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Coronavirus crisis

Coronavirus has muted Somali ‘Fadhi ku dirir’ – the street political analysts

Editorial Team

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Having a cup of tea and catching up with friends is an everyday part of life for Somalis around the world. Because of this, tea joints and coffee shops have sprung up.

Tea joints have become an important institution for Somalis across the Horn of Africa region, and those in the West. They do not only serve tea, but also other purposes such as relaying and receiving information, mostly on politics.

Not all come to these joint for tea, they come for ‘Fadhi ku dirir’. Each day, at dawn, the male exodus from the household begins as the cities and towns come back to life. Those who do not work make their way to the cafés after an early breakfast, they remain in armchair combat until returning home for lunch and the afternoon siesta. Those who work will join them following the afternoon asr prayers; both groups return to their homes only for dinner and sleep.

These are the ‘fadhi ku dirir’ political analysts. They are the Somali men gathered in public spaces, especially in tea and coffee shops, some in open spaces and under trees in rural areas and small towns, debating and analysing current political affairs in Somalia and Somali dominated regions across the Horn of Africa. These are the men discussing politics over a session of coffee and tea in Java and Starbucks. These men are not actively involved in politics, but they have the desire to talk about it. They support opposing sides, not because of ideology but because of belonging to the same clan. They are the informal political analysts, they do ‘fadhi ku dirir’ – fighting while sitting down.

During ‘Fadhi ku diri’ is a debate that has its roots in the clan divisions that tore Somalia apart, and continues to do so.

These are also political gossipers. In an oral society, speakers can reach everyday people in ways writers cannot.

‘Fadhi ku dirir’ existed during the colonial period, and went on until 1991 when a coalition of clan militias forced military president Siyad Barre out of power and forced him to flee the country. But it flourished from then and became an essential activity for Somalis around the world.

Now, because of the threat posed by the coronavirus, ‘Fadhi ku dirir’ has been affected. Everyone is staying at home, quarantined or self-isolating. No more ‘fighting while sitting down.’ Coffee shops only offer take-aways and drive-through. Some restaurants are closed.

“I used to go to ‘Shah macan’ area every afternoon for Fadhi ku dirir. Now I can’t because we need to practice social-distancing, and the government has banned gathering of people,” says Hassan Abdi, a Nairobi resident.

“I am missing it.”

‘Shah macan’ – sweet tea – is a popular tea joints in Nairobi’s Eastleigh district. Tea stalls dot along 12th Street, and the men sip their tea in the open, debating the latest political stories and analysing them.

‘Shah macan’ is open 24 hours a day. But no more.

The most affected ‘Fadhi ku dirir’ session is the one that happens at Starbucks, located at Riverside area in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

No matter the time, whether it’s over the weekend, a Wednesday afternoon, or Friday night, you will find groups of Somali men, in deep discussion, most disagreeing on everything under discussion, sometimes till midnight – especially during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Somalis have been resettled in Minnesota when they fled a civil war in their country in 1991, and Minneapolis became a hub for the Somali community, and soon the city had the largest Somali population in the United States. The Cedar-Riverside area, where the Starbucks is located, is often called Little Mogadishu. It is where Somalis have lived, worked, and socialized since resettlement.

The Starbucks at Cedar-Riverside is the global headquarters for Somali ‘Fadhi ku dirir.’ Here, Somali politics is debated, government opposed and supported, and clan praised and others disparaged.

‘Somali Starbucks’ is now ‘deserted.’ the talkers can’t have debates in it, they have to wait until the coronavirus vanishes. For now, they can only order for a take-away.

As coronavirus continues to kill tens of thousands of people across the world, the ‘Fadhi ku dirir’ experts and the informal political analysts will remain at home. But when the virus goes away, and we don’t know when, they will be back and with a new agenda to discuss. By then, Somalia will be preparing to go to the polls.

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Coronavirus crisis

Four Kenya presidential aides catch Covid-19 weeks after 100 lawmakers gathered at State House

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President Uhuru Kenyatta addressing Kenyans from State House. Photo: PSCU.
   

Four presidential staff have tested positive for Covid-19, becoming the first Kenyan government officials to have been infected with the deadly virus.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and members of the First Family are safe, according to State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena.

“As part of proactive measures being implemented to contain the spread of Covid-19, State House staff are regularly tested for the disease. The tests are conducted on all staff including His Excellency the President and members of his family,” Ms Dena said in a statement on Monday, June 15.

The four, who were tested for coronavirus during a mass screening on 11 June at State House, are undergoing treatment at Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital outside Nairobi, and their families and contacts are being monitored.

Extra measures have now been put in place for staff residing outside State House to contain the spread of the virus.

It is still unclear how the four staff members were infected with coronavirus. However, State House has seen a beehive of activity in the last two weeks, with the president holding two parliamentary group meetings for Jubilee, the ruling party, attended by more than 100 lawmakers, and on June 1, the compound hosted Madaraka Day celebrations to mark Kenya’s 57th independence anniversary.

Kenya has so far recorded 3,727 Coid-19 cases and 104 deaths while 1,286 people have recovered from the disease. The country just tested 118,701 people out of 47 million.

Kenya, East and Central Africa’s biggest and most advanced economy, is struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus as latest figures show surge in daily positive cases. The country is in a dusk-to-dawn curfew since March 27 and movement in and out of some towns including the capital Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa have been banned. Despite the government saying the curfew and the secession of movement has helped in reducing the spread of the coronavirus, the economy has taken a beating, with 342,000 people losing their jobs.

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Coronavirus crisis

Somalis observed Eid at home. But in al Shabab-held towns, they gathered in their thousands

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Somalis across the country celebrated Eid-ul-fitr on Saturday, May 23, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

And as Covid-19 sweeps across the Horn of Africa nation, the government urged citizens to perform the Eid prayer at their homes. But it was a different scenario in areas under the control of al Shabab militants.

Despite the al Qaeda-linked group acknowledging the danger posed by Covid19, the disease caused by the novel Coronavirus, thousands of people gathered at public grounds in areas under its control  to celebrate the end of Ramadan, risking their lives and increasing the likelyhood of the spread of Coronavirus at a time when people across the world practice social distancing.

In Kunya Barrow, one of al Shabab-held towns in Lower Shabelle province, hundreds of worshippers gathered at Sayid Mohamed Hassan Square for celebrations.

And in Jilib, al Shabab headquarters in Middle Jubba province, thousands congregated and marked Eid-ul-fitr. Other towns under al Shabab control in central and Southern Somalia observed Eid in the public.

Worshippers during Eid prayers in Saakow, an al Shabab-held town in southern Somalia. 

After months in denial, on May 13, al Shabab held an extraordinary summit to discuss Covid-19 and the impact it has on the community, and established a seven-member task force to deal with a possible outbreak of the virus in areas under its control.

The task force, comprising of doctors, religious leaders and intellectuals, will coordinate the group’s preparedness, prevention and response to the threat of the disease and advise the al Shabab leadership.

“Considering the fact that Somalis are communal society, frequently visiting one another, and are connected, there is possibility that Covid-19 may reach areas that have not been affected,” read part of a press release from al Shabab political office.
Somalia has more than 1,600 Covid-19 cases, and 61 deaths. The first case was reported on March 16 when a Somali citizen who was returning home from China tested positive for the virus.
Somalia lacks essential equipment for the intensive care that Covid-19 patients need. However, Turkey has donated medical supplies to help the government deal with the pandemic.
If the virus spreads across the country, it would be hard to treat everyone, especially, those in rural areas where al Shabab controls and may prevent health workers from reaching those areas.

The al Qaeda-linked group controls swathes of land in central and Southern Somalia, and is fighting to overthrow the Somali government and wants to implement its own version of a strict Islamic law.

Al Shabab is known to bar aid and health workers from entering areas it controls, but considering its acknowledgment of the dangers of the pandemic, it may allow a few health workers in.

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Coronavirus crisis

Al Shabab has been ignoring Coronavirus threats, now it is determined to fight it

Editorial Team

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Somali workers in protective suits and civilians carry the body of a man suspected to have died of the coronavirus disease, for burial in Madina district outside of Mogadishu. REUTERS
   

For months, Somalia’s al Shabab group has been ignoring the threats posed by the novel coronavirus as the virus continued to spread across the Horn of Africa nation.

In March, the group held its first meeting on Covid-19, but didn’t take the disease seriously. In the meeting hall, attendees, hundreds of them, didn’t consider the global standard of practicing social-distancing where people keep at least two meters apart from each other to limit the spread of the virus.

It said the coronavirus crisis was a ‘blessing in disguise’ for the group.

The Coronavirus could limit military operations, especially the US drone attacks on al Shabab targets and anti-terror summits around the world allowing al Shabab to regroup, accordimg to a report by Somali Memo, a mouth-piece for al Shabab.

However, the US has stepped up its air campaign against al Shabab in the first three months of this year, targeting the group 33 times in 2020.

In the March meeting, al Shabab termed the coronavirus as ‘God’ s wrath to punish non-Muslims.

But on Wednesday, May 13, al Shabab held an extraordinary summit to discuss Covid-19 and the impact it has on the community, and established a seven-member task force to deal with a possible outbreak of the virus in areas under its control.

The task force, comprising of doctors, religious leaders and intellectuals, will coordinate the group’s preparedness, prevention and response to the threat of the disease and advise the al Shabab leadership.

“Considering the fact that Somalis are communal society, frequently visiting one another, and are connected, there is possibility that Covid-19 may reach areas that have not been affected,” read part of a press release from al Shabab political office.

Somalia has more than 1,219 Covid-19 cases, and 52 deaths. The first case was reported on March 16 when a Somali citizen who was returning home from China tested positive for the virus. Somalia lacks essential equipment for the intensive care that Covid-19 patients need. However, Turkey has donated medical supplies to help the government deal with the pandemic.

If the virus spreads across the country, it would be hard to treat everyone, especially, those in rural areas where al Shabab controls and may prevent health workers from reaching those areas.

The al Qaeda-linked group controls swathes of land in central and Southern Somalia, and is fighting to overthrow the Somali government and wants to implement its own version of a strict Islamic law.

Al Shabab is known to bar aid and health workers from entering areas it controls, but considering its acknowledgment of the dangers of the pandemic, it may allow a few health workers in.

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