Eritrean refugees in Sudan – held ransom

By Martin Plaut

It could have been a tragedy: six Eritreans were arrested by the Sudanese police and threatened with deportation back to Eritrea (or what is termed ‘refoulment’ by the United Nations refugee agency.)

The six were in a dire condition, having only just managed to escape from people traffickers. The two women and four men had walked for three days when they were picked up by police on Saturday in an area about 25 kilometres from Khartoum.

At this point they were told they would be taken to court, which was likely to return them to Eritrea, from which they had just escaped. The group would have faced arrest, indefinite detention and possible torture if they were returned.

Thanks to the rapid intervention of lawyers the six were released after paying a fine of 1,200 Sudanese pounds. This is a great deal of money, nearly $US 200 at the official rate of exchange.

Human rights activists say the Sudanese police regard the Eritreans as a source of income. But for the impoverished Eritrean community the strain of collecting and paying these fines is unbearable.

However, other Eritrean prisoners have not been so fortunate. They were part of a larger larger group held in Khartoum’s Huda prison.

At least four Eritreans, who had been imprisoned for the past six months, were selected by the jailors and have now been deported to Eritrea. Their fate is unknown, but activists fear for their safety.

Uganda: No budget for sanitary pads for school going girls

Girl’s supported by SIHA in their education through SIHA’s scholarship initiative

New Vision Uganda, a local daily newspaper reported in 2013 that 30% of Ugandan girls drop out of school due to their menstrual cycle. Some Ugandan girls reported that they feel discomfort during their cycle; others claimed that they are teased and bullied due to incidents of soiled clothing. In World Bank’s report it was highlighted that due to their menstrual cycle girls miss 4-5 days of school every month which leads to missing 10-20% of school days.

Sanitary pads are the only saviors in this situation however they are costly and unaffordable by average Ugandan families.  Lack of pads leads to girl’s restoring to using absorbents such as grass and tissue. Path reported in 2016 that menstrual practices such as using alternative absorbents e.g. grass or tissue contributes significantly to infections. Further, if these infections are untreated there is a higher chance of contracting HIV and other STIs which can lead to secondary infertility and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

On the 14th of February 2017, Ministry of Education informed the Parliament’s Education Committee that the Ministry has no funding or budget for the providing sanitary pads for school going girls. This puts girls at a significant disadvantage; as they are likely to miss school days, be left behind in their education in comparison to their male counterpart and endanger their sexual reproductive health.

Faith and money from the Middle East fuelling tensions in the Horn of Africa

Relations between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula go back centuries, with trade playing a key component in binding their people together. Religion has also played a part. The expansion of Wahhabism – the interpretation of Islam propagated by Saudi Arabia – has been funded by the massive oil wealth of the kingdom.

Mosques, Koranic schools and Imams have been provided with support over many years. Gradually this authoritarian form of Islam began to take hold in the Horn. While some embraced it, others didn’t.

Somalia is an example. While most Somalis practised a moderate form of Suffi Islam, the Islamic fundamentalists of al-Shabaab didn’t. Soon after taking control of parts of central and southern Somalia in 2009 they began imposing a much more severe form of the faith. Mosques were destroyed and the shrines of revered Suffi leaders were desecrated.

The export of faith has been followed by arms. Today the Saudis and their allies in the United Arab Emirates are exerting increasing military influence in the region.

But Saudi Arabia and other Arabian gulf states aren’t the only Muslim countries that have sought influence in the region. Iran, for example, has also been an active player. In the case of Eritrea, a struggle for influence between Riyadh and Tehran has played out over the past few years. This has also been true in neighbouring Somaliland and the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland.

These are troubled times in the Horn of Africa. The instability that’s resulted from Islamic fundamentalism, of which al-Shabaab are the best known proponents, have left the region open to outside influences. The French have traditionally had a base in Djibouti, but they have now been joined by the Americans and the Chinese.

The growing Arab military, political and religious influence is only the latest example of an external force taking hold in the region.

New powerful forces in the region
The Eritreans had been close to Iran and supported their Houthi allies in the Yemeni conflict. This was of deep concern to the Saudis, who are locked in conflict with Tehran. This is a battle for influence that pits Iranian Shias against Saudi Sunnis. Eritrea is just one of the fields on which it’s being played out.

As a US cable leaked to Wikileaks put it in 2010,

‘The Saudi ambassador to Eritrea is concerned about Iranian influence, says Iran has supplied materiel to the Eritrean navy, and recently ran into an Iranian delegation visiting Asmara. He claims Yemeni Houthi rebels were present in Eritrea in 2009 (but is not sure if they still are), and reported that the Isaias regime this week arrested six Eritrean employees of the Saudi embassy’.

Since then Eritrea has switched sides. Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki paid a state visit to Saudi Arabia in April 2015. Not long afterwards Eritrea signed a 30-year lease on the port of Assab with the Saudis and their allies in the Emirates. The port has become a base from which to prosecute the war in Yemen. The United Nations reported that 400 Eritrean troops were now in Yemen supporting the Saudi alliance.

The United Arab Emirates has constructed a major base in Assab – complete with tanks, helicopters and barracks. In November 2016 it was reported that a squadron of nine UAE Mirage fighter planes were deployed to Eritrea from where they could attack Houthi targets on the other side of the Red Sea. In return the Gulf states agreed to modernise Asmara International Airport, increase fuel supplies to Eritrea and provide President Isaias with further funding.

Since then the United Arab Emirates has announced its intention to increase its military presence in the Horn. In January it signed an agreement to manage the Somaliland port of Berbera for 30 years. It also sought permission to have a naval base, Somaliland foreign minister Sa’ad Ali Shire told reporters.

‘It’s true that the United Arab Emirates has submitted a formal request seeking permission to open a military base in Somaliland’

The UAE are also active in the neighbouring Puntland. They have been paying for and training anti-piracy forces for years, while also financing and training its intelligence services.

They are a powerful force in the region, projecting an Arab influence as far as Madagascar and the Seychelles. It’s not surprising that the United Arab Emirates was labelled “Little Sparta” by General James Mattis – now President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defence.

Ethiopian concerns

These are worrying times for the Ethiopian foreign ministry. Once the dominant force in the region, its influence over the Horn is now in question.

To its north the Eritreans remain implacable foes, as they have been since the border war of 1998-2000 that left these neighbours in a cold no-war, no-peace confrontation.

Addis Ababa is concerned that Eritrea’s hand has become stronger in recent years. Its mining sector is looking increasingly attractive with Canadian based firms now joined by Australian and Chinese companies.

Asmara’s role in the ongoing war in Yemen has allowed Eritrea to escape diplomatic isolation. The government in Asmara is now benefiting from funds and weapons, despite UN sanctions designed to prevent this from taking place.

To Ethiopia’s west lies Sudan, which is also now involved in the war in Yemen, providing troops to the Saudi and United Arab Emirates backed government. These ties are said to have been cemented after the Saudis pumped a billion dollars into the Sudanese central bank. In return the Sudanese turned their backs on their former Iranian allies.

To Ethiopia’s east the situation in Somalia is also of concern. No Ethiopian minister can forget the invasion of the Ogaden under President Siad Barre in 1977, when Somalia attempted to re-capture the lands lost to their neighbours during the expansionist policies of Emperor Menelik II in the nineteenth century. Siad Barre may be long gone but Ethiopian policy since the invasion has been to keep Somalia as weak and fragmented as possible.

Ethiopia has intervened repeatedly in Somalia to hold al-Shabaab at bay as well as to maintain the security of its eastern region. Addis Ababa’s policy of encouraging the inherent fragmentary tendencies of the Somalis has paid dividends: the country is now a federation of states and regions. Some of these only nominally recognise the authority of the government in Mogadishu. Somaliland, in the north is close to being recognised as an independent nation. Others, like Jubaland along the Kenyan border, are under Nairobi’s influence.

Martin Plaut, Senior Research Fellow, Horn of Africa and Southern Africa, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A Ray of Hope in the Galdogob gang rape case, Puntland, Somalia

Following the shocking incident of gang-rape in Somalia, which sparked outrage as the victim’s naked body went viral on social media; the Puntland Regional Government, where the incident occurred, has done its job. This week, the Court sentenced all five men convicted of the gang rape to lashes, prison and fines. Names of all five perpetrators were revealed with their sentence – for example Shirwa Jama Junle was sentenced to 200 lashes, a ten year prison sentence and a 4620 USD fine. Others were given similar sentences. The sixth man, who only engaged in taking the video, was released as the video was instrumental in charging the other five men.

However, initially, the traditional elders insisted that this case will be resolved through informal mediation dispute resolution – a common practice in the region and the country. Fortunately, Ms. Anisa Hajimumin, Minister of Women Development and Family Affairs of Puntland took a strong stand against the traditional elders’ decision and demanded all law enforcement agencies, Ministry of Justice and the President to hold the perpetrators accountable.

In wake of such a disturbing incident, there is still a ray of hope for future deterrence of such incidents. Puntland recently passed a law that criminalizes sexual offences under the Sexual Offence Bill. SIHA acknowledges the efforts of the Puntland government in this case and commends them for bringing justice and effective remedy to the victims i.e. a total sum of $14,220 is to be paid to the two victims, one victim will receive $6080 while the one who sustained more serious injuries will receive $8140. We hope that this case will set a precedent for future and pending sexual violence cases. Furthermore, SIHA hopes the Somali Region Governments will continue to enforce this law and bring justice to victims.

However, it should be considered that the traditional customary law is still a constraint in the effective enforcement of criminalization of sexual violence. SIHA noted in its report titled “The Other War- Gang rape in Somaliland” that traditional elders in most cases demand the perpetrators of sexual violence to pay a fine. This has led to a wide spread of gang rape across the Somali region, as if one or more people rape a girl the fine then gets divided amongst them.

Rape is a crime and should be dealt with within the country criminal code. Addressing rape through traditional elders courts is leading to prevalence of impunity. It is also important to note that this particular case gained a significant amount of attention due to the video going viral; however, there are many cases still pending that require the Somali Governments to provide justice and effective remedies to the victims.

Only waking up when it come to women’s rights – The Somali Religious Council (SRC) impose another absurd Fatwa

The Somali Religious Council (SRC) issued a statement on Thursday, as preparations for the national women’s basketball tournament were under way in Garowe, the capital of Puntland. “We warn that the women basketball violates the Islamic law, culture and its values, and it is a place where women can be easily corrupted,” SRC chairman Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salat told VOA Somali. The tournament is the country’s first national female basketball competition and will draw teams from four- federal member states and Mogadishu, the capital.

When Girls and communities are trying to break away from the misery of war and invest on recreational activities, the traditional Islamic Clerics respond with invented fatwas that are basically informed by their own individual views dominated by patriarchy and misogyny.

Islam as a religion is about supporting the well being and health of individuals: both men and women alike. It is against the wisdom and the ultimate principles of the enteral religion to assume that it calls for women not to be healthy and to enjoy self-esteem and to develop positive attitudes and engagements with other women and girls form across Somalia and the world through sport.

The paradoxical side of this Fatwa is that the Somali Religious Council are among the strongest critics of the Al Shabaab militant militia, however with this type of Fatwa, they appear to actually be working in agreement with Al Shabab on disabling women and communities from claiming and living their normal lives. This is not the first time the Somali Clerics are imposing fatwa on women’s issues. A few months ago (in October 2016) the Clerics openly criticized women’s political participation during the parliamentarian elections in the country.

However, that notion back-lashed by the public blaming the Clerics “for only waking up when it comes to women’s rights while disregarding or ignoring other societal problems faced by women such as sexual violence and poverty.

AS SIHA we strongly believe that women sport is not only necessary for the well being of girls and women, it is also an important tool against all forms of violence against women and girls. The confidence women and girls acquire through sport is instrumental in decreasing their subjectivity to violence.

Go for it Somali Women basketball Team

We can’t hide our Pride!

Call for UNMISS to ensure effective protection of civilians from sexual violence in PoCs.

On Tuesday, November 15th it was reported that 13 year old girl who left the Wau United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilian (PoC) site with her mother in search of firewood was later found raped and dead right outside of the UNMISS base. It is apparent that this is just one of many similar incidents that have occurred around the Wau PoC. While UNMISS has a mandate for civilian protection, they are still a significant number of cases of unaccompanied women who leave the sites in search of firewood and other items. And with the recent withdrawal of Kenyan UN peacekeeping troops following the dismissal of the UNMISS force commander the situation is likely to get worse. The force commander was dismissed after findings showed failure of the peacekeeping force to protect civilians during the July upsurge of violence in Juba.

This serves to place a further strain on an already under-resourced mission that has been hard-pressed to protect civilians from acts, such as sexual violence. Wau, a county on the western bank of the Jur River, forming a greater part of the Western Bahr El Ghazal state, was one of the few safe havens in South Sudan and a beacon of stability. Since 2015 Wau has steadily turned into a frontline characterized by the same kind of targeted violence that has marred areas, such as southern Unity State in the past year. In early 2015, the county struggled with severe armed conflict and polarization along ethnic and political lines which resulted in large numbers fleeing the county in fear for their lives. In July this year the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) finally declared “[s]exual violence…a particular concern” in the previously peaceful region. Despite claims by government officials, Wau and surrounding areas remain especially volatile with continuous reports of murder, rape, gang rape, daytime looting and armed robberies, particularly in and around the towns of Nazareth, Kosti, Gonia, Ngobu, Baggari Jedid, Hai Moutamadia, Jebel El Khair and Hai Khamsin. Alongside this there has been a crackdown on freedom of expression since 2015 which has seen media, civil society actors and religious leaders threatened, tortured and arbitrarily detained.

The displaced have sought and continue to seek shelter at churches, INGO compounds and the UNMISS PoC while making trips in and around Wau town during restricted times of the day. Having said that, staying in the PoCs, which is technically protected and patrolled by UNMISS, is no longer an assured safety net, particularly for women.

Since the outbreak of conflict in South Sudan, UNMISS has had a difficult time dealing with the risk and threats of sexual violence suffered by women and girls. Just as quickly as the conflict started at the end of 2013, reports of sexual violence began to circulate various news and communication outlets. Women leaving the PoCs in search of food, firewood and other items, such as grass-thatched roofing for their tukuls were being raped by armed men just outside the camps, and often right under the noses of the peacekeepers. In most cases these incidences are connected to food security and survival issues as women often rely on the sale of firewood for income generation, which they have to collect from outside of the gates of the UNMISS bases where they face acute protection concerns. Many women have developed their own coping mechanisms to deal with these threats, travelling in groups, or paying elderly since they are less likely to be raped. Much as UNMISS is currently initiating steps to mainstream sexual violence within their strategies; there is still an underlying protection gap that needs to be addressed.

SIHA, therefore, calls on UNMISS to enhance their patrolling around the Wau PoCs and step up their efforts towards protective accompaniment for women who have been forced to engage in risky livelihoods strategies as a result of ongoing insecurity in the area. SIHA also calls upon humanitarian agencies to increase food distributions and support improved food security through livelihood and income generating alternatives.

Engaging Patriarchy: Men as Allies against Violence against Women

This newly released SIHA publication was developed primarily as a guide for social activists involved in challenging gender inequality in the Horn of Africa. This 36-paged guide, promotes connecting with men as an essential approach towards addressing violence against women and emphasizes the importance of their involvement.

It delves into the challenges of negotiating patriarchy and shares best practices and suggested models of working with and engaging men to prevent violence against women. Please click on the link below to access a PDF version of this exciting new piece of work by SIHA available in both English and Arabic.

SIHA Gender Alert: Street Vendors in Sudan: Surrounding the National Dialogue – No Right to Work.

Surrounding the National Dialogue, street vendors have been denied their right to work in several key locations around Khartoum, including parts of Nile Street and Airport Street. Close to 1,000 women tea sellers, many of whom are their families’ primary breadwinners, are facing weeks without work. These women are working hard to connect, organise and build solidarity in order to deal with the situation.

On 20 October 2016, they took a petition to the Khartoum Locality demanding immediate restoration of street vendors’ constitutional right to work freely and a stop to continuous harassment of women tea sellers. The Khartoum Locality mutamad refused a meeting. Determined to achieve their goal, the tea sellers have promised to mobilise all 1,000 women dealing with this injustice everyday to physically protest at the Locality if they do not receive a satisfying response to their demands as soon as next week.

H., a tea lady who works around the Green Yard, bitterly shares how being denied her right to work has affected her family: “My son got 88.6% in his Sudanese High School Diploma and was accepted into Sudan University for Science and Technology to study Engineering. I couldn’t provide the 600 SDG registration fee because I was prohibited from work since the beginning of the month, as the National Dialogue celebrations took place in the Green Yard. He missed his chance this year.”

A. tells us the manager of the Green Yard, one of the areas affected, assured tea sellers they would be allowed to work again after 15 days surrounding the National Dialogue. She expresses her surprise that after the celebrations marking the end of the Dialogue, the decision continued to prohibit their work indefinitely. “I haven’t worked in 23 days. I spent all of my savings. I started selling some of my house furniture and even sold my gas canister to provide for my family.”

Seeking to maintain the “civilised look of the capital” during the National Dialogue, Locality officers and Public Order police ordered street vendors to cease working in affected areas, adding that they can move elsewhere but would still be subject to police sweeps and fines. Affected areas include around the Green Yard, along Nile Street from Friendship Hall up to Kobar Bridge, the extension of the Tennis Club on Airport Street and some areas in Burri Elsharif. Street vendors, and tea sellers in particular, were threatened with fines as high as 1,500 SDG on Nile Street and 3,000 SDG along Africa Street if they chose to defy these orders and continue working in their usual areas. The Director of Mukhalafat in the Locality, Mr Yasin Salih, stated that “the decision is irreversible because it is coming from high authorities” and will continue to be enforced with the intention to “clear all main streets from tea sellers.”

It is bitterly ironic that the celebration of the National Dialogue, with its promise of more freedoms and equity in Sudan, is being used to justify such a blatant violation of basic human rights and dignity. Women tea sellers are continuously exploited as a major source of income for the local authorities while at the same time being harassed by those very authorities who view their public presence as ‘indecent’ and now ‘uncivil.’

Despite this maltreatment, women tea sellers financially provide for a considerable portion of the city’s population, revitalize public space, and significantly enrich Khartoum’s urban civic life.

For more information:

Altaghyeer Newspaper. (2016). The ‘Leap’ Dialogue Causes Stopping Tea Sellers’ Work and Football Matches.

Altaghyeer Newspaper. (2016). A New Decision Against Tea Sellers in Khartoum.

Altaghyeer Newspaper. (2016). National Dialogue Outcomes Prohibit 100 Tea Sellers From Work.

Launch “Women in Islam” Blog

The Women in Islam Journal looks at the crisis in the Muslim Horn of Africa in relation to diversity, culture and tolerance, looking through the lens of devastation, at the resilience and struggle of women against oppression by militant Islam.

It tells inspiring stories of men from the region, highlighting how winning them as allies can help lift injustice off women and ease their suffering. It presents first-hand accounts of women and men from the Horn of Africa and amplifies their voices in a profound and heartfelt manner.

It covers themes such as women’s economic rights, women’s’ liberation and development, single motherhood and religious freedom- among others.

Visit the Women in Islam Blog here- for articles, artwork and voices on the Journal

SIHA Gender Alert: Sit Al Shai at risk in Khartoum

On Monday 12th July, Akhair Lhaza a Khartoum based newspaper published  an interview with Ahmed Abu Shanab, Commissioner of Khartoum/Mothamad, who was stating that “ after 15 days from now  street vendors across Khartoum will be banned  from working  in public areas in Khartoum.” The street vendors will then according to him, be assigned booths within market areas.

Many women selling shai, food or other items on the streets of Khartoum are the main breadwinners for their families.This move by the government exposes hundreds of thousands of women (and men) to the risk of losing their livelihoods and IPDs and migrants in particular. Furthermore it subjects them to raids by the Public Order Police, which historically have been overshadowed by human rights violations and abuses.

Read the full Akhair Lhaza article here:

For more information on women street vendors in Sudan: and

For more information on the Public Order Regime: