Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Counter Insurgents Tuesday, November 13, 2012 By JASON STRAZIUSO NAIROBI, Kenya -- The website's headlines trumpet al-Shabab's imminent demise and describe an American jihadist fretting over insurgent infighting. At first glance it appears to be a sleek, Horn of Africa news site. But the site – sabahionline.com – is run by the U.S. military. The site, and another one like it that centers on northwest Africa, is part of a propaganda effort by the U.S. military's Africa Command aimed at countering extremists in two of Africa's most dangerous regions – Somalia and the Maghreb. Omar Faruk Osman, the secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists, said Sabahi is the first website he's seen devoted to countering the militants' message. "We have seen portal services by al-Shabab for hate and for propaganda, for spreading violence. We are used to seeing that. In contrast we have not seen such news sites before. So it is something completely unique," Osman said. But although he had noticed prominent articles on the site, which is advertising heavily on other websites, he had not realized it was bankrolled by U.S. military. The U.S. military and State Department, a partner on the project, say the goal of the sites is to counter propaganda from extremists "by offering accurate, balanced and forward-looking coverage of developments in the region." "The Internet is a big place, and we are one of many websites out there. Our site aims to provide a moderate voice in contrast to the numerous violent extremist websites," Africom, as the Stuttgart, Germany-based Africa Command is known, said in a written statement. Al-Shabab and other militants have for years used websites to trade bomb-making skills, to show off gruesome attack videos and to recruit fighters. The U.S. funded websites – which are available in languages like Swahili, Arabic and Somali – rely on freelance writers in the region. Recent headlines on sabahionline.com show a breadth of seemingly even-handed news. "Death toll in ambush on Kenyan police rises to 31," one headline said. "Ugandan commander visits troops in Somalia," another reads. Web ads for the site appear on occasion on mainstream websites such as YouTube, and they show a clear anti-terror slant. Ads showing men on the ground blindfolded or Somalia's best known American jihadi, Omar Hammami, entice web users to click. They then access a headline like: "Somalis reject al-Zawahiri's call for violence," referring to the leader of al-Qaida. The site, which launched in February, is slowly attracting readers. The military said that Sabahi averages about 4,000 unique visitors and up to 10,000 articles read per day. The site clearly says under the "About" section that it is run by the U.S. military, but many readers may not go to that link. Abdirashid Hashi, a Somalia analyst for the International Crisis Group, said he has read articles on Sabahi, mostly because of advertisements on other Somali websites, but he also didn't realize it was funded by the U.S. He said he has no issues with the U.S. government running a news site. "I don't think they hide it. That's up there. There's an information war going on, so I don't have any problem with that," Hashi said. Osman said the articles on Sabahi are accurate and professional. But he said he feared that militants could attack writers who work for the site. Eighteen Somalis who work with media outlets have been killed this year, often in targeted killings. Somali writers "can lose their life for working for this kind of a news outlet because of the extremists who target any critical voice or news service," Osman said. "The other issue is professionalism, because if someone is intimidated and is threatened all the time then he or she is reduced to self-censorship. He or she would be afraid if he files some important news that he would be targeted." The military said there are nine writers who work for Sabahi from Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti and Somalia. The other site – magharebia.com – concentrates on Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania. Africom says the websites are part of a larger project that costs $3 million to pay for reporting, editing, translating, publishing, IT costs and overhead. It believes the project is paying dividends. "The fact that we have seen an increase in website traffic is good news alone. The website's readers provide a significant number of comments on a regular basis, which often reflect their growing frustration and anger with extremist organizations in the region. Those comments are one indicator of a positive effect," Africom said. Seth Jones, the associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation think tank in Washington, said a significant part of the struggle with extremist groups like al-Shabab is ideological and is a battle for the hearts and minds of local populations. "Based on this reality, the U.S. and other governments should be involved in countering extremist messages on websites and other forms of social media. After all, every Arab government provides substantial money to television, radio, print media, and Internet sites," Jones said. "They key question for the United States is gauging whether locals view these kinds of news sites as legitimate sources of information and read them. If not, it's worth asking: Is the United States getting a bang for its buck?"


Tuesday, November 13, 2012
By Sarah McGregor
SomCable, a broadband operator in Somalia, has chosen wireless technology company Bluwan SA to help introduce a high-speed wireless Internet service in the sparsely populated and predominately rural Somaliland region.
“We can do this Fibre Through the Air project at one-10th of the price of a fixed-line fiber connection,” Mike Cothill, chief executive officer of SomCable, said in a phone interview. “To run a cable to a home, you have to dig up people’s properties and management of the network is pretty expensive.”
Globecomm Systems Inc. (GCOM), a New York-based provider of satellite services, will deliver and integrate the system, according to an e-mailed statement from the companies. The goal is 1 million subscribers by 2015. Paris-based Bluwan will initially deploy hubs in Hargeisa, the capital, with a 5- kilometer (3.1-mile) range offering links fast enough for video and audio.
The network will expand to Burco, Borama and Berbera, and then across the border to Djibouti, which is connected to underseas fibre-optic cables. It may then extend to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan, the companies said.
Somaliland, a former British colony, declared independence from Somalia in 1991, after the fall of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. No country officially recognizes its independence.
Users will connect to the wireless service via an outdoor antenna and the deal is worth at least $3 million for Bluwan, according to today’s statement. Each Bluwan hub will offer constant speeds of 2 megabits per second and peak speeds of 100 megabits per second to thousands of customers.
Standard access costs $5 a month and doesn’t allow downloads of video such as YouTube, SomCable said in a separate e-mail. A premium service at a minimum of $20 a month is “open completely to the Internet.”
Remittances from overseas workers account for an estimated 80 percent of Somaliland’s $500 million annual gross domestic product, while the sale of livestock mainly to buyers in the Middle East is its biggest generator of export income.
Internet connection speeds have improved and costs have fallen since 2009 in the region as at least four undersea cables began operating off Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, replacing more expensive satellite links.
Africa has fewer than five mobile-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, compared with more than 10 percent in all other regions of the world, according to the International Telecommunications Union, a Geneva-based industry group.

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