Monday, October 12, 2015

It is time for a woman to lead the UN

By Bashir Goth, Special to Gulf News
Recently when I read that Kenya was lobbying for its extremely capable and first woman foreign minister Ameenah Mohammad to fill the UN Secretary General post after Ban Ki-moon exits at the end of 2016, I immediately thought of Angela Merkel and her distinguished leadership of the recent Syrian refugee crisis. I thought how apt it would be to see a woman leading the UN for the first time on its 70th anniversary and a woman succeeding Barack Obama as US President. It would be a different world indeed.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Somalia’s Strategic Depth and Investment Opportunities for GCC Countries

By Bashir Goth

It is almost a quarter of a century since Somalia lost its statehood and status as a relevant member of the international community. Since then Somalia’s name has become synonymous with a failed state and the word Somalization the 21st century’s new term for Balkanization. Tribal civil wars stoked by local and international terrorism and human-made famines have devastated the country, causing one of the 21st century’s biggest refugee crisis in Africa. The Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, has become a symbol of the misery and misfortune of the Somali nation. Tens of thousands of other Somalis were also sheltered in other neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen; while around 1.1 million internally displaced people live under sub-human conditions in squalid make shift camps inside the country. 

This was the story of Somalia over two decades but not anymore. There is a new story coming out of Somalia these days; a story of a promising future, a story of a country that could be the 21st century’s Rotterdam, Singapore, and Dubai all together; a country that is destined to redraw the map of world trade and tourism business. If one asks where this change comes from? The answer is simple: piracy windfall.  

Throughout its long years of self-destruction and suffering, the world neglected Somalia. Even when foreign booty hunters robbed its fish stock in tons in an unprecedented illegal fishing and others dumped hazardous industrial waste in its waters; the world looked the other way. World powers lacked the foresight to envision the danger that stateless Somalia could pose to world peace and economy. Not until the genie of piracy was out of Somalia’s unguarded and crime infested coast.

After a few years of the piracy activity, the world suddenly woke up to the vital strategic location of Somalia to global trade when pirates paralyzed the shipping lanes of one of the world’s busiest marine trade routes and their reach stretched to 1000 miles from Somalia’s coast. 

According to a study carried out by One Earth Future (OEF) Foundation the total cost of piracy off the coast of Somalia stood at US$7–US$12 billion at its peak in 2010. 

“While over 80 per cent of these costs were estimated to be borne by the shipping industry, 20 per cent were estimated to be borne by governments,” the study said.

A World Bank report in 2013 exposed a more serious situation by concluding that the yearly cost of piracy to world economy was in the tune of US$18 billion. This was a global economic menace that demanded an urgent action. But although navy warships of several industrial nations were deployed to the Somali coast, it soon became clear that fighting Somali piracy required not only military might, but also fixing a broken country for the interest of global trade.

This came in the revealing title of the World Bank report: “The Pirates of Somalia: Ending the Threat, Rebuilding a Nation.” 

The report went further to call for action, emphasizing that “The costs imposed by Somali pirates on the global economy are so high that international mobilization to eradicate piracy off the Horn of Africa not only has global security benefits, it also makes ample economic sense.” 

Therefore, it is only when Somalia’s lawlessness played havoc to world economy that the world decided to act. In September 2012, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud was elected as Somalia’s President in an internationally sponsored conference of clan appointed parliament in Mogadishu. 

The importance of this was not lost on the western media as the Time magazine included Hassan in its 100 most influential people in 2013. Shedding the spot light on the significance of the event, Ruwandan President Paul Kagame who wrote the new leader’s profile for the magazine said: “The leader of Somalia’s first constitutional government in 20 years, President Mohamud symbolizes an increasingly confident Africa that is shedding its long history of strife and moving toward greater stability and prosperity.”

The first leader to break the undeclared international diplomatic ban on Somalia was Recep Tayyip Erdogan who became the first foreign leader outside Africa to land in Mogadishu more than 20 years. Somalia was at the time suffering from one of its worst famines in 60 years amid the country’s worst security situation where the militant Al Shabab had large parts of the country under its grip. Arriving in Mogadishu in August 2011 with his wife and a large delegation of Turkish officials on his side, Erdogan toured the bullet riddled streets of war-torn Mogadishu and announced that Turkey was opening an embassy in Somalia.

Since then Turkey launched huge development projects in Mogadishu. And Erdogan returned to Somalia as a President in January 2015 and was welcomed by his Somali counterpart at the new Turkish-renovated airport.
Irked by Turkey’s ventures in Somalia and with piracy being at its height, the UK government called for an international donor conference on Somalia in London in May 2013. The UK and other donors pledged some $130m (£84m) in aid for Somalia. 

The US also recognized the Somali new government for the first times in 20 years when President Barack Obama met President Mahmoud at the White House and later Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the United States’ recognition of the Somali government since the American Black Hawk battle in Mogadishu in 1994.

Today, Somalia has come a long way, Al Shabab has almost been defeated as a military force and nearly all areas under their control have been liberated. And with piracy losing its onshore support and its fleet and manpower destroyed by world navies offshore, it succumbed to its death.

This was celebrated by US Secretary of State John Kerry in his first visit to the Somali capital, recently as the first American Secretary of State to visit Mogadishu. 

"I visited Somalia today because your country is turning around", he said at a meeting with the Somali President,  adding there was "determined international effort" to put virtually all of Somalia's pirates out of business.

The Arab Gulf countries whose trade interest was harmed by Somali piracy as an estimated 7% of the world's oil consumption passed through the Gulf of Aden had also become active in engaging with Somali leaders to find a solution on the ground. The UAE initiated a yearly anti-piracy conference with the aim of re-establishing Somali security institutions as its core purpose. 

The war in Yemen again re-awakened the Gulf Arabs to Somalia’s strategic importance which prompted Qatar and UAE Foreign Ministers to visit Mogadishu and hold talks with Somali leaders. 

One can therefore conclude that apart from its untapped mineral resources and it’s underused arable land that if properly invested can easily be a bread basket for GCC countries, Somalia can provide a badly needed strategic depth to the GCC States due to its long coast which is the second busiest international trade route with approximately 23,000 ships amounting to nearly one trillion dollars of trade transiting its waters.

Developing Somalia’s coast line for tourism, fishing, and prime real estate as well as building modern ports and exploiting the country’s ready atmosphere for renewable energy can also change the Horn of African country into a summer resort, a successful investment venture, and a gateway for GCC business to Africa’s growing consumer market. Turkey has already taken the lead and China is waiting on the flanks with its ready cash but only time will tell if the GCC countries with their proximity, their open markets, and their historical relations with this Arab League member and Horn of African country can score better results in the scramble for Somalia’s lucrative trade and strategic geopolitical position.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Somaliland’s Moment of Infamy by Bashir Goth

It was unbelievably shocking and painful to see Somaliland politicians and administrators outbidding each other in expressing their enmity and hatred for Somalism and the Somali people. 

While Somaliland politicians were falling over each other to be in at the front row of the festivities held in Hargeisa for Ethiopia’s 24th anniversary of the EPRDF’s overthrow of the Mengistu Regime, Somaliland authorities were blocking Somali refugees returning from Yemen to disembark in Berbera port while people of other nationalities were welcomed with open arms.

Although successive Somaliland governments tried their best to distance themselves from other Somalis, particularly, those in Southern Somalia, things have never reached such level of hatred and hostility.

There was even a time when Somalis saw an improvement in attitude when Silanyo government sent a Somaliland delegation carrying relief aid to drought-stricken people in Mogadishu in 2011. Many people saw this as a heartwarming gesture which showed that brotherhood among the Somali people was still intact despite Somaliland’s secession fait accompli. However things deteriorated quickly to the point that Somaliland today shamelessly and cruelly uses the plight of the weak and scared Somali refugees from Yemen as a political game.

As a Somali, hailing from Somaliland, and on behalf of the good people of Somaliland, I would like to give my apology to our sisters and brothers who cried for Somalism onboard the foreign ship, who were treated like Burma’s unwanted Rohingya by Somaliland authorities. There is no doubt that history will not forgive the leaders of Somaliland. Nor will decent Somalis, Somalilanders included, ever forgive people like Somaliland President Silanyo, Vice President Saylici, Interior Minister Ina Waran Cadde, Berbera Port Manager Cali Xoor-Xoor, Berbera Governor Fahmi Bidaar and all Somaliland Ministerial Cabinet who accepted and approved this ugly decision. They will remain accountable for your plight. We will name them and shame them. It is a dark spot in our history. Your tears and words will forever wrench our hearts…. “We are Somalis, we speak Somali…aren’t you Somalis” said one of the women passengers. “I don’t want to go anywhere else. I want to live in Hargeisa and Buroa and raise my children here. We don’t need any financial help from you, we have our money. Just let us disembark.” said a mother of six.

The returnees came from Yemen, haggard and tired. Seeking only peace and tranquility. They spent many years as refugees in Yemen. They were aliens there but they were welcomed. They dreamed of the day they would return to their homeland and kiss its soil. But when they did, they were rejected by their own kith and kin. 

As Somali Foreign Minister Abdusalam Hadliye said in an interview with VOA, Somalis went as refugees everywhere in the world, both to Muslim and non-Muslim countries, and they were accepted and welcomed. 

“I cannot understand, and all Somalis including Somalilanders cannot understand, why Somali people would be refused to land in their own homeland. This is a logic I cannot understand and I don’t think anyone else understands it,” he said.

It was reassuring to hear Faisal Ali Waraabe, Chairman of the UCID party, express a similar feeling in a statement to the BBC. The people of Somaliland from Borama to Berbera also expressed their outrage against this infamous action.

But I expected Somaliland opposition parties and Somaliland civil societies to do more. They should have been demonstrating and camping next to the ship, bringing food, water and other provisions to the people. They should have been holding a sit-in at the port, demanding that they would not leave the place and would rather all die in the heat until Somaliland administration accepted to allow the Somali refugee returnees to disembark from the ship. Above all, I expected Somaliland religious leaders to highlight the fate of these people in their Friday sermons or aren’t these people also Muslims apart from being Somali.

This is a humanitarian issue and the fate of the weak, tired, and war weary mothers, children and elderly is at stake. It is imperative that any human being in this dire situation let alone Somali people returning to their homeland should be welcomed. The life of these vulnerable people should never have been used as a pawn to score political goals. What a disgrace Mr. Silanyo for taking Somaliland to its moment of infamy.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Magool: The Inimitable Nightingale of Somali Music By Bashir Goth

Magool: The Inimitable Nightingale of Somali Music

Man u saaray
May arooryaad iyo
Ma mooday
Magool kaliileed

True to these seminal lines of Yusuf Xaji Adan Qabile, Magool has blos-
somed ever since, destined to enthrall the Somali-speaking peoples of
the Horn of Africa and beyond with her captivating voice over the next
forty-plus years...never to be silenced as long as a person who speaks
Somali lives on the face of the earth.


Monday, February 16, 2015

A Jihad against Somali Music in the Land of Freedom by Bashir Goth

“Whoever says that all music is prohibited let him also claim that the songs of birds are prohibited.” - Imam Abu Hamid Al Ghazali.

While Daesh was burning the Jordanian pilot alive, Boko Haram creating killing fields in the villages and towns of Nigeria and neighboring countries, and Al Shabab was executing Somali women by firing squads for committing no other crime than being the weakest and most defenseless members of society, a group of Somali Mullahs itched to do something equally dramatic but fortunately less earthshaking due to circumstances could find no better cause than waging a jihad against Somali music in North America and Europe.

It seems these Mullahs, most of whom live in the West and enjoy the freedoms guaranteed to them by the secular laws of their adopted countries could not see the barbaric and heinous crimes committed in the name of Islam by the terrorist groups as repulsive actions that deserve their wrath and condemnation but instead found their noble duty in strangulating Somali music. In what seems to be a well defined plan of division of labor, they assumed the role of the fifth column of Al Shabab by carrying out covert operations of spiritual purification while the terrorist militias were doing the physical slaughtering. Their aim is to obliterate the collective memory of the Somali people and the most treasured common heritage of all Somalis and indeed humanity at large; their voice.

The sinister campaign of these Mullahs came to light when the legendary singer Hibo Mohamed Nuura announced in an interview with the BBC (Somali Section) that she had decided to quit music as she was convinced by Somali Ulema that music was haram (prohibited) in Islam. She declared that she disowned her musical heritage and career that spanned nearly 50 years during which she had become one of the most respected and most admired female singers of the Somali people. She also made an appeal to her fans not to listen to her music; seemingly oblivious to the fact that her music as a national heritage, was the collective product of song writers, musicians, public resources, and the audience who engaged with it and endowed it with its real value and longevity.

Shocked by this incident of tragic proportions, I started my own investigation to find out how this could have happened. I came to learn that a group of Somali Mullahs from around the world but mostly living in North America meet periodically in a teleconference to launch a war on Somali music through a concerted and well coordinated effort aimed at locating and targeting Somali artists and inviting them to their clandestine sessions. The Mullahs who mostly use pseudonyms during the call to hide their identities from authorities select their victims with precision by starting with the celebrated singers, musicians, and artists who are in the twilight days of their careers. Once these unsuspecting victims come to their orbit, the Mullahs grip them with their fangs and bombard these mostly unlettered poor souls with horror stories about the hellfire waiting to roast their bodies and souls if they do not repent and disown their past and their indulgence with music. Overwhelmed by the severity of the attack and being elderly individuals with one foot in the grave, these vulnerable victims quickly succumb to the deadly venom of the Mullahs. 

This is what happened recently when a group of Mullahs, many of them well known religious figures including a celebrated Sheikh from my hometown Borama, and paradoxically the birth  place of the Somali music over 70 years ago, met in their scheduled global teleconference to grill several icons of Somali music, arts and broadcasting. They included Hibo, Cabdi Cali “Bacalwaan”,Faadumo Haldhaa, Cadar Kaahin, Luul Cali Xasan and others.

Under controlled conditions and being put on the spot, the artists found themselves in a state of inquisition, they had no other option but to relent and fulfill the wishes of the Mullahs who they thought were genuine scholars of Islam, not aware that these clerics where only pushing their own narrow interpretation of Islam down their throats. The artists were too intimidated to ask questions such as that if music was Haram why such a ban was not applied to the 1.6 billion Muslim living in the world. Why Al Azhar Sheikhs had to listen and even praise Umm Al Kalthoum, why music of Muslims from Sudan, Mali, Senegal and other West African countries is one of the most popular in the world. Why countries ruled by regimes bearing the Islamic banner such as Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Islamic Republic of Iran, and Pakistan did not prohibit music. Without even going to the fruitless debate over the different interpretations of what Islam says about music which usually ends up in my Islam against yours, it would have at least shown the Mullahs that out of 1.6 billion people they were definitely not the only learned men who had the absolute truth in their hand.

Whereas these Mullahs usually like to quote Wahhabi and Salafist Sheikhs with narrow interpretations, one can also quote hundreds of eminent Islamic scholars such as Imam Al Ghazali, Ibn Hazm Al Andalusi, and contemporary scholars such as Sheikh Khalid Al Jundi, Sheikh Muhammad al-Shawkani and many others who could not find any Islamic text prohibiting music. One would have thought these Mullahs would have learned enough to heed the words of the Prophet (PUH) who said:
إن هذا الدين متين فأوغلوا فيه برفق ولا تكرهوا عبادة الله إلى عباد الله، فتكونوا كالراكب المنبت الذي لا سفرا قطع ولا ظهرا أبقى.
(Indeed this religion is strong so delve deeper into it but gently. And do not make Allah’s worship to be repulsive to his worshippers. For the one who portrays it (religion) harshly will be like a traveler who did not spare any effort but reached nowhere).

But obviously taking this soft approach would have deprived them of the personal power they have in using religion as a cover for controlling people’s lives. Remember those who burned the Jordanian pilot alive were quoting religious sources, Al Shabab and Boko Haram also regurgitates Quranic verses and Islamic traditions to justify their heinous crimes. So anyone can use the holy text according to their wishes which makes the Quran, the most abused holy book in modern times. This was prophetically seen by Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph of Islam, when he advised Ibn Abbas, member of his negotiating team with Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan, not to debate with the enemy on Quranic verses, underling that the Quran was liable to different interpretations (حمّال أوجه ).

The fact that the Prophet (PUH) said: “Deeds will be judged according to intentions, and everyone will get what he intended,” has also been conveniently ignored by the Mullahs because for them people’s intentions don’t count; what counts for them is what they tell you to do.

What made their action even more painful was the timing. They timed their action to coincide with a period when most of the cultured Somali people were mourning the death of two cultural and music icons, Mohamed Ahmed Kulluc, a veteran and renowned singer whose songs have inflamed Somali nationalistic feelings during the struggle for independence, and Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kadare, a cultural scholar, dramatist, poet, and a man remembered for his pivotal role in the writing of the Somali script and Somalization of scientific and cultural foreign words.

It seems as if these Mullahs are telling us that these cultural giants have died in vain and that they were obliged to warn those still alive against falling into the fires of hell. They insinuate that if you do not live the way they tell you to, you are doomed in the afterworld. But they also know that long after they are gone from this world, the names of the singers and artists will still be remembered and celebrated. They are deadly sure that Somali people will be enchanted by the music and words of our playwrights, singers and musicians for generations to come. They know that the names of such giants as Ali Sugule, Hussein Aw Farah, Xasan Sh. Muumin, Maxamuud Cabdillaahi Sangub, Xasan Ganay, Saxardiid Maxamed Cilmi (Jabiye), Xasan Cilmi, Cabdillahi Qarshi, Cumar Dhuule, Magool, Maandeeq, Dalays, Baxsan, Maryan Mursal, Farxiya Cali, Maxamad Suleyman, Axmad Cali Cigaal, Sahra Axmad, Amina Feer, Saado Cali, Amina Cabdillaahi, Fadumo Qasim, Khadiija Qalanjo, Khadra Dahir, Ahmed Naji, Nimco Jaamac, Cabdinuur Allaale, Maxamed Mooge, Xasan Adan Samatar and many others will ring precious memories for the Somali people. And people who are remembered with cherished memories by their fellow human beings will definitely be handsomely rewarded in the hereafter.

I think the Muslim world has more than its share of ugliness if the Mullahs want to put their efforts into good use. I have never seen them condemning the barbarity committed in the name of Islam by terrorist groups like Daesh, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Al Qaeda and their ilk. But on the contrary, they seem to be in cahoots with them by carrying out such cultural cleansing campaigns.

It might help to remind these Mullahs that a number of eminent Egyptian Islamic scholars had enjoyed the songs and music of Umm Kalthoum, the most celebrated Arab woman singer at all time. These clerics included Sheikh Mohamed Al Ghazali, Sheikh Ali Tantawi, and Sheikh Mustapha Abdirazik who sheltered her and protected her from the onslaught of ignorant clerics. There are also famous Quranic reciters such as Sheikh Mohammad Sdeq Al Menshawy who described her voice as having: “soft power and the sweetness of music”, Sheikh Abd AlBasit Abd AlSamad who used to call her “the star of the east and the west”, and others.

This is how the enlightened scholars value the singing and music as a God-given talent that has to be nurtured, enjoyed and admired. But it seems that the Somali Mullahs are trapped in a time capsule of their own to the extent that they never heard the words of the great theologian and eminent Sufi, Al Rumi, who said: “There are many ways to reach God; I have chosen dance and music as my path.” And this is exactly what Professor Ahmed Ismail Samatar, an eminent scholar who I call the Singing Professor, demonstrates every time he lectures in a Somali public forum. Knowing the sublimity and power of music, he never misses the opportunity to perform a song or two and never without the presence of the Oud (lute) at the end of the gathering. Just like Rumi, Professor Samatar must have realized that the beauty of music is the best way to be closer to the heavens. And why not did Allah not give Prophet Dawood the beauty of singing and music as his miracle and did He not command the mountains and birds to sing with him. And was it not the Prophet of Islam who after being delighted by Abu Musa Al  Ashari’s recitation of the Quran said about him: “…You are in fact endowed with a sweet voice like that of (the Noble Prophet of Allah) Dawood (David)(a.s.) himself.”

Music is one of the first things that babies learn through the mother’s lullabies. It is also how nature communicates with us. You cannot miss to hear music wherever you turn. The sound of rain, of waterfalls and waves, the singing of birds, the howl of wind, the rustle of leaves, and the rhythmic movements of the planets, are all parts of the universe’s gigantic musical orchestra. No wonder Imam Al Ghazali said: “Whoever says that all music is prohibited let him also claim that the songs of birds are prohibited.”

Music is also used for a therpeuaitc purposes and academic degrees are offered in music therapy. I would love to see if any of these Mullahs could refuse such treatment if their life depended on it.

But despite this concerted onslaught on music, it is heartwarming to see the herculean efforts carried out by some individuals like Dr. Jama Musa Jama and Ayan Ashour for their distinguished service to Somali music through many initiatives such as London Somali Cultural Week, and Hargeysa Cultural Center. The recently opened Hiddo Dhow Center in Hargeisa pioneered by the famous singer Sahra Halgan is another shinning initiative that warms the heart of Somali culture and music lovers. One cannot but also praise the dedication of some of our iconic cultural custodians such as Said Salah Ahmed, Boobe Yusuf Du’ale, Ahmed Farah Cali (Idaajaa), Dr. Mohamed Dahir Afrah, Saeed Jama Hussein and others who are veteran warriors for the preservation and handing over Somali culture and music to future generations.

Definitely, we should also applaud all the public and private Somali television stations and websites that constantly celebrate and delight us with Somali music despite the pressure exerted on them by the Wahhabi Mullahs. I must give special salute to Caasha-Luul’s program “Erayga Abwaanka iyo Odhaahda Fanaanka” on Somaliland National Television and Nicmo Samriye’s “Tartanka iyo Fanaaniinta” of Horn Cable TV which reminds us of the successful 1970s “Heesaha Hirgalay” held at the National Theatre that produced a number of today’s famous singers such Hassan Adan Samatar. These two courageous women are doing commendable service for the Somali music and culture. History will also not forget the enormous attention and resources given by the Djibouti Government and the government of the Somali Region of Ethiopia in filling the void vacated by the Somali government in promoting and spreading Somali music, poetry, and folklore.

It is a matter of great regret, however, that Somali businesses which are mostly dominated by religious people do not extend any support to music and cultural activities. I know some Somali television stations owned by such businesses which have succumbed to the blackmailing of the religious establishment and made it a policy not to play music. I am not sure how they would avoid playing the Somali National Anthem when covering national events.

Finally,  I cannot find better words to conclude this piece than to echo the words of Imam Al Ghazali, a man known as Mujadid, reviver of Islamic scholarship, and the author of some of  Islam’s canonical books such as the Ihya' Ulum al-Din or Ihya'u Ulumiddin (The Revival of Religious Sciences). Commenting on music, he said:
(من لم يهزه الربيع وأزهاره والعود وأوتاره فاسد المزاج ليس له علاج) “He who is not moved by the spring and its flowers; the Lute (Oud) and its tunes, has a sick mood that cannot be cured." And now let me leave you with Raaxeeye and the legendary voice of Maxamad Axmad Kuluc and let the Mullahs plug their ears: