Earlier this year, I traveled to east Africa. One of the pieces I researched was for the National (UAE), looking at the return of Somalia’s huge global diaspora and the effect this is having on the economy and political stability of this fragile nation. I spoke to returnees about the dangers they face, as well as about the huge opportunities.
The long, messy conflict in Somalia – which saw warring tribes pitted against each other before Al Shabab came into the fray – means that infrastructure is practically non-existent. Just 10 per cent of Somalia’s roads are paved, while 95 per cent of the country’s 10 million inhabitants have no electricity. The surge in diaspora returns has triggered some instant, visible changes. Construction has restarted in Mogadishu; the colourful shopfronts are no longer just shelled-out facades, but functioning businesses. Hotels and restaurants are springing up. Solar-powered street lights have brought Mogadishu out of darkness. And many hope that the enlargement of the private sector will aid political stability. The government certainly wants to promote the image of an economic renaissance in Mogadishu, in order to attract international investment for desperately needed energy and transport projects.
You can read the full piece over at the National‘s website, and the clipping is below.
TV vans outside Park View school in Birmingham. (My own photo).
I wrote a piece for Deutsche Welle about the new counter-extremism guidance in schools that was introduced following the “Trojan Horse” scandal. You can read the full piece here.
The government’s new guidelines for “promoting British values” in schools are on top of the existing “Prevent violent extremism” program, which makes teaching about online safety and other elements of counter-extremism compulsory. There have been questions from head teachers, who say that the new guidelines have been rushed through without an adequate consultation period.
I’ve continued to blog regularly for the New Humanist, where I’m assistant editor, and for Middle East Monitor. I’ve also appeared on numerous Monocle 24 radio shows, including both general discussions of foreign policy, and analysis of ongoing political instability in Pakistan. On Thursday 4th September I appeared on BBC 5 Live’s Richard Bacon Show, discussing the top stories from social media that week.
Allegations of an Islamist plot to take over schools in Birmingham, which surfaced earlier this year, caused a national outcry. The debate was intensely polarised, with the government sending in a former counterterrorism police officer to investigate, and local residents arguing that the schools simply reflected the faith of their primarily Muslim intake.
In the aftermath of the scandal, I went to Birmingham to speak with people involved about the impact this national scandal has had on the local community. i wrote a long report on the subject for the latest issue of the New Humanist, which is out now.
The sharp differences in narrative illustrate the polarised debate over Birmingham schools: one camp argues that these schools were indoctrinating children, while the other maintains they simply accommodated the cultural needs of their Muslim intake. What is the truth?
You can read the full piece over at the New Humanist website, and the clipping is below.
On Saturday 16th August, the Norstream, a P&O Ferries commercial ship, arrived at Tilbury Docks in the British county of Essex. The ship, which had come from the Belgian village of Zeebrugge, was loaded up with 64 containers. Around 6am, dock-workers heard “banging and screaming” coming from one of the containers. It was opened. There were 35 people crammed inside. One man, in his 40s, had died on the journey. It turned out that the group – which included 13 children – was entirely made up of Sikhs fleeing from Afghanistan.
I wrote a piece for the German outlet Deutsche Welle about the case, explaining the background:
Currently, a European law known as the Dublin Regulation dictates that someone seeking refugee status must make their claim in the first country that they land in. This means that there is a disproportionate strain on countries on the southern and eastern borders of Europe; countries such as Greece, Italy, and Poland. Many of these countries have overstretched asylum systems and struggling economies; therefore, many migrants want to remain under the radar until they can reach Germany, Sweden, or Britain.
I also blogged on the story for the New Humanist:
The Independent points out that just 0.23 per cent of the British population is made up of asylum-seekers. The horrific plight of the 35 found at Tilbury should serve as a reminder that immigration policy is not simply a political hot potato over which to trade inflammatory rhetoric; seeking to make these policies more humane, to accommodate the world’s most vulnerable, is a matter of moral obligation.
One of the things I did while I was in Kenya was to interview female politicians from Somalia. These women are at the vanguard of women’s representation in the country – fighting death threats from terrorists as well as regressive cultural norms to raise their voices and push for women’s rights.
“I get threats, day in, day out,” says Fawzia Yusuf Adam. “Yes, it happens, but I am not afraid about what might happen tomorrow. I am busy with today.”
Adam is one of Somalia’s most senior female politicians. A former diplomat and long-time women’s rights activist, she became the country’s first ever female foreign minister and deputy prime minister in 2012. No longer in that post, she is now one of a small number of female members of parliament.
The threats she laughs off come from al-Shabab, the hardline rebel group. It has a two-fold vendetta against female politicians: It is waging war against all members of the Somali government, and its extreme reading of Islam prohibits any female participation in the public sphere.
You can read the rest of the piece over at Al Jazeera.
I recently travelled to Kenya, the east African hub which is swift losing its status as a safe haven in the region thanks to a heightened terror threat from neighbouring Somalia. I was researching several in-depth features which are forthcoming, but I also wrote this short blog for the New Statesman about the impact that the terror threat is having on tourism:
The beach was deserted. Not just typical low season – slightly quiet, as you’d expect – but truly not another soul in sight. White sand, strewn with seaweed, stretched as far as the eye could see. It was an instant, brutally visible, result of international terror alerts.
On 16 May, the British Foreign Office warned that there was a “high threat” of terrorist attacks on the Kenyan coast. Tour operators First Choice and Thomson Direct cancelled flights and evacuated 400 British tourists. The decision to evacuate was mainly due to insurance concerns but it was high profile and understandably caused panic among other holiday-goers. The US, Australia, and France also issued travel warnings about Kenya’s coast, particularly the area surrounding the coastal city of Mombasa. The hundreds of cancellations stretch all the way to October.
You can read the post at my New Statesman blog.
I appeared on the BBC news channel’s Paper review on Wednesday 11th June, along with deputy editor of the Daily Express, Michael Booker, and host Clive Myrie.
We discussed the crisis in Iraq, passport delays, and JK Rowling’s support of the “no” campaign in the Scottish independence referendum. The video (and a short write up) are available here.