When most people consider Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, they often associate the city with piracyterrorism, or instability. However, after a long history of violence and political volatility, Mogadishu is actually on an upswing. This is not to say that all of the problems plaguing Mogadishu in recent years have been solved, but there is slow and steady progress being made since the injection of foreign aid.

  1. Somalia has been a war-torn nation since 1991 and has been called the most unstable nation according to the Failed States Index. As the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu was no exception. During this period of political instability, it suffered greatly economically. Makeshift camps were set up throughout Mogadishu, and many of the city’s buildings, universities, schools, and colleges were also transformed into refugee camps.
  2. Evidence of the violence in the country can be seen throughout Mogadishu. As a result of the political instability, there are hundreds of military checkpoints throughout the city and many of the buildings are pock-marked from machine gun fire.. Also, even though the Bakara market thrives as an economic center of the city, those who can afford to shop there usually have to hire armed escorts to protect them just to browse the shop’s offerings.
  3. However, in late 2012, Somalia achieved a huge success by having its first election since the start of the civil war, ending the rule of an unstable interim government. Additionally, a new and widely praised constitution was put in place. Although the civil war continues to rattle the nation, the effects of Somalia’s newly achieved political prosperity has had a substantial impact on Mogadishu’s economy. In fact, as a sign of good faith in the nation’s new direction, USAID has announced plans to allocate an additional $20 million in development aid to Somalia. This aid includes building solar-powered lights in Mogadishu.
  4. Mogadishu’s economy is booming in 2013. The city once known for violence is now known for its rampant construction and expansion.  Besides the real estate market, the telecommunications and agricultural industries have been thriving as well. The money that USAID has been investing in Mogadishu in recent years has had a major impact.
  5. Mogadishu’s success has been so dramatic that it may someday become a tourist hotspot. Because of the returning diaspora of Somalis who wish to aid the city’s development now that it is much safer, hotels and beach resorts are already underway under the advisement of ambitious Somali businessmen.

– Sagar Desai

Sources: BBC, The Borgen Project
Photo: CNN

Is Somalia the Next Tourist Hotspot?
Business is booming in Mogadishu, the capital of war-torn Somalia. This economic renaissance of sorts might come as a surprise considering the recent history of the nation, which has suffered from political instability and terrorist insurgency for the past twenty years.

However, after the people of Somalia elected their own president to represent them just last year, the economy of the nation has already shown considerable signs of steady improvement. On top of this, Somalia’s recently adopted provisional constitution, which has been praised as “one of the top legal documents in the world,” has had a powerful impact on the Somalian economy as well. According to many Somalian businessmen, peace inevitably leads to prosperity.

Bashir Osman, a real estate developer, knows that he took a huge risk by buying land for a luxury beach resort in Mogadishu, but he also is very confident that his investment will pay off. “[The tourists] were so excited when they saw how Mogadishu looks like, how beautiful city we have, how beautiful beach we have and that is what we want to show them again and again,” Osman tells.

Many believe that the economic resurgence in Somalia is not only because of businessmen like Osman but also because of the diaspora returning to rebuild the country. Somalian citizens who escaped the country to avoid the violence and political upheaval that plagued the last two decades are now coming back to reshape Mogadishu and other major cities.

The recent success of Somalia’s economy is not only found in the real estate sector but also in the telecommunications and aviation industry, further facilitating Mogadishu as a tourist hotspot. The nation’s economy is supported by aid from donor governments; Somalia’s pending success story is a testament to the vitality of these programs.

– Sagar Desai
Sources: Xinhua, CNN
Photo: Go Africa

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Many of us spent some time in May being thankful for our mothers. Something else that we may not think to be thankful for is the healthy and sanitary conditions mothers were able to give birth in. For women living in developing countries, this is a huge concern for pregnant women. One country, however, has proven to be the worst place to give birth: Chad.

This statistic was identified by the organization, Save the Children, in their annual Mother’s Index. The group uses an index that includes a woman’s risk of death during childbirth or pregnancy. Chad was deemed the worst place for a mother to give birth because 1 in 15 mothers are at high risk of dying while pregnant or in child labor.

A contributing factor to these startling statistics is that women get married and become pregnant at a young age. 50% of girls are mothers by the age of eighteen. These girls are at risk because their bodies are not fully developed enough to safely experience pregnancy and childbirth. Malnutrition is also a concern for mothers in Chad. High levels of poverty make healthy diets unattainable for many mothers.

The second worst country for women to give birth in is Somalia. This country is the highest ranking in not providing proper care during pregnancy, with 74% of women not receiving adequate care. Somalia also is barely behind Chad in terms of the risk of death during pregnancy and childbirth. In Somalia, one in sixteen women are at risk. The newborn child is also at danger when it is born in Somalia. About eighteen newborns die per 1,000 live births.

Other countries that are ranked in worst places to have a child are Niger, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic, Mali, Nigeria and Guinea. In order to improve childbirth conditions in these developing countries, it is necessary to invest in health systems and the training of health employees, midwives and other who may assist in the birth process. With these improvements in healthcare, more women will survive and be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with their children.

– Mary Penn

Source: Devex, Save the Children
Photo: Global Giving

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UNITED NATIONS – The 2006 U.N. Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children defines violence as the intentional use of physical force or power that results in injury, death, psychological harm or deprivation. This year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report to the U.N. Security Council on Somalia discussing the drop in violence against Somali children over the last 12 months. Between January and March of 2013, the number of “grave violations” against children had dropped to 552 cases, a considerable decrease when compared to the 1,840 cases in the same months of 2012. In the first quarter of 2013 alone, the number of children killed, maimed, abused and recruited to fight in Somalia was cut in half, thanks largely to a less open combat between the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab and Somali forces.

The al-Shabaab militants began their crusade for strict Islamic law in Somalia back in 2007. The Somali government has struggled to contain the militants. In fact, the Somali military can be likened more to a group of competing militias than a unified policing force. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the majority of violations against Somali children including abductions, recruitment, sexual violence and attacks on schools were committed by al-Shabaab militants affiliated with al Qaeda; however the majority of child killings could be traced back to Somali National Forces.

A U.N.-mandated African Union peacekeeping force has lead the fight against al-Shabaab where Somalian forces were unable or ill-equipped to influence the situation. Most of the security gains made over the past two years have been a direct result of the 17,600 member peacekeeping Union. They have successfully reclaimed territory from al-Shabaab militants, but Ban Ki-moon worries that the peacekeeping mission will fail to hold territory or pressure militants out of other areas without additional resources.

Ban Ki-moon’s report urges countries to help in the peacekeeping mission in any way that they can, but was specific in his support of the 2012 ban on purchasing Somali charcoal, an export that generated more than $25 million in revenue for al-Shabaab in 2011.

– Dana Johnson

Source: Huffington Post, UNICEF
Photo: Eric Lafforgue

The World's Top 5 Refugee Crises

June 20th marked World Refugee Day, a day to honor the many people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict, violence, or persecution.  Today there are 43.7 million refugees or internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide.   The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides protection and aid to 34 million of them.

Public awareness of these refugee crises often drops sharply after the initial news of the crisis wears off, but the crises themselves continue for years on end, with the toll of refugees climbing ever higher.  Here are the 5 largest refugee crises in the world according to the latest available data:

1.       Somalia- Since the Somalian Civil War in the 90s, Somalia has been a hotbed of humanitarian concerns and crises. Food crises and the violent insurgent group Al- Shabaab have only exacerbated the problems in the country, along with a large rise in piracy just off of the Somalian coast.  According to the UNHCR the total number of refugees and IDPs originating from Somalia numbers around 2.4 million.  The Somali government will hopefully regain control of its territory enough to sufficiently aid its refugees.

2.       Iraq- The US military invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq topped off decades of conflict in the country, including the Iran-Iraq War, the first Gulf War, and years of crippling sanctions.  The combination of these conflicts has put the UNHCR’s population of concern originating from Iraq at 3 million people.  The refugee situation there has been augmented as a result of the Syrian Civil War, in which many Iraqis who had fled to Syria are now choosing to return to their war-torn homeland to escape the Syrian violence.

3.       Sudan– The secession of South Sudan from its northern counterpart has helped quell the humanitarian crisis there, but the UN estimates a total of 3.2 million people in its total population of concern originating from Sudan.  Sudanese refugees have come from the conflicts in Khartoum, Darfur, the Protocol Areas, and Eastern Sudan.

4.       Afghanistan– Since the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001, lack of security has been a continuous problem for the Afghan people.  Tribal violence and Taliban influence continue to displace Afghan citizens daily. The UNHCR puts the total population of concern originating from Afghanistan at 4.2 million people.

5.       Colombia– Though it is not often mentioned in the news, according to the UNHCR, Colombia has the largest total population of concern out of these countries: 4.3 million people.  Internal conflict has particularly affected the country’s indigenous population.  The effects of natural resource extraction and the armed groups involved therein have almost overwhelmed Colombian citizens.

Although it did not make the list of the world’s largest refugee crises, the situation in Syria represents the most rapidly growing refugee crisis.  The number of Syrian refugees is around 1.6 million currently, and the UN expects that to increase to 3.45 million in the next seven months.  The UN has also stated that it expects almost half of Syria’s pre-war population to require humanitarian aid by the end of 2013.

Though these conflicts fade from the minds of Americans after their initial impact, World Refugee Day is an opportunity to remember the situations these refugees are dealing with and to donate to a cause or pressure your elected officials to take action in support of these refugees.

– Martin Drake
Source: UNCR Country Profiles, ABC News
Photo: CWS Global

The First Rape Center in SomaliaThe Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, the first rape center in Somalia, opened its doors for the second time in 2011. The reopening was a brave move by two women working to drive social change in their war-torn country. According to the Executive Director of the center, Fartuun Abdisalaan Adan, “Staying in Somalia is very risky. You never know what’s gonna happen.”

Ilwad Elman’s parents, Fartuun and Elman, originally created the center as a safe haven for child soldiers in the 1990s. When her father was killed by warlords in 1996, the family sought refuge in Canada and the center was closed. In 2011 Ilwad and her mother returned to Mogadishu and reopened the Elman Center to include rehabilitation services for victims of sexual violence in addition to former child soldiers.

The center, which has a clinic and a classroom, employs a holistic approach to help victims, using counseling and skills training and emphasizing sports, art, and literature. Sexual violence is currently a widespread problem in Somalia, although the government continually denies it. Last year, the U.N. reported that at least 1,700 women were raped in IDP (internally displaced person) camps in Mogadishu. The UN also stated that men in the military commit 70% of Somalia’s rapes.

The consequences for a woman reporting a rape can be almost as severe as someone who perpetrates one. Just this past February, 27 years old Lul Ali Osman Barake was sentenced to a year in jail after she reported being raped by men she says were government soldiers. She was convicted of making false accusations and defaming a government body, while her attackers went free. Incidents like this make the work of the Elman Center that much more important. When women are afraid of the consequences of reporting sexual violence, they rarely seek vital help or medical attention they desperately need.

“Rape is a well-known weapon of war, so that is one thing that is undeniable,” said Ilwad. “There’s also harmful traditional practices and the social protection structures that were in place but were destroyed by conflict”, she adds.

Rape isn’t just happening in the IDP camps, Ilwad said, but also in the wider community, “which is also affected by rampant abuse of sexual and gender-based violence.” Elman says she believes a multitude of factors is to blame, namely conflict. Conflict is nothing new to Somalia, which has been experiencing turmoil for nearly two decades.

Despite the instability, corruption and poverty that plagues Somalia, Ilwad and her mother refuse to give up and fight to bring peace to protect human rights in their country.

– Erin Ponsonby

Sources: CNN, The Guardian, Good
Photo: Facebook

Dadaab Stories: By the People, For the People
A story is best told by someone who was there. Whereas many documentaries as made by directors and producers passionate about the cause they are filming for, there is a difference between an outsider shooting their subjects, and the subjects shooting themselves.

The organization FilmAid had initially begun to screen videos and films at refugee camps. These films were mostly educational, providing those living in refugee camps with important safety and health information. They also showed films for purely entertainment purposes in order to help lighten the mood and spirit at the camps. In 2011, however, the organization’s branch in Dadaab, the world’s biggest refugee camp in Somalia, began a special project entitled “Dadaab Stories” where it began to train the refugees to work the cameras themselves and have the chance to tell their stories from their perspective.

Dadaab was built in the 1990s to house 90,000 refugees. Today, it is the home to over 500,000 refugees. Describing life in a refugee camp is difficult; insiders know more and have been around longer than an outside film crew.

Ryan Jones, an American videographer who joined FilmAid’s project in 2011, said that the part of the appeal of the program that it strays from the usual model of “an American film crew coming into a camp and spending a short period of time there and shooting some kind of 90-minute doc we hope to get into Sundance.”

Refugees have made various videos such as an emergency response video regarding a cholera outbreak, a safety video for rape awareness, the camp’s orientation film, a music video for the local group Dadaab All Stars, and documentation of actress Scarlett Johansson’s visit.

In October of 2011, however, a kidnapping incident involving Doctors Without Borders created intense restrictions and security issues which prevented the FilmAid team from coming back to Somalia. Since then, the refugees have been trying to manage posting videos and have begun to make their camp-wide newspaper The Refugee available online.

This project has not only taught the refugees a new and unique skill they would otherwise not have the chance to learn, but it gives them a creative outlet to truly show the world what life in a refugee camp is like. They may not be making feature length films or Sundance-worthy documentaries, but their progress and work are so valuable that it could never be put into a simple award category.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Co.EXIST

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Almost half of all deaths in recent years in the Somaliland region of Somalia have been neonatal; that is to say that many children die in the first few days of their lives. Thankfully, organizations like Life for African Mothers are working to combat the issues of maternal health and frighteningly high infant mortality rates in many regions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Life for African Mothers began providing medication to treat maternal health issues back in 2008 after U.K. Somalis solicited the aid on behalf of the residents of their homeland. The organization also provides crucial medication to hospitals and clinics in parts of Nigeria, Chad, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. Once delivered to Somaliland, that medication is distributed by The Somaliland Nursing and Midwifery Association to the many clinics that receive support from the organization. Ambassadors from Life for African Mothers recently visited the region and inspected the hospital facilities that receive their aid and found that the labor and delivery areas were clean and serviceable.

The latest data available from the World Health Organization still states that the entire country of Somalia has one of the highest rates of neonatal mortality on Earth. While great aid organizations continue in their efforts to change this depressing figure, it is critical that they not be left to complete the task by themselves.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: Wales Online, WHO
Photo: Life for African Mothers

Somalia-Construction-Rebuild

Things are looking up for the Somali capital of Mogadishu as the sound of gunfire has recently been replaced by that of construction. Many from the diaspora are finally returning home to rebuild Somalia. As described by journalist Laila Ali of the Guardian, “New buildings and business are emerging from the carnage and lawlessness that pervaded the east African country for more than two decades.”

Many people who fled in the midst of the chaos are now choosing to return home, which has caused the demand for property to skyrocket. Mursal Mak, a British-Somali property developer who is returned after 22 years, has been following the increasing business opportunities. “Real estate is booming in Mogadishu,” he says. “This evening I had a meeting with a client and he said ‘Mogadishu is becoming like Manhattan or central London; you are talking incredible prices when it comes to property.’”

Land rights have become sticky, however, with so much land unregistered or with ownership that cannot be confirmed. At times, people take the risk of buying land at half of its value for cases where ownership is unclear. But this has not seemed to disrupt the surge of buying and developing. From grand beach hotels to commercial banks, many from the diaspora are returning home in hopes of rebuilding business in Somalia.

Omar Osman is another Somali who has returned home to set up an internet company, Somalia Wireless, in hopes of increasing connectivity for the growing private sector. He explains, “We are trying to advocate the setting up of business to be as smooth as possible, because, ultimately, the growth of business will translate into job creation and prevent youngsters from being idle and walking into terrorism. Investing and making money is not the goal. The goal is to create jobs, do something to benefit the masses and make life better for every Somali.”

– Shannon Keith

Source: The Guardian
Photo: Laila Ali