updated 2:05 PM MDT, Mar 26, 2017
A+ A A-

Somalia :Pirates hijack oil tanker

Mogadishu Hijackers holding an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia are demanding a ransom, the European Union anti-piracy naval force says. The EU force made contact with the ship's master who said his vessel and crew were being held captive anchored off the coast of north-east Somalia. The gunmen have however not given any details about the size of the ransom. The EU is helping to tackle piracy in the region but this is the first hijack off Somalia's coast since 2012. The ship was en route from Djibouti to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, when it sent a distress signal, saying it was being approached by high-speed boats. The ships tracking system has reportedly been switched off. The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry has confirmed that eight of its nationals were on board. Somalia warns of return to piracy Somali piracy: A broken business model? The gunmen have told a local official they are fishermen whose equipment was destroyed by illegal fishing vessels. Ali Shire Mohamud Osman, the district commissioner in the town of Alula, near where the ship has been taken, told the BBC he was trying to find out if the gunmen really were fishermen or were organised pirates. "The men who are holding it claim that they are fishermen who suffered from the illegal fishing in the area. However, if we confirm that they are pirates, I will ask them to leave the area immediately. Otherwise, we will see how we can save the vessel," he said. European Union Naval Force training exercise for Operation Atalanta, which has been running in Somali since 2008 to combat piracyImage copyrightEUROPEAN UNION NAVAL FORCE Image caption The European Union Naval Force has been running operations off Somalia since 2008 to combat piracy The vessel was carrying oil and was owned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite conflicting reports over the flag it was sailing under, he added. The European Union Naval Force, which runs anti-piracy operations in the area, said it was too early to confirm pirate involvement. It has sent a plane to the area to investigate. Eight people are believed to have been on board the ship, which can carry almost 12,000 tonnes of cargo. Map of Somalia Piracy off the coast of Somalia, usually for ransom, has reduced significantly in recent years, in part because of extensive international military patrols as well as support for local fishing communities. At the height of the crisis in 2011 there were 237 attacks and the annual cost of piracy was estimated to be up to $8bn (£7bn). However, some smaller fishing vessels have recently been seized in the area. In 2015, Somali officials warned that piracy could return unless the international community helped create jobs and security ashore, as well as combating illegal fishing at sea. Some Somali fishermen turned to piracy after their livelihoods were destroyed by illegal fishing from foreign trawlers, who benefited from the lack of a functioning coastguard in the country following years of conflict.
  • Written by Contributor

How Warning Signs of Famine Were Ignored in Somalia

Many observers feel outraged about the international community’s seeming indifference when it comes to African famine deaths. Camps outside Mogadishu during the 2010-12 famine in Somalia. Credit: IPS Camps outside Mogadishu during the 2010-12 famine in Somalia. Credit: IPS Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Last month, the UN declared another famine threat in Somalia due to yet another drought in the Horn of Africa. Important lessons must be drawn from the Somalia famine of 2010-2012, which probably killed about 258,000 people, half of whom were under five years old. This was the greatest tragedy in terms of famine deaths in the 21st century, and in recent decades since the Ethiopian famine of the late 1980s. A 2013 report, for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) and the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), used a variety of sources to estimate the likely death toll. The report – jointly commissioned and funded by FAO and the USAID-funded FEWS Net, and covering the period from October 2010 to April 2012 – was undertaken by independent experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Early warning, but no early action Both FEWSNET and FSNAU had been warning of the impending tragedy with increasing urgency for some time, producing numerous early warning alerts besides directly briefing agencies and donor governments. Some critics claim that the early warnings may actually have been late and even underestimated the scale of the emerging crisis. Many insist that the lateness of the intervention was responsible for many deaths. About 120,000 people had already died in the months before the UN declared a famine and intervened from mid-2011 after issuing 16 early warnings to indifferent responses. Many observers feel outraged about the international community’s seeming indifference when it comes to African famine deaths. If the ‘international community’ had responded quickly, early interventions could have been undertaken to minimize the resulting destitution and starvation. But an entire year of early warnings failed to elicit the needed responses. Donor governments did not increase aid, while most major humanitarian agencies did not step up their efforts. The system only began to act after famine was declared, i.e., long after the window of opportunity to avoid disaster had passed. Politics in the way The failure to respond was primarily due to politics. The worst affected areas in Somalia were believed to be controlled by as-Shabaab, which was engaged in a war with the Western-supported Somali transitional federal government (TFG). Western donor governments were reticent in case their aid fell into the hands of their adversary. US laws imply that humanitarian workers in Somalia would have been liable to prosecution and 15 years imprisonment if the aid they were distributing fell into the hands of as-Shabaab. Such legal and other constraints contributed to the significant decline in aid to Somalia, which fell by half between 2008 and 2011, after the US government decision to significantly reduce humanitarian funding in as-Shabaab-controlled areas from 2008. The WFP executive director at the time – Josette Sheeran, a Bush nominee – had a well known history of conflict with Hillary Clinton, then US secretary of state. Ertharin Cousin, US permanent representative to the UN system in Rome for much of the period involved, went on to succeed Sheeran after Clinton blocked a second term for her. Meanwhile, the head of UNICEF, Tony Lake, had been US national security advisor at the time of the infamous 1993 ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident in Somalia, imprinted in the American collective memory by the Hollywood movie. By ignoring early warnings, cutting aid and constraining humanitarian interventions in Somalia, Western governments exacerbated the deteriorating situation, making famine more, not less likely. Instead of trying harder, humanitarian organizations presumed it would be politically unfeasible to raise resources. As-Shabaab’s expulsion of the UN’s World Food Programme in 2010 only made things worse, with another 16 UN agencies and international NGOs suffering similar fates in 2011 for allegedly “illicit activities and misconduct”. Thus, Western donors prioritised their geopolitical priorities over the urgent need to avoid famine. Rob Bailey, a senior research fellow specialising in food security at Chatham House in London, has even asserted that “In Somalia, western donors made famine more, not less likely”. As-Shabaab also paid little heed to the Somali population under its control. It not only restricted humanitarian access and rejected emergency aid, but also limited the ability of people to move besides taxing food production and distribution. Both sides did not prioritise the growing need for massive, early, pro-active initiatives to stem the spreading destitution and to prevent famine. Donor governments only changed their stances after famine was declared, as public attention meant that the governments could not be seen to be the problem. Lessons learnt? Although donor governments and humanitarian organisations were quick to announce that they had learnt the lessons of the Somali famine, things are now worse in some respects. In recent years, both the US and the EU have imposed strict sanctions on remittances to Somalia, which have cut the meagre resources available to destitute households. As income from such remittances served to mitigate the devastating impact of the last famine, it would be worse this time without them. Meanwhile, aid and other humanitarian interventions remain highly politicised. While early warning systems are under critical scrutiny, there is nothing to ensure that early warnings lead to early action despite the existence of early warning systems and resources needed to prevent famine. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. (IPS)
  • Written by Contributor

UN chief, visiting Somalia, pleads for aid to avert famine

KHALED KAZZIHA/ASSOCIATED PRESS “We need massive support from the international community,’’ said UN Secretary General António Guterres, who visited the town of Baidoa and other parts of — The secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, arrived in Somalia on Tuesday and appealed for $825 million in aid to address drought and cholera in the East Africa nation on the brink of famine. Guterres said the money was needed to help 5.5 million people, about half of Somalia’s population, survive the next six months. A former prime minister of Portugal who was picked in October to lead the United Nations, Guterres announced his visit on Twitter. Last week, he declared that famine was underway in part of South Sudan and warned that people in areas of Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen were also at risk of dying from hunger. Get Todays Headlines in your inbox: Sign Up At the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, Guterres met with President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a former prime minister who was elected last month. Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said that droughts and cholera had killed more than 200 people in southern and central Somalia. The country has had two consecutive years of drought, and meteorologists expect crops to fail again this year. Famine was last declared in Somalia in July 2011, after an estimated 260,000 people died, most during a two-month period. ADVERTISEMENT In a joint news conference, Mohamed and Guterres pleaded for assistance. “We need massive support from the international community to avoid a repetition of the tragic events of 2011,” Guterres said. He added that this was “a moment of tragedy” but also “a moment of hope,” because prompt action would make it possible to avoid the worst and allow the country “to be able to turn the page and for Somalia to, finally, find the way to stability, peace, and prosperity.’’ Guterres recited a litany of statistics: Some 330,000 acutely malnourished children, a number that could rise to 1 million; 3.3 million people in need of medical care to deal with diseases in a country that lacks health infrastructure; and 7,731 cases of cholera in the past two months. “Just last week, 1,352 cases of cholera and 38 people dying — it’s a process in acceleration,” he warned. Ahmed Abdi Hassan, the Somali consul general in Aden, Yemen, who was part of a delegation that welcomed Guterres, called the visit historic, likening it to one last year by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who opened an embassy in Mogadishu and called for deeper ties between the nations. The Somali government has created an emergency committee of federal and regional levels to handle fund-raising and to register people affected by drought. The government is functioning but does not control the entire country, and there are vast pockets where militants from al-Shabab group are active. Somalia is one of six predominantly Muslim countries whose citizens are blocked from entering the United States under President Trump’s revised travel ban. Before President Obama’s term ended, the US government intensified a largely clandestine war in Somalia, using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors, and African allies in an escalating campaign against al-Shabab militants. In other countries dealing with famines or near-famines, aid workers have also struggled to reach the hungry. In South Sudan, the government has created ‘‘administrative and bureaucratic impediments’’ for humanitarian groups, Stephen O’Brien, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told The Washington Post. In northeastern Nigeria, aid workers have been unable to reach desperate people, because of military restrictions and the threat posed by Islamist Boko Haram fighters. In Yemen, clashes between pro-government forces and Houthi rebels have made it difficult for aid groups to travel. Across the four countries, the United Nations estimates that 20 million people are caught
  • Written by Contributor

UN chief: Steady funding needed for AU troops in Somalia -AP

Nairobi - The UN secretary general on Wednesday urged more funding for African Union troops in Somalia battling Islamic extremists trying to take over the country. The African Union Mission in Somalia, known as Amisom, needs consistent funding in order to meet its objectives in fighting terrorism and stabilising the country, Antonio Guterres said. The AU force in Somalia has about 22 000 troops from Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Burundi, but questions are growing about Somalia's security as the force plans to withdraw from the country by the end of 2020. Observers say Somalia's national forces aren't yet prepared to take over. The European Union has been the primary donor supporting the force by about $200m per year, but last year it announced it would cut its funding by 20%. First deployed in 2007, the force has been instrumental in pushing the al-Qaeda-linked extremists of al-Shabaab from the capital, Mogadishu, and other major cities and towns. "My belief is that Amisom is underequipped in relation to the needs," Guterres said. "Amisom is doing a remarkable work in very precarious conditions." The UN chief spoke during a joint press conference with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and later answered questions during a press briefing. Guterres on Tuesday made an emergency visit to Somalia, where he witnessed the impact of a severe drought.
  • Written by Contributor

Somali immigrants in Oregon react to Trump’s revised travel ban

PORTLAND — Somali immigrants in Oregon reacted Monday to President Trump’s revised travel ban with dismay, saying it stigmatizes a growing immigrant community that’s working to forge better relationships after the high-profile conviction of a local Somali-American for a bomb plot. Trump’s executive order, announced Monday, bars new visas for citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries, including Somalia. Around 8,000 Somalis live in Portland, and those numbers are growing, said Musse Olol, president of the Somali American Council of Oregon. Olol has received calls from people worried about family members trying to join them in Portland, including one mother who has been working to bring her five children to Oregon from Kenya to join her. Now, he said, she is not sure what to do. “It’s very, very negative, very concerning. We don’t understand why this community is targeted,” Olol said. “And those of us here, those of us who’ve been here for 35 years, are being alienated, demonized.” Somali leaders in Portland worry that Trump’s travel ban will cast a shadow on efforts to unite a refugee community deeply divided by civil war and to keep young Somali-Americans away from radical groups online. A local Somali-American named Mohamed Mohamud was arrested in 2010 for plotting to bomb a crowded Christmas tree lighting celebration in the city’s town square. Mohamud, a former Oregon State University student, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2014. “This will make it easy for (young Somalis) to say, ‘Well, we don’t belong in this country,’ ” said Olol, a mechanical engineer who came to the U.S. in 1981. “With the radicals on social media … now you’re pretty much reinforcing what they’re saying,” he said. “That’s one of the tools they use to recruit young men, and we’re more susceptible because we’re the poorest group of Muslim immigrants.” Many of Portland’s Somalis have spent their entire lives in refugee camps, forced there by the country’s long-lasting civil war. Portland’s Somali community represents the largest Muslim group in the city. Somali has become the third most spoken native language in Portland schools. The Portland Public Schools last year started a Somali language program. The Portland Police Bureau in 2015 swore in its first Somali-American police officer. Last year, several dozen Somali taxi cab drivers united to form their own Somali-owned and operated cab company after struggling to make a living driving for others. By Gillian Flaccus The Associated Press
  • Written by Contributor