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USA/Somalia: Slippery Slope
Sep 15, 2009 (090915)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
A U.S. commando raid in Somalia on Sept. 14 reportedly killed Kenyan
Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, accused of links with al-Qaeda and of
responsibility for a terrorist truck bomb at a Mombasa hotel in
2002. It is being applauded as a win by U.S. counter-terrorism
officials, not least for its success in avoiding civilian
casualties. But critical observers warn that its impact could
nevertheless be counter-productive, producing new recruits for
extremist groups in Somalia and reinforcing accusations that the
fragile Somali government is too close to Washington.
See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8256893.stm for a summary
The raid comes against a backdrop of a high-profile U.S. decision
to provide at least 40 tons of arms to the Somali government, as
well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's meeting with Somali
President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad. The government of Sharif
Ahmad, a moderate Islamist, has broad representation, and is
supported by the African Union, the United Nations, and the Arab
League. But it controls only very limited territory. It is
militarily vulnerable to extremist Islamist groups, although those
groups are considered to represent only a minority of Somalis. But
the closer the ties with the U.S., a U.S. military official
commented earlier this year, the more the government is
An extended analysis of U.S. policy by William Minter and Daniel
Volman, written in June, appeared as the cover article in the
July issue of In These Times. It stressed the temptations for the
U.S. to get it wrong in Somalia, again (http://www.africafocus.org/editor/som0906.php). Our conclusion,
shared by many analysts, was that there is no good formula for
getting policy right in Somalia. But there are many temptations to
counterproductive military engagement. As of last June, we were of
the opinion that the Obama administration to date had been
appropriately cautious. But the latest developments seem to be
moving down the slippery slope of a narrow counter-terrorist and
counter-insurgency response, at the expense of diplomatic and
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from several articles
with commentary both on U.S. policy and on other aspects of the
situation in Somalia. Elizabeth Dickson in Foreign Policy comments
on disagreements within the U.S. government about the shipment of
arms supplies to the government in Mogadishu. Minnesota Public
Radio comments on repeated airport searches of two prominent
Somali-American professors at the University of Minnesota. UN
Special Representative for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah reports
on recent events in his latest monthly letter to the Somali
diaspora (for additional background on Ould-Abdallah's activities,
see http://unpos.unmissions.org -
Ould-Abdallah's role is not uncontroversial, but he has consistently advocated an
inclusive negotiation posture). And an Oxfam press release
highlights the horrific conditions in refugee camps for Somali
exiles, such as the Dadaab camp in Kenya, estimated to house soome
For a series of testimonies before Congress on U.S. policy toward
Somalia, in May and June 2009, see
(Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State)
(Ted Dagne, Congressional Research Service)
(Peter Pham, James Madison University)
(Ken Menkhaus, Davidson College)
In a September 9 op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor, Alexander
Noyes and Richard Bennet of the Council on Foreign Relations argue
that "To avoid aiding rebels, Obama must cease direct aid to the
government and work with regional neighbors." See
Other recent commentaries of interest include
Ken Menkhaus, "Too Big a Problem to Fail"
Foreign Policy, August 6, http://tinyurl.com/n7gk76
Karen Rothmyer "Misreading the Somali Threat"
Nation, April 22, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090511/rothmyer
Nuradin Dirie, "Future Viable Options for Somalia"
Chatham House, June 11, http://www.somaliawatch.org/archivejun09/090612603.htm
Most analyses, including the ones cited here, focus primarily on
the situation of open conflict in southern Somalia. The situation
in the semi-autonomous Puntland and in the separately governed but
not internationally recognized Somaliland is also difficult, but
very distinct. See, for two recent reports with background
information, Human Rights Watch on Somaliland
(http://tinyurl.com/mp7alk) and International Crisis Group on
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
The United States sent RPGs, machine guns, mortars, and -- in the
words of one U.S. official -- "cash in a brown paper bag" to
Somalia last spring. Foreign Policy reports on how the shipments
took place, and who's not happy about it.
By Elizabeth Dickinson | September 10, 2009
[excerpts only: for full article see
Late in May, as violence consumed the streets of the infamously
violent capital city of Mogadishu, Somalia, packages of ammunition,
weapons, and cash began arriving from the United States as part of
an attempt to help the country's flailing Transitional Federal
Government (TFG) stave off collapse. At the time, the Somali
government was literally about to fail, reportedly controlling no
more than a neighborhood in Mogadishu thanks to a fresh assault by
two Islamist insurgent groups: al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam.
All told, a State Department official admitted at a June 26 news
briefing that it shipped "in the neighborhood of 40 tons worth of
arms and munitions" to Somalia. "We have also asked the two units
that are there, particularly the Ugandans, to provide weapons to
the TFG, and we have backfilled the Ugandans for what they have
provided to the TFG government," the official told journalists. The
cost was "under $10 million." A different State Department official
working on Somalia counterterrorism policy told Foreign Policy that
of the total amount, the bulk was spent on ammunition, while the
air freight bill was $900,000 and $1.25 million was "cash in a
brown paper bag."
The arms transfer was among the new U.S. administration's first
moves toward Somalia, a country that many see as a test case for
President Barack Obama's counterterrorism policy. The country has
been in a state of war for nearly two decades, displacing a quarter
of the country's population, with half a million refugees scattered
across the region and another 1.5 million displaced internally
within Somalia. But in recent months, the East African country has
become a growing concern for U.S. officials as local groups, most
notably an Islamist faction named al-Shabab -- some of whose
leaders are thought to have been trained by al Qaeda -- have
expanded their control of the country.
According to experts on the region, the policy's intent was both
symbolic and tactical. "The symbolic [aspect] is a way of sending
a message to Somalis that the United States is going to stand
behind the TFG -- that the United States will not allow it to fail
and sees it as the only viable solution," said Ken Menkhaus, a
leading Somalia analyst, in an interview. Tactically, the intent
was straightforward: to help the TFG fight back against its heavily
But there have been concerns about just how effective the arms
shipments have been. On Aug. 11, Garowe, a Somali radio station and
online news outlet, reported that arms transferred to the Somali
government were being sold on the street. ...
To many observers, this seemed all too predictable. The small-arms
trade has flourished for the 18 years that Somalia has been in
conflict, with weapons proliferating dramatically despite the arms
embargo. One of the most frequent channels has been through
desertions; 14,000 of the TFG's 17,000 forces deserted last year,
many with their guns and uniforms. Today, desertions are less
common thanks to a new, more popular president, according to the
regional analyst. But he estimates that government forces,
including police, only number about 5,000 -- and that's just on
paper. In practice, the TFG forces are less a uniform force than a
series of militias that operate independently, loyal to one
government official or another. ...
Regardless of whose hands the weapons are ultimately in, other
analysts question the wisdom of sending more small arms to a
country that is already all too rife with gunfire. ,,,
The policy also raises questions about the broader U.S. stance
toward Somalia. The State Department official working on Somalia
counterterrorism policy told FP that "every element of the U.S.
government seems to have its own piece of the Somalia plan." There
was no formal policy, he said, because of a disagreement about
whether and how to support the Transitional Federal Government.
"The Department of Defense thought they were just out of their
minds [to send the arms shipment]," he said. "But since it was
State's money, the plan went through." (Queried about this claim,
Defense Department spokeswoman Almarah Belk responded via e-mail,
"Policy toward Somalia is coordinated via the NSC [National
Security Council]. DoD [Department of Defense] agrees and supports
the DOS [Department of State] security assistance to the TFG.")
There is also some question as to how popular the shipment was
within the State Department itself. The State Department official
told FP that there was no support and even active opposition to the
plan among his colleagues. When a reporter at the June 26 briefing
insinuated that the decision "was made at the highest level," the
briefing official replied that the policy was a "national decision"
agreed upon by "the secretary and the NSC," meaning Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton and the National Security Council.
Somali-American professors angered over repeated searches
by Laura Yuen
Minnesota Public Radio August 24, 2009
[Excerpts; For full article see http://tinyurl.com/pzdhv7
For a series of articles by Minnesota Public Radio on Somalis in
Minnesota see http://tinyurl.com/msf4v2]
Minneapolis - Two Somali-American scholars at the University of
Minnesota say they're outraged by what they consider invasive
questioning and searches while traveling abroad this summer.
Abdi Samatar chairs the U's geography department. He's married to
Cawo Abdi, a sociology professor. Since June, the husband and wife
say they've been pulled aside a total of six times at airports for
lengthy interviews that have lasted up to two and a half hours.
They believe customs officials targeted them for being Muslim and
Earlier this month, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan -- the "Brad
Pitt of India" -- made headlines around the globe when he was
stopped at a New Jersey airport. Khan said, at the time, that he
believed he was questioned because his Muslim name raised red flags
in a post-Sept. 11 world.
But countless Somali-Americans who don't enjoy Khan's level of
celebrity say they've been subjected to similar searches, called
secondary inspections, upon re-entering the U.S.
"He went through every little thing that was in my wallet, one by
one," Abdi Samatar said, recalling the inspection of one customs
officer. Samatar, who sports a graying beard and bookish,
gold-rimmed glasses, said he has counseled the U.S. State
Department on Somali affairs and travels around the world for his
But he now believes he's of interest to the government for other
reasons. Since June, Samatar has gone through four secondary
searches, which he described as demeaning and humiliating. U.S
customs officers, sometimes acting apologetically, have rummaged
through his personal diary, his toiletries, his kid's diaper bag,
and academic papers on Somali pirates.
One officer took a keen interest in the papers, Samatar said. The
officer wanted to know why he was reading them. The professor said
he was planning to write about the issue of Somali piracy. When the
officer asked why Samatar wanted to write such things, the
professor said he responded: "We are scholars, and we write papers
Samatar said the last time he was pulled aside for additional
screening -- upon returning to Minnesota from Sweden for a
conference --- he refused to answer the customs officer's questions
and was eventually released.
Samatar believes the searches must be related to a federal
investigation into about 20 Minnesotan men of Somali descent.
Authorities say the men left for East Africa to fight with an
extremist group. One of the travelers blew himself up last fall in
Somalia, becoming the first U.S. citizen to carry out a terrorist
Authorities fear those fighters could come back to the U.S and
inflict harm here. Samatar said he understands those concerns, and
agrees that government agencies should be on high alert. "But they
should be on high alert on an intelligent basis, rather than on a
dumb basis," he said. "It seems to me there is a sort of 'Dumb
Operating Procedure,' which picks up people for all kinds of
nefarious reasons: You have a Muslim name, you live in Minneapolis,
you are a Somali, and you travel a lot. Therefore, you become a
Samatar and his wife are both U.S citizens with American passports.
In August, they were returning from South Africa on separate
flights and were steered into a waiting room at the Minneapolis-St.
Paul airport. "We looked at each other, and we smiled, and we said,
'OK, let's see where this takes us," recalled Cawo Abdi, Samatar's
wife. But now, Abdi said, she feels indignation. ...
Handling all Somali travelers with suspicion will undermine the
FBI's investigation, she said. Abdi believes the government can't
afford to alienate her community because it needs its help to solve
the case. The FBI wouldn't say whether the airport security
measures were in connection with the investigation. The agency
deferred all questions to Customs and Border Protection. Both
professors believe they're on some kind of government watch list.
Individuals who routinely experience difficulties while traveling
can file requests for redress through the Department of Homeland
Security. Samatar and Abdi said they are formally seeking
information from the U.S government to find out why it seems so
interested in them. They say they won't rule out a lawsuit.
United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS)
Letter to the members of the Somali Jaaliyadda (no 17)
Nairobi, 25 August 2009
[This and earlier letters also available at
- The Holy Month of Ramadan is the month during which the Holy
Koran was revealed. Ramadan is time for peace and forgiveness. It
is the time to renew our spirits, faith and relationship with our
Creator, and also with one another as Moslem brothers and
sisters. This time of spiritual reflection is also a time for
considering those less fortunate than ourselves. I would like all
of us to pray to God that Somalia will, Insha Allah achieve peace
and stability, regain its dignity and see the return of displaced
and refugees before the next Ramadan.
- Which brings me to the plight of the Somali refugees
currently in camps. We are all aware of the overcrowding, harsh
conditions that these refugees must endure in exchange for a
security away from home. The efforts and generosity of host
countries helping the Somalis in need is commendable, but
certainly the burden of responsibility should lie with the Somali
elites communities, who are in a position to help by bringing
- I particularly appeal to the Somali elite, inside and outside
the country, who are fortunate enough to live with their families
in comfortable, secure homes and with access to good schools to
remember that only stability will end the long suffering of
refugees and internaly displaced persons. It will also help you
to have, once again, a place to call proudly homeland. To that
end, dialogue is better than the killing of Somalis by Somalis.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) promoted the spirit of compromise at
Al Hudaibiya and that Pact is seen as a noble example of strength
rather than a weakness. Why shouldn't Muslim Somalis emulate this
heroic action of the Prophet and talk to each other?
- In my previous letter, I mentioned that my office was in the
midst of planning several important developments on the way
forward and some of those have since then taken place:
- The Government is making progress towards reforming and
improving security. On 25 July, the Joint Security Committee
(JSC), now comprised of key Government figures, AU/AMISOM, the
UN, EU/EC, LAS, Italy met in Mogadishu for the first time. That
meeting laid the ground work for coordinating the cooperation
between the Government and the international community. On 12
August, a second meeting of the JSC took place also in Mogadishu
and established three technical working groups to be devoted to
strengthening the security sector. Soon the High Level Committee
will start its meetings.
- From the 1 to 5 August, former Minister of Defence Professor
Ghandi and I co-chaired a very productive meeting in Washington,
DC with the former Somali senior military officers. One of the
reasons for convening these former military officers is because
of their institutional memory which, combined, offers a good
option for analyzing past successes and failures and establishing
improved policies and procedures to work with in restructuring
Somalia's security forces. At the same time, it should be
reiterated that the Government has never strayed from its initial
pronouncement that it is committed to dialogue and is open to all
segments of Somali society and ready to accommodate members of
all oppositions. This includes former military officers or any
Somali who wishes to contribute to the restoration of stability
and national reconciliation.
- US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's meeting on the 6
August with President Sheik Sharif was an encouraging sign for
Somalis and a strong show of support and belief in the Somalia's
people and Government. On behalf of the US, the Secretary of
State made a firm commitment to support Government efforts in in
improving humanitarian assistance, health, water, education and
in building a secure enivironment for the Somali people. Now,
it's up to the Government to leverage this and all the logistical
and technical support of their international partners with swift
and efficient actions.
- During my visit to UN Headquarters at the end of July, I held
several bilateral meetings and addressed the UN Security Council.
I underscored the support needed from the Council to help restore
stability in Somalia and outlined concrete steps that the
international community could take including political and
financial assistance to the Somali Government and AMISOM and
support for IGAD and the African Union. I also told the Council,
that the UN should show it is serious about moving to Somalia, to
be closer to the people.
- After the Security Council, I travelled to Ottawa where I met
the Foreign Minister, Lawrence Cannon, to discuss the latest
situation in Somalia. Following meetings with other Ministry
officials, I spoke to some 30 Diaspora community leaders whose
large majority expressed interest in becoming more actively
involved in the peace process.
- Impunity is a priority issue for Somali and should be
addressed. A culture of impunity is toxic and leaves no soul
unscathed. A society cannot have peace, let alone prosper and
develop without justice. Back in November 2008, a first workshop
on Justice and Reconciliation was held in Djibouti and
participants committed themselves to begin to address impunity
under a Unity Government. A second conference: "Addressing
Impunity: Towards Justice and Reconciliation" which included
members of the Government, parliamentarians and civil society
representatives from inside Somalia has just concluded its work.
A number of well-known international experts as well as members
of the Nairobi based UN Monitoring Group made important and
lively contributions. There was a significant number of women and
youth participating at the conference. Ways of moving forward
were outlined and various mechansims for addressing impunity were
- Armed violence continues. It continues even though there are
no longer any Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu the previous
justification. What reason is there now to continue fighting
unless it is to capitalize on the insecurity for personal gain?
Everywhere I go foreigners ask me in particular this question.
This is a question I put forth to those who lately have
threatened to redouble their attacks during the Holy Month of
Ramadan, particularly as the President has precisely invited for
dialogue. What is the sanctity in killing innocent Moslem
civilians? What moral justification is there for instilling fear
and terror in the population?
- I am saddened every time I read a media report that mentions
the Somali conflict as spawning a terror threat that is spreading
throughout the world. This affects all Somalis and those of you
living in the Diaspora more so. Even though you may have national
passports from Western countries you may still be seen as
suspicious. To be presumed suspicious or a threat by the rest of
World because of one's origin strips one of freedom and dignity.
It is time to end this long conflict at home, that of Somalis
- The Government has made cooperative acts at the political
level with Ahlu Sunnah wal Jamaah and we support that productive
effort. I hope more will be done in Mogadishu with all willing
Somali brothers not yet at peace with the Government and with
Somalia itself. All doors are open to peace.
- Some may be satisfied with the present Government. Some not.
But it is time, after 20 years, to remember that a new government
is better than no government. With patience, by the Grace of God,
you will have the Government that you all call for. To get there,
your unity in strengthening the Government is essential. This
Government will succeed and patriots shouldn't miss this moment.
I pray that you remember this important fact in this holy month
Oxfam International (Oxford)
East Africa: Overcrowded and Desperate Camps in Somalia, Kenya and
Ethiopia 'Barely Fit for Humans'
3 September 2009
A total failure of the international community to deal effectively
with the Somalia crisis and help end the war is resulting in a
spiral of human suffering and exodus to neighbouring countries,
warns international agency Oxfam.
Hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have fled the violence are now
trapped in horrifically overcrowded or poorly managed camps in
Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia itself.
Oxfam says poor sanitation and little access to basic services such
as water and medicine due to an ineffective response are creating
a public health emergency in camps, which needs to be urgently
"Somalis flee one of the world's most brutal conflicts and a
desperate drought, only to end up in unimaginable conditions in
camps that are barely fit for humans. Hundreds of thousands of
children are affected, and the world is abandoning the next
generation of Somalis when they most need our help. Why does it
seem like you matter less in this world if you are from Somalia?"
said Robbert Van den Berg Oxfam International's spokesman for the
Horn of Africa.
Somalia has recently seen a major increase in conflict, and the
country is suffering its worst drought in a decade. The failure of
the international community to address adequately these overcrowded
and unsanitary camps is shameful given the level of need and human
In Northern Kenya, each and every month, around 8,000 Somali
refugees pour into Dadaab camp. Now home to 280,000 people, the
camp was originally built to only house a third of that amount. The
severe overcrowding means many families do not have regular access
to latrines or clean water, and in some of the worst parts of the
camp over 20 families share one single latrine. "The Kenyan
government has repeatedly promised to provide more land to ease the
overcrowding but has so far failed to do so, despite the urgent and
critical needs. More pressure from the international community is
needed to make it happen", Van den Berg continued.
In Ethiopia's Bokolmayo camp, almost 10,000 people are already in
the camp and nearly 1,000 people a month continue to arrive. Yet
the current infrastructure and services are insufficient to cope
with more arrivals, and there is still an important funding gap for
the operation. The UN refugee agency's response to the impending
crisis has been weak and inefficient. Oxfam called on the agency to
exercise much greater leadership in ensuring Somalis get adequate
assistance by supporting host countries to respond effectively to
the humanitarian crisis.
In Somalia many of those fleeing Mogadishu have looked for refuge
in the nearby Afgooye area, which with up to at least 485,000
people sheltering on a 15km strip of land is now said to be the
world's densest concentration of displaced people. The high
insecurity makes it extremely difficult for international agencies
to deliver enough aid to meet people's needs. Somalis themselves
are now on the frontline of delivering aid through their local
organisations, yet they lack funds to carry out their life-saving
work and need much more support from donors.
"In all three locations Afgooye, Dadaab and Bokolmayo the services
being provided to vulnerable and desperate people are far below
international standards. While NGOs need to scale up their
response, donors cannot shy away from providing funding for this
emergency. This is a human tragedy of unthinkable proportions where
countless people have now been deprived of a home and a sense of
normality for months and months," said Van den Berg.
"Ultimately, the root cause of the problems in all of these camps
is the ongoing conflict, lawlessness and humanitarian disaster
inside Somalia. Our governments must put Somalia top of their list
and do more than simply keeping the country on life-support. What
we need is a different approach and sustained senior level
commitment to end this outrageous human suffering that has been
going on for over 15 years," he said.
Note: There are now 1.4 million displaced people in Somalia and
more than half a million refugees in countries around the region,
including Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen, Uganda, Eritrea, Tanzania and
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