Connect to share and comment

A daily chronicle of a rapidly changing continent.

UN back in Mogadishu

The UN office for Somalia relocated to Mogadishu, the first time in 17 years a headquarters has opened in the capital.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon (C) walks with Somali prime minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali (R) after his arrival at Mogadishu's Adan Abulle airport in December, 2011. (MUSTAFA HAJI ABDINUR/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya —The UN office for Somalia relocated to Mogadishu today, marking the first time in 17 years that a headquarters has opened in the capital.

Augustine Mahiga, the UN's top diplomat for Somalia handed his credentials to President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed at the presidential palace saying, "I am here to bring the office of the UN for Somalia to Somalia." 

Until today Somalia was the only county of the 194 countries recognized by the UN that did not have a representative of the Secretary-General in the country, underscoring the country's long-standing insecurity and danger. Mahiga said he hoped the decision to move the UN Political Office for Somalia to Mogadishu would encourage other UN agencies to follow suit as well as international diplomatic missions.

More from GlobalPost: Ban Ki-moon makes surprise visit to Mogadishu

Somalia is due to write a new constitution, elect a new parliament and form a new government by August as part of a political deal agreed in September. Mahiga's role is to be midwife to the new dispensation, something he says is possible thanks to the relative security in the capital.

My presence is possible due to the security and the promise of a political solution. For the first time in 21 years we are close to ending the transition. Mogadishu is free now. 

But emphasizing the point that Somalia remains a country at war a suicide bomber in the city of Beledweyne blew himself up on Tuesday morning in an attack targeting Ethiopian soldiers.

More from GlobalPost: Inside Somalia: Order restored in Mogadishu


South Africa News: Pot bellies are symbols of prosperity

A boep or potbelly is seen as a symbol of "power and wealth."
South africa zuma belly 2012 1 13Enlarge
That's how they roll. Here, South Africa President Jacob Zuma (L) and South Africa's Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe (R) look at the centenary flame during celebrations of the centenary of Africa's oldest liberation movement, South Africa's ruling ANC, in Bloemfontein on Jan. 8, 2012. (Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — A columnist in South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper has written a great little piece about the importance, and meaning, of the African Big Man's big belly.

From the bribe-seeking police officer to the political or business heavyweight a large potbelly is far from a sign of laziness or weakness.

Instead, it is a proud symbol of success and power.

Read more on GlobalPost: Has freedom made South Africans fat?

In "That's how we roll" writer Milisuthando Bongela says Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of South African President Jacob Zuma, "has the biggest one."

The writer further explains:

"In this part of the world an umkhaba, boep or potbelly has long been associated with power and wealth. When I think of my father and other elders hailing from my hometown, an unspoken prerequisite for being respected by your peers, women and the youth was a large stomach.

"Similarly, in a ­traditional context, a woman's wellness was measured by her weight. A thin African woman was an unhappy woman. It may sound like something out of a fable, but it is certainly true of an older generation."

Read more on GlobalPost: Obesity: Not just a Thanksgiving problem (PHOTOS)

Looking around Nairobi the generational divide is clear, but not complete, as Bongela points out in an anecdote about an old school friend who set about growing a potbelly so that older colleagues would take him seriously.

"I cannot say that I favor the act of growing a belly as a sign of healthy economic ambition, but I do understand the trajectory on which the idea is based. It is the behavior of a generation that has won the freedom to decide how it uses the past in the present."


Nigeria: Boko Haram goes from bad to worse

Boko Haram is gaining traction in its attempts to raise its profile as a more powerful player in terrorist activities in Africa.
Nigerian President Goodluck JohnsonEnlarge
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (L) walks with the Emir of Kano Ado Bayero at the emir's palace on Jan. 22, 2012 in Kano during a one-day visit to the city that was rocked by multiple explosions and shootings two-days ago. President Goodluck Jonathan visited Nigeria's second largest city of Kano on Sunday after at least 166 people were killed in one of the deadliest waves of attacks in the mainly Muslim north. (Aminu Abuabakar/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Boko Haram is making a forceful claim to be considered among the big league of murderous terrorist outfits.

This weekend its bombers and gunmen killed somewhere between 160 and 200 people, scattering corpses across Kano, the capital of northern Nigeria and home of its most senior Muslim cleric the Emir.

Some want Boko Haram to be listed by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organization alongside the likes of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Shabaab and certainly its attack on the UN headquarters in Abuja last year made that more likely, as do the occasional threats to attack other Western targets.

More on GlobalPost: Boko Haram claims police headquarter bombings

But Boko Haram — despite the broadly anti-Western stance that its name suggests, 'Western eduction is forbidden' — is at core a movement of the regional underclass harnessed to radical Islam.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan might sound tough in treating Boko Haram as a terrorist group to be crushed but it's no solution, far harder is tackling the underlying causes of regional poverty, neglect and marginalization.


Somalia: Pirate movie selected for Sundance Film Festival

"Fishing Without Nets" tells the story of Somali pirates from their perspective.
Somalia pirate movie sundance film 2012 1 23Enlarge
Somali pirates get their own movie. Here, suspected Somali pirates that arrived on the coast of Dwarka by boat sit on the ground as they are guarded by marine reserve police in Jamnagar district in Gujarat state on June 26, 2011. Indian police detained 18 suspected Somali pirates. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Looks like Somali pirates even have their own movie now.

More on GlobalPost: Somali pirates attack EU warship Patino

Shot by a young American filmmaker the short movie "Fishing Without Nets" tells the story of Somali piracy from the pirates' perspective.


US drone kills Al Qaeda operative in Somalia

A missile strike from a US drone has killed British-raised Al Qaeda operative and Al Shabaab commander Bilal Berwaji in Somalia.
Reaper Aircraft1Enlarge
An MQ-9 Reaper flies by on a training mission Aug. 8, 2007 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada. The Reaper is the Air Force's first 'hunter-killer' unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and is designed to engage time-sensitive targets on the battlefield as well as provide intelligence and surveillance. The jet-fighter sized Reapers are 36 feet long with 66-foot wingspans and can fly for as long as 14 hours fully loaded with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles. They can fly twice as fast and high as the smaller MQ-1 Predators reaching speeds of 300 mph at an altitude of up to 50,000 feet. The aircraft are flown by a pilot and a sensor operator from ground control stations. (Ethan Miller/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Three missiles fired from a US drone killed Bilal Berwaji, a British-raised Al Qaeda agent and Al Shabaab commander, according to a statement from Somalia's Islamist militants.

Announcing the "martyrdom" of Berwaji, also known as Abu Hafsa, on Sunday morning the Shabaab said:

“Throughout his stay in Somalia, Abu Hafsa participated in most of the
major battles and was known for his gallantry and steadfastness in the
face of the crusaders and their apostate allies. Marching forth along
the path of trials and tribulation, our brother’s devotion to Jihad
was unmatched and his resolve unshakable.”

The statement praised Berwaji’s “burning passion for Martyrdom in the cause of Allah.”

More from GlobalPost: Somali al Shabaab rebels join Twitter

An official in Washington confirmed to the Associated Press that the drone strike had been ordered by the US.

Britain denied reports that Berwaji, 27, was a British citizen but The Guardian newspaper reported that his citizenship had only been revoked a year ago. The Shabaab said that Berwaji was born in Lebanon, raised in West London and went to Somalia in 2006.

He was a close associate of Fazul Abdullah Mohamed, mastermind of the 1998 US embassy bombing in Nairobi, who was killed in a shootout in Mogadishu in June.

Berwaji's death is a blow to the Shabaab which is facing offensives on at least three fronts against Kenya in the south, Ethiopia in the west and a combined force of African Union peacekeepers and government soldiers in the capital. The US only began using drones in Somalia in June and is thought to be launching some of the aircraft from a new base in southern Ethiopia.

More from GlobalPost: Mogadishu attempts to evict Al Shabaab


Somalia News: American journalist kidnapped in Galkayo

Galkayo in northern Somalia is becoming the country's new Kidnap Capital.
Somalia american journalist kidnapped 2012 1 23Enlarge
An American journalist was kidnapped in Galkayo, Somalia. Here, armed men providing security to the local Galmadug administration official hold their high caliber weapons as they stand in a field in the plains near the central Somali town of Galkayo on Aug. 18, 2010. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Somalia is a largely lawless and unusually dangerous place for foreigners.

More on GlobalPost: Somalia's Mogadishu attempts to evict Al Shabaab

On Saturday gunmen seized an American journalist in the northern town of Galkayo which is fast-becoming the country's 'Kidnap Capital.'

US officials have not confirmed the identity of the man who was seized by gunmen close to Galkayo airport on Saturday.

More on GlobalPost: Report: 66 journalists killed worldwide in 2011

Local reports say he is a journalist with dual American and German citizenship and that he was initially taken to the town of Hobyo and then onto Haradheere, both notorious pirate hangouts.

Armed gangs, who are increasingly indistinguishable from pirates, are believed to be holding for ransom an American woman and Danish man, both of whom were abducted in Galkayo in October while working for a demining group, as well as two female Spanish aid workers kidnapped in north-east Kenya and later sold onto pirates.

More on GlobalPost: Royal Navy captures Somali pirates


Madagascar News: Exiled former president sent back to South Africa

Marc Ravalomanana's attempt to return to Madagascar have been thwarted for the second time.
Madagascar president marc ravalomanana returns 2012 1 23Enlarge
Police cordons off a crowd of people gathered outside the airport of Antananarivo waiting for the reported arrival of Madagascar's ousted leader Marc Ravalomanana on Jan. 21, 2012. (Gregoire Pourtier/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — The hopes of Madagascar's ousted former President Marc Ravalomanana to return triumphantly to home soil from South African exile were dashed — again — at the weekend.

Just an hour before his plane was due to land at the airport in the capital Antananarivo it was turned around due, it seems, to "security concerns" at the airport where a large crowd of his supporters had gathered and were being kept at bay by riot police.

More on GlobalPost: Marc Ravalomanana, former president, denied entry

On board the flight was Niren Tolsi, a journalist for South Africa's weekly Mail & Guardian newspaper.

Below are parts of his report he wrote about "the theater of the absurd" on board:

"At around noon, Ravalomanana was informed by the airline's security chief, who was on board the flight and identified only as Heinrich, that the plane had turned around and was now heading back to Johannesburg. But information was scarce — unlike the anger and disappointment welling up inside Ravalomanana and his entourage, or the general chaos in midair.

"Ravalomanana's attempt to set foot on Malagasy soil was thwarted an hour before it was due to happen. According to the airline's security chief, the pilot had been informed by ground control at Ivato International Airport that it had been closed due to 'security concerns.'

"News filtering through suggested that large crowds — estimated between 20,000 and 30,000 — had gathered at Ivato in expectation of Ravalomanana. No one would say who had given the order to close the airport down, but Ravalomanana's aides suggested that it must have been an executive order from someone in the government of Andry Rajoelina (who had deposed Ravalomanana's democratically elected government in a 2009 coup)."

This is the second time that Ravalomanana's attempts to go home have been thwarted by his ouster and opponent Rajoelina.

Now it is being reported that Rajoelina has had a change of heart, saying he'll even send a private plane to collect the former president ... and then have him arrested on arrival.

More on GlobalPost: Madagascar's former president plans return, risks arrest


West Africa: Mali claims victory in desert fight

Mali's military claim victory over Tuareg militants of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.
West africa tuareg rebels mali 2012 1 20Enlarge
Unidentified representatives of Tuareg who returned to Mali after fighting in the Libyan army meet Mali's President at the presidential palace in Bamako on Dec. 3, 2011. (Habib Kouyate/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — As the dust settles on what looked awfully like just the opening salvo in a new rebellion Mali's military has claimed victory and the killing of 45 Tuareg fighters.

In response a rebel spokesman said that his forces had killed "30-40" government soldiers.

More on GlobalPost: Libya News: Tuaregs resurgent after Gaddafi

Claims can't be verified and need to be taken with healthy dose of salt as the fighting happened in a very remote part of the country and at one point both the rebels and the army assured reporters that they were each in control of one town.

The Tuareg rebels, calling themselves the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, formed last year.

More on GlobalPost: Tuaregs: 5 Things You Need to Know

They are believed to have attracted battle-hardened recruits and weaponry from Libya where thousands of Tuaregs fought alongside Colonel Gaddafi.

Clearly the ripple effects of the Libyan strongman's demise are going to be felt for some time.


Sudan: Cattle raiding has affected 120,000, UN says

An increasing number of victims are in need of help after a spate of violent cattle raiding attacks in Jonglei, a remote state in South Sudan.
Koko Alan, a Murle victim of Lou-Nuer cattle raidingEnlarge
Koko Alan, left, ruined after losing 500 cows, stands with other villagers of South Sudan's troubled Jonglei state on Jan. 12, 2012 in Pibor. An estimated 60,000 people have been affected by recent fighting in the worst outbreak of violence since South Sudan gained independence in July 2011. An 8,000-strong militia army from the Lou-Nuer tribe recently marched on Pibor, home to the rival Murle people, whom they blame for abductions and cattle raiding. (Hannah McNeish/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — A fortnight ago the UN said it was 60,000, now it is 120,000 and may well rise to 180,000 people who need help in the wake of a spate of violent cattle raiding attacks in Jonglei, a remote state in South Sudan.

More from GlobalPost: South Sudan: 51 killed in latest attacks in Jonglei

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lisa Grande said: 

"The violence in Jonglei hasn't stopped... Only two weeks ago we launched a massive emergency operation to help 60,000 people. As a result of recent attacks, we now estimate that double that number will need help."

More from GlobalPost: South Sudan: Jonglei violence displaces "at least 20,000"

Speaking to reporters in the capital Juba on Friday, Grande added that if the tit-for-tat raids and killings continues the number will rise still further.

The worst attack so far happened in and around the town of Pibor, where as many as 8,000 Lou-Nuer warriors descended on the Murle inhabitants killing an unknown number over New Year. One local official has said 3,000 died; the government doesn't know and the UN hasn't yet counted but variously says "dozens" or "hundreds" were killed.

More from GlobalPost: Deadly cattle raids funded from US?

The government says it plans to disarm tribal fighters but this has never worked in the past and as the attacks continue and spread they threaten to make some parts of the world's newest nation ungovernable.


Zimbabwe: Inquest into Solomon Mujuru's death begins

Mujuru's death investigation continues under suspicions of foul play.
Mujuru wife 2012 jan 18Enlarge
Zimbabwe Vice President Joice Mujuru (C) leaves the court on Jan. 16, 2012 at the end of first day of the inquest into the death of her husband, former army chief Solomon Mujuru, who was killed Aug. 2011 in a mysterious inferno at his farmhouse in Beatrice, south of Harare. His death deepened the divide within Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, where the general's wife leads a more moderate faction of ZANU-PF. (Jekesia Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — A public inquest into the mysterious death of Solomon Mujuru, a retired general, independence hero and husband of vice-president Joice Mujuru is underway at Harare. 

More from GlobalPost: Zimbabwe: Death of Gen Solomon Mujuru sets off political turmoil