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Monthly Archives: September 2014

0,,17933945_303,00On 19th September, Scotland voted against independence. It came after a long referendum campaign which prompted debate about the nature of devolution and the division of power in the UK. All in all, 1.6 million people voted in favour of independence, in a referendum that had record-breaking levels of turnout. The day after the vote, I wrote a quick piece for Deutsche Welle interviewing campaigners about their responses:

“What motivated many people in the yes camp was not simply blind nationalism, but the desire to break out on our own and build a progressive state in the model of some of the Scandinavian countries – unlimited by a Conservative English government we didn’t vote for,” said Stewart. “Now we will have to work with what we’ve got and see if Westminster delivers on the greater powers it promised.”

The rest of the piece is over at Deutsche Welle.

Ben Mulwa, one of the Westgate survivors I interviewed.

Ben Mulwa, one of the Westgate survivors I interviewed.

The attack on Kenya’s Westgate mall by Al-Shabab militants in September 2013 left 67 people dead. While I was in Kenya earlier this year, I interviewed two survivors of the siege on the mall. Their stories were published by Al Jazeera to mark one year since the attack.

One of the men fired into the security booth. A second gunman pointed his gun towards Mulwa and the security guard opposite him. A shot rang out and blood splattered. The guard had been shot in the head. He died instantly.

“The whole of that morning I had been playing with my daughter, who was 11 months old. All I remember is that I cried out – ‘God, why do you want me to leave my daughter?’ That’s when I heard the second gunshot. It was so loud. I wasn’t sure if I’d been shot or not,” he said.

Mulwa found himself lying flat on the ground. He closed his eyes and stayed very still. He heard the gunshots receding as the gunmen moved to another area.

The rest of the piece is here.

picEarlier 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.

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TV vans outside Park View school in Birmingham. (My own photo).

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.