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.
The hard numbers: Who has troops in Somalia?
The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) is planning to cut 1,000 troops from its peacekeeping mission in the Horn of Africa country in February, and later completely withdraw.
Somali National Forces are expected to take over the responsibility of securing the country from al Shabab militants once Amisom complete its withdrawal.
Amisom draws its troops from Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. Allowances for the troops are paid by the EU, and logistical support – from food to medical supplies – is provided by the UN.
Under a transition plan agreed in 2017, Amisom is required to conduct gradual handover to Somali security forces, secure main supply routes, reduce the threat posed by al Shabab and conduct targeted offensive operations that support the transition plan.
When President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo was elected in February 2017, he promised to rebuild and reform the country’s military which has been crippled by corruption and lack of modern equipment. Three years later, a lot has been achieved but much needs to be done.
Amisom troops are in Somalia for 12 years now helping the government battle al Shabab and expand its authority outside Mogadishu.
Amisom plans to withdraw complete from Somalia by December 2020, and, if this happens, there would be security vacuum. The Somali army is not yet ready to take over the responsibility of securing the country.
Security gains by Amisom and the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled in late 2020 and early 2021 respectively could be in jeopardy if Amisom goes ahead in its withdrawal plan.
Although the Farmajo administration undertook some reforms within the military, like paying soldiers regularly and increasing their pay, eliminating middlemen and cutting out commanders who siphoned soldiers’ meager salary, lack of capacity and basic supplies and weapons will hinder its performance against al Shabab group which has been weakened but still capable of conducting high-profile attacks against civilians as well as state installations.
When the African Union (AU) troops complete their mission in Somalia, a UN Security Council resolution was that a United Nations peacekeeping mission replaces them. That plan has now been scrapped. The AU troops will hand over the responsibility of securing the country directly to Somali forces. Already, some places like Warsheikh Forward Operating Base, Mogadishu Stadium, Somali National University and Jaale Siyad Military Academy were handed over to Somali forces.
How women contribute to al Shabab resilience
Somalia is ranked the fourth most dangerous country in the world to be a woman, fueled by a three-decade-long civil unrest. Women have borne the brunt of hardships as a result of poverty, conflict, and clan-based culture, according to UN Women, a UN organisation dedicated to gender equality.
Women face rape and other forms of violence both from the government and al Shabab militant group.
Al Shabab, since its formation in 2006, has inflicted serious sufferings and punishment for Somali women. The al Qaeda-linked group has stoned to death and flogged a considerable number of women, accused of committing crimes ranging from extra-marital affairs, to pre-marital sex, to theft.
Women are not given fair legal representation and they are not allowed to appeal. They are sentenced to death or flogged without clear evidence.
Despite women facing brutal violence, they form an important social base for al Shabab.
But why do women play an important role critical in the resilience of a terror group hell-bent on punishing them?
“While al Shabab imposes restrictions upon women, it can provide some security and its courts often uphold Islamic family law to their benefit,” a report by International Crisis Group said.
Some women recruit, fundraise, spy or smuggle arms for the group. Women’s cooperation with al Shabab is not out of sympathy. Their cooperation is a matter of survival.
“Where it controls territory it can, however, offer women and girls a degree of physical safety – hardly complete, but still appreciable – in a country where they are otherwise exposed to violence,” part of the report read.
Through its courts, al Shabab upholds tenets of Islamic family law that, to some degree, protect women’s rights in matters such as divorce and inheritance in a manner the official justice system does not. While many instances of forced marriage between militants and women and girls exist, for some families marrying daughters into al Shabab bring some sort of financial stability.
Women gather intelligence that enables military operations or extortion, or ferry explosives ahead of attacks, taking advantage of the fact that security forces tend to watch women less closely than they do men.
But women do not participate in military operations directly and they are not part of the group’s decision-making organ.
Although al Shabab deploys far fewer women suicide bombers than the Nigerian jihadi group Boko Haram, in some cases it used women to carry out suicide missions because they attract little suspicion.
In July 2019, a female bomber blew herself up inside Mogadishu mayor’s office, killing eight people, including the mayor, Abdirahman Osman Yarisow.
Al-Shabab, which claimed credit for the attack, said it was targeting the UN special envoy to Somalia who visited the mayor’s office and left an hour before the attack.
Due to poverty and seeking ‘better future’, young Kenyan women have traveled to Somalia to join al Shabab or have been recruited within Kenya to aid in the group’s attacks.
Although the Somali government did some progress; enrolling more girls to schools in areas under its control and increasing the number of civil servants, the country’s broken justice system offers women little.
The country’s parliament is yet to pass a bill that seeks to promote women’s rights.
Somalia: Facts and Timeline
We look at Somalia, a country that has been at war with itself, clans fighting for power for close to three decades and extremist group al Shabab fighting to topple the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.
Although political crisis and terrorism still hinder the much needed progress, the country is now recovering from 30 years of anarchy. The government with the backing of African Union troops are gaining grounds against al Shabab.
Somalia borders the Gulf of Aden in the north, the Indian Ocean in the east, Kenya to the west, Ethiopia and Djibouti in the northwest.
Here are FACTS about Somalia:
Area: 637,657 sq km (slightly smaller than Texas)
Population: 15,000,000 (July 2018 est.)
Median age: 18.2 years
Ethnic groups: Somali 85%, Bantu and other non-Somali 15% (including 30,000 Arabs)
Religion: Sunni Muslim (Islam)
GDP (purchasing power parity): $20.44 billion (2017 est.)
Somalia is part of the Horn of Africa in the region of eastern Africa. Other countries include Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. This region is subject to repetitive cycles of drought and famine.
July 1, 1960 – The new country of Somalia is formed through the union of newly independent territories British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland.
1969 – Mohamed Siyad Barre leads a bloodless coup and becomes dictator.
1977-1978 – Somalia invades the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Ethiopia rebels and weakens Somalia’s forces. The two countries have fought on and off since 1960.
1988 – Somalia and Ethiopia sign a peace treaty.
January 1991 – President Barre is forced into exile after the United Somali Congress overthrows his military regime in Mogadishu.
December 1992 – Faction leader Ali Mahdi Mohammed and warlord General Mohammed Farah Aidid sign a cease-fire brokered by US envoy Robert Oakley.
December 1992 – Operation Restore Hope is launched by UN coalition forces and led by the United States in an attempt to restore enough order to ensure food distribution to the Somali people.
June 5, 1993 – General Aidid’s forces attack and kill 24 UN troops from Pakistan.
September 25, 1993 – An American Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter is shot down over Mogadishu, and three soldiers on board are killed.
October 3-4, 1993 – The Battle of Mogadishu: Two Black Hawk UH-60 helicopters are shot down during a raid on Aidid’s high-level staff at Mogadishu’s Olympic Hotel. Eighteen US soldiers and hundreds of Somalis are killed. Pilot Michael Durant is captured.
October 9, 1993 – Aidid calls for a cease-fire with UN forces.
October 14, 1993 – Pilot Michael Durant is freed.
January 1994 – Elder clansmen agree to a new cease-fire. Aidid and Mohammed do not attend the talks.
March 25, 1994 – US troops complete their withdrawal after a 15-month mission.
March 2, 1995 – The last of the UN peacekeepers are evacuated.
June 27, 2005 – Pirates hijack the MV Semlow, a ship carrying UN food aid, and hold the vessel for 100 days.
October 12, 2005 – Another UN ship carrying aid, the MV Miltzow, is hijacked and held for more than 30 hours.
October 2005 – Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi calls on neighboring countries to send warships to patrol Somalia’s coast.
November 27, 2005 – Pirates free a Ukrainian cargo ship seized 40 days prior off the coast of Somalia.
April 4, 2006 – The South Korean ship Dongwon-ho 628 is seized off the coast of Somalia. Four months later, the crew is released after a ransom is allegedly paid.
April 2006 – Somalia grants the US Navy permission to patrol coastal waters.
February 25, 2007 – Pirates hijack the MV Rozen, a cargo ship delivering UN food aid to Somalia. The ship and crew are released after 40 days.
2008 – The United States designates Al-Shabaab, a militant group in Somalia linked to al Qaeda, as a foreign terrorist organization.
June 2008 – The UN Security Council unanimously votes to allow countries to send warships into Somalia’s waters to combat piracy.
September 25, 2008 – The Ukrainian ship, the MV Faina, is attacked. Its cargo consists of 33 T-72 tanks, rocket launchers and small arms. The ship is released in February after pirates claim they have received a $3.2 million ransom payment.
November 2008 – The Saudi supertanker Sirius Star is hijacked. The ship is released in January 2009 after pirates claim to have received three million dollars in ransom.
April 8, 2009 – Somali pirates hijack the US-flagged cargo ship Maersk Alabama. The captain, Richard Phillips, offers himself as a hostage in order to protect his crew.
April 12, 2009 – Phillips is rescued when US Navy SEAL snipers fatally shoot three pirates and take the fourth into custody.
June 19, 2011 – Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo resigns. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali is appointed as an interim leader until a new prime minister can be appointed.
July 20, 2011 – The United Nations declares a famine in the southern Somalia regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle.
July 22, 2011 – Terrorist group Al-Shabaab reverses an earlier pledge to allow aid agencies to provide food in famine-stricken areas of southern Somalia.
August 2, 2011 – The United States updates guidance so humanitarian organizations will not be penalized for aid inadvertently falling into the hands of terrorist group Al-Shabaab.
August 8, 2011 – US President Barack Obama announces $105 million in emergency funding for Somalia.
August 11, 2011 – The United States announces another $17 million in emergency aid for Somalia.
September 5, 2011 – The UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit releases a report saying a total of four million people in Somalia need humanitarian aid and 750,000 people are in danger of “imminent starvation.”
October 4, 2011 – More than 70 people are killed and 150 injured when a truck filled with explosives drives into a government complex in Mogadishu. Most of the victims are students, who were registering for a Turkish education program, and their parents. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility.
February 2, 2012 – UK Foreign Secretary William Hague visits Mogadishu becoming the first top UK official to visit Somalia in 20 years.
September 10, 2012 – Somali parliament members select Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new president. The vote marks a milestone for the nation, which has not had a stable central government since Dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown 21 years ago.
January 11, 2013 – French forces attempt to rescue a French intelligence commando held hostage in Somalia by Al-Shabaab. The raid leaves a French soldier dead, another soldier missing and 17 Islamist fighters dead. French President Francois Hollande later acknowledges that the operation “did not succeed” and resulted in the “sacrifice” of two French soldiers and “maybe the assassination” of hostage Denis Allex. Al-Shabaab later declares that it has killed the hostage in retribution for the raid.
January 17, 2013 – For the first time in more than two decades, the United States grants official recognition to the Somali government.
May 2, 2013 – A report, jointly commissioned by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network, shows that 258,000 Somalis died in the famine between October 2010 and April 2012. Half of the famine victims were children younger than five.
June 19, 2013 – An attack on the UN headquarters in Mogadishu leaves at least 14 people dead and 15 others wounded. Al Shabab claims responsibility for the attack.
March 5, 2016 – A US strike in Somalia kills as many as 150 suspected al Shabab fighters, according to the Pentagon. Both manned and unmanned aircraft are used.
February 8, 2017 – Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who resigned as prime minister in 2011, is elected president.
February 23, 2017 – President Mohamed names Hassan Ali Kheyre prime minister.
March 2017 – US President Donald Trump authorizes the military to carry out precision strikes targeting al-Shabab. Prior, the US military was authorized to carry out airstrikes only in self-defence of advisers on the ground.
October 14, 2017 – At least 300 people are confirmed dead after a double car bombing in Mogadishu. Less than two months later, authorities announce that the death toll has climbed to 512.
November 3, 2017 – For the first time, the United States conducts airstrikes targeting ISIS militants in northeastern Somalia. Unmanned drones make the two airstrikes.
July 25, 2018 – Somalia announces it will pursue its first prosecution for female genital mutilation, after a 10-year-old dies following the procedure.
December 4, 2018 – The US State Department announces that the United States has re-established a permanent diplomatic presence in Somalia more than two decades after closing its embassy in Mogadishu.
July 24, 2019 – A suicide bomb attack on a government building kills at least six people and leaves six others injured, including Mogadishu’s mayor Abdirahman Omar Osman. Osman dies from his injuries on August 1.
December 2019: 80 people were killed when al Shabab struck a car suicide bomber at a security checkpoint in the outskirts of Mogadishu targeting Turkish construction workers. Most of the dead were civilians.
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