As one Somali journalist is buried, a top poet and comedian is slain

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — They buried Somali radio journalist Mohamed Mohamud Turyare on Monday, a week after he was killed by unknown gunmen near a mosque in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. On Monday night, killers struck again, this time shooting dead one of Somalia's famous poets and radio comedians, Warsame Shire Awale, near his Mogadishu home.

Awale, in his 60s, was the 18th Somalia media figure killed this year. Turyare, 22, of the Shabelle Media Network, died days before TV journalist, Ahmed Farah Sakin, 25, was shot dead by unknown assailants in northern Somalia.

Dozens more journalists and media personalities have been injured in the deadliest year on record for Somali journalists. In 2009, the next deadliest year, nine were killed.

“In Mogadishu, the atmosphere is very fearful and people wonder how they can continue doing their jobs. Many have stopped. They're afraid of being killed,” said Rashid Abdullahi Haydar of the National Union of Somali Journalists, in a phone interview. Haydar was among the hundreds of mourners who laid Turyare to rest at the city's Al Jazeera cemetery Monday.

“Families are afraid too. They are saying, 'Please stop this [journalism] because you have no rights and no protection.' It's very precarious working conditions we have right now.”

As Somalia makes a delicate political transition, a new president has been elected and Mogadishu is more peaceful and stable than it has been in decades. Yet the rash of assassinations of Somali journalists continues, evidence of the country's  ongoing security problems and the new government's impotence against targeted killings and suicide bombings.

In September, three journalists were killed and four were injured when suicide bombers attacked a cafe in central Mogadishu that was a popular hangout for news reporters and civil servants.

Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group that has been pushed by African Union forces from urban strongholds, is thought to be responsible for a number of the attacks. But many believe that powerful warlords or businessmen may be behind some of the killings.

Awale was well-known for his role on Radio Kulmiye lampooning Al Shabab. He was the second Radio Kulmiye comedian to be shot dead by gunmen. Abdi Jeylani Marshale, who performed on the same program, was killed in August.

“He was well known in Somalia's literature and culture. He was a musician and he was an intellectual,” Haydar said, describing Awale.

Haydar said Awale and others on the show  had received death threats by phone in recent months. He said the journalists' union believed that like Marshale, Awale was assassinated for poking fun of Al Shabab.

“They were calling them all the time, saying, 'Why are you insulting the insurgency?''' Haydar said.

Awale, long famous as a playwright and musician, was a member of the  musical group Onkod that performed in Mogadishu before the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Later, he was known for his romantic and patriotic songs and he has since written songs calling on people to reject violence and to join the police force instead of militant groups. The Somali journalists' union has called on the government to carry out a full investigation into the killing of Awale and all other media workers.

Haydar said the government appeared to have no power to protect targeted journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom organization, ranks Somalia as Africa's most dangerous country to be a journalist.

Radio Kulmiye's website ran a recent commentary saying that if not for the brave reporting of Somali journalists, the world would not have known about the country's suffering during more than two decades of chaos and violence.

“All Somali journalists and the general public as well as the international media and human rights watchdogs and the world community at large agree that the vast majority of Somali journalists are targeted in attempt to silence the only independent, neutral voice from a country mired by 21 years of chaos and lawlessness,” read the article, published Oct. 22.

It followed a polemic published Oct. 11 in Britain's Guardian newspaper by London-based Somali Jamal Osman, arguing that many journalists were killed because they were corrupt and accepted payments to write good things about certain politicians or businessmen.

“The profession needs to be cleaned up. The media owners should do it to save the lives of their employees,” he wrote. Somali journalists staged protests in Mogadishu condemning the article.


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— Robyn Dixon, reporting from Johannesburg 





$5 million prize for former African leader goes to ... no one


Millions of dollars hung in the balance as a committee huddled in London, trying to decide which former African leader was worthy of their hefty cash prize. Monday, they announced which government head  won.


For the third time in its six years of existence, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize committee scanned Africa and decided nobody met the bar for its coveted award, which includes $5 million paid out over a decade and an additional $200,000 annually for life.

The plush prize is supposed to nudge African leaders to serve well -– and serve only so long. It cannot be granted to leaders who illegally cling to power. Only leaders who have left office in the last three years, serving no longer than their constitutionally mandated terms, can get the cash award.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation eyed “a number of eligible candidates,” it said Monday, “but none met the criteria needed to win this award.” Its chairman and namesake, a British billionaire born in Sudan, told the Associated Press the committee wouldn’t “go through the motions to just find anybody.”

The foundation, launched six years ago, aims to promote good governance in Africa, which has made strides toward stronger democracy but is still speckled with countries where power stems from military coups, corruption or brutality. Last year it honored former Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires for bolstering democracy; before that, it didn’t honor anyone for two years in a row.

Ibrahim argued the decision was not a disappointment, but a sign of exceedingly high standards. The foundation gave no details about why nobody was chosen. Despite what Ibrahim said, not handing the prize to anyone was widely seen as a dismal mark for the latest round of African leaders to leave power.

“Good governance is a rather hard sell in Africa,” the Daily Nation in Kenya editorialized ruefully, “because some leaders believe their survival is synonymous with that of their countries.”

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Somali troops take key port of Kismayo after Al Shabab rebels retreat

Somali troops and their foreign allies occupied the key city of Kismayo, the last strategic base for Islamist militants who had relied on the local port as an main source of revenue
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Somali troops and their foreign allies on Monday occupied the key city of Kismayo, the last strategic base for Islamist militants who had relied on the local port as a main source of revenue.

A Kenyan military spokesman, Cyrus Oguna, said Kenyan forces had also deployed in the southern Somali city. The troops moved in after fighters from Al Shabab, a militia linked to Al Qaeda, pulled out following Friday's beach assault and airstrikes by the Kenyan military. Oguna said further airstrikes were carried out over the weekend to destroy militant bases.

The Kenyan troops are part of a 17,000-member African Union force in Somalia to help the country's weak government confront a long-standing rebellion by Al Shabab.

Residents described a tense atmosphere Monday as troops entered, with fears that Al Shabab would strike back, but said the militants offered no resistance.

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Kenyan military assaults last main base of Somali Al Qaeda-tied rebels

Kenya somalia
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG - Kenyan military forces launched an overnight attack on Kismayo, seen as the last main stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group, Al Shabab. The troops landed on the beach and took control of parts of the port city, according to Kenyan military spokesmen.

Announcing the assault, code-named Operation Sledge Hammer, military spokesman Cyrus Oguna said Kenyan forces entered the southern Somali port city at 2 a.m. He warned Kismayo civilians to evacuate in order to avoid being harmed. More than 10,000 people have fled in recent days, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Oguna claimed Kenyan troops faced little resistance but Al Shabab's press office denied that Kenyan forces had taken control and claimed the town was still in the hands of its fighters.

"Kismayo remains firmly in the hands of the Mujahideen," the militia's press office said on Twitter. [Kenyan Defense Force] cowards attempt to attack Kismayo from the sea but the courageous Mujahideen thwart their attempt."

Fighting for control of the city was continuing, witnesses said, according to news agencies. AP reported that witnesses confirmed the port had fallen to Kenyan forces but other parts of Kismayo were still occupied by rebels.

If Al Shabab is driven from the port city, it risks being choked financially. Kismayo is the last port Al Shabab controls, and its major source of revenue through taxes on trade. Reports to the U.N. Security Council say the militia is heavily dependent on charcoal exports through Kismayo.

The militia fled the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011, but has proven capable of launching devastating suicide attacks and targeted assassinations against politicians and journalists.

The Kenyan forces were part of the 17,000-strong U.N.-backed African Union force in Somalia, AMISOM, fighting alongside Somali army forces and the pro-government Ras Kamboni militia, that have advanced on Kismayo in recent days.

The seaborne attack came after Kenyan vessels shelled Kismayo and launched an airbone attack on the airport Thursday.

"Al Shabab fighters are on the streets and heading toward the front line in speeding cars. Their radio is still on the air and reporting the war," Kismayo resident Mohamed Haji said, according to AP.The radio station, Radio al Andalus, was urging people to join the fight against the Kenyan invaders.

Commander of AMISOM forces, Lt. Gen Andrew Gutti, called on Al Shahab fighters to lay down arms and surrender.

"AMISOM’s intent is to liberate the people of Kismayo to enable them to lead their lives in peace, stability and security," he said in a statement. "Operations are ongoing to neutralize specific Al Shabab targets in Kismayo.

“We urge all fighters remaining in Kismayo to lay down their arms. In recent days and weeks, a number of them have contacted AMISOM indicating their wish to cease fighting and we have assured them of their safety if they give themselves up peacefully to our forces.”

Kenyan forces offered amnesty to Kenyans who had joined the Al Shabab militia, if they surrender.

The attack came days after the Hizbul Islam militia abandoned Al Shabab, in a major setback for the group. Al Shabab has bitterly attacked the recent election of a new parliament and president, but the Hizbul Islam militia supports the development.

The Ras Kamboni group fighting to drive Al Shabab from Kismayu, led by Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, was also formerly allied with Al Shabab. Analysts say Madobe will likely be seeking significant influence over Kismayo, should the rebels flee.

Even if Al Shabab loses control of Kismayo, it will still control a large swathe of south central Somalia.

U.N. special envoy for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said Friday that Somalia has its best chance for peace in 22 years, as AMISOM and Somalia forces gained territory.

"The pacification of the country by AMISOM and the Somali forces is going apace and the political process following the election of the president by parliament is coming to a head with the possible naming of a prime minister any time this week and the formation of a council of ministers pretty soon," he told the BBC.

"I think this is the best chance Somalia has ever had in the past 22 years." Mahiga said the government was in a position to reach out and engage some elements of Al Shabab to convince them to stop fighting.


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--Robyn Dixon  

Photo: File photo from Feb. 20 shows Kenyan army soldiers riding in a vehicle at their base in Tabda, inside Somalia. Credit: Ben Curtis / Associated Press




Must Reads: Guerrilla artists, China protests and uneasy Aleppo


From Somali guerrilla artists to Chinese protesters, here are five stories you shouldn't miss from this past week in global news:

Somalia guerrilla artists dare to paint reality

China government's hand seen in anti-Japan protests

Critics in Britain see 'lopsided' U.S. extradition treaty

In South Africa, the poor feel betrayed by ruling ANC party

In Syria, Aleppo residents grapple with hardship, uncertainties

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Chinese demonstrators protest outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing on Tuesday. Credit: Diego Azubel / European Pressphoto Agency

Suicide blasts at Mogadishu cafe reportedly kill 15

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Suicide bombers set off at least two explosions at a popular restaurant in Mogadishu late Thursday, killing about 15 people including journalists and two police officers, authorities said.

The Village Restaurant is owned by Ahmed Jama, a British Somali profiled in The Times last month who has several restaurants all with the same name. The one hit Thursday is located in central Mogadishu, opposite the National Theater -- itself the target of a suicide bombing in April -- and is popular with Somali journalists and civil servants.

No group had claimed responsibility for the blasts. The Al Qaeda-linked Islamic militia Al Shabab, which has carried out many bombings in the capital in the past, did not issue an immediate commented.

Some witnesses reported two blasts, while others said there were three. Witnesses described a scene of mayhem, with blood spattered across the floor, the bodies of dead and wounded people strewn among the plastic chairs and cups.

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Solutions to poverty, population growth, global warming [Google+ Hangout]

As experts from three continents convene this week at UC Berkeley to discuss rapid population growth, climate change and other intractable problems, The Times will hold a live online video discussion -- via Google+ Hangout -- Thursday on potential solutions.

The newspaper explored such issues around the world in its recent five-part series on population growth in the developing world. Among other topics, the "Beyond 7 Billion" series examined chronic hunger and mass migration in East Africa -- trends that Dr. Malcolm Potts believes will soon extend across the Sahel, an arid region of Africa just below the Sahara desert.

LIVE VIDEO DISCUSSION: Join us at 3:30 p.m. Thursday

"What you've been seeing from Somalia is going to happen in all those countries, all the way across from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean," said Potts, a UC Berkeley professor of public health. "You've just seen a fraction of what's going to happen in the next 10 or 20 years."

Potts, who co-organized the conference focused on the Sahel region, will join The Times at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time Thursday to discuss solutions to the problems facing this part of Africa and other impoverished nations with soaring populations. He will be joined by Dr. Ndola Prata of UC Berkeley, William Ryerson of the Population Media Center and Fatima Adamu from Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, Nigeria.

We invite you to join the conversation by posting comments or questions below, on The Times’ Facebook and Google Plus pages, or on Twitter using the #asklatimes hashtag.

-- Kenneth R. Weiss

Photo: Somalia refugees, driven from their land by sectarian violence and drought, gather outside the United Nations' camps in eastern Kenya. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

New Somali president survives double suicide bombing

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Two days after Somali President Hassan Sheik Mohamud won office, militants sent him a grim message: double suicide bomb blasts at his temporary residence in a Mogadishu hotel.

Mohamud was not harmed in the attack on the Jazeera Hotel near the airport, in one of the more secure areas of the capital. Al Shabab, an Islamist group linked to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the assault in a tweet.

Several soldiers were killed in the blast, according to agency reports. An Associated Press photographer inside the hotel at the time reported there were at least five bodies outside the hotel.

Three suicide bombers attacked the hotel, one in a small car packed with explosives and two on foot. The driver of the car and one of the pedestrian attackers managed to detonate their bombs, but the third was shot to death before he could do so, according to a spokesman for African Union peacekeeping forces in a telephone interview.

Mohamud and Kenyan Foreign Minister Sam Ongeri were holding a news conference as blasts shook the building.

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Somalia's presidential newcomer faces tough job

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- While international leaders on Tuesday urged Somalia’s new president to move swiftly to establish an inclusive government in order to rebuild his ruined nation, the Islamic militia that controls much of the country called him a traitor.

In a statement from New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Hassan Sheik Mohamud and called on him to move swiftly to establish a broad-based government. Mohamud's first task will be to select a prime minister.

But Sheik Ali Mahmud Rage, a spokesman for the Al Qaeda-linked militia Al Shabab, said that Mohamud represented Western interests and that his election by parliament was manipulated by outside powers in a bid to steal Somali resources, Reuters reported.

Al Shabab's fighters withdrew from Mogadishu in August 2011 and have since lost control of several important provincial towns. However, they retain the capacity to unleash attacks and assassinations in the Somali capital.

The election of Mohamud, an academic, civic activist and opposition politician, was widely viewed as a surprise because he is a political newcomer from outside Somalia's political elite. He faces the difficult task of uniting Somalia’s fractious clans, overcoming the legacy of 21 years as a failed state and dealing with the ongoing rebellion by Al Shabab.

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Somali lawmakers elect academic and civic activist as president

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Lawmakers overwhelmingly elected an academic and civic activist as president of Somalia on Monday, in a United Nations-backed effort to put the country's lawless past behind it and forge the first stable central government in more than two decades.

Hassan Sheik Mohamud defeated 22 candidates, including outgoing President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, and outgoing Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali. The victor, a former UNICEF official and founder of the opposition Peace and Development Party, is seen as a progressive.

Sharif, who came in second, was accused in a recent U.N. report of running a deeply corrupt government. The report to the Security Council said under Sharif “systematic embezzlement, pure and simple misappropriation of funds and theft of public money have become government systems.” Sharif has denied the claims.

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