Somalia making progress but ‘must tackle extremism’

Large segments of the Somali population face poverty and a lack of food. (AFP)
Updated 21 May 2019

Somalia making progress but ‘must tackle extremism’

  • Almost 90 percent of households lack access to basic services, such as education and water and sanitation

NEW YORK: Somalia is making progress toward building a functioning state but must still tackle violent extremism, terrorism, armed conflict, political instability and corruption, the UN chief said in a new report.

Antonio Guterres said in the report to the UN Security Council circulated Monday that these challenges “demonstrate the fragility of the gains made so far” and “threaten progress.”

After three decades of civil war, extremist attacks and famine, Somalia established a functioning transitional government in 2012 and has since been working to rebuild stability. But Guterres said that “the security situation remained volatile” between the mid-December and early May reporting period.

The militant group Al-Shabab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, continues to be “the main perpetrator of attacks against government facilities, government officials and security forces as well as popular restaurants and hotels,” he said.

Guterres said March and April witnessed “a significant increase of attacks in Mogadishu, where incidents involving improvised explosive devices occurred almost every day.” In March, he said, there were 77 such attacks across the country, the highest single monthly total since 2016.

In addition, Guterres said, there was “a notable increase in mortar attacks, which demonstrated Al-Shabab’s improved capacity to hit strategic targets with precision and accuracy.” 

And the militant group continued to carry out attacks using suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, he said. 

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Al-Shabab has increased the frequency of its mortar attacks, and demonstrated its capacity to hit strategic targets accurately, said UN chief Antonio Guteres.

At the same time, the secretary-general said, the reporting period saw an increase in security operations “and a large number of airstrikes targeting Al-Shabab training bases and assembly points” that were deemed to have degraded its operating capability and freedom of movement.

“They have also led, however, to increased Al-Shabab movement into urban centers, in particular Mogadishu, where their forces are less likely to be targeted from the air,” he said. In addition to security threats, Guterres said large segments of the Somali population face poverty and a lack of food. He said the World Bank estimates in a forthcoming poverty and vulnerability assessment that 77 percent of Somalia’s population is living below “the international extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day.”

“Poverty is especially deep and widespread in rural areas and in internally displaced persons settlements,” Guterres said. 

“Almost 90 percent of households lack access to basic services, such as education and water and sanitation.”

The United Nations launched an appeal Monday for $710 million to help 4.5 million drought-affected Somalis in the most severely affected areas of the country between now and the end of December. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric noted that the 2019 UN humanitarian appeal for more than $1 billion for Somalia is only 20 percent funded.

“Many areas are experiencing critical water shortages, widespread crop failure, and diminished livestock conditions following two consecutive failing rainy seasons,” Dujarric said, stressing the need for additional funding.


Assessing Arafat’s legacy, 15 years after his death

Updated 3 min 18 sec ago

Assessing Arafat’s legacy, 15 years after his death

  • Palestinian leader was inspiration for millions of Arabs and Muslims as a champion of freedom
  • Under his leadership, the PLO brought together a complex web of Palestinian organizations

CHICAGO: No individual sacrificed more, risked more or accomplished more for the just cause of the Palestinian people than Yasser Arafat, who died 15 years ago this week.

Arafat has been vilified by Israelis and Jews for good reason: He took Golda Meir’s racist quote that said the Palestinians “did not exist” and proved them morally, ethically and legally wrong.

He was the inspiration for millions of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims as a person who stood up against overwhelming odds, a champion of freedom, an antagonist of oppression, and a role model for future generations. Arafat was a heroic freedom fighter and a martyr for his people who many, including myself, believe was murdered by order of Israeli war criminal Ariel Sharon.

Every Palestinian child, either in the Arab world, living under the brutal British Mandate or Israeli oppression, or surviving in the unfriendly world of the diaspora could find solace in the fact that Arafat’s name symbolized the struggle of the just against a more powerful evil.

The joint-founder of Fatah — an acronym for “Harakat Tahrir Filasteen” (Palestinian National Liberation Movement) — in 1958, Arafat was my personal inspiration. He understood the power of the news media and communications and launched a magazine advocating armed struggle against Israel’s murderous regime.

In 1969, Arafat took over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was formed by the Arab world in 1964, and turned it into one of the most feared and revered revolutionary movements in the world. Under his leadership, the PLO reached out to bring together the complex web of Palestinian organizations both inside and outside of the Occupied Territories. He convinced the world that — despite the pernicious propaganda of the military state of Israel that portrayed the Palestinians as nonexistent terrorists with no rights — the Palestinian cause was one of the most just on the planet.

Arafat is sworn in as part of the newly elected Palestinian legislative council in 1996. (AFP)

I witnessed in captivated inspiration the speech Arafat gave at the UN on Nov. 13, 1974 — 35 years ago this week — in which he exhorted Israel’s regime for sending numerous murder squads to kill him and his allies over the preceding years. He called on Israel to end its racism and embrace a “democratic Palestine.” It was a historic speech that every victim of injustice reveres and uses to seek inspiration for their own struggles for freedom.

Arafat taught the world that Palestinians had every right to use violence to fight for freedom against Israeli oppression, but that the door to peace could be opened simply by recognizing the principles of human rights and equality.

“Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand,” Arafat told the UN General Assembly and the freedom-loving world. “War flares up in Palestine, and yet it is in Palestine that peace will be born.”

And Arafat delivered. In 1988, he began indirect negotiations with Israel, bringing an end to the violence of both sides. This gesture led to the signing of the Oslo I Accord, which I witnessed first-hand, on the lawn of the White House on Sept. 13, 1993. Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles that recognized Israel inside the 1967 borders in exchange for Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza. Arafat shook the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin while the declarations were signed by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Foreign Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Arafat made the right choice to trust Rabin, who genuinely wanted to bring peace to his people and a future to the Palestinians. Together, they cleared the way for a brief period of genuine peace, but that was destroyed by an Israeli terrorist and disciple of Sharon, his former terrorist colleague Yitzhak Shamir, and their political understudy, Benjamin Netanyahu. Rabin was assassinated on Nov. 4, 1995, fracturing the peace and opening the door to the first election of Netanyahu as prime minister in June of 1996.

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Several efforts were made to build on the Oslo Accords, including the 2000 Camp David summit between Arafat and Ehud Barak, who had succeeded Netanyahu in July 1999. However, the negotiations, which were led by US President Bill Clinton, collapsed. Barak blamed Arafat, while Arafat’s people blamed Barak. The Israelis falsely asserted that Barak offered Arafat everything, including a share of Jerusalem, compensation to refugees, and 90 percent of the West Bank. But none of the so-called peace gestures from Barak were ever formally written down. The peace offer became Israel’s propaganda lie to undermine the movement for peace based on compromise.

Barak’s failure to reach a new compromise with Arafat opened the door to a second opportunity for Israeli extremists to destroy the Rabin-Arafat peace. On Sept. 28, 2000, surrounded by hundreds of armed Israeli police, opposition leader Ariel Sharon entered Al-Haram Al Sharif and provoked a new conflict with the Palestinians, resulting in more bloodshed and even worse oppression.

Sharon sought to destroy the peace accords and humiliate Arafat, who he tried to have assassinated several times prior to the peace talks. In 2002, Sharon ordered Israel’s military to surround Arafat’s compound in Ramallah and not let him leave. Arafat became deathly ill while under Sharon’s total military control, raising suspicions that Sharon had finally achieved his goal of assassinating the Palestinian leader. Arafat was permitted to seek medical help in France, where he died on Nov. 11, 2004.

Arafat was a hero and role model whose legacy continues to remind us that the price of peace and justice for Palestine is steep, but it is a goal that is worth our collective sacrifice. Hopefully we may find a new Arafat to lead Palestinians through today’s difficult times.