Somali Journalists and a rape victim in custody for reporting an alleged rape

The chief Judge of Banadir Regional Court, Hashi Elmi Nure ordered the two reporters and a radio director to be remanded in jail after being charged with defamation.

They are the director of Radio Shabelle, Abdimalik Yusuf, a reporter with the same media, Mohamed Bashir and the alleged female rape victim from another UN funded radio station in Mogadishu.

The director and the reporter of Shabelle are accused of fabricating a rape case with the female reporter who alleged that the government owned radio reporters raped her about six months ago.

A video surfaced on YouTube of the victim’s anecdote on alleged rape incident. The Shabelle reporter Mohamed Bashir can be heard in the video asking questions.

The alleged rapists filed a law suit saying that the incident is fabricated in order to defame them. The government reporters were not arrested.

The journalists were brought to court after almost a week in custody without charge.

UN Special representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay warned in a statement that “legal representation, proper investigation and media freedom (are) important issues.”

Somali presidential spokesman, Abdirahman Omar Osman said in a statement, “Somali has an independent judiciary and we must allow the police and judiciary to carry out their investigations. It is inappropriate for the government to get involved in the judicial process, as it is any other country.”

The issue is further complicated by the fact that radio Shabelle was closed after a raid by the government security forces who confiscated the station’s equipment accusing them to have been illegally occupying a government building.

Shabelle said in a statement they were never give enough notice to move out of the building.

In February this year, a Somali journalist and alleged rape victim he interviewed were both sentenced to a year in prison after being found guilty of “offending state institutions”.

But, the two were released after an international condemnation of the way the government treated the journalist.

US Attacks in Somalia

The American Secretary of State, John Kerry has said that the US Special Forces raids on Libya and Somalia demonstrate Washington’s determination to hunt down those responsible for acts of terrorism. On Saturday, US Navy commandos attacked a house in Somalia used al-Shabaab leaders. The group is linked to the attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya. This is piece is a look back of US attacks in Somalia.

The raids come one day after the twentieth anniversary of the fighting in Mogadishu that became known as ‘Black Hawk Down’ which I witnessed myself as a Mogadishu resident in 1993.

The fighting which involved US elite troops from various divisions against the fighters of a former General turned warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed resulted in the death of 19 US Soldiers plus an unknown number of Somalis. At least hundreds, were killed in a fighting that continued for almost 24 hours which later involved several nations from the UNISOM mission in Somalia.

There are unconfirmed reports that US troops were on the ground in a fire fight near the Somali border with Kenya allegedly taking part in the Ethiopian operation in Somalia which ousted the then relatively powerful Union of Islamic Courts. The courts defeated Somalia’s warlords and captured large parts of South Central Somalia in 2006.

The second direct US attack in Somalia was the missile attack that wounded Adan Ayrow in 2007, but  killed him in a further missile attack after a year, on May 2008. Adan Ayrow was the most senior Al-Shabab leader in Somalia at the time. He was trained in Afghanistan and was directly linked to Al-Qaeda.

In 2009, US Navy SEAL killed a Kenyan-born Al-Qaeda operative near the coastal town of Barawa using helicopter gunships. And this Saturday’s raid which comes two weeks after Westgate attack appears to be targeting the current Al-Shabab leader, Mukhtar Abu-zubeyr, real name Ahmed Godane. The house targeted in this raid was alleged used by him.

Many in Somalia believe America, still haunted by the incident in 1993, may be on a revengeful mission but, the US says it is determined to hold accountable those who conduct acts of terrorism and members of al-Qaeda. In the words of US Secretary of State, ‘they can run but they can’t hide’. It is increasing becoming clear that the US will continue to stage the targeted raids on terror-linked groups around the world in accordance with its declared war on terror.

Foreign troops attack Barawa, a coastal town in Somalia

One militant fighter was killed in an attack on Somali coastal town of Brawa, a stronghold of al-Shabab. The group said their base was attacked by western troops who came with speedboats before Dawn. Witnesses said they could hear heavy gunfire and an explosion.

The coastal town raid comes at exactly two weeks after a shopping Mall attack in Kenya where 67 people were killed. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility of that attack.

However, it is not clear if there is a direct linkage between the two incidents, and there is not claim of responsibility.

According to Reuters, British and Turkish special forces had raided Brawa killing a fighter and added the attackers themselves lost a British officer.

British and Turkish sources separately denied any involvement.

Somali government spokesman told us they could not comment as they are still gathering information. Barawa town had been the stronghold of al-Shabab for many years. It is the second foreign attack around Barawa town since 2009.

In September that year, US Navy Commandos helicopters killed a Kenyan–born al-Qaeda commander Saleh Ali Nabhan. At the time he was one of three most wanted individuals said to be in Somalia and working with al-Shabab. The group’s spokesman Abdi-Aziz Abu-Mus’ab said the attackers achieved nothing but suffered casualties.

According to witnesses, this morning’s attack, which occurred around 2am, targeted a house that was not far from the beach frequented by armed militias from the al-Qaeda linked group.

French troops were also known to have been involved in attacks inside Somalia like the one in January this year. Two French commandos were killed in a failed mission to rescue an agent held in Bulo Marer town in Somalia.

Ethiopian troops to withdraw Somalia

Ethiopian troops have threatened to withdraw from all major towns in Somalia where their troops have been stationed for the last few years. Only last weekend, they started withdrawing from the frontline town of Hudur. The insurgent group Al-Shabab immediately took over the town. This has caused a big debate within the Somali government and parliament such as why the Ethiopians are intending to leave, and why the Somali army did not stay put in Hudur?

Security has been the biggest flaw in the Somali transitional governments. They have had to rely heavily on foreign troops from the African Union and Ethiopia, which was controlling south western and central parts of Somalia.

A delegation from parliament has visited the strategic town of Baidoa in the southwest to try to convince the Ethiopians to stay longer and allow more AMISOM troops to be deployed there. There are currently one thousand AMISOM troops from Burundi in the town. Sheik Adan Madobe, an MP representing the Bay region, is part of the delegation:

“They told us it is not only Hudur – but that they intended to withdraw from places all over the country (Somalia). They said it was not their plan to stay for ever. They had always planned to hand over security to AMISOM and Somali government troops. They said they did not get any funding from the international community and no longer felt it necessary to stay.” Sheik Adan Madobe.

There are several other reasons why Ethiopian troops may be leaving Somalia.  Some believe Addis Ababa has been angered by the government in Mogadishu replacing its most senior military commanders in Somalia without consulting them.  Others point the finger at poor communication between the two governments.  Abdirashid Hiddig, who is a member of the parliamentarian subcommittee on security, is critical of the government’s approach to security and blames it for the Ethiopian withdrawal:

“If there was a proper diplomatic or political channel to communicate with them, I think they would have waited until the troops that would take over from them are ready. It is not a secret that there was some communication problem.” Abdirashid Hiddig.

Somalia’s transitional period ended last October with the election of a new president, speaker, parliament and cabinet. In this short time Somalis have expected a lot from their government – at the very least to take control of the security situation. But, this is believed to be a long way off. With thousands of troops trained outside the country, Somalis are not yet confident that their army can take responsibility on its own.           

Although the Somali government insists it is trying to pay soldiers’ salaries, critics say a lack of remuneration is damaging the army’s competency. Although they have given the current government credit for securing the capital with the help of African Union troops, they blame it for not extending its control outside Mogadishu.

The United Nations lifted the two decades old weapons embargo for a year in order to let the current government arm itself and have greater control over security. This has given Somalis some hope and many believe with the right armaments and permanent wages, the Somali military will be up to the job.

Kenya goes to the Polls

Today, Monday the 4th of March, Kenya decides who is to lead the country the next five years.

This will be the first election to be held under the new constitution that devolved the central power to regional states.

Five years ago, on December 2007, the election result was disputed right from the start in fact even as the polling stations closed.

On the 11th of January 2013, I visited Nairobi for the first time since 2007 when I was covering the election for BBC Somali. I left early January 2008. Everyone was concerned if could reach the airport safely as there were still some pockets of political violence involving rioters, rival factions and also the police.

It was later confirmed that thousands had died in clashes across Kenya and the election results dispute turned violent and gradually worsened.

As the riots erupted we were confined in our offices and hotels. Some of us could not go to their homes in Eastleigh and South C Neighborhoods of Nairobi for few days for fear of being caught in the violence. The only colleagues to leave the office were those assigned to cover the violence in different areas of Kenya including outside the capital, Nairobi.

After five years, that grim picture of violence receded and in turn was replaced for me at least in the short time, in the space of just 3 days, I was in Nairobi I had seen some development.

This was mainly visible on Nairobi Roads. New roads were built; some old narrow roads were expanded into 4 or more lane roads. Some of them, I could not recognize them. Few years back I was driving through the streets of London unaccompanied, but this time I thought I definitely could not do that because the transformation of Nairobi road with several fly overs built.

However, if the purpose of road buildings and transformation was to avert or minimize traffic jams, I can argue that this was not achieved and more work will definitely be needed. This is because I had experienced the traffic jams myself during the three days I have been in Nairobi.

During this time, I could also feel the election fever that gripped the nation. Election campaigns continued with messages relayed through loudspeakers attached to vehicles. Photos of candidates were everywhere, one could not be spared without seeing the photos, banners or campaign vehicles of candidates during any visit to Nairobi this time and remember the election was still two months away.

The most inspiring of all was the extent of information available and alternative campaign to get people ready to vote peacefully and avoid any political violence. I also saw one particular protest that was against parliament salary increases.

This year’s election is different from the one five years ago in many ways:

The election comes at the back the last one in which more than a thousand was killed when the results were disputed.

President Kibaki whose reelection five years ago sparked the political violence is no longer a candidate and he warned Kenyans to keep away from violence and called on free, fair and peaceful election.

International Criminal Court charged some of the presidential candidates and their allies of war crimes for their roles in the political violence that followed 2007 elections results. Charged candidates deny the charges.

The central power of government is decreased with the new constitution allowing power devolution to provisional states. Some say this was aimed at national power and resource sharing and above all to avoid any further political violence after the election.

According to news reports and sources in Kenya, there is still fear that political violence is a possibility during and after the election but many think lessons have been learnt and that possibility is very remote.

Last day of election campaigns on Saturday, the two leading candidate Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta spoke to thousands of their supporters at rallies in Nairobi.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga said that he will accept the result if he is defeated in a free and fair election.

Deputy Prime Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta seemed to be sure he would win by asking Raila Odinga to accept the election when he is defeated and retire.

Mr. Odinga is son of Kenya’s first Vice-President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. It is the third time he stands for the presidency and hopes this may be his time.

Mr. Kenyatta is also the son of the first of president of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and if elected he will become the youngest president of Kenya, and also the 2nd African president indicted by the International Criminal Court.

On this election day, the eyes of the world will be on Kenya. Will there be free, fair and peaceful election? Have the Kenyans learnt from their mistakes? It will be seen soon.

Oscar Nominated Short Film ‘ASAD’

The Oscar Nominated ‘ASAD’ Short Film

ASAD FILM

ASAD

A Somali speaking film is in this year’s list of Oscar nominated live action in the short film category.

The 18 minute long short film  ‘ASAD’ shot in Cape Town, South Africa in 2012, is about a young boy’s choice of life between piracy and a fishing.

The film had been successful being voted best short film in at least 5 festivals. It is the first film acted by Somalis with English Subtitles that ever made to the Oscars.

ASAD is a young boy that has to choose between a life of a pirate or a fisherman at a small pirate invested village in Somalia. A twelve year old Harun Mohamed is playing ASAD. His ten year old brother, Ali Mohamed is also his friend in this short film.

In real life Harun and Ali, did not have any proper primary education anywhere prior to this film. But this did not prevent Harun to memorized 19 page script to perform on camera.

Harun and Ali told me what they thought about the film and if they are now inspired to be future film actors?

“ I was feeling very happy because this is my first time to make a movie. When I was watching before the movies, I was thinking how they make these people movies? I think (it) was real, SO when I make the movie then I know how they make the movies.)” Young actor Harun Mohamed.

“I am feeling happy. You know I was not thinking it is gone be real or something” Harun’s brother ALI Mohamed.

Harun Mohamed, ASAD's main actor with Bianca

Harun Mohamed, ASAD’s main actor with Bianca

QUESTION: “DO you think you gone be ending up as actors?”

 “Yes, I think because everyone is happy. The Somalians, lot of Somalians saying yeah yeah!  Here is the actor who made the movie and the movie is in the internet.” Young actor Harun.

Bryan Buckley who had written and directed this Oscar nominated short film talked about what made him to shoot this film. He said he was inspired to make this film after a visit to Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya in 2010, where he and his team did documentary style interviews with new refugee arrivals from Somalia.

“You know we don’t traditionally get those types of interviews and the spirit and there is humor, people in a survival instinct, that is just like, I can’t tell how strong the people we talked to, so I felt determined that I would make a film that somehow would tick this and that is what I did.” Bryan Buckley, US Film Director.

Bryan Buckley- Director USA 1

Bryan Buckley- Director USA 1

The short film ASAD has already given hope to the family of the Mohamed Mahdi, a member of the Somali refugee in South Africa is the father of sixteen children including the boys who acted in this film Harun and Ali, he trades on the streets of Cape Town to provide the bread of his large family. He told me the director guaranteed to support the children until they graduate from university.  He believes his dream has come true.

“Honestly, I am extremely happy, at young age I myself loved films. I dreamt of becoming a movie actor myself of my sons to be actors. I think my dream is coming true, god willing.” Mohamed Mahdi, Harun and Ali’s father.

All the actors in this film had not previously acted. Some of them talked about their feeling

“This is amazing. it is a perfect movie. We are feeling happy and we are really happy to act in this movie. That is perfect. My future is …I want to be an actor, I want to be a model.” Abdi-aziz Hajow.

It took a long process of recruitment that had been applied by hundreds of Somali refugees in Cape Town.

“Once I made my selection about who I thought I could work with in a performance orientated roles, having given them scripts and taken their contact details. We then followed up with them the following day got them back in and started working with them either individually or in smaller groups and tried to do workshops basically Helping them to understand what we needed from them. Big cultural step to come suddenly to the world of film making apart from anything else.” Casting Director Jeanne Wegner.

Some actors in ASAD film

Main actor ‘ASAD’, family and Cape Town producer.

With the help the United Nations High Commission for Refugee, the boys may be able to be on the stage at the awards. The director Bryan Buckley says it would be great opportunity for the boys, for Somalia and global refugees to be represented at the award by the two boys.

“my hope is that they can get up on that stage and speak for a few moments  and show how bright they are what they represent, representing Somalia, representing refugees around the world, that would be a very powerful moment. That is my hope.” Film director, Bryan Buckley.

On the facebook of ASAD film this message has been posted after few days when Bryan gave me an interview some of which is quoted above.

“It is with our absolute pleasure to announce that the stars of ASAD, Somalian refugee turned actors Harun and Ali have been granted permission to walk the red carpet at the Oscars this Sunday. In a statement from Nobel Peace Prize Winner/ Social Activist Desmond Tutu, “They deserve two Oscars: One for creative endeavour, and the other for contributing to our collective understanding of our dependence on one another.” We’re all extremely ecstatic for Bryan, the boys and for the future of South Africa.It is on the 24th February when the film will find out it fate if it wins best live action short film at 85th Academy Awards in 2013.”

The 18 minutes film has already attracted worldwide fans including Somalis all over the world who are already very excited to see an adaptation of one of their own stories to have made to the Oscar this year 2013 if the film wins the Oscar Award or not and it has already benefited the actors in particular the teenage boys Harun and Ali.

Was my bag lost or misplaced?

It is usually frustrating and inconvenient to lose your bag during your trip abroad and even worse when you lose it on transit.

Street in Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

My problems started with the Ethiopian airline’s check in desk at Jomo Kenyata airport in Nairobi, Kenya.  The agent demanded I pay for 37 kilograms of excess luggage, the same luggage that BA from London to Nairobi did not charge me a penny rather I was allowed four bags of at least thirty kg for my journey.

I did attempt to contest this but the agent advised that I speak to a senior member of Ethiopia airlines who wasted my time by answering every call on her personal mobile while I risked missing my flight due to her longer than necessary processes of making and answering calls. It took more than an hour to decide wether I have extra allowance and in the end I had to pay two hundred ninety-six dollar that 37 kg X $8= $296.

To make matters worse with most of my time wasted with this agent, I demanded a receipt and rather than being given the receipt by the same agent, she told me I need to go the next door office, where her supervisor was serving other customers. I went to where I was sent to collect the receipt, but upon telling the supervisor that I came for my excess luggage payment receipt, he checked through a pile of receipts those were printed in the form of tickets and said yours is still coming.

To my further amazement, I was fortunate enough that a lady customer whom he was serving, spotted the surname Aden which I told him earlier to search for and she was right it was right in front of him but only that he did not look at it attentively and seemed just like the other agent who seemed completely distracted.

I was left London on 11th January for three days stay in Nairobi, two nights in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and final destination to Johannesburg, South Africa before my return on 11th February to London.

My luggage contained three bags, two of which I intended to leave in Addis Ababa, as they contained gifts for family and friend’s family in Ethiopia. But to my further astonishment, the three bags were transferred to my final destination Johannesburg. I noticed this upon arrival at Bole airport in Addis.

I waited at the baggage reclaim lounge for almost two hours when I finally thought they may have possibly sent it to my final destination J’Burg, I went to ask an airport staff who said that I should wait a little bit more as there may be ‘more luggage on the way’. But this was based on his personal imagination so I decided to approach an Ethiopian airline staff member who was sifting through a pile of bags possibly unclaimed or may have been sorted to be delivered to other destinations. This agent confirmed my suspicion after checking the luggage stickers on my passport. He added that I may have to wait at least one hour and half to get my luggage which he said is still in Bole airport being prepared to be flown to South Africa.

This could not have happened if the first agent was attentive and asked me where I wanted my bags to be. The bags were dispatched as I was away paying for the excess baggage, where the lady attending me confirmed if my bags are going to Addis Ababa. The first agent based her decision on pure personal assumption by sending the bags to Johannesburg without properly finding out from me.

After six hours of waiting At Bole airport, I was told two of my bags were found and the third could not be located. That is when they told me I should come back in the morning two hours before the next day J’Burg flight. As the flight time was 9:00am local time, I came back to the airport by 7:00am to go through the same process of waiting for hours.

Unfortunately, the Ethiopian airline staff member on duty in the morning was unfriendly. When I told him the missing bag should not go to Johannesburg and be retrieved as soon as possible, his reaction was why didn’t you tell us this before, only that he didn’t know the inconvenience and the sleeplessness caused by his colleagues on night duty. He made only one call and asked  those sorting the luggage to search for my bag.  After every 30 minutes, I asked for any update and  his answer was always the same ‘you have to wait’.

The next midnight, I am again in the Ethiopian airline’s baggage office still waiting for information about the location of my bag. I am given conflicting information that only prolongs my wait. Being despair of my bag to be ever found I had to leave their office because I should be in the airport again for my J’burg flight by six o’clock in the next morning and had only few hours to sleep. A Temporary property irregularity report letter given to me the first night was not even properly filled.

I arrived at the airport and the airplane for my flight was to leave at 8:50 am. I asked again the check in counter to tell me if there was any information about my bag. But, the ET agent attending the counter said “probably it is in Johannesburg.” and she was not sure.

I left Addis Ababa without any assurance that my bag is definitely at J’Burg. As I arrived at O.R. Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) in Johannesburg, I checked again the baggage reclaim zone, my missing bag was nowhere to be seen.

South Africa street

South Africa

However, there was some good news at last. A young lady at ET baggage reclaim counter in  the arrivals sections said she could not locate the bag in the system but fortunately she remembered seen my surname somewhere. After a few seconds her mind located where she saw the bag and handed me a note with the name Menzes Baggage Services which she pointed where it is located, that was just outside the arrivals zone of the airport.

I went there and She was proved right as I recognized my bag lying in a pile of other unclaimed bags with Menzes Baggage Services store at the airport. I told them the bag needs to go back to Addis Ababa and they told me we have a message that It should be returned to Addis Ababa. It was an instruction I gave while still in Addis Ababa when I told them the bag was not supposed to be in Johannesburg as it contained gifts to my family, but I was not given any assurance.

I did tell them to return the bag to Addis Ababa and told my family there to collect the bag from the airport the next day. When they went to collect it, they were told the bag is back in Addis Ababa but that they needed to contact me and that I send an email to that particular agent, which I did. But he told me after 1 hour that he did not receive my email.

For a week I was being asked to send and resend email detailing who I wanted to collect the bag but I finally despaired and decided to stop contacting them because there was no point in making calls and sending emails when at the end it is claimed it is not received and the emails were correct, I am sure my emails should have been received unless there is a long process of checking emails before they are released into inbox-es.

After ten days when I called my family and asked if they received the bag, I was told the bag has only been received yesterday.

After that long story of unnecessary and preventable inconvenience my bag was in the hands of my family. It was nearly lost but was surely unnecessarily misplaced.