As stability returns after three decades of anarchy, Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, is becoming a magnet, attracting the country’s diaspora to invest and to help out those who stayed behind.
The country’s diaspora is coming back to make a difference and take advantage of what Mogadishu and the rest of the country have to offer, bringing in expertise and creativity, and innovative ideas.
They have come back to advance women’s rights agenda, start businesses to rebuild a shuttered economy, set-up civil society institutions to teach civilians on the dangers of joining radicalised and terrorism groups and the importance of public institutions and to put the government on check.
But not everyone likes them. They became targets of al Shabab and ‘unknown gunmen’ because they are disrupting the old ways of doing things. Al-Shabab, which is fighting to topple the Somali government, does not like them and its reaction is deadly.
The group accuses the diaspora returnees of importing Western culture to erode the Somali society. The group targets hotels in the capital where the returnees reside.
Most of Somalia’s businesses are managed unprofessionally by people with no or less knowledge, and some are owned by warlords or politicians. When the Somalis from the diaspora with university education and exposure returned, they disrupted everything; they brought in new innovations and new ideas. Some returned to help and advise the government in different fields, taking key positions in the federal and state governments.
This week, Almas Elman, a Somali-Canadian peace activist, was shot dead in Mogadishu, inside the heavily-fortified Halane Camp, near the international airport. She was driving to the airport after attending a meeting at the Elman Peace Centre.
Almas, a former diplomat, becomes the latest member of Somalia’s diaspora to be killed after returning home to help rebuild the country after decades of conflict.
Almas’ family founded a prominent peace centre in Somalia in the 1990s, and her sister Ilwad Elman was a nominee for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
The rest of Alma’s family had returned to Somalia in recent years to help run the peace centre working to end the violence. Their work includes a programme called ‘Drop the Gun, Pick Up the Pen’ that encourages child soldiers conscripted by militia gunmen to return to peace.
Hodan Nalayeh, another Somali-Canadian and a journalist returned to Somalia to tell positive stories—the she was killed. Hodan shaped a new Somali narrative.
At least 26 people have been killed and more others wounded when al-Shabab gunmen struck a hotel in southern Somali city of Kismayu on Friday, July 12.
The attack began with a suicide bomb ramming a car laden with explosives into the main entrance of Asasey Hotel followed by gunfire. Politicians, government officials and the diaspora Somalis visiting the city frequent the hotel.
Those killed include journalist Hodan Nalayeh and her husband Farid Jama. Nalayeh recently returned from Canada to tell positive and inspiring stories about Somalia.
Hodan was born in Las Anod in northern Somalia in 1976, but lived most of her life in Alberta and Toronto, after her family move to Canada in the 1980s.
In 2014, Nalayeh 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 travelled 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 extra ordinary 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,” one of her tweets said.
A day before the horrific attack on the Asasey Hotel took her life; Nalayeh 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 tweeted.
Although minor security incidences have been recorded, Kismayu has been relatively peaceful since 2012 when Somali forces backed by Kenyan troops forced al-Shabab militants out of the city.
Hodan was among a large number of Somalis who returned to the country in the recent past after realisation of relative stability to set up businesses and innovation centres and to help rebuild their country devastated by a three-decade-long unrest, and disrupted everything with new ideas and innovations. Most of the diaspora community who returned to the country did so after al-Shabab was driven out of Mogadishu in August 2011.
In August of last year, gunmen shot and dead Mohamed Ali , the first person to open a flour shop and a drycleaner in Mogadishu.
Mohamed opened the first dry cleaning shop in Mogadishu in 2012 and set up the city’s first and only flower shop. He also started Start-up Grind, a Google-sponsored global independent start-up community that nurtures start-ups in more than 150 countries. The local media described him as “the face of young entrepreneurs.”
Most members of the Somali diaspora community began returning in 2012 – a year after al-Shabab was driven out of Mogadishu.
The returnees are not fully appreciated; they accused of stealing jobs from the ‘locals’ – those who remained behind after the civil war and never left the country. They are paid more than the locals for the same work done. Because of these and other factors, the diaspora Somalis continue to be targeted by those who do not want change.
White House endorses Somaliland, Taiwan diplomatic ties
The United States is backing the recent diplomatic engagement between Somaliland and Taiwan, a decision that will infuriate both Mogadishu and Beijing.
The support comes barely a month after Hargeysa and Taipei announced they are opening representative offices in each other’s capital.
On July 1, Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu said Taipei and Hargeysa had agreed to establish ties based on ‘friendship and a shared commitment to common values of freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law.’
The two sides have signed agreements in February 2020, but only made the details public in July. According to the agreement, the new relationship will focus on agriculture, education, energy, fisheries, health, information and communications, and mining.
“Great to see Taiwan stepping up its engagement in East Africa in a time of such tremendous need. Taiwan is a great partner in health, education, technical assistance, and more,” the US National Security Council said in a tweet.
The National Security Council is the principal forum used by the US President for consideration of national security, military and foreign policy with senior national security advisors and cabinet members.
The move by the US will enrage China, which says the People’s Republic of China represents ‘whole of China’ on the global stage.
China describes Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.
While the United States has no official relations with Taiwan, the Trump administration has ramped up backing for the island, with arms sales and laws to help Taiwan deal with pressure from China.
Taiwan is claimed by China, which sees the island part of its own territory. Beijing says the island could be brought l under its control by military force if it deems necessary. In elections and public opinion surveys.
Somaliland is a self-declared republic which broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991 when a coalition of clan militia toppled President Siyad Barre.
Although no country recognises Somaliland, it has an effective government system; has its own currency, a central bank, police, army and other state institutions.
Only 15 countries recognise Taiwan as an independent nation.
Somaliland is located in one of the most strategically contested parts of the world – The Horn of Africa. The region serves as a political and cultural bridge between Africa and the Middle East and borders the Red Sea — a gateway to the Suez Canal and a vital corridor for maritime trade.
Kenya to reopen places of worship next week
Kenya will reopen its places of worship in four phases beginning Tuesday next week, the Interfaith Council looking into opening of mosques, churches and temples has recommended.
However, there are guidelines to be met before the reopening takes place. These include; hand-washing, wearing of proper face-masks at all times, practicing social distancing, no more than one hour service, attendance of not more than 100 people at a time and people aged above 58 years of age should not be allowed in.
The council, working with the ministries of health of interior, said it had meetings where it received views from various religious leaders on how places of worship would begin operating in compliance with health safety rules.
Kenya closed mosques, churches and temples mid March after the country recorded the first few cases of COVID-19.
Somalia has a ‘man problem’, and it needs to fix it
This week, a group photo of director-generals of government ministries appeared on social media. The director-generals were 22, all men. Somalis asked, where are the women? No one in government bothered to answer that question.
While there are an uncountable number of professional Somali women, the photo gave the impression that there are no women who are qualified to hold this kind of work.
Somali women are under-represented in every sector of the society: economic, social and politics. The minimum quota for women in parliamentary representation is 30 percent, but this has not been achieved yet: women have just 24 percent of seats.
Although this is an improvement, women were not involved in the initial stage of the election. Currently, the Somali politics is a clan-based which requires male traditional elders to select delegates which would in turn elect members of parliament. Even if the country goes for a direct election, women will still face the same challenges.
Women rights are some of the many casualties of a three-decade old civil war in Somalia that followed the collapse of the last effective central government in 1991.
Somalia is now ranked the fourth most dangerous country to be a woman and the endless civil war continues to fuel violence against women.
The government has taken positive steps to create laws that guarantee women their rights, doing away all forms of discrimination in employment, politics and education. The problem is it has not been implemented.
For example, in 2016, the cabinet proposed a bill, known as the National Gender Policy, and sent it to parliament for approval. It is still lying there. If passed, we do not know when, women will the legal rights to earn as much as men and to run for political office, including the presidency.
A number of women have declared their interest to stand in the last presidential election, but withdrew their candidacy due to threats from al Shabab group and other sections of the society.
Islamic scholars as well as ordinary Somalis condemned the bill. They said it promoted Western culture by granting “excessive” rights to women, and some even thought it endorses same sex relationships.
Al Shabab, which is fighting to overthrow the government in Mogadishu, has also condemned the gender policy at the time, saying it “promotes Western culture.” A pro-Al-Shabab website Somali Memo reported the policy under the headline: “Somali government passes law legalising same sex marriage.”
The country’s top Islamic body, the Somali Religious Council, reacted to the proposed gender policy bill. “It is a dangerous policy, which has nothing to do with Islam,” said Sheikh Bashir Ahmed, the council chairman.
It is a recipe for rebellion against their parents and husbands; a situation that is likely to weaken Muslim society, the council’s chair said.
In an interview with Radio Shebelle, Ahmed accused the peacekeeping force Amisom – African Union Mission in Somalia – of promoting the policy by helping organise women conferences. This prompted Information Minister Mohamed Mareye that Amisom was not involved in policy making.
Social media users reacted too, with many contributors mistaking the “gender equality” to mean same sex marriage.
The Somali Religious Council later said it supports the bill after consulting the government, although it insisted the policy gives ‘excessive right’ to women.
In 2013, a court in Mogadishu handed a six-month jail sentence to a 19 year-old woman who said members of the country’s security forces raped her. Two journalists who reported the rape were also jailed for “defamation and insulting state institutions.” Reporting on rape is one of the most sensitive topics in the conservative Horn of Africa nation due to culture and social stigmas.
And in 2018, al Shabab killed a woman they accused of being married to 11 women at the same time. They buried her neck-deep and stoned her to death at a public square in southern town of Sablale. Victims of al Shabab brutality do not get fair legal representation at al Shabab “Islamic courts”.
These are just examples, a big number of Somali women continue to suffer the same way.
Until the government changes its behaviour toward women and women in parliament and outside of it speak up for their rights, more than half of Somalia’s population will continue to suffer in injustice.
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