News from Somalia: Somali woman who reported rape sentenced
- Somali woman who reported rape sentenced
Nineteen-year-old will be confined to home for six months and journalists who reported the story are to go to jail.
Last updated: 09 Dec 2013 15:37
A Somali court has sentenced to jail a woman who said she was raped and two journalists who reported her story.
The court passed the verdict on Monday in the capital Mogadishu, saying the journalists were guilty of defamation and insulting state institutions.
The 19-year old woman, who is also a journalist, was handed a suspended six-month jail sentence for defamation and lying, during which time she will be confined to her home, said Judge Hashi Elmi Nur.
The journalists are to serve out their sentences, of one year and six months respectively, or pay a fine in order to win early release.
It is the second time this year Somalia has jailed a woman for speaking out about rape and journalists for interviewing her.
"The manager of Radio Shabelle, Abdilmalik Yusuf, was found guilty of offending state institutions, and therefore will serve a prison term of one year," the judge told the court.
"Journalist Mohamed Bashir was found guilty of defamation and making false rape accusations, so he is given a six-month jail term."
Both have the possibility of paying a fine to leave jail, equivalent to around a dollar per day of their sentence, so around $365 for Yusuf, and $180 for Bashir.
Rape, and reporting on sexual assault, is one of the most sensitive topics in Somalia.
The alleged victim last month told the independent Radio Shabelle she was attacked and raped at gunpoint by two fellow journalists. But it was the journalists who listened to her story who were jailed.
Last month the United Nations in Somalia called for a "proper investigation" into the case, while the United States said it was "deeply concerned".
Neither of the men accused of the rape were arrested.
'Unscientific and degrading'
In February, a Somali journalist and a rape victim he interviewed were both sentenced to a year in prison after being found guilty of "offending state institutions".
In that case, the court found the woman had lied after a midwife conducted a "finger test" to see if she had been raped, which Human Rights Watch (HRW) said was an "unscientific and degrading practice that has long been discredited".
They were released two months into their jail term after the case sparked widespread international criticism.
In August, a Somali woman who alleged she was gang-raped by African Union soldiers was also held by police for questioning.
Last month HRW called on the government to order a new and impartial investigation into that case, saying the response to the incident "has been marred by mismanagement, opacity, and the harassment of the female rape survivor and support service providers".
This "points to security officials trying to silence both those who report the pervasive problem of sexual violence and those who help rape survivors", HRW added.
Somalia's internationally-backed government has repeatedly said that rape and sexual violence against women "are completely unacceptable in Somali culture", but has previously declined to comment on specific cases. It has also insisted it protects press freedom.
Amiir and Family: Somalis in Norway
12 November 2013 Last updated at 01:53
Somali Islamists take responsibility for Mogadishu hotel bombing
EDMUND BLAIR Saturday 09 November 2013
Islamist al Shabaab rebels have claimed responsibility for a bomb that killed six people outside a popular Mogadishu hotel on Friday, and said they deliberately targetted government officials and security forces.
Police suspected the militants were behind the blast, the latest in a series of frequent attacks in the Somali capital that highlight the challenge the government faces in restoring order to a nation torn apart by two decades of war and chaos.
"We were behind the two explosions at the hotel," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's military operations spokesman, told Reuters. "We targetted government officials and forces, and killed 15 of them."
A senior police officer said on Friday night that at least six people, including four policemen, were killed when a suspected car bomb went off outside the Hotel Maka, a popular meeting place for officials.
He said at the time the death toll could rise because some injuries were serious, but there was no official word of more deaths on Saturday.
Al Shabaab, which was driven out of Mogadishu by an African peacekeeping force in 2011, has said it would keep up its campaign of attacks against the government in the capital.
In September, al Shabaab rebels killed at least 15 people and wounded 23 others in an attack on a popular restaurant using a car bomb and a suicide bomber.
Somalis die 'making bomb' in Ethiopia
Two men who were in the country illegally were killed in a rented house when the bomb detonated, officials say.
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2013 21:47
The pirate who fell into a movie trap: Kingpin Mohamed 'Big Mouth' Abdi Hassan arrested in Belgium after being tricked into thinking he was going to appear in a documentary
CHARLOTTE MCDONALD-GIBSON Author Biography BRUSSELS Tuesday 15 October 2013
During a decade spent terrorising the high seas, Mohamed Abdi Hassan is alleged to have hijacked, kidnapped and ransomed with impunity, with the mere mention of the Somali pirate widely known by his nickname “Big Mouth” inspiring fear among seafarers. But in the end, it appears it was not his big mouth which caused Hassan’s downfall: it was his big head.
When he touched down in Brussels airport on Saturday with an alleged accomplice named Tiiceey, Hassan thought he would be whisked off to meet documentary film producers keen to draw on his swashbuckling experiences for a project based on his life.
But it was all a ruse: prosecutors seeking justice for the hijacking of a Belgian dredger in 2009 had set the whole scenario up.
Fearing that an international arrest warrant for the hijacking and kidnapping of The Pompeii’s nine crew would be ignored by the Somali government, Belgian authorities decided to try a different approach.
Undercover agents contacted Tiiceey in the guise of film-makers and asked him to put them in touch with Hassan. After months of persuasion, Big Mouth – “Afweyne” in Somali – was won over with the promise of a starring role as chief adviser.
“After patiently starting a relationship of trust with Tiiceey, and through him with Afweyne, which took several months, both were prepared to participate in this project,” federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle said.
As soon as the pair disembarked from their flight from Kenya, they were arrested and sent to Bruges, where they will face charges of kidnapping and membership of a criminal organisation. “Too often, these people remain beyond reach while they let others do the dirty work,” Mr Delmulle said. “(He’s) one of the most important and infamous kingpin pirate leaders, responsible for the hijacking of dozens of commercial vessels from 2008 to 2013.”
It seems unlikely that money lured Hassan, who is in his 50s, into the hands of Belgian police. A United Nations report in 2010 said that he commanded dozens of bandits in the Arabian Sea and operated for almost a decade. Rory Lamrock, an analyst specialising in maritime security with risk management firm AKE, said successful hijacks could net its perpetrators between $5m (£3.1m) and $13.5m. And Big Mouth was the alleged mastermind behind many such attacks.
“He had a reputation as a feared character… there is no question he made a substantial amount of money during the heyday of Somali piracy,” Mr Lamrock told The Independent. “A lot of the masterminds behind the Somali piracy attacks I would consider as opportunists, and him travelling all the way to Belgium is telling of that side of his personality.”
The irony is that Hassan now claimed to be on the side of the good guys, after announcing his retirement from international piracy this year. At a press conference dressed in a black suit and thick-rimmed spectacles, he Hassan looked more like a businessman announcing he was stepping down from the firm’s board than a feared criminal.
He called piracy “a dirty business” and said he would start working with disadvantaged Somali youths to try and dissuade them from following in his footsteps. “I have given up piracy and succeeded in encouraging more youths to give up piracy,” Mr Hassan told Reuters. “This came as a result of my efforts for a long period. The boys also took the decision like me. It was not due to fear from warships, it was just a decision.”
Security analysts were not convinced. “I don’t think anyone took that particularly seriously,” says Mr Lamrock. “I think he probably retired mainly because Somali piracy turned from being a very lucrative criminal investment model to a really inefficient criminal business model.”
Hassan is reported to have entered the piracy business in the early 1990s, when the civil war gripping Somalia left his fishing company in ruins. Early on in his career he is believed to have taken an active role in the raids, later organising the financing and logistics. And he created a family business: his son also went into piracy, and now styles himself as an international mediator on the issue.
But business, says Mr Lamrock, is no longer good for illicit seafarers. Attacks on commercial vessels and the occasional tourist boat in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean peaked around 2010. Pirate assaults in the busy shipping lanes earned the criminal gangs around $160m, at a cost to the global economy of around €7bn. Crews were held for months, even years, in dire conditions as the pirates negotiated with shipping companies for massive ransoms.
In the last few years, shipping companies have fought back, installing surveillance on vessels and employing armed guards on ships. The European Union, Nato and national governments, meanwhile, have been working together to patrol the waters and try and bring pirates to justice.
Prosecuting pirates, however, raises a whole separate set of issues. A vessel at the centre of a hijacking could be in international or territorial waters. The crew could consist of many different nationalities, serving on a vessel registered in one country but carrying the cargo of another, leading to questions over who will be bringing the charges. Arresting, holding and trying pirates proves such a headache that some nations simply let them go.
Apprehending Hassan had the added complexity of alleged obstruction by the Somali government. The UN monitoring group had accused the previous Somali president of protecting Hassan, even suggesting the government gave him a diplomatic passport. Tiiceey is a former governor of the Somali region of Himan and Heeb, Mr Delmulle said.
So Belgium’s innovative approach to the conundrum has impressed many. “We welcome the news that Belgian authorities found a clever way to arrest a pirate kingpin,” a Nato official said. “It has never been easy to bring these criminals to justice.”
Illegal ivory trade funds al-Shabaab's terrorist attacks
CATRINA STEWART Author Biography NAIROBI Sunday 06 October 2013
Al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group that killed dozens of people last month in a bloody four-day siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, is deriving funds for its terror campaigns from elephant poaching in Kenya and elsewhere, activists and conservationists claim.
The Elephant Action League (EAL), which has dubbed ivory the "white gold of jihad", said that elephant poaching and the trafficking of ivory is fuelling conflict in Africa by helping groups such as al-Shabaab to mount ever more deadly attacks.
The illicit ivory trade funds "up to 40 per cent of the cost [of al-Shabaab's] army of 5,000 people", according to Andrea Crosta, a director of EAL, and co-author of a 2011 report into the links between poaching and terror groups.
The spotlight on al-Shabaab's funding is more intense than ever after the most deadly terror attack on Kenyan soil since the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi which killed more than 200 people. The Westgate siege has propelled the affiliate of al-Qa'ida to international attention. The group has warned that the slaughter, in which at least 67 people died, is just "the premiere of Act One" and continues to demand that Kenya pull its troops out of Somalia.
The poaching of elephants for their tusks has driven the animal in some countries – such as Sierra Leone and Senegal – to the point of extinction. More than 30,000 elephants were slaughtered in Africa last year alone, 382 of them in Kenya.
Armed with AK-47 machine guns, and with bows and arrows that are sometimes poisoned, poachers slip unnoticed past the few rangers who patrol the conservancies and track the elephants. Often, they target the calves first in the knowledge that the older elephants will bunch up to try to protect them. Then they kill the others. It takes several bullets to bring down such sizeable mammals, and the elephants usually die after immense suffering. The poachers hack off most of the elephant's head to get at the tusks.
Not since the slaughter of the 1980s, which prompted the introduction of an international ban on the commercial trade of ivory, has the situation been so desperate, say conservationists. In less than 30 years, Kenya's elephant population has plunged from 167,000 to only 35,000.
Armed gangs act with impunity, and officials are paid off all along the way. When poachers are caught and brought to justice, they escape with trivial fines or short custodial sentences. Rarely are the brains behind the organised crime syndicates that drive the illicit trade brought to justice.
In relative terms, the rewards for everyone involved are huge. The poachers, who run the biggest risks, earn $50-$100 per kilogram, and the price increases as the ivory moves up the chain. By the time it reaches its final market, which in most cases is China, it can fetch around $3,000 per kilo. Rhino horn is even more lucrative – although the small rhino population is much better protected – commanding up to $65,000 a kilo.
"Like any militias, they [al-Shabaab] are using whatever they can to get easy money," said Paula Kahumbu, executive director at the WildlifeDirect advocacy group. "The ivory trade is just the same as the previous [blood] diamond crisis in West Africa."
Al-Shabaab is not the only terror group to have tapped into the lucrative trade. The Janjaweed of Sudan and the Lord's Resistance Army, which has killed more than 3,000 and displaced thousands more in Central Africa, are both heavily involved in poaching.
US forces target leading al-Shabaab militant in Somalia raid
Raid on coastal town fails, officials say, but wanted al-Qaida man is captured in Libya
Peter Beaumont and agencies
The Observer, Sunday 6 October 2013
US forces launched raids in Libya and Somalia on Saturday, capturing a top al-Qaida figure wanted for the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, but failing to secure the target in Somalia, US officials said.
Senior al-Qaida figure Anas al-Liby was seized in the raid in Libya, but no militant was captured in the raid on the Somali town of Barawe, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Pentagon confirmed US military personnel had been involved in an operation against what it called "a known al-Shabaab terrorist" in Somalia, but gave no more details.
One US official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the al-Shabaab leader targeted in the operation was neither captured nor killed.
US officials did not identify the target. They said US forces, trying to avoid civilian casualties, disengaged after inflicting some al-Shabaab casualties. They said no US personnel were wounded or killed in the operation.
A US navy Seal team swam ashore near Barawe, southern Somalia, before dawn prayers, US and Somali officials told the Associated Press.
They approaching a two-storey beachfront property in small boats, reportedly supported by a helicopter and naval gunfire.
The raid was carried out by members of Seal team six, the same unit that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout in 2011, another senior US military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorised to speak publicly.
This time the Seal team members encountered fiercer resistance than expected, and after a 15-20 minute firefight, the unit leader decided to abort the mission and they swam away, the official said. Seal team six has responsibility for counter-terrorism activities in the Horn of Africa.
US navy commandos killed a senior al-Qaida member in the same town four years ago.
The New York Times quoted a US security official as saying that the target was believed to have been killed, but later accounts called that into question.
The New York Times quoted an unnamed US security official saying the raid was planned a week and a half ago and prompted by the attack on Nairobi's upmarket Westgate shopping mall two weeks ago in which at least 67 people were killed.
The paper also reported that a senior Somali government official said: "The attack was carried out by the American forces and the Somali government was pre-informed about the attack."
Claims by an al-Shabaab spokesman that the raid involved British and Turkish special forces and that a British commando had been killed were denied by a UK official.
Other reports spoke of two boats landing on a nearby beach and the soldiers using silenced weapons. Nato, the French military and the EU's anti-piracy force denied launching the raid. Somali officials, speaking anonymously, said that the target of the raid was a high-profile foreign leader in al-Shabaab, with one source identifying him as a Chechen.
Radio Shabelle in Mogadishu reported that one al-Shabaab fighter had been killed and others were injured. Somali security officials gave partly conflicting accounts.
"We understand that French troops injured Abu Diyad, also known as Abu Ciyad, an al-Shabaab leader from Chechnya. They killed his main guard, who was also a foreigner. The main target was the al-Shabaab leader from Chechnya," an intelligence officer based in Mogadishu, who gave his name as Mohamed, told Reuters.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for al-Shabaab's military operations, told Reuters: "Westerners in boats attacked our base at Barawe beach and one was martyred from our side. No planes or helicopters took part in the fight. The attackers left weapons, medicine and stains of blood. We chased them."
There was immediate speculation that the target was the leader of al-Shabaab, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Godane, who claimed responsibility for the four-day assault on the Westgate shopping mall. Godane said the Nairobi attack was in retaliation for Kenya's military deployment inside Somalia.
Also on Saturday Kenya's military confirmed the names of four al-Shabaab fighters implicated in the Westgate mall attack. Major Emmanuel Chirchir said the men were Abu Baara al-Sudani, Omar Nabhan, Khattab al-Kene and Umayr – names that were first broadcast by a local Kenyan television station. "I confirm those are the names of the terrorists," he said in a tweet to Associated Press.
Publication of the identities supports CCTV footage from the Nairobi mall published by a private TV station that shows no more than four attackers, contradicting earlier government statements that 10-15 attackers were involved.
They are seen calmly walking through a storeroom inside the complex, holding machine guns. One of the men's legs appears to be stained with blood, although he is not limping, and it is unclear if the blood is his.
Danish chef pours donated cash into rebuild of Somali's bombed cafe
Copenhagen cook René Redzepi raises appeal funds for Ahmed Jama, owner of Mogadishu Village eatery blasted by Islamists
David Smith, Africa correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 12 September 2013 20.51 BST
Two more different restaurants are hard to imagine. Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, is an oak-floored oasis of calm and elegance that has thrice been ranked the world's best. The Village in war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia, is a humbler affair and has just been attacked by Islamist militants, with a suicide attacker and car bomb killing at least 18 people.
Yet the community of chefs is strong. René Redzepi, the celebrated founder of Noma, was so shocked at the latest outrage that he launched a fundraising drive to help Somali Ahmed Jama rebuild his establishment. In just four days it has raised €12,000 (£10,090), with donations coming from around the world.
"He's a cook who has a bigger mission than any of us," Redzepi said. "We all cook for ourselves but he has a bigger agenda. We're from Scandinavia where our struggles are not worth mentioning compared to the things he has to deal with."
Jama, who studied catering in Solihull, West Midlands, also owns a Somali restaurant called the Village in Hammersmith, west London. He returned to Mogadishu to demonstrate the country could change for the better and opened the Village in 2008. More recently, he opened a $100-a-night beachside hotel.
Redzepi first read about Jama in the Guardian last year and invited him to speak at Noma's recent Mad Symposium food festival where his talk was called War zone cuisine: bringing back peace and life to Mogadishu.
Via a Somali interpreter, Jama told the gathering of chefs, cooks and farmers: "In 2008 I decided to open a restaurant in Mogadishu and my fellow Somalis in London thought I was crazy: 'how could I open a restaurant in a dangerous area like Mogadishu?' But when I opened the restaurant I made an opportunity for employing many young people and they were very happy, and have attracted many people to come and eat at my restaurant."
Jama won over his audience. Redzepi said: "He talked about his decision to leave the safety net of Europe and address the negative perceptions of Somalia. It was a really touching, inspiring story and he did it in a way that wasn't trying to get sympathy. That's why it was so crazy to read the headline about a guy we'd just spent four days with."
Two weeks after the symposium, the Village was attacked for the third time in its history by al-Shabaab, a group linked to al-Qaida. Jama survived, having stepped outside five minutes before the bombings, and vowed to rebuild once again.
Redzepi expressed admiration for the Somalian's resolve. "It's close to my heart. I totally get him and his dedication to the table. What he fights for is not Michelin stars or being on some list, but a totally different level of dedication.
"It's mind boggling that he hasn't quit after being bombed so many times. Most people in that situation would have."
He set up an appeal fund, tweeting on Monday: "Guys, lets help out chef Ahmed in Somalia rebuild." It attracted donations from nearly a hundred people from countries including the US, Australia, Britain, Denmark and Lebanon, ranging from €10 to €1,000. "We all said we want to help people. That genuine compassion is what makes the world tick."
Since al-Shabaab was driven out two years ago there has been some progress in Mogadishu. A president and parliament have been elected, foreign embassies including the British have reopened and events such as TEDxMogadishu have been staged. But in June the rebel group attacked the main UN compound, killing at least 22, and recently Médecins Sans Frontières announced it was pulling out of Somalia after 22 years.
On Wednesday, more than 160 Muslim scholars issued a fatwa against al-Shabaab and called on the government to defend its citizens. The scholars said "it was forbidden that anyone join al-Shabaab" as its extreme interpretation of Islam was damaging to the reputation of Muslims.
American jihadist rapper and British Islamist militant killed in Somalia
JOSEPH CHARLTON Author Biography Thursday 12 September 2013
For some Somalis, a new threat after war
The repatriation of Somalis is sowing discontent in Mogadishu, with claims of favouritism in public sector hiring.
Hamza Mohamed Last Modified: 02 Sep 2013 06:57
Mogadishu, Somalia - It's just after 11am when a group of more than thirty current and former students of the University of Somalia in Mogadishu gather in one of the student halls on the leafy campus, to discuss what they see as a fresh threat to their futures in the new Somalia - returning Somali diaspora.
The mood in the mural-covered hall is solemn. One by one they take to the podium to share their experiences and ways to overcome this new challenge.
"I believe they have taken our jobs. If it wasn't for them, I would have a job by now," said jobseeker Sadia Mohamed Abdirahman, a 22-year-old who graduated two years ago with a degree in social sciences.
"Everywhere I go they ask if I have a foreign passport. Which passport you hold can be the reason you get a job or not," she added, her passionate voice bouncing off the walls of the sparsely filled hall and eliciting rapturous applause from everyone in the hall.
With a fragile peace holding in the Somali capital since the ousting of hardline Islamist rebel group al Shabaab, thousands of Somali diaspora, mainly from the West, have flocked back to this city of more than a million people.
On average there are 35 flights landing at Mogadishu's international airport every day, bringing more than six hundred passengers to Somalia's most populous city.
The presence of these new arrivals in the city hasn't gone unnoticed.
"Every time I see another passenger plane flying over the city and landing at Mogadishu airport, I see my job chances decreasing. More diaspora [returnees] means fewer jobs for us," said 21-year-old Abdi Nasir Mohamed, while taking shelter from the midday sun.
Most of those gathered in the student hall say they have no friends or family members in high offices, unlike many of those in the diaspora, to help them get a foot in the door.
More than three quarters of Somali cabinet ministers were previously members of the diaspora, a fact that's not lost on Mohamed. "All these diasporas are getting the jobs because our government is a diaspora government," he said.
Those gathered in the student hall also said that the criteria for hiring new employees for government offices favours those returning from abroad and stops locals from accessing the few public sector jobs that are available.
Charges of favouritism
Hassan Mohamed Elmi is a 27-year-old, third-year business administration student. He thinks the current system of hiring new employees is meant to safeguard the interests of those in the diaspora.
"Asking a local to have five, seven or ten years experience is not fair. We were at war for the past 23 years. It was impossible to have that kind or length of experience," he said.
But returning citizens don't think there is any foul play in how they're getting government jobs.
Most see themselves as risk-takers who are merely here to help their fellow countrymen and get their country back on its feet.
Tariq Bihi moved to Mogadishu two years ago from London to work for the Somali government. He now works for the Ministry of Human Development and Public Services.
"Being in Mogadishu is a downgrade in every sense, in terms of security, leisure and transportation, but I feel it's a sacrifice well worth taking," he said.
That's a view shared by Maluka Abdulkadir, who works in the Office of the Prime Minister. "I left the comforts of Boston and a well paying banking job there to come to Mogadishu and be part of the rebuilding process. I'm here on merit and I'm in it for the long haul," she said.
But Bihi admits some of the concerns of the locals are understandable. "Taxi drivers from the West holding senior government posts won't win over many locals, but it is important to stress most of us are here on merit and qualifications," he said.
The Somali government, in office just under a year, doesn't share the same view and strongly denies any favouritism in the way it hires new employees.
"Somalia is for all Somalis. Jobs are only given to Somalis who have the experience and can contribute," Ridwaan Haji Abdiweli, spokesman for the Somali government, told Al Jazeera.
"We cannot prevent a Somali person from getting a government job because they have lived abroad," he added.
Abdiweli also disagrees with the accusation that most of those working in government offices are not locals. "More than 99 percent of government employees are people who have never left Somalia, even for a day. To say the diaspora make up most of the civil service is not true," he claimed.
The city is undergoing a boom unlike any it has experienced in the past two decades - thanks in large part to diaspora dollars.
Rent prices in this seaside city have hit an all-time high. Many of the locals are unhappy and pointing their fingers at the returning Somalis for the record rents being demanded.
Many are forced to move into overcrowded camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), because they can't afford the prices quoted by landlords eager to make quick returns - after suffering through two decades of low rents.
"I was paying $100 a month for a three-bedroom house, including bills. Then a guy from Sweden came and offered to pay my landlord $400 a month, excluding bills," said a frustrated Mohamed Noor from his new one-bedroom, tin-shelter home in an IDP camp in the Hodon district of Mogadishu.
"The only places where we are safe from the diaspora are in the IDP camps. I wish not a single one of them had came back," Noor added.
Diaspora cash is welcome
But not everyone in Mogadishu is anti-diaspora. The business community in particular can't get enough of them - and the dollars they bring with them.
Abdi Rahman Hassan opened Dirshe Car Dealership in downtown Mogadishu three years ago. Two years ago, before Somalis living abroad started returning in large numbers, he sold barely ten cars a month. Things are much different now.
"In a very quiet month I sell at least 20 cars. A car I used to sell for $4,000 two years ago, I now sell for more than $6,000. Almost all my buyers are people who have returned from abroad," Hassan said, beaming with a big smile - and surrounded by second-hand cars imported from Dubai.
The relationship between the diaspora and the locals could be mutually beneficial to both groups.
A five-minute drive from Dirshe's Car Dealership is Mogadishu's only laundry shop - Somali Premium Laundry.
"Seventy-five percent of my clients are Somalis from abroad. All eleven of my staff are locals," said Mohamed Mohamud Sheikh, the laundry's owner.
"It wouldn't have been possible to open this shop without the patronage of the diaspora, and I wouldn't have been able to employ 11 locals. We need each other," he added.
Student Mohamed, however, would rather the diaspora hadn't come back. "There aren't that many opportunities to go around," he said.
"It is best they come when there are enough jobs. The few jobs around here should be left for those who were here during the war."
Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa
Electronic transfers improve Somalia economy
Small business owners are using a unique form of mobile money to connect with customers.
Hamza Mohamed Last Modified: 31 Aug 2013 14:16
Mogadishu, Somalia - Abukar Abdulle Mohamed is a busy man. His three phones keep beeping away as he negotiates and shakes hands with a group of mainly middle-aged men.
Fifty-four-year-old Mohamed is a livestock trader with more than thirty years experience and has just sold his tenth goat of the day at Hawl Wadaag livestock market in Mogadishu. But he isn’t holding wads of cash in his hands to show for the day’s sales.
The beeps from his phones aren’t for incoming calls or text messages. He receives the money from the sales through his phones thanks to EVCplus (Electronic Virtual Cash).
EVCplus is a free electronic money transfer service introduced and operated by Somalia’s biggest telecommunication company, Hormuud.
It’s a fairly easy-to-use tool and works like an SMS service. Both sender and receiver first need to register with the company. After dialling #770# from their mobile phone handset and using a secret four digit pin password, customers can choose between seven options. Instant transactions can be made as long as there is enough money in the account of the buyer. All texts go through centrally controlled software that adds or deducts money immediately from your account depending on your activity.
The service has transformed the lives of many. All the traders in the market say they prefer to be paid by EVCplus or in US dollars.
“I don’t like customers paying me in cash. Not anymore. One dollar is eighteen thousand shillings,” said Mohamed. Because of the low value of the Somali currency, it’s impractical to conduct business transaction using the Somali shilling. He added, “I will need bags and a wheelbarrow to carry the money from the ten goats I sold today.”
In a country still recovering from more than two decades of civil war and awash with guns, traders also prefer EVCplus for safety reasons.
“No one knows if you have money. I travel outside the city and the roads are not safe. It is easier to hide a sim card than a sack of money,” said Mohamed Iman Ali, a fellow trader at the market. “Even if you don’t take the sim card out and your phone is stolen the company blocks your EVCplus.”
Even though most customers are now using EVCplus as a payment tool, the service was rolled out as an airtime recharge service. Before its introduction two years ago, customers used to recharge their airtime using scratch cards.
With shops closing early every evening - mostly for safety reasons - customers had no place to buy scratch cards. So EVCplus took off. Customers no longer had to take the risk of leaving their homes at night to recharge their airtime.
The service also has cut down on the company's costs. Hormuud used to print the scratch cards abroad then ship them into the country.
Despite Hormuud’s initial intention for EVCplus as an airtime top-up tool, resourceful Somalis started using it to make purchases and using it as a cash card.
“It wasn’t meant for business transactions. We introduced it as a telecommunication tool,” said Abdirashid Ali Ainashe, the company’s public relations director. “Somalis are quick learners and very intelligent and took EVCplus a step further and started to use it to buy goods.”
Since its introduction two years ago, 70 percent of the more than 2.5 million Hormuud customers have opened an EVCplus account. Some customers, like Mohamed, have more than one account.
But the service has its limitations. Customers can only have $300 in their account at any given time. This is a limit set by the company. For business individuals this is an unwelcome hassle.
“We have two phones, each with EVCplus accounts set up. The $300 limit is a big problem for our business,” said Sharmake Abukar, a shop owner.
This limitation is something Hormuud is very much aware of but says it’s not their fault. “EVCplus is not for doing business but just for charging your airtime. But business people can connect their EVCplus account with local bank accounts and transfer their money that way,” said Ainashe.
Like many other sectors of the country’s economy, Somalia’s banking sector is in ruins. The few banks operating are usually based in the big cities and require cumbersome processes of verification for customers to register. To overcome this challenge most business people prefer to have more than one EVCplus account.
“Opening a bank account can be difficult. It is easier for me to have more than one EVCplus account,” said Abukar from the counter of his shop in the Hodan district of Mogadishu.
With security still a big problem in most parts of the country Hormuud also says the $300 limit is for security reasons. But others think the service is not yet fully secure.
“There is no limit to how many EVCplus accounts you can have. There is also no limit to how much money you can send or receive in a single day,” said Mohamed Maalim Hassan, a Mogadishu-based IT and finance consultant. “You can have as many accounts as you want. All you need to do is as soon as your account balance reaches $300, you either take the money out or forward the money to other accounts,” he added.
The service is catching on fast and moving into other traditional everyday activities like paying their electricity bills and booking domestic flights.
“I pay using EVCplus both for my electricity and water bills. I even pay my maid using EVCplus. That way I have an electronic receipt and don’t need to collect paper receipts as proof of payment,” says Luula Ali.
One group of business people not entirely happy with the introduction of EVCplus are Hawala owners. Before EVCplus Somalis used to send money to each other using local Hawalas but that has almost completely stopped now. To send or receive money through the Hawala, people have to go to an office. Hawalas also charge commission - most charge five percent - for the service they offer.
“We have closed some of our local branches because of the reduced number of customers. Most of our market is now people receiving money from abroad. Our local market has been affected badly,” said Ali Noor Ahmed, a local Hawala manager.
At the livestock market, traders say their loyalty lies with their wallets. They’re happy they now have a free service they can use anytime, anywhere in Somalia. “I’m not sad for the Hawalas. I’m happy I don’t have to give my hard-earned money to them,” said Ali.
With fragile peace holding in the Somali capital, other innovations that challenge the dominance of EVCplus might be in the offing.
“I’m sure EVCplus is the start. Many exciting innovations are coming to Somalia. Let’s hope the peace holds,” said Hassan.
Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa
Rape cases soar in Somali camps
It is estimated 1,700 women were raped in camps for displaced people in the capital, Mogadishu.
Last Modified: 30 Aug 2013 04:00
There has been a rise in incidents of rape and sexual abuse of women and young girls in Somalia.
Most of the assaults go unreported because victims fear stigma and reprisals.
The United Nations recorded 1,700 rapes in 500 camps for displaced people in the capital Mogadishu.
Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow reports from Mogadishu.
Sisters of Somalia
Asha Hagi Elmi and her sister Amina spearhead efforts to bring dignity to the women of Mogadishu's refugee camps.
Witness Last Modified: 02 Jul 2013 22:54
Asha Hagi Elmi is a humanitarian activist, internationally recognised for her work helping to build peace and defend the rights of women in Somalia. Witness journeys with Asha to the refugee camps of Mogadishu, swelled to bursting point in 2011 by tens of thousands of Somalis fleeing drought and the threat of famine.
Asha, her sister Amina and other women from the NGO she founded, Saving Somali Women and Children (SSWC), distribute food, clothing, medical and practical aid, lend an ear to the refugees' stories and, most of all, attempt to restore dignity to the lives of the often traumatised and extremely vulnerable women and children they meet in the camps.