Saturday, 14 February 2015

The connection between Somalia and Valentine's Day




Somalia is often described as the world's most dangerous country, the quintessential failed state. It has had no effective central government for more than two decades, and is affected by conflict, drought, piracy and famine. The BBC's Africa Editor Mary Harper has a special interest in Somalia. Today she found out something new:

I was somewhat taken aback when I opened my Facebook page this Valentine's Day morning. I discovered it was the birthday of 30 of my Somali Facebook friends. It reminded me of New Year's Day when 279 of my Somali Facebook friends had their birthdays. True, I have a lot of Somali friends on Facebook - but those numbers are extraordinary. Or maybe not. Many Somalis don't know when their real birthdays are. They have after all lived through more than two decades of war. Records have been destroyed and there is currently no functioning administration. Even before conflict tore their country apart, most Somalis were nomads, and their culture was largely oral. The Somali language wasn't written down until the 1970s. But back to my Facebook page. I wrote a post about the 30 Somali Valentine's birthdays - and all the ones on New Year's Day. Within two hours, the post had more than one-hundred-and-seventy 'likes' and more than fifty comments. Non-Somalis were completely baffled. My Somali friends quickly put them right - in witty and touching ways. Abdi said it was likely only one percent of Somalis who say their birthday is on Valentine's Day were actually born on the 14th of February. Saeed said his father tossed a coin to decide on his birthday. Maxamed was born in a refugee camp. His whole family was, as he put it, 'under such severe depression' that nobody thought about dates of birth. Another friend posted that Somalis should have their birthdays on Doomsday as, he said, 'they are in love with guns and war'. But I would like to say a special thank you to the Somali friend who posted on my Facebook page a photo of a luscious red rose. And to say Happy Birthday to my 30 Somali Valentine's Day friends -- whether or not they were actually born on the 14th of February.

You can listen to my BBC radio report here: The Somali/ Valentine's Day connection

The BBC Somali Service version is here: My report in Somali


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Gambian government statement on the events of 30 December - code name of President, Sheikh, Professor, Alhaji, Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh was 'Chuck'

GOVERNMENT STATEMENT ON THE TERRORIST ATTACK
OF 30TH DECEMBER, 2014
On Tuesday, 30th December, 2014, at 2am GMT, the State House was attacked by a well-equipped, well-funded group of Gambian terrorists living in the U.S.A., U.K., Germany and Senegal with support from their collaborators abroad with sophisticated automatic machine guns and assault rifles.

Five of these attackers launched their assault from the main gate of the State House by the Albert Market while the three others attempted to enter through the rear gate by Marina Parade.

The leader of the attackers was Lamin Sanneh (codename ‘Gibia’), a former Lieutenant Colonel of the Gambia Armed Forces and former Commander of the State Guards Battalion who was dismissed from the GAF and fled to Senegal and then to the U.S.

He was accompanied by Njaga Jagne (codename ‘Bandit’), a retired Captain of the US Army; Baboucarr Lowe, a former Warrant Officer Class 2 of the Gambia Armed Forces referred to as ‘Bai Lo’ who was wanted in connection with drugs and fled to Senegal and then to Germany; former Private Modou Njie (codename  ‘Mike’) of the Gambia Armed Forces and Private Landing Sonko (codename ‘Young’), an active member of the Gambia Armed Forces who was on study leave, was a former orderly of Ex-Lt. Col. Sanneh.

During the exchange of fire at the main gate, Sanneh and Jagne were killed. Lowe and Sonko escaped while Modou Njie was captured and is currently helping the intelligence and security services in their investigations. Glass windows and buildings pockmarked by bullets can be vividly seen by the gate.

The attackers from the rear gate included Musa Sarr, Ex-Lance Corporal of the Gambia Armed Forces (codename ‘Kampama’); retired US Army Sergeant Papa Faal and, Alhagie Nyass, a former personnel of the defunct Gambia National Gendarmerie and one Dawda Bojang. 

Faal positioned a heavy machine gun by the entrance of the Accidents & Emergency Unit of the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital and repeatedly fired rounds at the gate. Nyass who attempted to ram his vehicle into the gate was shot dead. Dawda Bojang who was dressed in military uniform and body armour and positioned by a heavy machine gun was also killed. Musa Sarr and Papa Faal fled leaving behind their equipment and military attires.

Other members of the group were stationed at Brufut Heights, some 25 kilometres from Banjul, the capital city. They were:

·      Cherno M Njie (codename ‘John’), the main sponsor of the attackers and proposed Interim Leader. He fled the country after the attack failed.

·      Alhagie Saidy Barrow (codename ‘X’) was the coordinator of the group, responsible for logistics and clearing of their weapons and other gadgets from the seaport.

·              Dawda Bojang, Ex-Private of Gambia Armed Forces who deserted in 2014.

·      Mustapha Faal is a Gambian resident in Germany. He deserted the group before the attack. His whereabouts are not known.

According to documents retrieved from the attackers, this group was to arrest and kill Service Chiefs and other individuals. The team was awaiting the taking over of the State House by the attackers and for the proposed leader, Cherno M. Njie to take over the reins of power. All the four escaped and Cherno M Njie and Papa Faal are facing legal charges in the United States.

After the confrontation and the defeat of the attackers by the security forces, a large quantity of arms was retrieved which included:

·      Two (2) Heavy Machine Guns with telescopic sights
·      Seventeen(17)  M&P 15 individual assault rifles with aiming devices
·      Nine (9) AKM automatic Assault Rifles
·      Four (4) Light Machine Guns
·      Three (3) pistols
·      One (1)  Night Vision Goggle, (although FBI reports that the group had two)
·      Eleven sat Pro Communication devices. 

    These gadgets  were intended to be used for communication among themselves and to communicate to the outside world when they have destroyed the communication infrastructure in the country after failing to capture the State House.

·      Seventeen (17)  body armour
·      Twenty (20) webbing jackets
·      Five (5) camel bags.

It is clear from the documents retrieved from the attackers that this operation was well-planned. The documents revealed their intention to destroy key infrastructure including the Central Bank of the Gambia building, Denton Bridge, GAMTEL House and Kotu Power Station among other national assets.

It was also discovered that the codename the attackers used to refer to the President of the Republic of The Gambia was “CHUCK”.  This is the same code name that the US Secret Services used to refer to His Excellency, the President during the last US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington DC.

While we continue to assess the situation and developments, the Government of The Gambia under the leadership of His Excellency, the President, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J Jammeh assures all citizens, residents and all true friends of The Gambia near and far, that the security and stability of the Republic of The Gambia will never be compromised.

The Gambia will continue to depend only on Allah, the Almighty for the peace, security and prosperity of our proud and dignified people.

The Government of The Gambia thanks all those countries that have expressed their genuine goodwill and solidarity with The Gambia in the wake of this terrorist attack.


Thursday, 1 January 2015

A Circus in the Sand

 Books for Peace

One of the most magical weeks of my life was the one I spent at the Hargeisa International Book Fair in July 2012. Like many things in Somaliland, I found it delightful, surprising and inspiring, a bit like opening a box of secret treasures.

I have chosen to write about the book fair because, in many ways, it represents in microcosm many of the good things about Somaliland. It also shows how challenges can be overcome because the very idea of holding such an event in Somaliland requires courage, imagination and determination.

When I wrote a blog post about the fair, a journalist from a respected international publication asked if I was joking, if I had made the whole thing up. For many outsiders, the idea of a book fair on Somali territory is impossible to imagine because for them the word ‘Somali’ is associated with piracy, terrorism, war and famine. Somaliland suffers from a similar image problem; most people don’t know it exists, and have no idea that it is relatively peaceful, with a functioning economy, society and political system.

Contributors to this book were asked to touch on some of twenty themes offered for discussion. They ranged from the environment to women’s empowerment, from youth employment to heritage and culture, from the diaspora to diplomacy. As I went through the list, I realised the Hargeisa International Book Fair embodied almost all of them.

One of my favourite sessions at the fair was the one entitled ‘The Future of Our Environment’. The environmental campaigner, Amina-Milgo Mahamud, showed us a film about how chopping down trees for charcoal is wrecking the Somali environment. There was a speech by the environmentalist, Ahmed Elmi, who looked quite the part with his enormous white beard and white cloth hat.

At the fair, I bought a wonderful book, written in English and Somali, called Environment in Crisis: Selected Essays with a Focus on the Somali Environment. I read about the precious resources of Somaliland, including the Zizyphus Tree, whose fruit makes a nourishing drink and whose leaves are used to make shampoo and face masks. The chapter started with a Somali proverb:

There is a big Zizyphus tree on the surface of the moon with leaves matching, at any given point of time, with the number of living people on the planet. When a baby is born, the tree brings forth a new leaf and when a person dies, his or her leaf withers away and falls from the tree.

I also read a chapter called ‘Me and My Toothbrush Tree’ about the Caday tree whose twigs are used to clean the teeth and freshen the breath. The next chapter was about Maydh Island, situated off the coast of Somaliland, which is rich in birdlife. I learned about the Dragon’s Blood Tree, which is so resilient that it can even grow out of vertical cliff faces. It gets its name from its red resin, which is used as lipstick, medicine and, to this day, as a varnish for violins.

The theme of ‘women’s empowerment’ was much in evidence as the book fair gave women more public space than they usually have in Somali society. Many of the presentations were by women, and several of the most intelligent questions and comments came from young women in the audience, who are often marginalised in Somali public life. Women also played a major role in activities taking place outside the main hall, selling books, refreshments, Somali handicrafts and clothes.

The Somali youth also had their day in the sun. Enthusiastic young members of book clubs from all over Somaliland were given the stage, as were young singers, dancers and actors. The Hargeisa International Book Fair was far more than just a book fair – there was also poetry, music, song, dance, theatre and more.
           
There was such enthusiasm for the fair that, from day one, there were far too many people to fit inside the large hall where the presentations were held. The organisers showed a typically Somali innovative spirit, technological know-how and ability to think on their feet by immediately setting up large screens outside the hall so people could see and hear what was going on inside.

The fact that so many young people came to the book fair revealed not only a thirst for knowledge, but also highlighted the lack of activity and entertainment for the youth of Somaliland. Being young and having nothing to do can be a dangerous combination. Just a few hundred kilometres to the south Hargeisa, many young Somalis were finding distraction by taking up arms and joining the various militia groups tearing apart Somalia.

I found myself thinking of this as I watched boys, dressed in animal print costumes, sailing through the air, forming giant human pyramids and throwing fire. They were members of the Somaliland Circus, which performed on the last day of the fair. They were the same age as those being forcibly recruited into the Islamist Al Shabaab movement and other armed groups, across the borders in Somalia.

The book fair, which by 2012 was in its fifth year, is the brainchild of the publisher, mathematician, computer analyst and inventor, Jama Musse Jama, who is based in Italy. As well as trying to revive Somali cultural life, much of which was destroyed by the long years of conflict, Jama says he also started the book fair for the youth:

“At the end of the day, I did it for young Somalis. Literature and culture give young people a wonderful way of growing up, and allow them to make their minds up for themselves. The book fair offers the Somali youth an alternative to guns; it gives them a platform to come together and express themselves. It helps fills the vacuum left behind after the war.”

Like so much in Somaliland, the book fair only works because of volunteers, from those who give their time to plan and organise the events, to the contributors who fly in from abroad. Young Somali volunteers ran the book stalls with great professionalism, writing out a neat receipt for every purchase. I ended up with many such receipts, as I could not resist the books on sale. Among my purchases were a trilingual Physics book, in Somali, English and Arabic, Somali translations of Anton Chekhov’s short stories and George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and a book called ‘Somalis do not Lie in Proverbs’, which was launched at the fair by the Russian Somali expert, Georgi Kapchits.

The Somali diaspora plays a prominent role in the book fair. Many of the organisers are based in Europe, and several of the speakers came from abroad, including the London-based author, Nadifa Mohamed, and the famous Somali poet, Said Salah, who is based in Minneapolis.

Much has been written about how the diaspora helps Somaliland economically, mainly through remittances. But the involvement of the diaspora in the book fair adds another dimension, showing how the global Somali community can enhance cultural life in Somaliland. However, the diaspora can also play a negative role by meddling destructively in politics from abroad, or running irresponsible media operations.

‘Those who stayed behind’ sometimes feel resentful towards members of the Somaliland diaspora who jet in from overseas to take up political posts or flash their money around during the summer holidays. But such feelings were not much in evidence at the book fair, when both ‘sides’ seemed to bring out the best in each other. As one of the main organisers of the fair, London-based Ayan Mahamoud, explains:

“The diaspora has both something to give to and something to learn from the book fair and Somaliland in general. We members of the diaspora should be humble enough to learn from those who have worked harder than us and have done the legwork. We are there to give people a platform to determine their own future, to bring together youth groups, women activists and members of the diaspora, who usually work in isolation from each other. The book fair brings together youth from different regions of Somaliland so they can learn from each other.”

The passionate engagement of the diaspora in the fair and other activities, and the amount of time it spends in Somaliland, suggests the word ‘diaspora’ is in some ways misleading in the Somali case, as so many people have a foot permanently in both worlds.

The book fair plays a significant diplomatic role for Somaliland. Jama Musse Jama says it is a good advertisement for the territory because it “shows that Somaliland exits and that Somaliland is cool”. The 2012 fair was treated to a surprise visit by the British ambassador to Somalia, Matt Baugh, and other senior European diplomats. Mr Baugh could not hide his delight as he listened to the presentations and wandered around the stalls. Security was discreet, a sharp contrast to the armoured vehicles and heavily-armed bodyguards he is used to in Mogadishu. The ambassador’s smile turned to slight embarrassment when he was presented with a huge Somaliland flag; Britain, like all other countries in the world, does not recognise Somaliland as an independent nation.

It was not only foreign diplomats who came to the fair. Other foreigners also took part, including an editor from Penguin Books, Helen Conford and the Korean-Brazilian film-maker, Iara Lee.

Helen Conford:

“When I arrived in Somaliland it didn't feel much like London (beside the
numerous English accents on the plane) but the Hargeisa Book Fair feltjust like the best Book Fairs and Literary Festivals I've attended. Iwas struck by the range of publishing and the palpable energy aroundculture; the mix of events and live performances, authors and debate. Itwas very professional - in the best sense of the word - and exhilaratingto be a part of.”


For the jazz clarinetist from New Orleans, Evan Christopher, who played with the ‘King of the Somali lute’, Hudaydi, his trip to Somaliland was the first he had ever made to Africa:

“In America, most people don’t know what Somaliland is, let alone where it is. The country is much greener than I expected. I thought it would be a desert! I didn’t expect to find so many similarities between the culture of Somaliland and the culture of New Orleans. It’s strange but both locales are dealing with a large exodus after, in our case, the devastating flooding or our city, and, in the case of Somaliland, of war. But, remarkably, in terms of the role of culture in the rebuilding process, I have found a lot of similarities.

The book fair has led to constructive dialogue and idea-sharing between Somaliland and Somalia, despite the often tense and unresolved relations between the two territories. The director of the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, Abdi Aynte, has been to the Hargeisa book fair twice, and was so inspired that he wants to try out the same thing in Mogadishu:

“The message I got from the events was that of peace, prosperity and civility. As I returned to my native city of Mogadishu after almost 20 years in the diaspora to start a think tank, I thought that a book fair would restore the cultural prowess of the Somali capital, and would promote a culture of learning and inquiry. More importantly, the book fair would contribute to the peacebuilding efforts, and would create a platform for civil discourse and engagement.” 

As the title of this book suggests, Somaliland is at a crossroads. With so much international attention, time, manpower and money being focused on Mogadishu and other parts of southern and central Somalia, the issue of Somaliland risks being pushed into the backs of people’s minds.

There does not seem to be much room for manoeuvre in terms of its status. The new president of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has said unequivocally that he believes in the unity of Somalia, and that this includes Somaliland. Somaliland, however, says its independence is non-negotiable.

Somaliland is under increased risk from Al Shabaab, which has moved northwards after withdrawing from many of its southern strongholds in Somalia. In January 2013, Britain urged British citizens to leave Somaliland, warning of a ‘specific threat’ against Westerners. The warning has already had an impact, with some Westerners leaving Somaliland or cancelling planned visits to the territory. Even if the ‘specific threat’ never materialises, the warning in itself has done significant damage to Somaliland’s reputation, which has for many years been considered to be the safest part of Somali territory.

Somaliland is also at a crossroads in terms of its domestic politics. The government in 2012 took the bold step of further opening up the democratic space by allowing more political parties to compete in local elections, with the winning three allowed to contest national polls. This resulted in a clan-related violence and a number of deaths, showing the vulnerability of the political situation.

Somaliland is facing a new set of challenges, but it has faced numerous obstacles before. The theme of the 2013 book fair is ‘The Journey’, and Somaliland’s journey over the next few years is likely to be difficult, but not impossible. The book fair shows how much people can achieve with a little money and a lot of passion, imagination and commitment. In this way, it resembles Somaliland, which in a space of just 20 years has built itself up from the rubble of war into a functioning polity. It also shows what a crucial role art, literature and culture play in society, not just as a form of entertainment, but in the case of Somaliland, offering an alternative vision and choice to violence.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Speaking to Al Shabaab

Here is a piece I did for the BBC about my communications with the Somali Islamist group, Al Shabaab.

You can read my report for BBC Online by clicking here.

And you can listen to my piece for BBC From Our Own Correspondent by clicking here.

Here is the script for my report:


Speaking to Al Shabaab

The other morning I woke up to a text message and missed call from Al Shabaab.  

As always, the message was written in perfect English. It informed me about a film Al Shabaab have made called Beyond the Shadows which, it said, gave an ‘accurate portrayal’ of what happened when French commandoes last year tried – and failed – to rescue a suspected French intelligence agent held hostage by the group.

I watched the film. Like some of the other material made by Al Shabaab's media arm, Al Kataib Foundation, it was slickly produced. It was like a cross between a video game and a war movie, and was full of suspense. It showed a drone hovering in the air, emblazoned with the words 'Eyes of the Crusaders'.


The drone showed in the Al Shabaab film

The film showed the bodies of white men, one with a crucifix around his neck.




It also showed an Al Shabaab fighter in full camouflage. He was wearing white plastic gloves.



The film contained the testimony of a man described as a spy. At the end of the movie it said the 'spy' had been executed.



A few days later I got another call from Al Shabaab. The clear, relaxed voice on the other end of the phone told me I was about to receive a text message about the group’s role in the killing of a senior police official in Somalia earlier that day. Sure enough, a few seconds later the text message arrived. Then came a second call to confirm I had indeed received the message.

This is the usual pattern. A call, a text message, then another call to check the message – or as Al Shabaab calls it – ‘SMS press release’ - has arrived.

Scrolling through these messages on my phone, I can chart the history of Al Shabaab attacks. Many of the recent ones are in Kenya. One five-part message, written in the style of a news agency report, claims responsibility for an attack on a restaurant in Djibouti, popular with foreigners. Or, as Al Shabaab calls them, ‘Western crusaders’.

I have seen Al Shabaab’s violence at close hand. Earlier this year, I was just a few buildings down from the Jazeera Palace Hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, when it was attacked, first by one suicide car bomber, then another, who waited for the emergency services to arrive before driving his vehicle into them and the hotel to ensure maximum casualties.

The blasts from the exploding cars were huge. Bullets cracked down the street as the security forces tried to beat back Al Shabaab fighters who had come - in a minibus I was told - to try to storm the hotel.

In the middle of all this, the main target of the attack – a senior security official – came with his entourage to the place where I was. We set up a circle of chairs for them, and they sat there like statues, in stunned, stony silence.

I sometimes find it difficult to relate these acts of extreme and terrifying violence to the calm, measured voice of the Al Shabaab official on the other end of the phone, to the precise, clinical wording of those text messages.

What started as brief calls about particular attacks have over time developed into longer, wider discussions about the movement’s practices and philosophies. Sometimes there is room for debate. But when I ask about certain subjects, the treatment of spies or adulterers for example, the tone of voice changes. It becomes cold and mechanical, as if learned by rote.

I had the conversation about spies one lazy Sunday morning when I was still in bed. I got a call from Al Shabaab, and as I sat in my safe, comfortable bedroom, I heard about how, “if you are found guilty of spying, there is only one punishment. You will face the firing squad in a public place. Everybody must witness the killing of a spy. The spy must receive three, four or five bullets to the head.”

But perhaps the strangest conversation I had was one sunny day outside the British Houses of Parliament. I was due to attend an event there but as I was early, I was sitting in a park outside, in the shade of those grand buildings. My phone rang. I saw the words ‘Al Shabaab’ flash onto my screen.

What started as an update on the latest attack on the Kenyan coast ended up as a lecture about my faith. “Have you thought about the afterlife?” asked the official. “You know, Mary, you won’t be around in 20, 30, 40 years time. I seriously recommend you consider converting to Islam.”

This man seemed genuinely concerned, as he urged me in a gentle voice to take up the Muslim faith. All the time, images of people I know or have known, who have been caught up in Al Shabaab attacks, flashed before my eyes. Some of them are now dead. Others have suffered horrific physical injuries, like a politician I met whose body was ripped apart in an explosion. His black skin mottled with raw, angry, bright pink scars. His inability to hear anything because of the damage the blast had done to his ears.

Of those that don’t bear any physical scars, but who jump every time they hear a bang, even if it’s just a door. Who shudder when they walk past a parked car in Mogadishu for fear it might explode. Whose hearts miss a beat whenever someone they don’t know approaches them for fear they might be a suicide bomber. Who, like me, have received texts from Al Shabaab, only the nature of the messages is very different as they often contain death threats.

I never quite know when I am going to receive the next message from Al Shabaab. I might be on holiday with family, having supper with friends, when all of a sudden, a text message will burst onto my screen, bringing two very different worlds into sharp collision.











Thursday, 13 March 2014

Who runs Somalia? The UN, the Somali Federal Government, or both?

Reading the latest Briefing by the UN's special envoy to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, I couldn't help wondering who really calls the shots in that country....




United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM)






Briefing to the Security Council by Ambassador Nicholas Kay, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Somalia
11 March 2014


[AS DELIVERED]
Madam President, Members of the Council
        Thank you for giving me the opportunity to brief the Council from Mogadishu today, and for your continued support to Somalia’s peace-building and state-building. I am on the ground in Mogadishu and not with you in New York due to the intensity of events at this moment. I hope you understand.
Madam President
The best hope for peace and stability in Somalia, the Horn of Africa and beyond remains a united, secure and federal Somalia. This is achievable. Somalia can reach its goal of an agreed constitution, a nation-wide electoral process and increased security by 2016. But times are tough, and in the short term may get tougher. Insecurity in Mogadishu poses challenges for Somalis, the UN and the international community. 2014 is a crucial year. It is marked, I would say, by security and political challenges, which will be overcome if the Federal Government of Somalia and international partners remain united and if both accelerate delivery of their mutual commitments.
Madam President
As I speak, an expanded AMISOM and the Somali National Army (SNA) are prosecuting a renewed offensive against Al Shabaab, made possible by UN Security Council Resolution 2124. It will be the most significant and geographically extensive military advance since AMISOM started, and there have already been notable successes. I pay tribute to the commitment and sacrifices made by AMISOM and its police and troop contributing states. Under Ambassador Annadif’s leadership, AMISOM continues to be the single most important contributor to the security of Somalia, and a vital partner for the Federal Government and the United Nations in peace-building, state-building and stabilisation. Ethiopian troops were officially incorporated into AMISOM earlier this year. The UN has played its part in preparing for the new operations. Supplies of food, fuel and water were stockpiled by the UN Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA) in all sectors in advance of the operations. UNSOA and UNSOM have been supporting the training of Somali National Army troops. This includes training in human rights and humanitarian law, in accordance with the Secretary-General’s Human Rights Due Diligence Policy.
As you will be aware, in Mogadishu the security situation has deteriorated since the last time I briefed the Council in December. A suicide attack carried out on a UN convoy, a complex suicide attack against the Presidential compound in Villa Somalia, and another suicide attack near the National Intelligence headquarters, all in the month of February, are sharp reminders. The risk of further attacks against Somali government and international targets remains high.
The Federal Government and AMISOM have increased their security operations in the city and the Government has developed a new Mogadishu security strategy. I look forward to its early implementation and I hope international partners will actively support it and respond rapidly to requests from the Government.
The UN has taken measures to improve its own security. Planning for the UN Guard Unit, endorsed in February by the Council to protect UN personnel and facilities in Mogadishu, is underway, with the first deployments expected in April. I take this opportunity to thank the Council and the Government of Uganda for their support in establishing the Guard Unit. I would also like to thank AMISOM for their cooperation in facilitating its deployment.
Madam President
Vital though they are, military operations alone will not achieve sustainable peace-building and state-building. The Government has established a framework for the stabilisation of areas that will become accessible as a result of these operations, including the establishment of interim local administrations. UNSOM has been working closely with partners to support this.
As AMISOM and the Somali National Army begin their offensive, we are all conscious of the need to uphold humanitarian principles and respect for international humanitarian law. We also need resources. I urge donors and partners to contribute to the trust fund for the supply of non-lethal support to the Somali National Army in line with resolution 2124. Such UN support for a national army is groundbreaking, and requires our collective effort and determination to succeed.
Developing strong, professional Somali security forces is essential. Progress is being made, but it is made harder by the continuing insecurity and conflict. UNSOM’s work on security sector reform continues. We are, for example, taking some practical steps such as supporting biometric registration and the provision of uniforms. We plan to support the Somali Police Force’s recruitment of 2,300 additional police officers in 2014. Somalia’s security institutions need urgently to be properly funded. I hope that international partners will work with UNSOM, AMISOM and the Federal Government to work out how to do this in a timely and effective manner.
I am pleased also to report that in February the European Union training mission began its training programmes inside Somalia. This is a significant step that deserves our recognition.
Madam President
Achieving greater security is a vital task for 2014. But the political dimension of state-building and peace-building is equally vital this year. After nearly three months of negotiation, Somalia now has a new Federal Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed. The Cabinet contains experienced and technocratic Ministers whose workplans are built around the priorities identified in the New Deal Compact. On 24 February, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and I co-chaired, in Mogadishu, the first meeting of the High-Level Partnership Forum, the body overseeing the implementation of the Compact. The Forum concluded that now was the time for both the Government and international partners to convert plans into actions, pledges into tangible projects and to make real political progress. I am pleased to report that as we meet, the Federal Government is finalising a detailed plan and timetable for a process leading to the formation of Federal States, a final Constitution and democratisation by 2016. I expect this timetable, called broadly Vision 2016, will have concrete and realistic deliverables, to be published in the coming weeks following further consultation with stakeholders, including Puntland and the Interim Jubba Administration. The UN stands ready to play a central role in supporting its implementation.  
Strengthened public financial management is another pillar of state-building. Following the resignation of the former Central Bank Governor in November 2013, the Government has made progress towards rebuilding national and international confidence in its financial institutions. A key step has been the establishment of a Financial Governance Committee, involving experts from the government and international financial institutions to advise on financial management. Alongside other key measures, the Federal Government has agreed to share the existing strategic concession contracts with the Committee for technical review and expert advice. Improved transparency and accountability are critical steps in initiating aid flows. The World Bank, I should note, has been intrepid in supporting on the ground the progress we are beginning to see.
Madam President,
The formation of Federal States needs to be accelerated. I said the same in my briefing to you in December. It is even more true today.
In Baidoa, in south west Somalia, the gulf between two rival camps, advocating a six- and three-region state respectively, remains wide. On the 3rd of March, I called on all parties to respect the Constitution and existing agreements of the Federal Government and to resolve disputes through inclusive dialogue. I continue to offer UNSOM’s good offices to support a Federal Government-led process. The Government has clearly stated its commitment to a three region state, a position that should be respected.
In Southern Somalia, the formation of the Interim Jubba Administration continued with the announcement of ministerial positions on the 20th of February. There have been positive steps towards reconciliation and inclusivity. But the full implementation of the 28 August Addis Ababa Agreement requires continued engagement and compromise. I salute the efforts of Ethiopia as Chair of the Council of Ministers of IGAD and guarantor of the Addis Ababa agreement. UNSOM is working with the Federal Government, the Interim Jubba Administration and partners to mobilise resources to manage an increased caseload of disengaged combatants in Kismayo and to take forward reconciliation initiatives.
To the north, in Puntland, on 8th of January I witnessed, along with several members of the international community, the election of President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas and the peaceful handover by former President Abdurahman Mohamed Farole. UNSOM supported critical mediation efforts in the run-up to the elections and advocated, among other things, for greater women’s political participation. I am encouraged by the new Government’s commitment to resumption of Puntland’s suspended democratisation process and the restoration of relations with the Federal Government of Somalia. President Gaas has highlighted the difficult budget situation and the shortage of funds to pay salaries of Puntland government officials, including security forces. I hope that donor efforts to find an interim solution will bear fruit.
I am also inspired by the vigour and enthusiasm of Somali women’s political advocacy. Twenty-three women’s organisations from South-Central Somalia and Puntland have established the Somali Women Leadership Initiative to campaign for increased political participation of women. UNSOM remains firmly committed to enhancing women’s participation in national decision-making. Encouragingly in Puntland, President Abdiweli Gaas appointed five women to cabinet, more than any of his predecessors.
Madam President,
Promotion and respect for human rights is at the core of UNSOM’s support to the Federal Government. We have been working with both AMISOM and the Somali National Army to provide training on human rights, international humanitarian law and refugee law. A Joint Working Group on human rights due diligence, which includes AMISOM, UNSOA and UNSOM has been established. I hope that in the near future it will also include the Federal Government. The consultative process to create a National Human Rights Commission is still delayed against a background of sustained attacks against human rights defenders and journalists and the continued application of the death penalty. I am also deeply concerned about the ongoing incidence of sexual violence in Somalia. I look forward to the implementation of the recommendations of the Team of Experts on Sexual Violence established under Council Resolution 1888 (2009). The Team of Experts visited Somalia in December 2013.
Madam President,
Despite significant humanitarian crises around the world and within the region, I believe Somalia must remain a priority. The country’s humanitarian crisis is among the largest and most complex in the world. An estimated 2.9 million people will need immediate life-saving and livelihood support in the next six months. Recent improvements in the humanitarian situation are fragile and risk reversal if the current trend of low and slow funding for the 2014 humanitarian appeal continues.
There have been reports recently also of displacement as a result of the fighting, especially in Bay and Bakol. As of the 9th of March some 3,700 newly displaced people arrived in Baidoa, mainly due to fear of attacks. As of today they have all started receiving shelter and household items. We also had reports of some 700 previously displaced families that have returned to Hudur after it was recaptured by Somali National Army and AMISOM forces. Humanitarian access due to the volatile security situation remains a major challenge. Humanitarian partners are working to determine urgent needs and how to best respond.
On the 10th of December last year a tripartite agreement was signed between the governments of Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR for the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees in Kenya. But conditions in Somalia are not yet conducive for wide-scale refugee return. Without sufficient preparation, mass returns could in fact cause instability and worsen the humanitarian situation in the country.
As a result of changes in its legislation, in December 2013, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began deporting Somali nationals as well as other migrant workers. It is estimated that more than 22,000 have returned to Somalia so far. The International Organisation for Migration expects as many as an additional 33,000 people could be deported in the next three months. Such an influx to Mogadishu could exacerbate the plight of the internally displaced in the capital.
Madam President,
Progress in Somalia has been mixed so far, but it is progress. We still have a long way to go. The targets which the Federal Government has set itself, in partnership with the international community, remain relevant and feasible.  National reconciliation, federalism, the conclusion of the constitutional process and the rebuilding of security institutions are critical. Despite setbacks and delays, none of these tasks remain out of our collective reach. But time is of the essence. The time for action is now.
Madam President,
To conclude, Somalia and Somalis desperately need improved security. I firmly believe this can be achieved, but it requires a collective effort.  
Secondly, national reconciliation must be fast-tracked. The establishment of Federal States is critical to the creation of a cohesive and effective federal structure in Somalia. Reconciliation efforts must continue, and will be an additional tool in the fight against the enemies of peace. Legislation to set the constitutional and electoral processes in motion must be must enacted.
Finally, I urge the international community to continue to provide the support necessary to build the Federal Government’s capacity to undertake the significant work that remains. Somalis need to see and feel the benefit of increasing peace and security. We need to convert good plans into more concrete assistance, or as a Somali proverb says “A sweet hand is better than a sweet mouth”. The Federal Government is frustrated with the slow delivery of tangible assistance. A country broken from decades of conflict has huge needs. Not all can or will be met quickly, especially while conflict continues. But I wonder if together we could not achieve some faster success in rebuilding Somalia’s shattered state.
As friends and partners of Somalia, we need to stay the course. Now is not the time to prevaricate. We have to be prepared for setbacks, but remain resolute. After nearly a quarter of a century of wars, state collapse and immense human suffering, Somalis are determined to build a lasting peace. They need and deserve our continued support.
I thank you very much.

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Monday, 3 March 2014

Mental health in Mogadishu

In January this year I visited the Habeb mental hospital in Mogadishu. I reported on it for the BBC. Here is the script for my piece which was broadcast on From Our Own Correspondent - you can listen to it by clicking on this link: The Habeb mental hospital radio piece

You should also be able to listen here (Radio 4 version) or here (World Service version). I took the photos during my visit to the hospital.

And here is a link to an interview I recorded with Dr Habeb: Click here to hear Dr Habeb

Somalia has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world, with one in three people suffering from some form of mental health problem, according to the World Health Organisation. This is perhaps not surprising given that the country has been in conflict for two and a half decades, and has come top of the list of the world's most failed states for six years in a row. Mental illness is a taboo is Somalia. Many mentally sick people are chained, some are even put into cages with hyenas as this is believed to cure them. One man has dedicated his life to helping Somalia's mentally ill, and to getting them out of their chains. Mary Harper visited him in Mogadishu:

"That must be it" I say, pointing at a yellow wall painted with a picture of a large blue human brain. "The Habeb Mental Hospital."

My driver pulls the car up as close as he can to a gate in the wall and tells me to wait. "Do not even think about opening the door" he says. My six bodyguards form a protective line from the vehicle to the hospital gate. When the word comes, I dart out and run between them, through the gate and into the hospital. This is Mogadishu, and you don't mess around.

I find myself in a room crammed with metal beds. The spare patches of floor are covered with foam mattresses. There stretched out, sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes three to a mattress are men. It is the middle of the day but they are all lying down. Some are asleep, others stare at me with dead eyes. They do not seem to be fully alive.



















The heavy stillness is broken when a man rushes in, dressed in a white coat. It has obviously seen better days, but it is clean and freshly pressed. His eyes sparkle. He gesticulates energetically. His voice is strained and high-pitched. 





This is Habeb. The nurse, with three months mental health training, who runs this hospital. Habeb means in Somali "a voice which seems to be running out", and that is just what his voice sounds like - as if there's not much left of it.

"There are 132 patients in here" he says. "Most of them are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many have schizophrenia. Their families bring them here years too late. And they all come here with their legs and arms in chains because that is what Somalis do with mental patients. Here we have a no chains policy. Nobody in my hospital is chained."

The men on the beds and the mattresses on the floor do not react. I ask Habeb why they are all lying down.

"Because this morning they had psychotropic drugs. They are all happy now. Up until two years ago the World Health Organisation gave us drugs. But then they stopped for lack of funds. Now I buy them in the local market."

Suddenly Habeb starts to weep. His voice gets even higher; it cracks and breaks. Tears are pouring down his face. His nose is streaming.

"Where is the United Nations? Where is Ban Ki Moon? Where is the Somali president, the prime minister, the parliament? They all say Habeb is a good person, Habeb is a hero. But I don't need words. I need action."

I give Habeb my hankerchief and we go into another room. Above the doorway, written in swirly writing in black paint are the words 'women's ward'. It is even quieter, even stiller. The same dead eyes, the same prostrate bodies. 











Habeb sits with one lady, her head uncovered, her hair shorn. He holds her hand.




"She has post-natal depression, schizophrenia and anorexia. She can't sleep, she talks to herself, she has hallucinations and she hears voices. When she came here, she was a skeleton. She weighed 31 kilos (70 pounds/ 5 stone)."

We leave the women's ward and walk outside. The sun is warm and bright. The odd burst of gunfire goes off somewhere not too far away. Habeb tells me how in the past few years at least 300 mental patients have been shot dead by the security forces in Mogadishu. They don't know that it is not safe to walk around at night. That you should stop at checkpoints. So they get shot.





In a covered area -- that is a bit like a barn for animals -- I find dozens more male patients. Some of them are alert. A group of young men approaches me. They speak English, in a variety of accents. They tell me how they fled Somalia with their families when war broke out two decades ago. To Canada, to Holland, to Cardiff, to London. I find it odd that so many Somalis from the diaspora are here in this mental hospital in Mogadishu. Some it seems were sent to Somalia by their families after they got into trouble at home. Others came to try to start a life here.










Habeb starts telling me about how he started the hospital after he saw five mentally ill women on the road being abused by small children, who shouted harsh words at them and threw stones. A young man -- also in a white coat -- interrupts him and takes up the story.

"I am Mohamed Habeb, son of Habeb. When I was a child, I used to keep birds. One day my father came and took two of my birds. I was very upset. He took them to market and sold them for a dollar each. With those two dollars, he paid an artist to paint the name 'Habeb Hospital' above one room. That is how he started the hospital."