos and major hotels are the only places you can change a foreign currency at night in towns simply because banks and forex bureaus are closed. I prefer the casinos than the hotels for their slightly better rate.

Just like so many other days or nights, I went straight to the cashier and handed him the Greenback – Dollar bill-- as usual he authenticated the bill made his calculations using the available rate and gave me Sh8,350.

As soon as I pocketed the money and turned to leave, a gentleman wearing a grey suit loudly called for me. The man was sitting on my right on the slot machines with a glass of liquor signaling for me to go to him.

I ignored him assuming he is a drunkard who must have been overwhelmed by the liquor. But as soon as I turned to leave, he shouted and claimed to be an officer on duty. That is when I obliged and calmly walked towards him to hear what he had to say.

He held my hand and said, “Nimeona ile kitu umefanya” in Swahili, meaning I have seen what you have done. I told him whatever I did was not illegal and that I was rushing to pay a medical bill.

He refused to let me go as curious onlookers stood watching us, including a uniformed police officer whom the officer called his back up for arresting a dangerous criminal. When I tried to explain everything to the uniformed police officer, he simply dismissed me by saying that it was none of his business.

To cut the long story short, the officer was accusing me of being a suspected al-Shabaab member, of being in Kenya illegally and worse of planning to bomb and kill people in Kenya.

These and many other serious accusations he made against me are of course untrue but nonetheless are major crimes which any trigger-happy police officer would not hesitate to shoot you point blank without any committee of inquiry or inquest constituted to find out whether you were actually Al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Mungiki, Sungusungu, MRC or any other outlawed gang or terror organisation.

After showing him my national ID I tried to reason with the officer by telling him that I was a law abiding Kenyan citizen who was going about his business and that he should instead go and look out for those elements he was confusing me with.

But he never let go. He was insisting I should accompany him to Central Police Station to be thoroughly grilled and investigated because apparently my presence there was a major security threat.

He firmly held my hand while his other arm was strategically placed on his gun holster ready to shoot me should I attempt to flee. He made me walk out of the casino shouting and threatening me with an arrest and other hullabaloos they often use to threaten and confuse the public but I stood my ground and told him to stop harassing me and that if he thought I had committed a crime we should go to the police station.

He started telling me to speak properly and went about rattling at how they -- policemen-- are on a go slow at work because of unpaid dues.

In short, he wanted me to give him some money. I told him the money was a medical bill that I was heading to clear and that I could not part with any cent.

That is when he forced my cab driver, who was still trying to come to terms with what had transpired, to open the car door and head to Central Police Station.

The driver complied and opened the door after unsuccessfully trying to tell the officer he knows me and that I was not what he was claiming.

On our way to the station he kept reminding us of all the insecurity going on in the country from the Tana River massacre, the MRC-related violence and grenade attacks in North Eastern province.

He was warning me and threatening me that I could easily disappear from the face of the earth because he was armed – and he actually had the audacity to remove his pistol and pointing it at my face.

I told him there was no cause for alarm and that we had actually complied with his entire requests and orders and therefore he should treat us with dignity.

The cab driver nodded his head and reminded the officer the good work police officers were doing of ridding Nairobi and the entire country of criminals.

On reaching the station he ordered me and the driver out of the vehicle and called three police officers on duty -- two of whom were plain clothed offices-- to come and frisk the car telling them that he had received a tip off indicating I was an al-Shabaab member planning to carry out an attack because only rogue elements like al-Shabaab posses foreign currencies.

As soon the three police officers heard “foreign currency”, they swiftly moved to frisk the car from inside out including frisking us and asking me so many questions in Swahili at the same time and expecting me to answer them all. “Waria ulikuwa unaenda wapi? Unafanya kazi wapi? Unaishi wapi?

I remained calm although my heart was racing so fast fearing the officer who arrested us might have planted or placed something in the car to prove his case.

I silently prayed to God as I went about assuring the officers that I was not what their colleague was accusing me of and that they should thoroughly frisk us and the car to allay any fears or misinformation that might have warranted our arrest.

I was very much relieved when one of the officers who appeared to be the most senior told our captor that the car was clean and that all the information I had given them included where I work were true.

However, the officer who detained us was still not done with us. He told us to sit in the car and said that he was just acting on a tip off when he arrested us and that it is part of their work to safeguard the country and people against all evil.

After almost four hours of harassment and intimidation we were released and told to drive carefully. Thank God my cash was still intact and that I escaped physically unhurt from a very long and bad night with the men in blue.

As much as maintaining peace and securing in our country is a moral responsibility required of every Kenyan citizen, whether you are an armed policeman or an ordinary civilian, it is very important for our men in blue to make sure they win public support in helping them secure our country. Kenya is as much ours as they claim to passionately protect in the guise of such illegal arrests and public harassment.

I do not think the drunken bully who made my night so long without any reason whatsoever, had the sincerity of securing Kenya at heart as he claimed because he openly confessed at wanting some of the cash he had seen me pocket.

Now, that is a very dangerous precedent that must not be accepted and should never be allowed to be the order of the day because if such jungle rules are allowed to continue it will actually end up abetting crime since criminals will simply walk free after parting with “kitu kidogo” to continue hurting our country and killing innocent people.

Police officers are supposed to protect Kenyans and not victimise them in the name of security. Now that the National Police Service Commission has finally been constituted and which has started its mandate of streamlining the Kenya police force as required by the new constitution.

It is very important for such corrupt and inefficient officers to be wiped out from the force and replaced with professional men and women who respect the law and who serve Kenyans without fear, favour and free of corruption.

Guled Mohamed is a media consultant who writes on topical issues.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Youth donate food and clothes at Hargeisa mental hospital

HARGEISA, April 21 - The mentally ill patients at the Hargeisa mental hospital woke up on Saturday to a surprise visit by youths who brought them food, clothes and other essentials worth $1000 USD locally collected among the youth volunteers as part of celebrations to mark the Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) that encourages youth to volunteer for community service events.

Volunteering under the banner of the USAID funded Somali Youth Leaders Initiative (SYLI) and the Global Citizens Corps (GCC),the youth presented the donations to the guest of honour and Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Ali Said Reigal who officially handed the foodstuffs and other essential to the management of the hospital who were really touched by the benevolence and kind gesture from the youth.

Speaking at the fun-filled handing over ceremony at the heavily fortified mental facility, Mustafe Khamrile, head of the mental unit was full of praise to the youth saying that he hopes their kindness will not stop and that they will always keep the forgotten patients close to their heart.

“This kind gesture by the youth is really encouraging because they are actually helping their peers since most of the patients are youth. We cannot remember the last time when anyone or group has remembered us and brought us so much donations like this, we say thank you, thank you and thank you again.” Khamrile said.

Olad Farah, Mercy Corps Deputy Chief of Party for the SYLI program that help to facilitated for the youth mobilization promised the patients and the hospital officials of many more similar voluntary activities by the youth.

“All the food, clothes, soaps and other essentials you see hear was bought by the youth who contributed $1000 USD amongst them to donate them to the patients of Hargeisa mental hospital as part of the GYSD celebrations in Somaliland. This is the first of many similar voluntary activities under the GCC community service events that you will be seeing in near future. I can promise you all that this will not be our last time to support the patients,” Olad said amid ululations and claps from the dignitaries and women patients.

Guest of honour at the ceremony, Minister Reigal praised the youth for their benevolence and thanked the health workers at the mental hospital for taking care of the mentally handicapped patients.

“I expected to see chained patients and a lot of commotion and chaos as is the case in most mental hospitals. But that is not the case as you can all see and therefore I wish to thanks the nurses, doctors and administrators of the hospital for a job well done. To the wonderful youth who remembered their sick mothers, brothers and sisters I can only say may God handsomely reward you for your kind gesture. The Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture will always support you in all your endeavors,” Minister Reigal said.

Elise Ranveig, a Norwegian nurse working at the hospital was also so impressed by the gesture from the youth that she came to personally thank them all.

“This is so kind of the youth because these patients have no one else to support them. Please keep up the good work and am sure your compassion will be rewarded. Your gesture will surely encourage members of the society to also support these poor and sickly patients who cannot fend for themselves,” Elise said with a grin.

With his perfect English, one of the patients had but only praise for the youth.

“Thank you Mr. My name is Abdullahi. I am good and very, very happy. What is your name? You are good people because you give us food, clothes and even football to play. God bless you,”

he said while enjoying a cold canned juice fruit with cookies and looking smart from the new shirt and trouser that he received from the donations.
Sunday, March 4, 2012 0 comments

London conference revives Somalia optimism

A lot has been written or said about the recent international conference on Somalia hosted by the British government. This conference had many "firsts" than the dozens of conferences held for Somalia.

This was the first ever conference hosted by Britain, a former Somalia colonial master. The former British protectorate of Somaliland, which broke away from the rest of Somalia, also attended the meeting for the first time since it seceded in 1991.

I have covered Somalia since 2004 but I have never seen such a positive optimism from Somalis before. The renewed hope seems to have spurred patriotism among Somali forces as government forces and their AU backers AMISOM are winning on the ground. They have just kicked out Al-Shabaab from their last hideout in the outskirts of Mogadishu which acted as a base and a killing or assassination base for civilians.

This latest sense of hope reminds me of the Islamic Courts days when Mogadishu was pacified for the first time. I just hope the latest sense of revival and hope will not dash like it did in 2006 when the ICU took over power. Sheikh Sharif who was the then chairman of the ICU is currently the President.

The London conference has also for the first time united the international interests in Somalia. Before the meeting, the world seemed not to read from the same script when it comes to Somalia. That is now history largely due to the dangers posed by extremists groups in Somalia, who as expected, recently admitted to have officially joined Al-Qaeda.

If you have noticed, I have gone into a lull in updating my post. I must admit that I have carefully been analyzing the situation and trends because one thing I have learnt during my many years of covering Somalia is that the situation in the Horn of African country is very unpredictable.

I just hope the latest sense of hope mixed with renewed patriotism among Somalis will eventually lead to the resuscitation of the once great nation called Somalia that is at peace with itself and the rest of the world...simply because the people of Somalia have suffered many a times.

The one million question mark is whether the Somalis can sustain and protect the latest opportunity to end the long overdue war and destruction in the country.
I sincerely hope so.
Monday, January 30, 2012 0 comments

Stop killing the messengers!

Shabelle radio/TV editor Hassan Osman Abdi better known as “Hassan Fantastic” is no longer with us, reason? He was cold bloodedly murdered near his house in Mogadishu by two-pistol-totting unknown assailants who later disappeared after firing 5 shots into his head and body leaving for dead.
Fantastic, is the third Shabele editor to have been murdered since 2007. The late Hirabe was also a close friend and of wonderful personality just like Mohamed and the latest fallen hero and a fantastic chap.
I was lucky to have met and seen the late Fantastic doing what he does best…Report about the unceasing violence in Mogadishu whose biggest casualties still remains to date as the poor women, children and men who are too poor to even flee.
But who is killing these messengers and what is his or her motive? This is what every journalist in Somalia is thinking about. I wish I had the answers too.
Mogadishu seems to have turned into a hunting ground for journalist, many of who are already working under deplorable conditions and very low pay compared to their comrades in other hot spots of the world like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Whoever is behind these cold-blooded murders is a true enemy of the people. Just like the killing of other professionals in Somalia, I wonder when we the Somalis will ever stop eliminating the most learned amongst us.
We should stop killing our best brains and above all desist from harming or eliminating the messengers who dodge bullets and bombs to keep us informed of the situation in Somalia and Mogadishu.
Hassan Fantastic, rest in peace. His killers should remember that, even walls have ears and one day their identities will be known. This heinous act will not go unpunished and for sure they will die the same way they killed Fantastic, Hirabe and many other fallen comrades.
If you live by the gun, you will die by the gun!