Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Coup de etat in Egypt

By Farid Omar Egyptians have every right to bring down any totalitarian regime (Islamist or otherwise), but it should be through constitutional means, not a military coup d etat. With no disrespect for the Egyptian people, the plain truth is that what happened yesterday amounted to a military coup. The people pushed Morsi's regime to the brink but the military took full advantage and appointed a little known Justice Minister as interim leader. The military should have no business choosing leaders for the people of Egypt. There is nothing to celebrate about a military-appointed interim administration. To restore constitutional order, the people of Egypt should go back to the streets to demand the military-appointed leader step down. A coalition of opposition parties should be tasked with the responsibility of appointing an interim leader and an interim council to lead the transition to new democratic elections. If not, Egypt risks falling into a similar trap like Pakistan, where in the past, the military reserved the right to intervene anytime it felt a civilian administration was driving the country into "ruins." While it was a victory for the people of Egypt, we must also accept the disturbing reality that the coup d etat only served to entrench the Egyptian military's stranglehold on power. The downfall of Morsi has the footprints of the military all over it and if unchecked, it would set a dangerous precedent for Africa. The international solidarity movement should do the right thing. It must continue to support the people of Egypt in their struggle to democratize but should categorically condemn the coup d etat and call for a speedy return to constitutional order. The African Union should apply the same yardstick it has applied to other military instigated takeovers in the continent. It should suspend Egypt from the AU till a people-appointed interim leader takes over the reins of power. Despite the quest for a just, democratic society, the fact remains that Egypt is heavily dependent on hand outs in the form of billions of dollars of loans from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey etc that has pushed the country into massive debt. Hundreds of factories were closed down and thousands lost their jobs. In addition to political grievances, the economic downturn was at the heart of the Egyptian crisis. Morsi's successor is expected rely on more hand outs from wealthy countries in the region and may be pushed to implement a severely austere IMF aid package that the Morsi government refused to accept. This level of economic dependency would set the stage for further chaos in Egypt and the celebrations on the streets could be short-lived. For the people of Egypt to embrace a true revolution, they should seek economic alternatives (Beyond US and Mid East Aid) otherwise; the Egyptian state would remain subject to manipulation by external actors. No matter how much a section of the Egyptian population may hate Morsi, they should also realize that the current political environment still dominated by comprador elites holds no clear answers for the future. Much has been said of the necessity to overthrow the ruling elite, which is a necessary condition for a revolution. But in Egypt, the military and political elite are one. Since the military is still the key power broker in Egypt, there can be no revolution till the people topple the military itself. The military by far, is the greatest threat to Egyptian democracy. The victorious Egyptian people (sections of which were caught in pro-military chants yesterday) should now move ahead and remove the military's top brass from power through mass revolts in the streets.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Somali-Canadians Set Prioritized Famine Response Plan.

By Farid Omar.

Concerned Somali-Canadians in Toronto converged at the Alliance Neighbourhood Services on Jane Street on the evening of August 17th for a community consultation meeting to map out an effective response plan for the ongoing famine in Somalia.

Called by Aran Somali-Canadian Relief, stakeholders from various organizations strategized on how to formulate an operational response for the ongoing crisis as well as build viable partnerships with credible organizations in the regions of Somalia hardest hit by the famine.

Attention focused on the Somali map dotted with regions targeted for priority action. During the gathering, five famine struck regions were designated as priority zones that require urgent help from the Somali-Canadian Diaspora. These include Bay, Bakool, Gedo, Middle Jubba and Hiiraan where the severity of famine is classified in that order. Reports indicate that 30,000 Somali children have died in the famine zone. The Lower Shabelle and Mogadishu areas are also affected. The major problem in Mogadishu is the increased influx of people affected by famine who have been flocking to the restive capital.

“The case of Bay is particularly troubling as this area was the epicentre of the 1991-92 famine, where the region’s capital, Baidhabo, was dubbed the city of death with the famine of that period taking 300 lives each day,” said Abdifatah Maroyare, co-ordinator for the Centre for Youth Development and Mentoring Services that provides academic, social and recreational supports for at risk youth.

In the ongoing crisis, 100,000 people displaced by the famine in the hardest hit areas have found their way to recently established camps in the Mogadishu area.

Abdifatah noted that “it is important for Aran to continue with its outreach activities and maintain contact with among other groups, the faith community where fundraising has been going on.

The Dundas Square public outreach campaign was a successful event and Aran should build on such initiatives”.

Participants at the meeting noted that the people trapped in the Al-Shabab controlled famine zone are the most oppressed communities in Somalia and progressive forces should therefore stand up for the rights of these people and fight against injustices visited upon them in what is essentially a man-made famine.

In the wider context, it was observed that it has been difficult for aid to reach people in Al-Shabab controlled regions where aid agencies are banned and in Ogaden region, which is under a blockade by the Ethiopian regime.

According to forum participants, the Mogadishu area is also in crisis. Although Mogadishu has water wells and government exists there, it has recently experienced heavy rainfall where the outbreak of cholera and other water-borne diseases are a major risk factor that can impact negatively on the health of people housed in makeshift shelters in the surrounding camps.

“The hardest hit areas should be the priority for famine relief. It is in these areas where people are dying in large numbers, where people’s livestock have been wiped out by the drought and where weak mothers are forced to abandon their children” said Hassan “Karate”, anchor of Ogaal Radio, 88.9FM adding that “In the absence of external help, the strategy here is for Somalis to help their folks who are suffering. Whatever Somali people can bring in terms of resources, expertise, fundraising, media exposure etc should form part of a cause inspired by self-help initiatives. The young generation has been doing an excellent work on this front and should continue to double their efforts.”

Suad Aimad, an organizer with Aran, said that “Aran has brought people together since 1994 for the purpose of delivering aid to Somalia. The community consultation meeting is meant to map out a plan for an expanded humanitarian response especially in priority regions while working in partnership with like-minded organizations”.

Dahir Galbeti, a community developer, underscored the need to have an effective partner on the ground.

“We need to partner with a local organization inside Somalia that can be trusted with logistics and overall delivery of aid” Said Dahir.

Suad said that Aran has people on the ground and informed the gathering that “Aran’s President has left Kenya for the Bay region. Aran has reports from the ground- from places like Hiiraan, Bay and Gedo etc.”

Aran has been monitoring the situation on the ground closely.

“We have reports from Bay, Bakool, Hiiraan and Mogadishu that we would share with donors. We need to prioritize along the 5 mentioned high priority famine areas. No one is in the Bay and Bakool area due to blockade by Al-Shabab. Even the media says that these are places where urgent aid should be taken. Our plan is to set out priorities that would make the delivery of aid accessible to the worst hit areas. ” said Hassan Sheikh, Aran’s relief co-ordinator who maintains a daily telephone contact with people on the ground in the Bay and Bakool regions.

It was observed that Turkey, a major contributor to famine relief in Somalia as well as Saudi Arabia, U.A.E and Kuwait, are among the countries that have delivered aid to the Somali capital of Mogadishu. While these efforts are laudable, participants said it is time for Somali-Canadians to do their part by delivering aid supplies directly to areas designated as priority regions inside Somalia.

“The youth are significant contributors to the relief cause and we would greatly rely on their efforts. We need to distribute aid equally to the 5 or 6 worst affected areas. We call for an independent delivery of aid while relying on credible partners on the ground. We need to take humanitarian aid to the hinterland where it is most needed” said Abdi Hashised, the Executive Director of the Jane Alliance Neighbourhood Services.

In its ongoing efforts to establish a solid presence on the ground, Aran will soon send a representative to Mogadishu and other affected areas to assess the situation on the ground. The representative will gather information from people in Mogadishu who arrive from priority regions. While in Somalia, the travelling member would update Aran on regular basis. This will help the organization formulate effective response plans and lay the foundation for an extended action on the ground.

For more information, Aran Somali-Canadian Relief can be reached on the following phone numbers:

Hassan Sheikh (416) 837-1948, Suad Aimad (647) 703-7229.

Feed Somalia Subway Drive Raises Funds for Famine Relief.

By Farid Omar.

The campaign to feed Somalia’s starving hit Toronto’s underground as an energetic team of young volunteers descended on the TTC subway system to raise much-needed funds for their famine ravaged homeland.

Deployed in nine select subway stations along the Yonge-University-Spadina and Bloor-Danforth lines, the mostly student volunteers from the Feed Somalia youth-led international aid initiative collected money from Toronto commuters, between 7:00am – 9:30am and 3:00pm – 6:30pm during the Monday, August 8 and Wednesday, August 10 morning and evening rush hours.

By the end of the two-day subway funds drive, over $24,000 was raised for the victims of disaster in Somalia. Thanks to Toronto and Canada's culture of giving as well as the tireless efforts of dedicated volunteers and coordinators doing their best to alleviate human suffering in the disaster zone.

Feed Somalia is working in partnership with Human Concern International (HCI), a Canadian, charitable organization operating in 34 countries including Somalia. All proceeds from the subway blitz will go toward famine relief in Somalia.

Facing its worst drought in 60 years, the war-torn Horn of African nation is gripped by a devastating famine that is threatening millions of lives. The UN says 12 million people in East Africa are affected by the famine with conflict-prone Somalia being the hardest-hit country.

Latest reports indicate that 30,000 Somali children have already died in the last three months. If immediate action is not taken by the international community to curtail the preventable famine, over 600,000 severely malnourished children on brink of starvation may perish in the next few weeks.

Displaced by drought, famine and conflict, thousands of people are forced to trek under scorching hit for hundreds of miles across the Somali desert to refugee camps in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia. Children, the weak and elderly, have succumbed to the harsh terrain while emaciated mothers and babies have reportedly died at the doorsteps of refugee camps. Those who survive the harrowing journey end up at the inhospitable Dadaab camp, located in northern Kenya. Nearly half million Somali refugees are crammed in squalid conditions in what has become the world’s largest refugee camp.

“The response has been good as people have been donating” said Elham Ashkar, the co-ordinator of Feed Somalia’s subway campaign who on Monday evening, led the drive from St Andrew Station. She was joined by volunteers Muna Rage, Mahad Mohamed and Suad Abukar. The Toronto fundraising drive follows a similar event in Edmonton where volunteers recently raised $14,000 during a walk for Somalia, exceeding their $10,000 target.

The well-co-ordinated funds drive has received a good share of media attention with reports that CP24, CBC and OMNI TV had conducted interviews at the Kipling and Yonge/Bloor subway stations.

According to Elham, Feed Somalia started in Toronto but has quickly grown into a global movement. Thanks to social media as tweeting and facebooking activists helped create other chapters in Edmonton, Winnipeg, London, Ottawa, Nairobi and California etc. The Feed Somalia website includes tabs for all chapter cities where potential donors can submit online donations via HCI. The youth-driven initiative has partners in different parts of the world.

Elham urged the Canadian public to donate even beyond the subway blitz saying that “the Canadian government will be matching donations dollar for dollar till September 16th”.

“Donations are tax deductible with no overhead cost to donors as hundred percent of money donated will go toward local NGOs. HCI is also donating additional money from its own budget” said Elham adding that “donations are directly channeled to two reliable partners on the ground; the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation and Himilio, another local NGO. These organizations are engaged in food distribution initiatives.”

Elham notes that HCI and Feed Somalia are reputable organizations that are transparent and accountable to the public.

“We monitor the situation closely and our partners update us regularly on the operations on the ground. This serves as a proof that we are openly accountable to the donors.”

Apart from the ongoing famine, Elham says Somalia is facing long term development challenges. In the interim, concerted efforts should be taken to alleviate the humanitarian crisis but the world should keep in mind Somalia’s long term needs.

“Right now, our main focus is the famine. Later, in the long run, once stability returns to the country, we would help with infrastructural development and other needed projects” said Elham.

In addition to raising funds, the campaign is also raising greater public awareness on the unfolding crisis.

“People have been asking questions and I think the public has a right to know where the money goes and what’s happening on the ground. It is our duty to inform and enlighten potential donors. The more people get informed, the more they are inclined to donate,” said Elham.

Armed with pamphlets, photos, placards and sound knowledge of the crisis, volunteers in nine TTC subway stations were doing precisely the same - inform and enlighten.

“We give out fact sheets to potential donors and explain to them what they are donating for” said Suad Sidow, a grade 12 student planning to pursue university education. Her grade 12 colleague, Halla Ahmed, reached out to commuters at the Yorkdale station chanting, “Feed Somalia! Help Save Lives! Children are affected most by the drought!” Both Suad and Halla were born in Canada. Their parents fled at the onset of the Somali civil war in the early nineties to seek refuge in Canada.

As Halla chanted, a smiling commuter placed a donation in the collection box.

“People in Somalia are in desperate need of help, that’s why I am donating” said John Dickenson, a Torontonian preparing to catch a subway train during the evening rush at Yorkdale station.

Another commuter, Muhammad Al-Hashti, handed a donation to the volunteers. “I have an obligation to help my brothers and sisters in Somalia” said Al-Hashti, originally from Saudi Arabia.

At the Dundas station on Monday evening, Hassan Abukar led volunteers Mahad Mohamed, Leila Ibrahim and Roda Abdi.

“People are donating. We have had a good response so far. Commuters have been placing all types of donations; $5s $10s, $20 bills etc. In the first 2 hours of the morning rush on Monday, we collected approximately between $500- $700” said Hassan.

Non-Somali volunteers at Dundas station were pitching in as well. Vimo Kumar, a Canadian of Sri Lankan origin said “I want to help Somalia. I have lots of Muslim and Somali friends.” Sennai Russom, an Eritrean-Canadian volunteer, concurred with Vimo, saying that he came out to lend support to the Somali cause.

“Help Somalia! Please Donate! Any Change would Help!” chanted the volunteers as concerned commuters chipped in their donations.

Maimuna Diop, a Senegalese donor said that “it is unfair we have everything in Canada while people in Somalia are starving. I would encourage everyone to donate”.
Valerie, a Torontonian, made a donation noting that she understands Horn of African issues well having lived and worked in Eritrea and Ethiopia in the past.

At Yonge & Bloor station, Sahra Mohamed and Shukri Abukar were very busy reaching out to potential donors during the Monday evening rush. “Torontonians are giving” they said.

The Wednesday evening rush was abuzz with hundreds of commuters milling around the busy Downsview station. Ibrahim Ali, a Feed Somalia co-ordinator, was upbeat and felt that things were going pretty well.

“I am impressed by the generosity of Torontonians. They empathize with our cause and seem to be aware of the issues. It is good to be generating bucks for this often overlooked cause” said Ibrahim.

Khadija Ahmed, a volunteer at Downsview, said that “nobody should be starving. I am here to help the cause for our country.” The Canadian born, York University Liberal Arts student hopes to visit Somalia in future once peace and stability returns to her homeland.

Ibrahim notes neighbouring countries are also suffering but Somalia remains the hardest hit stating that that the current crisis is affecting all of Somalia, not just the south.

“The only difference is that the northern and central regions of Somalia have relative stability. In the south, there is no stability and no effective central government. That’s why HCI is focusing its attention in the south but we invite other big NGOs to help northern parts that have regional administrations, but albeit, fledgling ones and hence still need help” said Ibrahim.

Ibrahim reminded the public that fundraising for Somalia goes beyond the subway blitz.

“We understand that not everyone can make it to the subway stations to donate. People can still donate online by visiting the HCI website or by contacting the organization directly” said Ibrahim.

Dahaba Hassan is a student at Seneca at York. Overseeing fellow volunteers during the Wednesday evening rush at Dundas station, Dahaba said that “a lot of people are generous. They realize that the humanitarian crisis is an issue not just for Somalis, but for the entire human race. That’s why we are reaching out to non-Somalis”.

New Documentary Film Highlights the Plight of Somali Refugees.

By Farid Omar.

Somali-led initiatives to raise greater awareness on the plight of Somali refugees took to the silver screen in Toronto and other western capitals with the recent screening of the acclaimed documentary, "Dadaab: Get There or Die Trying".

The documentary is the work of Somali filmmaker, Ahmed Farah, who has documented the life of Somali refugees for several years, and Abdisalaan Aato and Deeq Afrika. It highlights the plight of Somali refugees who endure hardship and untold suffering in a hellish journey that has claimed numerous lives, notably children, weak mothers and the elderly.

In a public screening organized by Aspire 2 Lead, a youth-group, Somali-Canadians and members of the general public thronged the Nat Taylor Theatre at York University on Friday, July 29th to watch the documentary and hear Professor Mohamud Siad Togane and other featured panelists speak.

The documentary traces the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees into the world’s largest refugee camp, in Dadaab, Kenya where close to half million displaced Somalis live in squalid conditions.

The combination of two decades of a devastating civil war and recurring humanitarian disasters including the ongoing drought and famine ravaging much of the Horn of Africa region is pushing more refugees to trek under scorching heat on a lengthy and dangerous path across the Somali desert to the inhospitable Dadaab camp.

Displaced by conflict, drought and famine, Somali refugees are left with no option but walk hundreds of miles to Dadaab camp where upon arrival, their ordeal turns into another nightmare.

Media attention is focused on refugees arriving at the Dadaab camp while those who can’t make it through the Liboi-Dadaab corridor, which can take days to cross, are left with nothing. The documentary highlights the need to reach this unserved segment of refugee population through the provision of immediate relief under the banner “survival backpacks for Somali refugees”. In part, the filmmakers hope to fundraise for the Survival Packs campaign: The typical backpack relief supplies would include blanket, shoes, canteen for water etc.

During the shooting, the filmmakers embarked on a backpack trip across the harsh corridor that stretches from Liboi, located at the Kenya-Somalia border, to assist refugees making their way to Dadaab. Like most other Somali analysts, the filmmakers are urging those willing to help the refugees to go beyond Dadaab.

The producers of this documentary not only uncover the perils of the killer path (road to Dadaab) that is taking lives but mistreatment of refugees in Dadaab camp where unprocessed, emaciated refugees, are forced to wait for days without food and shelter.

Refugees interviewed by the filmmakers give disturbing accounts of their harrowing journey to Dadaab with grisly tales of elderly and infants dying along the way and weak mothers forced to abandon their children who inevitably succumb to the harsh terrain. The refugees also speak about the appalling conditions in the Dadaab camp such as the lack of assistance for new arrivees who endure lengthy waits for relief help.

Speaking to the public during his keynote address, Professor Togane recounted how he was driven out of Somalia in1973, blaming his forced exile on the then military regime. Saying that the Somali crisis has been in the making since 1973, Togane said that unnecessary “enmity (within Somalis) produces obscenity like this” adding that Somalis should now “better dwell on what they can do than dwell in the past”.

Stating that war and famine go hand in hand, Professor Togane, who is known for his stern rebukes, blamed Somalia’s crisis on local, regional and international actors. At the national level, he castigated Somalia’s political class that has driven the war-torn nation into ruins.

“This corrupt leadership is accountable to nobody. These leaders have no vision beyond their bellies. When there is no vision, people perish” said Professor Togane.
At the regional level, Mr. Togane highlighted how neighbouring countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and to some extent Djibouti that are fueling the Somali conflict, are responsible for the ongoing mayhem. It is not in the interest of these countries to see peace and stability return to Somalia.

At the international level, Mr. Togane blamed the US for destroying Somalia’s agricultural sector having flooded the local market in the past with food aid. Prior to that, Somali farmers were harvesting enough food sufficient for local consumption.
Mr. Togane also hit out at the UN and other international aid agencies saying that they are equally culpable for Somalia’s misery.

“The UN and the aid industry are making money out of Somalia. This Nairobi-based cabal has never set foot inside Somalia for the past 20 years” noted Mr. Togane. The best solution is for " Somalis to put the UN and Museveni (Ugandan Leader) out of the meetings". President Museveni is one of the architects of the divisive Kampala Accord, which Somali observers say places their homeland under an illegal trusteeship.

Unity, Mr. Togane emphasized, is the only viable avenue out of the current political stalemate in Somalia.

“If we don’t unite and overcome our petty differences, nothing will work. The ongoing suffering is largely due to lack of unity. This has made Somalia become the country of death” Said Togane.

Somalis, Mr. Togane argued, should learn from the experience of Cambodia.
“In Cambodia’s killing fields, over one million people perished. But the people of Cambodia got up and said no more death. We want life!”

Invoking Bob Marley’s “one love, one heart” philosophy, Professor Togane called upon Somalis in North America to come together and organize the biggest demonstrations ever in New York in September, “to shame Somali and world leaders” who will converge at the UN during the upcoming summit of the General Assembly for "allowing Somalia to descend into further chaos".

Somali-Canadian Rally Drums Up Support for Beleaguered Homeland

By Farid Omar.

The stifling summer heat was no deterrent for the concerned Somali-Canadians who converged outside the US Consulate in downtown Toronto to galvanize action for their drought and famine ravaged homeland.

“Help Somalia!” “Save the Children of Horn of Africa!” “Stop the War!” and “No Peace, No Justice!’ were powerful chants that greeted the public, pedestrians and onlookers alike as motorists honked to express solidarity with members of the Project ARAN Canada, organizers of the Saturday, July 30th rally and march and the multitude of demonstrators waving banners and placards clad in white and orange T-Shirts emblazoned with “Help Somalia” slogans.

More chants of “Stand up Canada! Open Your Hearts! Open Your Wallets!” rang across the downtown Toronto streets. ARAN stands for “prosper” and “grow” and the nascent organization is credited with galvanizing action within the Somali-Canadian community and in mainstream Canadian circles.

With latest UN reports indicating that tens of thousands have already died and hundreds of thousands are at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa, Somali-Canadians are stepping up efforts to raise greater awareness about the crisis as well as expand relief campaigns for their beleaguered nation.

Somalia is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years and the UN has declared the unfolding humanitarian disaster “the worst crisis” in the world today. Close to 12 million people in the region are affected while hundreds of thousands of children in Somalia are severely malnourished. The UN has officially declared a famine in the epicentre of the crisis – the worst hit regions of Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle while the rest of the country is classified to be “on brink of a famine”.

Compounded by ongoing conflict in South-Central Somalia, thousands of people continue to trek hundreds of miles in scorching heat across the Somali desert to overcrowded refugee camps located in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia. The majority of these refugees end up in Dadaab camp, in northern Kenya, the largest in the world where over 400,000 people are crammed in squalid conditions.

Nawal Isse, a social worker and Project ARAN organizer based in Toronto, arrived in Canada at the onset of the Somali civil war. She is determined to set foot on the ground to help in the relief efforts. Despite her unwavering commitment to support her homeland, Nawal, who arrived in Canada at only age 4, admits that going back to Somalia can be a challenge.

“The only country I have known since childhood is Canada. I consider myself the lost generation. Canada is the only place I can call home. I feel lost in the middle but still have small, lovely memories of Somalia” said Nawal, adding that “I wish I could have been returning to Somalia on a pleasant, fun-filled vacation, but that’s not the case. The situation on the ground puts tears in my eyes knowing that I am going back for reasons of crisis. I can feel the pain from here already. I feel obligated to help my brothers and sisters back home who are dying. I want to help. I want to be their voice. I urge every Somali-Canadian to do the same.”

Nawal equally expressed her solidarity with the entire Horn of African community that is engulfed in this crisis saying that victims of disaster in this region should be accorded all the help they need. A strong proponent of Somali-Canadian centred response , Nawal observes that self-reliant, self-directed action is the most viable mechanism of alleviating the human suffering in Somalia.

“ We need to take the initiative to act on behalf of our people. We shouldn’t rely on others to fix our problem. Somalia has a new generation of young people like me it can count on. We need to take back our country. Somalia has been led by others for far too long. It is time Somalia takes the lead. I can see Somali youth in North America, Europe, Middle East and elsewhere mobilizing and taking action. For Somalia! By Somalia! should be our motto.”

But it would take more than action to tackle Somalia’s intractable problems. Unity, Nawal noted, should be the cornerstone of the struggle to rebuild the war-torn nation.

“We don’t want Somalia to disintegrate. If we unite and consolidate our ranks, we can conquer all the ills and misfortunes in Somalia and the Horn of Africa at large. You can never underestimate the power of unity. We need to band together as one people. For that to happen, we must transcend tribal and regional loyalties. I don’t believe in petty tribalism. Those who have the same ideas and share the same goals to help Somalia are my tribe. The same is true of like minded youth in the Diaspora."

Like Nawal, Fahima Artan arrived in Canada at a young age. Fahima stated that Somali-Canadians are grateful to Canada for providing a safe heaven, re-settlement programs and education for those fleeing the protracted conflict and wished that she could one day “go back home to a peaceful, stable Somalia”.

“The reason I came out today is that I am disturbed by the fact that children are dying. We must show the world we can get together as a people and take action of our own. If each individual, young and old, donates $1 each, that would make a huge difference. I will do everything in my power to alleviate the suffering of the victims of the disaster” said Fahima.

Her views are echoed by youngsters Aisha Mohamed and Iman Issa who said “every penny, every dollar counts”. Aisha says that Canada is doing the best it can but hopes that it allocates the bulk of the aid geared for the East Africa famine relief to Somalia, the hardest hit nation in the region.

“Every 6 minutes, a child dies in Somalia. We must raise awareness to get people to join and donate generously toward our cause” adds Aisha. Hawa Kin Mohamed concurs with Aisha and Iman stating that “kids and women with no food, water and shelter are dying. Every penny counts! We must stand up for Somalia.”

Suad Aimad, an organizer with ARAN said that the organization came up with the initiative to encourage every Somali-Canadian to participate directly in relief efforts to rescue their beloved homeland. But Suad is increasingly concerned that the ongoing crisis and overall political instability in Somalia could have far reaching implications that may potentially threaten the very existence of this nation.

“The protracted conflict in Somalia and recurring crises are creating a disturbing pattern of exodus and depopulation which in the long run, may drive this nation into extinction. If Somalis don’t unite to end the ongoing mayhem, we may end up in the annals of history as a nation that was driven into extinction by disunity and societal fragmentation” said Suad.

She issued a stern warning that if Somalis are not careful, “Historians will teach future classrooms that once upon a time, a prosperous Horn of African nation called Somalia collapsed and never recovered, its people were dispersed all over the world and lost all traces of their identity and the entire nation was wiped out from the face of the world map.”

Suad said that she doesn’t want to sound pessimistic about the future of Somalia but thinks that it is time someone raised the alarm. “Like no other country in the world, Somalis are being driven out of their country or choose to leave voluntarily on a massive scale. We have never seen this level of exodus in recent memory. If our people continue to flock in large numbers into Kenya and Ethiopia, they will down the road, become Kenyanized or Ethiopianized. The foundations upon which we can rebuild and save our country are rooted in Somalia, not neighbouring countries. To prevent the situation from turning calamitous, we must unite.”

Sagal Ahmed, ARAN’s assistant co-ordinator, said that unity and action on the ground hold the key to unlocking Somalia’s dilemma.

“Our people must stick together and unite in the face of the unfolding crisis. We are obligated to help each other and must do everything in our power to facilitate relief operations on the ground. The most effective way to alleviate the suffering is to step up disaster response inside Somalia. In the next 3 months, 3.5 million people may perish if immediate actions are not taken to halt the famine. It is imperative that Somali-based initiatives and global relief campaigns establish a solid base inside Somalia to directly assist the victims of the disaster” said Sagal.

While Project ARAN Canada calls upon Somali-Canadians to stand up for their country, Hassan Sheikh, an organizer with the dynamic group says that it is encouraging to see Canada taking a prominent role at state level response.

“We thank the Canadian government for its excellent response and the Canadian citizens for doing their part. Canada and its people are known for their culture of giving and commitment to help others. There is no better way and time to demonstrate this level of generosity than in the current crisis” said Hassan.

Of late, development analysts have criticized northern-led NGOs for taking an easier route - turning the Dadaab refugee camp into a hub of relief efforts. Like many other concerned Somali-Canadians, Hassan is calling for aid agencies to go beyond Dadaab by reaching out to victims of disaster trapped in the epicentre of the ongoing crisis.

“Right now, 3.5 million people in the Bay, Bakool, Gedo and Lower Shebelle regions are at risk of perishing in this famine struck zone. When it comes to humanitarian response, the UN and other international aid agencies can’t pick and choose where to operate. They should go beyond Dadaab by reaching out to the worst hit areas inside Somalia. While emergency disaster response can be tricky and complex, humanitarian intervention should have no borders” said Hassan, adding that “Project ARAN Canada is ready to help aid agencies navigate around language and cultural barriers and facilitate the smooth delivery of aid to where it is needed most inside Somalia while coordinating closely with local communities”.

Stating that ARAN will act as the voice of the voiceless, Hassan believes that the ongoing crisis should not be solely seen as a Somali problem but an issue for entire humanity.

“This should be no different than the disaster responses for Haiti and Japan where people from across the world acted together. Regardless of their race, colour, religion or creed, we want everyone to participate in the relief efforts, not just Somalis, or Africans or Canadians but entire humanity in general” said Hassan.

Apart from calling for international humanitarian appeal, protesters also felt that everything should be done to bring the devastating Somali civil war to a halt.

“While we are here to demonstrate to fellow Canadians that Somalia needs help, Somalis must do something to stop the bloodshed. The ongoing crisis is compounded by the 20 years long political turmoil. We don’t want Somalia to go down further than this” noted Mohamed Omar.

According to Mohamed, only an end to the political upheavals can save Somalia.

“People are needlessly dying of war and hunger. There had been no stable government in Somalia for 2 decades now. We better put in place a stable, competent government. Somalia would be in better position to tackle any impending crisis if it re-establishes a functioning government.”

Karim Nur also emphasized the unity project. “The saddest thing to ever happen is for an entire nation to be struck by a famine. We must come together for the future of our homeland. We can make a difference if we work together as one people.”

Project ARAN Canada has been hailed in media circles as an initiative of Somali-Canadians of the Lawrence and Weston neigbourhood, the commercial hub of the community. Nasro Sheikh Hassan, the proprietor of Golden Hair designs, is a member of group of mothers who pioneered community mobilization that culminated with the founding of ARAN. Nasro would like to see an end to the influx of Somali refugees into neighbouring countries where they are often mistreated and forced to live in deplorable conditions. She also confers tangible solutions to check the flow of refugees across borders.

“We must stop the influx of the displaced into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia where they are often abused. Worse still, the weak, including children, mothers and the elderly, lack the energy to walk hundreds of miles in difficult terrain. They mostly end up dying on the way. The solution is to set up three refugee camps in the border areas inside Somalia in places like Bulla Hawo (Beled Hawo) and Doble while an interior camp should be opened in the Kismayo area. We also want the establishment of transit camps where aid workers operating on the ground can provide temporary relief for the displaced people who are trekking long distances in search of help” said Nasro who decried the actions of NGOs that profit from the suffering of Somali people.

Nasro would like to see more direct action from her community insisting that it is an obligation to help the suffering. Saying that every single dollar counts, Nasro feels that even minimal steps can produce results.

“If mothers who feed their children with MacDonald can cut back on that and every individual cuts back on their daily intake of coffee, it would free much needed dollars that can be re-directed to the needy in Somalia.”

Her fellow community activist and organizer, Suad Aimad, recently told Ogaal Radio (88.9FM) that “Canada is the land of plenty where people throw food into garbage while people in Somalia are starving.” These calls for food recovery models that have been applied elsewhere are now finding some traction in the Somali community.

Nasro believes that the ultimate solution lies in the establishment, of a strong, united, and competent national government in Somalia. Since parents are more concerned with the disintegration of a homeland they may not have the ability to rebuild by themselves, she sees hope in Somali youth who are mobilizing and taking action across the world.

“Without peace, there is no life. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pumped into what the international community calls a government in Somalia. No one knows where the missing dollars end up. Somalia should rely on the youth who were born and raised here in the diaspora to rebuild our homeland. These youth are free from the scourge associated with clanism. They are the best asset we have today. They are here to build Canada and they have the potential to rebuild Somalia as well” said Nasro.

Like everyone at ARAN, Nasro is of the view that Somalia is both a problem for Somalis and entire humanity.

“Canada is our home and we are all Canadians. Our primary objective is to help our people and Somalis should take the lead in the ongoing relief efforts. But the crisis we see today is also a call for humanity to act. Humanity came together for Haiti’s sake, which is laudable. It must also do everything to help rescue Somalia” said Nasro.

The mere mention of her name sends cold chills running up the spines of the Ford brothers. During her last year’s municipal campaign for Etobicoke North’s Ward 2, Dr. Cadigia Ali gallantly took on the Ford brothers (Mayor Rob Ford and Councilor Doug Ford) and won the public debates hands down. Despite missing out on City Hall, Dr. Cadigia Ali is still fighting to stop Rob Ford’s agenda. Protestors were encouraged to see Dr. Cadigia plying her familiar territory- grassroots community mobilizing and on this particular day, the rally for Somalia.

“In 1993, I was at this venue (outside US Consulate) for a famine relief rally for Somalia. It hurts me that almost 20 years later, I am back at this very venue for the same reasons” lamented Dr. Cadigia.

“I am upset and tired of the leadership vacuum in Somalia. The people of Somalia are caught in between a corrupt and ineffective government and the deadly Al-Shabab insurgency wrecking havoc on Somalia. Instead of helping Somalia’s children at this hour of need, these forces are still battling in the streets. We have had warlord MPs and Ministers who are not accountable to anyone and the reckless Al-Shabab who are blocking aid while innocent people starve” said Dr. Cadigia.

“Our children are being abducted, drugged and forcibly recruited as child soldiers by the insurgents. Our women and children are paying a heavy price in this protracted conflict. Blocking humanitarian aid is a serious crime. For whom does The Hague exist? asked Dr. Cadigia.

Dr. Cadigia says Somalia is technically under “a forced trusteeship that has illegally placed its sovereignty in the hands of member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) notably, Uganda and Ethiopia. It is basically run by outsiders. Good people who went back to help their country are not allowed to work” noted Dr. Cadigia, emphasizing that “Somalis must come together and build effective security in Somalia. Without security, nothing will work.”

To donate money toward humanitarian relief in the Horn of Africa, donors can reach Project ARAN Canada by phone at the following numbers:

Hassan Sheikh (416) 837-1948, Suad Aimad (647) 703-7229.

Read more:

Read more:

Miss Teen Canada- World Gives Voice to Somali Humanitarian Cause.

By Farid Omar.

The UN has declared the humanitarian crisis in Somalia “the worst disaster” in the world as the war-torn nation faces the worst drought in 60 years.

Days after U2’s Bono, and Somali-Canadian rapper, K’naan, met with Minnesotan Somalis to raise awareness on the ongoing famine and drought afflicting Somalia, Lauren Howe, the newly-crowned Miss Teen Canada -World gave her voice to the victims of the crisis calling upon Canada and the international community to expand relief efforts for the humanitarian disaster in the Horn of Africa region.

On July 16th, Lauren Howe beat a strong field of 74 other contestants to be crowned the 2011 Miss Teen Canada-World in a colourful pageant held at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, in downtown, Toronto. Stunningly beautiful, Lauren won the competition because of her strength in the live interviews and her prowess at blogging.

Rightfully the teen queen of beauty and brains, Lauren will now represent Canada at the Miss Teen World pageant in Houston Texas August 1 – 5. The big night is the pageant’s final on August 5th when she could become an international celebrity. This year, there are 24 other contestants from countries all over the world in what promises to be an eventful pageant.

In an exclusive interview with FaridNet, Lauren, 18, outlined her national platform of raising awareness on hunger and homelessness in local communities, where untouched wasted food could be given to the homeless. Stating that the prevalence of hunger is also a global issue, the Miss Teen Canada-World called for concerted international action to address the unfolding crisis in Somalia, the epicentre of the drought and famine affecting millions in East Africa.

At the Minneapolis event, Bono, the U2 front man and K’naan, the Somali born rapper and poet performed a duet of “stand by me,” in solidarity with the people of Somalia. Minneapolis, Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in America.
Likewise in Toronto, which is home to the largest Somali Diaspora community in Canada, Lauren said that the victims of the humanitarian disaster in Somalia and East Africa in general require urgent help.

“Given the scale of the crisis in Somalia, the population affected by the ongoing disaster should be accorded hundred percent support by Canada, the United Nations and the international community” said Lauren.

Aid agencies observe that the humanitarian disaster in Somalia is taking its toll on its youngest generation with the majority of the population affected by the monumental crisis being children and young people under 18 years of age.
A news maker and a high profile teen, Lauren ’s humanitarian appeal to the international community brings much needed attention to a crisis that is threatening to decimate Somalia’s future generation if swift action is not taken to curtail the ongoing suffering. The UN says that malnutrition rates among the over 2 million children affected by the crippling drought are severely high.

The majority of Somali refugees displaced by the drought and conflict end up in the Dadaab camp, located in neighbouring Kenya. Built to house 90,000 people when civil war broke out in Somalia, the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says that Dadaab is now home to more than 400,000 refugees making it the world's largest refugee camp.

UN officials state that 12 million people in East Africa are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. Lauren notes that the “flow of thousands of Somalis displaced by the drought into refugee camps in neighbouring Kenya attests to the gravity of the situation on the ground.”

David Mitchell, the British Minister for International Development recently decried the slow international response to the crisis calling it “derisory and dangerously inadequate”. While Canada has pledged over $60 million to help alleviate suffering in the drought and famine zones of East Africa, Lauren states that the “burden of relief efforts should be divided among all countries in the world and especially the wealthy nations in the West that are better endowed”.

“Canada may have budget allocations for different priorities. But with the worsening humanitarian situation in places like Somalia, I think it is time Canada re-directed more aid and resources to this crisis” said Lauren.

Known for her blogging prowess and commitment to social justice, Lauren further calls for progressive initiatives to combat negative stereotypes attached to certain communities.

“In Somalia, media depictions focus on the negative such as reports on the scourge of piracy and pirates” says Lauren adding that “droughts and famine are disasters that need to be tackled, but they can often be associated with images that can depict affected population in negative light. In the ongoing crisis, the media should refrain from dwelling on negative stereotypes and focus on the important issues being raised; helping those who need help most”.

Having visited Ghana in the past, Lauren notes that Africa is unfairly being presented in the global tourist sector as an “exotic” continent full of wild animals.
“Africa is not a wild place. It is like any other continent that has its own state structures. Although it faces challenges, there are many things that Africa can always improve on” says Lauren.

In her campaign to fight hunger and homelessness, Lauren is an ardent advocate of food recovery initiatives. In Canada, a lot of good, unused food that goes to waste is often discarded. According to the food recovery model, non-perishable foods such as rice and other canned, dried foods can be recovered and redistributed to the poor.

Lauren’s platform of food recovery is echoed by others in the Somali community. In a recent interview with Ogaal Radio (88.9FM), Somali-Canadian activist Suad Aimad stated that “Canada is the land of plenty where people throw food into garbage while people in Somalia are starving”. The food recovery model has been used by the UN during the Haiti crisis and Lauren feels that communities can apply a similar model to Somalia by working closely with the UN.

Lauren’s social activism is not limited to fighting poverty and homelessness. She is in the forefront of advocating for the still underway Patent Pool, an initiative that could make available affordable HIV/AIDS drugs to patients in the developing nations who can’t afford antiretroviral drugs priced beyond their reach.

Having explored this concept in one of her school projects, Lauren, a scientific researcher, observes that the Patent Pool concept is a possible solution to the pandemic as it allows for the “voluntary licensing of intellectual property, where companies and researchers may access the patent pool to retrieve the patents in exchange for a royalty payment to the inventors. This is a win - win situation because more people would access the pool and more manufacturers will gain the right to sell HIV drugs to the public” says Lauren.

Planning to pursue a biochemical degree at University level, Lauren hopes to bring her expertise and activism to this issue in pharmaceutical circles at an appropriate time. The sky is the limit for the energetic, outgoing and optimistic Miss Teen Canada-World who is set to take the world stage by storm.

For more information, please visit:

Somali-Canadians Launch Humanitarian Appeal on Ogaal Radio.

By Farid Omar.

Shocked by the unfolding humanitarian disaster that is afflicting their war-torn nation, Somali-Canadians are taking action to help alleviate the ongoing suffering in Somalia.

The Abar Project spearheaded by ARAN Somali-Canadian Relief Organization, has launched a fundraising appeal during a live broadcast on Ogaal Radio, 88.9FM on Sunday, July 17th. Ogaal is the largest Somali language Radio Program in Canada reaching over 150,000 listeners in the Greater Toronto Area and across Southern Ontario every Sundays, 10:00 p.m. - midnight and millions throughout the world over the internet.

Abar is Somali for draught and the project hopes to mobilize Somali-Canadians to take direct action to help mitigate the humanitarian crisis.

Anchor Hassan “Karate” was joined in the studio by two prominent Somali-Canadian activists from ARAN, Suad Aimad and Hassan Sheikh Adan to appeal to Somali-Canadians to donate generously toward the relief campaign for the victims of the humanitarian disaster in Somalia.

Somalia has been hit by the worst drought in 60 years and seniour UN officials have declared it “the worst humanitarian crisis” in the world today. Approximately 3000 refugees cross into neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia each passing day while thousands others are displaced inside Somalia. 450,000 Somalis are crammed in the world's largest refugee camp located in Dadaab, Kenya, near the Somali border.

Clearly emotional over the airwaves, Suad Aimad spoke of the horrifying conditions facing the victims of disaster saying that children are dying on the way to refugee camps and called upon the Somali-Canadian community to urgently lend a helping hand. She said that "we live in the land of plenty (Canada) where people throw food into garbage while poor people in Somalia are starving".

“The most vulnerable in Somalia have no voice. This crisis is a wake- up call for all of us. We must take immediate action to help the needy. We call for a Somali-led Initiative to confront the humanitarian disaster. We don’t have to wait for others to act. We should take action of our own to rescue the suffering masses” said Suad.
Hassan “Karate” urged Somali-Canadians to support the Abar Project, an initiative of the ARAN Somali-Canadian Relief Organization.

“The human suffering stemming from this disaster is beyond comprehension. Left with no food and water, people have been trekking long distances in search of help. Many have fallen on the way. As Somali-Canadians, we must do everything in our power to alleviate this suffering” said Hassan “Karate”.

Hassan Sheikh reminded the public that donations toward the Abar Project are tax deductible as ARAN has a charitable status.

“The Abar Project is an initiative of the Somali residents of Lawrence and Weston neighbouhood of Toronto. ARAN is an autonomous organization that promotes self-directed, community-based action. There are no aid organizations on the ground in the worst affected areas in Somalia such as Bay and Bakool regions etc. We must start by utilizing our own resources to help our people” said Hassan Sheikh.

The Somali people are caring says Hassan Sheikh but more needs to be done. He noted that ARAN has launched a letter writing campaign targeting Canadian government officials and urged Somali-Canadians to help bring about policy changes so that Canada can respond more effectively to the humanitarian disaster that has hit Somalia hard. ARAN is planning to organize a number of fundraising events to assist the victims of disaster in Somalia. The organization is also launching a clothing drive as part of its ongoing relief efforts.

Earlier in the broadcast, Sheikh Abokor of Toronto's Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque appealed to Somali-Canadians to donate generously toward the humanitarian cause stating that it is a moral and religious obligation to help the vulnerable in their most difficult hour.

Local mosques, including Khalid Bin Al-Walid and IMO are collecting donations for the victims of disaster. These donations are being channeled through Human Concern International, an NGO that operates in 34 countries including Somalia. The Somali money transfer company, Dahabshiil, is also accepting donations that are being sent directly to victims of disaster housed in the Hager Dheer refugee camp.

During a phone-in session that solicited the views of Ogaal Radio listenership, Somali-Canadians expressed their concerns and pledged to take action. Many callers emphasized the significance of Somali unity in addressing this monumental crisis afflicting their beloved nation. A united front that transcends clannish and regional loyalties is key to resolving the crisis, they said.

To donate money toward humanitarian relief in Somalia, potential donors can reach ARAN’s Abar Project by phone at the following numbers:

Hassan Sheikh (416) 837-1948, Suad Aimad (647) 703-7229.

Ogaal Radio is also involved in the relief efforts and people can reach anchor Hassan "Karate" at (416) 278-2944.