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Can Somalia Get Russia to Join the Fight Against Al Shabab?



Somalia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Awad (left) and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow


Somalia is struggling to defeat al Qaeda-linked al Shabab group which controls a large swathes of land and continues to wreak havoc across the Horn of Africa country.

There are more than 6,000-strong African Union troops (commonly known as Amisom) in Somalia, deployed first in 2007, helping the government defeat al Shabab. Although Amisom and Somali forces captured many towns and cities from al Shabab, the group still controls much of the countryside including small towns outside the capital, Mogadishu.

Somalia could be seeking Russia’s help in the fight against al Shabab, a move that could see the US – once again – working with its rival. Washington and Moscow are allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria but disagree almost in everything else.

In Somalia, the US runs a military base at Balidogle, in the district of Wanlaweyn in Lower Shabelle province, 60 miles northwest of Mogadishu, where they carry out attacks against al Shabab in the south of the country. The US also provides support for Amisom and Somali security forces and runs counter-piracy operations.

The United States Special Forces have been carrying out military operations in Somalia for over a decade, conducting joint operations with Somali army as well as drone attacks targeting senior al Shabab members – one in 2014 killed the group’s leader Ahmed Godane.

Despite support from the US, European Union, and the Gulf states, the war against al Qaeda’s number one ally remains stalemate. Al Shabab lost major urban settlements, but it is still capable of carrying out high-profile attacks against civilians and government targets inside and outside of Somalia.

On October 3, al Shabab launched two attacks on US and European Union forces. The first attack hit a US military base in Baledogle, and the second one targeted European Union military advisors in Mogadishu.

“With Russian involvement, al Shabab will be decimated completely in months. The Amisom contingent will also be rendered redundant and withdrawn. The biggest problem African leaders face is trusting former colonial masters & former slave holders with continent’s future. Move East,” said Farah Maalim, a former Deputy Speaker of the Kenya National Assembly and a commentator on the Horn of Africa region.

“(President Mohamed) Farmajo and (Prime Minister Hassan) Kheyre finally playing bare-knuckle realpolitik. Get your old Russian friends and your security problems are solved. They are the most dependable Superpower friends. There exists powerful Russo/Somali history. Barre was cheated by crown Prince Fahad to chase the Russians,” he said.

In recent months, there have been flurry of highly-dedicated diplomatic activities between Mogadishu and Moscow.

“Somali people would like to see the Russians come back to Somalia,” said Somalia’s ambassador to Russia, Abdullahi Warsame in September, suggesting the two countries are ready for renewed cooperation. Warsame said he requested for a bilateral meeting between President Mohamed Farmajo and President Vladimir Putin. In July of this year, the first Russian ambassador to Somalia in more than 25 years arrived in Mogadishu.

President Farmajo attended the first-ever Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea city of Sochi between October 23 and 24. Somalia’s Foreign Minister was in Moscow in April this year, attending Russia-Arab League forum and later meeting his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. The two discussed strengthening ties between Mogadishu and Moscow and the prospects of new partnership fronts.

Because of its geographical location, Somalia could be another option for Russia to regain its influence in Africa, after trouncing the United States in Middle East.  Somalia and Russia were long-standing allies. But today, there are no meaningful ties between the two.

In 2016, Prime Minister Abdi Sharmarke requested Russian assistance to strengthen the Somali military’s ability in the fight against Al-Shabaab.  Russia responded to consider military cooperation to help Somalia battle terrorism.

Somalia has attractive oil and gas prospects, with experts saying it could be sitting on 100 billion barrels which could make it one of the world’s major oil producers, and because of its instability, it has become the microcosm of the region. Somalia needs a strong partner to help rebuild state institutions and its military. That partner could be Russia.




You Cannot Buy Happiness, but You Can Buy a Plane Ticket



The travel industry is changing, and here’s how one young man is leading it

Do you get a bad feeling when you are planning for your next trip or looking for the best tour or travel package, and you do not know where to turn to? Abdulllahi Adan Hassan knows exactly how you feel, and that is why he founded I Fly Travel Agency.

One company working to change the travel industry is I Fly Travel Agency. I Fly, Founded in April 2018, is changing how people travel, from planning your journey, buying a ticket to reaching your destination, and is effectively reducing booking costs by delivering a low cost solution to travelers.

You can get your ticket from where you seat, no physical presence needed, and you do not have to come to the office. This saves you time and energy, says Hassan, the founder and CEO of I Fly Travel Agency.

“I am investing in the talent, technology and innovation needed to thrive in the travel industry. Clients are drawn to that forward-thinking approach, and it gives us a steep advantage and puts us ahead of our competitors,” said Hassan.

I-Fly, a member of KATA – the Kenya Association of Travel Agents – covers all domestic routes as well as international destinations. One of I Fly’s biggest achievements, Hassan says, is making the Wajir route very competitive. Because of efforts by his travel agency, more airlines are now flying to Wajir and the entire northeastern region, which was previously inaccessible due to poor road network. Now many people can fly because of affordable flight tickets.

Hassan played an important role and was the go-to-man in the launch of Silverstone Airlines flights to Wajir. In June 2019, Silverstone became the third airline to fly to Wajir from Wilson Airport in Nairobi daily. Hassan also played an instrumental role in the introduction of Jetways Airlines to the Wajir route.

The company is headquartered at Wilson Business Park inside Wilson Airport compound, and has several offices across Kenya including Wajir, Mombasa, Lamu, Malindi, Lodwar and Eldoret. Hassan says he plans to open more branches in the near future. According to Hassan, I Fly boasts 10,000 passengers annually.

I-Fly CEO Abdullahi Hassan in his office at Wilson Business Park, Wilson Airport, Nairobi

Hassan also has a bigger dream. He says he plans to own fully-fledged airlines in the next 5 to 10 years. He will fulfill at least half of that dream, he said with a broad smile during an interview in his office at Wilson Business Park.

The travel agency has also specialised in helicopter charter, air parcel – a unique development in the industry where your parcel s delivered to your doorstep or collected from sales offices, hotel booking, airport transfers and customised tours.

I-Fly has collaborated with Kenya’s leading comedy group – the Lough Industry – the parent company of Churchill Show. Through this partnership, the company has undertaken a number of corporate social responsibility activities. I Fly is now the official travel partner of Churchill Show.

Before venturing into the travel business, Hassan, the fourth born of a family of eight, was a Kenya Air Force air traffic controller. He joined the army in 2008, and quit in 2016 after serving for eight years to vie for a political seat in Wajir. In 2016, members of his extended family approached him to run for a parliamentary seat in the 2017 elections in a clan-negotiated democracy. This prompted him to quit the Kenya Air Force. He did not succeed in his political pursuit and quit the race before reaching the ballot. Later, he joined Skyward Express as an operations manager. After a few months’ instinct at Wilson, he was made the manager in the company’s Eldoret office. A few months later, he was appointed Skyward sales and marketing manager. It was while at Skyward that he brought Jetways to the Wajir route, leading to fare drop from 13,000 shillings to 6,000 shillings.

Hassan, an alumnus of Waberi Primary School and Khorof Secondary, was always a business-oriented person. He remains the first and the only person to sell sugar canes in Wajir town. He says, while in grade 6 at Waberi, his father brought him and his siblings some sugar canes from a trip in Nairobi. Instead of enjoying the new product, foreign to many Wajir residents, Hassan decided to sell the canes at the local market.

“That’s the time I made my first cash,” he said.

“I always had the dream of running my own business,” he added.

Hassan is also the first in Wajir to ride mkokoteni – a handcart. During school holidays, Hassan would help his father sell merchandise from his shop moving the mkokoteni from one point to another.

More than 10 years after his last mkokoteni ride, Hassan is busy planning your next flight.

“You can’t buy happiness, buy you can buy a plane ticket,” he finished the interview with this quote.

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