Geopolitics

Flickers Of Hope In Somalia

Plagued by civil war, terrorism and poverty, Somalia and its capital Mogadishu are often described as hell on earth. But thanks to international help and a handful of courageous citizens, some light has appeared at the end of the tunnel for the troubled A

A street in Mogadishu (ctsnow)
A street in Mogadishu (ctsnow)
Christian Putsch

MOGADISHU – It was 2 a.m. when the black SUV of Fasul Abdullah Mohammed, al Qaida's most important man in Africa, began to roll through the streets of Mogadishu. Mohammed was the mastermind behind the terror attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 224 people.

The terrorist cruised slowly through the city, his pockets filled with several passports and cell phones, as well as $40,000 in cash. The streets of the Somali capital were dark that night – because of the war, electricity is a fitful commodity in most parts of the city – and this allowed the SUV to advance steadily under the cover of darkness. But a wrong turn at an intersection led the car to the place it was supposed to avoid. There was a roadblock, and soldiers everywhere – the car had accidentally entered the UN-controlled part of the city. The driver brusquely accelerated, but the bullets fired were faster.

A few seconds later, the Comoros islands-born man, who had a $3.5 million U.S. bounty on his head, was slumped dead in the SUV. Somali officials had reported Mohammed's death several times before, but this time they were right. On Saturday, three days after the shots were fired, DNA tests confirmed his identity. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spoke of "one more significant blow to al Qaida."

Most of all, the death of Mohammed has shaken al Qaida's Somali partner organization in Somalia, al-Shabab, or "youth." Known to be its military leader, the Somali-educated strategist helped to finance the protracted Somali civil war. Hundreds of foreign fighters heard his call and followed him to the anarchic country. Lately, the attacks mounted by the terrorist outfit against soldiers of the African Union (AU) and the corrupt interim government (that barely controls a little more than half of the capital) have grown more and more sophisticated.

The jihadist violence that has plagued Somalia for so long means that the government in Mogadishu rarely gets the chance to deliver any good news to its citizens. This time, Somalia's president, Sharif Sheiq Ahmend, seized the opportunity provided by Mohammed's death to declare: "We defeated al-Qaida and al-Shabab; they are weak and shrinking in numbers."

It is true that al-Shabab has recently lost control of a few neighborhoods of Mogadishu, but this is largely thanks to the 9,000 AU soldiers present in the country. As for the Somali government itself, it has spent more time bickering than sorting out the troubles of its people. A victim of the recent disputes is Prime Minister Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed, one of the few capable politicians in the country, who is about to be removed from office.

Civilians defy terrorists more than politicians

As the conflict drags on, one thing becomes more and more clear in Mogadishu: that brave civilians are sometimes willing to defy the terrorists more than politicians. An example is Ahmed Nur, who took over the office of mayor of Mogadishu nine months ago. He spent almost all of the 20-year-long Somali civil war in England, where he worked as an HR consultant for the city of London.

Now he is sitting in a conference room in front of his laptop. His office is located right next to the UN-controlled airport. His residents don't come anywhere near the building – it would be too dangerous.

Ahmed Nur talks fast, very fast. He has no time to take in and ponder about the realities of his home country. No time to worry about the daily threatening calls from al-Shabab that wake him in the middle of the night to let him know that "tomorrow you will die."

And so his impressions flow hurriedly into sentences: "The people have lived in a dark cage. They have agreed to live in this prison because they don't know anything else."

In England, Ahmen Nur learned a lot about administration. But how does one take away the fear and increase the people's strength to resist in a place where people have to hide in their homes for days on end, while bombs fall just a few meters away? He has almost no money. Nearly the entire monthly budget of the city, or roughly 50,000 dollars, comes from the Mogadishu port (the sum versed to the mayor represents about 15% of the port's total revenues) – which is hardly enough for a population of around 2 million people.

But the mayor has started collecting funds from the few remaining businesses in the seven districts that were freed from al-Shabab. The money thus obtained was then invested in projects that many considered useless: two public parks and a women's basketball team that participated in a tournament in Nairobi in April.

The city has formed groups of residents that remove the piles of trash scattered around the city and keep the sewer system functional. Ahmed Nur has also built a company in which women make firewood from the fallen trees that are so abundant in the city.

In an effort to brighten the life of his citizens, the mayor has given licenses to the few electricity companies still present in Somalia and asked them to light a major street free of charge in return. The light does manage to take some of the horror of the night in Mogadishu away – even though the sound of machine guns is present every minute.

These are small but strong messages sent in the direction of those who benefit from the chaos and from the lack of perspective for young people, be they al-Shabab militias or independent warlords: We are still alive. And we want to live! The reactions show that Ahmed Nur is on the right track; his opponents are fighting back.

In early February, he organized a concert. Music was supposed to block out the sound of shooting for the first time in decades – if only for a few moments. The festival ended in a bloodbath. Five Somali soldiers trained by the UN to support the interim government opened fire, and three civilians died.

More of the diaspora returning

According to Ahmed Nur, this was the work of a warlord called Dheere. His soldiers would only listen to him, regardless of the training they were given. "The power of people like this is based on intimidation," Nur says. Until then, Dheere had always been able to escape unpunished. This time, however, the AU forces arrested him.

While he speaks, the mayor clenches his fist, which is a common gesture for him. His wife and six children still live in London. When he left, he told them he would not be intimidated.

Dr. Ayesha is also one of the few who are determined to defy the psychological warfare. Like so many Somali refugees, she spent 20 years in the diaspora in Italy. Three months ago, she took over one of the three hospitals still open in the center of the destroyed city. Her budget is 1,700 dollars per month for 22 beds. All the medicine comes from foreign donations.

She could complain about the hopelessness of her situation, about the despair of the hundreds of thousands of people that are waiting for help (most aid organizations have left the city). Instead, she says that: "The situation is not easy. But it has improved. A few schools have reopened. And a small amount of security has returned to some parts of the city." Five years ago, she visited Mogadishu but had to leave after only a few weeks. She could not afford the security personal that had to protect her 24/7 at the time.

At least she can now give hope to some people who have decided to simply wait for death to come. Ali Mursal is one of those people. A bullet pierced through his spine 32 years ago and landed the soldier of the former dictator Siad Barré in a wheelchair.

"Since the civil war started, I have received hardly any medical help," the war veteran says. He had to look on helplessly as rockets fell in front of his door and neighbors died a few meters away. Tied to his wheelchair, he could not escape.

"I am happy that Dr. Ayesha is here. I would have never thought that somebody still cares." Maybe his four children, who live in Kenya, will return one day. To a peaceful Somalia, Mursal says. It is a sentence he hadn't even dared to think for the longest time.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - ctsnow

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$57,789

A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."


— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.

🕌 🔍 IN OTHER NEWS

Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com info@worldcrunch.com!

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