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Can Somalia Get Russia to Join the Fight Against Al Shabab?

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Somalia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Awad (left) and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow
   

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Somalia is struggling to defeat al Qaeda-linked al Shabab group which controls a large swathes of land and continues to wreak havoc across the Horn of Africa country.

There are more than 6,000-strong African Union troops (commonly known as Amisom) in Somalia, deployed first in 2007, helping the government defeat al Shabab. Although Amisom and Somali forces captured many towns and cities from al Shabab, the group still controls much of the countryside including small towns outside the capital, Mogadishu.

Somalia could be seeking Russia’s help in the fight against al Shabab, a move that could see the US – once again – working with its rival. Washington and Moscow are allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria but disagree almost in everything else.

In Somalia, the US runs a military base at Balidogle, in the district of Wanlaweyn in Lower Shabelle province, 60 miles northwest of Mogadishu, where they carry out attacks against al Shabab in the south of the country. The US also provides support for Amisom and Somali security forces and runs counter-piracy operations.

The United States Special Forces have been carrying out military operations in Somalia for over a decade, conducting joint operations with Somali army as well as drone attacks targeting senior al Shabab members – one in 2014 killed the group’s leader Ahmed Godane.

Despite support from the US, European Union, and the Gulf states, the war against al Qaeda’s number one ally remains stalemate. Al Shabab lost major urban settlements, but it is still capable of carrying out high-profile attacks against civilians and government targets inside and outside of Somalia.

On October 3, al Shabab launched two attacks on US and European Union forces. The first attack hit a US military base in Baledogle, and the second one targeted European Union military advisors in Mogadishu.

“With Russian involvement, al Shabab will be decimated completely in months. The Amisom contingent will also be rendered redundant and withdrawn. The biggest problem African leaders face is trusting former colonial masters & former slave holders with continent’s future. Move East,” said Farah Maalim, a former Deputy Speaker of the Kenya National Assembly and a commentator on the Horn of Africa region.

“(President Mohamed) Farmajo and (Prime Minister Hassan) Kheyre finally playing bare-knuckle realpolitik. Get your old Russian friends and your security problems are solved. They are the most dependable Superpower friends. There exists powerful Russo/Somali history. Barre was cheated by crown Prince Fahad to chase the Russians,” he said.

In recent months, there have been flurry of highly-dedicated diplomatic activities between Mogadishu and Moscow.

“Somali people would like to see the Russians come back to Somalia,” said Somalia’s ambassador to Russia, Abdullahi Warsame in September, suggesting the two countries are ready for renewed cooperation. Warsame said he requested for a bilateral meeting between President Mohamed Farmajo and President Vladimir Putin. In July of this year, the first Russian ambassador to Somalia in more than 25 years arrived in Mogadishu.

President Farmajo attended the first-ever Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea city of Sochi between October 23 and 24. Somalia’s Foreign Minister was in Moscow in April this year, attending Russia-Arab League forum and later meeting his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The two discussed strengthening ties between Mogadishu and Moscow and the prospects of new partnership fronts.

Because of its geographical location, Somalia could be another option for Russia to regain its influence in Africa, after trouncing the United States in Middle East.  Somalia and Russia were long-standing allies. But today, there are no meaningful ties between the two.

In 2016, Prime Minister Abdi Sharmarke requested Russian assistance to strengthen the Somali military’s ability in the fight against Al-Shabaab.  Russia responded to consider military cooperation to help Somalia battle terrorism.

Somalia has attractive oil and gas prospects, with experts saying it could be sitting on 100 billion barrels which could make it one of the world’s major oil producers, and because of its instability, it has become the microcosm of the region. Somalia needs a strong partner to help rebuild state institutions and its military. That partner could be Russia.

 

 

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The 10 Somalis Who Shaped the Decade

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The second decade of the 21st century saw some resemblance of stability return to Somalia after two decades of anarchy. The Frontier lists 10 Somalis who made impacts on fellow Somalis and their country. They include game-changing politicians, activists who fought for people’s rights, filmmakers, startup and small business founders, journalists who told positive stories despite the war, conflict, and famine, religious leaders using story-telling to change society and the political system, and those who inspire others.

Hodan Nalayeh

 

Hodan Nalayeh, who grew up in Canada, returned to Somalia to highlight positive stories about her country of birth. Nalayeh has been credited with showing a different side to Somalia to the stories of civil war, militancy, and famine.

Hodan recently returned from Canada to tell positive and inspiring stories about Somalia. She was born in Las Anod in northern Somalia in 1976, but lived most of her life in Alberta and Toronto after her family moved to Canada in the 1980s.

In 2014, she founded Integration TV, the first English language online TV, where she shared positive, uplifting and inspiring stories among the Somali people. She wanted to change the international media narrative on Somalia, which mainly focused on war, poverty, and piracy. Hodan traveled across Somalia as well as the world to promote the Somali culture and art and tell success stories in Somalia and its diaspora. She focused on ordinary Somalis doing extraordinary things in the fields of business, technology, art, and culture, among others.

“Our stories are not that are not about suffering are valid and should be told more often. We are more than our pain. We are living and thriving,” she said.

A day before a horrific attack on Asasey Hotel in Kismayu in July 2019 took her life; Hodan spent the day in the Island of Ilsi near Kismayu, meeting and documenting the lives of a local fishing community.

“The island of Ilsi is an hour away from Kismayu and only local fishermen live there. It is so clean and breathtaking. A perfect place for a day swim with the family. Somalia,” she posted on Twitter.

Sheikh Abdi Hayi

Sheikh Abdi Hayi, an Imam at a Mogadishu mosque, uses stories to shape Somalia’s society and its politics. Stories matter. People make sense of the world through stories and shape up how we understand it. Somalia requires new stories, but people will listen when they themselves are included in the story-line. An Imam at a mosque in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, is doing exactly that, offering a new narrative to show what is possible. Sheikh Abdi is shifting gears and is bringing new ways of telling stories in an unlikely place: a mosque.

Somalis are now giving more attention to his sermons than they would a politician’s speech. The difference between the two is obvious – Abdi’s is entertaining and informative. Politicians focus on how their clans could capture power in the next elections.

For the last three decades, politicians have failed to change the country and get it out of a 30-year-old mess. Somalia’s problems cannot be solved by doing more of the same. New narratives like that of Sheikh Abdi’s are needed – connecting people’s motivations and promoting radical actions. Sheikh Abdi’s stories engage people’s minds, emotions and imaginations, which are drivers of real change – a change Somalia so desperately needs.

Sheikh Abdi focuses on social, cultural and political issues as well as current affairs in his Friday summons, using ‘once upon a time’ tales from pre-television and social media days, and uses examples from the Koran and Hadith – the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon on him.

“I discuss what people think are important in their lives and what interest them. You can guide people in the mosque, this should be the place to discuss what matters to people, it could also be a rehabilitation centre,” he says.

In one of his summons, the Imam discussed relations between the federal and regional governments, and the latter’s opposition to the government in Mogadishu.

“These state governments you see are not what they seem to be. It is tribal governments,” he says.

Sheikh Abdi urges Somalis to abandon clannism and work toward one Somalia.

“Our sister Ilhan Omar is fighting US President Donald Trump. Ilahn and Trump are at the same level. The US Constitution protects both of them,” he told a congregation at a mosque in Mogadishu.

“Ours is a system that no one understands. We do not have a clear path to follow. Why can’t we agree on a system that will guide us?”

Our system is like a person suffering from malaria and continues to take paracetamol drugs to relieve pain and reduce fever instead of going to see a doctor to seek medical care to eradicate the disease from his body, he says.

Sheikh Abdi’s stories are now inspiring Somali communities around the world and they are being shared across dinner tables and mobile phone screens.

Sheikh Mohamed Shakir

Sheikh Mohamed Shakir Ali Hassan is the Chief Minister of Galmudug. He was appointed in December 2017 after a power-sharing deal between Galmudug and Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a. Since then, he has reshaped the politics of Galmudug State.

Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’a is a Somalia-based paramilitary group consisting of Sufis opposed to radical groups such as al Shabaab. In a few years, Sheikh Shakir transformed Ahlu Sunna from a paramilitary group to an influential political force. Ahlu Sunnah is now a major player in central Somalia politics, mainly in Galmudug. The group was allocated 20 members for Galmudug State Assembly although the group and the federal government disagree on election modalities for the state, and qualifications for members of the state assembly.

Abdi Aynte

Abdi Aynte spent many of his years in the early 2000s pounding the pavement in the Twin Cities, gathering stories about his community and sharing glimpses of the audacious journey many Somali-Americans undertook to earn their place in Minnesota.

In 2012, Aynte returned to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, where he started the first think-tank in the country, The Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, and served as the executive director. During that period, Mr. Aynte regularly appeared on local and international media. He also frequently spoke at international platforms and even testified before the US Senate on Somalia.

Aynte is part of the wave of Minnesota Somali-Americans who have recently begun to return to their war-ravaged homeland to help the country rise from its ruins after more than two decades of violence and anarchy.

He is a Somali politician and journalist. He previously worked for the BBC, VOA and Al Jazeera English. He was the former Minister of Planning and International Cooperation of Somalia, having been appointed to the position on 27 January 2015 by the then Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke. He held that position until April 2017.

Aynte has also been credited with the release of the first Population Estimate Survey (PES) in Somalia in 30 years. Although the PES sparked national controversy because it released figures for Somalia’s 18 administrative regions, it was widely welcomed as the first reliable data on population. Aynte was considered one of the most accomplished ministers during the Sharmarke Premiership.

Aynte holds M.A. in Government and International Studies from the Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC, and a B.A. in Journalism and Political Science from the Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

He was responsible for planning and delivering the International London Conference on Somalia in May 2017.

In November 2017, Aynte joined the United Nations as Director of Policy Planning and Strategy based in the Middle East.

Deeq Hassan

Deeq Hassan has developed a mobile app that allows people to order meals and groceries from restaurants and supermarkets, and have them delivered to their doors by the startup’s delivery partners.

The startup was launched after husband and wife Deeq Mohamed Hassan and Sado Ali Baroot moved back to Hargeisa from London and realised there was a huge gap in the market.

“We had to buy lots of stuff for the house and sometimes needed delivery people ourselves, but we could not find any company that covered the last mile,” Deeq said.

“Usually, trusted taxi drivers run such errands, but they are too expensive and you don’t always get exactly what you ordered. So we decided to do a quick assessment and we realised that we were not the only ones that wanted such a service and were ready to pay for it. That’s when my wife said “maybe we should start a delivery company”, and the rest is history.”

It turned out there was quite a demand. Deeq and Sado funded the business from their savings initially, but raised funding from a local angel investor after one month of testing. With this backing, Gulivery was able to build its app and go to the next level.

Gulivery made over 700 deliveries in the first 10 weeks alone in Hargeisa. After one month, they started receiving lots of calls from Mogadishu, from people that wanted us to come there as well.

Gulivery initially had no direct competition, but after it launched in Mogadishu a handful of new delivery companies began operating.

The company made over 500 deliveries in its first month of operation in Mogadishu. Gulivery now has close to 2,000 people signed up for its platform, with around seven percent of those ordering at least two times per month.

Mohamed Sheikh

Mohamed was a pioneer, a believer in a better Somalia, a passionate advocate for Mogadishu, and a rebel determined to create a better future out of the rubble of a devastating civil war.

In 2012, he came into the limelight when he opened Somalia’s first dry cleaner and flower shop in decades. Forever curious, he got the idea after noticing businessmen and government officials taking their suits abroad to get them cleaned. A year later, he opened the city’s first flower shop—a much-needed, hopeful, and romantic injection into a nation taking baby steps out of over two decades of war.

Mohamed founded Startup Grind Mogadishu, an affiliate of the Google-powered global startup community aimed at encouraging entrepreneurs. He was also a judge on the Inspire Somalia television show, which gave budding entrepreneurs the chance to pitch and bring their dreams to fruition. Through his actions and ambitious business plans, Mohamed was an exemplar of a buoyant city, showing those in and out what could be done to revive war-torn Somalia.

He was also a judge on the Inspire Somalia television show, which gave budding entrepreneurs the chance to pitch and bring their dreams to fruition. Through his actions and ambitious business plans, Mohamed was an exemplar of a buoyant city, showing those in and out what could be done to revive war-torn Somalia.

In 2013, during a TED talk, he said, for him, it wasn’t “only about opening up a business, it’s about bringing something that people need.”

In August 2012, gunmen assaulted him in Mogadishu. He was later pronounced dead after undergoing surgery.

 

Harun Maaruf

Harun Maruf has almost 30 years of experience in journalism. He is one of the founders of the independent Somali media, which emerged after the collapse of the repressive government in 1991.

In the past, he worked for Associated Press and BBC as a reporter in Somalia. Harun is the longest-serving editor of VOA Somali, from July 2008 until today just eight months after joining the Service. In addition to his responsibilities as a senior editor, he introduced hard-hitting programs at VOA Somali including investigative reports and series programs.

In March 2018, he launched The Investigative Dossier, a bi-weekly, groundbreaking investigative program and the first of its kind by Somali media. Harun calls it the greatest journalism work in his career. His work influenced policy changes by the Somali government. Many media outlets rely on his tweets for stories related to Somalia. He provides breaking and exclusive news.

 

Mohamed Omer

Mohamed is a life coach. Mohamed speaks of the emotionally crippling challenges that the Somali youth face in the post-civil war era and how that inspired him to establish The Success Institute for Human Development.

He is a certified business and performance coach, consultant, mentor and Somalia’s most popular keynote speaker on business, life, and leadership.

He has spent the past decade coaching, teaching, and motivating millions of Somalis online and offline. His practical and contextualised advice and life strategies help people gain clarity and create positive change from the inside out leading to tangible results and skills that help people push through the everyday challenges we all face in life, work, and love.

He is the most booked Somali speaker across the world making him an authority in the industry whose work comes both in Somali and in English.

He works with people; businesses and non-profits helping them push through challenges, produce worthy results and lead a meaningful existence.

Mohamed takes great passion in maximising human potential. Hence, his engaging and world-class training workshops, lectures and stylish coaching programs deliver powerful life and leadership empowerment messages and cultivates energy of change.

His social media platforms inspire more than quarter million people every month and his TEDx Talk is one of the most popular of all time ever done by a Somali.

Almaas Eman

Almaas came from a family of prominent activists and gained a reputation as a tireless advocate for survivors of sexual violence. She supported the organization that her mother, Fartuun Elman, runs with Almaas’ sister, Ilwad. The group has supported countless survivors of sexual violence as well as former child soldiers from various armed groups. Her father, Elman Ali Ahmed, was a peace activist who was assassinated in Mogadishu in 1996. She was a committed civil society campaigner

On November 20, Almas was killed by a bullet in Mogadishu while driving from a meeting in the heavily fortified Halane compound, near the international airport. It is unclear whether she was targeted or hit by a stray bullet, possibly fired by one of the many local, regional, or international security forces present in the area.

Almaas was not only an important role model, but also an incredibly warm and humble individual.

Aato

Aato is a Somali-American film director, producer, entrepreneur and media consultant. He is the founder of Olol Films, a production company at the forefront of the Somaliwood movement within the Somali film industry.

He is the founder of Art & Creativity House of Somalia. Aato launched Bartamaha, a multimedia website dedicated to Somali music, short films, news, and culture. He hosts the weekly television and online program the Wargelin Show, which focuses on Somali politics and society.

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You Cannot Buy Happiness, but You Can Buy a Plane Ticket

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The travel industry is changing, and here’s how one young man is leading it

Do you get a bad feeling when you are planning for your next trip or looking for the best tour or travel package, and you do not know where to turn to? Abdulllahi Adan Hassan knows exactly how you feel, and that is why he founded I Fly Travel Agency.

One company working to change the travel industry is I Fly Travel Agency. I Fly, Founded in April 2018, is changing how people travel, from planning your journey, buying a ticket to reaching your destination, and is effectively reducing booking costs by delivering a low cost solution to travelers.

You can get your ticket from where you seat, no physical presence needed, and you do not have to come to the office. This saves you time and energy, says Hassan, the founder and CEO of I Fly Travel Agency.

“I am investing in the talent, technology and innovation needed to thrive in the travel industry. Clients are drawn to that forward-thinking approach, and it gives us a steep advantage and puts us ahead of our competitors,” said Hassan.

I-Fly, a member of KATA – the Kenya Association of Travel Agents – covers all domestic routes as well as international destinations. One of I Fly’s biggest achievements, Hassan says, is making the Wajir route very competitive. Because of efforts by his travel agency, more airlines are now flying to Wajir and the entire northeastern region, which was previously inaccessible due to poor road network. Now many people can fly because of affordable flight tickets.

Hassan played an important role and was the go-to-man in the launch of Silverstone Airlines flights to Wajir. In June 2019, Silverstone became the third airline to fly to Wajir from Wilson Airport in Nairobi daily. Hassan also played an instrumental role in the introduction of Jetways Airlines to the Wajir route.

The company is headquartered at Wilson Business Park inside Wilson Airport compound, and has several offices across Kenya including Wajir, Mombasa, Lamu, Malindi, Lodwar and Eldoret. Hassan says he plans to open more branches in the near future. According to Hassan, I Fly boasts 10,000 passengers annually.

I-Fly CEO Abdullahi Hassan in his office at Wilson Business Park, Wilson Airport, Nairobi

Hassan also has a bigger dream. He says he plans to own fully-fledged airlines in the next 5 to 10 years. He will fulfill at least half of that dream, he said with a broad smile during an interview in his office at Wilson Business Park.

The travel agency has also specialised in helicopter charter, air parcel – a unique development in the industry where your parcel s delivered to your doorstep or collected from sales offices, hotel booking, airport transfers and customised tours.

I-Fly has collaborated with Kenya’s leading comedy group – the Lough Industry – the parent company of Churchill Show. Through this partnership, the company has undertaken a number of corporate social responsibility activities. I Fly is now the official travel partner of Churchill Show.

Before venturing into the travel business, Hassan, the fourth born of a family of eight, was a Kenya Air Force air traffic controller. He joined the army in 2008, and quit in 2016 after serving for eight years to vie for a political seat in Wajir. In 2016, members of his extended family approached him to run for a parliamentary seat in the 2017 elections in a clan-negotiated democracy. This prompted him to quit the Kenya Air Force. He did not succeed in his political pursuit and quit the race before reaching the ballot. Later, he joined Skyward Express as an operations manager. After a few months’ instinct at Wilson, he was made the manager in the company’s Eldoret office. A few months later, he was appointed Skyward sales and marketing manager. It was while at Skyward that he brought Jetways to the Wajir route, leading to fare drop from 13,000 shillings to 6,000 shillings.

Hassan, an alumnus of Waberi Primary School and Khorof Secondary, was always a business-oriented person. He remains the first and the only person to sell sugar canes in Wajir town. He says, while in grade 6 at Waberi, his father brought him and his siblings some sugar canes from a trip in Nairobi. Instead of enjoying the new product, foreign to many Wajir residents, Hassan decided to sell the canes at the local market.

“That’s the time I made my first cash,” he said.

“I always had the dream of running my own business,” he added.

Hassan is also the first in Wajir to ride mkokoteni – a handcart. During school holidays, Hassan would help his father sell merchandise from his shop moving the mkokoteni from one point to another.

More than 10 years after his last mkokoteni ride, Hassan is busy planning your next flight.

“You can’t buy happiness, buy you can buy a plane ticket,” he finished the interview with this quote.

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