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An elephant returns to Somalia for first time in 20 years

An elephant marched hundreds of kilometres and briefly crossed into Somalia this month marking the first time the animal has been seen in the country in 20 years, conservationists said Wednesday.

Morgan, a male bull in his 30s, was fitted with a tracking collar in December in Kenya’s coastal Tana River Delta, but in mid-February began an unexpected march northwards to Somalia, reaching the border nearly three weeks later.

His march has excited conservationists who say it shows the elephant remembered ancient routes after decades of absence due to war.

“He obviously had something in his mind about where he’s going,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, a conservation organisation that has put tracking collars on hundreds of African elephants.

Morgan’s journey suggests that the Kenya-Somalia border area is becoming less dangerous and that if security were to return to southern Somalia so might the exiled elephants.

From Tana River, Morgan trudged 20 kilometres (12 miles) on the first night and then hid in thick forest the following day, before continuing his march under cover of darkness. He maintained this pattern for the next 18 days.

“He’s adopted this extreme form of survival strategy to traverse one of the most dangerous places for elephants in their African range,” said Douglas-Hamilton.

African elephants are threatened everywhere by criminal poaching gangs and armed groups, who kill them for their tusks, the ivory fetching around $1,100 (1,000 euros) per kilogramme (2.2 pounds) in China.
At least 20,000 elephants were killed last year, according to figures released this month by the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international organisation.

– Morgan’s long march north –

In some parts of Africa elephants are being killed quicker than they reproduce, but Kenya has seen recent successes with the number of elephants poached in 2015 falling to 93 from 164 the previous year.

In the early 1970s it is estimated there were as many as 20,000 elephants in Kenya’s coastal area, but that number has fallen to 300 at most today.

Some credit a Kenyan security operation in the area with suppressing poaching.

“We’re seeing more elephants now,” said Charles Omondi, a commander in the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) which is patrolling the Lamu area alongside Kenyan soldiers and police deployed to defend against regular deadly attacks by Islamic militants.

There have been no confirmed sightings of elephants in Somalia in two decades, since soon after the start of a civil war that has continued in different forms ever since.

Despite the time that has elapsed, Morgan appeared to have remember the old migration routes.

“A mature bull like Morgan is not wandering aimlessly. He’s likely following a route that he learnt earlier in his life, one that has been used by elephants for generations,” said Ian Craig, conservation director at the Northern Rangelands Trust, a Kenya-based conservation group that establishes reserves across the country, including in the area where Morgan lives.

In the end, after walking 220 kilometres (137 miles) Morgan spent just less than 24-hours actually in Somalia — and only went three kilometres over the border — before turning back, presumably after failing to find any willing females with whom to mate.

But the fact of his journey is what excites the conservationists.

“Out of all the tracking we’ve done in Africa, these movements –- and these circumstances –- are exceptional,” said Douglas-Hamilton. “The wandering of this one bull across the entire expanse of Lamu district, from the Tana river to the Somali border, no-one has seen anything like this before.”

 

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Turkey will continue to support Somalis to live in peace, Erdogan says

BY:   Ali Haji

Turkey will maintain its support for Somalis to live in peace and safety, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday in Istanbul during an opening speech at the sixth Somali Compact High-Level Partnership Forum (HLPF), which he is co-chairing along with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and U.N.’s Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliassoin.

Somali and foreign delegates from 51 countries have converged in Istanbul for a two-day forum to discuss Somalia’s reconstruction process. “As you all know, Somalia is going through a critical period. … On this rocky road, we need to support Somalia and never leave [Somalis] in the lurch,” Erdoğan said in his speech, referring to the country’s political, security and development agenda, focusing on terrorism.

Somalia’s security needs are being addressed in efforts to seek tangible solutions to fight al-Shabaab terrorist activities in the country. Al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda-linked militant group and was among the topics covered throughout the forum.

“I believe that the improvements that we will make for easing our Somalian brothers’ daily lives and increasing their welfare will also contribute to the country disposing of its terror problem. Essentially, the thing that lies under the success of the Turkish model in Somalia, which you all watch with interest, is our acting with this mentality. We also expect international cooperatives to support Somalia with the same attitude,” Erdoğan said.

Explaining that Turkey shouldered the country’s reconstruction process through universities, orphanages, roads, hospitals and even street lamps that are put into service through humanitarian institutions, Erdoğan said: “We will continue our work until Somalia finds tranquility and becomes a peaceful, stable country with the cooperation of the international community and regional countries, hopefully.”

He also said that Somalia has become the symbol of Turkey’s perspective on Africa and the relations that it wants to have with Africans.

Turkey’s role in Somalia has gained significance since Erdoğan’s visit in 2011 as prime minister, the first head of the Turkish government to visit Somalia.

Turkey’s engagement in Somalia has made visible changes to the country in many areas from health to infrastructure. Bilateral agreements have also been signed, including treaties to train the Somali national army, and Turkish Airlines has started flights to the capital of Mogadishu. Turkey’s efforts have paid off, and the increasing relationship between the two states has brought attention to the region and many have started to question Turkey’s involvement in Somalia.

Turkey also provided Somalia with over $400 million in the biggest aid campaign to the country in its struggle to fight starvation. Turkey is set to open its first military base in Africa at which Turkish military officers will train Somali soldiers and troops from other African countries to fight al-Shabaab, military sources said in January.
Erdoğan also said that Syria has turned into a place with terrorist organizations running wild:

“The chaos in Syria has provided an environment for terrorist organizations such as DAESH, al-Nusra Front, the PYD [Democratic Union Party] and YPG [People’s Defense Units] to grow and disperse.”

“All countries should adopt a common stance against terrorism and countries that support terrorism. Saying ‘but’ in this matter, making a differentiation between good terrorist and bad terrorist, and overlooking the link [between terror organizations] seen before, is supporting terrorism,” he said.

“Everyone needs to understand that with such a stance, there can be no struggle against terrorism,” he further added.

Erdoğan was referring to the U.S.’s stance defining the PKK and PYD as two separate, unlinked organizations; whereas, a 2014-dated document from the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), a U.S.
government organization, describes the PYD as the Syrian affiliate of the Kongra-Gel (KGK), under which the PKK is also listed. The U.S. does not consider the PYD and its armed YPG wing to be terrorist organizations, despite Ankara’s warnings.

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Somali central bank chief seeks new currency to rebuild nation

Few central bank chiefs have been jailed by a dictator or hide a loaded pistol in their desk draw, should Islamist militants decide to call. Bashir Issa Ali has done all that, and now he wants to recreate Somalia’s currency from scratch.

Serving his third term in a long career interrupted by exile, disputes with the government, and the spell in prison, Ali wants Somalia to print its first banknotes since the 1980s to help rebuild an economy emerging from decades of chaos at the hands of Islamist and clan militias.

The tattered shilling notes still in circulation – worth about 4 U.S. cents – are emblematic of Somalia’s descent since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled by warlords who carved up the country into personal fiefdoms.

“We absolutely need a new currency,” said Ali, who this time became central bank governor in 2013, adding that the existing notes “are old, they’re torn, they’re dirty and they’re fake”.

Ali needs to do more than just print new banknotes. Most urban Somalis have given up on the shilling and do their daily business using a mobile phone payment system, with transactions denominated in dollars.

Therefore he must create a new currency that can be used by Somalis who have no mobile phone, while winning back those who no longer use shillings by choice. The currency will also need a new system to fix its foreign exchange rate if it is to become credible.

Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu is changing fast. Hotels and restaurants have sprouted from the rubble since African Union troops wrested control of the city from al Shabaab Islamist militants in 2011. The government, however, has struggled to build a financial system and pull the country’s 12 million people out of poverty.

Shoring up the economy is vital to securing the military gains and stopping Somalia being a haven for the likes of al Qaeda, which is aligned to al Shabaab. Both groups have staged bomb attacks in the region and threatened Western targets at home and abroad.

Ali, 73, has led efforts to rebuild the financial sector over the past decade. In 2005, he returned to East Africa from exile in Sweden to re-establish the central bank, whose headquarters lay in the bombed out ruins of Mogadishu. In the early months, he paid the first few employees out of his own pocket.

PRESSURE TO PRINT

Ali said some Western diplomats, whose nations help pay salaries of soldiers and civil servants, fear the government may push the central bank to print money to plug budget deficits.

“But that’s not the case. We will never give them a penny,” said Ali, whose predecessor at the bank quit after seven weeks at the job citing corruption at the heart of government.

A Western diplomat said Ali – at a stage in his career when he need no longer worry about political patronage – had resisted government pressure in the past, which was a good sign. “He doesn’t have much to lose. He can say ‘no’ to people who ask for money,” said the diplomat.

The spruced up headquarters for the bank’s 110 employees points to progress made over the past decade but the pace of change has been frustratingly slow, with funding shortages and dearth of qualified financial experts hurting Somalia.

The same problems dog Ali in his efforts to print the new currency. “We don’t have the financing,” he told Reuters on a visit to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

The 1,000 shilling banknote is the only Somali bill in use, and so small is its value that money changers in the Mogadishu bazaar need wheelbarrows to move about any meaningful amounts.

The Central Bank of Somalia estimates about 1.3 trillion shillings ($56 million) are in circulation, but this includes counterfeit currency printed by warlords who used the fake notes to prop up their militias.

Ali said Somalis accept the forged notes due to chronic shortages of the authentic pre-war currency. “People use it even though they know it’s fake,” he said.

Since the central bank last printed notes, the economy has become virtually dollarised. In bustling bazaars and restaurants most Somalis use the electronic mobile phone payment system, known as EVC. Dollar bills also circulate, with shillings used only as small change.

Yet Ali said the poor, elderly and those who do not own phones need a new currency that is credible and practical. He estimates printing costs at $20-$22 million for banknotes of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 shillings.

Seeking help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ali has proposed Somalia adopts a “currency board” to peg the shilling to the dollar, a system used by Hong Kong since 1983.

LOADED PISTOL

Ali left the central bank for the first time in 1982 when he fell out with the then finance minister, who was Barre’s brother. In 1988, the dictator imprisoned Ali for six months along with dozens of intellectuals and businessmen.

His second stint ended in 2010, when he resisted a government plan for Sudan to print a new Somali currency. Boxes of those banknotes remain stacked in a warehouse in Khartoum, he said.

Since 2013, Ali has tried to build a financial system, inviting foreign banks to open offices in Mogadishu, joining remittance companies who form the cornerstone of Somalia’s banking system and act as a lifeline for millions.

None has taken up the offer. “They are highly interested but there is always the concern of security,” Ali said.

Ali has himself been threatened, and two of his employees have been killed in al Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu. That’s why Ali keeps the pistol in his desk, with a bullet loaded in the chamber.

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Kenya seizes UN trucks for allegedly ferrying food to Al-Shabaab

Kenyan authorities are holding three UN World Food Programmed (WFP) trucks in Mandera County near the Somali border for allegedly ferrying food supplies to Islamist militants Al-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa nation.

Mandera County Commissioner Fredrick Shisia said Tuesday the security agents seized the trucks stashed with food items destined for Dolo in the Horn of Africa nation.

Shisia said WFP workers have started supplying food rations to the Al-Shabaab militants following a meeting at Bulla Hawa by Somali authorities.

“Following a meeting between Somalia National Army, Transitional Federal government officials and the Bulla Hawa community they agreed the Al-Shabaab also be given food rations from WFP, the government cannot allow this to happen as criminals who continue killing our people cannot be fed,” said Shisia.

He said the government which has been fighting the insurgents in southern Somalia will not allow food to be supplied to the same militants whom its troops have been fighting.

Shisia said the lorries which were held on Sunday will continue being under police custody until WFP clarifies its position.

The government administrator said the government is yet to receive WFP position on the issue and that the trucks will continue being detained.

“We will need to get an explanation from the WFP as to who are to who sole beneficiary of the food programme before we allow it to get into Somalia,” Shisia said.

The county boss disclosed that a truck that was in the same convoy and carrying a land cruiser was allowed to proceed to Dolo.

“We allowed the truck to proceed as this was not food, what we are doing is to deny our enemy benefit from the humanitarian assistance,” Shisia said.

There was no comment from the UN WFP officials in Nairobi.

Kenya’s security forces have intensified patrols along its porous border with Somalia after the Somali militants attacked its base in Gedo region, killing several soldiers.

The Kenyan military has confirmed the deaths, but did not give the number of those killed in the Jan. 15 attack, saying efforts to “consolidate” returns from the battlefield were still ongoing.

However, Al-Shabaab forces said that more than 100 Kenyan soldiers were killed and several others injured a statement that has been disputed by AMISOM.

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campaigns takes aim at inequality in Somalia

In Somalia, political marginalization and failure to achieve a greater level of equality has been a major problem for decades, a conundrum that analysts say despite sharing the same culture and one religion makes many to question the existence a common Somali identity.

Rights groups have earlier suggested that unraveling the challenge would require a legislative or administrative reform to repeal ‘discriminatory’ provisions to end ‘entrenched’ discrimination.

However, a new US-based campaign group tries to challenge the status quo to combat political and social inequality in Somalia to achieve an ambitious goal: Equal Somalia (Soomaali Siman).

At an event organized by the campaign group, Soomaali Siman (equal Somalia) in Columbus Monday, the founders say they aim to mobilize Somali societies across the world to counter the ‘outrageous’
inequality setting which they said threatens the identity of the country and its people.

“Instead of honoring those who didn’t participate the civil war in Somalia, they were instead marginalized politically as minorities.” said professor Abdi Kusow of the campaign’s founders as well as the co-author of a research about the inequality and discrimination faced by Somali minority groups in Somalia last year.

“Its a sad tale that we have to work out towards its elimination.”

The group also highlighted an economic marginalization and political exclusion against minority clans, something they said the campaign takes aim to bring to an end.

“The inequality problem is something created by foreign actors that we have assumed as fitting.” Said Dr. Rashid Farah, one of the scholars who attended the event.

“Its a factor that further polarized our people.” he said.

In many African states including Somalia, ethnicity has been considered as a major obstacle to modem state-building causing political instability and violent conflict.

Scholars also argued that ethnicity, so commonly invoked as an explanation of conflict in contemporary African states, seemed less relevant  and led to social consequences of political and economic exclusion that followed the state collapse.

 

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Ban-ki-moon praises Somalia election plan

 UN Secretary-General Ban- Ki-moon has praised Somalia’s government for agreeing Thursday to hold elections this year to a new two-chamber parliament in which women will hold nearly a third of seats.

The new federal parliament will hold elections “based on inclusivity and representation,” Ban said in a statement welcoming the decision.

The UN chief “particularly applauds the commitment to representation of women and minority groups, including that women will comprise 30 percent of the next parliament,” the statement said.

The members of the new parliament will not be chosen by direct vote, and Ban called for a “roadmap towards universal suffrage in Somalia by 2020” as part of Somalia’s transition to democracy.

UN special envoy Michael Keating said Thursday’s decision by the Somali cabinet, which capped nearly six months of intense negotiations, “may be a watershed moment.”

The move marks “the growing political maturity of a federal Somalia,” Keating told the UN Security Council, adding that the new electoral model was devised by Somalis and would be led by them.

The new parliament will consist of a 275-seat lower house and an upper chamber of 54 members.

The lower house will be elected based on a power-sharing formula between clans, said Keating.

The upper chamber provides for “equal representation of the existing, emerging and prospective federal member states and the allocation of additional seats” for breakaway Puntland and Somaliland, he said.

Somalia is struggling to return to representative rule after beating back Shebab Islamists from Mogadishu in mid-2011.

The Shebab, which is fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government in Mogadishu, carries out regular attacks in the capital, as well as against African Union troops in the countryside.

 

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Hassan sheikh meets kenya’s parliamentary committee

The President of Somali  Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Wednesday held a three-hour, closed door meeting with Kenya’s Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations in Eldoret.

Sources privy to the meeting told the Nation the meeting discussed the progress so far made in improving security in Somalia since the attack on the Kenyan troops in El-Adde on January 15.

The Parliamentary team was headed by its chairman, Tetu MP James Gethenji.

The meeting at Boma Inn Hotel was also attended by Somali Ambassador to Kenya Jamal Mohamed Hassan.

 

ROLE IN AMISOM

 

Mr Gethenji has said his team will launch investigations into the assault and interrogate Kenya’s role in the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).

 

“We want to see debate brought to the floor of Parliament where we will discuss Kenya’s lead role in liberating Somalia,” said the MP.

Mr Gethenji is on record saying the operation has achieved significant gains, but time has come to “rethink and re look at the challenges.”

He added that they will run a parallel inquiry to the one being conducted by the Kenya Defence Forces.

Mr Mohamud arrived at 11:30am, escorted by Deputy President William Ruto and other leaders including Uasin Gishu governor Jackson Mandago.

Mr Ruto later left the hotel for Eldoret International Airport to receive President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.

Security around the hotel was beefed up, with uniformed and plain clothes officers stationed inside and outside, to boost security teams accompanying the Somali head of State

 

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