The U.S. made a critical mistake during Somalia’s last famine. Will we repeat it?

The Washington Post
Nairobi, Kenya

A newly registered Somali refugee outside a registration and medical aid facility at the Dadaab Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in eastern Kenya in 2011. (Tony Karumba/AFP)

Later this year, a drought in Somalia will likely become a famine. Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk. International aid agencies will scramble to deliver food and medical care. As usual, most of those who may die will be children.

It will be the third famine to tear through Somalia in a quarter-century, a rate of starvation unmatched on Earth. The scenario is familiar to the United States, which has intervened in the previous famines with disastrous results. This time, the United States has a chance to get it right. Continue reading The U.S. made a critical mistake during Somalia’s last famine. Will we repeat it?

Cloaked in rags and dust, Somalis flee looming famine

Agence France Presse (AFP)
Baidoa, Somalia

A woman builds a shelter at a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Baidoa, in the southwestern Bay region of Somalia (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)

Mariam Ibrahim, her seven children and two neighbouring families were the last to leave their village in southwestern Somalia.

They loaded their combined belongings — blankets, cooking pots, sleeping mats, jerry cans, clothes — onto a hired donkey cart and walked beside it for 20 kilometres (12 miles) to Baidoa, the closest city.

“There is nobody left now,” said the 28-year-old. She joined thousands of others who are arriving in Baidoa each day, staggering from the parched countryside into the garrison city, cloaked in rags and dust.

Continue reading Cloaked in rags and dust, Somalis flee looming famine

In Somalia, voting underway but democracy delayed

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Baidoa, Somalia

Just 14,025 of the Somalia's perhaps 12 million citizens are voting for 275 MPs, who will join 54 appointed senators in voting for a new president (AFP Photo/Simon Maina)
Just 14,025 of the Somalia’s perhaps 12 million citizens are voting for 275 MPs, who will join 54 appointed senators in voting for a new president (AFP Photo/Simon Maina)

With its security-sealed plastic boxes and cardboard polling booths, Somalia’s election –- under way since last month and still ongoing –- has the trappings of democracy, but few of the functions.

Last week in the western city of Baidoa, 51 handpicked representatives of the Reer Aw Hassan clan took an hour to vote unanimously for Abdiweli Ibrahim Ali Sheikh Mudey, a current minister and the only candidate to show up on the day.

Among Mudey’s backers were 15 enthusiastic female voters. “We selected the most beautiful man!” cheered one as Mudey smiled in his dark aviator sunglasses, a garland of purple tinsel round his neck. Continue reading In Somalia, voting underway but democracy delayed

Big Interview: Fadumo Dayib, Presidential candidate, Somalia

Monocle
Nairobi, Kenya

Fadumo Dayib, photographed for Monocle by Andrew Renneisen
Fadumo Dayib, photographed for Monocle by Andrew Renneisen

For a presidential candidate just weeks ahead of the vote, Fadumo Dayib is remarkably resigned to losing. Like many of her fellow aspirants Dayib is a dual passport-holding member of Somalia’s far-flung diaspora, an elite group whose privileges over those left behind frequently foster resentment. But, unlike any of her competitors, she is a woman and in a patriarchal society such as Somalia that makes her shoe-string run for the presidency both impossible and impossibly significant. Continue reading Big Interview: Fadumo Dayib, Presidential candidate, Somalia

Islamic State makes inroads into Kenya

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

A Kenyan police officer folds up a flag inscribed with the logo of the Islamic State group following a raid on two mosques in the coastal city of Mombasa (AFP Photo)
A Kenyan police officer folds up a flag inscribed with the logo of the Islamic State group following a raid on two mosques in the coastal city of Mombasa (AFP Photo)

Recent arrests show the Islamic State’s growing presence in East Africa, where they are recruiting young Kenyans for jihad abroad and raising fears some of them will return to threaten the country.

Kenyan intelligence agencies estimate that around 100 men and women may have gone to join the IS in Libya and Syria, triggering concern that some may come back to stage attacks on Kenyan and foreign targets in a country already victim to regular, deadly terrorism.

“There is now a real threat that Kenya faces from IS and the danger will continue to increase,” said Rashid Abdi, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank in Nairobi. Continue reading Islamic State makes inroads into Kenya

East Africa’s Shabaab ‘can survive for 30 years’

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Nairobi, Kenya

Somalia's Shebab have been blamed for a spate of car bomb attacks in Mogadishu (AFP Photo/Mohamed Abdiwahab)
Somalia’s Shebab have been blamed for a spate of car bomb attacks in Mogadishu (AFP Photo/Mohamed Abdiwahab)

On a Sunday afternoon in late February a car exploded outside a crowded restaurant in Baidoa, Somalia, and moments later a suicide bomber blew himself up among fleeing survivors. At least 30 people died in the attack, the latest by the Shabaab, a Somali-led Al-Qaeda group in East Africa that continues to defy repeated predictions of its demise. Continue reading East Africa’s Shabaab ‘can survive for 30 years’

In the city of the lost: review of ‘City of Thorns’ by Ben Rawlence

The Times Saturday Review

9781846275876Dadaab is a confounding place, a low-slung conurbation of wind-swept, sun-beaten shelters adrift in Kenya’s wild northeast. The wind is unrelenting, the heat unbearable, yet it is home to 350,000 people, refugees who escaped war and famine only to find themselves trapped here.

They depend on food handouts yet the markets are also stuffed with fresh mangos and Samsung smartphones. There are few jobs yet some are spectacularly wealthy. It is a place of hopelessness and opportunity. Dadaab is temporary, but has existed for 25 years and is the focus of Ben Rawlence’s book.

City of Thorns is a portrait of a place that should not exist, and the people who by turns survive or thrive, live or die, love or mourn there. Most are Somali; some are the third generation to be raised in Dadaab on paltry UN rations, trapped between al-Qaeda militants in Somalia and the rapacious Kenyan police. Continue reading In the city of the lost: review of ‘City of Thorns’ by Ben Rawlence

‘Close Your Eyes and Pretend to be Dead’: What really happened two years ago in the bloody attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall

Foreign Policy
Nairobi, Kenya
Published 21st September, 2015

Adults and children run through the mall to escape the gunmen (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)
Adults and children run through the mall to escape the gunmen (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

12:55 p.m. Simon Belcher lay on his front beneath a black Range Rover, breathing deeply, wanting to unsee the pile of mangled bodies a few yards in front of him. He turned his head toward his wife, Amanda, who was hiding beneath a white 4×4 to his right. “I love you,” he mouthed silently before resting his head on the pavement.

The bullet that had struck Simon a few moments earlier passed through his torso and right arm while shrapnel from an exploding gas canister had torn into his abdomen. An unexploded hand grenade lay nearby. The masked gunmen, two of them, with military webbing slung around their bony shoulders and AK-47 assault rifles in their hands, had disappeared. Inside the mall, Simon guessed.

The blood from his wounds began to pool around him until it reached his ear, forming a seal. Suddenly, the muffled noises from within the five-story building were amplified, as if he had put a glass to a wall. Over the birdsong, car alarms, and ringing of the unanswered mobile phones of the dead and wounded, Simon could now hear gunshots, explosions, and screaming. Continue reading ‘Close Your Eyes and Pretend to be Dead’: What really happened two years ago in the bloody attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall

The best pizza in Mogadishu

AFP Correspondent blog
Mogadishu, Somalia

Somalis play football as the sun sets in Mogadishu (AFP Photo/Carl de Souza)
Somalis play football as the sun sets in Mogadishu (AFP Photo/Carl de Souza)

The first time I went to Mogadishu there were soldiers on the roof of the airport terminal and a crashed cargo plane on the apron with a rocket-sized hole in its fuselage. I wore body armour pretty much all the time, was woken by explosions at night and ducked rifle fire by day.

That was five years ago. I was back again recently and went out for a pizza, at night. Continue reading The best pizza in Mogadishu

Life and opportunity in the world’s biggest refugee camp

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Dadaab, Kenya

A Somali refugee shops for fresh produce at a market within the Hagadera camp in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp (AFP)
A Somali refugee shops for fresh produce at a market within the Hagadera camp in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp (AFP)

Soon after dawn Bashir Bilal sat outside on his usual plastic jerry can surrounded by young girls and boys chanting Koranic verses.

Each child clutched a worn plank of wood instead of an exercise book, writing on it in Arabic script with ink made from charcoal and water.

In Somalia the Islamic madrassa is often the only education on offer, but here in the Dadaab refugee camps it is just the start. Later in the day the children are able to attend, for free, primary and even secondary school while scholarships are available for college education.

Uprooted and dispossessed, life as a refugee is tough. But for the Somalis who have for years, or even decades, called Dadaab home there are opportunities too. Continue reading Life and opportunity in the world’s biggest refugee camp