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.
On 8 June, Taliban gunmen stormed Karachi airport, killing scores of people before they were eventually fought off by security forces. I’ve lived in Karachi and have many friends and relatives there. I wrote this quick response to the attack for the New Statesman:
What does this say about the state of Karachi, and of Pakistan? Firstly, it should be noted that this coastal megalopolis is not just the biggest city in Pakistan, but one of the biggest in the world. Home to around 25 million people, it is the economic hub of Pakistan and one of the most important cities politically. It is mind-boggling that such an audacious attack should be possible in such a major airport in a major city. To their credit, security forces were fast on the scene, but how did it happen at all? This comes at a time when the conservative government is emphasising the need for peace talks with the Taliban. Once again, this incident raises the question that many outraged commentators have posed: what is there to discuss? And where do discussions begin when one party seeks the destruction of the state as its basic starting point?
I also discussed the attack on Monocle radio and LBC. You can read the rest over at my New Statesman blog. A version also appeared in the magazine:
Late last year, three journalists working for Al Jazeera in Cairo were arrested and charged with terrorism and smearing Egypt’s reputation. The three men – Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed – are still in jail. They are not alone: according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2013 was the second worst year on record for journalists imprisoned. I co-wrote an article for Al Jazeera, marking World Press Freedom Day, looking at cases of journalists – across the world – jailed for doing their jobs.
“Imprisonment can be through the explicit criminalisation of free speech – through, for instance, defamation laws – or through other charges like spying or drug trafficking,” explains Melody Patry, advocacy officer at Index on Censorship.
One allegation used frequently by authoritarian regimes seeking to silence critical news coverage is that such reports are “anti-state”. Of the 211 imprisoned journalists logged by CPJ, 124 were held for “subversion and terrorism” – many more than for charges such as defamation or libel. In 45 cases, no charges were disclosed at all.
You can read the full article over at Al Jazeera.
Syrian refugees in Spain.
The Syrian refugee crisis has been described as the worst since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, with 6.5 million internally displaced and more than 2 million seeking refuge abroad. The UK has been reluctant to offer sanctuary to a significant number of refugees, a decision that should be seen in the context of a dominant anti-immigrant political mood. While the British government has agreed to rehome 500 Syrian refugees, a small number have claimed asylum here already. Two of them told me their stories.
Ruqaiya was in her final year of university when she realised she couldn’t go home. In London on a student visa, she had missed the worst of the fighting in her hometown of Damascus: after the revolution began in March 2011, her family had told her not to come back for the holidays.
In May 2012, gearing up for her exams, she received terrible news. “My brother, who works in Germany, called to say that our father had been killed in an airstrike and the house destroyed. My mother had fled with my aunt to Jordan. Suddenly I didn’t have a home.” On the advice of an uncle living in the UK, Ruqaiya claimed asylum.
You can read the full article over at the New Statesman website, and here’s the (shorter) version that appeared in the magazine:
Empress Market. Karachi
I wrote a piece for the Financial Times about architecture in Karachi, a city I’ve lived in. It’s full of beautiful colonial-era architecture, but the prevailing attitude has been to knock down the old and build new, more profitable buildings. The article looks at attempts to preserve these heritage buildings in the face of rapid expansion.
Today, Karachi, the sprawling megacity on Pakistan’s southern coast, is best known for violence. As the country’s economic hub, it has undergone an exponential rise in population, from 435,000 in 1947 to between 18m and 25m today. An underfunded and undersized police force has struggled to keep pace, and Karachi is home to a complex web of vying criminal gangs. Police figures show that there were 2,700 murders in 2013.
Of course, this was not always the case. The British arrived in Karachi in 1839 and declared it the capital of Sindh province in 1843. A port city, it quickly became immensely prosperous. It contains many architecturally significant buildings both in the elite enclaves, built by the British and continued by wealthy locals, and in the older parts of town, which predate colonisation. Since most Mughal and Sultanate period architecture is found in Lahore, Karachi’s buildings have traditionally not been considered historically significant, but the city’s structures were built by local craftsmen, and often commissioned by local merchants.
You can read the full article over at the Financial Times and I’ll post a clipping soon.