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9380News from Somalia: Somalia video games boom dents al-Shabaab recruitment

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  • Zafar Khan
    May 5, 2012
      Somalia video games boom dents al-Shabaab recruitment
      Games consoles are all the rage in Mogadishu, keeping boys away from school but also away from the militants
      Associated Press in Mogadishu
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 May 2012 19.00 BST


      Inside a hot, cramped room in the Somali capital, 10 sweating children sat on wooden desks, not unlike those found in schools. These boys, though, were not in class. They were staring at a small TV and tightly gripping video game controllers.

      A year after al-Shabaab lost control of Mogadishu, video games are now all the rage. Under the militant group recreational pleasures such as films and Nintendo were banned.

      Today, Somali boys are bingeing on PlayStation and other games consoles, a development seen has having both positive and negative aspects.

      Some parents say the games are helping to keep the young off the street, which in turn lowers the chances they might be recruited by al-Shabaab. But many teenage boys admit to skipping school to practice their gaming skills.

      "I spend half of my day here. The video games are fascinating," said Abdirizak Muse, a 16-year-old who dropped out of his Mogadishu school in early 2011 after al-Shabaab militants dug trenches around it.

      Among the positive changes since African Union (AU) and Somali troops drove the militants out of Mogadishu are new restaurants, a vibrant beach front, the reopening of the national theatre and a video game shop.

      Mohamed Deq Abdullahi, a father of two teenage boys, watched his sons play a football video game in a sweltering shop on a recent sunny day. He sees their new hobby as a beneficial development.

      "This is his day-long activity because I don't want him get bored and go to war," Abdullahi said. "The busier they stay the more tired they get and the more they ignore violence."

      During the Islamist uprising in 2006 that gave way to the al-Shabaab militia, schools were a prime source of recruitment for militants seeking to bolster their ranks. Hundreds, if not thousands, of children were lured into combat.

      While video game shops where teenage boys can pay a fee to play by the hour are popular, the minority of more affluent Somalis are buying game systems for home. Muse Haji, a father of six, bought a system for his children.

      "For us it's a choice between the lesser evil and the bigger evil," he said. "Instead of my children going out and being radicalised and used as human bombs, it's better for me that they stay at homes and play games.

      "We focus on non-violent games such as car racing, soccer and some educational games."

      Haji said that like all children of this generation, his are fanatics about technology, a positive change from previous generations past when the young seemed more interested in firing weapons and joining war.

      At a video game shop in the Wardhigley district of the capital, dozens of young people waited in line earlier this week to get a chance to play. The shop charges the equivalent of 10 cents (6p) for 15 minutes of play. The atmosphere is eerily quiet except for the beeping, whooshing and cheering emanating from the games.

      "I have been here almost an hour to wait for my turn. I will play a game of soccer with my friend again," Shafici Osman, 14, said with an air of desperation as he watched his friends play. "I like coming here every day. I am either playing or watching others play. I am happy because my parents approve, and they give me money to play."

      The sudden popularity of video games has created business opportunities. Arcade owner Ahmed Aden said he had seen his business grow quickly since opening seven months ago.

      "We started with two screens and now we have eight. Our business is booming," he said.

      A 2011 UN report said militants were systematically recruiting children across central and southern Somalia. Schools – both teachers and students – were consistently targeted by al-Shabaab recruiters, it said.

      The report said some 50 schools closed in south-central Somalia because of growing demands from militia groups. Schools were destroyed and damaged during clashes between insurgents and government and AU troops.

      Ali Abdi, a 15-year-old, said he was trained to fight with al-Shabaab, but after returning home for a visit his mother would not let him return to the militants. His brother opened an arcade, where Ali now happily spends his time. He plans to return to school when militants no longer recruit from classrooms.

      "Many of my friends are unlucky and have taken part in the violence in the country. Some of them have died. Others are carrying guns around. In some ways, video games have saved my life," he said.

      Somalia needs bit of patience
      Publish Date: May 05, 2012
      By Paddy Ankunda


      Many like Safi a Omar, a resident of Mogadishu will tell you that bombing Somalia’s national theatre on April 4, had robbed her country of a brief sense that things were getting better.

      Safi a vented out her frustration in a brief interview with Reuters hours after a suicide bomber killed six people in Mogadishu. This kind of frustration is understandable. Safi a, like many other Somalis, is not confident that the current government will deliver on its promises to restore durable peace and stability.

      For those of us who work in Mogadishu and have seen progressively, the improving situation in the country since 2007 can only ask Safi a for more patience. Mogadishu is more peaceful today than it has been in the last 20 years.

      However, such attacks are a reminder to the Transitional Federal Government and AMISOM that it is not over yet. While the insurgents were forced out of Mogadishu last August, a number of them melted into the population bent on instilling fear through suicide attacks.

      This calls for extra vigilance not only on the part of the government but also on the population as a whole.
      Not once, not twice, the terrorists have demonstrated their ability to sneak through the lines and attack civilians in areas under our control.

      This calls for a rethinking of our internal security strategies in liberated areas. That they were forced out of Mogadishu was a clear demonstration by Allied forces that Al Shabaab can be defeated and this momentum must not be lost. President Sheikh Sharif rightly stated that the group’s increasing recourse to suicide attacks was a sign of their growing weakness.

      While this may be true, attacks on innocent civilians are also a test of the government’s ability to protect its people.

      As AMISOM continues to expand into the countryside, the government must continue to demonstrate its capacity to protect civilians in towns and villages. That way, civilians will gain confidence in the government’s resolve to change the course of history.

      Already, AMISOM has deployed 100 soldiers to Baidoa, the advance party of the 2,500 soldiers expected to be deployed by April.

      AMISOM’s Kenyan troops are deployed in the south; and this expansion is expected to deliver more military success. As such, time has come for the Somali government to integrate military objectives into an overall political strategy.

      Gunmen kill journalist in Somalia
      Posted Saturday, May 5 2012 at 00:00


      A journalist working with a local broadcaster was on Wednesday killed in Galkayo, 750km north of Somalia capital Mogadishu. Mr Farhan ‘James’ Abdulle, who worked with Daljir Radio, was attacked by armed men in the evening as he was heading home in the northern part of the town controlled by Puntland, a semi-autonomous state in the northeastern Somalia.

      Mr Abdulle was seriously wounded and died while medical staff at the town’s general hospital were attempting to save his life. The killers fled the scene before Puntland police arrived.

      In March, another journalist Ali Ahmed Abdi, was killed in the same town. Somalia continues to be one of the worst places in the world for journalists to operate. So far, five journalists have been killed this year.

      Al-Shabab claims Mogadishu car bomb
      Islamist group claims responsibility for blast in Somali capital that targeted security forces and injured two people.
      Last Modified: 21 Mar 2012 15:59


      The armed Islamist movement al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for a car bomb in the Somali capital that injured two people.

      The blast on Wednesday in a busy administrative district prompted police to open fire. Police said four suspects had been detained and that they were investigating a second suspicious car.

      "We were behind the car bomb explosion. We targeted security forces," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for al-Shabab's military operations, told the Reuters news agency.

      Police spokesperson Abudullahi Barise said police arrested a man with a remote control seconds after he detonated the car.

      There has been a surge in suicide bombings and remotely detonated blasts in Mogadishu since al-Shabab pulled most of its fighters out of the coastal city, vowing to turn increasingly to al-Qaeda-inspired tactics.

      Is Somalia ungovernable?
      Sir David Frost talks to the man tasked with turning Somalia into a working state, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali.
      Frost Over the World Last Modified: 25 Feb 2012 12:40



      Famine in Somalia is over, says UN
      Exceptional harvest and food deliveries have improved conditions, but millions of people are still at risk
      Clar Ni Chonghaile in Nairobi
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 3 February 2012 08.31 GMT


      The famine is over in Somalia thanks to good rains, a bumper harvest and donor aid, but the next 90 days will be critical to ensure the country does not slip back into extreme hunger, United Nations officials have said.

      "There is still a crisis in Somalia that affects 2.34 million people with high risks of malnutrition and insecurity," the new director general of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, said, announcing the end to a famine declared last July.

      "If we do not continue to support these people, especially in the three months until the rainy season in April, these people will not survive, we will have famine back and the farmers will not have the seeds and fertilizers they need," the former Brazilian special minister of food security told reporters in Nairobi.

      Good deyr rains between October and December, coupled with agricultural and humanitarian aid, yielded a harvest that was double the average of the past 17 years, although it is only a secondary crop. The long gu rains are due to start in April, heralding the main planting season, but food stocks are likely to decline before then.