Monday, 20 April 2009

Mortars Threaten U.S. Congressman’s Plane in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Representative Donald M. Payne of New Jersey, the chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, narrowly escaped a mortar attack on Monday as he was ending a visit to Mogadishu, Somalia’s bullet-ridden capital, that he undertook against the advice of the Obama administration.
Just a day after American military snipers killed three Somali pirates and freed a kidnapped sea captain, eliciting vows of revenge from pirates and other Somalis, several mortar rounds exploded in the vicinity of Mr. Payne’s plane as it was taking off from Mogadishu for Nairobi, Kenya. At least 10 civilians were wounded in the explosions.
The congressman, a Democrat from Newark, was unhurt and it was unclear if insurgents who routinely shell the airport were trying to hit his plane or were simply unleashing another assault on the city’s main lifeline.
Shabab, an Islamist insurgent group vying for control of the country, later took responsibility for the attack, Reuters reported.
“We fired on the airport to target the so-called Democratic congressman sent by Obama,” said Sheik Hussein Ali, a spokesman for the Shabab. “Let him go back with the message of our strength and enmity towards the U.S. and its allies. No single group can claim control of Mogadishu, and Al Shabab will continue its attacks.”
Mr. Payne met for several hours with Somalia’s new president, Sheik
Sharif Sheik Ahmed, and the country’s prime minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, and stressed that the Obama administration had turned over a new leaf toward Somalia. He had been “strongly discouraged” from making the visit by the State Department, said his press secretary, Kerry McKenney, but had decided to travel there “even if it’s dangerous, to see how the United States might be able to help stabilize the situation,” Ms. McKenney said.
During the Bush administration, the American military carried out several airstrikes against terrorism suspects in Somalia. In 2006, American forces assisted Ethiopian troops in a troubled, bloody intervention that led to thousands of civilian deaths and overthrew a grass-roots Islamist government led by Sheik Sharif. At the time, Mr. Payne was one of the few high-ranking American officials who publicly stood against the Ethiopian invasion.
“America wants to be a friend,” he told a crowd of Somalis at a news conference on Monday.
Mr. Payne had planned his visit before the hijacking of the United States-flagged cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, and did not know for certain that he would go until shortly before Monday’s visit, Ms. McKenney said. Piracy was among the subjects he discussed with Somali officials.
“If there were no piracy, the U.S. forces would not have intervened,” he said. “I think every country and company has a right to protect itself.”
On Monday, news spread across Somalia — mostly by radio — that American snipers had killed three pirates holding Capt.
Richard Phillips.
Captain Phillips’s wife, Andrea, spoke to the news media on Monday in South Burlington, Vt.
“We did not know what Richard was enduring while being held hostage on the lifeboat, and that was really the hardest part — the wondering,” Mrs. Phillips said in a statement. “My family and closest friends held on to our faith knowing that Richard would come home.”

Somalia Adopts Islamic Law to Deter Insurgency

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somalia’s Parliament voted unanimously on Saturday to institute Islamic law, a measure lawmakers say they hope will strengthen popular support for the government and siphon it away from the Islamist militias fighting an insurgency here.
The vote ratified a decision by the cabinet last month to adopt the legal code of Islam based on the Koran, known as Shariah.
“God is great, God is great, the Parliament voted for the implementation of the Shariah law,” the deputy speaker of Parliament, Osman Elmi Boqore, said after the vote. “We are grateful that we implemented it today.”
The minister of justice, Sheik Abdirahman Mohamoud Farah, speaking to the lawmakers, said that the opposition hard-liners would no longer be able to use Islam as a justification for attacking the government.
Most Somalis generally welcome the introduction of Shariah, suggesting that it was the only solution that Somalis could agree on.
“I am happy with the Shariah,” said Ismahan Haghi Aweis, 24, a student in Mogadishu, the capital. “I hope that the fighting is all over.”
Shabab, a hard-line Islamist insurgent movement that controls large swaths of southern Somalia, has imposed its own version of Islamic law and vowed to rebel against the government.
Last week, two members of the Islamic Courts Union, a moderate Islamist group that is part of the government, were assassinated in Mogadishu. The group accused the Shabab of the killings. The Shabab denied the allegations.

NewYork Times

GLOBAL: Real men don’t cry – or do they?

Men don't cry. Men take risks. Men don't ask for help. Men are strong. Men have many sexual partners. These stereotypes of masculinity are contributing to the spread of HIV throughout the world, experts warned at a recent symposium on men and boys. "Among other things, these stereotypes affect access to health care, the expression of one's sexuality, access to sexual and reproductive health services, and vulnerability to HIV,” said Purmina Mane, the adjunct executive director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) at the First Global Symposium Engaging Men and Boys in Achieving Gender Equality, held recently in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Quoting various studies, Mane pointed out that among men high-risk behaviour was accepted and even encouraged, and most were more concerned about their masculinity than their health. Studies have shown that among men knowledge about their health was lower than among women, and reproductive health was generally considered a women’s subject. Women talked about pregnancy, family planning, breast cancer and menopause, but never about sexual pleasure; men discussed sexual performance, sexual dysfunctions and sperm counts, but never contraceptive methods. When this lack of knowledge is compounded by another macho stereotype – that seeking help is a sign of weakness – men’s health is at far higher risk. In the case of HIV, men are known to use counselling and voluntary testing services much less frequently than women, and men also tend to begin antiretroviral treatment later. "Late diagnosis and treatment means that many continue to practice unprotected sex, running the risk of reinfection and of unknowingly infecting their partners," said Mane. These stereotypes also have consequences for women. Dumisani Rebombo, a technical counsellor in South Africa to the international reproductive health organization, EngenderHealth, recalled a patient he had counselled after a positive diagnosis.
"I asked him what his next steps would be, and asked him to bring his wife to the support group. He said he wasn’t going to reveal his status to his wife, nor was he going to use a condom, because he was a man and he’d find a way to deal with it." The notion of a man’s strength and invincibility was one of the main risk factors for HIV infection, he commented.

Selective perception

Graça Sambo, executive director of Fórum Mulher, an NGO working to promote women's rights, said the idea that men should have multiple sexual partners was contributing to Mozambique’s national HIV prevalence of 16 percent, one of the highest in the world. "A lot of men have many sexual partners because this is what is expected of them," she said. "Masculinity is very much instilled by culture and by tradition, which say that men have to be studs." Sambo pointed out that although information about AIDS and the dangers of multiple relationships was widely available, if it involved a change in behaviour, men preferred to ignore it. "We need men who think differently, and who can influence behaviour change ... Many of them are changing in the private sphere and acting in a more conscientious manner, but bringing this change into the public sphere is still very hard, because there is still a great deal of peer pressure and they fear being made fun of." UNFPA’s Mane concluded: "We need to redefine what it means to be a man. HIV is an opportunity to re-evaluate the rigidness of these norms."

SOMALIA: Second thoughts about returning to Mogadishu

NAIROBI, 14 April 2009 (IRIN) - Mother-of-five Fadumo Hussein wishes she was still living at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) instead of in the makeshift dwelling in Mogadishu she returned to three months ago. "At least at the camp we had health care; here we are cut off… We have had no help, except from the MCH [Mother-Child Health clinic] where we get some medicines,” she said. Hussein returned home after Ethiopian troops, which had been supporting the forces of the Transitional Federal Government, left the country. She found her home destroyed and now lives in a hut on her compound. Many Mogadishu residents like Hussein recently returned from IDP camps, but are facing healthcare and livelihood challenges. Only mothers and children benefit from the services of local MCH clinics, which are supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Zahara Abdullahi, who runs the MCH in Yaqshiid District near Hussein's home, said the facility, which provides health support for the community, had been overwhelmed by the number of people seeking help. Because of the improving security situation in the area, she said, "we are seeing a lot more traffic." Yaqshiid District, north of the city, was one of the worst affected by the violence. "We are seeing a lot more cases of malnutrition," Abdullahi said. "We provide the medicines we have, but we cannot give the food they need."

Back to the IDP camps?

Abdullahi said a number of families had returned to IDP camps because "they think they get better help there." Hibo Mohamed would like to return to an IDP camp but cannot afford the fare. "We were better off in the camp than here; the only assistance here is from the MHC and they don’t have food." A civil society source in Mogadishu, who requested anonymity, told IRIN many returnees were finding "their homes no longer existed and were having to start from scratch".

Wave of returnees

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 60,000 people have returned to Mogadishu since the start of 2009. Most are returning from IDP settlements in the Lower and Middle Shabelle regions in south-central Somalia, and Hiraan, Galgaduud and Mudug regions in central Somalia, said a UNHCR briefing note on 14 April. The returnees were heading mainly to the districts of Yaaqshiid, Wardhiigleey, Heliwaa and Hawl Wadaag in Mogadishu. Roberta Russo, associate public information officer for UNHCR Somalia, recently told IRIN the humanitarian community was "seriously concerned about the spontaneous returns to Mogadishu as the security situation is still volatile and basic services to help the returnees are not in place”. Meanwhile, the violence continues: Dozens were injured or killed on 13 April after shelling in parts of south Mogadishu.

Aid workers seized in Somalia

Armed men have kidnapped two foreigners working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in central Somalia, a local elder and an aid worker have said.
The two staff - one Belgian and one Danish - were seized along with their Somali bodyguards by around 25 armed men on Sunday.
"Unidentified armed men kidnapped two MSG-Belgium aid workers in Bakol region," Hassan Maalin, a local elder, told Reuters by phone from the area.
"They were heading to Hudur, the capital of Bakol, when gunmen took them away in their vehicle," another relief worker said.
The Somali staff travelling along with the two foreigners were later released.
Michel Peremans, a spokesman for the aid agency, confirmed that two workers were missing, but would not say if they had been kidnapped.
"When we lose contact with teams we can't give much information because it can give problems afterwards," he said.
"I hope you can understand that this is too delicate, too problematic at this stage."
A total of 35 aid workers were killed in Somalia in 2008 and 26 abducted, the United Nations says.The attacks have limited the ability of relief agencies to respond to one of Africa's longest humanitarian crisis.
More than three million Somalis - nearly half the population - depend on emergency food aid in a country that has been without an effective central government since 1991.
The Bakol region, near the Ethiopian border, is under the control of an armed opposition group that is fighting Somalia's weak UN-backed government.