From corporate America to the Horn of Africa, money makes the world go around

 

Tristan McConnell

From corporate America to the Horn of Africa, money makes the world go around
Tristan McConnell The dusty, potholed streets of Hargeysa in Somaliland are filled with battered cars and ambling pedestrians. The tangled birds’ nests of wires that cling to every telegraph pole are testament to a boom in telephony, informal stalls line the roads, selling imported goods and Ethiopia-grown khat, a plant chewed as a stimulant – and behind bricks of local currency sit the money changers.

It is a long way from Western Union’s pristine headquarters in Colorado or Moneygram’s in Minnesota, but not quite a different world. Here, in a perhaps unlikely northwestern corner of Somalia, is the home of a multimillion-dollar financial services company. One, indeed, that almost single-handedly keeps the East African country afloat.

Dahabshiil’s office in Hargeysa has the relaxed charm of many a family-run African business. As I arrived, Mohamed Saïd Duale, Dahabshiil’s founder and chairman, shuffled by in his sandals, a length of printed material wrapped around his waist and a short, traditional walking stick tucked under his arm. He made his way to a private office on the roof, where he sat cross-legged on the floor in front of a computer.

His company began as a small, informal organisation, helping Somalis to get money to their relatives in refugee camps in Ethiopia, charging a commission as it did so. Now it is an economic linchpin, connecting the wealthy Somali diaspora with the impoverished population at home.

“Remittances are a lifeline to Somalis,” Abdirashid Duale, the company’s chief executive (and son of the founder), said. “They are the main income people here receive.” The World Bank estimates that remittance worth about $1 billion (£610 million) a year reached Somalia from émigrés in Britain, the United States, Sweden and the Gulf. Industry experts reckon that Dahabshiil may be responsible for handling two thirds of that and as much as half may reach the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland.Predictably, Dahabshiil has grown with the Somali diaspora.

The money transfer, or hawaala, business is rooted in traditional networks of kinship and trust, using clan allegiances to guarantee the near-instant transfers. Identifying information still includes details of clan membership, but the traditional networks have been updated with modern technology, including online money transfers and SMS notification.

Dahabshiil’s growth accelerated after the September 11 terror attacks in 2001, when the US Government shut down its biggest competitor, the Mogadishu-based al-Barakat, amid suspicions that it had helped to fund terrorism. The company now has 1,000 agents in 40 countries (including 160 in the UK, where it is registered) and is the largest private sector employer in Somalia, with 2,000 workers in more than 200 offices.

The younger Mr Duale, who lives in London and Hargeysa, admits that the collapsing world economy has hit remittances from the West. “People from Britain and America are sending less, just the basic amount, say, to pay school fees, not the amounts that they used to send, to build houses or to invest in businesses.”

Nevertheless, he intends to make Dahabshiil’s foreign exchange, banking and mobile phone businesses as popular among Somalis as the money transfer business. His ambitions are seen clearly in downtown Hargeysa, where a huge new Dahabshiil bank is under construction.

“Very soon people will be able to go to a Dahabshiil ATM in Hargeysa and withdraw money,” Mr Duale said. “Very soon, we will offer a lot of the products you can get in London here in Hargeysa. Why not?”

Somaliland

Somaliland is located in the eastern Horn of Africa, bordered by Ethiopia, the rest of Somalia and the republic of Djibouti

It was a British colony from 1884 until June 1960. After gaining independence, the State of Somaliland merged with Italian Somaliland to form Somalia. When Somalia’s military government collapsed during a civil war in May 1991, rebel forces in the northwest reasserted local independence

No other country recognises the Republic of Somaliland, leaving it in legal limbo and financial isolation

The capital is Hargeysa

Fifty-five per cent of the 3.5million population is nomadic

Source: Times research

Support Somaliland

The problems of piracy off the East Coast of Africa will never be resolved until there is a better economic climate there

Sir, Another piracy incident has once again drawn attention to the semi-arid region known as Somalia (report, Oct 27). Sending out a gunboat is no solution and yet the international community seems not to have any better ideas. Looking more widely at the reasons for the piracy — the lack of a stable economy and employment for the people — might show better ways of tackling the problem.

I spent some of my childhood in Somaliland when it was a British Protectorate and remember it as a poor and arid country existing mainly on trade in camels and goats where the differences between the tribes led to many altercations. Apparently agriculture and trade still provide the basis of the economy. Much to my surprise, Somaliland, which declared itself independent from the rest of Somalia in 1991, has proved itself a competent and stable administration that could provide a core for introducing stability to the rest of the Horn of Africa.

This will not happen, however, until the country is recognised by the international community. The people are managing, but only with the help of expatriates and charitable aid. The problems of piracy off the East Coast of Africa will never be resolved until there is a better economic climate there. Recognising and supporting Somaliland could be the first step.

Gail Coleshill
Radstock, Avon

Source: Times online

Can US Be Haven For Those Who Sanction Torture?

The monster next door

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Richard C. Paddock

San Francisco, February 20, 2010 — When Mohamed Ali Samantar, former prime minister of Somalia, arrived in the United States in 1997, he quietly took up residence in Virginia, far from the violence and chaos of his homeland. 

 

As Somalia’s minister of defense in the 1980s, Gen. Mohammed Samantar, right, was part of a military dictatorship that “had one of the worst human rights records in Africa,” according to the United Nations. “They tied my hands to my legs, and they waterboarded me, and put [on] me some kind of electric shock,” said Bashe Yusuf, a former Somali political prisoner now living in the United States. (Courtesy Center for Justice and Accountability)

Now he has become the focal point of a Supreme Court case that will decide whether he can be held accountable in a U.S. civil court for human rights abuses allegedly carried out by military forces under his control in Somalia.

On March 3, the high court will hear arguments in a civil lawsuit brought by five Somalis, including two who are now U.S. citizens. They charge they or their family members were imprisoned without trial, raped, tortured or murdered by government forces headed by Samantar, who also served as defense minister. 

The Somalis are represented by the Center for Justice and Accountability, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that uses civil suits to pursue ex-officials from foreign countries accused of atrocities and human rights violations.

Over the last decade, the little-known center has sued former government officials and high-ranking military officers from nearly a dozen countries, including Bosnia, Chile, Haiti and El Salvador. The center has won every suit that has gone to trial.

But the Samantar case will test the ability of victims to file civil suits to seek compensation from their alleged torturers. Samantar’s lawyers argue that he should have immunity from lawsuits because the actions he took were in his capacity as a government official.

The former official in the regime of Somalia’s late dictator Mohammed Siyad Barre has an unusual collection of supporters in court. The government of Saudi Arabia, various pro-Israel groups and three former U.S. attorneys general are among those who expressed concern that a ruling against Samantar could expose officials from their countries to similar lawsuits. 

If Samantar prevails at the Supreme Court, it would be “a significant setback for the last two decades of progress in human rights enforcement,” said Vienna Colucci, Amnesty International USA’s managing director.

About 500,000 victims of torture and human rights violations live in the United States, many of them granted political asylum, said Pamela Merchant, executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability. Amnesty International estimates that 1,000 people who committed human rights abuses also live here, sometimes in the same communities as their victims. 

The San Francisco center filed the lawsuit against Samantar in 2004. He served as prime minister and defense minister of Somalia during the 1980s. The military regime was notorious as one of the most brutal in Africa.

“The whole point of the law is to prevent people like Samantar, who use their power to order torture, rape and killings, from seeking a safe haven in the United States,” Merchant argued. “The bottom line is that this man is not above the law.”

Samantar fled Somalia when the regime collapsed in 1991. After he arrived in the U.S. he settled in Fairfax, Va. He denies the charges against him but declined through one of his attorneys to be interviewed.

His lawyers have fought for years to keep the case from going to trial. They argue that he was acting in his official capacity when the alleged crimes occurred and that he is protected from suits by a federal law that grants immunity to foreign states.

“Mr. Samantar vigorously denies the particular allegations in the suit, none of which have ever been determined to be true by any court of law,” said the attorney, Shay Dvoretzky.

Center Founded in 1998

The Center for Justice and Accountability was founded by psychotherapist Gerald Gray, who began treating victims of torture in San Francisco in 1985 and soon made it his sole practice.

Gray recounts that in the mid-1990s, he received an urgent call from San Francisco General Hospital seeking help for a newly arrived Bosnian War refugee. When he got to the hospital, the refugee was distraught because he had found his torturer living in San Francisco.

Gray feared the man might kill his tormentor, but instead the traumatized refugee fled to the East Coast. His torturer was never held accountable. “I can’t say why he decided not to hunt this guy,” Gray said. “Maybe fear of the police, or maybe he couldn’t bring himself to kill someone.”

The incident inspired Gray to find a way to help victims overcome their trauma by bringing their abusers to justice. With Amnesty International’s assistance, he established the Center for Justice and Accountability in 1998.

“The law gives us a chance to do something in a civilized way,” said Gray, who serves on the center’s board and has founded other groups to aid torture victims. “If we didn’t have the law, or if it didn’t work, we would be stuck back in that primitive place of flight or fight.”

The center, which has a staff of 10, has filed suits on behalf of human rights victims from every continent but Australia and Antarctica. It recruits law firms around the country to work on cases pro bono.

“They’ve been amazingly effective, especially given their small size and limited resources,” said Colucci, the Amnesty International managing director.

William Aceves, an associate dean at the California Western School of Law in San Diego, said the lawsuits give victims a forum in which they can confront their abusers.

“It’s never about money,” said Aceves, who serves on the center’s board. “It’s about an opportunity to present a case before a judge and jury, to be able to point a finger at the perpetrator and say, ‘What you did was wrong.’ ”

Immigrants Brought Case Against Samantar

The Samantar case originated in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2002 when three immigrants from Somalia — brothers Bashe and Omar Yusuf and their cousin, Amina Jireh — learned by chance that the former Somali leader was living freely in the United States.

“I was really mad,” recalled Omar Yusuf, an engineer with the California Department of Transportation. “The person who destroyed the country and killed thousands and thousands of people was in the United States, and we couldn’t do anything about it.”

Jireh said her nephew, a young doctor, was among those arrested and killed by government forces. His body was dumped in the street in broad daylight. “The regime that was ruled by Samantar killed my nephew and now Samantar is sitting in Virginia having coffee,” she said. “We allow him to be here and have a safe haven.” 

The three met with lawyers from the center and decided to pursue Samantar in court. Bashe Yusuf became the lead plaintiff.

He had been a successful businessman but was arrested in 1981after he led an effort to clean up a hospital and obtain medical supplies from foreign charities. The government falsely accused him and his colleagues of planning a rebellion and conspiring with foreign agents. 

He said he was waterboarded, tied up, beaten, shocked and held in solitary confinement for six years. He later received political asylum in the United States and became a citizen. He now lives near Atlanta.

The other plaintiffs are a man who survived execution by firing squad and hid under dead bodies until he could escape; a young woman who was arrested, repeatedly raped and held for years in solitary confinement; a man whose two brothers were arrested and executed; and a man whose father and brother were killed when the military attacked civilians.

At the time, Somalia was ruled by Siyad Barre, who seized power in a 1969 military coup. Samantar served as his defense minister and first vice president from 1980 to 1986 and then as prime minister until 1990. 

The regime used summary execution, rape, torture and imprisonment without trial to control the population, particularly in Somaliland, a self-declared region in the northwestern part of the country. After the regime collapsed in 1991, the country descended into chaos. Today, Somalia is a base for al-Qaida and pirates who attack commercial vessels. 

“This case will set a precedent for a lot of countries that are ruled at gunpoint,” said Jireh, who today works as an insurance sales representative in the Bay Area. “He’s a war criminal who is living like you and me. That shouldn’t be OK.” 

In 2007, a district judge ruled that Samantar had immunity and dismissed the suit. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, ruling that the law applies to foreign states, not individuals. Samantar then appealed to the high court. 

“The issue before the Supreme Court is whether federal law bars U.S. courts from deciding the internal disputes of other countries,” said Dvoretzky, his attorney.

Dvoretzky notes that the current transitional government of Somalia has vouched for Samantar, saying that any actions taken by the former defense minister and prime minister would have been in his official capacity.

But Rutgers University law professor Beth Stephens, who supports the suit against Samantar, points out that the Somali officials who take Samantar’s side were his cronies in the old regime.

“Samantar is claiming that he is immune based on statements from people who were part of the abusive government along with him,” said Stephens, who serves on the center’s board.

“That really turns the concept of human rights protection on its head.”

Source: AOL News, February 19, 2010

Hadrawi Heritage Foundation Established

Hargeysa, Somaliland, February 20, 2010 (SL Times) – Hadrawi heritage foundation was established this week in Hargeysa. The inauguration of this foundation was announced in a gathering at Mansoor hotel in Hargeysa.
The event was organized by parliamentarian Muhammad Ali Hirsi and was attended by the chairmen of both houses of parliament, ministers, heads of political parties, intellectuals, businessmen and other distinguished guests.
Speaking about the significance of the gathering, Boobe Yusuf Duale said, first, the Hadrawi foundation will be a vehicle through which to preserve the Somali heritage which is in dire need of preservation; second, it sets an example that is worth emulating; third, it is a mechanism by which we can evaluate ourselves because it is the first time in which we acknowledge the important contribution of one of us while he is still alive.
Other speakers on this occasion included the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Abdirizaq Waberi, and the Chairman of Somaliland’s Upper House, Mr. Suleiman Mohamud Adan. The participants pledged a sum of $65,100 for the Hadrawi Heritage Foundation.

Source: Somaliland Times

Former Somali General, Accused of Rights Abuses, Lives in Comfort in D.C. Suburbs

 

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The Monster Next Door?

Accused War Criminals Make Home In U.S.
Former Somali General, Accused of Rights Abuses, Lives in Comfort in D.C. Suburbs

 

 

By Chris Cuomo and Eamon MCniff

Washington DC, February 20, 2010 – For many, mention of Somalia conjures images of a smoldering Blackhawk helicopter and AK-47-wielding pirates loaded onto an antique skiff.

What may not come to mind as quickly is the idea that the tipping point for Somalia’s downward spiral into an international no-go zone may have come decades before U.S. troops landed on a Somali beachfront in the mid 1990s. It may have come during the regime of military dictator Siyad Barre.

Barre and the men under him have been accused by the United Nations of committing horrific war crimes throughout the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s that the country is still reeling from.

Like citizens of other countries ravaged by brutal regimes, many refugees who survived Barre’s rule came to America to start over and live quietly among the population.

But shockingly, along with refugees and victims of war crimes, some alleged war criminals themselves have emigrated to the United States, escaping retribution for the monstrous acts they may have committed at home.

Men accused of human rights abuses from Somalia to Venezuela have laid their own claims to the American dream and now enjoy the same freedoms they’re accused of trying to take away from their own people. It may seem impossible, but one of these men — some allegedly responsible for mass murder, torture and the destruction of entire populations — might literally be living next door.

Bashe Yusuf was one of the lucky ones. He survived Barre’s notorious use of summary execution, rape, torture and imprisonment without trial to control what the dictator viewed as a dissident population in the northwest part of Somalia, today known as Somaliland.

Yusuf was a businessman in Hargeysa, the largest city in Somaliland. The area was particularly targeted by the regime for destruction. Along with his work in business, Yusuf said he was part of a group of community workers trying to clean up hospitals and obtain medical supplies.

Yusuf claims soldiers under the command of Barre’s minister of defense, Gen. Mohammed Samantar, arrested him after his group’s actions were deemed acts of political defiance.

“The government — you know, took it as we were a political organization trying to challenge their power and put us all in jail,” Yusuf said in a recent interview with ABC News.

‘The Worst Torture … Is Isolation’

Yusuf said he was subjected to beatings, electric shocks and waterboarding. Yet following what Yusuf said was months of torture, he was subjected to perhaps the worse form of punishment: six years of solitary confinement in a windowless cell.

“The worst torture that a person can take is isolation,” Yusuf said. “Because you think so much, and the things that you think is the worst things that happened to you in all your life. You never think about anything good. All your nightmares haunt your every minute, every second.”

Yusuf said he would provoke the guards to drag him outside the cell to beat him, just for the opportunity to have a moment outside.

“Just to see the sky, and the stars,” he said.

Yusuf managed to survive those six years, and suddenly, as quickly as he had been arrested and thrown into jail, he said, he was released and pardoned.

By the time the Barre government collapsed in 1991, throwing the country into deeper chaos, Yusuf was living in America as an American citizen working to forget his past, yet still haunted by nightmares of his ordeal.

“I wake up and sweat almost all night sometimes,” Yusuf said, “because I’m scared.”

In 1998, Yusuf’s nightmare came to life. Mohamed Samantar, Somalia’s prime minister by that point, escaped the collapse of the Barre regime and eventually made his way into the Unites States. Samantar settled in a split-level house in the Washington D.C. suburbs.

“I couldn’t believe it, that somebody who has done so much harm to so many people could be living in the United States,” Yusuf said.

Yusuf said Samantar was at the helm of the atrocities committed in Somaliland. Samantar’s attorney, however, denied those claims, saying that Samantar was received at the White House while in office and was granted asylum in the United States in 1997.

“He’s somebody who seems to be a wonderful family man,” said Julian Spirer, the attorney. “He’s very much the sort of person you would want to have as a neighbor.”

Subject to U.S. Law?

But Yusuf isn’t buying it. He, along with four other Somalis subjected to torture and human rights abuses, filed a civil suit with the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) against Samantar. The suit seeks to hold the former general responsible for alleged abuses as the head of the Somali regimes’ military.

“The issue here is whether Gen. Samantar is held to be subject to U.S. laws while he’s living in this country,” said Pamela Merchant, executive director of the CJA.

According the Merchant, Samantar is one of possibly 1,000 alleged war criminals living here in the United States. The CJA’s main mission is to hold the suspects responsible for the atrocities they are alleged to have committed in their foreign countries.

“I think the first time you realize that somebody’s living in your community that was responsible for serious human rights abuses, it can be shocking,” Merchant said.

According to his family, Samantar is gravely ill, but his legal team led by Spirer contends his innocence on the charges.

“There hasn’t been any proof yet. At this point these are strictly allegations,” Spirer said.

Spirer said Samantar most likely was aware of the atrocities being committed in Somaliland, but there was very little he could do about them.

“Did he know that these were going on?” Spirer asked. “I expect he did know they were going on. If the question is, could he do anything about them? There was probably a very limited amount that he could do.”

Merchant disagreed with that assumption.

“He was in charge of the military,” she said. “He was the person who could stop it.”

But no matter what Samantar’s involvement may have been, a hard truth looms: Legally, it may not matter.

“We have a policy in this country, it’s actually established in law, that our courts are not available to prosecute or hold liable foreign officials for acts done in their official capacity,” Spirer said.

In 2007 a district judge ruled that Samantar had immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and dismissed CJA’s lawsuit. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned that decision, ruling that the law only applies to foreign states, not individuals.

Samantar next appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which could hand down a ruling in the early summer. A major precedent could be set for trying officials — including our own officials — for war crimes.

For Yusuf, the case is about simple justice, and getting his day in court to confront a man he believes victimized so many.

“So many people died at the hands of this man,” Yusuf said. “I want justice. That is all.”

PHOTOS: The Monster Next Door?

Source: Abcnews, February 19, 2010

Somalilands Vice president Ahmed Yasin har opererats i Paris

Somaliland:s Vice president, Ahmed Yasin har opererats i veckan i Paris. Enligt regerings källor har Ahmed Yasin genom gått en operation i Paris. Det har florerat de senaste dagarna ett rykte om att Somaliland:s Vice president avled i Paris. Regeringen var snabb med att tillbakavisa ryktarna med ett pressmeddelande.  Han vårdas nu i ett sjukhus i Paris och  kan ta emot besök.

Somaliland1991, kommer naturligtvis att uppdatera er om senaste nytt om Vice presidentens hälsa.

Anna Linds Make har avlidit idag

12 februari 2010 – somaliland1991

Jag har precis fått nyheter om att Anna linds make, Bo Holmberg har avlidit. Jag kommer i håg när vi skulle motta ett pris för ca 10 år sedan, då jag var ordförande på en förening, som jobbade med ungdomar. Dagen  priset skulle delas till oss blev han sjuk, Holmber. Vi fick ta emot priset  istället av honom av   hans ställföreträdare. Jag kommer ihåg att det var en sol dag, vi åkte till Nyköping för att motta priset, det fanns många journalister på plats, från Eskilstuna Kuriren, Folket, Radio Södermanland. Jag kom ihåg att jag skrev en pressmeddelande som jag delade ut till journalisterna där på plats. När vi var på väg hem från pris ceremoni ringde SVT regionala (öst nytt för att intervjua oss).

Det var ett  bra minne.