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News from Somalia: UN says Somalia famine killed nearly 260,000

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  • Zafar Khan
    UN says Somalia famine killed nearly 260,000 World body admits it should have done more to prevent 2010-2012 tragedy, finding half of those who died were
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4, 2013
      UN says Somalia famine killed nearly 260,000
      World body admits it should have done more to prevent 2010-2012 tragedy, finding half of those who died were children.
      Last Modified: 02 May 2013 15:38


      Almost 260,000 people, half of them young children, died of hunger during the last famine in Somalia, according to a UN report that admits the world body should have done more to prevent the tragedy.

      The toll is much higher than was feared at the time of the 2010-2012 food crisis in the troubled Horn of Africa country and also exceeds the 220,000 who starved to death in a 1992 famine, according to the findings.

      "The report confirms we should have done more before the famine was declared," said Philippe Lazzarini, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.

      "Warnings that began as far back as the drought in 2010 did not trigger sufficient early action," he said in a statement.

      Half of those who died were children under five, according to the joint report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

      "Famine and severe food insecurity in Somalia claimed the lives of about 258,000 people between October 2010 and April 2012, including 133,000 children under five," said the report, the first scientific estimate of how many people died.

      Children toll

      Somalia was the country hardest hit by extreme drought in 2011 that affected over 13 million people across the Horn of Africa.

      "An estimated 4.6 percent of the total population and 10 percent of children under five died in southern and central Somalia," the report said, saying the deaths were on top of 290,000 "baseline" deaths during the period, and double the average for sub-Saharan Africa.

      Lazzarini said that about 2.7 million people are still in need of life-saving assistance and support to rebuild their livelihoods.

      Famine was first declared in July 2011 in Somalia's Southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions, but later spread to other areas, including Middle Shabelle, Afgoye and inside camps for displaced people in the war-ravaged capital Mogadishu.

      In Lower Shabelle 18 percent of children under five died, the report said.

      During the famine, it was feared that tens of thousands had died, whereas the report now shows more people died than in Somalia's 1992 famine, when an estimated 220,000 people died over a year.

      Famine implies that at least a fifth of households face extreme food shortages, with acute malnutrition in more than 30 percent of people, and two deaths per 10,000 people every day, according to the UN definition.

      Mark Smulders, a senior economist for the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and one of the authors of the report, said the area had suffered one of the worst droughts in over 50 years in the whole of Africa.

      "Livestock were dying," he told Al Jazeera. "People simply did not have access to food, and purchasing power went down."

      Somalia, ravaged by nearly uninterrupted civil war for the past two decades, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers and one of the regions that needs them most.

      However, security has slowly improved in recent months, with fighters linked to al-Qaeda on the back foot despite launching a deadly bombing campaign.

      At the time, most of the famine-hit areas were under their control, and the crisis was exacerbated by their ban on most foreign aid agencies.

      'Catastrophic political failures'

      The aid agency Oxfam said the "deaths could and should have been prevented".

      "Famines are not natural phenomena, they are catastrophic political failures," Oxfam's Somalia director Senait Gebregziabher said in a statement.

      "The world was too slow to respond to stark warnings of drought, exacerbated by conflict in Somalia and people paid with their lives."

      More than a million Somalis are refugees in surrounding nations, and another million are displaced inside the country.

      Next Tuesday, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and British Prime Minister David Cameron will co-host a conference in London to discuss how the international community can support Somalia's progress.

      More than 50 countries and organisations are due to take part.

      Oxfam said leaders should "ensure that this was Somalia's last famine" by helping generate jobs and "ensuring trained, accountable security forces".

      The UN declared the famine over in February 2012.

      Mogadishu rebuilds despite uncertain peace
      The Somali capital has suffered decades of war and failed governance, but is still looking to its future.
      Glen Johnson Last Modified: 30 Apr 2013 15:11


      Mogadishu, Somalia - Abdullahi Othman stoops, covered in dust and plaster, beads of sweat gathering on his forehead as he uses a shovel to mix concrete. The building above him, a towering Italian-era hotel, stands in ruin, with bullet holes running up its walls.

      Two years ago, the hotel was occupied by al-Shabaab, a hard-line armed group, which positioned snipers on the rooftop and sent mortars flying into the slither of territory controlled by Somalia's weak transitional government. Now labourers - not fighters - run up the Oriental Hotel's crumbling stairwells, lugging window frames and doors, concrete and steel.

      "There is a lot of work to do," says Othman. "My life is good."

      Here in Mogadishu, Somalia's shattered capital, a sustained period of relative calm holds, allowing the city's buildings to come back to life, thanks to a massive reconstruction effort. Labourers gather at dawn, hauling pails of stone and work tools, leaving only when the sun sets.

      Scaffolding surrounds battle-scarred and derelict buildings. A local women's group has plans to lay flower beds next to pot-holed roads. Beachside cafes have opened, serving lobster and watermelon juice. And the sounds of hammers pumping nails into wood and the scrape of paint brushes against walls now can be heard.

      Mogadishu was once known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Its palm tree-lined streets wind through a maze of buildings shaded in Arabic, Italian and Portuguese architectural features - evidence of its cosmopolitan past.

      In the early 1990s, as then-President Siad Barre's regime crumbled, internecine clan warfare set in. Rival warlord oligopolies carved fiefs from a dying land, and slugged it out in endless turf wars, hammering countless bullets into Mogadishu's buildings.

      Decades of civil strife, including a major humanitarian crisis, has left this city a shell of its former self.

      Yet under the scars and ruin it retains elegance, sat beside turquoise waters. Bakara Market - the city's commercial hub - buzzes with vendors' cries during the day, while people pack the nearby beaches.

      Family support

      "I have enough money to live each day," says Othman, as labourers nearby erect support columns for an outdoor café at the hotel. "It's not a lot, but it is enough to survive."

      Somalia's building expansion is providing thousands of people with work, with this one hotel employing 30 labourers.

      "Because of this hotel, we are providing more than 100 people - the workers' families - with money. This is very important," says 43-year-old Abdulle Hussein, who has returned from Italy after 23 years to oversee the reconstruction of the hotel, which his family owns. "If we can maintain this peace, then we can invest and develop our country - this is Somalia's chance to move past war, we cannot miss this opportunity."

      But the relative peace in the city is tempered by fears that the country could once again spiral into all-out chaos. The government was appointed by 135 clan elders last year in a process marred by political interference and intimidation, and tensions between it and some of the country's regions - such as Jubaland, where a federalist movement is seeking recognition - persist.

      And while these tensions threaten to escalate, legitimacy is being sapped from a central government seen by some analysts as one of the world's most corrupt administrations. In 2011, a whistle-blower told the Associated Press news agency that $300m had been siphoned off by officials, while, according to a 2012 World Bank report, $130m had vanished between 2009 and 2010.

      These allegations, if true, are a severe condemnation of the government's actions as the country was gripped by a massive humanitarian crisis.

      In 2011, a prolonged drought caused crops to fail and animals to die, with thousands streaming into Mogadishu in the search for food and shelter after a country-wide famine struck. Tens of thousands of children died, often victims of complications arising from acute malnutrition.

      The displaced still linger in tent cities - built from scavenged scrap and sticks.

      Challenges remain

      Mohammed, living in one of the capital's IDP camps, says his family left their home nearly two years ago, as the famine reached its apex.

      "Where can we go? Our animals are dead, our homes are gone," Mohammed says.

      Al-Shabaab is also not entirely defeated. Still controlling large swathes of the countryside, the armed group is capable of attacking territory under government control. In mid-April, nine armed members of al-Shabaab wearing suicide vests attacked the Supreme Court building in Mogadishu, taking a number of hostages and battling security forces in the streets. At least 35 people died in the prolonged firefight.

      Events in the key town of Xuudur also highlight the fatigue of foreign troops fighting al-Shabaab - and illustrate the fear civilians have of retribution: after Ethiopian forces unexpectedly withdrew from the town, al-Shabaab swept through it, hacking off the head of a local sheikh after accusing him of supporting the foreign soldiers.

      "The withdrawal [from Xuudur] had an immediate effect on the populations who faced retribution from al-Shabaab," said Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa project director at the International Crisis Group. "If the Ethiopians do go, it is likely AMISOM (The African Union Mission in Somalia) will hold main towns, but under increased pressure, with al-Shabaab having free movement in rural areas."

      What's more, many analysts suspect al-Shabaab has heavily infiltrated the government and security apparatus.

      William Reno, an expert in African militia and a professor at Northwestern University, highlights the alliances between the Islamic Courts Union - a group of courts that controlled most of Somalia in 2006, and from which al-Shabaab was formed - and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which gave rise to the current federal government of Somalia in 2012.

      "When the Islamic Courts Union joined the TFG [following negotiations in Djibouti in 2009], they took the power positions in security and intelligence, bringing in their rank and file," says Reno.

      "These alliances provided groups that would keep fighting against the transitional government, or at least parts of it, with entry points through which they could infiltrate double agents to provide intelligence and facilitate operations."

      For Reno, this blurring between government and rebel factions makes it difficult to establish a "government that is committed to real and sustained reform in areas under its control".

      The cross-over seems to be confirmed by the events of March 18, when a suicide bomber from al-Shabaab detonated beside the Somali intelligence chief's convoy on the busy Maka al-Mukaram road. Ten people were killed in the attack.

      "How can we trust the government?" says Sheikh Mohammed Abdulghadr, spokesman for the government-allied Sufi group, Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a. "We received information that there would be an attack [the bombing on Maka al-Mukaram] and passed this on to the government. Nothing was done."

      Still, a cautious optimism holds in the city, and there is a feeling that peace - this time - may hold. And with every lick of fresh paint or plastering of bullet-riddled walls, that optimism grows.

      Othman carries a bucket of fresh concrete mix, the sun scorching above, and his orange sandals scraping against the ground.

      "This is the worst part, carrying it to the top," he says. "But at least I have work."

      Follow Glen Johnson on Twitter: @GlenAJohnson

      Dozens killed in attacks in Somali capital
      Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab claims responsibility for two attacks in Mogadishu that left more than 30 people dead.
      Last Modified: 14 Apr 2013 23:33


      Somalia court reduces journalist's sentence
      Reporter who interviewed alleged rape victim has jail term for "offending" government cut from one year to six months.
      Last Modified: 03 Mar 2013 19:11


      A Somali court has reduced the sentence of a journalist who interviewed a rape victim and freed the victim who had been sentenced to one year in prison for alleging sexual assault.

      Tthe appeals court in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, ruled on Sunday that Abdiaziz Abdinuur Ibrahim would remain in jail for six months.

      "The court orders the release of the woman, while the journalist will spend six months in jail for offending state institutions," Judge Hassan Mohamed Ali said, cutting the reporter's original sentence in half.

      The 27-year-old woman was charged with insulting a government body, making false accusations, and seeking to profit from the allegations.

      "The court has learned that the journalist misled the alleged rape victim into the interview," the judge added.

      Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued an immediate response to the verdict.

      "The court of appeals missed a chance to right a terrible wrong, both for the journalist and for press freedom in Somalia," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW.

      "The government has argued that justice should run its course in this case, but each step has been justice denied."

      'Insane and unjust'

      Abdinuur, who was detained on January 10 was also found guilty of "making a false interview, and entering the house of a woman whose husband was not present".

      He had been researching sexual violence in Somalia, but did not air or print any reports after interviewing the woman.

      The unidentified woman, who had originally been granted a delay of six months before having to start her jail term to allow her to breastfeed her infant child, walked free from the court in the capital Mogadishu after the ruling.

      But Abdinuur was led away in handcuffs and put into a truck that took him back to the central prison, sparking angry reactions from rights groups and journalist colleagues.

      "This is completely insane and unjust," said Mohammed Ibrahim, from Somalia's national journalists' union.

      "How can they jail someone for interviewing a victim? The lawyers will appeal again and take the case to the Supreme Court."

      Abdinuur works for several Somali radio stations and international media.

      Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a joint statement during the trial the case was "linked to increasing media attention given to the high levels of rape" including by
      security forces.

      Somalia detained 56 journalists last year, according to the CPJ.

      Somalia gravediggers grieve improved security
      As decades of violence give way to peace, Somalis whose work depended on death are facing hard times.
      Hamza Mohamed Last Modified: 28 Jan 2013 08:26


      Mogadishu, Somalia - Ali Hassan spends his day sitting in a former mosque, now a ramshackle shelter for drug users, idly staring at his cell phone as he waits for it to ring.

      A gravedigger with more than 20 years of experience, Hassan is finding life in Mogadishu's newfound stability hard.

      He became a gravedigger at the height of the civil war, when he used to dig at least 30 graves a day. "I became a gravedigger in 1991, when burying dead bodies was the best business in Somalia."

      People who want to bury their deceased family members ring his cell phone to ask him to dig graves for them. He listens religiously to the cacophony coming from downtown Mogadishu for the sound of loud bangs or continuous rounds of fire.

      "When there is a loud bang, we know it is an explosion. When there is a sustained gunfire, we know something is wrong and people may die. Deaths mean there will be business for us."

      However, with gun battles falling in Mogadishu these days, the number of people brought to the cemetery for burial has almost fallen markedly.

      "Two years ago I used to bury 30 bodies a day, now I bury one if I'm lucky and often I bury none."

      The father of four is struggling to put food on the table for his young family. His children have been forced to drop out of school because he can't afford to pay their school fees. He is struggling to provide one meal a day.

      After more than 20 years of continuous fighting, Somalis finally seem to be emerging from the dark days of their civil war.

      "Somalis are tired of fighting. They know now, first hand, that fighting each other brings only two things: death and destruction. Somalis are the biggest driving force behind the return of peace in Mogadishu," says Abdullahi Mohamed Shirwa, chairman of the Mogadishu-based peace advocacy group Somali Peace Line.

      Somalia: A failed state is back from the dead
      Less than two years ago, its capital was a war zone. No longer


      Eighteen months ago, central Mogadishu was like an African Stalingrad. The heat may have been equatorial but everything else seemed strangely familiar: a dirty cat-and-mouse war, often fought hand to hand among the spectacularly bombed-out ruins of a once-thriving city centre.

      On one side were the forces of the Western-backed government, supported by thousands of Ugandan and Burundian troops of AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia. On the other was al Shabaab, a virulent militant Islamist organisation aligned with al Qaida. The two sides had been fighting for control of the capital for three years.

      Between offensives it was possible to take a tour of the battlefield, courtesy of AMISOM, whose troops commuted there from their base by the ocean-front airport, shuttling back and forth in convoys of Casspirs, hulking armoured personnel carriers with bullet-cracked windows and V-shaped hulls designed to deflect mine blast.

      The front line was an imposing wall of sandbags that snaked through miles of roofless residential districts, a post-apocalyptic ghost town where the danger of random mortar or sniper fire was constant. The soldiers on the fire steps manned their gun-slits from the comfort of smashed-up sofas and armchairs rescued from abandoned sitting rooms. Al Shabaab had developed an extensive network of tunnels and trenches, and in some places they were dug in less than 50m away. They had learned to crawl even further forward, under cover of night and the sound made by the shredded tin roofs flapping and clanging in the hot sea breeze, and to lob grenades over AMISOM’s parapets.

      AMISOM had been advancing recently, although progress was costly and desperately slow. A Ugandan commander told me that it could take three days just to clear one small house. At this rate, he calculated, his men would still be fighting through Mogadishu in 2015.

      Today, though, there are no trench lines in Mogadishu. On 6 August 2011, to the astonishment of just about everyone, al Shabaab pulled back overnight from all city centre positions. Their propagandists called it a tactical retreat, but it turned out not to be temporary. The insurgency was collapsing across central Somalia and falling back on its heartlands to the south.

      Sensing the opportunity, Somalia’s neighbours Ethiopia and Kenya quickly joined the AMISOM effort and invaded from the west and south. In September 2012 the Kenyans captured al Shabaab’s last remaining stronghold, the southern port of Kismayo, effectively ending the insurgents’ long ambition to take over Somalia.

      This is an astonishing moment for a country long dubbed the “world’s most failed state”: the first chance in a generation for genuine change, and what the UN Special Envoy Augustine Mahiga called “an unprecedented opportunity for peace.” As turning points go it is comparable, perhaps, to the US ejection of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

      Somalia has, famously, had no properly functioning central government for over 20 years. Its leaders have long been riven by internal clan rivalries, and hamstrung by outrageous institutional graft. For the last six years, Somalia has consistently beaten Afghanistan to the bottom spot on Transparency International’s annual ‘Corruptions Perceptions index.’ Yet in 2012, Somalis held their first democratic elections in decades, ousting their former Islamist president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and replacing him with Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a little-known university professor who used to work as a consultant for the UN.

      There are other reasons for cautious optimism. So many of Mogadishu’s long-abandoned seafront villas are being rebuilt, in many cases by owners returning from twenty years of refugee exile, that the city is experiencing a minor property boom.

      Meanwhile, piracy in the Indian Ocean, although far from eradicated, appears to have peaked thanks to land-based efforts by the regional Puntland government and cleverer counter-piracy measures at sea. There were 70 Somali-related attacks on shipping in the first nine months of 2012, compared to 199 over the same period in 2011, according to the International Maritime Bureau. It was reported this month that the Gulf of Aden has now been surpassed by West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea as the world’s piracy hotspot.

      On the face of it Somalia represents that rarest of things, a good news story from the Muslim world. Even the threat of further famine, which followed the region’s worst drought for 60 years and that killed tens of thousands of children in 2011, suddenly receded thanks to unusually kind winter rains.

      There is, though, no room for complacency. The new government is still unproven, and al Shabaab are far from defeated. Indeed, the militants had already begun a switch to a deadly, Taliban-style hit-and-run strategy before their withdrawal from Mogadishu. Terrorist attacks are also rising alarmingly in neighbouring Kenya, including in the once-safe Somali enclave of Eastleigh in Nairobi, and the Muslim-dominated tourist areas in and around Mombasa.

      As the British ambassador Matt Baugh points out, fixing Somalia is not just in Somali interests but affects the security of us all. “Somalia represents a kind of threat we haven’t seen before,” he said. “There are massive numbers of Somalis living in all the neighbouring states as well as around the world. It is not a traditional, geographical country, but a diffuse, global entity – and that is not physically containable.”

      Some 2 million Somalis fled abroad after the civil war of the 90s, and now form one of the largest diasporas in the world. There are perhaps 300,000 of them in Britain alone. The Islamists have already shown a willingness to export their ideology abroad, as well as an ability to recruit in the West. The danger of ‘home-grown’ Somali terrorism was amply demonstrated by the failed suicide bomb attacks against London Transport in 2005: two of the 21/7 conspirators, Ramzi Mohamed and Yassin Omar, were born in Somalia.

      If a security threat cannot be contained, the only alternative is to neutralize it by tackling the main driver of terrorism: the discontent of the Somali young, whether here in the West or in their homeland. As Afghanistan has shown, Somalia’s problems will not be solved by military means alone. The Somali state needs rebuilding from scratch, through sustained Western commitment to political, social and economic reform. The question is whether the West truly has the appetite for this mammoth task.

      A major international peace conference in London in early 2012 – the 20th on Somalia since 1991 – was trumpeted as an outstanding success by the Cameron government, yet many Somalis complain that there has been no real follow-up on the pledges and promises then made. They know that their country remains a very sick patient that will need the best aftercare available if the disease of state failure is not to go into remission.

      Somalis want what young people want everywhere: education, jobs, security, a home. Without the hope of these things, young people, and particularly young men, may turn in desperation to violent rebellion; young Muslim men may also turn to extreme forms of Islam. The clue, perhaps, was always in the insurgents’ name for themselves: al Shabaab in Arabic means ‘the Youth’. It is no doubt significant that Somalia has a particularly low median age of 17.8, and that this is about the same as in Afghanistan.

      As in all those countries affected by the so-called Arab Spring, the challenge for the West is primarily a demographic one. ‘The US does not have a robust and comprehensive strategy for targeting the connection between youth and conflict,’ Professor Jennifer Sciubba, a demographer and adviser to the US Department of Defence, said recently. (She was talking about Afghanistan, but might just as easily have been referring to Somalia). ‘Victory, in whatever form, will remain elusive as long as this segment of the population is marginalized.’

      In the course of my research I was constantly struck by the similarity of al-Shabaab foot soldiers, pirates and the members of Somali street gangs I interviewed in Britain and the US. They were all young men, and in some cases – such as Abdi-Osman, a 23-year-old ex-pirate, ex-al-Shabaab fighter whom I met in Mogadishu – literally interchangeable. ‘Every man who has nothing will try something to get money,’ Abdi-Osman explained.

      Salvation will likely come from two directions. The first may be the oil and gas sector. It has long been known that Somalia possesses important reserves, both in the north of the country and to the south off the shore of Kismayo. With al Shabaab in retreat, the more adventurous prospecting companies are already circling, bringing the promise of massive foreign investment and, eventually, Gulf-style oil wealth to this impoverished nation.

      The second, paradoxically, is the diaspora itself. Of course, not all young Somali exiles are potential terrorists. A whole generation have grown up in the West who are out of patience with the old ways of doing things, above all the traditional system of quabyalad, tribalism, which played such a key role in the destruction of their country in the first place.

      The best of them have taken advantage of the opportunity to better themselves through work and education, absorbing Western values and ideas along the way. They represent a rich sump of reform-minded talent, and an extraordinary number of them are movingly determined to export their ideas back to Somalia in order to help rebuild their troubled homeland.

      The young should be the West’s partners of choice in any African nation-building project. The future of Somalia may depend on our ability to listen to them.

      'The World's Most Dangerous Place: Inside the Outlaw State of Somalia' is published by Transworld, £20

      'We're happy to help MI5 – but coercing us to spy is unacceptable': British Somalis say intelligence agents asking for too much
      It's not just Mo Farah who gets stopped at the airport – but, as prominent Somalis tell Jerome Taylor, the security services' 'use of threats' is alienating the whole community


      Whenever Aar Maanta travels abroad he keeps an eye out for the men in suits. For most travellers, the worst inconvenience might be a cancelled flight or an over-zealous security check. But Maanta is a prominent British Somali singer and when he leaves or returns to Britain, he claims he is often taken aside by these mysterious officials asking unusual questions.

      In an interview last week the London Olympics hero Mo Farah angrily explained how he was stopped at an airport in Oregon on suspicion of being a terrorist. "I couldn't believe it," he said. "Because of my Somali origin I get detained every time I come through US Customs."

      But in Maanta's case, it isn't usually customs or security people who want a word. "You can tell it's not the immigration people," recalls the softly spoken singer, who fled civil war in his homeland in the late 1980s. "It's like there's a note on the computer and they make you sit in a side room. Then the guys in suits come along. Their general approach is, 'we can help you if you help us'."

      For many of Britain's estimated 400,000 Somalis, such experiences are depressingly familiar and there is growing anger about how they are treated at Britain's ports. Top of their list of complaints is the allegation that pressure is being put on young Somali men in particular to spy on their own community.

      Mohammed Elmi, the head of Somali Diaspora UK, told The Independent that the problem of coercive spying had become so bad that Somali elders in London felt compelled to hold a gathering shortly before Christmas to discuss the issue. Out of the 33 boroughs represented, 17 said they had community members who felt pressured to spy.

      "The community is very keen to cooperate with the UK Government and security. What is unacceptable is any form of coercion or pressure."

      The Independent first revealed concerns about such tactics being used by the security services in 2009, when five east African Muslim men said they were harangued by MI5 officers who wanted them to work as informants, and were threatened with sanctions if they refused to co-operate. Three of the five were approached after returning from family holidays. One of the men, Mahdi Hashi, had his citizenship revoked late last year by the Home Office and was suddenly rendered from a jail in Djibouti to the United States – an incident which has caused consternation among many British Somalis.

      Airports have long been fertile territory for Britain's security services looking to make first contact with potential sources, because airlines keep detailed records of passengers, enabling our spies to keep a close eye on who is coming in and out of the country.

      The cultivation of sources is key for national security, and many Somalis work with MI5 and MI6 to combat militant groups such a al-Shabaab. But there are fears that stories of coercion are starting to backfire on the intelligence-gathering community.

      Jamal Osman, a British filmmaker who has won awards for his reports from his war-torn homeland, says he has often been approached by security officials at airports. And he regularly hears reports that Somalis are threatened with having their passports taken away if they don't co-operate – something he believes works against the intelligence community because it will dissuade Somalis from coming forward when they do have information.

      Mr Osman said: "When they say, 'We gave this to you, we can take it away from you whenever we want', it sends a terrible signal. It shows Somalis they'll never be part of the nation. You might have been born here, you might have been brought up here, but we can take it all away from you."

      Maanta, whose songs of longing for his homeland and struggling to fit in resonate with young Somali immigrants, got so fed up with the regular checks that for his single Deeqa he made a music video in which he re-enacts being questioned at Heathrow. "The problem is you risk alienating young British Somalis," he says. "Anyone with common sense would go to the authorities if they knew something bad was going on. It's your duty to do that. But they shouldn't be forcing people to spy."

      The security services do not usually comment on intelligence matters and declined to respond to The Independent last night, but MI5 has previously denied on its website that Muslims are harassed by its officers.

      Displaced women still vulnerable in Mogadishu
      Having fled violence in their home regions, Somali women remain at risk from sexual predators while in temporary homes.
      Laila Ali Last Modified: 14 Jan 2013 06:45


      Mogadishu, Somalia - After a protracted conflict that has lasted more than two decades, there's now a sense of relative calm and security in Somalia. The unidentifiable gunmen that patrolled the streets have been replaced by men in smart uniforms.

      Road blocks that once divided the city between government and al-Shabab controlled areas have been removed; traffic flows freely. Somalis are flocking to the beach, old houses are being renovated and are glistening with fresh coats of paint.

      But not everybody enjoys the newly found sense of security.

      Camps filled with Internally Displaced Persons - people forced to flee the violence and insecurity of their home regions - are still a common sight. But for the women who live in them, violence and insecurity are still pertinent issues.

      Nura Hirsi is a young widow living in an IDP camp of West Mogadishu. She says she was raped by seven government soldiers when they forced entry into her home on Saturday, December 29.

      "It was 1am, my children were sleeping when these men entered my house," she told Al Jazeera. "Some of them were armed with AK47s. They slapped me, ordered me outside and raped me. They did all kind of things to me. I couldn't fight them or defend myself. How could I against seven armed men?"

      Nura said that nobody would come to help her during the attack.

      "People are afraid to leave their houses at night to come see what is happening. Everybody is afraid; they are scared for their lives.

      "After they left, I cried. In the morning I went to the hospital and they gave me some medicine to take, but I didn't tell them of all that took place. They are Somalis and I don't want people to know."

      Authorities do not take allegations of rape - even gang-rape - seriously, she said.

      "I went to the police but they were not really interested. People get killed in Mogadishu; I didn't die. To them rape isn't so serious. Nobody is ever arrested. Even the person in charge of the IDP camp was not interested. He didn't say anything when I told him. I would even like to speak to the radio stations - but who will give me that chance?"

      The new Somali government has only been in power for two months, but, according to the Director General at the Ministry for Labour, Youth and Sports, Aweis Haddad, state troops are not primarily responsible for the sexual violence against women such as Nura.

      "A lot of people are able to put on government uniforms and pretend to be the police or the army, but they are not. In some cases it's the Shabab," he said.

      "We treat every crime seriously. If people in government are found to behind such things, action will be taken."

      Stigma of rape

      Abdalle Muumin is a Somali journalist. He said much of the country's media ignored sexual violence, leading to an enduring stigma faced by rape victims.

      "There is a culture in Somalia, where a victim of rape will report that so-and-so attempted to rape them, but nobody is ever comfortable to come forward, speak up and say that they were raped," he said.

      "Another reason why you don't hear anything about IDP-related news is because editors and media owners are not interested in that. When reporters file news regarding IDPs it is not aired; in fact it's referred to as shuban biyood ["diarrhoea"].

      "Editors and owners are more interested in political news; it cost money to produce a radio package. In politics, there is money."

      Fartun Abdisalaan Adan is a co-founder of Sister Somalia, an organisation formed in 2010 which opened the first rape crisis centre in Mogadishu.

      Attitudes towards rape are slowly changing, she said. The subject is no longer taboo - but a lot more needs to be done to tackle it: "When we first started our work, there was a lot of denial from the government and men, and a lot of women were ashamed to speak up - but slowly we gained their trust. Now people in Somalia talk about it, no-one can deny that it is happening, although the response is still slow."

      Rape is still a huge problem, however, and as many as seven new victims arrive each week at Sister Somalia's Mogadishu office alone.

      "Women in the IDP camps are especially vulnerable. If you look at IDP camps, it is mostly lone women with children who live there," she said. "[The camp] is not a house, there is no door. A man can come in any time and do whatever he wants to you, knowing he will get away with it.

      "When [victims of rape] come to our office, our first reaction is to take them to a hospital to get medical help and pay their fees; then it's back to our centre where the counselling begins. We also discuss whether they want to go back to their home, if they choose to move then we assist them with relocation. We have also established a safe house where they can stay temporarily until suitable accommodation is found. Currently, we are assisting around 400 women who have been raped or whose daughters were raped."

      The safe house is especially useful to young girls who have run away from their families after becoming pregnant as a result of rape.

      "Younger girls, often 16 or 17, are usually afraid to tell their parents they have been raped and may now be pregnant, for fear they will not be believed, especially by their fathers; so they run away and stay at our centre. These younger victims are the ones who are most reluctant to report they were raped because they are also worried about their future and whether being a victim of rape will lessen their chances for marriage."

      'Not a women's issue'

      Speaking via a telephone from Galcayo, south central Somalia, humanitarian activist and this year's Nansen Refugee Award winner, Hawa Aden Mohammed, expressed concerns about the cultural reservation among victims to speak out, as well as the seeming culture of impunity for the perpetrators of sexual violence.

      "It is not so easy to pursue legal action when the law is so relaxed or non-existent," she told Al Jazeera. "In my experience, 90 percent of women who were raped are reluctant to go to authorities because they are afraid or they are not confident anything will be done. There is also a need to educate; a lot of these women feel ashamed, they view themselves as haram, spoiled, dirty - and are unwilling to talk about it.

      "The government needs to do more to address the issue of violence against women in all its forms. This is not a women's issue, it is a society issue."

      Back at the ministry for labour, youth and sports, Aweis Haddad concluded: "The government is doing it best to prevent such things. One of the first things that president did when he came to office is speak out against rape and gender based violence."

      Names of rape survivors have been changed to protect their identity. The headline of this article has been altered since its original publication.

      Follow Laila Ali on Twitter: @LailaInNairobi

      Hope blooms for family in 'peaceful' Somalia
      Impoverished but determined Mogadishu family sees its destiny tied to restive country's well-being.
      Last Modified: 22 Dec 2012 11:38


      Al Jazeera has launched a series of reports called "One Year, Four Families" that looks back at some of this year's major stories as seen through the eyes of the people who experienced them.

      Somalia has been wracked by decades of internal conflict, but new hope blossomed with the election of a new president earlier this year.

      In the last part of the series, Peter Greste spoke to one Somali family struggling for survival in Mogadishu.
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