updated 7:33 AM MST, Nov 17, 2017


Aid saves more lives than missiles

By Steve Chapman .Americans are a generous and selfless people, ever eager to improve the lives of foreigners cursed to live in less fortunate places. In fact, we are the nicest folks who would ever invade your country and leave it in ruins.

President Donald Trump’s heart was long thought to be two sizes too small. But he was suddenly so moved by the sight of Syrian children caught in a nerve gas attack that his nobler impulses overcame him.

These were victims he didn’t care enough about to admit to the United States as refugees. But he cared enough to blow up some stuff at a Syrian air base on their behalf.

The Syrian attack is the latest case of using the American military for humanitarian intervention — a term that has become a virtual oxymoron, like “Midwestern skiing” or “national unity.” Our presidents have a long practice of using soldiers and warplanes to heal conflict and a long record of opening new wounds.

  • Written by Abdullahi
  • Category: Opinion

Three reasons for optimism in Somalia

By ELeanor Seff

Herder Ahmed Haji waters his goats. AP Photo/Ben Curtis
In 2016, Somalia was declared the most fragile state in the world – worse off than Syria.

In February 2017, the United Nations issued an early famine warning for the country, which is suffering from drought, clan warfare, government corruption and attacks from the Islamic militant group, al-Shabab. Adding to the misery, President Trump has attempted to ban Somali refugees’ entry into the U.S.

Yet, as an academic who studies European and African state and nation building, I see three reasons for hope in Somalia.
1. Building stable institutions

  • Written by Abdullahi
  • Category: Opinion

First Person Seek­ing safety for Pitts­burgh’s Somali Bantu com­mu­nity

By Meg St-Esprit McKivigan

As I approach the door to the public housing apartment in Northview Heights, delicious cooking smells mingle with the laughter of small children and adults. Stepping into the home of a local Somali Bantu refugee family, I find myself, for all intents and purposes, transported halfway around the world to Somalia.

The stark concrete walls, ceilings, and linoleum floors of the apartment are covered with beautiful tapestries and warm rugs. Inscriptions in Arabic are written on some tapestries. A little girl runs up to greet me, her beautiful large dark eyes framed by a turquoise hijab. She speaks to me in English, and just as easily turns around to respond to her parents in the language of their country. The room is filled with the laughter and conversation of adults. American children and Somali children race around my feet playing childhood games.

Within a short span of time in the home, I realize that there are many commonalities between the Somali Bantu families and my own. Their love for their children, their hope to see them flourish and their desire to contribute in a meaningful way to American society echo the dreams of parents from all backgrounds.

In recent weeks, however, the Somali Bantu community has had a shadow over their faces and hearts. The murder of Ramadhan Mohammed, who was responsible for teaching the young children religious instruction, has shaken the community to its core. The children of the local Somali Bantu community are grieving the loss of their teacher, and many are unsure of how to process their feelings of fear and worry in this difficult time. Mr. Ramadhan, the father of one toddler with a second child on the way, had dreams for his family.

Local therapists are volunteering time to help the children process their grief, but worry is still evident on their beautiful young faces. City officials have ruled the beating of the taxi driver a homicide and robbery, unrelated to a hate crime at this point. Nevertheless, the community cannot help but feel unease and worry. For their whole lives, they have been on the move seeking security and safety.

There are over 500 Somali Bantu in Pittsburgh, concentrated in the North Side, Carrick and Lawrenceville. Fatuma Muya shares some of the community’s story as we spend time in her home. Like many of the adult refugees, she fled a vicious and bloody war in Somalia in 1991 when she was a small child. After spending 20 years in a refugee camp in Kenya, her family was granted a visa to come to Pittsburgh.

Ms. Muya wants the residents of Pittsburgh to know that members of her community did not come here for violence or terrorism — they came here fleeing extremists and seeking safety. Her face is emotional as she shares the hopes she has for her children: that they receive a good education, find stable work, know English and further themselves more than her generation has been able to. She says that recently, her children and others in the community have been fearful, asking to return to Somalia — a place they do not remember and many have never been to. The children do not understand that they are asking to return to a place that was not safe.

When Ms. Muya arrived here years ago, she says, America welcomed her with open arms, and she finally felt safe. In the last year, however, that has changed. Her children are bullied on the bus and told to go back to their country, even though many of them are American citizens. In stores, the group feels fearful amidst hateful comments and hostile stares. The community feels that the rise in this anti-Islamic/​anti-immigrant sentiment is correlated to the campaign rhetoric of President Donald Trump, but Ms. Muya feels it is also rooted in the unknown. People who do not know anyone in the Muslim community have not had a chance to have their fears and prejudices proved unfounded.

“I do not hate the people bullying us,” she says. “I love everyone and am open to everyone. They are our brothers and sisters in this country. We want them to know our story, how we got here and why we left our entire life behind. Maybe they fear us because they don’t know our journey or understand our culture, but we would like the city to get to know us.”

As Ms. Muya shares her heart, it is evident how much she cares for this city and for her Somali Bantu community as well. As a young woman she has survived many things to end up in this place, and her people just want a chance to realize their dreams and change their lives.

“We are here for peace, kindness and love, and want everyone to know that,” she says. “We want everyone to be able to get to know us and what we stand for.”

Meg St-Esprit McKivigan is part of a local group of neighbors that assists the Somali Bantu community in Pittsburgh (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). The Somali Bantu Community Association of Pittsburgh is on Facebook at @pittsburghsbcap.

  • Written by Abdullahi
  • Category: Opinion

Did Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand rescue Somali drought victims?

By Bashir Goth

Somali Diaspora remittance and modern mobile money transfer technology provided urgently needed relief aid tens of thousands of nomadic people

When disaster hits somewhere in the developing world, the conventional wisdom is to look to international

humanitarian organisations for assistance. But not anymore. Not if one takes the recent drought that

devastated Somalia as any indication. Instead of the humanitarian organisations, it was the Somali

  • Written by Abdullahi
  • Category: Opinion

After the Somali Massacre, Should We Sell More Arms to the Saudis?

By Ryan Goodman

This article first appeared on Just Security.

Earlier this month, a dramatic event occurred in the war in Yemen that could even shock those numbed by the continued pace of civilian casualties.

A military craft and helicopter reportedly engaged in an attack on a boat carrying over 140 Somali refugees killing upward of 42 people on board.

Despite initially conflicting accounts, the evidence points to the Saudi-led coalition.

On March 24, the U.N.  reported that according to survivors’ accounts, the vessel “was hit by shelling from a Coalition warship, without any warning, followed by shooting from an Apache helicopter overhead.”

What has not received adequate attention is the potential role of the United States.

03_30_Saudi_Somali_01 Yemeni police check the bodies of Somali refugees killed in an attack by a helicopter while traveling in a vessel off Yemen, at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah on March 17. Ryan Goodman writes that it will take time to sort out what exactly occurred, but this attack comes just as the White House is considering increasing its involvement in the Saudi-led operations against the Iranian-back Houthi militia in this Middle East nation. Abduljabbar Zeyad/reuters

It will take time to sort out the details of what exactly occurred, but this potentially brazen attack comes just as the White House is considering increasing its involvement in the Saudi-led operations against the Iranian-back Houthi militia in this Middle East nation.

So, how might the United States be implicated given that it didn’t come anywhere close to pulling the trigger?

The United States provides not only attack helicopters for the leading members of the coalition, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates. Official records reveal that the United States also provides parts and technical support that presumably attaches to the life of the helicopters.

Related: What Is Saudi Arabia Going to Do With Its Arms Buildup?

The Defense Department’s public notification of a $1.9 billion sale of multi-purpose helicopters used in maritime operations to Saudi Arabia in 2015, for example, includes a guarantee of “U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services.”

This is a boilerplate part of the agreements for U.S.-manufactured Apache and Blackhawk helicopters sold to the Saudis. (The same holds true for US-manufactured helicopters sent to the UAE.) The Department of Defense has also had a substantial military presence in Saudi Arabia to help them use the equipment.

Back in 1994, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel warned U.S. officials that they could be found guilty of aiding and abetting an offense by providing intelligence information to foreign governments who used that information to shoot down civil aircraft.

To illustrate the point, the Justice Department used the example of “the seller of gasoline who knew the buyer was using his product to make Molotov cocktails for terroristic use.”

The U.S. provision of attack helicopters is even more directly tied to the acts of the Saudis than the hypothetical seller of gasoline or a gun dealer. The United States is responsible for continued maintenance and support of the sold equipment, the Saudi coalition has repeatedly engaged in bad acts, and the United States retains the ability to suspend its logistical support.

In the case of these highly sophisticated helicopters, the U.S. support is an irreplaceable part of the equation.

“The Saudis have used weapons we have sold them in Yemen in ways that undermine our foreign policy objective of ending the war and easing humanitarian suffering there,” Tom Malinowski, who served as the top human rights official at the State Department until January 2017 told Just Security.

“There is a strong policy argument for suspending some sales, as President Obama did, until concerns about these kinds of incidents are resolved, and a possibility of legal jeopardy for U.S. officials if sales continue despite continuing evidence of violations of the laws of war.”

Even if we were not operating in the realm of criminal activity, under international law one State can be held legally responsible for assisting another in internationally wrongful acts. Those legal risks increase if the recipient is engaged in continuing and widespread violations.

As a policy matter, this is the reality facing the U.S. decision of how close to get to the Saudi-led operations in Yemen.

But how do we know the attack on the refugees was carried out by the Saudis or Saudi-led coalition? We don’t for sure. But the real question is how much the U.S. government knows.

Several eyewitness accounts describe the helicopter attack on the boat, including video of survivor statements after they came ashore. “The survivors said they came under attack from another boat at 9 p.m., the crew used lights and shouted to signal this is a civilian boat,” ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet told Reuters. “Nevertheless, it did not have any effect and a helicopter joined in the attack,” she said.

Only the coalition has military helicopters. Their opposition, the Houthis, don’t. Somalia has also fingered the coalition. The Somali foreign minister Abdisalam Omer said on state-run radio, “What happened there was a horrific and terrible problem inflicted on innocent Somali people. The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen is responsible for it.”

Somalia is itself a member of the coalition, and thus likely has more information than other governments on coalition activity.

The UAE, a more prominent member of the coalition who has been active in the area, in an unprecedented step called for international investigation into the incident. This may serve the UAE’s effort to cast themselves as the more responsible partner compared to the Saudis.

“An official source in the UAE Armed Forces,” according to Emirates state-run news, also “declared that the UAE Armed Forces have clearly recognized the non-military nature of the boat which was carrying a large number of civilians. The source said that in the light of this information, the UAE Armed Forces adhered to the strict engagement rules preventing them from targeting any non-military targets.”

The source added that there was a possibility the boat was targeted by Houthi forces.

The UAE statement implicitly contradicts the spokesperson for the coalition who denied that the coalition was even operating in the area. That denial is, in any case, hard to square with the coalition’s continuing and increased naval operations around the Hodeida port.

It would also not be the first time that categorical denials of wrongdoing by the Saudi-led coalition’s spokesperson have proven false.  

The Saudis have not supported an international inquiry into the matter. In the past, Riyadh has worked—with the acquiescence of the U.S.—to block efforts at the U.N. to form an international body tasked with investigating the entire conflict.

“As Yemen’s war enters its third year, the coalition has carried out what looks likely to be another war crime, this time with a helicopter attacking a boat filled with refugees and migrants fleeing conflict,” Kristine Beckerle, Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Just Security.

“Instead of suspending weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, given that U.S. arms have been repeatedly used in unlawful coalition attacks throughout this war, the US appears poised to authorize even more sales, once again risking complicity in future coalition attacks, and potentially exposing U.S. individuals to criminal liability for aiding and abetting coalition crimes.”

In December, the Obama administration suspended the sale of precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia after the Saudis used such U.S. manufactured weapons in the strike on a funeral home. A senior US official told reporters at the time that there was “absolutely no justification for the strike.”
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The question that the U.S. administration will face is whether the Saudis are responsible for this most recent incident and whether they can be trusted not to repeat this kind of attack if so.

Ryan Goodman is co-editor-in-chief of Just Security and the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz professor of law at New York University School of Law. He served as Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-16)

  • Written by Abdullahi
  • Category: Opinion