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Saturday, September 19, 2009

U.N. probes use of its vehicles in Somalia

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U.N. probes use of its vehicles in Somalia bombing
Frank Nyakairu, Reuters
September 20, 2009
NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United Nations is investigating the use of its vehicles by suicide bombers who killed 17 African Union peacekeepers at their main base in Somalia, a senior official said Saturday.
The Somali government warned Friday that Islamist rebels from the al Shabaab group had six more stolen U.N. cars primed with explosives ready for suicide attacks.
"There are very large numbers of U.N. vehicles in Somalia that have been used for a variety of projects," Mark Bowden, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, told Reuters.
He said the United Nations had been given the chassis number of one of the vehicles used in Thursday's blasts. "We are trying to trace whether it's a U.N. vehicle," Bowden added.
President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said the attack, which followed Monday's killing of one of Africa's most wanted al Qaeda suspects by U.S. special forces, would not deter his government and he called on the world to send it more help.
"The bombing was shocking ... I urge the world to help the starving Somali people," Ahmed told reporters in a news conference at his hilltop Villa Somalia palace Saturday.
He said his administration gave Washington permission to hunt down Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan -- a 28-year-old Kenyan wanted over the 2002 truck bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya that killed 15 people -- because it could not catch him.
Bowden said this week's attack on the AMISOM peacekeepers' heavily-guarded base by Mogadishu airport would not weaken the U.N.'s resolve to deliver aid to half the Somali population. But he said it could hinder operations on the ground.
"We have to take greater precautions around Mogadishu. Clearly the airport is more at risk and that will affect our ability to move staff and humanitarian goods," he said.
Insurgents overran U.N. compounds in Jowhar and Baidoa in May and July, looting supplies and stealing vehicles.
The al Shabaab rebel group, which Washington says is al Qaeda's proxy in the failed Horn of Africa state, controls much of the south and parts of the capital.
Together with another group Hizbul Islam, it has been fighting government troops and the AU peacekeepers to impose its own strict version of sharia law throughout Somalia.
Saturday, al Shabaab gunmen ordered traders at Mogadishu's sprawling Bakara Market to join their fight or quit their stalls, businessmen said. The rebels also demanded they contribute financially or in kind to their cause.
More than 18,000 Somalis have been killed in fighting since the start of 2007 and another 1.5 million left homeless.
Bowden said severe drought for the fifth year in a row had compounded the effects of rising violence and driven half the population into food aid dependence.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Mohamed and Abdi Guled in Mogadishu; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Matthew Jones)

Al-Qaeda Retaliates After Deadly Air Strike in Somalia

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Al-Qaeda Retaliates After Deadly Air Strike in Somalia
By NICK WADHAMS / NAIROBI Nick Wadhams / Nairobi – Sat Sep 19, 2009.
(Photo: Dramatic Pirate-Hostage Rescues)
One could argue that the U.S. was playing a dangerous game when it killed a suspected top al-Qaeda leader in a brazen daytime helicopter raid in Somalia earlier this week. While the Americans swoop in and carry out targeted strikes such as this, the African Union peacekeeping mission to the country (called the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM) remains stymied on the ground, undermanned and vulnerable, its troops bearing an unenviable and almost impossible task. In a country that has been in chaos for nearly 20 years, what peace can 5,000 Burundian and Ugandan soldiers possibly keep?
The Shabab, the hard-line Islamic militia that controls much of the capital, Mogadishu, and southern Somalia, promised swift revenge for the killing of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was wanted in the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-run hotel in Mombasa, Kenya. That retaliation came Thursday, Sept. 17 - and the AMISOM force was the target. Suicide bombers in two stolen U.N. trucks packed with explosives drove into the AMISOM compound in Mogadishu and blew themselves up. Seventeen soldiers, including the Ugandan deputy force commander, were killed. Four civilians also died. (Read "Somalia's Crisis: Not Piracy, but Its People's Plight.")
"We have [gotten] our revenge for our brother Nabhan," Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said afterward, according to Reuters. "We knew the infidel government and A.U. troops planned to attack us after the holy month. This is a message to them."
A message indeed. The attack was the deadliest against the peacekeepers since their operation in Somalia began two years ago. It follows a similar attack on Feb. 22 in which a suicide bomber posing as a contractor blew himself up at the same AMISOM base in Mogadishu, killing 11. The Somali government says the insurgents have also stolen at least eight U.N. vehicles in recent months. Six remain missing. (See TIME's photo essay "Dramatic Pirate-Hostage Rescues.")
Coming so quickly on the heels of Nabhan's death, Thursday’s bombing raises the question of whether American intervention in Somalia is undermining the Somali President's ability to woo the moderate Islamists whose support he'll need to restore peace in Somalia. The U.S. does not seem ready to abandon the country anytime soon. During her seven-nation tour of Africa in August, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Somali President Sheik Sharif Ahmed - a symbolically potent occasion, given that he had once opposed the U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops that invaded Somalia in 2006 to try to defeat the Islamists. The Americans will most likely continue to launch targeted strikes against suspected al-Qaeda militants and keep sending weapons to Ahmed's transitional government, as the U.S. State Department confirmed it did in June. (See TIME's photo essay "The Pirates of Somalia.")
"In retaliation, the insurgents will rain hellfire down on any representative of the international community [in Somalia], whether it is peacekeepers or humanitarian-aid organizations," says John Prendergast, a Horn of Africa expert and head of the Washington-based Enough! Project, which works to end genocide. "The U.S. got their high-value target, but the price to Somalia and to those trying to stabilize it will be very high. It is a cost-benefit analysis that defies easy assessment."
Meanwhile, the AMISOM peacekeepers will struggle on the ground, continuing to wait for the hardware and financial support they were promised. Soon after Thursday's attack, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack "in the strongest terms," and the U.N. Security Council did the same, reaffirming its support for AMISOM. But even if the peacekeepers sitting in Mogadishu ever get word of that support, they probably won't think too highly of it. According to its mission statement, AMISOM is supposed to be preparing the way for the introduction of a U.N. peacekeeping force into the country. At the moment, AMISOM is not in position to do any such thing.
The AMISOM force is supposed to have 8,000 troops, but other African nations that pledged to send soldiers have so far not done so. It is a telling sign that the links on the AMISOM website for "activities" and "peace process" both lead nowhere. AMISOM officials have adopted a fatalistic tone but insist they will remain in Somalia.
As ineffective as the AMISOM force is, however, Somalia’s weak transitional government isn’t doing much better. The President is holed up in a villa in the capital, and the army has so far been incapable of mounting a serious offensive against the Shabab. The best thing to be said about the government is that it still exists.
"A lot of [Somalis] are against the Shabab, but it doesn't seem the government is taking advantage of this by reaching out to clan elders and trying to drain the support from under their feet," Nurudin Dirie, a Somalia analyst and onetime candidate for President of the breakaway Somali region of Puntland, tells TIME.
"I'm expecting this government not to make things worse," he says. "I'm not under the illusion that this government, or the one after that, or even the one after that, will bring stability to Somalia."

PRESS RELEASE : SOMALIA – IOM and UNDP Somalia Team Up to Bring Back Diaspora Expertise

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SOMALIA – IOM and UNDP Somalia Team Up to Bring Back Diaspora ExpertiseNairobi, Kenya, 15 September 2009 -
The United Nations Development Programme Somalia (UNDPSomalia) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched today a joint initiative to tap into key technical expertise among the Somali diaspora in a bid to help rebuild key governance foundations in parts of the country.
The Qualified Expatriate Somali Technical Support – Migration for Development in Africa (QUESTSMIDA) project targets Somalis with professional expertise in policy and legislation, human resources management, and public financial management living in North America, the UK and the Nordic countries. Through the project, these experts will be engaged in short-term capacity-building placements in Somalia, for an average period of six months to provide on-the-job peer-to-peer training in their respective fields.
Better management of public finances is just one of the areas that needs to be urgently targeted given that decades of conflict have left an almost entirely informal economy with a lack of most of the structures needed to handle donor inflows, collect taxes, pay security forces or even to maximize the potential of the estimated one billion US dollars in remittances the country receives each year.
The programme builds upon UNDP efforts during the last four years through its Qualified Expatriate Somali Technical Service (QUESTS) project as part of a wider governance programme for Somalia.
IOM will implement the programme, using the experience and expertise it has developed through its Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) initiative and its network of missions in countries where Somalis with appropriate skills reside.
For further information, visit: http://www.quests-mida.org/ or contact: Kaltun Hassan, UNDPSomalia, Media Relations Specialist, Tel: +254 724916 440 or email: kaltun.hassan@undp.org.

In Somali Language:
SOMALIA – Hay’adaha IOM iyo UNDP Somalia oo diyaariyey koox dib u soocelinaysa khubadarada jaaliyadaha Dibadda
Nairobi, Kenya, 15 September 2009 – Hay’adaha Qaramadana ee Horumarinta Barnamijyada Qaramada Midoobay ee Soomaaliya(UNDP) iyo Hay’adda Socdaalka Caalamiga ah(IOM), ayaa waxay maanta wadajir ahaan u soo bandhigayaan hindise oo lagu diyaarinayo khubaro farsamo oo ka tirsan jaaliyadaha Soomaalida dibadda ku dhaqan, si ay gacan uga gaystaan dib-u-dhiska arrimaha asaasiga ah ee maamulwanaagga qaybo ka mid ah dalka.
Khubaro farsamo Soomaaliyeed oo ku-xeel-dheer - arrimaha Horumarinta Socdaalka Afrikaanka(QUESTS-MIDA), ayaa ka qaybqaadan doona mashruucan oo bartilmaameedkiisu yahay in dadkaSoomaalida ah ee khibradda u leh dhinacyada siyaasadda iyo sharciga, kuna dhan waqooyiga Ameerika, Boqortooyada Ingriiska(UK) iyo waddamada islu yiraahdo Nordic Countries, ay hawlahaas gacan ka gaystaan. Waxayna khibaradu ka hawlgeli doonaan mashaariicda maxaladda gaaban ee ku wejahn awoodaynta dhinaca maamulka oo laga hirgelin doono qaybo ka mid ah dalka Soomaaliya, waxaana masharuucaas loogu talo galay muddoo cel-celis ahaan dhan qiyaastii muddo lix bilood ah, si ay gacan uga siiyaan tababarada xir-fadeed ee shaqoojinka loogu abuurayo qaybaha bulshada, iyadoo la tixgelinayo goobaha ay ka faa’iidaysayaashu ku dhaqan yihiin.
Maaraynta haboon ee maaliyadda dawladda, ayaa waxay ka mid tahay goobaha loo baahan yahay in bartilmaameedyada mudnaanta leh lagu daro, taasoo xilligii labaatameeyada sano gaarayey ee colaaddu dalka ka jirtay si weyn waxyeello ula soo gudboonaatay, madaama waaxyaha ay ka mid yihiin; dhaqaalaha aan rasmiga ahayn intiisa badan uusan lahayn qaab-dhismeed gacansi sida; la socoshada deeq-bixiyayaasha., uruurinta canshuuraha, mushaaraadka ciiamadda ammaanka ama xitaa sida loo jaangoyn karo xaddiga qiyaasta ugu sarraysa ee hal Bilyan oo doolarka Maraykanka ee sannadkiiba ka soo xaroota xawaaladaha dalka Waxayna Barnaamijyadani kaabayaan dadaallada hay’adda UNDP ee afartii sano ee la soo dhaafay, iyadoo lala kaashanayo adeegyada farsamo ee khubarada xeel-dheerayaasha Soomaalida (QUESTS) ,Hay’adda IOM, ayaa iyaduna barnaamijkan ebyi doonta, iyadoo la kaashanaysa waaya-aragnimada iyo khubarada, hore u sii ambaqaaday hay’adaha Horumarinta dhinaca socdaalka Afrika (MIDA),waxaana hindisahan iyo shabakadihiisa ergooyinka waddamada kala duwan looga golleeyahay in ay ka qaybqaadan doonaan khubaro Soomaaliyeed oo ku xeel-arri amrrtimahaas iyaga ah.
Faahfaahin dheeraad ah fadlan soo booqo: http://www.quests-mida.org/ ama la soo xidhiidh: Kaltun Hassan, Khabiirka Arrimaha Warbaahinta Hay’adda UNDP Somalia, , Tel: +254 726 891851 ama email: kaltun.hassan@undp.org.
For further information, visit: http://www.quests-mida.org/ or contact: Kaltun Hassan, UNDPSomalia, Media Relations Specialist, Tel: +254 724916 440 or email: kaltun.hassan@undp.org

Friday, September 18, 2009

21 killed in suicide attack on African Union base in Somalia

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (CNN) - A brazen, daylight suicide bombing on the African Union's peacekeeping mission in Somalia's capital has killed at least 21 people, mostly AU peacekeepers, the mission said Friday.
Suicide bombers, disguised in a U.N.-marked vehicle, drove Thursday through the security perimeter of the mission's headquarters, which is attached to Mogadishu's airport.
They detonated explosives near a building housing some of the mission's top commanders. The attack killed four civilians and 17 soldiers, including the mission's second-in-command, Burundian Cmdr. Maj. Gen. Juvenal Niyonguruza, according to mission spokesman Gaffel Nkolokosa.
The force commander, Ugandan Gen. Nathan Mugisha, was among the 40 wounded.
Al-Shabaab, the Islamist militia with ties to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the African Union.
The strike happened days after U.S. special forces targeted and killed a senior al Qaeda operative in southern Somalia.
Analysts immediately hailed the death of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan on Monday as a major blow to al Qaeda's efforts to work with Al-Shabaab to try to gain a foothold in the lawless country.
Days later, however, Al-Shabaab struck back at the most prominent Western-linked target in Mogadishu -- the African Union peacekeeping mission.
The African Union has a 3,400-member peacekeeping force in Somalia, made up of troops from Burundi and Uganda. It operates under a U.N. mandate to support Somalia's transitional federal government.
The peacekeeping force is charged with protecting key government and strategic installations in Mogadishu, including the port, airport and presidential palace. It is the de-facto military force of the weak, transitional Somali government.
Thursday's bombing was the deadliest attack on African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu. It was also a show of force by Al-Shabaab to the West, particularly after the death of Nabhan, who was considered the main link between al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab.
Suicide bombings have become more common as Al-Shabaab strengthens its ties with al Qaeda, but the bombers rarely are able to penetrate security as deeply as the attackers apparently did on Thursday.
Western countries vowed not to let the attack deter their mission.
The UN, European Union, Arab League, the United States and others issued a joint statement vowing "not be deterred by such criminal acts and (to) continue all our efforts to ensure the return of peace and stability in Somalia. "
Source: CNN, Sept 18, 2009

Interview with Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki

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Interview with Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki
Published: September 18 2009
Isaias Afewerki led a guerrilla army that helped to overthrow the Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991 and win independence for Eritrea, which the Red Sea country secured after a referendum two years later. As Eritrea’s president, he initially pledged to introduce multiparty democracy and free markets. But a border war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 led to a sharp change in course.
Today, Mr Isaias is accused of being a dictator and Eritrea is one of the most secretive and insular corners of Africa.
At the presidential reception house in Asmara on July 21 2009, he spoke to Barney Jopson, the FT’s East Africa correspondent, about international relations, domestic politics, military service, economic management, and western aid. These are edited excerpts from the interview.
FT: Let’s talk about Eritrea’s international relations. You don’t have a lot of allies in the rest of the world. You’re often described as an isolated state, even as a pariah state. Can you give me your take on how the country has got to this point?
Isaias Afewerki: Who said that?
FT: Many independent analysts would describe Eritrea that way.
IA: It’s their own choice … We have not endorsed the policies of the previous administration in Washingon for very obvious reasons. The policies were misguided. Part of the problems we talk about in Somalia, the Horn of Africa, wer a result of the misguided policies of the previous administration. I don’t want to exclude anyone in this administration, but it’s too early. The last eight years of the previous administration was chaotic. We disagreed on almost everything and they categorised us as a pariah, or whatever you called them. It’s demonising someone who does not agree with you. We’ve sustained our position and said in spite of the demonisation we have our views, be it on Somalia, on the Horn of Africa, Sudan, name it. We need to have our own independent positions and we need to defend those positions … We have disagreed [with the US] on a number of other issues. But that’s not unique. It’s misguided policies not only in the Horn but everywhere else. Yes, for those who control the media, for those who have special interests, who have made this world a very difficult place to live in … demonising Eritrea has been based on misguided policies, and even those who have disagreed with us our now changing because the world is now changing.
FT: Which people do you think are changing?
IA: Everybody else. We maintain our policies and our positions have proven to be correct. And many who may not admit it officially are changing. Changing by denouncing previous policies and previous interventions here and there … I don’t exclusively mention one party or another as to whether they’ve become favourable to us or not. I don’t think that’s relevant because we don’t live on the favours of others. We don’t expect others to be very kind to us or very generous to us when we disagree with them. We don’t like that to happen. We would like to agree and disagree, but we should respect the opinion of others and others will have to respect our opinion.
FT: You said it’s too early to judge where the Obama administration is going, but do you have any hope that the new administration might …
IA: Not at all. It would be very foolish to hope for this or that. We don’t live in hope. We don’t have that culture. We don’t expect manna to come from the skies. We don’t expect any administration in Washington is going to bring in solutions for everything … We don’t have that kind of culture. We’re not even interested. We’re not even interested in hoping. Hoping for something is disabling … You cannot expect anyone to come with some miracle to solve your problem. And it’s not interactive. It does not engage people on the issues because you will be sitting around, hands folded and expecting somebody to do it for you. We don’t have that culture. No hopes. No expectations. No dreams. Nothing like that. We would like to see real things happen on the ground and we would like to be party to those things.
FT: Okay, so setting aside hopes and dreams, would you like to improve your relations with the US?
IA: The US will have to improve its relations with us. We have done nothing wrong. We were not even doing anything to harm the US at all. To the contrary. So the US will have to come to improve its rels with us. We don’t go and ask for improvement of relations. We don’t ask their favour. They have to correct their wrongs and then we can make friends. We don’t go their and ask for their favour. Not at all.
FT: Now, you laughed when I used the word “pariah”. Another comparison that’s been made is with North Korea. Eritrea is sometimes described as the North Korea of Africa.
IA: Isn’t it ironic? This isn’t a country with nuclear weapons. This is a very small country of three million people and the comparison is even daunting to me. And that’s part of the game – demonising someone, intimidating someone, trying to frighten people. It’s a very sick psychology. It’s a very sick attitude for those who think they can demonise, intimidate and frighten people. We have resisted to that kind of attitude and we don’t think it’s healthy. It’s sick.
FT: Now, let’s talk about the domestic situation here. Your party is the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice but Eritrea is a one-party state that’s not had elections since independence.
IA: That’s no problem. That’s not a problem.
FT: But where’s the democracy then?
IA: You go and ask the Chinese on their democracy. You go and ask the Mauritanians, the Iranians, the Madagascari. You go and ask Congo Brazzaville. You go and ask the Hondurans. You go and ask everybody else. You go and ask people in Europe. People in Europe have not even participated in the politics. You may know that only 20%, 18% in some countries, are interested in politics in Europe and we, in this country, in spite of all the demonization, we have everybody else participating. Every citizen in this country participates in what happens in the life of this country.
FT: How do they participate?
IA: In all forms. They have their own organisations. They have their own ways of participation. We are unique in the Diaspora – the only people who are organised and working together for the benefit of their own family, their own neighbourhood, their own people and it’s in spite of the demonization that you find. People participate in politics, social, cultural, economy, security, everything.
FT: But people do not feel free to express opinions about the government.
IA: This is an opinion of special interest groups in Europe and the United States. They would like to have one or two individuals who are mouthpieces for their own special interest and they want these voices to be heard … If you want to talk in Europe as a citizen of the United Kingdom, a citizen of France, of Italy, if you want to talk in the name of the special interest groups in the United States, say it direct. Don’t come and say it through a puppet or some dummy here and there. That’s a mistake many in Europe and the United States [make], to think that they can speak through the mouths of some individuals who are compromised or bought by some agencies in those countries, and we are told these are representative of the people of this country. The people of this country know what they want. They know who represents them. They know how they participate in the life of their country. So, how can you possibly tell people that voices are not heard. Which voices?
FT: Well, I’m not talking about these interest groups in Europe, I’m talking about the mood here on the streets, and there seems to be a climate of fear. People are scared to give their opinions. They’re scared to criticise the government because the government doesn’t seem to be tolerating dissent.
IA: It’s a very important discovery on your part. You’ve been able to discover this in how many hours?
FT: Well, I’ve been here since Saturday.
IA: It’s very unique. You must have a very unique brain.
FT: I don’t think so.
IA: To be able to know and read everything in this country in a matter of hours, it’s amazing.
FT: But it’s my impression that people are nervous.
IA: It’s amazing. It’s amazing. I say it’s amazing because you can make judgement in a matter of hours. You must be a super-human.
FT: Well, I’m not.
IA: You may be, because doing something in a matter of hours is something for super humans who can do miracles by seeing through things and trying to read the minds of people and trying to read the minds of, say, the citizens in this town, that would be 400,000, and reading that is very funny.
FT: Well, let’s look at it in another way then. Are people free to offer critical opinions of the government, if they want to?
IA: They’re free. They’re free. This is a free country. This is a free country… I mean, I would have expected you to say something else had you been in Nairobi, in Lagos, other capitals, even in Europe, where you can’t even move after five o’clock in the evening…
FT: That’s safety. That’s a different issue.
IA: … where you can see it in the faces of human beings and make a comparison. You can make a judgement, even though that’s qualitative and it’s not inclusive of everything. You can make judgements. Anyone has the freedom to make judgements but this is the place where people can move freely and think freely. It’s a place very unique in terms of the freedoms people enjoy, in spite of the demonization, again… If you have come with a notion prior to your travel to this country, you can say it but…
FT: No, what I say is based on my conversations with people, not with 400,000 but with…
IA: Well, it’s amazing. I would even question that, again, because that’s where journalists are not very professional or even honest with themselves and say, ‘Oh, I talked to one or two people’. Where did you get these people? Where exactly were you when you talked to these people? And how many hours did you take to make a judgement when you talk to someone?… It’s not honest. It’s a pre-judgement of something and it actually is a distortion.
FT: So, you say there’s freedom of speech, there’s freedom of thought. Why then the crackdown in 2001 on the people known as the G15 who were arrested and remain in jail?
IA: That is history.
FT: But they were…
IA: That’s something related to the national security issue, related to war, related to the water conflict. It has nothing to do with the domestic politics or the political reality of this country. That is history.
FT: But they were expressing their own opinions and you said this is a free country.
IA: They were not expressing their opinion. They were working for something that is a threat to the national security. I was interested to listen to Obama saying the other day, national security is not an open book. It’s not an open book in the United Kingdom, it’s not an open book in France, in Italy, in Europe, elsewhere. National security is not an open book. And don’t mix what national security is and what politics is.
FT: Well, let’s go even further back in history. In 1987, I think, at the second congress of the EPLF you agreed to introduce multi-party democracy. In 1997 the Constitution was ratified but it’s not yet been implemented. So, it seems there was a commitment.
IA: Agreed with whom?
FT: Among yourselves. Among the EPLF [guerrilla army] or…
IA: It’s our own choice. We don’t agree with anyone.
FT: No, but you seemed to be supporting democracy and elections then.
IA: What is democracy?
FT: Well, it can be multi-party elections.
IA: That is something else. You talk about multi-party elections, you talk about democracy. You have your own definition of that.
FT: So, what is the definition that you understand for democracy?
IA: It’s participating in the life of the country.
FT: But not through elections?
IA: You may not like the result of the elections in Iran and you make a lot of noise about that but that’s for the Iranians to decide… In Europe you have standards, multiple standards, about democracy, about freedom of speech, about elections, about freedom of press but who can trust or believe what you say in Europe is democracy? The recent parliamentary elections in Europe were proof that people are not interested in politics. Do you know that in some countries in Europe only 18% of the electorate participated? And 82% are saying, we are not interested in politics. So, where is participation in politics?
We need, first of all, to define what we mean by democracy, what we mean by elections, what we mean by participatory politics… The problems we see today happening in every corner of the world have been as a result of people who have tried to tell us what economics is all about, what participation in politics is all about, what democracy is all about, when it’s Madoffs, it’s corrupt officials here and there, when special interests have made life very difficult for people who talk about democracy … We believe we have to go through a process. We need to socially, economically transform societies, allow for participation of each and every citizen. We don’t have to allow division amongst ethnic, religious lines – what we see happening in so many parts of Africa. There is no democracy. There is no participatory politics that involves everybody. It’s more groups, even families sometimes, who manage countries like shops or supermarkets.
FT: So, you say you are in the midst of a process. Is this process going to end up with some kind of multi-party system, with opposition allowed and elections?
IA: It’s not a process that will end up… This is a process for generations to continue, yes. There is no political process that starts and ends somewhere. If you have that notion, then that’s a misguided thing because life continues, life perpetuates and generations come and go and definitely the political process goes indefinitely.
FT: Let’s talk about national service, which is an important part of life in Eritrea today. Can you explain why national service is necessary for this country?
IA: It’s necessary for every country.
FT: But not every country has conscription.
IA: It’s necessary for every country.
FT: But not the mandatory national service.
IA: You can imagine. It’s been there for, I don’t know, for more than a century now. When government and countries can afford it, they may have one form or another of national service… Every country has got its own preferences. We have gone through a very long war and we’ve, unfortunately, found ourselves trapped in so-called border conflict. We have our national security and we need to plan, like others, and we have to find an alternative for that. National service is not very unique. It’s not a problem in this country. It’s like every other place where you have national services under different names and different forms.
FT: Well, you say it’s not a problem but there does seem to be some resentment over two things. One is that people receive very low salaries and, two, is that the national service can be indefinite. So, why the…?
IA: It’s not indefinite. If the United States can deploy troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who served one year ago are again obliged to come and serve again, what do you call that?
FT: No, but these people volunteer to join the army in the first place.
IA: They never volunteered. No one volunteers. They were enticed. They were lured in in a very sophisticated manipulation and they suffer the consequences. I don’t want to talk about that. That’s a very long story. You tell me these are voluntary people. Do you know how people are recruited in the United States? Do you know the mechanism of manipulation that takes place there? Do you know the abuse that they have in recruiting people in the United States? Do you know that?
FT: No.
IA: This is a different story. We don’t mislead people. This is a duty for every citizen, every young citizen. As long as the threat remains, we need to be vigilant. That’s very natural. I have indicated earlier national security is not an open book. And you talk about salaries. This is a very, very, very broad issue. We talk about salaries in Europe, salaries in the United States, salaries in China – this is a different story. It has nothing to do with national service. National service, you are obliged to do service without any pay.
FT: Do you think that’s fair?
IA: It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere. It was in Europe before Europe overcame the whole difficulty after the Second World War. You go into Germany, France, Italy, everywhere, and you know what was going on there and you cannot come now and prescribe something else for me when you have justified what you did 40, 50 years ago was right and you tell me now that was wrong. That’s not making any logical sense at all.
FT: But it seems there are a lot of young people who don’t like the idea of doing national service.
IA: Who likes the idea? Who likes the idea of doing service in the army?
FT: Well, not many people.
IA: Who likes the idea? Tell me. Who likes the idea? This is your duty. This is a duty imposed upon every citizen in spite of your liking or not liking. This is a duty… Every citizen of any country has a duty to perform. It’s one thing when the Prince of Wales or any other part of the United Kingdom participates in a service for his country. You would uphold that as something very holy. But when people are doing service in their own countries, like here in Eritrea, you think that is a curse. That’s not a curse. It’s a blessing to do your duty and everyone may not like it but it’s a duty for you and for everybody else in the country because equality is the basis of citizenship and everyone has an obligation and a duty to participate.
FT: I’m interested in the difference in the minds of the generation of people who fought during the struggle, like you, and young people who were born at the end of the struggle. I mean, somebody born in 1991 is today 18 years old. The liberation fighters obviously have a lot of pride in everything you fought for. But for the young people, do you think they have the same passion for that cause?
IA: Maybe more but in a different form. Everyone has pride. A human being, any human being anywhere has pride. It’s part of you. Generations come and go. Generations have their own culture, their own values, but definitely pride is one thing. It’s something 20, 30, 40 years ago; it’s a different thing today, but it’s still there.
FT: What about the willingness to sacrifice? Because the struggle was all about sacrifice but now Eritrea has won freedom. Do you think the young people are still ready to sacrifice?
IA: Now, look, sacrifice is part of the value and the psyche of the human being. You want to make money? You want to accumulate capital? You will have to forego some of the benefits you think are immediate for you now. Sacrifice is not something you do for free. It is something you do for something else … But to think getting this generation back 40 years and trying to expect them to fight for history, what does that mean? You don’t fight for history. You fight for the future and any sacrifice, you do it for the future. So, I don’t see anything unique for this generation or the generation that is going to come after that. They will have to do their own sacrifices and what provokes sacrifices is the challenges that face communities and human beings.
FT: There are some young people who don’t want to sacrifice for a future in Eritrea and they’re leaving the country, often illegally.
IA: Not at all. This is part of the human trafficking and organised international crime. This is a different story.
FT: Who is organising this?
IA: There’s organised mafia everywhere – within the country, in Sudan, in the neighbouring countries, in Europe – who are making money out of this business. How do they do it? They will have to make something in the future somewhere very attractive and they will have to organise the ways of taking these people somewhere else. Say, for example, they will say “Oh, Europe is heaven. You can go to Italy, you can go Turkey, you can go to Israel, you can go to the United Kingdom and life is better there. You can clothe better, you can eat better, you can have a better shelter, you can wash dishes but you can make more money than serving the country under the national service and I can organise a trip for you, a vacation.” He will organise for these people to secretly move out of this country, go to Sudan… They will take them to Egypt, to Libya, to Israel and from there they take them to Europe. They end up in concentration camps. That heaven is a concentration camp.
FT: You mean the refugee reception areas.
IA: They’re concentration camps. And these people ended up in these concentration camps because they were told that this is heaven and they can go there and make a better living rather than live in this country without salary, with no future, as far as they are told. Where do you end up? You end up in a situation where your future is destroyed. If you are 20 now and if you can live 80 years, 60 years of your life is destroyed because of this organised crime of human trafficking. And this is obvious. Everybody knows it. It’s no secret anymore. And it’s very sad that these young people end up there. And the excuse always is, oh, why do national service. You can go to anywhere in Europe or the United States. You can live there. We can facilitate that. We can prepare documents for your travel.
FT: Let’s talk about the economy. We’ve mentioned the financial meltdown, the global recession. How is this affecting the economy of Eritrea?
IA: Not at all. It’s not affecting us. I mean, it’s not affecting us in a big way. Why? Because we’ve been very serious about our economy from day one and we have not been living on handouts. In spite of the limited resources we have in this country, we have appreciated that our human resources are our human capital. Investing in people means allowing them to produce something… I’m not saying this is heaven. I’m not saying everything has been resolved but, again, we have been focused on the real things we need to do. With meagre resources, you need to sustain the difficulties and hardships and overcome that by working and producing.
Now, we have invested heavily in public programmes, infrastructure. We still have a long way to go. But without putting that in place, it’s going to be difficult to talk about any growth in any economy. And we’ve been sacrificing to do that, sacrificing and sacrificing and sacrificing so we put in place an environment that is viable for future growth of this economy… I don’t think we have committed any mistake. In fact, now, in hindsight, I can say we took the precautions at the right moment. It does not imply that we have found a solution or a panacea for all the problems. We have not committed mistakes that would lead to a serious challenge, given the current financial meltdown or economic crisis globally. We’ve been able to sustain it by maintaining an economy that feeds the realities of the day. We have not exaggerated the expenses of the government. We have been very austere economically in our dealings. We have focused on serious economic programmes. We may not have gone a long, long way but we have created a situation where we can easily sustain shocks and challenges that may come as a result of global and regional change.
FT: Now, you mentioned as part of this people are making sacrifices and, again, I’ve heard that there are hunger problems in different parts of the country, people not having enough to eat.
IA: Not hunger problems, no. One thing in this country is you don’t have someone with a full belly and someone else hungry. We don’t… I mean, distribution is one of the basics in our economics. The limited resources will have to be distributed in a manner that is equitable. You may sound to be very egalitarian when you say that but that’s not egalitarian, it’s reality… Yes, some areas have been producing surplus, some have been self-sufficient, other areas have not been able to produce… Nomads are the ones who are easily affected because they are not producing food, they are living on livestock and livestock are affected by drought and other natural circumstances. When they cannot afford to sell their livestock and buy food or a substitute for what they need, definitely you will have to have a mechanism for distributing and that’s what we have learnt.
FT: But I’ve spoken to people who say they have relatives in rural areas who are struggling to feed themselves.
IA: You will have to go and see that. People can tell you stories. I have heard a number of things in this town but it’s not true at all because there is a distribution mechanism, a distribution mechanism that does not allow for famine. Hunger may be there as a phenomenon at different seasons of the year in different parts of the country, but we have an almost efficient means of distribution. We cannot allow for people to die of famine in this country when we can afford to have three meals a day in some parts of the country. That’s not at all the case. Yes, food may not be available in abundance everywhere. I don’t pretend to say that but, again, we have to be able to distribute what is available to those who need it and we have been very good at doing that and that’s been one aspect of our success story and the economy. This is not big economics we’re talking about. It’s small economics but managed well.
FT: And let’s talk, again, about the global recession because one of the big sources of income for Eritrea is remittances from the diaspora and in Kenya and in Senegal and in Zimbabwe, which also depend on remittances, the amount of money has been falling because the Kenyans and the Senegalese and the Zimbabweans overseas have been losing their jobs. Are you seeing a fall in remittances here from Eritreans living overseas?
IA: Yes and no. That’s one issue which is part of the economies of so many developing countries and it depends on the attitude or the responsibility of individuals. In some cases remittances are not even there. People migrate to places in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, Canada, any other place in the world, but they don’t send back money… I wouldn’t disagree with someone who wants to go somewhere and find a job and make money and come back here to support family or even start a good, new life. That would be sensible. [But in] the circumstances now, it’s doing a lot of damage to individuals who are going there not finding jobs. Even those who have been there before them don’t have jobs. They’re laid off. They can’t find jobs. So, that’s a bad thing. That’s one negative effect of the global financial meltdown… It has affected our diaspora in a very bad way… We’ve been encouraging people outside [to] work hard, focus on savings, don’t spend a lot of money luxuriously, collect money and look towards a future and try to have a home, try to have a good place to live in ultimately We are looking for alternative solutions to the challenges people face in the diaspora, given the global economic crisis.
FT: Now, Eritrea’s never had a lot of foreign exchange of dollars and the Diaspora’s been one source of that but the shortage has caused a lot of shortages of materials in this country. That’s why the Coca-Cola factory closed down, I think. That’s why beer production every now and again stops. How do you manage with such a…?
IA: There is no abundance of foreign exchange anywhere [in the developing world] but the issue is how do you manage foreign exchange. You need to have priorities, priorities for long-term plans, for medium-term plans. Short-term is consumption, consumption meaning you can spend foreign exchange on something that you need today and that would sacrifice the long-term programmes that would have a sustainable impact on the growth of your economy. You’ll have to make a choice. That’s where we have been on the right track. We have focussed on infrastructure, for example. I would say the whole population will have to sacrifice a breakfast, for example, and you can use that saving for putting in place a road anywhere which will enable communities to use that road for producing and doing trade and business in their own neighbourhood.
FT: So, breakfast for a road.
IA: Name it. You have to do something for the long-term and there has to be a balance on what you do today and what you consume today and what you save for tomorrow and for the day after. You need to be very careful on that … It’s not an individual sacrifice but it is sacrifice at a national level.
I want to put in place roads, clean water, schools, health services, electricity, communications. These are basics. If you postpone to do them today, you will never be able to do them any time in the future. To do them today for the long and medium-term, you will have to sacrifice what you need today and that’s a very simple logic. So, yes, foreign exchange may be scarce, may be limited, but the question is how do you manage that resource available to you.
FT: But one of the biggest [targets] of foreign exchange spending is the military. Is that correct?
IA: Not at all. Why would you say that?
FT: Well, as you say, you’ve still got the border issue with Ethiopia. There’s still a threat there. That’s why national service is important.
IA: Not at all. It’s a matter of contingency for us… We decided early on not to be held hostage to this reality. Yes, we have a contingency. We would like to be vigilant all along, we’d like to be prepared all along but we shouldn’t be held hostage, meaning our human capacity will have to be engaged on some other productive activity. That’s where the army and national service are being engaged in productive activities. If you see what has been achieved in the last ten years in any aspect of developmental programmes – infrastructure, agriculture, agricultural production, fisheries – it’s all done by these young people who may not like it, may have other alternatives had circumstances been completely different but, again, their contribution has been tremendous. We could have done better without this conflict. We could have done better without this psyche of having a conflict that is not resolved, being prepared for any eventuality. That limits your resources but, again, you don’t have any other choice. The best choice for you is to not be held fully hostage to this circumstance and find other productive activities that will ultimately benefit the whole population.
FT: But my point was just that you need dollars to buy tanks, to buy weapons.
IA: Not at all, no.
FT: Well, you have to buy them from Ukraine or Belarus or…
IA: No. It’s a misconception… It’s not missiles, it’s not heavy tanks, it’s not heavy artillery that does the job. And for us to seriously consider an option, a contingency, for self-defence we’ll have to think in a different manner. It’s not tanks, it’s not missiles, it’s not sophisticated weapons that make the difference in any military or conflict situation. I say this [after] very long experience. Yes, it may be useful to have tanks, artillery. [But] they’re not at all 100 per cent useful compared to other options. So, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on heavy artillery. Napoleon has said two-thirds or maybe three-quarters of any battle is morals.
FT: Okay. Now, on economic management, it seems that in the last few years the party has been increasing its involvement in the economy – withdrawing some business licenses, taking control of construction companies, for example. Why is that?
IA: It’s transitional… It’s a matter of efficient use of resources and efficient use of time… Under the circumstance where the economy is underdeveloped, where you don’t even have the kind of businesses that would assume the responsibility of putting in place programmes in a number of sectors then the government will have to intervene. And this is transitional. It’s a necessity. It’s not part of a long-term policy. Governments have a job to put in place an environment that is conducive for investment, putting in place an environment conducive for investment means roads, electricity, water supply, telecommunications and that’s not an easy task and you cannot do it in a disintegrated manner… No private sector can do a charity job by putting in place a road or an infrastructure programme here and there… How was Europe rebuilt after the destruction of the second world war? How much sacrifice, how much control of government was there and how was it possible for those economies to arrive at where they are now? You can’t do miracles.
FT: So, I understand the logic of creating public construction companies, for example, to build roads, but why at the same time would you withdraw the licences from the private companies?
IA: There are no licences withdrawn from private companies.
FT: But now there are no private construction companies.
IA: They’re out of business… They don’t have the capacity. There is no capacity … Any individual can come and tell you: ‘Well, I’ll do this.’ No. How can you possibly do it? Do you have the equipment? Do you have the money? Do you have the human resource? How can you possibly put in place a huge project with a limited amount of money?
For the transition there is no other alternative except for the government to assume responsibility to put in place … What we see now happening in Europe and the United States is trying to reverse the process. Where government should have been there to regulate and control and private companies come and do the job, the lopsided relationship has created this problem we see now and governments are obliged now to intervene.
FT: But you’re not trying to create a Soviet Union style command economy, or are you?
IA: We have never had any illusions about that kind of economy. We have lived that experience when we were deep in the struggle.
FT: Right. The Mengistu struggle.
IA: Not Mengistu. Mengistu didn’t represent anything but I remember the political programme for the EPLF, now the PFDJ, was clearly defined as mixed economy … It’s a realistic way of managing an economy and I don’t think we have at any point in time tried to emulate any experience. I mean, your own unique realities will have to be appreciated seriously and you tailor a programme that suits or fits your own reality. Copying examples from outside or having stereotypes is not always a solution.
FT: Let’s talk a little bit about NGOs and the UN. I think at the high point there were maybe 40 or 42 NGOs in the country. Most of them have now either left or felt driven out and, similarly, UN agencies are under very tight restrictions here. Why do you have this tough attitude?
IA: It’s one of the phenomena that has damaged economies of developing countries. I mean, it’s unfortunate that this phenomenon mushroomed in a very short period of time without anyone taking it seriously and checking on what this phenomenon means to developing countries. You can find books everywhere now talking about this problem. A more recent book is [Dambisa] Moyo’s.
FT: Dead Aid, yes.
IA: We simply asked questions about the validity and viability of NGOs in developing countries. Is it doing any benefit? Ultimately we arrived at the conclusion, which is now appreciated by everybody, it’s very crippling. It may have started as a good intention on the part of some individuals and groups in Europe who wanted to help needy people but gradually it was transformed into monsters or institutions that could be considered monsters. The people employed, the money wasted, the opportunity lost in terms of creating viable institutions of government in developing countries is huge… It’s not something emotional. It’s not liking or hating individuals or it’s not a matter of liking or not liking NGOs… If you have these institutions, you will never be able to put in place viable institutions of government because they will substitute everything. The money wasted by these organisations is in billions, if not in trillions… These institutions have developed to be institutions without any accountability and transparency and whenever you try to ask for accountability and transparency, you are demonised as someone who is against NGOs or humanitarian support. No. I think now people are sober enough to seriously consider this matter.
I’m glad this time that people are realising that even those countries who’ve been categorised as donors are now reconsidering the policy of providing aid and even using NGOs as a means of implementing programmes. Economic and developmental programmes could be implemented in a different fashion and we don’t need to continue depending or even give more legitimacy to these institutions of non-government organisations to be an obstacle in the two-way relationship of trade and investment between the developed world and the developing countries.
FT: And what about the United Nations, which is an organisation of government, it’s not an NGO?
IA: Even some NGOs are better than UN agencies. I can tell you one thing, one very simple example… We had peacekeepers here. For how many years I don’t know. Their annual budget was $200m. They stayed here for more than five years. They may have had a budget of more than $1 billion. Where this money has gone nobody knows. Now, when they had to terminate their operations here, we discovered things that we suspected all along. We were asked to take garbage of all the resources that were used by them. They took what they wanted to take. They sold some of the equipment. Where, no one knows. How much they sold it for no one knows. Now, can you imagine almost 5,000 people sitting here in this country as if they were tourists, enjoying life, not even doing anything risky for them with $200m per year and no one knows where this money has gone… Their expenses are to me not only a wastage but an embezzlement and there is no mechanism for checks and balances to guarantee accountability and transparency.
FT: Now my final question, a two-part question. How would you, firstly, describe your own style of leadership and, secondly, are there any other leaders in other parts of the world who you particularly admire?
IA: My style is very simple. I say simple and direct, inexpensive and efficient… I can see many [other world leaders] could have done their job better under their own circumstances, given their own unique realities, and I don’t think it’s easy to compare different realities.. There are shortcomings and failures here or there. What you need to do is benefit and learn from the good of everybody else… Most of the times you would like to see what these developed economies have done. You don’t go and look for similarities with those who are like you. I don’t think that’s the best way of learning. What you need to learn is how others have been able to do what they have done to change the quality of life of their own people. You may not have the resources, you may not have the time, you may not even be able to emulate them but at least you learnt something and you tried to do it by relating it to your own unique circumstances.

EU calls on Eritrea to free political prisoners

(M e d e s h i)
EU calls on Eritrea to free political prisoners
Fri Sep 18, 2009
STOCKHOLM, Sept 18 (Reuters) - The European Union said on Friday it was "deeply concerned" over continued abuses of human rights in Eritrea, calling on the East African nation's government to release all political prisoners.
The Swedish EU presidency said in a statement that Eritrean authorities had arrested a number of political figures and journalists over the past several years, keeping them detained without charge.
"The European Union remains deeply concerned that the Government of the State of Eritrea continues to severely violate its human rights obligations under domestic and international law," the presidency said in a statement.
"In particular, the European Union urges the Government of the State of Eritrea to unconditionally release all political prisoners."
In a statement earlier this week marking the 8-year anniversary of a clamp-down by the Eritrean government, Reporters Without Borders labelled Eritrea the "world's biggest prison for journalists", saying at least 30 had been jailed.
The case of Dawit Issac, a journalist with dual Swedish and Eritrean citizenship who has been held without trial in Eritrea since 2001, has sparked outrage in the Nordic country, the current holder of the EU's six-month presidency.
Asmara bristles at repeated accusations by rights groups that it puts independent journalists and non-Orthodox Christians in jail, tortures detainees, and keeps people indefinitely in military service.
"We are not children. We were not born yesterday. No one can educate us on what freedom means," President Isaias Afwerki told Reuters in an interview in May. [ID:nLL236492]
"It is not a question of human rights, religious rights. It is part of a fight, of a powerful opposition, and this powerful opposition has not succeeded in achieving anything," he said. (Reporting by Niklas Pollard

Profound concern at indefinite postponement of Somaliland presidential poll, say election observers

(M e d e s h i)
Profound concern at indefinite postponement of Somaliland presidential poll, say election observers
**PRESS RELEASE** for immediate release
*Profound concern at indefinite postponement of Somaliland presidential poll, say election observers*
The UK-based team coordinating election observers for the much-delayed presidential elections in the internationally unrecognised Republic of Somaliland today expresses its profound disappointment and concern at news that the poll will be postponed indefinitely.
Progressio, the Development Planning Unit at University College London (UCL) and Somaliland Focus UK say in a joint statement: "We hoped that the [current political] situation in Somaliland could have been resolved to set Somaliland's democratisation process back on track. Instead it has become worse. With the extended term of [the incumbent] President Daahir Rayaale Kaahin due to expire on 29 October, and no constitutional protocol to deal with this unprecedented situation, we have real fears for the country's democracy and stability."
The statement continues: "We urge all stakeholders to come together to solve this impasse, to ensure that a process can be put in place for a legitimate poll, with as little delay as possible, but with genuine commitment from all players and a realistic approach to the time needed to ensure a smooth and proper political process."
Somaliland's National Electoral Commission (NEC) last week announced that the much-delayed poll will not go ahead as planned on 27 September. In recent days, violence has erupted on the streets of Hargeisa leading to the deaths of three Somaliland citizens and the arrest of a number of journalists.
Progressio's Advocacy Coordinator for Africa, Dr Steve Kibble, said: "Somaliland has a long history of dialogue and consensus-building and is often characterised as a beacon of democratisation in Africa. Somaliland's leaders must now continue this tradition of mediation and work to achieve a breakthrough."
Leading Somaliland scholar, Professor Ioan M. Lewis, said: "It would be desperately sad if violent incidents were allowed to mar Somaliland's unique reputation for democratic stability which so sharply differentiates it from Somalia."
The UK-based team, along with FOPAG (Forum for Peace and Governance) in Somaliland, was invited to lead the election observation mission by the Somaliland National Electoral Commission in January. The team has been tasked with coordinating international election observers from four continents and preparing a report on the conduct of the campaign and poll following the vote. Support for the mission is being provided by the UK government.
This week leading authorities on Somaliland - including notable scholars and individual members of the election observation team - issued an open letter to President Daahir Rayaale Kaahin and opposition party leaders Ahmed Mohamed Siilaanyo and Faisal Ali Waraabe calling for a "speedy resolution" to the crisis.
To read the full text of the observation team's latest statement, see: http://www.progressio.org.uk/progressio/internal/98298/concern_at_indefinite_postponement_of_som/
*Notes to editors*
1. For further information or to arrange an interview with a member of the coordination team, contact Progressio's Media Officer, Jo Barrett, on +44 (0)7940 703911 or email jo@progressio.org.uk 2. Somaliland's Presidential elections have been repeatedly delayed. The poll has previously been scheduled for March/April 2008, December 2008 and March 2009.
3. Somaliland is situated in Somalia's northwest. It declared unilateral independence from the failed Somali state in 1991 and has since been a haven of relative peace whilst violence and instability has characterised Somalia, its capital Mogadishu and more recently the Gulf of Aden.
4. Progressio's involvement in the mission follows its leadership of the international monitoring team for Somaliland's inaugural parliamentary elections in 2005, judged by observers as "basically free and fair".
5. Progressio has been working with local communities in Somaliland since 1995 by placing skilled workers with local organisations specialising in advocating for the rights of women, youth and people with disabilities as well as supporting basic health service provision and people living with HIV and AIDS. Progressio also actively supports progress towards democratisation and stabilising the country.ends

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Obama shelves Europe missile plan

(M e d e s h i)

Obama shelves Europe missile plan
US President Barack Obama has shelved plans for controversial bases in Poland and the Czech Republic in a major overhaul of missile defence in Europe.
The bases are to be scrapped after a review of the threat from Iran.
Mr Obama said there would be a "proven, cost-effective" system using land- and sea-based interceptors against Iran's short- and medium-range missile threat.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has welcomed the US decision, calling it a "responsible move".
Russia had always seen the shield as a threat.
However, there has been criticism of the decision in conservative circles in the US.
The US signed a deal in August 2008 with Poland to site 10 interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea, and with the Czech Republic to build a radar station on its territory.
ANALYSIS Kevin Connolly, BBC News, Washington
It would be hard to invent a news story that tied together more strategic and political issues than the Obama administration's decision to change its stance on the deployment of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.
It touches on Washington's assessment of Iran's military capabilities. There is an underlying assumption that Tehran's capacity for mounting warheads on long-range missiles does not pose an immediate strategic headache.
It also sends a signal to the peoples of Central Europe about how President Barack Obama proposes to manage the post Cold War order in their neck of the woods in the next few years. And it raises questions about the administration's much-talked-about desire to "hit the reset" button on its relationship with Russia.
The US had said the missile shield would be fully operational by 2012.
But President Obama this year ordered a review of the defence system, which was strongly backed by his predecessor George W Bush.
'Stronger and smarter'
On Thursday, President Obama said in a live TV address that the change was needed to "deploy a defence system that best responds to the threats we face".
He said a review had shown the need to switch strategy to defending against the short- and medium-range missiles that Iran could use to target Europe.
Twice Mr Obama referred to the need for a system that was "proven and cost effective".
He said the new approach would provide "a stronger, smarter and swifter defence" of US and allied forces in Europe.
Mr Obama said he had spoken to both the Czech Republic and Poland and stressed his commitments to their defence.
But he said again that Russia's concerns about the old system were "entirely unfounded".
“ It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return ” John Bolton, former Bush undersecretary
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs later stressed the overhaul was "not about Russia".
Although the White House said the US "no longer planned to move forward" with the old shield scheme for Poland and the Czech Republic, Defence Secretary Robert Gates stressed the US was not abandoning missile defence of Europe.
He said negotiations were under way with both nations about deploying upgraded SM-3 interceptors from 2015.
The first phase of the new strategy, he said, would be to deploy "current and proven missile defence systems in the next two years", including the sea-based Aegis and the current SM-3.
Iran says its missile development programme is solely for scientific, surveillance or defensive purposes, but there are concerns in the West and among Iran's neighbours that the rockets could be used to carry nuclear weapons.
Mr Medvedev said the US decision was a "positive" one.
He said he would discuss the missile defence issue with President Obama during a visit to the United Nations in New York next week.
Mr Medvedev said in a TV address: "We value the US president's responsible approach towards implementing our agreements. I am ready to continue the dialogue."
The two countries are currently in talks about reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles, and the US move could influence Russia to be more co-operative, correspondents say.
Mr Medvedev said there were now "good conditions" for talks on missile reduction.
However, there has already been some criticism in the US.
John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, said the move was "unambiguously a bad decision".
He said: "This gives away an important defensive mechanism against threats from countries like Iran and other rogue states, not only for the US but for Europe as well.
"It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return."
Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the US move was "a positive step", Associated Press reported.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Ethiopia PM: ethnic violence claim is contemptible

(M e d e s h i)
Ethiopia PM: ethnic violence claim is contemptible
Thu Sep 17, 2009
By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Ethiopia's prime minister has denounced a think-tank report that warned his country could descend into ethnic violence ahead of its first national election since a 2005 poll triggered deadly street clashes.
In a study last week, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said there was a risk of conflict ahead of the ballot scheduled for May 2010 because of rising ethnic tensions and dissent.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi rejected that.
"Some people have too many billions of dollars to spend and they feel that dictating how developing countries manage their affairs is their God-given right," he said late on Wednesday.
"We have only contempt for the ICG."
The Horn of Africa nation's last elections four years ago were touted as its first truly democratic polls. But they ended in protests and bloodshed after the government declared victory and the opposition accused it of rigging the result.
Police and soldiers killed about 200 people who had taken to the streets to demonstrate. At the time, Meles accused the protesters of trying to topple his government.

Rights groups regularly accuse Ethiopia's government of cracking down on political opponents. One party leader has been jailed and several former and serving military officers have been charged in recent months with plotting a coup.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Meles defended the country's system of "ethnic federalism", under which major ethnic groups control the regions where they are the majority. He said it had saved the giant nation from splitting apart.
"The country was on the brink of total disintegration," the prime minister said. "Every analyst worth his salt was suggesting that Ethiopia will go the way of Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union. What we have now is a going-concern."
Meles has started talks with the opposition about a code of conduct for the next poll. But the main coalition of opposition parties said last week it had walked out of the discussions and that its potential candidates were being jailed and harassed.
"Those parties that apparently are concerned about harassment are not concerned enough to participate in the devising of a code of conduct that is designed to put an end to it, if it exists, or to prevent it if it doesn't," Meles said.
"The intent of these individuals is to discredit the election process from day one, not to participate in it." (Editing by Daniel Wallis)
Photo from Medeshi archives

Nine peacekeepers killed in Somalia suicide bombing

(M e d e s h i)
Africa World News Home
Mogadishu - A double suicide bomb attack by Islamist insurgents driving vehicles bearing United Nations logos has killed nine African Union peacekeepers, officials said Thursday. "Militants attacked a convoy of government soldiers and Burundian peacekeepers at the force's headquarters," Ugandan army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Felix Kulayigye told the German Press Agency dpa.
"Nine peacekeepers, including the deputy force commander (Major General Juvenal Niyonguruza from Burundi), were killed."
The explosions took place at the peacekeeping force's largest base, at Mogadishu's main airport, with the bombers gaining access in cars bearing the UN logo.
"The guards thought they were UN vehicles, which is how they got in," a government official at the airport, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, told dpa.
One of the vehicles detonated near a petrol storage area, causing an enormous explosion that sent a column of black smoke spiraling into the air over the city.
Kulayigye said that 10 seriously injured people had been airlifted to the Kenyan capital Nairobi for urgent treatment and that they were still trying to figure out the nationality of those killed.
The 5,000-strong peacekeeping force, dubbed AMISOM, is made up of troops from Burundi and Uganda.
Insurgent group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying it was targeting government and AU officials who were planning an assault against Islamist forces.
Al-Shabaab, which is fighting the Western-backed government, on Tuesday vowed to retaliate after a US raid on Somali soil killed an al-Qaeda suspect and several al-Shabaab fighters.
Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, wanted in connection with several terrorist attacks in neighbouring Kenya, was killed by US forces in a strike on Somali soil on Monday.
The US has been tracking Nabhan since the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan coastal town of Mombasa, which claimed 15 lives.
He was also suspected of being behind a nearly simultaneous failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner as it left Mombasa.
The head of AMISOM, Nicolas Bwakira, condemned the "barbaric attack,' but said that the AU was still committed to supporting Somalia's transitional government.
Somalia's Radio Shabelle reported that heavy fighting broke out between insurgents and government forces following the attacks, with mortars raining down on residential areas in Mogadishu.
Earlier in the day, al-Shabaab issued a list of demands it says must be met in order to secure the release of a French security advisor held since July.
Two French security advisors were seized from their hotel in the lawless capital Mogadishu on July 14, but one of them managed to escape.
France must withdraw anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, stop military and political support for the Western-backed government and withdraw all its security advisors, al-Shabaab said in a statement.
The group also asked France to pressure the AU into withdrawing the peacekeeping force.
The peacekeepers are propping up the government in Somalia, which has been embroiled in chaos since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
Together with its ally Hizbul Islam, al-Shabaab - which the US says has close links with al-Qaeda - has been battling to remove Western-backed President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The current insurgency kicked off in early 2007 following an Ethiopian invasion and has recently gathered pace.
The attack on the AMISOM base is one of al-Shabaab's most ambitious attacks in months, although it is not the first time the militants have claimed the lives of peacekeepers. Eleven Burundian peacekeepers died in an attack in February.
More than 250,000 people have fled renewed fighting in Mogadishu since May, bringing the total number of displaced within Somalia to over 1.5 million.
More than 18,000 people have died since the insurgency began. Over half of the Somali population are now dependent on food aid due to the conflict and drought.

HRW warns Britain over Ethiopia rights guarantees

(M e d e s h i)
HRW warns Britain over Ethiopia rights guarantees
(AFP) – 4 hours ago
ADDIS ABABA — Human Rights Watch on Thursday warned Britain against relying on Ethiopian guarantees that it will not torture suspects deported to the African country.
The two countries signed an agreement in December allowing Ethiopia to obtain custody of its citizens detained in Britain after giving "diplomatic assurances" that they will not be mistreated.
"The UK government should not rely on unreliable 'diplomatic assurances' against torture to deport national security suspects to Ethiopia," the group said in a letter to the British government.
"Ethiopia's record of torture of security suspects is all too clear. The agreement is itself a tacit admission that torture continues to be a major problem in Ethiopia," said Tom Porteous, the US-based watchdog's director in London.
HRW said concerns are "at their gravest" when individuals are detained on suspicion of affiliation with armed opposition, insurgent or terrorist group.
It said it had documented cases in which suspects were subject to repeated kicking and beating with electric cables, rifle butts, and other materials, as well as having bottles tied to their testicles.
It added that it had evidence that women and girls have been raped while being detained in military barracks in Ethiopia's Somali region, where a secessionist group has waged an armed struggle.
The deal, similar to those signed by Britain with Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, represents an "effort to circumvent the strict 'no return' obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights," it said.
Ethiopian rejected the claims.
"Torture is forbidden by law here. Ethiopia is a country where human rights are respected," government spokesman Bereket Simon told AFP in Addis Ababa.
"The report is nothing but a political gimmick. It has nothing to do with human rights."

Somali suicide car bombs: deputy commander of AU mission AMISOM among the dead.

(M e d e s h i)
By Ibrahim Mohamed
Thursday, September 17, 2009 3:14:17 PM EST
MOGADISHU, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Somali rebels hit the African Union's main base in Mogadishu with two suicide car bombs on Thursday, killing at least nine people and showing their ability to strike at the heart of the peacekeeping mission.
( Photo : Civilains wounded in the aftermath clashes)
Hospital sources said at least seven more people were killed in artillery battles that broke out afterwards. Burundi's army said the deputy commander of the African Union's (AU) mission AMISOM was among the dead. Uganda said its force commander was wounded.
The insurgents launched the attack after saying they would avenge the killing on Monday of one of the continent's most wanted al Qaeda suspects in a helicopter raid by U.S. commandos.
Witness Farah Hassan said two white U.N.-marked vehicles drove into the coastal military base followed by two pick-up trucks carrying Somali government troops.
"We thought they were real U.N. cars carrying white people, but moments later deafening thunder shook the ground," he told Reuters. "The area was covered with flames and clouds of smoke."
A Reuters reporter saw six wounded soldiers carried away from the site of the blasts, some bleeding heavily.
Among the casualties were civilians who had been receiving medical treatment at the AU base, witnesses said. Senior Somali government officials, including the national police chief, were meeting AMISOM leaders there at the time.
Al Shabaab guerrillas have looted U.N. compounds in recent months, and Somali Information Minister Dahir Mohamud Gelle said the drivers of the two cars were foreign fighters.
"They spoke English and identified themselves as being from the United Nations," he told Reuters.
It looked to be the worst attack on the 5,000-strong force since 11 Burundians were killed in February by two suicide bombers who infiltrated another base. And it followed one of the capital's most violent months in 20 years. [ID:nLA092532]
A suicide bomber killed Somalia's national security minister and at least 30 other people in a strike in June on a central town, again targeting senior officials attending a meeting.
Fighting in Somalia has killed more than 18,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and left 1.5 million more homeless.
Western security agencies say the lawless nation has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who are using it to plot attacks across the region and beyond.
Al Shabaab's spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, told Reuters that Thursday's attacks were to avenge the death of Kenyan-born Salah Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was killed in rebel-held southern Somalia on Monday by U.S. special forces.
The 28-year-old had been allied with al Shabaab, which Washington accuses of being al Qaeda's proxy in the country.
"We have got our revenge for our brother Nabhan. Two suicide car bombs targeting the AU base, praise Allah," Rage said.
"We knew the infidel government and AU troops planned to attack us after the holy month. This is a message to them."
There were five suicide bombers in the two cars, he added.
Thursday's attack may deter some African nations, including Nigeria and Djibouti, that have agreed in principle to send soldiers to reinforce AMISOM. So far, Uganda and Burundi are the only nations to have sent soldiers.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was shocked and outraged by the attack and that U.N. resources from neighbouring peace operations were ready to help the AU respond.
Hours before the blasts, al Shabaab issued demands in return for the release of a French security consultant they are holding hostage, including an immediate end to French support for the Somali government and the withdrawal of AMISOM troops.
The Frenchman is one of two security consultants seized by gunmen in Mogadishu in July. His colleague escaped on Aug. 26. (Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Sahra Abdi and Frank Nyakairu in Nairobi, Patrick Nduwimana in Bujumbura and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Angus MacSwan).
Source: Reuters, Sept 17, 2009
Terrorists from the jihadist Al-Shabaab movement drove four-wheel-drive vehicles with fake United Nations markings into the African Union contingent's headquarters in Mogadishu.
Guards failed to recognise the threat and waved the cars through as they tailed a convoy of high-level officials arriving for a meeting.

Somalia suicide bombings kill peacekeepers in revenge for US raid

The deputy head of the peacekeeping force in Somalia died when Islamists carried out twin suicide bombings in revenge for US helicopter strikes which killed an al-Qaeda suspect this week.
By Mike Pflanz in Nairobi
17 Sep 2009
Maj Gen Juvenal Niyonguruza, the force's second-in-command from Burundi, and four others were killed by the four suicide bombers.
Fifteen wounded soldiers were airlifted to Nairobi and Kampala. The force commander, Uganda's Lt Col Nathan Mugisha, was lightly injured.
Hawa Hussein, who lives close to the AU's headquarters, said that her house "trembled' from the explosion on Thursday morning.
The attack came three days after US Special Operations troops mounted a daring helicopter raid to kill a key al-Qaeda suspect wanted in connection with terror attacks in neighbouring Kenya in 2002.
A senior al-Shabaab commander who gave his name as Abu Muhsin said the attack was in revenge for the American raid, which killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan.
"We have reached our ambition for that holy explosion [which] struck a hall where Nato, US, AU and so-called government officials were holding a meeting to attack our Mujahidiin after Ramadan," he said.
"We've reached our holy goal to revenge what the Christians did."

Somaliland: Opposition Parties Welcome Mediation Efforts

(M e d e s h i)
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Hargeisa (HOL) - The two main opposition parties in Somaliland, UCID Party and Kulmiye Party, have issued a press release in which they welcome current mediation efforts to solve the political crisis in Somaliland.
In a joint press release issued last night in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, the leader of UCID Party Mr. Faysal Ali Waraabe and the leader of Kulmiye Party Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud (Siilaanyo) raised issues with regards to the fact that the term for office for the current President of Somaliland Mr. Riyale and his vice President is coming to an end. They called on the international community and the Friends of Somaliland to play a constructive role in the survival of democracy in Somaliland.
The press release in part said: “With an understanding of the difficult situation Somaliland is going through and the fact that the time for election in Somaliland has neared, and by law the President and his vice President have finished their time in office, we, the Parties of UCID and Kulmiye, welcome all efforts to settle the political dispute in the country whether such efforts are taking place inside the county or outside the country”
The press release continued to say: “The two Parties of UCID and Kulmiye call on all Somaliland people who are engaged in the peaceful settlement of the current political crisis in the country, the international community and friends of Somaliland, to double and hasten their effort to bring the current political crisis to a peaceful end”.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Carter : Obama victim of racism

(M e d e s h i)
During last year's presidential election most Americans hoped dearly that the issue of race would not be an over-arching concern, and it wasn't.
Barack Obama was very careful not to raise racial issues during his campaign.
But now nearly 12 months on the issue has been given oxygen by a series of events.
The first was the outburst by a South Carolina Republican Congressman during the President's address to the joint houses last week.
Commentators at the time said they thought it was racial and now the issue has been given extra impetus by former President Jimmy Carter.
Mr Carter, a former governor of Georgia as well, believes the Congressman's shouted remark about President Obama being a liar was racially based.
From Washington John Shovelan reports.
JOHN SHOVELAN: The President and his administration refuse to depict the motivation of their critics as racist. The administration like the campaign is meant to be non or post-racial.
But no matter how hard the President tries to move past the issue it just keeps getting in the way.
The former president Jimmy Carter has done him no favours here.
JIMMY CARTER: An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man; that he is African-American. I live in the south and I have seen the south come a long way and I've seen the rest of the country that shared this south attitude towards minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans; that racism inclination still exists. And I think it has bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.
JOHN SHOVELAN: Mr Carter's remarks have ensured that the issue remains central.
Liberals claim the right wing is seizing on any racial story to fan white fears of black power as part of a strategy to eventually bring President Obama down.
The right wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh gave this view credibility with his description of an incident on a school bus in which a white student was bashed by a black one.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: But in Obama's America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, yeah right on, right on, right on, right on. And of course everybody said oh the white kid deserved it. He was born a racist, he's white.
JOHN SHOVELAN: But dangerous and outrageous comments haven't just been the preserve of the right.
Democrat representative from Georgia, Henry Johnson, suggested there might be a new emerging Ku Klux Klan.
HENRY JOHNSON: I guess we'll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people.
JOHN SHOVELAN: The chair of the Republican National committee Michael Steele, himself an African-American, says the President can't continue to avoid the issue.
MICHAEL STEELE: I think the President has an opportunity now. And I ask him, do you agree? Do you agree with Jimmy Carter?
JOHN SHOVELAN: But given the chance today the President did ignore the question when he was asked. But his spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama disagrees with Jimmy Carter.
ROBERT GIBBS: Former presidents raising this, it's again, it's just more flummery, isn't it? At this point incumbent upon the President to say, you know what, no. I don't agree with him.
I said that on his behalf.
JOHN SHOVELAN: The President still feels a strong sense of approval and affection from the crowds that he speaks to. According to White House officials he believes that any racist sentiment against him is held by a very tiny minority.
John Shovelan, Washington.

Hostages to Peace : Threats to Human Rights and Democracy in Somaliland

(M e d e s h i)
Since declaring its independence from Somalia in 1991, Somaliland has set up its owngovernment institutions, written its own laws and constitution, and held credible elections.
No government in the world has yet recognized Somaliland’s independence and for 18 yearsthe territory has been left in legal limbo—a country that does not exist. During that timeSomaliland has gone a long way towards building security and developing democraticinstitutions of governance. But the government’s failure to hold elections planned for a year ago has laid bare the limitations of that progress and now threatens to reverse it. Somaliland is at a crossroads, and the events of the next few months could well determine whether the territory will build upon its gains or see them begin to unravel.
What Somaliland has accomplished over the years is both improbable and deeply impressive. While much of south/central Somalia remains mired in chaos and bloodshed, Somaliland has built a hard-won peace that it has now maintained for more than a decade.
That peace has sheltered Somalilanders from the horrific abuses that have destroyed somany lives across Somalia. At the same time, Somaliland has done much to build the foundations of democratic governance grounded in respect for fundamental human rights. In 2003 and 2005 it held competitive and credible national elections, including parliamentary polls that put the territory’s House of Representatives firmly in the hands of the political opposition. There is a vibrant print media and an active and independent civil society.
Somaliland has accomplished these things primarily on its own, in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
All of this stands in marked contrast not just to the chaos in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, but also to the records of governments across the Horn of Africa. The brutal, systematic repression that characterizes governance in Ethiopia and Eritrea does not exist in Somaliland. Its elections have not been undermined by the sort of brazen fraud thatdelegitimized Kenya’s 2007 polls or rendered meaningless by broader patterns ofgovernment repression like Ethiopia’s 2008 local government elections. Somaliland’ssecurity forces have not been implicated in the kind of deliberate attacks against civilians that have taken place in Ethiopia, Kenya, and south/central Somalia in recent years.
The problem with all of these comparisons is that—given the dismal human rights situation that prevails across the region—they set the bar extremely low. Viewed objectively,Somaliland’s human rights gains are both limited and fragile. Despite the achievements,human rights violations by government officials occur with impunity.
Government officials have often harassed journalists, opposition figures, and othergovernment critics. Numerous journalists and opposition activists have been briefly detained in retaliation for their activities. Many have also been subjected to attempted bribes by government officials eager to bring them into the fold of the ruling United Democratic Peoples’ Party (UDUB).

While rare, more heavy-handed acts of repression have also occurred. A former driver to Somaliland’s first family who blew the whistle on alleged acts of corruption was imprisoned and released only after a public outcry resulted from photos of him lying ill in a hospital, chained to his bed. Journalists who reported on similar allegations of government corruption have been arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, then released under strong public pressure.
While Somaliland’s civil society and print media are both independent and vibrant,government efforts to curtail the strength of both institutions have had a chilling effect.Months after it attempted to challenge in court the constitutionality of the government’s use of illegal security committees as instruments of detention, Somaliland’s preeminent independent human rights monitoring organization was effectively dismantled after aleadership struggle that was characterized by overt government interference. The government has refused to permit the emergence of any independent radio broadcasters—the one media outlet capable of reaching most of Somaliland’s population.
Arguably the most important caveat to everything Somaliland has achieved—and the onething that most threatens those gains in the short term—is the presidency’s consistent andbrazen refusal to abide by the rule of law. Perhaps the most glaring example of thegovernment’s extralegal practices is its use of Security Committees to usurp the role of the courts across a broad range of criminal justice and other matters. The security committees, made up of government officials and security officers, exist without a sound legal basis.
They completely ignore the due process rights guaranteed by Somaliland’s constitution andregularly sentence defendants to prison terms en masse without even allowing the accusedan opportunity to speak. During Human Rights Watch’s most recent visit to Somaliland in February-March 2009, over half of the prisoners in Somaliland’s main Mandhera prison, primarily alleged petty criminals and juveniles, had been sentenced by the Security Committees, not the courts.
The government’s use of the Security Committees is an important human rights issue in and of itself—they have left hundreds of Somalilanders to languish in prison with no due process rights. But the committees are a symptom of a larger problem—the presidency’s willingness to run roughshod over the legal and constitutional restraints on its power. There are important and very substantial limits on the government’s power, but these are mostly informal constraints rooted in the power of public opinion and traditional institutions. The formal boundaries to presidential power set down by Somaliland’s laws and constitution are frequently swept aside and ignored.
The courts and legislature have shown no ability to hold the administration of Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin in check. Somaliland’s House of Representatives is under opposition control but the presidency largely ignores the institution and brushes aside its attempts to exercise oversight of government finances as provided for by the constitution.The Supreme Court has the power to overturn unconstitutional government actions but the court is beholden to the executive—activists who attempted to challenge the legality of the Security Committees were simply thrown out of court and arrested. Neither that case nor anyother constitutional challenge to government action has ever been heard by the court.
Somaliland society at large remains able to limit the president’s ability to force through deeply unpopular actions. But there are also severe limits to public willingness to openly challenge government actions for fear of threatening Somaliland’s hard-won peace andstability or damaging its chances of international recognition. The president and his partyhave successfully exploited this widespread aversion to direct confrontation to occupy a space well past the legal limits of their power but short of what would trigger real publicanger. Many Somalilanders lament that they are effectively “hostages to peace.”
The extent of the danger posed by these broader trends has become apparent with the president’s repeated failure to hold elections that could turn his administration out of power.
Somaliland’s presidential elections were originally scheduled to be held in April 2008. Butthe president has so far extended his own mandate by 18 months through the bicameral legislature’s unelected Guurti, or House of Elders, using means whose constitutionality is questionable at best.
The president’s insistence that these delays result solely from logistical problems with organizing the elections is disingenuous. Somaliland has held credible elections before with less institutional capacity than it has today. Logistical hurdles and incompetence are real problems, but they result largely from the government’s total failure to meet itsresponsibilities. The Riyale administration obtained an initial one-year extension of its mandate in 2008 in order to have a second chance at organizing the polls—and then squandered it.
Somaliland now faces a moment of real danger. The president may be intending to prolonghis mandate without elections for as long as possible, and his administration risks doinglasting damage to Somaliland’s emerging democratic system in the process. There are stillgood reasons to believe that Somaliland will emerge from this crisis with its democratic system intact. If elections are held in September 2009 as currently scheduled, and if those polls are free and fair, the damage will be minimized. But at this crucial moment it is vital that Somaliland’s international partners intervene to lend momentum in the right direction.
Most international engagement with Somaliland has been hampered by the fact that key donors and potential bilateral partners bind their relationships with Somaliland to the framework of their engagement with the radically different context prevailing insouth/central Somalia. Human Rights Watch, in keeping with its organizational mandate,takes no position on whether Somaliland’s independence should be recognized. But for the sake of contributing to human rights and regional security, key actors, including the African Union and western donor states, should immediately engage more deeply with Somaliland with a view to averting an electoral crisis and then maintain that deeper level of engagement over the longer term.
In the short-term, what is most needed is robust international pressure on Somaliland’s government to attempt no further delay of the elections. This should be accompanied by substantial international assistance to ensure that the polls are organized by September 2009 and closely monitored by both domestic and international observers. In the longer term, Somaliland’s international partners should devote themselves to addressing the rootcause of the looming crisis by using both sustained and targeted pressure and institutional capacity building assistance to help ensure the government acts within the confines of itsown laws and constitution.
Moving forward past the elections Somaliland’s government should move urgently to strengthen the rule of law and combat human rights abuses. Important first steps include stripping the government’s Security Committees of all power to order arrests and impose prison sentences, committing to improving the independence and capacity of the judiciary,and ending overbroad restrictions on the right to hold political demonstrations and otherassemblies.

Read full report here: http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/somaliland0709web.pdf