A long-time Vancouver resident has returned from his native Somalia with horrific tales of Islamic extremism.
In an interview at the Georgia Straight office, Aweis Issa said he recently completed a yearlong United Nations contract as an instructor in agricultural sciences at the University of Burao, in the area known as Somaliland.
Issa said the biggest change since the 1980s—when he last lived in the small country in the Horn of Africa—has been in the treatment of women.
“The females totally, absolutely have no rights at all,” Issa said. “They can’t even be a secretary in an office. In the class[room], it’s divided. The women, they sit in the back side and the men sit in the front seats.”
Issa, who has a UBC master’s degree in soil science, estimated that 98 percent of women in Somalia aren’t working, leading to widespread depression.
“There is no doctors,” he claimed. “There is no psychologists. There is no health care. It is very tragic. It’s very unhealthy.”
On top of that, the country has been struck by what he characterizes as a “man-made famine”, caused by migrating nomads from the north moving south and kicking farmers off productive agricultural land.
Many of these farming families have been forced to flee to refugee camps in neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya, leaving a much reduced capacity inside Somalia to produce food.
“Somalia is chaos—it’s a very confused nation,” Issa declared. “I hope the international community is giving attention to the situation in Somalia.”
He added that it's easy for the western industrialized countries to provide aid to alleviate hunger, but suggested that some of this money ends up in the hands of gangsters, who use it to buy homes in other countries.
“My suggestion is not to give food-aid programs to Somalia so the people will start working by themselves,” Issa said.
He added that Somalia "has been taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalists, who are creating chaos to generate money from the rest of the world".
Issa, a Muslim, said that the Islamist group al-Shabab remains in control of much of the country.
Aweis Issa says farmers are being forced off their land in Somalia.
Somalia has been in the news in recent months for attacks on aid workers, which he blamed on racist hatred of anyone who isn’t a devout Muslim.
“Once they see you are from the West, you are a target,” he claimed. For self-defence, he bought a pistol in the market and carried it to class.
Issa said that he heard rumours in Burao that Egyptian-born doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri—the second-in-command to Osama bin Laden in al-Qaeda for many years—is living in Somalia, near the coast.
Issa also claimed that numerous people have been taken hostage in the central region of Somalia.
“The reason I went back to Somalia was to contribute my knowledge and to see what’s been going on locally,” he commented. “The younger generation, they are ready to learn, according to the perception I saw.”
Issa saved some of his harshest criticism for al-Shabab’s wealthy benefactors in the Gulf states, whom he accused of fuelling Islamic extremism by financing mosques and religious schools across Somalia.
He linked this funding to the “indoctrination and brainwashing” of suicide bombers, including several who returned to the country from Minnesota and England.
“The Saudis, they spend a lot of money—no education, no health, no libraries, no pencils—but they built so many expensive mosques,” Issa maintained. “On every corner there is a mosque.”
While it may seem that the goal is to spread Islam, Issa pointed to a bigger geopolitical aspect to the story. He suggested that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are interested in using Somalia and nearby Eritrea as proxies to destabilize Ethiopia, which is largely Christian.
Part of the reason, according to Issa, is that Ethiopia is in a position to deprive Egypt, a large Muslim country, of water in the Nile.
"Somalia is being used as a staging ground to fight with the neighbouring countries that aren’t Muslim," he said. "There will be a continuous conflict."
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