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Somaliland: East Africa’s largest conduit for illicit cheetah trafficking to the Gulf

Somaliland: East Africa’s largest conduit for illicit cheetah trafficking to the Gulf
Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime
Somaliland: East Africa’s largest conduit for illicit cheetah trafficking to the Gulf

A cheetah cub receives care from representatives of Somaliland’s Ministry of Environment and Rural Development, in a village near Erigavo, Sanaag, in August 2020. According to reports, the cubs were being held by local farmers who surrendered them to the authorities, as the result of conflict with the mother cheetah near their livestock. (Photo: Twitter / Ministry of Environment and Rural Development)

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A recent spate of cheetahs being seized in Somaliland has shown that the illicit demand for these animals remains strong. Cheetahs are highly prized as exotic pets in the Gulf states, and in supplying this market, traffickers have heavily impacted local cheetah populations in Africa, a situation compounded by the fact that many animals die en route.https://spkt.io/a/1132481?isAmp=1&ampPlayer=MinimalPlayer#amp=1

In late July, two cheetah cubs were rescued from a 25-day ordeal at the hands of wildlife traffickers by the Awdal region police in Borama, a city in Somaliland not far from the Ethiopian border. Members of the local community helped look after the dehydrated and underweight cubs until the rescue team arrived. The cubs were then given care by Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) staff before being transported to a CCF safe house.

Two cubs rescued near Borama, 24 July 2020. The cubs had reportedly been in the hands of traffickers for 25 days before their rescue. (Photo: CCF)

These cubs were part of a series of recent seizures of cheetahs in Somaliland. Through July and August, 20 cheetah cubs were rescued over five missions jointly conducted by the ministry of environment and rural development, the Selel regional administration and the Somaliland police, with support from the CCF and Torrid Analytics. 

On 14 September, two cheetah cubs were seized in the Sool region in the south-east: the youngest was only two weeks old. In total, 25 cubs have been reported as seized or rescued in Somaliland so far this year.

A six-month-old cheetah cub, in the care of Somaliland’s Ministry of Environment and Rural Development and the Cheetah Conservation Fund, en route to Hargeisa, 29 July 2020. The cub was one of eight rescued over three missions in Somaliland in late July. (Photo: Cheetah Conservation Fund)

Cheetah trafficking in Somaliland is not a new issue. Since 2010, when reporting became more consistent, there have been 193 rescued or surrendered cheetahs. Nearly a third of these occurred after the country ratified its Forestry and Wildlife Conservation Law in August 2018, which has reportedly led to increased awareness and better coordination between wildlife officials, police and the army.

Many of the cheetahs seized in Somaliland are believed to originate in Ethiopia, which shares an 800km border with the self-declared state. At least 25% of seized cheetahs in Somaliland have been found at or near the Ethiopian border – the two cubs intercepted near Borama in August, for example, were less than 15km from the border. 

As known cheetah populations in Ethiopia total no more than 300 adolescent and adult specimens, it is clear that the trafficking of cubs is taking a significant toll on cheetah populations. Ethiopia and South Sudan, along with Somalia/Somaliland where cheetah populations are unknown, are also the last remaining stronghold of the North East African cheetah subspecies, Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii.

Cheetah cubs are mostly taken from the wild when the mother hides them to go hunting, either opportunistically by nomadic herders or by poachers. A cub can sell for between $200 and $300 in Somaliland, although prices vary greatly: an unhealthy cub can be bought for as little as $80, while a healthy, older cub can cost up to $1,000. The same cheetah can be sold for up to $15,000 in the Gulf states. 

Mortality is high, as most cubs are removed from the wild at only two to eight weeks from birth and are subjected to maltreatment and poor nutrition in the hands of poachers and dealers, compounded with the rigours of the trip across the Gulf of Aden. While difficult to estimate, it is thought that more than 60% of cheetah cubs die before they reach the market to be sold.

Somaliland is vulnerable as a conduit for the illegal wildlife trade not only due to its proximity to the Arabian Peninsula’s wealthy consumer markets for exotic wildlife, but also due to the country’s rampant poverty, weak legal frameworks and a lack of environmental awareness. 

Corruption also drives the cheetah trade. There are instances of illegally obtained cheetah cubs being sold back to smugglers by corrupt officials after a confiscation has been reported. That being said, Somaliland’s cheetah trade has been more extensively researched than other countries and regions of Somalia. Its relative importance as the main cheetah trafficking route into the Middle East might be in part connected to underreporting from other countries.

Across the Gulf of Aden

From Somaliland, cheetahs are transported by boat – hidden in hampers, crates or cardboard boxes – from the northern coastline across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen at an estimated rate of 300 cubs per year. The 140 nautical miles between the ports of Berbera in Somaliland and Aden in Yemen can be covered in just over seven hours at a dhow’s average speed of 20 knots.

Once in Yemen, cheetahs are reportedly transported by boat or road across the Saudi border to animal markets such as Al-Jazan or Al-Khouba, or delivered to Saudi traders, who will then offer them throughout the Gulf states to known buyers on ecommerce and social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, or, more recently, through private chat groups. 

Research carried out by CCF researchers found that at least 2,000 cheetahs had been advertised online between 2010 and 2019. Most were found on Instagram, with sellers offering cheetahs in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait.

Delivery to the UAE, Qatar or Kuwait from Saudi Arabia can be made by road or air. An investigative report published by Le Figaro quoted an employee at the Kuwait airport who stated that:

“It is enough to mention that they are ‘cats’ on the box and to pay certain people I know. It is easy for me because I work there and I know who will take the money. I give them between KWD500 and KWD1000 ($1,600–$3,200 to allow illegal animals (through the country).”

There have also been isolated reports of cheetahs arriving in Oman from Yemen, as well as being transported from Oman into the UAE via the Hatta border crossing.

An illegal status symbol

Cheetahs have long been popular household pets or hunting companions in the Gulf states, where they are viewed as status symbols. This popularity has been boosted in recent years by wealthy or famous individuals posing with their exotic pets on social media

However, few cheetah owners know how to provide the proper care for these animals, with some social media posts advertising cheetahs that have been declawed – an extremely painful process for the animals. 

Many pet cheetahs in the Gulf states do not live beyond the first year, and few live longer than five years, according to information collected by CCF.

CCF veterinarian Dr Asma Bile prepares cubs rescued from traffickers to make the journey to Hargeisa to the CCF safe house. (Photo: CCF)

Trade in wild cheetahs for commercial purposes is illegal in all the Gulf states, either through the states being party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) or through domestic legislation. 

In December 2016, the UAE enacted a law banning the private possession of exotic and dangerous pets, although only one seizure (of four cheetahs) has been made since 2015, suggesting that the ban is seldom enforced. 

In Kuwait, where no cheetahs have been seized in the past five years, the National Assembly approved a draft animal welfare law that penalises illegal trade or possession of predators in December 2015. In Qatar – where discussions continue over a law regulating the trade and ownership of dangerous animals – the ministry of municipality and environment announced the arrest of an Arab national in July 2016 for trading in cheetahs.

Under CITES regulations, however, captive-bred cheetahs can be traded commercially by registered facilities. The CITES trade database reports that 16 “captive-bred” cheetahs were exported into Armenia from Bahrain and the UAE between 2009 and 2015.

However, the probability that cheetahs in the Gulf (both those kept as pets and those exported) are truly bred in captivity or traded in compliance with national laws or CITES regulations is low.

First, only two such registered breeding facilities exist worldwide – both are in South Africa.

Second, cheetahs do not breed well in captivity. Based on information from the International Cheetah Studbook, a voluntary register of captive cheetahs worldwide, the first report of captive-bred cheetahs in the Gulf states was in 1994. Since then, six facilities have reported a total of 304 cheetah births in captivity, with a 31% mortality rate for cubs under six months. 

No births have been reported by these facilities since 2016.

It is therefore more likely that purportedly “captive-bred” cheetahs in the Gulf come from elsewhere, as suggested by the “captive-bred” cheetahs exported from Bahrain to Armenia. There are no known cheetah breeding facilities in Bahrain, suggesting that the cheetahs’ real origins were masked.

A contentious issue

The issue of the illegal cheetah trade has been on the CITES agenda since 2013, when it commissioned a study that led to decisions and recommendations aimed at reducing demand and encouraging international collaboration. However, the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP), held in August 2019, voted to delete these decisions based on a report from the standing committee to the secretariat

The report concluded that the illegal cheetah trade was limited, based on official seizure reports from nine countries that cited 32 specimens (13 live, 19 parts or products) between 2015 and mid-2018. Based on this, the CoP agreed that matters related to the illegal cheetah trade could be addressed by a Big Cat Task Force, jointly run by CITES and the Convention for Migratory Species, which is currently in the process of being implemented.

However, Kenya and Ethiopia – two cheetah-range countries – argued that the numbers reported by CITES “underestimate the full extent of the trade, since they only include confiscated animals appearing in official records and omit data from many countries, including key primary source countries for trafficked cheetah”. They cited information showing 393 cheetah specimens (274 live animals and 119 parts), including the 32 seized specimens reported to CITES, during the same period.

The countries’ joint statement – submitted to the CITES CoP – went on to add: “Given the perilous state of [East African] cheetah populations that are the source of illegal trade, any ongoing trade in wild cheetah is alarming.”

The recent spate of seizures in Somaliland seems to confirm those fears. The illegal trade in wild cheetahs appears to be continuing apace, with potentially grave consequences for East African cheetah populations. DM

This article appears in the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime’s monthly East and Southern Africa Risk Bulletin. The Global Initiative is a network of more than 500 experts on organised crime drawn from law enforcement, academia, conservation, technology, media, the private sector and development agencies. It publishes research and analysis on emerging criminal threats and works to develop innovative strategies to counter organised crime globally. To receive monthly Risk Bulletin updates, please sign up here.

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THE AFRICAN COUNTRY WANTS TO DIVERT RESOURCES TO TAKE CARE OF ITS PEOPLE DURING THE PANDEMIC.

THE AFRICAN COUNTRY WANTS TO DIVERT RESOURCES TO TAKE CARE OF ITS PEOPLE DURING THE PANDEMIC.

President Edgar Lungu’s government has suspended them for six months, starting from October. Even though it is a freeze due to a cash-crunch and not a cancellation, in the world of finance, it is being seen as a debt default
 ©Shakir Essa

President Edgar Lungu’s government has suspended them for six months, starting from October. Even though it is a freeze due to a cash-crunch and not a cancellation, in the world of finance, it is being seen as a debt default. 


One of the poorest countries in the world, Zambia, has decided to temporarily suspend interest payments to private creditors as it struggles to contain the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. 

 Zambian leaders were conflicted on the question of whether to continue paying wealthy foreign investors or take care of their people. This week they decided to focus on facing the coronavirus challenge. https://c0.pubmine.com/sf/0.0.3/html/safeframe.htmlREPORT THIS AD

Over the past decade, Zambia has accumulated a foreign debt of more than $10 billion. It has become the first African country to stop payments on private debt, which now make up a major chunk of the loans that the countries in the region have taken. 

Debt relief advocates have for months pushed indebted governments to default on their debt, insisting that spending money on healthcare and economic recovery is more important. 

The 73 most indebted countries have to pay around $45 billion in interest payments in 2020, and a major chunk of it will go to the private sector, says the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

Wealthy countries, which are part of the G20, have announced a debt moratorium for their poor peers. However, private creditors have ganged up and refused to be part of such an initiative. 

Landlocked Zambia is Africa’s second largest producer of copper, which has seen a drastic drop in its price and strained the country’s finances. 

It is not alone in taking the drastic step to default on its debt. Last month, Argentina reached an agreement with its creditors to restructure $65 billion of its foreign debt. https://c0.pubmine.com/sf/0.0.3/html/safeframe.htmlREPORT THIS AD

Private lenders say that refusing to pay interest will make it difficult for poor and developing countries to secure future loans that they need to build roads, hospitals and schools.  

But experts argue that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. In any case, banks and institutional investors had themselves lined up to loan funds to African countries because they were getting a higher return. 

Many African countries, already struggling with poverty and instability, don’t have additional resources to spend on equipping hospitals to deal with the expected increase in the number of patients who require ventilators and ICUs. 

A recent study by Jubilee Debt Campaign, which advocates for debt relief, found that 63 impoverished countries were consuming 5.2 percent of revenues to pay foreign creditors in 2011. This average rose to 12 percent in 2019.https://c0.pubmine.com/sf/0.0.3/html/safeframe.htmlREPORT THIS AD

In just five years between 2012 and 2017, the average external debt as a percentage of the GDP of low-income developing countries surged to 50 percent from 30.35 percent. 

Countries like Ghana, which heavily depend on the export of gold, oil and cocoa, are particularly at risk of a crisis, as the price of commodities have plunged, and the cost of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic is rising. 

Jubilee and others have called for complete debt write-offs, something which is not unusual. In 2001, developed economies agreed to give debt service relief amounting to $34 billion to 23 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), 19 of which were in Africa. The initiative was meant to tackle poverty. 

This becomes especially important in times of an infectious outbreak, which can be a severe burden on the limited resources of most impoverished countries. 

Out of the total debt of the African countries, around 32 percent is owed to private investors – this comes to approximately $132 billion, according to one study done two years back. 

Most of the debt of the developing and poor countries consist of loans, all borrowed to pay off previous loans – trapping them in a vicious debt cycle. 

Between 2000 and 2014, Zambia saw rapid economic growth which averaged around 6.8 percent. However, since then, the country’s economic growth rate has stalled, mainly because of the drop in commodity prices. 

Its public debt increased to 80 percent of GDP in 2019 from 35 percent at the end of 2014

      

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Berbera ports: The africa most valuable real estate

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Berbera ports: The africa most valuable real estate

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Berbera and Zeila, two of the Horn of Africa’s ancient trading cities, have long attracted the interest of global powers because of their strategic location near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. This location makes Somaliland’s coastal ports among the region’s most valuable real estate and an alternative to Djibouti as a key player in terms of trade, development, energy, and water security for the Red Sea and Horn of Africa.

Richard Burton, the British explorer, recognized the importance of Berbera port back in 1896, writing:
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In the first place, Berbera is the true key of the Red Sea, the centre of East African traffic, and the only safe place for shipping upon the western Eritrean shore, from Suez to Guardafui. Backed by lands capable of cultivation, and by hills covered with pine and other valuable trees, enjoying a comparatively temperate climate, with a regular although thin monsoon, this harbour has been coveted by many a foreign conqueror. Circumstances have thrown it as it were into our arms, and, if we refuse the chance, another and a rival nation will not be so blind.

A new geopolitical rivalry in the Red Sea

Somaliland’s ports still remain the object of international interest and rivalry today, although the foreign powers involved have changed. On July 1, according to an official statement, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Taiwan had agreed to establish ties with Somaliland based on “friendship and a shared commitment to common values of freedom, democracy, justice, and the rule of law.”

Less than a week later, however, Somalia’s federal government, led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aligned itself with China to prevent a Taiwanese-Somaliland nexus that would have clear geopolitical ramifications for the Horn of Africa.

While China and Somalia rebuffed and condemned the new strategic bilateral ties between Somaliland and Taiwan, the U.S. National Security Council has blessed Taiwan’s venture into East Africa, sending a clear message to China that the U.S. stands with Taiwan. This is a significant blow to the Chinese government, which has used its international influence and “development-trap diplomacy” in recent decades to rally support among African and Middle Eastern states for its efforts to suppress Taiwan’s presence in the international sphere.

Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somaliland

On July 12, a high-level delegation from Egypt traveled to Somaliland. Although an Egyptian delegation had visited in 2019, angering Somalia, this year’s trip comes at a critical time as Ethiopia and Egypt have locked horns in their dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The Egyptian delegation’s visit prompted protests from the Ethiopian government, and Egypt’s growing bilateral ties and cooperation with Somaliland are giving Ethiopia GERD problems of its own — as in gastroesophageal reflux disease.

It is important to note that Ethiopia has a 19 percent stake in the port of Berbera, which is managed by the UAE’s DP World with a 51 percent stake, while Somaliland holds 30 percent. In May 2019, Ethiopia signed its first military cooperation agreement with France, which covers joint air cooperation and includes assistance for Ethiopia’s efforts to build up its naval forces — although where the landlocked country plans to dock these naval forces remains unclear. Joking aside, Ethiopia’s naval endeavors are driven by two main factors: first, concerns over the future of Djibouti’s port, which the IMF categorizes as at a “high risk of debt distress,” comparable to the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, which was built with Chinese financing and which Beijing took control of after Colombo failed to meet its debt obligations; and second, to protect 11 state-owned commercial vessels managed by the Ethiopian Shipping & Logistics Services Enterprise (ESLSE).

Scramble for fragile Somaliland

Although Somaliland is relatively peaceful compared to Somalia, its lack of international recognition makes it fragile and susceptible to being drawn into regional disputes as it seeks allies, bilateral ties, and eventual recognition. This has been the case with the Gulf states, where it has sided with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In part as a result of this fragility and desire to secure more allies and improve bilateral ties, Somaliland now finds itself in the middle of multiple disputes among other states, including Ethiopia and Egypt and China and Taiwan.

Taken together, the current domestic instability in Ethiopia and its tensions with Egypt over the GERD, combined with the global superpower competition in the Horn of Africa and Red Sea, are a recipe for conflict that could trigger the largest refugee influx in African history. This could destabilize Somaliland and with it key international maritime trade routes, making it vulnerable to insecurity and terrorism that directly affects both Ethiopia and Djibouti, with which it shares its western border.

To reduce future geopolitical uncertainty and security risk in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, it’s in the best interest of the international community to take the following steps:

Consider recognizing Somaliland;

Praise Taiwan-Somaliland relations instead of giving in to Chinese pressure and potentially keeping at bay Russia, which also has a keen interest in establishing a military base at Berbera port; and

Include Somaliland in the Red Sea Council and help it develop its own navy.

Shakir Essa report

Egypt to withdraw from latest Nile dam talks for consultations

6395874_303Egypt fears the $4bn project could lead to water shortages upstream, while Sudan is concerned about dam’s safety.

05 Aug 2020 GMT+3
Egypt has decided to withdraw from the latest round of tripartite negotiations over Ethiopia’s multibillion-dollar dam on the Blue Nile for internal consultations after Addis Ababa proposed a new draft of filling guidelines.
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The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which is being built about 15km (nine miles) from the Ethiopian border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, has become a major sticking point between the three countries.
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Egypt fears the $4bn project could lead to water shortages upstream, while Sudan said it is concerned about the dam’s safety.

The Egyptian water ministry, in a statement on Tuesday, said Ethiopia put forward a draft proposal that lacked regulations on the operation of the dam or any legal obligations.
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Addis Ababa’s draft also lacked a legal mechanism for settling disputes, according to the Egyptian ministry.

“Egypt and Sudan demanded meetings be suspended for internal consultations on the Ethiopian proposal, which contravenes what was agreed upon during the African Union summit,” it said.

The Blue Nile is a tributary of the Nile river, from which Egypt’s 100 million people get 90 percent of their fresh water.

Ethiopia dam dispute: Concerns in Sudan’s Blue Nile state (2:55)
Sudan’s safety concerns
Meanwhile, Sudan’s irrigation ministry said the latest Ethiopian position presented in talks on Tuesday raised new fears over the track the negotiations had been on.

Khartoum also threatened to withdraw from the talks, saying Ethiopia insisted on linking them to renegotiating a deal on sharing the waters of the Blue Nile.

Sudan’s water and irrigation minister, Yasser Abbas, said he received a letter from his Ethiopian counterpart who proposed “the deal under discussion be limited to filling up the dam and any deal concerning its management be linked to the question of sharing Blue Nile waters”.

Egypt and Sudan invoke a “historic right” over the river guaranteed by treaties concluded in 1929 and 1959.

But Ethiopia uses a treaty signed in 2010 by six riverside countries and boycotted by Egypt and Sudan authorising irrigation projects and dams on the river.

“This new Ethiopian position threatens the negotiations under the aegis of the African Union, and Sudan will not participate in negotiations which include the subject of sharing Blue Nile waters,” Abbas said.

“Sudan will not allow the lives of 20 million citizens who live along the Blue Nile to be tied to an agreement on sharing the water of this river.”

The call came after a meeting of technical and legal committees from the three countries aimed at pushing for a deal on the filling and operation of the GERD.

The meeting was also attended by observers from the United States and the European Union as well as experts from the Africa

Somalia expects to announce winners of first petroleum auction early 2021

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN, Aug 5 (Reuters) – Somalia expects to announce the winners of its first oil and gas licensing round early next year, as the country seeks petro dollars to help rebuild its struggling economy, a senior government oil official said on Wednesday.
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Battered by violence and an Islamist insurgency since clan warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991, Somalia is offering seven deep water offshore blocks in its maiden licensing round in one of the world’s last frontier markets.

The oil and gas auction officially opened on Tuesday.

“We are expecting that in the first quarter of next year to finalise and award the block contracts,” Ibrahim Ali Hussein told Reuters in his first interview with international media since his appointment last week as the CEO of the Somali Petroleum Authority (SPA).
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The government had previously mooted offering 15 blocks in this licensing round but cut this down to seven due to capacity constraints, Hussein, a former advisor to Somalia’s energy minister, said. Seismic data previously indicated the 15 blocks could contain around 30 billion barrels of oil.

He said the coronavirus pandemic had delayed talks between the government and a joint venture of legacy rights holders Shell and Exxon Mobil to convert their existing concession into a production sharing agreement (PSA).

“If there was not coronavirus, the roadmap that we agreed … was to get the contract back before the end of this year, December,” he said.

Converting the concession into a PSA would also help end a force majeure by the oil majors that has been in place since 1990, Hussein said. Shell and Exxon hold exclusive petroleum exploration and production rights over five shallow water offshore blocks.

“We have an ongoing and constructive dialogue with the Somali authorities about a roadmap potentially to convert the existing concession to a production sharing agreement,” a Shell spokesman said.

No-one at Exxon was immediately available to comment. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf Editing by Tim Cocks and David Evans)

Allafricas.com

The energy to stay: Senegal’s village of women In northeast Senegal, the Sahara Desert is encroaching and the men are emigrating. But a group of women have pooled their resources and sought out new farming methods to save their villages.

yellowdressThis oasis on the banks of the River Senegal, along the border with Mauritania, is home to a community of small-scale farmers spread across a handful of villages who for centuries have been channelling the river’s water to grow and consume local produce.

But in recent decades, the aridity of the area, which lies at the gateway to the Sahara Desert, has increased dramatically. Arable land has become tougher to find, food production has slowed, livelihoods have worsened, and the men have left in search of work and opportunities abroad.


“The desert is advancing on us,” says Fama Sarr, gazing intensely. The elegant 63-year-old is one of the oldest inhabitants of Sinthiou Diam Dior, a village here in the Matam region.

“The heat has become so extreme and the rainy season so short, that our agricultural activity has decreased year by year and food insecurity is gaining ground everywhere,” she says. Temperatures now regularly exceed 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), and less rain means the river water is drying up.

In the centre of the village is a small adobe mosque and a square with a large Acacia tree, which offers shade during the hottest hours. The low-lying houses are surrounded by walls that protect them from nocturnal snakes and hippos that occasionally wander in from the river.

The tributary that provides villagers with enough water to drink and to nourish the fields is called Moyo in the local dialect, Pular, and life here revolves around it. It is where ancient generations first spotted foreigners coming from unknown, distant lands. During the dry season, little water remains and people cross it by foot to trade with the Mauritanians.
Now, more and more, the desert is encroaching. The change has been slow and gradual, yet constant over time: Cracks appearing on the walls of homes with greater regularity; market days becoming less busy; children asking the women where their fathers have gone.

But what worries the community of Sinthiou Diam Dior the most, is the shortening of the rainy season – and its effect on their main sources of income: agriculture and farming.

“It rains once in July and then it stops for a month, so families often lose their crops,” Sarr says. “We became so poor that my husband had to emigrate to Gabon and my son to France.”

A village of women

In Sinthiou Diam Dior, at least one person from every family has emigrated, most of them men. Across Matam, the women remain behind as the lifeblood that animates and nourishes the villages.

Abandoned, they are at the core of family life but also the economy of the villages: They have a key role in managing resources, food production, animal husbandry, consumption choices and raising children.

Inside her house, surrounded by fences to guard the goats, Sarr feeds her granddaughter in a large, blue room buzzing with old, rickety fans. A loud television holds the attention of a group of children lying in a corner, while women chat on the colourful sofas surrounding the room.

Fama Sarr

Sarr lives in the mud-brick building with 22 other people, 16 of whom are women. Each bedroom houses as many as five people. It is a common arrangement, with the village’s 400 men making up just a third of the total population.

After sharing a large bowl of thieboudienne, the Senegalese national dish of fish, rice and fresh vegetables, Sarr sips on a sugary ataya tea.

“Being the wife of a migrant is very difficult. Love is missing, physical affection is missing,” Sarr says.

“Sometimes we talk on WhatsApp and see each other on video calls, but often the line doesn’t work and we need to walk to other villages [to find a signal], and it’s hard to get phone credit.”

During the day, the heat forces life in the villages to move at a slow pace, measured only by the muezzin sounding the Muslim call to prayer five times a day. At night, the perfect silence and the starry sky blur together.

“When it’s so hot, you can’t live,” says Sarr. “The kids look sick and they stop playing.”
In Matam, poverty affects as much as 75 percent of families, and more than a third does not have enough food to eat, making them even more vulnerable to the consequences of desertification – which is rapidly escalating in the area, according to the United Nations.

Overall, the UN desertification organisation says every year, 12 million hectares (nearly 30 million acres) of productive land around the world are transformed into deserts – an area greater than the size of Portugal. And the pace of land degradation is more than 30 times the speed recorded in the past. UN data also projects that there will be 200 million climate migrants by 2050; northern Senegal is one of the countries that will be affected most severely.

‘Life is really hard here’

When husbands leave, life for women in Matam grows more challenging. Married, but alone, they wait for a visit that often does not happen for years, and for money that sometimes stops coming. They are left in limbo, unable to start a new life.

Coumba Diallo is strong and beautiful. She is in her 40s but says she does not know her exact age. She studied in the capital, Dakar, before moving to the village when she got married in 1991. But her husband has since left.

Coumba Diallo

“When we got married, my husband was always here and we were happy,” says Diallo. “But money was too little, so he decided to emigrate, first to the Ivory Coast, then to Gabon.”

Since he left 10 years ago, she has had to till their field alone. She does not have children, but helps her sister-in-law with her four children. One of them was born with cerebral palsy, and so the mother must constantly tend to him, leaving Diallo alone in the fields.

Every morning Diallo wakes up at dawn. After eating a slice of buttered bread and carrying out religious ablutions, she takes a large, colourful basket filled with tools and heads towards the fields that stand along the river. But for years she has struggled to produce enough food to support herself and the rest of the family.

“Life is really hard here,” she says. “Especially after my husband told me he didn’t have money to send us food any more. That’s why we started to work more and more on the fields.”
She is now involved in every stage of the agricultural process, working the land with the use of new technologies and going to regional markets to sell her produce – mainly tomatoes, onions, aubergines, and rice.

“Since solar panels have been installed in my field and provide energy for water pumps, I don’t need to spend all my savings to collect water for irrigation,” she says.

The income is divided into a portion for herself and the family, and a portion for the community. The rest covers maintenance costs and the purchase of new machinery.

When the men leave

For the men (and few women) who leave home, the conditions are notoriously complicated, with most facing treacherous journeys, racist abuse and violence, along the way.

According to the UN, up to four million Senegalese nationals out of the domestic population of 15 million live abroad, ranking it as one of the countries with the highest number of emigres in West Africa.
But even for those who stay, life is not easy. Left alone by husbands, sons and brothers, women are often forced to leave their studies and take care of the land and children. Many also find themselves marrying younger.

“The women stay. The man marries you, then emigrates and leaves you there,” says 35-year-old Dieynaba Niang who moved thousands of miles to Matam from Gabon to follow her husband, who in turn left for the United States five years ago.

“And you, you have to take care of everything, his family, his mother and for this you have to leave school. Once you are married everything you will do is prepare food and take care of your family.”

Dieynaba Niang

Niang lives on her own with her five-year-old daughter, far from her original family, and further from her husband. But she hopes to join him soon. “He left, but I needed him here, with me,” she says.

“Hopefully, what happened to me won’t happen to my daughter,” Niang says. “I’ll let her finish school. And all the men who want to marry her will have to wait for her to finish, for her to find a good job. Only then can they marry her.”
But in Senegal, as is the case in many African countries, gender inequality is still very high. Although women represent 70 percent of the continent’s agricultural force, produce 80 percent of food and manage 90 percent of its sale, according to the World Bank report on Women and Agriculture in Africa, their rights are not recognised and they have very little decision-making power.

Patriarchal society in Senegal prevents most women from directly managing the land they work on, and in most cases there is a man who enjoys the fruits of the labour carried out by women.

“Here are the women who are strong and work in the fields,” says Niang. “It is basically the women who do everything.”

The old ways

Back when most of their husbands moved away, and with the threat of desertification literally at their doorsteps, the women of the villages dedicated all their strength and energy to agriculture.

But their outdated, inefficient equipment and the rising cost of fuel, ratcheted up financial pressures.

“We have always had to pay for the fuel to drain water from the river and irrigate the fields,” explains Sarr. “But in recent years, more and more of it was required and we ended up spending most of our money on gasoline.”
Then, a beacon of hope appeared five years ago in the form of renewable energy. Desperate and eager for change, dozens of women from the villages joined forces. With the support of the NGO Green Cross, they launched the project Energy to Stay. New technologies have since been installed in the villages to draw water from the river and irrigate the fields.

Instead of using expensive gasoline to pump water, solar panels now power a water collection system. The new system also irrigates the fields using pipelines buried in the soil to gradually deliver the water over time, as opposed to the old method called “flooding”, whereby the pump released water into channels dug in the ground. Green Cross estimates this change has led to a water-saving of 70 percent.
“We stayed and decided to learn solar engineering to irrigate the fields,” says Mame Yaye Pam, the president of the village Koundel, 45km (28 miles) south of Sinthiou Diam Dior. Solar panels allow them to reduce gasoline consumption by 2,700 litres a year, she says.

In each village, year after year, the solar irrigation system allows the cultivation of more than 60 hectares (148 acres) of land, in turn producing enough fruit and vegetables to feed more than 900 people.

Mame Yaye Pam

“This has been the best year of harvest thanks to solar power,” says Diallo, looking at the fields along the river, where green shoots have sprouted in patches that had once turned brown.

“This has allowed us to increase our income, thus reducing poverty and having quality vegetable consumption in families. We’re doing well, we can feed our children and even save some money by selling at the market.”

The aim of the operation was to rehabilitate farmland in an environmentally sustainable manner, and in so doing ensure that the local population has a supply of fresh produce they can eat and sell to generate an income, says Alessandra Pierella, the manager of the Green Cross project.

“Now the women have learned to use the machinery and manage the fields, becoming entirely independent,” Pierella says. “We managed to eliminate the women’s expenses and their carbon dioxide emissions are now zero.”

Alongside the technology, more sophisticated farming techniques have been developed, such as crop rotation – which reduces waste and optimises production, President Yaye Pam says.

To help formalise the structure of the operation, a women’s association has been formed for the region and in each village, a president, a treasurer, and a secretary has been elected.

Community space

The Energy to Stay project is, in a small way, an attempt to reverse Senegal’s societal norms. While there is a lack of female presence in the most important positions in the country, for the first time in this area women not only work, but also take part in decision-making processes and hold positions of responsibility.

“The group is very well organised and women are so dynamic,” explains Diallo, who is secretary in her village. “Every month members meet to contribute to emergencies, if there is a possible breakdown or if there is something to do.”

Within the last five years, in addition to selling agricultural products, travelling to regional markets and taking care of their own business, women have become owners of land parcels.

“The land belongs to the group, but then it is distributed in plots and given to each woman according to the quota she has decided to pay,” explains Diallo.

Diallo shares an eight-hectare (19-acre) field with two dozen other people, and works on her own parcel of land every day. She uses part of the harvest for cooking, part for stocks, but the majority she sells.

From the money the women earn, each also puts in an amount to pay for expenses such as seeds, the caretaker and the pump. Diallo collects contributions from more than 200 women each month.

In this way, year after year, hectare after hectare, the women of the Matam villages have slowly managed to reclaim the deserted lands, improve living conditions and create job opportunities, thus generating an alternative to migration.

‘A little is enough’

It is midnight and Diallo, Sarr and Niang are getting ready to join the other women on the rooftop of a house near the mosque.

The women are all wearing traditional, wax-print dresses with beautiful patterns and fancy jewellery. Taking turns they reach the middle of the rooftop and dance for about 30 seconds, in a climax of energy and rhythm.

The village is celebrating the wedding of a young couple who, thanks to their parents’ money, are studying in the capital Dakar, some 500km (310 miles) away. They have returned home to celebrate their union.

But they are not the only ones who have come back.
Some men, fathers, cousins, friends, childhood companions, are also present at the wedding. They are sitting on the floor and offering money and gifts to the groom, who, according to tradition, must be at a separate celebration for the men only.

Some of the men are here to visit their families, spend a few months in the village, and leave again for Gabon, France, Italy, Germany. But others, many of them, have decided to stay after seeing the transformation of village life.

“I heard things were getting better here,” says one of the husbands, who two weeks earlier returned home after more than 10 years in Gabon. “My wife is so happy that I decided to come back and help her with the field.”

Improved living conditions and new job opportunities brought on by technology, as well as the hard work of Matam’s women, are beginning to halt the climate migration.

“The problem is why we were leaving: it wasn’t a choice,” says the husband.

“But since there’s more money in the family, we live better now. And if we live better, we’ll be less and less under pressure to seek better luck elsewhere.”

“A little is enough to gain the freedom of having a choice again.”

Meet Muwado, the eight-year-old girl making Somalia laugh,she has now more than 235,000 followers and 3.2 million likes on TikTok

The eight-year-old girl is the star of short comedy videos that have taken Somalia by storm. Viewed millions of times on online platforms such as TikTok and YouTube, Muwado Abshir’s sketches touch on a wide range of topics, from unemployment and fashion to social media obsession and even relationships – and her jokes spare no one.

“I like to make people happy. I get happy when I see people laughing,” Muwado tells Al Jazeera, before breaking into laughter herself.

“People look better when they are happy and laughing.”

It all began in December of last year, when the eldest of Muwado’s seven older siblings, Abdikassim Abshir, was making a video for his TikTok channel.

“She wouldn’t leave me alone and kept on asking me to make a video of her,” the 19-year-old recalls.

But simply shooting the video was not enough for Muwado, who insisted that her brother share it online. Abdikassim reluctantly concurred – and within days, the clip had more than a quarter of a million views.

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Abdikassim (centre) writes the script while Muwado delivers the punchlines [Ali Adan Abdi/Al Jazeera]

The funny sketch starts with Abdikassim telling Muwado not to play with his phone because she is too young. He then asks her to go to the shops to buy him ice cream.

“Be patient,” Muwado retorts. When I grow up, I will get you ice cream. I will get lost if I go out to buy you ice cream now.

Thinking that the post’s popularity was accidental, Abdikassim then posted a video featuring just himself – and did this did not go down too well with his followers.

“People would not let me post anything that Muwado was not in. They were not asking but demanding. I had no choice. It was either I post Muwado videos or don’t post anything,” he said.

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The brother-sister duo started posting videos together, with Abdikassim coming up with the script and Muwado delivering the punchlines. No topic was left untouched, with special attention reserved for social media influencers, schoolteachers and politicians.

One post, making light of federal leaders cutting ties with the central government in Mogadishu, garnered more than 1.1 million views.

Because of her age, Muwado’s videos are posted on her brother’s channel.

The account now has more than 235,000 followers and 3.2 million likes on TikTok. Muwado’s YouTube channel has garnered close to seven million views in less than a year – and that excludes the figures from people downloading and resharing her videos.

‘Very smart, very funny’

Somalia is recovering from a brutal two-decade civil war that has damaged almost every sector including the entertainment industry.

With the guns falling silent, many youths have been increasingly taking to social media, mostly TikTok and Facebook, to find entertainment, express themselves and pass their time. But no one could have predicted that an eight-year-old girl would grab the attention of millions in the conservative country.

“We have never had someone her age doing what she is doing. She makes the country laugh. I hope she continues forever,” says Nafisa Abdile Abdi, a store owner in central Mogadishu.

“Whenever I’m down or had a tough day, I go to Muwado’s channels and watch her videos. She makes me happy. For someone so young, she is very smart and very funny.”

With Muwado’s star continuing to rise, one of the country’s most popular musicians, Sharma Boy, released a song dedicated to her.

“Muwado, the happy one. She is better than the rest. She has no arrogance, always joking. No one like her on TikTok,” Sharma Boy raps in the song.

And Muwado’s online fame has also translated offline, with people inviting her to birthday parties, graduations ceremonies and even weddings for an appearance fee –  a figure her family did not want to disclose. 

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Muwado says she wants to become a doctor when she grows up [Ali Adan Abdi/Al Jazeera]

But it was not always like that. Muwado’s mother, Siraad Muuse, did her best to stop her from becoming a public figure.

“She is very young. She needs to focus on other things like school, learning the Quran and just been a child,” says Siraad, who was not happy when she found out Abdikassim had posted videos of his sister online.

She warned him against doing so, but the two siblings continued.

“Every day I will get phone calls from people telling me your daughter is on the internet. I always thought it was the first video until I realised there were dozens of other videos. It was too late to stop them. Now they tell me before they post and they tell me what the video is about,” says Siraad, who is now supporting her daughter.

And because of Muwado’s rising profile, Siraad has also become a celebrity in her own right.

“I get stopped on the streets by people and they ask how Muwado is doing. People are very nice and care about her. They call me Muwado’s mum and have stopped using my name. They even take photos with me,” Siraad said.

Meanwhile, Abdikassim has big dreams and plans for Muwado.

“I want her to make her a big star in Africa then take her to Hollywood where she can become a bigger star. God has given her a gift and I want to share that with [the] world,” he said.

But his young sister might need some convincing.

“I enjoy making people laugh but that is not what I want to do when I grow up,” she said. “My dream is to become a doctor. I think it is better to treat people than to make them laugh.”

“People will find other things to make them laugh,” she added, again bursting into laughter.

Africa: Nearly 300,000 Active Covid-19 Cases Across Continent After 8.5 Million Tests

As of August 6, the confirmed Covid-19 case total from 55 African countries has reached 994,018. Of those, 298,472 are active cases with 8,527,691 tests having been performed.

Reported deaths in Africa have reached 21,641 and recoveries 673,903.

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South Africa has the most reported cases – 529,877, with deaths numbering 9,298. The next most most-affected countries are Egypt (94,875), Nigeria (44,890), Ghana (39,075) and Algeria (33,055).

covid_en_8_1

The numbers are compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (world map) using statistics from the World Health Organization and other international institutions as well national and regional public health departments. For the latest totals, see the AllAfrica clickable map with per-country numbers.

Visit the AllAfrica Coronavirus section for more coverage from across the continent. Also see: Africa Centres for Disease Control and PreventionWorld Health Organization Africa and African Arguments.

U.S. Warns Nigeria of Al-Qaeda’s Reach As Buhari Advises Forces FacebookTwitterWhatsAppFlipboardLinkedIn

Daily Trust (Abuja)
By Latifat Opoola
The United States has raised the alarm that the Al-Qaeda insurgent group has started penetrating the northwestern part of Nigeria.
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US warned that violent extremist organization were seizing on Africa’s ineffective maintenance of the coronavirus pandemic to advance their goals in vulnerable societies in Nigeria and other African countries.
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The Head of US Special Operations Command Africa, Maj.-Gen. Dagvin Anderson, stated this Wednesday during a zoom video conference with reporters.

He said Al-Qaeda was also expanding to other parts of West Africa.

He said Al-Qaeda had had a deliberate campaign to expand their reach, especially into the west.

“We’ve seen that they have taken advantage of this also by closing schools, so they – they take away the future. They eliminate that future by shutting down these schools: over 9,000 schools across Africa shut down; 3,000 in Mali and Burkina Faso. That is very concerning to us” he said.

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“We have engaged with Nigeria and continued to engage with them in intelligence sharing and in understanding what these violent extremists are doing, and that has been absolutely critical to their engagements up in the Borno State and into an emerging area of northwest Nigeria that we’re seeing al-Qaida starting to make some inroads in.

“So this intelligence sharing is absolutely vital and we stay fully engaged with the Government of Nigeria to provide them an understanding of what these terrorists are doing, what Boko Haram is doing, what ISIS-West Africa is doing, and how ISIS and al-Qaida are looking to expand further south into the littoral areas” he stated.

He noted that it is disturbing that despite all the multiple level of assistance the United States is supporting Nigeria with, the VEOs are continuing to make progress and continuing to be a threat.

“I think there’s two factors in that. One, it goes to that each government has to focus on this and provide that focus for international partners to engage with. The other partner – the other part of this is we can’t underestimate the threat these violent extremist organizations pose” he said .

“We, as a community of international nations, keep thinking we have defeated them or we have put them on their back foot and that they’re just moments from disintegration. I think after 20 years we have seen they are very resilient organizations that, although small, they’re able to leverage social media and other forms of media to have an outsized voice and that they continue to recruit and they continue to find opportunities” he added.

Read the original article on Daily Trust.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry delegation, dispatched from Beijing, will arrive in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Chinese delegation is reportedly arriving in Somaliland, a self-governing territory in East Africa, following rumors that the Somaliland government is considering formally recognizing Taiwan.
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The Chinese Foreign Ministry delegation, dispatched from Beijing, will arrive in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, on Wednesday (August 5), the Somaliland Chronicle cited officials from the East African territory’s foreign ministry as saying. This came just one day after the same paper reported that Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi is weighing the possibility of unilaterally recognizing Taiwan.

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Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Tuesday declined to comment on the issue, which if confirmed will certainly anger Somalia, a neighboring nation that claims Somaliland as part of its territory, not to mention China. The ministry has full knowledge of the situation and remains in close communication with Somaliland authorities, according to MOFA Spokesperson Joanne Ou (歐江安).

Taiwan and Somaliland pledged to strengthen bilateral ties early in July through the setting up of mutual representative offices as well as the promotion of cooperative projects.

It is also reported that the Chinese Ambassador to Somalia, Qin Jian (覃儉), has been in Hargeisa since August 1 — the third time this year. He has been requesting to meet with President Bihi of Somaliland, who reportedly instructed aides to provide a risk analysis of furthering diplomatic ties with Taiwan but has so far declined to meet with the ambassador.

Somaliland, officially called the Republic of Somaliland, is a de-facto independent state with a population of approximately 3.5 million. Despite declaring itself an independent state in 1991, Somaliland to this day has not been recognized by any foreign government.

China and Somalia both criticized Taiwan for its efforts to advance ties with Somaliland back in July. The Somali government — which has diplomatic relations with China — condemned Taiwan for undermining Somalian sovereignty, while Beijing labeled the move by Taiwan as part of a separatist plot perpetrated by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

China sent Some mystery illegal seeds to US addresses

Some mystery seeds illegally sent from China identified
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Officials warn not to plant mystery seeds del…
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified some of the plant species in bags of unsolicited seeds arriving in mailboxes across the United States. Officials have warned the shipments of mystery seeds, which appear to have originated in China, could be invasive plant species.
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So far, however, the species appear to be innocuous. At least 14 of the seed species had been identified as of July 29, according to Deputy Administrator Osama El-Lissy of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. They includes mustard, cabbage and morning glory as well as herbs like mint, sage, rosemary and lavender. He said hibiscus and roses were also found.

CBS News confirmed that residents in all 50 states have reported receiving the suspicious packages of seeds. The USDA said if you receive the packets of seeds, do not plant them and contact your state plant regulatory official.

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Images tweeted by the Maryland Department of Agriculture show packets of unidentified seeds received in the mail, unsolicited, by state residents, apparently from China.
MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Although the species identified so far are harmless, plant experts have warned that seeds from other parts of the world could damage crops.

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State agriculture officials in Virginia warned, “Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops. Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations.”

Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller urged people to be cautious. “It could be a bacteria. It could be another virus, some kind of invasive species,” Miller told CBS Dallas-Fort Worth.

Robin Pruisner, a state seed control official at the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship in Iowa, told Reuters that she has heard reports of a coating of possible insecticide or fungicide on the seeds, which could prove especially harmful to crops.

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“I’ve had people describe to me that the seeds are coated with something purple. I haven’t had it in my hands yet, but it sounds an awful lot like a seed treatment,” she said.

The Agriculture Department has said the packages are most likely part of a “brushing” scam, in which a seller sends unsolicited items to someone and then posts false positive customer reviews to boost sales.

“Brushing scams involving seed packets in international mail shipments are not uncommon,” the USDA said. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has intercepted similar seed shipments in recent years.”

Phylissia Clark of the Better Business Bureau told CBS DFW that if you are a victim of brushing, “your identity has been compromised.”

“Somebody knows enough about you to create a profile online and use you to manipulate systems,” Clark said.

The seeds typically arrive in white packages displaying Chinese lettering and the words “China Post.” The USDA continues to investigate.

A new film set in Djibouti City presents a searing class critique of Somali girlhood.

In the popular imagination, Somali women are viewed as passive, oppressed subjects, the hapless victims of their patriarchal culture and religion. Where they are visible, it is often through the iconography of the veil and female circumcision. Lula Ali Ismaïl’s Dhalinyaro (Youth)—the first full-length feature film by a Djiboutian woman—is a radical departure from this corpus in depicting Somali girlhood in its full depth and complexity. Most importantly, it does this through depicting the mundane events of everyday life in Djibouti City. There are no wars here, or pirates, or terrorists, no young women escaping fathers, husbands, or the blade of a female elder, no white saviors ready for the rescue. What we see in Dhalinyaro is a coming of age story that shows Somali girls as they are.

The film’s storyline revolves around the final qualification examination for Djiboutian secondary students to enter university, the baccalaureate. The three main characters, Deka, Hibo, and Asma, are classmates at the Lycée de Djibouti but hail from markedly different class backgrounds. The Lycée space becomes one where the different segments of Djibouti’s population interact and form friendships, bonding over the shared ritual of studying for the baccalaureate. Yet, it is the question of higher education that renders class divides most explicit. For wealthy Hibo, who arrives at the Lycée each day in a chauffeured private car, there is no question that she will continue her education in Paris. Deka, who is securely middle class, is less certain, but with the funds saved up by her mother over a number of years, the idea of going to France for university is within the realm of the possible. Asma has no such choices available to her; poverty dictates that she must stay in Djibouti, unless she is among the few top students to receive a scholarship to study abroad.

The palpable burden of class difference saturates the film. One shot silently juxtaposes a well-dressed man at a cafe with a young boy on the street as he hands his shoes to the child to polish while drinking coffee. In another shot, women in wide-brimmed sun hats sweep the city streets at dusk to the sounds of ciyaar Soomaali, a traditional Somali folk dance. It is palpable in Asma’s hesitation to attend Hibo’s birthday party at the luxury Djibouti Palace Kempinski, and in the fuul bean stew her family eats at mealtimes, like the poor neighborhood children that come to Deka’s home for bread. When Hibo gets into an altercation with a group of schoolgirls outside of the Lycée, she disparages them as the “stupid Balabois”—residents of the impoverished Balbala suburb. An angered Asma, who tells her that she is “one of them,” accuses Hibo of believing that her wealth gives her more rights. Over the course of the film, Hibo’s character arc moves from a sheltered and careless rich girl to a more understanding and self-sufficient individual, a transformation made possible by honest friendships across difference.

The stunning cinematography with long shots of the sea and glimpses of the Port of Djibouti subtly signals the confluence and contradictions of global wealth and local poverty. This infrastructure of state capitalism—and, at the end of the film, the national radio broadcasting examination results—are the only glimpses of the state or politics in Dhalinyaro. Djibouti is among the most enduring dictatorships in Africa, ruled by an extended family since its independence from France in 1977. Its ruler, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, is famously a patron of the arts and culture, and Lula Ali Ismaïl has described the support she received for the film from both the private sector and a government eager to develop the country’s nascent film industry. While one can wonder about the possible implications of this government hand for artistic freedom, Ismaïl’s decision not to engage formal politics explicitly is another subversive act of representation, given that the region is mired in images of political dysfunction. Ismaïl’s political critique is muted and indirect, but no less searing. It takes the form of a city-wide power outage that forces the “haves” to turn on their private generators and the “have-nots” to light lanterns; it is in the figure of the elderly veteran telling Deka the forgotten stories of Djiboutian soldiers who fought for France during the Second World War; it is, at the metalevel, what the film itself embodies in its very existence, in its very refusal to conform.

What Dhalinyaro foregrounds is female sociality and intimacy as it unravels the complex layers of contemporary Djiboutian life. The film has a decidedly female gaze, decentering maleness to the extent that most of the male characters in the film remain marginal and unnamed. Instead, it is the inner worlds of Somali women that are fleshed out in full, and with the immense care and tenderness of a Somali woman behind the camera. When Hibo has a miscarriage in a bathroom stall at school, it is the conservatively-dressed Asma who immediately removes her abaya to cover her friend’s blood-stained clothing, stating that “girls look out for each other.” They openly discuss sexuality and their relationships, the lively female banter reminiscent of the Somali riwaayad (play) and theater tradition that has pushed the envelope on notions of female morality and modesty in Somali society since the 1960s. Markers of Somali womanhood are interspersed throughout the film: the breezy dirac shiid worn as loungewear at home, the fragrant uunsi smoke used to perfume one’s household, clothing and hair, the huruud face masks made of turmeric to keep one’s skin soft.

At the heart of Dhalinyaro is the tension between visibility and invisibility in the desire for a particular kind of freedom. In an early scene, Deka, Hibo, and Asma quietly talk at their desks as their teacher—played by Lula Ali Ismaïl herself—explains the upcoming deadlines for students seeking to go abroad for university. “Think of the freedom!” Deka whispers to her friends, “no one holding you to account, no one looking at you and saying ‘you’re the daughter of so and so.’” These moments of recognition occur most often in their encounters with men. As the girls sit by the waterfront and jokingly evaluate the appearances of young men passing by, a man pauses and greets Hibo, telling her to say hello to her father for him. “There’s no getting away!” an exasperated Hibo tells her friends. In another scene, the searching glance of a male waiter at a restaurant where Deka is having an intimate dinner with the older married man she is seeing is enough to unsettle her and abruptly end the date. Yet, it is the same surveilling gaze—this time by women—that precipitates the end to the predatory relationship, after Deka’s mother hears about it. The communal nature of the Somali social world, while frustrating any notion of individual anonymity, fosters a sense of interdependence and female solidarity that uplifts the girls in times of need, as their friendship illustrates. Ultimately, Deka chooses this world by staying in Djibouti for university.

Ethnicity is conspicuously absent from the film. Djibouti, while dominated politically, culturally and demographically by Somalis, is a multi-ethnic country comprised of the Somali and Afar, as well as smaller communities of Arabs, Ethiopians and Europeans. That diversity is represented in the casting, with the three lead actresses themselves belonging to Djibouti’s different ethnic groups: one is Afar, one is Somali, and one is Arab Somali. Yet each plays a Somali character, in a Djibouti where only Somali people and culture appear to exist. However, there is some ambiguity to Hibo’s background that is not discernible to the non-Somali speaker and flattened by the limited subtitles. In the scene where Hibo is confronted on the schoolyard, a voice in the background, which does not make it into the subtitles, can be heard saying “the little Arab girl is being attacked!” in Somali. Her father, in other scenes, speaks one or two words of Arabic, albeit words that have entered the Somali lexicon. Asma and Deka’s households are completely immersed in their Somaliness, with illustrative scenes including Asma’s sisters playing jag on the veranda as their mother gives them advice using Somali proverbs, and Deka’s single mother listening to gabay poetry composed by a heartbroken Cilmi Boodhari. Hibo’s family, on the other hand, only speaks Somali at home when talking to their maid; they converse in French exclusively between themselves, listen to European classical music during formal dinners, and go to France for education. There is an unexamined politics of language and ethnicity yearning to be explored.

Dhalinyaro is a remarkable feat, particularly for a first full-length film by a self-taught filmmaker hailing from a country with a film industry still in its infancy. Though initially released in 2018, it has recently seen a surge in popularity when it was made available for free streaming as part of this year’s Cinewax Online African Film Festival, breaking OAFF streaming records. It is a beautiful film—a love letter to Somali girls—that deserves to be seen widely.

Author: Shakir Essa

Marriage proposals, dresses, feasts and dances – the story of two weddings in SOMALIland, with traditions old and new.

When it comes to weddings, Somaliland has many approaches. Some couples stick with tradition while others go for more modern marriage ceremonies.

This film tells the story of two weddings, one in a small desert village and the other in a busy city, while highlighting everyday life in different parts of the country. It also contrasts traditional ways of life with modern ideas that come from younger Somalis and social media.

In the remote rural village of Toon, herder Jamalli Muhammad Ahmed can only marry a local woman called  Hoda after first getting permission from her family. In a tradition going back generations, they all gather in the shade of a large tree to decide whether they are a suitable match. Only then can Jamalli and Hoda start planning their lives together.

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 Jamalli and Hoda’s wedding followed traditional Somali customs [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

Abdullatif Deeq Omar in Hargeisa city, however, first met his future wife Najma on Facebook. They eloped but eventually returned to their families who accepted their marriage plans.

Somalia Two Weddings - AJW

 Abdullatif and Najma’s ceremony was in the city of Hargeisa [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

Both weddings have the same pressures: buying outfits, inviting guests, finding a venue and arranging feasts – but each tells a unique story of family, community and tradition.

In Somali culture, many people also believe that getting married in the run-up to Ramadan ensures additional blessings on the couple, making the happy occasion even more special

Shakir Essa report.

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