Mogadishu (Sunatimes) Could it be? Are we about to start a newsletter with some good news? Yes!
Please forgive the gushing enthusiasm, but it is rather nice to be able to write something positive for a change, albeit of a limited nature and with the usual caveats attached.
The source of all this excitement is that the UN's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit -Somaliaon Fridayannounced that Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle have allbeen downgraded from famine statusto emergency status, the first sign of the slight easing of the famine that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Feeling good? Well, sorry to disappoint, but it's back to the regularly scheduled misery.
The unit warned that 250,000 people continue to face imminent starvation and that deaths are likely to continue over the coming months. More worryingly, Oxfam and UNICEF have warned that the increase in fighting sinceKenyaentered the mix could peg back the gains by forcing more people to flee and limiting humanitarian access.
So far, Kenya's actions have been limited by bad weather, but the plan was to push on to Kismayo (although some Kenyan officials are suddenly saying this is no longer the plan) and tackle al-Shabaab in its stronghold. They are currently ringing Afmadow, while al-Shabaab is consolidating its forces in Marka. Even with Kenya's limited military engagements, there has been plenty of fighting. From days ofclashes and grenade attacks in Mogadishuthat claimed dozens of lives,to fightingover the town of Busarin Gedo,to al-Shabaablaunching attacks on pro-government forcesin Kulbiyow,there are plenty of signs that the aid agencies warnings over conflict slowing down efforts to tackle the famine are justified.
Aside from the battles on the ground, there has been plenty of aerial activity - one of the key concerns for many civilians afraid of being caught up in air strikes targeting al-Shabaab camps and leaders.Atriple missile strike on al-Shabaab camps- including one on Lanta Buro that prompted the usual hasty and inaccurate TFG claims of senior insurgents being killed -was the highest-profile incident in a week that also saw aircraftspotted over Beledweyne, Hiran region.
The many fronts on which al-Shabaab is now fighting against Kenya, AMISOM, the TFG and assorted militias is also leading to tensions among local leaders, who are trying to figure out how best to use their resources effectively. Al-Shabaab has been suffering financially for a while - a situation exacerbated by the loss of income fromMogadishumarkets - and leaders in Baidoawere at oddsover whether to use local taxes to help the fight in Gedo or save them for when pro-government forces come knocking closer to home.
And if you think things are messy now, it could get a lot worse as the AU considers allowing the old enemyEthiopia, whose invasion in 2006 sparked al-Shabaab's insurgency, toofficially join the party, while Kenya has secured the backing ofIsrael, a move that is hardly going to reduce Nairobi's profile as a major target for terror attacks.
Piracy and Puntland
As if one piece of good news this week isn't enough (stop being so greedy), it was yet another quiet week for the pirates, who didn't even come close to taking another ship. The last high-value ship taken was the MT Liquid Velveton October 31, and even that was an anomaly. Before that, you have to go back to the MT Fairchem Bogey, takenon August 20, to register another high-value vessel they managed to hold on to. The pirates also released 11 Pakistani fishermen without ransom, so that's something else to be grateful for. For more on that, see ourweekly report.
Less jolly is the continued insecurity in Puntland, with pirates joining up with clans and human traffickers to rack up the body count. Pirates were involved in abattle between police and human traffickerswho make big bucks from the misery of refugees - often leaving them for dead at sea during the crossing toYemen- in Mareero, a village 30km east of Bosaso inBariregion. Even more bloody is thefight between the Majeerteen sub-clansof Ali Saleban and Ugas Saleban, which has drawn in pirates from both clans and claimed dozens of lives.
But here we are with more good news in what is definitely a case of saving the best for last: you are getting rid of me and my bad jokes very soon.I've already mentioned I'm shortly off to pursue a career as a novelist, starting with a sober, sensible and thought-provoking tale about zombie cows (if you wish to indulge my shameless plug, you can read morehere).
As if this wasn't good enough news, my replacement is a man with impeccable credentials and an in-depth knowledge of piracy. I give you the following introduction to Jay Bahadur in the words of our publisher:
Somalia Report is pleased to announce that Jay Bahadur, a Toronto-based freelance journalist and author, will be taking over as Managing Editor as ofDecember 15th. He will be replacing current editor, Michael Logan, who vacates the position to pursue a career as a full-time novelist.
"Jay brings the reporting discipline, respect for the region and the intense curiosity that will guide us into the next phase of our rapid growth," said Somalia Report publisher, Mr. Robert YoungPelton, the author of a number of books on conflict including the New York Times bestseller "The World's Most Dangerous Places."
In early 2009, Bahadur traveled on his own to Puntland, Somalia, where he spent three months interviewing pirates, government officials, and militiamen. The result, over two years later, was the first comprehensive book on Somali piracy, published in seven countries to date.
As editor, Bahadur will continue to build and develop Somalia Report's extensive network of local journalists, with an aim to realizing the website's potential to be the country's premiere source for non-partisan and clan-neutral news coverage.
Bahadur will also preside over Somalia Report's re-launch under a partial subscription model, offering periodic intelligence reports to the diplomatic, NGO, and security communities. At a time when Somalia is falling ever deeper into crisis, the website looks forward to positioning itself at the center of the ongoing policy debate and unbiased reporting from inside Somalia.
Somalia Report is an independent information source on Somalia. Founded in 2010, the over 100 correspondents and western editors offer a clear window into Somalia.
And there you have it: Somalia Report will go from strength-to-strength under Jay's guidance, and I am very happy to be handing the over the reins to somebody I am sure is going to do a splendid job.
And with that, I bid you a happy weekend!
By Michael Logan.