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The African battle space is not the Middle East [Commentary]



Ivor Ichikowitz founder and chairman of Paramount Group, an African-based global defense and aerospace company.

When Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, speculation as to what this meant for African security was rife. The uncertainty persists among policymakers and analysts alike. But the indicators are already there, if anyone cares to look.

President Trump announced to the U.N. General Assembly that he had “changed the rules of engagement in our fight against the Taliban and other terrorist groups.” In making such a statement, the new playbook for American counterterrorism became open to rule changes. An October firefight in Niger between militants affiliated with the Islamic State group and forces from the U.S. and Niger showed that American Green Berets were already on the ground in Africa, fighting an underreported war against terrorists. The collapse of ISIS in the Middle East and the end of large-scale military operations in Iraq and — in the Near East — Afghanistan has resulted in a trickle of military refocus to Africa. Reports of ISIS-linked individuals spreading throughout Africa, searching for ties and funding, combined with the recent reports of a Niger firefight between Green Berets and violent extremists are proof enough that Africa is not only the next battle space for the United States, but that it has already begun.

The Islamic State group’s second home

The threat of radical militant groups in Africa has grown considerably in recent years. The persistence of Boko Haram, AQIM and ISIS-linked groups ranges virtually the entire continent. With the exception of southern Africa, there is no single region unaffected by significant terrorist threats, both active and emerging. Many African police services have struggled to combat regular sources of crime, let alone radical extremism. Even in South Africa, a secure hegemony — arguably — the police minister requested military assistance to combat gangs in Cape Town. What hope then of regular security forces countering violent terrorism?

American counterterrorism policy under U.S. President Barack Obama tended to possess an expeditionary attitude about it. Limited raids supplemented by widespread use of drone strikes certainly contributed to the body count but did little to curtail the expansion of terrorism groups. Although killing enemy terrorists may seem like a productive use of American military force and taxpayer dollars, many African extremism hubs not only remain active locally but actively seek international terrorism links through financing, training and the creation of global networks that threaten U.S. borders. In the fight against terrorism, drone warfare provided the period at the end of a sentence that should be filled in by highly skilled, highly motivated troops on the ground.

In this insecure landscape, American counterterrorism strategy could leverage a Trump administration eager to get stuck into counterterrorism to expand its operations in Africa. This could mean offering preemptive counterterrorism services to willing partner nations. Put in a nutshell, the United States has a chance to stop violent extremism in Africa from metastasizing into a larger, international threat.

This is not to say American forces ought to run roughshod over existing African regional mechanisms dealing with the rise of violent extremism. Rather, there could and perhaps should be a move toward carving out a niche for American military power alongside its regional partners. This already exists in West and Central Africa.

African regional organizations conduct their own intelligence and counterterrorism operations much the same as the United States. The average U.S. Africa Command communications officer would likely even point to several examples of cross-organizational cooperation. But with the gloves off, as it were, this should move beyond a convenient public relations bullet point and manifest into a truly homogeneous military relationship. Much like how the British managed to work alongside American forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom independently but for a common strategic good, this formalized relationship is a valuable example to emulate with African counterparts, from presidents down to the ordinary rifleman.

African problems are not Middle Eastern problems

Critics of American military power in Africa often caution of the shadow war being conducted on the continent. Hyperbole-laden allusions to secret assassination missions and remote operations that Americans do not know about is an unfair assessment of American operations in Africa. Often, American criticism of African operations stem from an inherent understanding of just what the African battle space is. This would explain to a large degree the constant comparison of African violent extremism to Middle Eastern counterparts. This is a poor analysis of the strategic situation, and it manifests in a harsh examination of American forces involved therein.

AFRICOM conducts scores of training exercises with African counterparts at all levels. From senior staff officers to the average rifleman, AFRICOM has utilized American troops in training and equipping local African forces for a tough fight. Although special forces operations in Africa are largely kept a secret, it would be fair to presume that American elite troops have been busy in East Africa and, as the Niger ambush illustrated, further afield. More to the contradiction of those comparing AFRICOM’s operations to a shadow war, the American presence in Africa, covert and public, are executed with the permission of their host nations. Unlike the Middle East, where military forces were embroiled in unilateral, coalition-based counterinsurgencies spanning entire countries, African operations are small, surgical operations, either combat or humanitarian in nature, but almost exclusively short-lived. The Middle Eastern counterinsurgency approach of clear, hold, build has given way in Africa to a bilateral series of missions, training, partnerships and, in certain cases, funding all aimed at clearing the roots of violent extremism in the continent before ISIS can truly grab hold.

Africa’s burden to bear

Where does this leave African organizations? Far from being powerless, African peace-enforcement operations have highlighted a remarkable ability by local forces to affect permanent victories against belligerent forces. The successes of the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, in isolating and starving al-Shabab in Somalia, for example, is aided in turn by the startlingly swift defeat of M23 rebels at the hands of a multinational African Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2013. Media criticism of American shadow wars heavily implies a worsening of the conflict in which U.S. forces are involved. Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Washington Post wrote:

[T]he risks are clear. The United States will be drawn ever more deeply into local and regional conflicts. The reaction will fuel terrorist recruitment. The money flowing in would likely feed corruption, as it has in the Middle East. Strengthened military and security forces can overwhelm vulnerable civilian governments.

Yet, AMISOM; the Force Intervention Brigade’s war against M23; and indeed even the Green Berets cooperating with Nigerien forces — casualties included — have shown precisely the opposite to be true. Where America partners with African forces or operates with their blessings, results are tangible. Critics applying a Middle Eastern blueprint upon Africa as an excuse for misunderstanding the continent’s own unique conflict matrix is lazy. And likewise, predicting doom for American operations therein is equally flawed.

US-African solutions to global problems

The challenges facing American and African war fighters can be boiled down to three essential requirements:

  • The mastery of Africa’s vast and varied physical and human geography.
  • The equipping and funding of local forces to meet their foes.
  • The training to execute the tasks required of them.

In all three aspects, American forces are already invo

ved in Africa, aiding willing nations both in terms of training and mentorship, and they are on the ground, patrolling side-by-side to provide a security blanket in historically insecure regions.

AMISCOM and the Force Intervention Brigade have already shown just how much progress can be made against violent extremists groups with minimal funding and external support. Thus, African organizations and their American counterparts would be well-suited to forge new partnerships in countering the next wave of ISIS-influenced violent groups. The withdrawal of American funds from African peacekeeping operations has been flagged as a crisis by organizations and think tanks directly affected by the decrease, but this could actually provide a valuable opportunity for revolutionary thinking in the creation of new, more effective security partnerships. American military involvement in Africa should not be explained as a shadow war-type of bogeyman, but rather as an ongoing, committed counterterrorism partner that can prove to be the key to unlocking a true barrier to the spread of ISIS-inspired terrorist groups.

Ivor Ichikowitz is the founder and chairman of Paramount Group, an African-based global defense and aerospace company.

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Somalia’s Debt of $5 Billion: Lack of Political Honesty & International Coordination? A Barrier to Progress



Abdihafid Mahamud Jama

The international attention and support for Somalia’s recovery has been instrumental, strategically necessary and critical since the first Somali London Conference 2012. The recent Mogadishu International Conference on Somalia this week is a testament to this relentless political and economic capital support for Somalia’s recovery. The fact that such international conference for Somalia was convened in Somalia’s capital city speaks volumes of the combined progress that is being made on many fronts.

Within a space of a week the international community pledged further $500 million support package for Somalia’s ongoing development and recovery.

This renewed confidence and continued support from the international community is much needed and critical for international peace and security.

The Somali populations and its leaders are, I am sure, grateful for the unwavering commitment and desire to see Somalia within the fold of functioning and forward looking global community of nations.

While there has been much necessary progress on the ground spearheaded by the international community and Somalia’s leaders, there is one critical area of focus that needs further evaluation and international action. This month, the Somali Prime Minister HE Hassan Ali Kheyre alluded to Somalia’s international debts of $5 Billion as an impediment for continued progress if Somalia does not fulfil its international obligation to its historical creditors.

Although the Prime Minister is right and responsible in his commitment to find solutions for Somalia’s debts, I question the coordination, transparency, effectiveness of the international community and Somalia’s leaders to find a durable solution to Somalia’s debt, which were historical in nature, complex and misplaced by Somalia’s previous Socialist dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s through white elephant projects.

I recognise the international community has made inroads and at the recent UK Government sponsored London Somali Conference May 2017 where an agreement was reached to help Somalia clear its debts to international institutions within the context of the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Debt Relieve Initiative, a multiyear processes intended for debt repayment. During the conference where I was present Somalia’s President HE Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo stressed the requirement for arrears clearance and normalisation of relations with international institutions.

While I respect and recognise the diplomatic dance around Somalia’s debts, it is my view Somalia’s debts and the response of the international community and financial institutions lack political honesty and a credible framework for finding a durable and urgent solutions to this subject matter. Somalia is not paying towards these debts, so there is no cost to their budget in debt payments. But there is a significant opportunity cost in that the debts on Somalia’s books means Somalia is missing out on significant resources that could be saving lives. The way the debt is being treated by international donors means it is potentially a barrier to accessing new grants and loans from the World Bank, African Development Bank and new loans from various institutions, including the IMF and Arab Monetary Fund.

Somalia, among the poorest countries in the world, is one of three remaining countries that are eligible for comprehensive debt relief under the HIPC Initiative (the other two are Sudan and Eritrea).

Somalia is estimated to have over $5 billion in external debt, with Paris Club creditors representing the largest single bloc (roughly $2.5 billion), followed by non-Paris Club bilateral creditors (roughly $1.5 billion) and multilateral creditors (roughly $1.5 billion). Under the HIPC Initiative and the complementary Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, virtually all of Somalia’s multilateral debt and the vast majority of its bilateral debt would be eliminated.

It is important to note that none of this debt is currently being serviced, and no creditor actually expects to be paid. While Somalia’s government should be applauded for its ambition and recognition of the importance of normalising relations with international financial institutions and the broader financial community through the debt relief process, such task is monumental commitment that is a barrier to progress, misplaced commitment as well as prioritisation from the international community.

Despite having no expectation that Somalia can pay the debt, creditors have not cancelled it (though they probably have written it off internally). They will only consider doing so through a convoluted and technical process called the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, completion of which also gives access to debt relief known as the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative.

To put it in perspective, Somalia’s combined yearly budget for all the Federal regions included is roughly the size of Manchester United Football Club annual budget of $500million.

To have $5 Billion of international debt hanging over Somalia’s recovery and development short changes all the international community’s effort, commitments and progress that has already been made in recent years. It is time for meaningful international negotiation; political honesty and implementation to give Somalia a clean bill of financial health by cancelling all its debts under the framework of Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. Somalia’s leaders should also refrain from diplomatic dance on a critical subject that hampers Somalia’s short term and long term recovery and prospects. The table below illustrate the list of Somalia’s external international debt totalling $5 Billion:

Table: Somalia’s International Creditors

Creditor Debt claimed as of end-2016 (in nominal terms)
Multilateral $1,443 million
World Bank $484 million
IMF $319 million
Arab Monetary Fund $280 million
Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development $150 million
AfDB $133 million
OPEC Fund for International Development $35 million
International Fund for Agricultural Development $29 million
Islamic Development Bank $13 million
Paris Club $2,392 million
United States $993 million
Italy $582 million
France $425 million
Russia $145 million
Japan $117 million
United Kingdom $81 million
Spain $39 million
Netherlands $6 million
Denmark $2 million
Norway $2 million
Non-Paris Club $1,298 million
United Arab Emirates $832 million
Kuwait Fund and Central Bank $271 million
Saudi Arabia $108 million
Iraq $66 million
Bulgaria $9 million
Libya $5 million
Romania $3 million
Algeria $2 million
Serbia $2 million

Total $5.1 billion

By AbdiAbdihafid Mahamud Jama
London England
E-mail address [email protected]

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How Federalism Can Work in Somalia



Yusuf M. Hassan is a Somali-American journalist, political and media analyst, and communications adviser.

To restore unity, Somali federal and state leaders need to cooperate and work together for the interest of the country as a whole.

The October 14 bombing that killed over 400 people, mostly civilians, near Mogadishu’s busy Zoppe Square was the single worst attack in East Africa since the armed insurgency erupted in Somalia in 2006. The harrowing attack became another agonizing testament to the country’s prolonged and ruthless conflict, the unresolved security vulnerabilities and the weak institutions of the Federal Government of Somalia. It was, also, a passing moment of national unity, as Somalis from all regions and walks of life rushed to aid recovering victims. That momentum of solidarity, however, was short-lived. Within days, infighting within government institutions was underway — business as usual.

In a country where 70% of the population is under 35, entire generations of Somalis have become accustomed to a nation without a government. When the state collapsed in 1991, two decades of lawlessness and conflict followed. Violence became commonplace, social relations were torn and the economy foundered. In 2012, at the end of a 12-year political process, the federal government was formed following the first election held in Somalia since 1969.

By 2017, the country’s first-ever bicameral federal parliament was formed. Then, at parliament’s first joint session in Mogadishu in February, Somali legislators elected a former prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmajo, as the new president of Somalia.

It was the culmination of a long, arduous procedure. Observers noted that the electoral process was flawed, characterized by corruption allegations and vote buying. However, after Mohamed was declared victor, the widespread jubilation in Mogadishu and other cities surprised many. It was significantly indicative of the electoral outcome’s legitimacy and popular support and of the people’s aspirations for a better future under what many hoped to be a patriotic national leadership.


The new government came to power with a strong mandate to lead; the nation had suffered for far too long, and it was time for change. The incoming government recognized the monumental task that lay ahead: restoring peace and national cohesion in Somalia, after decades of fragmentation. Still, the new government’s pronounced vision decidedly focused on fighting terrorism, corruption and poverty, yet it was not clear how that was to be done.

Like its predecessors, however, the government led by President Mohamed and the political newcomer, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire, is struggling to regularly pay salaries, adequately manage the federal structure or contain disputes among the political class. This has ensured that the government remains distracted from working on federalization, economic recovery or the much-needed security and justice reforms.

Even more troubling, the new administration seems to have followed the path of its predecessor, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. It wasted time and resources attempting to shape the state formation process through political manipulation and direct interference. In Jubaland, for example, such interference led to armed clashes in Kismayo in June 2013 and, in Galmudug, to the election of Abdikarim Hussein Guled, then-President Mohamud’s close associate.

The Khaire administration should learn from mistakes of its former government. The outcome could be more political tensions exacerbating fragile conditions and derailing the country’s hard-earned political transition. To maintain public support, the administration will depend on whether or not the government enacts sound policies and corrective action without which it remains a weak, self-defeating and underperforming institution, dashing public hopes after election euphoria.


For generations, world and regional powers have vied for power and influence in Somalia due to the country’s strategic location connecting the Indian Ocean region, the Middle East and East Africa. With untapped natural resources, the country is a key regional security pillar and has great potential for investment and economic development.

In June 2017, when the Gulf crisis pitted a Saudi and UAE-led coalition against the state of Qatar, Somalia’s federal government announced its neutral position and called for regional dialogue to resolve the diplomatic crisis. The decision provoked regional states to contradict the federal government’s official position. State leaders argued they had a right to be consulted on major national decisions, and that the federal government violated the draft constitution by alienating regional voices. Needless to say, the regional states’ unilateral decisions bewildered the Somali public.

For the Somali government, the Gulf crisis was an opportunity to articulate its federalism strategy and foreign policy priorities. Such a strategy could help consolidate its domestic authority while augmenting its international stature. Instead, when Mogadishu unilaterally declared its position, it unwittingly instigated a domestic political row. Leading a fragmented and war-ravaged nation, the Somali government’s primary goal should be to build consensus around a national interest and recognition that such a feat requires the cooperation and input of the regional states.


Federal institutions and the regions have not agreed on a model to complete the federal system. The draft constitution is notorious for its vague stipulations, and both the federal government and the regions have misused the constitution to justify policies or frustrate the federalization process.

The constitutional review process has faced delays and is often associated with committees that work in secrecy. State governments have demanded a transparent constitutional process, which builds political trust and is vital to a fragile state rebuilding its democratic foundations. Particularly, roles and responsibilities between the Somali government, parliament and state governments in political negotiations remain undefined, often shrouded in controversy or locked in dispute. For example, will the prime minister and the state presidents negotiate directly, or will federal and state parliament subcommittees have an active role in federal-state negotiations?

Political friction between Mogadishu and the regions continues to be high, sabotaging the federalization process. Most recently, on October 10, five regional presidents issued a 16-point communiqué in Kismayo. Without any federal officials present, it was clear that the meeting was an effort to isolate the federal government. In late October 2017, President Mohamed invited the state presidents to Mogadishu for a week of talks. In theory, the two sides seem to have agreed on key principles. However, without a harmonized federal arrangement and an agreed model for power and resource sharing, similar deadlock cannot be prevented in the near future.


Article 54 of the draft constitution grants the federal government power in matters of foreign affairs, national defense, citizenship and immigration, and monetary policy. But the constitution envisions a form of cooperative federalism (as opposed to dual federalism) where power and institutional balance is harmonized between the center and the periphery. Such a system largely relies on consensus-building leaders at all levels of government.

The Somali government’s unilateral decision and lack of consultation with the states undermines that spirit of cooperation. The constitutional requirement of federal-state consultations forms the basis for preventing a return to the tyranny of centralized rule, while an incomplete federalization process, unaddressed community reconciliation and lagging security and political integration define the constitution’s realpolitik considerations.

Conversely, the regions’ contradicting the federal government’s Gulf crisis policy undermines national unity and reconciliation efforts. There are other political and institutional avenues whereby the states could express their dissenting voices, including through a federal parliament or judicial process.


Somalia’s complex security challenges cannot be addressed solely through police action and military offensives. The Somali government needs security cooperation and coordination with state governments, while ensuring tangible commitment to building the foundations of security: community reconciliation, equality under law and institutional and socioeconomic balance.

Facing the burden of geopolitics, the government’s decision to stay neutral in an international dispute was a positive move. But Somalia should benefit from its foreign policy decisions: think trade deals, investment and economic incentives. The government must balance between its foreign policy interests and local concerns. The practice of consultations and consensus building prior to making decisions affecting specific regional states’ economic interests will create trust and prevent future political crises.

Finally, there must be genuine political will — especially among the federal and state leaders — to cooperate and work together for the interest of the Somali nation. This is, perhaps, the most difficult task. It is also the only way Somalia can restore unity, confront security vulnerabilities and bolster national governance.

This article was previously published on The Fair Observer

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UN Monitoring Group Report: Somalia’s Political Spoilers, Senator Omar Abdirashid Sharmaake



Abdihafid Mahamud Jama

As the recent United Nations Monitoring Group published its yearly comprehensive report on Somalia, the assessment made within the report and its overall findings is helpful, Ford – ward looking and provides a framework which to build on for Somalia’s on- going recovery. This report is to be welcomed and applauded for its widespread investigative sources and content, which should form part of Somalia’s, recovery, peace and stability.

Having read through the report it is still unfortunate there are a number of individuals with influence that receive tribal militia protection who are sighted by the UNMG as individuals who are an obstacle to peace and stability in Somalia.
As a social activist and a Broadcaster in the diaspora who yearns for progress and stability in Somalia, I would like to formally request the UN Monitoring Group to turn their attention to Somalia’s former Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmake and his cohorts for promoting instability and chaos in Somalia’s affairs (regional states). The Federal Government structure is still fragile and the last thing Somalia needs are more political spoilers who seem to be advancing the interest of other nations or interest groups hell bent on fragmenting the Federal unity of Somalia in pursuit of their own foreign policy goals. This is to be discouraged as the international community has invested heavily politically and economically in Somalia. To have political spoilers who enjoy immunity as parliamentarians is counterproductive to peace and stability.

The Somali money transfer companies and other companies still remain a key role in delivering economic growth and assisting humanitarian support. They continue to remain the live line for the Somali economy and the ability of the Somali diaspora to send much needed financial support for their families in Somalia. Having faced many challenges abroad through bank account closures, they are still resilient and are by majority is still effective means of sustaining the lives of millions of Somali citizens, home and abroad.

However, there are also a number of major Somali Money Transfer companies and other business entities who pay “extortionate form of taxation” to Alshabaab, which is wholly unacceptable and counterproductive to fighting terrorism. I would like to also bring this issue to the UN Monitoring Group for their consideration in the next reporting from Somalia. This is an open secret that needs urgent attention and action from the international community and Somali government. If we are all honest and serious about preventing terrorism financing and violent extremism together, we ought to turn our attention to these substantial issues, which is a hindrance to Somalia’s security and stability. To put it simply, the recent horrific double terrorism attack in Mogadishu Zoope and Nasa Hablood Hotel where we have lost over 500 innocent citizens would not have taken place without the availability of solid financial support for Alshabaab. We are already counting the cost and we should not continue to tolerate this anymore.

Somalia Former Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke Nairobi April 23, 2015.

As the UN Monitoring Group noted “finally, the overall magnitude of illicit exports of charcoal from southern Somalia remains similar to previous levels. In contrast to much of 2015 and 2016, when Al-Shabaab intermittently banned the charcoal trade in areas under its control, the group has resumed systematic taxation of charcoal at checkpoints between stockpiles and the ports at Buur Gaabo and Kismayo. A conservative estimate suggests that Al-Shabaab receives at least $10 million each year from the illicit charcoal trade. Dubai, United Arab Emirates, continues to be the primary export destination as well as a hub for criminal networks that violate the charcoal ban with near impunity. With the notable exception of Kuwait, implementation of the charcoal ban has been poor, particularly by the Interim Jubba Administration and the African Union Mission in Somalia, and the United Arab Emirates among importing countries. A lack of commitment with regard to the consistent implementation of sanctions, and in some cases a conspicuously deliberate failure to comply with the charcoal ban, facilitates Al-Shabaab financing and undermines counter-terrorism efforts in Somalia“ page 7 UNMG Report

The above information is also a grim reading as the UNMG report refers to the United Arab Emirates as a country turning a blind eye to charcoals sales by Alshabaab entering their country, indirectly aiding or abating the profits of Alshabaab. Under this context, it is essential for the UNMG to start focusing on individuals such as Omar Abdirashid Sharmake and nations without fear or favour in the next UNMG formal report to the Security Council. It is my view that without concrete consistent approach to Somalia by the international community, Somalia’s recovery will be hampered and slow. This is not in the best interest of Somalia and the international community. Therefore, the UNMG should consider bolder sanctions/actions and recommendation to discourage future political spoilers. Somalia is recovering and a fragile state, and should not be utilised for geo-politics purposes. More than ever, it needs political, economic, and legal and security protection from the United Nations Security Council in order to see through the reforms needed to rekindle the Somali nation again. To do otherwise, I fear history will determine the International Community were also part and parcel of Somalia’s problems.

By Abdihafid Mahamud Jama
London England
Email [email protected]

United Nations Monitoring Group Report: Somalia

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