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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Somalia, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Welcoming Week: Q&A with Author Anne Sibley O’Brien

Welcoming Week_I'm New Here

Welcoming Week is a special time of year. Communities across the country will come together to celebrate and raise awareness of immigrants, refugees and new Americans of all kinds. Whether it’s an event at your local art gallery or showing support on social media, the goal is to let anyone new to America know just how much they are valued and welcomed during what is likely a big transition.

And the biggest transitions are happening for the littlest people.

A new country, a new home, maybe even a new language — that would be enough for any kid — but a new school, too? That subject is exactly what author Anne Sibley O’Brien addresses in her book I’m New Here, new to the First Book Marketplace.

Marissa Wasseluk and Roxana Barillas of the First Book team had the pleasure of speaking with Anne about I’m New Here, the experiences of kids new to America, and what kids can do to help create a welcoming atmosphere.

Marissa: So, and I am sure you get this question all the time, but I’m curious — what inspired or motivated you to create I’m New Here?

It’s funny, it’s such a, “where would you start?” kind of question, but I don’t remember if anyone has ever asked me that point blank because I don’t recall ever putting together this answer before. Over the years of working in schools — especially working with Margy Burns Knight with our nonfiction books: Talking Walls; Who Belongs Here and other multi-racial, multicultural, global nonfiction books — I had a lot of encounters, a lot of discussions, a lot of experiences with immigrant students and I was very aware of the kinds of cross-cultural challenges that children and teachers can experience. For instance, Cambodian children show respect by keeping their eyes down and not looking in the eyes of an adult, especially a teacher. In Cambodian culture adults don’t ever touch children’s heads. So you can immediately imagine how those kinds of things would be quite challenging when a Cambodian child comes into a U.S. classroom and suddenly two of those cultural markers are not only gone, but the opposite is what they need to learn.

Somebody might put their hand on your head — it being out of concern and wanting to make a connection — or they might say “I need you to look at me now” and not recognize that that’s cultural inappropriate for a Cambodian child. So growing that kind of awareness of the challenges that immigrant children face — that was the original impetus for the book. Just collecting some of those stories and raising awareness of how many obstacles immigrant children face. From climate to traditions in speaking and in body language, to food, to learning a new language. Not just learning a new language in terms of how you speak and read and write, but also how you interact with people, how social norms work — they just face such enormous challenges. And there were originally six characters so it was trying to cover everything.

Marissa: The characters that are in the book, they cover a child from Guatemala, a child from Korea, and a child from Somalia — did you work with these specific immigrant communities when you were creating this book?

I spoke to individual experts, such as several Somali interpreters and family liaison experts who work for the multi-lingual, multicultural office of the Portland, ME public schools. So I had that kind of expert advice to respond to what I was writing. But the original ideas mostly came from my observations, my interactions with Somali students in the classrooms that I visited. And then with Korean students I met many, many Korean students here in the US and I had my own background to draw on there.

Marissa: Can you tell me a little bit more about these classrooms that you’ve visited? We talk with a lot of educators who work with Title I schools and they often talk about how reserved the English as a second language students can be. There is a silent phase that a lot of kids go through. Have you observed that and have you shared your book with any of these first generation immigrants?

It’s certainly been shared with many. I actually just shared it with a group of students in a summer school program — about seventy students from third to fifth grade who were from East African countries and some Middle Eastern countries. Most of the group were immigrants and I read the book and then we had a discussion about being new and being welcoming. Of all the student groups that I’ve worked with, they were actually the most effusive and had the most to share in that discussion about what it feels like to be new and what you can do to welcome someone.

Marissa: What were some of the suggestions?

They had all kinds of ideas about what you could say and do to make somebody feel like they were at home. You could take them around, go through a list and say, “this is your classroom, this is your teacher, this is your playground, this is your classmate.”

Roxana: You’re taking me back – a few years back I came to the United States when I was twelve from El Salvador, speaking no English. It hits close to home in terms of the importance of the work you are doing, not just for kids who may not always feel like they belong, but also for the kids who can actually help that process be an easier one.

Welcoming Week_Anne Sibley O'BrienThat is wonderful to hear. I was just struck that they had more suggestions than any group I’d worked with, they could hardly be contained. They had so much they wanted to say and I think it’s very fresh in their minds what welcoming looks like and maybe what did or what didn’t happen for them. So the list that they wrote: welcome to my class, say hi, wave, smile, hello, say this is my classroom, these are my friends, do you want to become friends? these are my parents, this is my family, show them around, this is my chair, this is my house, this is your school, this is my teacher, can you read with me? how’s it going? I live here, where do you live? do you need help? welcome to my school.

It was the specificity of it that I just loved.

And they said what it felt like to be new. These kids went beyond with the details so they said: scared, nervous, confused, happy, sad, lonely, shy, surprised. Which is what I get with any group that I talk to — but then they wrote: don’t know how to write, don’t know everybody, don’t know what to do, don’t know what they’re saying, don’t know what to say, don’t think you fit in, embarrassed, don’t know how to read books, don’t know what to think, don’t know how to play games, don’t know how to respond, don’t know how to use the computer. So that is a really rich, concrete list.

Marissa: What about educators, how have educators responded to your book?

It’s been pretty phenomenal. The book is in its third printing and it’s just a year old. Actually, it went into its third print run in June. That is by far the fastest that any book of mine has taken off, so there seemed to really be a hunger. There are quite a number of books about an individual immigrant’s story, but I think what people are responding to, what they found useful, is that this book is different because it’s a concept book about the experience of being new and being welcoming, and in that way it works. A particular story can make a deep connection even if your experience is quite different, you recognize things that are similar. But to have one book that outlines what the experience is like, it is very good for discussions. I’ve done more teacher conferences and appearances, especially in the TESOL community, than I did before. Normally I do a lot of schools where I talk to students, but in the past year the majority of my appearances have been for teacher conferences.

Marissa: Have any of them come up to you and told you how it’s resonated with them? Have you met any educators who are immigrants themselves?

Yes, definitely! The TESOL community is full of people who have immigrant backgrounds. I shouldn’t say full, but there is quite a healthy percentage of the TESOL community who come from that background themselves. Partly because schools often recruit someone who’s bilingual, so you tend to get a lot of wonderful richness of people’s life experiences. They might be second generation or they might not have come as a child but they definitely make a strong connection to children who have that experience. I remember, in particular, some very moving statements that people made standing in line waiting to have a book signed. Talking about how it was “their story” or people talking about and being reminded of their own students. When I talked about the book they were in tears thinking about their own students.

Marissa: Ideally, how would you like to see your book being used in a classroom or a child’s home?

I think I see it in two ways. First, for a child who has just arrived and who is in a situation where things are strange; to be able to recognize themselves and see that their experience is reflected in something that makes them feel less lonely and that there is hope. Many, many people have gone through this experience and it can be so difficult but you can get through.

And to the children who are not recent immigrants, who have been part of a community for generations; that it would spark empathy for children,  for them to imagine what it would be like if they had that experience. Starting with that universal experience of somehow being new somewhere and to recognize, “oh, I remember what that felt like” and imagine if it was not only a new school, but a new country and a new language and a new culture and new food and new religions and on and on and on. Particularly for them to imagine what they could do, concretely, to examine what the new children are doing and to see how hard they are working, the effort that they are making. And also how their classmates are responding so that the outcome is the whole group building a community together.

To learn more about I’m New Here and Anne’s perspective, watch and listen as she discusses the book and her insights into the experiences of immigrant children.

The post Welcoming Week: Q&A with Author Anne Sibley O’Brien appeared first on First Book Blog.

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2. Failed versus rogue states: which are worse?

Today, the international community has its hands full with a host of global challenges; from rising numbers of refugees, international terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferation, to pandemics, cyber-attacks, organized crime, drug trafficking, and others. Where do such global challenges originate? Two primary sources are rogue states like North Korea or Iran and failed states like Afghanistan or Somalia.

The post Failed versus rogue states: which are worse? appeared first on OUPblog.

8 Comments on Failed versus rogue states: which are worse?, last added: 11/21/2015
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3. Desert Flower

Desert FlowerThere’s a certain fate books face when they make it to your bookshelf rather than immediately being read upon purchase: that of being relegated to the dust-gathering, guilt-inducing, probably-never-going-be-read pile.

Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower fell into that category for me. Bought on a whim among a pile of books (as any bibliophile will attest, you can never just buy one book), it was put aside immediately for the most pressing, must-read purchases and then again later for the abundance of new titles that came upon my radar.

That’s probably in part because I’m not interested in the fashion industry or models (Dirie is a supermodel from the Naomi Campbell era), and because her backstory is relatively harrowing (Dirie is originally from Somalia, has suffered female genital mutilation (FGM), and is now a United Nations (UN) ambassador speaking out about the practice).

I don’t know whether I thought the book would be frivolous or distressing or both, but either way it featured high on the too-hard pile. I even passed over it on Saturday when, having just started to see the other side of a debilitating bout of gastro, I decided I wanted nothing more than to continue recuperating by losing myself in a good book.

My hand paused over The Twelve (the follow-up to The Passage), I Confess, and I Shall Not Hate, but all fell into the too-long or too-harrowing categories themselves. For some reason I finally plucked Dirie’s book from its dust-gathering location, and subsequently devoured it in a three-hour sitting. Why it took me so long to read it I’ll now never know.

The book opens climactically, with Dirie deliriously dehydrated, near starvation, and almost falling prey to a lion. She’s all of about 13 and has run away from home with literally nothing but the clothes she is wearing—not even shoes, because the family was too poor for her to ever have owned some—to avoid an arranged marriage to a 60-year-old man. Her family are Somalian nomads, and her father would be paid five camels for Dirie’s dowry. Her father considers that a good deal; Dirie not so much.

From there Dirie somehow manages to make it to the country’s capital, Mogadishu, and then, through a combination of chutzpah and naiveté, on to London as a housemaid for an uncle who’s based there as an ambassador. It sounds a charmed life, but she’s relegated to the role of housemaid and denied the education and opportunities of her cousins.

Desperate to stay in London when the ambassadorship ends, but lacking formal education, English language skills, and money, Dirie manages through a series of incredible tenacity to make it work. One element of that involves her being discovered as a model, with one of her first ever assignments alongside a then-similarly naïve newbie, Naomi Campbell.

The modelling gig perhaps makes Dirie’s story one more fairytale than hard graft it really has been. She continues to experience debilitating ongoing health issues related to the FGM she suffered without anaesthetic in the bush at the hands of a rusty razor-wielding gypsy woman as a child. She endured countless visa issues that saw her resorting to desperate measures not to be deported. Dirie’s is an experience I’m not sure I would have survived. And certainly not with so much grace and humour intact.

I Shall Not HateDirie’s is an incredibly pragmatic, accessible storytelling style—you can imagine her holding rapt court at a dinner party, telling stories from the various chapters. It explains why I could absolutely devour the book in short sitting, but also why elements of it continue to remain with me.

Which is just as well, because the statistics on FGM about which she’s trying to raise awareness and stamp out are sobering—and escalating. The UN estimates some 130 million girls and women have experienced FGM and another two million—or 6000 a day—are at risk each year of the same fate.

The laundry list of infections and illnesses that accompany this practice are chilling, not least complications from shock, tetanus, septicaemia, HIV, Hepatitis B, recurring pelvic and urinary tract infections, dysmenorrhea (excruciatingly painful menstruation), depression, and death.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) made a documentary about Dirie, and her book has reportedly been made into a film. Which is all to say that if you’re like me and haven’t gotten around to reading it, you have other options. That written, the book is surprisingly easy and quick to read, so I’d recommend opting for that first. But the documentary/film are likely an equally good way to discover Dirie’s story and the wider FGM issue she now works to combat.

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4. Storytime: The Colour of Home

We came home from the library recently with a very special story: The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Karin Littlewood (Frances Lincoln, 2002). Our attention was first caught by the radiant smiles on the front cover but as soon as we leafed through the book, we realised that there was a darker side to the story. In fact, I was very glad that I then actually read it on my own first, as it proved to be a very moving story and I had to get my own tears out of the way before reading it aloud.

A new boy, Hassan, joins a class in an English school. He is struggling with everything being so different from his home in Somalia. The afternoon class is painting, which he has never done before. He sets about painting his house and family back home - “a lovely picture” - but then he paints in what happened to his house and family - the fire and bloodshed, and his uncle “smudged out”.

The next day, Hassan explains the painting and his family’s flight to England:

Hassan talked for an hour and then he ran out of words, even in Somali. When he finished Miss Kelly [his teacher] had tears in her eyes.

So did I… However, this story ends on an upbeat note: Hassan plays football with his classmates, who are welcoming and friendly; and paints another picture of his old house for his mother. Its bright colors help him to see the other colors around him and we know that he is starting to feel confident about his future.

So beautifully written and illustrated, this sensitive picture-book offers a focal point for children, who, increasingly, can empathise with its story through personal experience. I shared it with my own children; if you already know this book and have shared it at home or in class, do tell us.

And while writing this post, I have enjoyed discovering Mary Hoffman’s blogs (Book Maven and Mary’s Musings) as well as her website. I don’t know where I’ve been, but I realise I have a bit of catching up to do in terms of her books for older readers and know what I’ll be looking for on our next trip to the library! I also love all of the books I’ve come across illustrated by Karin Littlewood - her own website is under construction at the moment but here’s the link because one day…!

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5. Muktar and the Camels

Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber, illustrated by Scott Mack

Muktar lives in a Somalian orphanage after his parents have died.  His parents had roamed Somalia with camels before the drought and war changed everything.  Now all Muktar has of his old life is a withered root that his father gave him and told him to use wisely.  Then one day, a man arrives with three camels loaded with books.  Muktar is asked to help unload the camels and as he does, he notices a wound on the foot of one camel.  The librarian is too busy to listen to his concerns, so Muktar creates a poultice with the root his father gave him.  By the time the librarian discovers the problem, the camel’s foot is better and Muktar has impressed him enough to offer him a job with the camels.

This book is based on the library service of the Kenya National Library Service which has camel convoys of books eight times a month that serve schools and orphanages in the outlying areas.  Muktar and his love of animals shines in this book.  His skill with camels is impressive as is his strength in the face of such overwhelming change in his life.  Graber’s text tells the story plainly, not dwelling too long on the loss but more on the present.  Mack’s illustrations, done in oils on canvas, show a land dried and hardened, but people who are surviving despite the obstacles.

Recommended as a window to another way of living, this book is appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

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6. The food crisis in the Horn of Africa

By Peter Gill

International responsiveness to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa has relied again on the art of managing the headlines.  Sophisticated early warning systems that foresee the onset of famine have been in place for years, but still the world waits until it is very nearly too late before taking real action – and then paying for it.

The big aid organisations, official and non-government, are right to say they have been underlining the gravity of the present emergency for months, at least from the beginning of the year.   On June 7 FEWS NET (the Famine Early Warning Systems Network funded by USAID) declared that more than seven million in the Horn needed help and the ‘current humanitarian response is inadequate to prevent further deterioration.’ Two seasons of very poor rainfall had resulted ‘in one of the driest years since 1995.’   Still the world did not judge this to be the clarion call for decisive intervention.

Three weeks later, on June 28, OCHA (the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) said that more than nine million needed help and that the pastoral border zones of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya were facing ‘one of the driest years since 1950/51.’  Six decades!   Two generations!  A story at last!  The media mountain moved, and the NGO fund-raisers marched on behind.

I have The Times of July 5 in front of me.  ‘Spectre of famine returns to Africa after the worst drought for decades,’ says the main headline in World news.  On page 11 there is a half-page appeal from Save the Children illustrated with a picture of a six-week old Kenyan called Ibrahim ‘facing starvation.’  On page 17 Oxfam has its own half page saying that ‘more than 12 million people have been hit by the worst drought in 60 years.’  The Times that day also carried a Peter Brookes cartoon of a hollow-faced African framed in the map of Africa, with his mouth opened wide for food.

So, for 2011, an image of Africa has again been fixed in the western consciousness. It is an image of suffering – worse, of an impotent dependence on outsiders – that most certainly exists, but is only part of the story, even in the Horn.

The western world may understand something of the four-way colonial carve-up and the post-colonial disaster that overtook the Somali homeland, but it certainly has no proper answers to the conflicts and dislocation that lead to starvation and death. In northern Kenya, to which so many thousands of Somali pastoralists have fled in recent months, the West does have an answer of sorts – it can feed people in the world’s largest refugee camp, in the thin expectation of better times back across the border. Then there is Ethiopia, with several million of its own people needing help, its own Somali population swollen by refugees, and the country for ever associated with the terrible famine of 25 years ago which launched the modern era of aid.

Here it is possible to make some predictions. There will be no widespread death from starvation in Ethiopia, not even in its own drought-affected Somali region where an insurgency promotes insecurity and displacement. New arrangements between the Ethiopian government and the UN’s World Food Programme have insured more reliable and equitable food distribution, and the Government presses on with schemes to settle pastoralists driven by persistently poor rains from their semi-nomadic lifestyles.

The government of Meles Zenawi, which has just marked 20 years in power, has on the whole a creditable record in response to the prospect of famine.In 2003/4 the country faced a far larger food crisis than it did it in 1984, but emerged from it with very few extra deaths. In the former famine lands of the North where there is an impressive commitment to grass-roots development there is almost no chance of a retu

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7. A Crooked Rib

Old Reviews! I have a backlog of about 100 reviews to write. Books don't always get reviewed right away for various reasons. Even books I really liked. And then it's been so long it's hard to write the review, because I can't remember them well. So, we're going to take a Good Reads summary and I'll say what I remember and call it a day.

A book from 2007:

From a Crooked RibFrom a Crooked Rib Nuruddin Farah

From GoodReads:

Written with complete conviction from a woman’s point of view, Nuruddin Farah’s spare, shocking first novel savagely attacks the traditional values of his people yet is also a haunting celebration of the unbroken human spirit. Ebla, an orphan of eighteen, runs away from her nomadic encampment in rural Somalia when she discovers that her grandfather has promised her in marriage to an older man. But even after her escape to Mogadishu, she finds herself as powerless and dependent on men as she was out in the bush. As she is propelled through servitude, marriage, poverty, and violence, Ebla has to fight to retain her identity in a world where women are “sold like cattle."

What I remember: This was a hard book to read. Elba's entire life is lived at the mercy of the men in her life. Every time she gets out of one bad situation, she's taken advantage of by another man. At the same time, I loved the language and structure. I also really loved the contrast between country life in a nomadic tribe and city life in Mogadishu. I will also note that this book takes place around the time of Somali independence, so it's not a portrait of modern-day life in the country. There were some themes hinted at, mainly by the men in the city, that dealt with the changing political landscape.

Book Provided by... my local library

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8. Linked Up: Oslo, Somalia, sinkholes

Tweet BREAKING: The first videos from today’s explosion in Oslo The UN has officially declared a state of famine in Somalia, 10 million affected by drought What is the heat index, exactly? It was developed in 1978 by George Winterling and was originally called “humiture.” This man is the world’s foremost gnome collector COLOR pictures of WWII London How the [...]

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9. The lessons of hunger – past and present

By Peter Gill

A fresh famine is threatening Africa, this time in the semi-desert Sahel region of Francophone West Africa. The greatest concern is Niger where a third of the population cannot be sure they will be able to feed themselves or even be fed over the next few months. In the region as a whole there are some ten million people at risk.

The process by which the world has learned of this crisis is familiar. The big relief agencies are allied with the broadcasters, notably the BBC, to report on the growing hunger. This publicity puts pressure on official western aid donors, governments and others, to make sure that threats of mass starvation do not turn into catastrophic reality. Relief agencies add to the pressure by reminding donors that delays to similar East African alerts last year may have contributed to upwards of 50,000 deaths in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

As a means of raising the profile of hunger emergencies, the media-aid agency connection has been a familiar pattern for decades. It is underpinned by increasingly sophisticated international early warning systems that monitor rainfall and cropping, and predict with accuracy the human consequences of drought and poor harvests. All but the most negligent governments in Africa take their responsibilities more seriously than they did, and mobilise local resources alongside the international efforts. The result is that the world should never again witness suffering on the scale seen in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s where 600,000 died of starvation and a new era in the aid relationship was born.

For the past quarter century, the rich North has not been allowed to forget the poor South. As western economies boomed, money flowed into the official and private aid agencies and flowed out again to the Third World. It was a movement that reached its high point in 2005 with the Gleneagles summit, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 and Make Poverty History. Yet there has been no reduction in the number of hungry people in the world; the reverse, in fact — the number has grown and major food emergencies persist.

The worst of them are those exacerbated by conflict. Fighting hampers relief and restricts the media from detailed reporting on the ground. The epicentre of last year’s East African famine was Somalia whose people have been the victims of chronic political instability for the past 20 years and where the militant Islamist group al-Shabab crudely prevented relief from reaching the starving under its control. In neighbouring Ethiopia, the worst of the suffering last year was in the border Somali region where central government faces an armed revolt — just as happened in the North of the country in the 1980s — and across the continent in Niger the current crisis is made worse by an influx of refugees from insurgencies in Nigeria and Mali.

If the world is getting better at managing the effects of extreme poverty, it is simultaneously failing to make poverty history. After more than half a century of application, the promised transformative effects of aid in the poor world have yet to be realised. Major western economies are now losing ground to new powers in the East, and with it the chance to direct the development effort in future. Western aid agencies have concentrated their efforts on health, education and welfare, yet all the new signs of African prosperity are to be found in home-grown entrepreneurship, in a growing middl

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10. Superheroes, Sabayad and SUVs: My Friend Jamal

My Friend JamalAuthor: Anna McQuinn
Illustrator: Anna McQuinn and Ben Frey
Published: 2008 Annick Press (on JOMB)
ISBN: 1554511224

Beaming boyhood bliss pops from zesty action-packed photography-and-paint collage as a spunky seven year old proudly presents the shared adventures and intriguing details of life with his very best bud, Jamal — who happens to be Somali.

Chapters.ca Amazon.com

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11. In Defense of Pirates

Eve Donegan, Sales and Marketing Assistant

Gérard Prunier is a widely acclaimed journalist as well as the Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He has published over 120 articles and five books, including The Rwanda Crisis and Darfur. His most recent book, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe focuses on Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and events that led to the death of some four million people. Below is a brief look at the current movements of the Somalia pirates and a proposed alternate way of understanding these so-called “terrorists.”

This piece could be taken as being tongue-in cheek. In fact it should be thoughtfully considered, beyond its apparently provocative aspect.

Since the spectacular seajacking of a Ukrainian transport carrying thirty-three battle tanks heading for Southern Sudan last September 25th followed by the capture of a Saudi tanker carrying $100m of crude oil, the international community has been in a big huff about the notorious Somali pirates operating off the coast of Puntland. They have been called “terrorists” and are now chased by naval units from Germany, France, the United States, China, Australia, India, Russia, Japan, Great Britain, and even Iran. The highly respectable American Enterprise Institute, which in this case seems not to see the original quality of their business initiatives, has declared that “even if ridding Somalia of pirates would by no means solve the country’s problems, it is an absolute first step.” Seven Private Military Companies (PMCs) are on the ranks for the privilege of shooting them with the most advanced technology, including Blackwater of Iraq renown. An energetic blogger is calling for “shooting them on sight.” Their sin? Capturing about 110 ships in 2008 and making $150m in ransom money. The main loss was for the shipping companies, forced to pay higher insurance premiums. If we look more closely at the phenomenon, what do we see?

• Starving young men in small fiberglass boats powered by outboard motors going hundreds of miles from shore on dangerous seas.
• They shoot but try not to kill. So far only one hostage has been shot out of hundreds of seamen taken.
• Many die, like the five man crew who drowned after getting the ransom for the Sirius Star tanker. They lost their lives and their money. One body was washed ashore with $153,000 in his pocket. His relatives put the money to dry. A hard way to keep your family alive.
• Yes, they build big houses, buy shiny cars and sweep beautiful girls off their feet. PMCs operatives who hope to shoot them have fairly similar career plans.
• Those who are captured go to jail, contrary to their militia fellow countrymen on land who murder, loot and rape civilians without any international interference.

Let’s be frank, those boys are no angels. But why focus so much on them? The reason is simple. They cost international business a lot of money, which is absolutely scandalous: Somalis are supposed to kill each other and not come out and tamper with shipping lanes and insurance rates. The Suez Canal Authority is losing millions because of these fellows. Why can’t they get themselves some Toyotas with rocket launchers and join the ranks of the Islamists? If they did, nobody would bother them. But then no more booze, beautiful girls or shiny cars. All they could do would be to pray to Allah and highjack a Red Cross truck, like true Somalis.

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12. Somalia, Give Sheikh Sharif a Chance!

By Gérard Prunier

The January 30th election that named the moderate Islamist leader, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to the presidency of the Somalia Transitional Federal Government (TFG), was an opportunity that should not be overlooked. Why? Because Somalia has been without a functioning government since the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre eighteen years ago.

Since then, the international community has organized no less than fourteen “conferences of national reconciliation,” each supposed to give birth to a new government. Meanwhile, the radical Islamist movement has kept growing and in 2006 the CIA sponsored a gruesome alliance of warlords to eliminate them from the picture. Not only did the CIA fail, but they caused the public to support the Islamists (who had only a limited following so far), leading to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) taking power in Mogadiscio. The UIC was a mixture of good (law, order, fighting piracy and contraband) and bad (religious intolerance and Puritanism). But for the first time in years, it enabled the population to breathe a bit more freely and violence diminished drastically. There were various trends within the UIC, including one of ultra-nationalism, which was of course very anti-Ethiopian.

This mixture of aggressive nationalism and radical Islamic tendencies acted like the proverbial red flag waved under the nose of the bull. In December 2006, the Ethiopian Army made a dash for Mogadiscio and occupied the capital. Sheikh Sharif, who had been the leader of the moderate wing of the UIC joined his colleagues in their common exile in Asmara, Eritrea (Eritrea, as usual, was happy to accommodate anything inimical to the enemy Ethiopian regime) and became one of the activists of the anti-Ethiopian resistance.

Sheikh Sharif quickly parted ways with the radicals led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. Like Sheikh Aweys, Sheikh Sharif belonged to the Hawiye clan which was spearheading the war against the Ethiopians. Sheikh Sharif believed that a workable authority had to include a broader political and clanic spectrum. He left Eritrea and started negotiating with the Ethiopia-backed TFG president, Yusuf Abdullahi. Yusuf, a cranky veteran of opposition politics in Somalia (he had led a coup against Siad Barre back in 1978) had a questionable and violent past. Regardless, he had been picked by both the international community and Addis-Ababa to head the TFG back in 2004. Yusuf refused to deal honestly with the opening he was being offered and his refusal to see beyond the narrow clanic circle of his Majerteen supporters led to his eventual downfall. He quarreled with his own Prime Minister and even his Ethiopian sponsors finally got tired of him.

There were sixteen candidates for Yusuf’s succession at the Djibouti meeting on January 30th and the fact that Sheikh Sharif was picked is symptomatic. For starters, he is the man who had been kicked out of Mogadiscio by the Ethiopian Army and described by the Americans as an “extremist.” To be honest, some of his associates are extremists, but many others are simply nationalists who are tired of disorder, warlordism, and foreign intervention. He represents the average Somali population, even if some of his views are not very palatable for Westerners. In the present circumstances Sheikh Sharif is capable of federating many different trends and can stand up to the al-Qaida linked real radicals (of the al-Shebab movement); it is something a pro-western leader could not do.

Now the international community is sponsoring a force of about 3,000 foreign soldiers (Ugandans and Burundians) sent by the African Union under the name of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The soldiers are supposed to “stabilize” the situation. Yet, on February 2nd these soldiers acted panicked, under-trained, isolated, and lost. They opened fire on a crowd of civilians after being targeted by an al-Shebab terrorist attack. AMISOM killed thirty-nine people and wounded twice that number. The UN representative, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, quickly denied the massacre and even compared the Somali journalists who had reported it to the Rwandese genocidaire Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines. It was an atrociously unfair comparison, as the Somali journalists have paid an inordinately high price for keeping the freedom of information alive in such terrible circumstances. Many have died in the line of duty.

AMISOM soldiers have to go. They serve no military purpose, they antagonize the public by their violence, they are incapable of keeping any kind of order, and they gravely compromise the chances of success of the new president. After the massacre, the al-Shebab radicals denounced Sheikh Sharif as an ally of the Americans and the Ethiopians. Declaring him not fit to rule the country. The danger is that, once more, like in 2006, those Islamists with whom it would be possible to work with will find themselves marginalized and eliminated while Somalia would lose still another chance and sink again into a new maelstrom of violence.

Gérard Prunier is a widely acclaimed journalist as well as the Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He has published over 120 articles and five books, including The Rwanda Crisis and Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide. His most recent book, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe focuses on Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and events that led to the death of some four million people. Living in Ethiopia allows Prunier a unique view of the politics and current events of Central and Eastern Africa. Be sure to check back on Tuesdays to read more Notes From Africa.

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13. A Brief History: Sudan and Somalia

Eve Donegan, Sales & Marketing Assistant

Since Africa’s past and present can be complicated, we thought it would help to have a quick overview of some of the groups and political figures in Sudan and Somalia . We have selected some key topics that Gérard Prunier often referenced in Notes from Africa, and have provided a quick rundown of what they are.

Justice and Equality Movement (JEM): JEM is a rebel group in Sudan that is involved in the Darfur conflict. Like other rebel groups, they strongly oppose the Sudanese government which is run by Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. JEM is under the leadership of Khalil Ibrahim al-Wazir.

Khalil Ibrahim al-Wazir: Khalil Ibrahim is from the Kobe branch of the Zaghawa ethnic group. He started and currently leads JEM. Ibrahim has claimed credit for starting a government revolt in regard to the Darfur conflict.

International Criminal Court (ICC): The ICC is an independent institution, although they maintain close ties with the United Nations. They were established to control perpetrators of serious international crimes, such as genocide and war-related crimes.

President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir: Sudan’s leader, President al-Bashir, has been in power since 1989. This year Sudan will have their first democratic election in which current Vice President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, will challenge al-Bashir’s presidency. Mayardit is also the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) .

African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM): AMISOM works in Somalia to stabilize the country as a whole. Their mission is to, “…create a safe and secure environment in preparation for the transition to the UN.”

Transitional Federal Government (TFG): The TFG was formed in 2004 and is one of several attempts to create a stable government in Somalia. The TFG is hoping to establish a democracy in Somalia with the planned democratic elections coming up this year.

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed: Sheikh Sharif became president after Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed resigned in December of 2008. He has been called a “moderate” leader, and was the chairman of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).

Union of Islamic Courts (UIC): After winning a battle for Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, the UIC controlled most of southern Somalia for six months. The group was made up of local Islamic courts that were created by businessmen to catch and punish their enemies.

Prunier brings these people, groups, history, and conflicts to life in his weekly blog. Keep reading on Tuesdays to find more Notes from Africa.

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14. The Somali Pirates and the World

By Gérard Prunier

The recent hijacking of a US ship by Somali pirates off the coast of Kenya is a perfect example of the bizarre relationship the world entertains with Africa. First, where the hell is it? Most people hardly know. Then, why are these people bothering us? Could we not simply blow them off the water? Third, why are they targeting the US, it seems vaguely reminiscent of the post 9/11 syndrome. Fourth, why should we even bother? At this point, readers who are a bit conversant with the situation will point out that the Maersk ship which got hijacked was bringing relief food for Kenya, now in the thralls of a punishing famine brought by drought (and to some extent, by civil strife). There goes another groan. They have to hit us when we are just trying to help them. Yet, most people miss the point: the pirates are Somali and the victims of famine are Kenyans.

Okay, Africa is not in very good shape. But it might be a good idea to try to understand why. Oh, not simply those vast questions of colonialism, economic backwardness, the usefulness (or lack thereof) of aid and the impact of the world economic crisis. No, that is a bit too big. Could we not be a bit more simple and specific? Simply look at one situation at a time?

Take Somalia. For reasons having to do with its clanic social structure, Somalia has been unable to muster a working government for the past eighteen years. The main victims of that situation are, of course, the Somali themselves, who in many ways have caused their own misery. Many Somali are now starving and some of the younger ones, bold and born into a world where they have known nothing but civil war, have taken to the seas to survive. During the past ten years the rich world has: a.) dumped thousands of tons of toxic waste along Somalia’s unguarded coastline, and b.) taken hundreds of millions of dollars of fish from it’s unpatrolled national waters. It was not very nice but as long as the Somali took it lying down, everybody was happy with ignoring it. Now, they are coming out like hornets from a nest and bothering the ships laden with rich cargo that are sailing past their coast. As long as those ships were Saudi oil tankers, French yachts, or Yemeni tugboats, the anger was moderate. But a US cargo ship! God forbid!

The last interaction the US had with Somalia was three years ago when the CIA brought together a bunch of criminal warlords into a bogus political alliance in the hope that those warlords could crush the growing Islamist movement in Somalia. The gamble failed and gave the Islamists a popularity they never had before. As a result, they took power (some kind of power, anyway) and the US backed an Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia which only heightened the civil strife. Now the Ethiopians have left, but the situation is more confusing than ever and the popularity of the US is not high. Are the pirates connected with the Islamists? Not really. They exchange some services and swap information, but the pirates don’t like the kind of religious Puritanism the Islamists pride themselves in. Do they kill people? Not if they can avoid it. They are in business. They have lost more men to the high seas and to the virtuous international guardians of law and order than they have killed. Would they do something else if they had the opportunity? Most likely. Could they? Don’t be joking!

Okay, Somalia is sick and its misery is oozing out. But what we hate is not the sickness but rather its unpleasant consequences. Of course they are not of our own making; but we both tolerated them for a long time and even made them worse through perfect stupidity. Well the chickens – or perhaps in this case, the sea gulls – have come home to roost. A commentator recently said that the shipping that has fallen victim to the pirates is one quarter of one percent of all that goes through the Bab-el-Mandeb. Any thought on discussing the massive rise in insurance costs and how justified it is?

Gérard Prunier is a widely acclaimed journalist as well as the Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He has published over 120 articles and five books, including The Rwanda Crisis and Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide. His most recent book, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe focuses on Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and events that led to the death of some four million people. Living in Ethiopia allows Prunier a unique view of the politics and current events of Central and Eastern Africa. Be sure to check back on Tuesdays to read more Notes From Africa.

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15. Somali Pirate Update

Eve Donegan, Sales & Marketing Assistant

While regular blogger, Gérard Prunier is off exploring Africa, I have rounded up a quick update on the Somali Pirates.

- Abduwali Abdukadir Muse is currently being tried in New York under a federal law that has not been used in decades. The law would require Muse to fulfill a mandatory life sentence in prison. Muse was the only survivor of the three men who boarded the American cargo ship, Maersk Alabama, off the coast of Africa on April 8th. The pirates held the ship’s captain hostage causing an international uproar.

- On Sunday, 11 Somali Pirates were captured by a French naval vessel when they mistook the ship for a commercial vessel. The pirates were captured in three small boats off the coast of Somalia. Rockets and guns were found aboard the ships. At this point it is unclear what the European Union plans to do about the capture, but it is clear that the Somali Pirate attacks have disrupted United Nation aid and led some companies to consider routing cargo between Europe and Asia a different way.

Check back next Tuesday for more Notes from Africa!

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