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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ramadan in Somalia

Ramadan hunger pangs in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Sitting cross-legged with her four
famished children, 30-year-old Nasteha Hussein says inflation and
insecurity in the Somali capital have made the mandatory fast in the
Muslim holy month a difficult affair.

To escape near-daily fighting in one of the world's most chaotic cities,
Hussein now lives in a hut made of branches covered by rugs in a camp
with other displaced people.

Whereas other Muslims around the world lay on a feast to break their
daily fast, residents in predominantly Muslim Mogadishu say
hyperinflation and a sharp devaluation of the Somali shilling mean a
meal is not guaranteed.

"We used to beg people in all corners of the town, and at least buy some
food. But life has worsened due to inflation and insecurity," the widow
said in her rain-drenched shelter.

"Apart from the grains we receive from aid agencies occasionally, we
have nothing. The most merciful person could give a thousand shillings,
but it cannot buy even a banana."

One U.S. dollar now exchanges for 36,000 shillings, from some 6,000
shillings in 1991 when the country descended into lawlessness after the
ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Since then, the Horn of Africa country has had no authority and central
rule has degenerated into fiefdoms and incessant violence -- especially
in Mogadishu.

During Ramadan, Muslims are expected to say special Taraweh prayers in
mosques, break their fasts and visit each other after sundown.

The mosques have not been spared the violence.

Sitting on a worn-out mat, Sheikh Hussein Osman recites verses from the
Koran and leads his wife and children in the Taraweh prayers at his
house. An old red carpet in a mosquito-infested corridor now serves as
his mosque.

"If their the mortars don't get you, then they will not spare you in the
mosques," the 45-year-old Muslim leader says. "Life is useless when
sheikhs cannot pray or teach the Koran in mosques."

Somalia has been mired in violence since 1991. It had a brief respite
when Islamists wrenched power from an interim government in mid-2006.

That lasted for only half a year, ending when the government drove the
Islamists out of the capital with the aid of Ethiopian allies. But that
only resulted in an Iraqi-style insurgency.

Their clashes have killed over 8,000 people and left two thirds of the
country in desperate need of humanitarian relief.

Earlier this week, the Islamists said they would intensify attacks on
the government over Ramadan in spite of a U.N.-brokered peace deal
signed in Djibouti in June.

In such an attack on Friday, 15 people were killed in Bardale, a town 60
km north of Baidoa, the government's seat.

"Islamists ambushed a convoy of Ethiopian troops prompting heavy
fighting," said Yunis Moalim, the chairman of Bardale. "Ethiopians
killed nine civilians just after the fighting stopped and elders have
gone there to collect the bodies."

Ibrahim Isak, a resident, told Reuters he saw the bodies of four
Ethiopian troops being loaded onto an military truck from his hiding
spot behind a tree.

Islamist spokesman Sheikh Abdirahim Isse Adow said they lost two
fighters in the clash.

Children have been worst affected by the violence. Mogadishu's homeless
orphans say life in this wet Ramadan is the worst they have ever had.

"I have no home or parents. I sleep where I doze off and survive on my
own," said 14-year-old Aden Isse who survived by reselling the cast-off
twigs of the narcotic khat that is popular in Somalia.

Men who chew the leaves and stalks are now too scared to sit out on
verandas, and the cafes where they used to chew and discard their khat
have closed.

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