By Natasha Louis
Dr. Farah’s demeanor was surprisingly reserved when he sat down with me in his gray, loose-fitting suit. Just arriving from a conference at the United Nations, he was quiet and calm, possibly also exhausted from his hectic schedule. While Dr. Farah speaks modestly, it should not mislead on his ability to be remarkably succinct and articulate. During our discussion, he never faltered or had to search for words; the conflict in Somalia was a matter he knew well. Talking so logically about such an arduous conflict almost gave me the impression that I was conversing with someone very intelligent but far removed from the issue. However, upon making eye contact, I could see something deep within him and witnessed that this was a man who has seen and experienced copious tribulations, yet contests it with such an unremitting spirit. To state Dr. Farah is courageous is an understatement. His unwavering commitment to peace and his country even after the loss of his arm and surviving three attacks, carried out by the very people he tries to disengage and rehabilitate, is incredibly commendable.
Dr. Farah is an academic and researcher on security/defense and had contributed on peace and security in Somalia in support of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. Former warlords joined the government while their respective militias, numbered at nearly 10,000, were integrated into to various security forces, while in 2009 Islamists came to power and their militias were also integrated into various Somali security forces. During 2012 Dr. Farah became a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) officer for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), where they have formed two programs: a National Programme for the Treatment and Handling of Disengaged Combatants from Al-Shabaab and another to assist militias. Upon implementing DDR, ex-combatants from Al-Shabaab, particularly those classified as low-risk, join rehabilitation centers and, after getting appropriate skills, are re-integrated into their respective communities. In Somalia, security forces the integration of militias from former warlords and disengaged fighters from Al-Shabaab began serving under one command which was/is indeed a challenging task.
Dr. Farah has survived three suicide attacks while contributing peace and security in Somalia, witnessing the deaths of several of his friends and colleagues. On September 18, 2006, then-president Abdullahi Yusuf survived an attempted assassination after a car bomb exploded outside of a parliament building in Baidoa, leaving 11 dead in Somalia’s first suicide bombing. Then in 15 February 2015, a drive-by shooting took place near the Mogadishu airport in the business district K4 by an Islamist gunman, killing four Somali Civil Aviation and Meteorology Authority—SCAMA staff including the director of administration, Air Transport manager, Air Traffic controller and etc. While Dr. Farah and three others survived, this attack forced him to change his residence and restricted his movement as he became a target.
The Mogadishu airport has been a frequent target by Al-Shabaab militants despite its location being in a secured green zone for UN operations, with two car bombings just this past July that killed 13 people, nine of which were UN security workers. The attack by the two vehicles were driving towards an African Union base for troops when the explosions occurred was carried about by former MP Hon. Salah Badbaado, who defected and joined Al-Shabaab in 2010.
Dr. Farah’s role as a UN Peacekeeper is strictly political, as the current UN mission in Somalia is not a peacekeeping mission but rather a political mission, as he works with implementing partners on the ground to coordinate and facilitate DDR. His team’s concentration is focused on ideological rehabilitation and working alongside with religious experts. Some of the ex-combatants drastically lack in literacy, so assistance is provided on education and teaching them vocational skills, which Farah reiterated that nothing is collective as people are able to finish at their own pace. In addition, they engage with the community in order to gain their permission on when ex-combatants can return to their villages and follow up with them for one or two years in order to ensure that peace is maintained.
Dr. Farah feels that the government’s capacity has been building and they have conducted valuable screening processes through the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). If an ex-combatant is deemed to be high risk, he/she goes through judicial process. Dr. Farah states that this type of process could take up to a few years or so if necessary. According to Dr. Farah, the only threat currently in Somalia is from Al-Shabaab. “No one will touch you if you are in your clan. Even if you go into another clan’s village and get killed, your clan will avenge you. If people work with the AMISOM, the UN or the government, they’re a target and will be killed. They don’t target regular people.” However, persuading citizens to hand in their arms is a difficult process due to their fears. “Citizens will be more likely to hand over their own arms once the government is more capable of protecting them.”
However, their tactics include recruitment from Koranic schools, with children aged 11-15. They then begin their indoctrination for 2-3 years. They target certain clans, as those who join extremist groups for revenge are often from an ethnic minority clan. Al-Shabaab also recruits those who have no other opportunities, food or are looking “for fun,” providing incentives in order to gain soldiers. “What is important is how to convince the youth [and] how to get arms into the right hands.”
Dr. Farah states that Somalia needs to properly address and manage their problems. “Seventy percent of Al-Shabaab's leaders are gone. Combatants need to be engaged and if they are, at least 50% will surrender. If opportunities are offered to them then they will be interested.”
When asked if UN Peacekeepers or the government of Somalia are taking any precautions or preparations for any encounters with ISIS, Dr. Farah said that basically the majority of current ISIS in Somalia has defected from Al-shabaab so there is no differentiation among the two when it comes to military operations and the recent military response to ISIS attack in Qandala district in Puntland State of Somalia. Dr. Farah expressed that he felt peacekeepers do produce measurable results and that Ethiopia’s decision to withdraw its troops from Somalia had effected only those troops not under the AMISOM or under UN mandate and will not harm their efforts despite Al-Shabaab recently gaining more territory, as the Ethioian troops are not part of AMISOM and those under the UN mandate still remain intact.
Lack of sufficient funding is still one of the most difficult issues the mission faces, which may hinder completion of the current ongoing projects. While they receive funds from various donors, much more is needed in order to rehabilitate and reintegrate ex-combatants and disengage fighters from Al-Shabaab.
Dr. Farah has been personally effected by issues in regards to UN funds, as he has suffered from the loss of his right arm. Since this incident occurred prior to him working for the UN, they will not provide him with a prosthetic arm to replace the wooden one he currently uses. NGOs in Somalia are also unable to assist him due to conflict of interest now that he is a UN Peacekeeper. Therefore, the United Nations Association - Southern NY State Division (also referred to as the Better World Fund) has formed a fundraising effort in order to provide him with receiving a more functional arm.
When inquired on what message he would like to give to those outside of Somalia, especially concerning the West, he stated, “You have to understand the Somalia context. Without it, it can’t be tangible. We need more than support. They need to encourage other countries who do not know about the situation.”
Despite losing his arm during the first suidide attack through IEDs in Somalia, he continues to undertake critical work and remains motivated. “I was trained as a security and defense scholar and contributed to peace in Somalia over the last 16 years, the various successive Somali governments have made progress respectively. It will be better. That’s why we can’t’ give up.”
To help Dr. Farah reach his goal for medical care, please donate to UNA Southern NY Division / A Better World Fund’s fundraiser.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.
Natasha Louis is a current graduate student at New York University at the Center for Global Affairs with a concentration in Transnational Security and has worked for nonprofits throughout the United States and Japan. She is currently a Conflict Resolution Specialist at Tanenbaum – Center for Interreligious Understanding, where she conducts research on the organization’s peacemakers and issues occurring in conflict zones.