Hostage Crisis In Kenya Sparks Open War In Somalia

Since its independence nearly 50 years ago, Kenya has steered clear of war. That long peace came to an end this past weekend, when Kenyan soldiers crossed into Somalia in pursuit of al-Shabab militia. Somalia’s transitional government has apparently endor

Kenyan soldiers on patrol in Somalia (YouTube)
Kenyan soldiers on patrol in Somalia (YouTube)
Philipp Neumann

NAIROBI -- Watchmen are part of the scenery on the streets of Kenya's capital. They stand in front of banks and supermarkets – they even protect stores selling mobile phones from possible heists. Since this past weekend, however, these informal security guards in Kenya's capital are now being joined by their official counterparts: police officers, lots of them, patrolling the inner city in uniform. The word is that there are plenty of plain-clothes operatives in the mix as well.

The heightened security aims not only to prevent hold-ups but also outright attacks. Because since this past weekend, Kenya has been at war. Commonplace in Africa as a whole, war is not, however, something normal for Kenya. This is in fact the first armed conflict the country has engaged in since it gained its independence 48 years ago.

The enemy is the Islamist al-Shabab militia that controls large portions of neighboring Somalia, and has ties to al-Qaeda. Al-Shabab is threatening attacks in Kenya. Kenyan soldiers would come to "regret" having moved into Somali territory, a spokesman for the group said. Decades of peace in Kenya will be jeopardized, insists al-Shabab, if Kenyan soldiers don't leave Somalia at once.

The official reason that Kenya's army – with the approval of the Somali transition government – has moved over 100 kilometers into Somalia is the recent hostage-taking in Kenya. There have been several cases, all foreigners nabbed on Kenyan soil and taken to Somalia. Nairobi suspects that the al-Shabab militia lie behind the abductions. The group denies responsibility.

"Our territorial integrity is being threatened by terrorists," said George Saitoti, Kenya's Interior Minister, as military action got underway. "We will pursue the enemy – the al-Shabab militia – wherever they go." Presently, tanks and air strikes along with an undisclosed number of soldiers are being used in the operation. In Kenya, meanwhile, police are asking the population to report "suspicious persons' by calling a special hot line.

Kenyan military officials report that five Somali cities have already been taken, and 75 members of al-Shabab killed. So far Kenya has lost five soldiers, who died in a helicopter crash.

Unofficial sources claim the abductions are not the only reason for the intervention. Kenya, these sources say, had long been planning to set up a kind of security zone on Somali territory where refugee camps can be built to stop any further influx into Kenya of Somalis fleeing hunger and war.

Security problems at Dadaab camp

What is described as the largest refugee camp in the world, in which more than half a million people live, lies just outside the city of Dadaab in Kenya. Nairobi has long considered the camp a security problem, and feared that it could provide Islamist terrorists a foothold in Kenya.

Ten suspected terrorists were recently arrested at the camp. And along the border with Somalia, there have in the past been frequent assaults on Kenyans (some of whom have been murdered) that Kenyan authorities ascribe to al-Shabab. The militia is also accused of trying to recruit members among young Kenyans.

The official reason for the war, the hostage-taking crisis, began a week ago, when two Spanish aid workers with Doctors Without Borders were abducted at the Dabaab camp and allegedly taken to Somalia.

The Kenyan military says it has some leads as to where the two workers are. Doctors Without Borders, an international aid group, expressed deep concern for their welfare, and warned that use of force could endanger their safe release. Two weeks before the aid workers were taken, two European tourists, both women, were taken hostage on islands just off the coast of Kenya.

One of them, a French woman, has since died in captivity. Her death was confirmed by the French government on Wednesday. The 66-year-old had lived on Lamu Island for over 10 years. The other tourist, a British woman, is still missing. Her husband was shot as they were being abducted. The incidents have had an extremely damaging effect on tourism in Kenya.

Somalia"s transition government is on board

The Kenyan government is releasing very little information about its military incursion. However, it has made it clear that the march into Somalia was undertaken with the approval of the Somali transition government. Kenya's foreign and defense ministers both met with the Somali president in Mogadishu, where a decision was taken to stamp out the al-Shabab militia.

The army of Somalia's transitional government is perceived as weak, and has in the past been supported by the Kenyan army to train its soldiers. After the meeting in Mogadishu between Kenyan and Somali officials, there was a suicide attack near the venue that left several people dead.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has yet to make a direct statement with regard to the military action, although a press release issued after a recent cabinet meeting stated that it had "the important task of protecting the Kenyan nation." The action has met with no opposition in Kenya, and the archbishop of Mombasa, Boniface Lele, openly supported the military action saying: "We have a responsibility to defend ourselves."

Many Kenyans share that view, even if there is heavy skepticism about the outcome of the military operation. It is presently unclear how many Kenyan soldiers will stay in Somalia, or for how long -- and if they are indeed up to the challenges of fighting such a war. Another open question is whether the country can afford it, in face of a marked recent slowdown in economic growth in Kenya.

Uganda, Kenya's neighbor, found out in 2010 what it was like to get on the wrong side of al-Shabab when its army was providing support to the Somali government. More than 70 people died in a bomb attack in the capital of Kampala. An al-Shabab spokesman said at the time: "That's the best news we've ever heard."

Read the original story in German

Photo - YouTube

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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