Off to Somalia? Here’s Some More Preparatory Reading

Further to ‘Off to Somalia? Here’s Some Preparatory Reading’, here are additional suggestions from Max’ed Cumar/@samadoon:

  • Mohamed Haji Mukhtar, ‘Historical Dictionary of Somalia’
  • Michael van Notten, ‘Law of the Somalis: A Stable Foundation for Economic Development in the Horn of Africa’ (no e-book available but the Amazon link is here
  • Ali Jimale Mohamed, ‘DAybreak is Near : Literature, Clans and the Nation-State in Somalia: Literature, Clans and the Nation-state of Somalia’ (Amazon link here)
  • I M Lewis, ‘A Pastoral Democracy: Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa’ (Amazon link here)
  • Lidwien Kaptjiens, ‘Women’s Voices in a Man’s World: Women and the Pastoral Tradition in Northern Somali Orature’ (Amazon link here)

Other suggestions most welcome.

Off to Somalia?: Here’s Some Preparatory Reading (and Listening)

CoversSO you’re off to Somalia? But beyond ‘Black Hawk Down’ and ‘Eye in the Sky’ you’re feeling a bit thin in the prep department… No probs, here’s a suggested selection of fiction and non-fiction to make sure you know your Darood from your Digil-Mirifle. Wherever possible there is a link to the Amazon Kindle edition or a PDF if it’s an article.



Ferguson, James: ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Place: Inside the Outlaw State of Somalia’ (Despite a gash, Clarkson-esque title, this is a very good overview of south-central. And I get a mention too.)

Hanley, Gerald: ‘Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis’ (Although published nearly 50 years ago about events that took place 25 years before that, Hanley’s insight into the Somalis are still relevant.)

Hansen, Stigg Jarle:  ‘Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group’ (The best and, in fact, only, study of al-Shabaab.)

Harper, Mary: ‘Getting Somalia Wrong?: Faith and War in a Shattered State’  (A recent study of Somalia by the BBC’s correspondent on the Horn.)

Lewis, I. M.: ‘Understanding Somalia and Somaliland: Culture, History, Society’ (The seminal, part-anthropological, part-historical study of Somalia.)


Farah, Nuruddin: ‘From a Crooked Rib’ & ‘Crossbones’ (Two of the finest works of Somalia’s greatest living novelist, now domiciled in South Africa.)

Mohamed, Nadifa: ‘Black Mamba Boy’ & ‘The Orchard of Lost Souls’ (Terrific novels from Somali-Brit, Nadifa Mohamed: the first is based on her father’s early life around the time of the Second World War while the second follows three women during the 1970s and 80s as the country descends into chaos)

Shire, Warsan: ‘The Seven Stages of Being Lonely’ (Another Somali-Brit whose poetry is much admired by the likes of Beyonce, Warsan Shire’s first collection isn’t available as an e-book but can be ordered here and is well worth the wait for the postman. In the meantime, a sample of Warsan Shire’s work can be found here)


Anzalone, Chris: ‘Continuity and Change: The Evolution and Resilience of Al-Shabab’s Media Insurgency, 2006-2016’  (US academic Chris Anzalone’s study of how al-Shabaab communicates its word picture)

Bryden, Matt: ‘The Decline and Fall of Al-Shabaab? Think Again’  (A convincing case is made that reports of al-Shabaab’s demise were grossly over-exaggerated by the former head of the UN Somalia & Eritrea Monitoring Group and founder of the think-tank, Sahan)

Jones et al, ‘Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency in Somalia’ (A good study by US ‘think-tank for hire’, RAND, although who funded the paper is very clear from the conclusions it presents)

Our Man on the Horn blog: (yes, a plug for my own blog)


Finally, some tunes to get you in the mood from the heyday of Somali disco, the 70s and 80s:

Or you could just watch ‘Black Hawk Down’ and ‘Eye in the Sky’…

Our Changing Understanding of Terrorism

As a sage of my acquaintance (who has been in the game a lot longer than I have) noted at a recent conference on counter terrorism (I paraphrase):

“We used to think terrorism was about numbers: numbers killed, numbers injured, even numbers just inconvenienced in their daily lives. 9/11 put paid to that: there won’t be another terrorist attack that kills over 3000 people, not until a terror group gets its hands on a weapon of mass destruction or gets hideously lucky.

“We began to think that acts of terror were about exploiting the symbiotic relationship between terrorist groups and the news media in an increasingly interconnected and instantaneous information landscape as a force multiplier to offset the overwhelming advantages that governments, militaries and other big institutions have in a conventional confrontation. The line between terrorists and the media was often blurry in our eyes.

“But we are beginning to view acts of terror differently again. Terrorism should perhaps be seen as not being not about numbers or about headlines. Terrorism is about the response it draws out from institutions and from the individually terrorised members of the population. The symbiotic relationship to terrorists with which we used to tar the news media now exists equally between terrorist groups, institutions and populations as well.”

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

If you’re about to comment on the Westminster Attack…

The symbolic image of the Westminster Attack: the attacker is given medical treatment by the emergency services

If you’re about to comment on Westminster attack, pause: imagine what the terrorists behind the attack would like you to post.
Anti-immigrant? Tick.

Anti-refugee? Tick.

Anti-Islamic? Tick.

This is a war? Tick.

Anniversary of Bruxelles attack? Tick.

Our tragedy is greater than your tragedy? Tick.

This is the UK’s/the US’s/Europe’s/the Arab governments’ fault? Tick.
Don’t let the terrorists work you like a ventriloquist’s doll. Unless, of course, you enjoy having someone’s hand up your arse.

[This is an updated version of a posting from November 2015, written in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. I suspect I might have cause to update it again. And again. And again.]

al-Shabaab Spokesman Ali Dheere Speaks – and the Somali People Respond

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In January 2017, the al-Shabaab spokesman, Ali Dheere, spoke to AJE’s Hamza Mohamed (although the interview itself was released through a Somali Diaspora online news channel called Dalsoor). The first part is here and the second here.

About a month later, two cheap-and-cheery locally produced products appeared, challenging Ali Dheere’s comments on the bombings of hotels (here) and the bombings of public places such as markets (here). The products experienced a surge in views this week in the aftermath of the bombing of the Wehliye Hotel on Mogadishu’s Makka ul Mukarama Road.

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The products are slightly clumsy and the English subtitles, which mimic the English subtitling of the original interview, might ring alarm bells for some, but it is nonetheless interesting to see the Somali people feeling confident enough to speak out openly against al-Shabaab.

Hmmm… -4: Lessons Unlearned

Many years ago we realised that violent extremism isn’t exclusive to Islam and that specifically targeting Muslims at home and abroad with a broad, punitive brush was exactly what al-Qa’ida and then ISIS/Da’esh wanted us to do. We also realised that civilian casualties outweigh any gain kinetic counter terrorism operations might offer and are to be avoided.

If you want to know what is going on in Syria, ask a Syrian – 2

Another share from my good friend, the Syrian photographer and activist, Sima Diab:

From Hiba Dlewati who eloquently says the words that only come out in tears, anger and cursing from me.

“I read the news, and I can’t get over all the headlines of Aleppo ‘falling’ this week. People fall before cities. Syrians broke the wall of silence in 2011 but it brought us crashing down with it long before this week.

“Aleppo ‘fell’ when three medical students bodies’ were found burned to death after being detained by government forces for volunteering at a field hospital. If “fell” when helicopters releasing barrels full of explosives on opposition-held neighborhoods became the norm. Aleppo ‘fell’ when blasts killed 83 students at the university and both sides accused each other. It ‘fell’ when rebels started killing people just for living on the other side of the city. Aleppo ‘fell’ when islamists targeted Kurdish neighborhoods and it ‘fell’ when YPG snipers targeted families fleeing from opposition areas on the Castello Road. It ‘fell’ when Russian and government airstrikes caused 80,000 people to flee their homes in the freezing winter towards a closed Turkish border. It ‘fell’ when so many of its youth, so many of its best, bravest and brightest were arrested and tortured and disappeared and killed and exiled. Aleppo ‘fell’ when a quarter million people were besieged for six months with no access to food or medical supplies because the government decided they lived on the wrong side of the city. It ‘fell’ when international aid organizations were too afraid to do their work there and yet also cut off funding to their grassroots partners who were still willing to take the risk. Aleppo ‘fell’ when it became normal for hospitals to operate beneath the ground because they’d be less likely to be found and destroyed by government and allied forces. It ‘fell’ when a day after the government attacked a hospital in the east, rebels attacked a hospital in the west.

“Syria ‘fell’ when its government allowed foreign militias who self-identify with a religious sect, to fight the war on its own people, igniting sectarian and regional conflicts for years to come. The rebels of course did the same, taking away the agency of Syrian fighters and civilians – regardless of which side – to reach any sort of ceasefire or settlement on their own without the approval of their regional, competing overlords.

“People don’t stay at war because they don’t know any better, or because they don’t learn. People stay at war because the people with power learn they can get away with it and the people without power realize they can’t get out of it. Don’t you dare judge residents of eastern Aleppo for refusing to ‘flee’ or ‘evacuate’ to government-held areas before this offensive out of fear of what was on the other side. Unless you’ve actually been detained by Syrian security forces, you don’t know what it feels like to disappear; to be stripped and beaten and held and violated and burned and diminished into gray, so much gray, until you fall. Your body is real. Spare me the spiritual optimism of the soul transcending and getting justice in some after life. Bodies are real and they break, people break, families break, and they fall before city walls do.

“And we are broken.

“This is not happening all of a sudden and if the news has caught you by surprise, well, then you just haven’t been following it. The ‘media’ that too many always love to blame has covered Aleppo and Syria tirelessly – although not perfectly – but the information is there and if you still confuse a social media website with a news source then that’s your own shortcoming, and I don’t have the time to catch you up on everything you’ve missed. And it’s painfully clear that we will soon see the same large-scale massacres in other Syrian cities as the government continues to “cleanse” the country. Let us mourn because that’s all we have left. For people asking me how to help, I have no idea what could realistically help Syria but you can help Syrians in need by donating to an organization you trust.”