AMISOM and an Approaching 2021 : Is Somalia Prepared?

Photo Credit: Photographer Ilyas Ahmed for AMISOM.

In March 2019, it was unanimously decided by the United Nations Security Council that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) would maintain its deployment and reduce uniformed personnel by 1000, in conformity with the prevailing plan to steadily transfer these responsibilities to existing Somali security forces. Resolution 2492 (2019) therefore authorises this reduction, allowing a maximum of 19, 626 AMISOM personnel by 28 February 2020. As the end of AMISOM’s mission is approaching in 2021, prioritised tasks for the mission include, as previously mentioned, the gradual handover of security responsibilities to Somali forces and reducing the threat posed by the Al-Shabaab.

Moreover, the Security Council authorised other key tasks to be achieved before 2021: the securing of key supply routes to areas recovered by Al-Shabaab, the conducting of ‘targeted offensive operations’ in support of the transition plan and assisting the Government of Somalia in the implementation of a total ban on charcoal exports. However, the Council has also expressed grave concerns for the ongoing humanitarian situation, namely the conflict and sexual violence that civilians continue to be victims of. It is recognised that AMISOM cannot remain in Somalia forever, and with the mission set to end in 2021, a fundamental question is provoked: is Somalis ready for AMISOM’s departure?

To provide a concise context, it is necessary to reiterate that AMISOM was established in Somalia as a regional peacekeeping mission between the African Union and the United Nations. Created by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council in January 2007, AMISOM had an initial mandate of six months. Fast forward to August 2017, the United Nations Security Council had issued a new resolution where the security responsibilities would be shifted gradually from AMISOM to the Somali security forces ‘continent on [the] abilities of the Somalis security forces and political and security progress in Somalia’.

The Al-Shabaab, also known as “The Youth”, are commonly known as an Islamist ‘insurgent group’ with its base in Somalia. The group has claimed their allegiance to other known terrorist groups such as the Al-Qaeda, and are responsible for several massive attacks throughout Somalia as well as neighbouring countries.

Though the foundational objective of the Al-Shabaab has been debated by professionals of various backgrounds, Bronwyn Bruton of the Atlantic Council has stated that the ‘unifying idea of Al-Shabaab is opposition to the Western-backed government.’ It is also stated that the group’s main aim is to establish an Islamic State in Somalia. The group is known to possess harsh interpretations of Sharia law, headed by the current leader, Ahmed Umar (also known as Abu Ubaidah), the ‘emir’, or ‘prince’. To fund their operations, the Al-Shabaab has engaged in the illicit charcoal trade that has brought over $7.5 million USD per annum, notwithstanding the United Nations ban on charcoal in effect since 2012.

The United States’ has been long concerned with Somalia potentially becoming a country where terrorist groups find ‘refuge’ in to plot attacks to the United States or to ‘destabilise’ the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, another core concern is the Al-Shabaab’s recruitment of the Somali diaspora residing in the United States. It has been found that many Americans, predominantly from Minneapolis, Minnesota, have volunteered themselves to fighting for the Al-Shabaab in Somalia. This aforementioned fact coupled with the Al-Shabaab’s enduring presence and recruitment in Somalia are cause enough for concern of the Somalia’s security personnel’s ability to handle the situation on their own in a little over a year from now. Shrinking resources certainly are of no help to them in confronting this issue themselves, come the end of AMISOM’s mandated involvement December 2021.

In addition to the physical and military power, the sheer logistical concerns of Somalia’s availability of security forces in states other than the capital of Mogadishu are alarming. In select regions where AMISOM will no longer hold presence, no security forces exist and therefore will have to be ‘built from scratch’– a time and energy consuming task.

With reports stating that the Al-Shabaab remains in control of approximately 20% of Somalia, this transition of security measures from AMISOM uniformed personnel to the Somali security forces has been observed to be a point of vulnerability, where it is feared that the Al-Shabaab may use this transitory period to their advantage in carrying out more deadly attacks. Just in late March 2019, the Al-Shabaab carried out a deadly attack at a Ministry building in Mogadishu, claiming over 15 lives. It was noted that though the group has been pushed out of former major strongholds, attacks such as these demonstrate that they remain capable of carrying out massive violence and sending the capital into a state of fear and instability.

To establish any surety in the Somali security force’s capability to handle the Al-Shabaab and overall instability in the country as of December 2021, the current transition plan can consider shifting its major focus to building a stronger Somali security force presence, as well as a re-evaluation of the transition priorities to perhaps add more pressing concerns.

Digital Repression Keeps the Crisis in Sudan Hidden from the World

Photo Credit: Photographer Ahmed Mustafa of Agence France-Presse

“How Come My Heartbreak Isn’t Loud Enough?” This message signifies the calls of the Sudanese people who yearn for democracy. The issue is, few in the international community are aware as Sudan’s authoritarian regime restricts citizens’ access to the internet to deter pro-democratic demonstrations, and hide government actions against its own people. Sudan has many challenges to overcome to secure its democratic freedom and in order to do so, Khartoum must restore its digital freedom to share its struggle with the world.

Authoritarian regimes such as Gabon, Zimbabwe, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have all blocked internet access to its citizens in the first three months of 2019. Sudan takes this repression a step further.

On April 3, a council of generals assumed power in the country against the wishes of democratic demonstrators who sought civilian rule. As a result, Sudan’s government shut down internet access to its citizens as a means to stop pro-democratic movements from mobilizing. Democratic movement activists are reduced to using text messages and secret meetings in order to organize and share information. This alternative process seems primitive compared to the share power of Twitter and Facebook.

Demonstrators engaged in a sit-in protest in Khartoum on June 3. The world did not seem to notice that this public activism turned violent when government forces used deadly force against protestors. Reports state that 30 anti-government protesters have been killed. Twitter users began to use and share the tag #BlueforSudan to spread awareness of the violent repression and support the Sudanane pro-democratic movement. Currently, Twitter users report closer to 500 deaths and 623 injured.

The blackout in the country appears to be working. With no video, pictures, or other forms of media coming from Khartoum, these atrocities are only verified by witness accounts. Major international media outlets seem weary to pick up the story.

Greater media coverage on the situation in Sudan is needed. Reporters and journalists are barred from entering the country however, there are additional means of information gathering. Al-Jazeera and NPR have both spoken to people about the occurrences, but additional coverage is required to increase awareness globally.

The United Nations Security Council recently debated the situation in Sudan and attempted to forward a unified bid condemning Sudanese actions. The draft was vetoed by China, with the backing of Russia and Kuwait, claiming it needed amendments. China claims it is an “internal issue”, while Russia asserts that the situation needed to be handled with extreme caution. Eight European nations condemned the actions by Sudan’s security forces, but as it stands, no formal action has been taken.

China typically defends Sudan’s government and its atrocities. An interest in Sudanese oil is linked to this stance. Since the discovery of oil in 1997, China invests heavily into the northeastern African nation and subsequently, defending it at the UN, even when action is needed. A transfer to a democratic framework puts Chinese oil imports in danger.

Following the coup this past April, Sudan announced that they will have a three year transfer to democracy.  On June 4th, Sudan’s government said they will have a ballot box election in nine months. The fear is that this mode of election will be rigged to favor the current administration.

The UN conducts election monitoring, when assistance is specifically requested, and this presents an opportunity to ensure a fair election in Sudan. This mechanism is beneficial if citizens doubt the integrity their national electoral process and seek outside assistance. A UN representative from the particular state, a mandate from the Security Council or General Assembly (GA) can initiate this process also. A GA mandate would be ideal, seeing the Security Council’s recent blocking to condemn Sudan’s actions.

International media outlets must report on Sudan’s current democratic struggle so that the country can have free and fair elections. These actions are only possible if the Sudanese government lifts its restrictions on civilian media, primarily internet access, so that interest builds in the situation. Media organizations must seek additional means, such as establishment with reliable sources, despite information blocks. The global community would devote greater attention to the crisis in Khartoum, and create a unified front, if they knew the state violence conducted by the Sudanese government.

China’s Perspective on Ethnic Detention: The Ends Justifies the Means

Source: BBC (Dabancheng, April 2018)

While not broadly reported, the detention of Uighur Muslims in China has developed into what BBC reporter John Sudworth Calls “one of the most pressing human rights concerns of our age”. Reports emerged in 2017 that China was operating a system of internment camps for Muslims in Xinjiang. This began after the adoption of “Regulations on De-extremification”, which banned the following: growing an “abnormal” beard, wearing a veil or headscarf, regular prayer, fasting or avoidance of alcohol, or possessing books or articles about Islam or Uighur culture. Since then it has been estimated that at least one million Uighurs (as well as some other foreign citizens) into what China has labelled as “vocational education” camps, where they are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and Communist party rhetoric. Those sent to the camps have no legal right; they have no access to lawyers are not subject to a trial.

After growing criticism of these detention camps, China is presenting the detention of Muslim citizens as a contribution in the fight against terrorism internationally. The topic came up recently when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday. The Chinese foreign ministry published the following in part of its account of the meeting: “China has the right to take antiterrorism and de-extremisation measures for safeguarding national security. The Saudi side respects and supports that and is willing to strengthen cooperation with China.”

The fear based tactic of detaining individuals specifically due to ethnicity has led to countless atrocities throughout history. There has been growing international criticism of the camps, specifically from UN panels, Turkish and Malaysian politicians, and Muslim civic groups. Despite this, there is evidence that these camps are steadily growing in population. It is unlikely that this issue will be resolved any time soon.

Terror’s New Form

Source: The East African (2014)

Author: Caleb Septoff

Perhaps one of the greatest scientific achievements in human history is the invention of the internet, which landmarked the beginning of the digital age in the modern era. Its uses span multiple fields and in large part is responsible for the high levels of rapid globalization we have become accustomed to today. Although it has improved humanity in many facets, it has also led to the increase in the susceptibility of nations’ and individuals to cyber-attacks. The internet has evolved over the last decade with the inception of social media and cyber currency, but with this evolution comes a new wave of terrorism in the form of cyber-attacks, propaganda, hacking, and online recruitment. The threat has grown substantially – enough for even university institutions, namely New York University (NYU), to offer cyber security majors and courses solely to deter these types of attacks.

Before venturing into the subject of digital terrorism, it is important to explore something less widely known to the average internet user; this being the deep web and dark net. The internet is composed of two main points of access; the surface web and the dark web. The surface web is most common to everyday users and comprises mainly of search engines, like Google and Bing, and the information found is unrestricted. Comparatively, the deep web differs mainly in size, estimated at four to five hundred times bigger than the surface web, accounting for 90% of the internet. In comparison to the surface web, the wealth of information stored on the deep web is gigantic. Most of the deep web is restricted by applications, which grant access to databases or password protected sites. Anything from social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, to online banking are considered part of the deep web. In addition to its size, the dark web differs  in its accessibility. Despite popular beliefs, the deep web and dark net are not synonymous. Rather, the dark net exists hidden below the surface web. The dark net is almost entirely unregulated and is even harder to access than the deep web. To date, the dark net hosts an unknown number of websites, but the content ranges from people sending messages who wish to maintain anonymity to underground drug dealing, sex trafficking, weapons dealing, and the focus of this article, terrorists and extremists’ sites.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Daesh, was the first terrorist organization to truly maximize their outreach using the internet. When Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi declared the caliphate, a wave of propaganda and recruitment media took social media by storm. While destructive, authorities and the companies themselves were able to mitigate much of the content since it took place on the more accessible surface web. However, the organization consistently found new ways to respond to authorities’ crackdowns. First, they began attracting people through social media and other corners of the surface web and then slowly moved them towards more difficult protected places like domains and chat rooms on the dark net. In addition, the use of messaging applications that offered heavy encryption, like Telegram, were core ways for them to communicate. The use of these cyber tools aided in attracting over 20,000 foreign fighters from more than 10 different countries to flock to Syria to fight on ISIL’s behalf, and even more followers aided the organization from remote positions around the globe. In early 2018, New York Times’ reporter, Rukimini Callimachi, released a podcast by the name of “Caliphate.” The podcast goes into detail about one Canadian man’s experience of being recruited through multiple steps, starting on social media and eventually moving into private chat rooms. Callimachi’s reporting highlights how effective ISIL’s extensive reach was, not only technologically, but by simply creating effective connections with people, especially the youth.

Thus far, terrorists’ groups have not been able to do much more than the defacement of webpages and execution of minor cases of hacking. For example, a series of attacks in 2015, all claiming ties to Daesh, were executed in various countries. Most notably, a self-titled group called Cyber Caliphate managed to hack Malaysia Airlines’ main website, deface the French TV5 broadcast station, and hack the US military Central Command’s YouTube and Twitter accounts. Technology is continuously growing and it gets more sophisticated every year. As greater attention turns to digital recruitment and terrorism, these “small” attacks will grow larger in scope and harm. The possibility of cutting electric to hospitals or inciting mass riots through the spread of false media is very real and dangerous. The need to find adequate responses to the rising dangers of cyber terrorism is crucial to the future of counter terrorism. Perhaps most conspicuously, the important question becomes how to best be proactive in thwarting attacks and rather than simply being reactive.

The international community has a plethora of different third-party watch dogs when it comes to war and terrorism, whether they come in the form of global entities like the United Nations (UN) or International Non-Profit Organizations (INGO). In addition, a multitude of international treaties and agreements exist to set standards for war and outline what is not acceptable. The Geneva Convention, one of the most important and widely known, is comprised of four treaties and three protocols that establish standards for humanitarian rights and treatment during times of war. Yet, something these organizations don’t cover adequately is how to respond to cyber warfare and digital terrorism. One of the greatest challenges in dealing with these online threats is attribution, or ascribing blame to those who have committed the crime and proving it. According to a RAND Corporation video on the subject, they identify three main types of attribution: political (dealing with diplomatic knowledge and political actors’ objectives), technical (IP addresses, log file analysis, etc.), and clandestine (classified information and political insights).

Categorizing makes it easier to decide how to interpret the crime and, thus, how to assign punishment. However, it is not simple to prove digital crimes without access to data that, for the most part, is private, anonymous and not easily tracked. Citizens’ right to privacy and the level of privacy that is entitled has become a topic of high contention in the debate for higher cyber security. Although these are difficult issues to deal with, the international community needs to step up and begin to take action before cyber warfare reaches a level with much higher stakes. Like the UN, there needs to be a large international organization that can specialize in cyber security and cyber terrorism. It would require the nonexistence of any political affiliation to be effective and act on behalf of any country that requires its services to increase its credibility. Perhaps, most important, would be its role in providing international laws on cyber warfare and attacks to clearly and concisely build a foundation or framework for security agencies to work from. It would also be responsible for developing the mechanisms for freedom of expression and privacy; although this would most likely fall to the specific countries rather than the independent watch dog organization.

Social media platforms have done relatively well at combing through their users and content to locate possible terrorist activities, but this is not enough. Further action needs to be taken regarding regulation. Systems need to be devised to adequately monitor both the surface web content and the deep and dark web to locate, deter and respond to these threats before they can implement harm to critical infrastructures, governments, businesses, and even the psyches of viewers. Creating measures to regulate data and prevent data mining for terrorist activities is crucial to preventing the attacks in the future. There is no easy answer to the rising threat of cyber terrorism and warfare, but it’s imperative that solutions and international cooperation begins sooner than later.

How Detainment of Uyghur Muslims Can Lead to Violent Extremism

Source: AP Feed News (2018)

By: JulieAnn Sickell, Ahmad Mohibi

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticizes the Chinese government for the enduring detainment and forced ‘re-education’ of Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang.

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) goal of the re-education camps is to prevent extremism and provide vocational training. Detainees learn Mandarin, how to assemble electronics, and receive lessons on Chinese laws and the Constitution.

More than 10 million Uyghurs reside in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Sources estimate anywhere between tens of thousands to over one million Uyghurs are detained in re-education camps. The Chinese government has deliberately abducted and tortured Uyghurs and destroyed their mosques to the ground.

China has a long history of re-education programs. Reform through labor (laogai) and re-education through labor (laojiao) were phased out in the 2000s as President Xi Jinping found them inappropriate for a modern society. However, a new re-education emerged to convert Falun Gong supporters called transformation through education. Current re-education programs in Xinjiang resemble the transformation through education programs China has previously enacted.

Uyghurs Muslims are treated as ‘terrorists’ and the rivals of the state. Numerous Uyghurs are trapped and have been deliberately quarantined from the socio-economic opportunities as well as political representation in the government. The problem dates back to the annexation of Xinjiang in 1950 to become officially part of Communist China since this annexation Uyghurs have been subjected to various human rights violations on the basis of ethnicity.

Multiple Chinese officials view Islam as an ‘illness’ or ideology that needs to be removed in order to prevent terrorism from spreading. Outrage over the clash in Urumqi in 2009 and the Kunming attack in 2014 provides further basis for ethnic-profiling of Uyghurs by the CCP. Both events were centered on ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China.

The evolution of these attacks from mutual violence between Han and Uyghurs to the slaughter of 29 Han Chinese by Uyghurs allows the Chinese Communist Party justification for the creation of detention camps. By letting fears of instability control their actions, the CCP falls victim to Islamophobia.

When confronted about wrongful imprisonment in Xinjiang by the United Nations and the United States, China lashed back with adamant denial and critiques. The UN released a report expressing concern over the imprisonment of Uyghurs in the name of countering terrorism. The Chinese Communist Party denied that the existence of the re-education camps and once the report was released, they critiqued the United Nations for accusing them without proper facts.

A similar confrontation occurred between the United States and China. US lawmakers called for the officials involved with the re-education camps to be sanctioned. Hua Chunying from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not outright deny the existence of the re-education camps but critiqued the United States human rights record to defend the CCP’s actions.

The United States and the United Nations must continue to pressure China to end the detainment of the Uyghur people. China will continue to deny accusations until legitimate action is taken such as the sanctions initially suggested by US lawmakers.

The best option for the United States is to continue to encourage China to use the rule of law and to respect human rights or the repression of the Uyghur people will lead to extremism, not lessen it. Decades of repression surmounting in re-education camps provides a breeding ground for extremist thought.