Thanks to Slavs and Tatars, I discovered Six Pillars to Persia's programme on Resonance FM and thanks to Six Pillars this wonderful music from Iran, embodied by the Iranian musician Kourosh Yaghmaei.
Elements of biography:
Kourosh Yaghmaei was 10 when his father gave him a gift that revealed his talent for music. It was a Santour (The Persian Traditional string-percussive /Dulcimer). According to his mother, when he opened his present, after a few tries, he started to play a tune....
After 5 years of practice he gained a perfect knowledge of Iranian traditional music along with excellent skills in playing Santour.
At the age of 15 he chose to play the guitar, which he has always loved. He gathered his own Pop/Rock bands which he both composed for and played in. Kourosh then introduced Rock music to Iran with a Pop formation of songs.
At that time he received several tempting offers from Western musicians and bands’ managers to join them. In his senior year as a Social Science student at the Iran National University, Kourosh released his first single hit GOL-e YAKH. The poem was written by his classmate, now-famous poet Mahdi Akhavan Langeroudi. This memorable love song led him to worldwide fame.
But after 1979, his voice was banned, and it was for 17 years... His picture was only allowed to be printed in his albums after 24 years.
A double record has now been released by Now Again Records, "Back From the Brinks", in 2011.
The musician is still playing though and even tourning abroad for live events such as Les Musical de Rennes late 2011 in France.
I haven't heard anything as beautiful in years and am totally falling for this sound. Hence this post. Hope you enjoy too.
Back From The Brink
Pre-Revolution Psychedelic Rock From Iran : 1973 - 1979
Now-Again Records / Stones Throw / Discograph
Buy the album here:
Now Again Records:
Six Pillars to Persia:
Review in Rolling Stones France:
I wrote this essay on Somalia's political recent changes towards the end of 2012. I publish it here ahead of the Somalia conference in May 2013, in London.
Do get back to me if you have comments or want a PDF version.
SOMALIA, A NEW ERA
The authorities of the transitional federal government, the TFG, were given by their Western partners until August 20th 2012 to renew Somalia’s governing and legislative bodies’ leaders. If the deadline itself was not respected, as the Prime Minister was actually named in October and the government formed a few weeks later, the delay still seems quite reasonable and the challenge seems reached. But despite the readiness to match the Western and UN demands, Somalia still faces major challenges in terms of national unity, security and general living standards that keep observers quite alarmed about the most shattered African state’s future.
This article will present the process Somalia’s institutions and leaders have been going through in the past year that conducted the country to enter a new era, and secondly, will try to list the main risks that lie ahead for Somalia’s future as a stable nation, despite a turning point and the start of a new hope for the Horn of Africa’s country.
2012: Year of an unprecedented political selection process
A political turning point
Somalia has often too quickly been nicknamed as a “failed state”, as defined in Jean-Germain gros’ essay in the third world quarterly ‘towards a taxonomy of failed states in the new world order: decaying Somalia, Liberia, Rwanda and Haiti’. (…)
Since the fall of former dictator Siad Barre, in 1991, and the civil war that followed, Somalia has since the year 2000 moreover often been mentioned as a threat by the Western powers - to itself, its neighbours and the wider world.
And in recent years, it has also been marred by the rise of Islamic extremism as the Al Shabab militias grew in power in Southern Somalia and the piracy attacks against Western ships off Somalia’s coast multiplied.
The country has been without a central government since 1991, going through conflicts, foreign military interventions and divisions of the country, from which three main regions have emerged: the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, the semi-autonomous
 For more details, read UNODC reports (http://www.unodc.org/easternafrica/en/piracy/index.html) and The Ocean beyond Piracy report (http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/sites/default/files/economic_cost_of_piracy_2011.pdf)
state of Puntland, and south and central Somalia (including the capital, Mogadishu) where the Transition Federal Government (TFG) was based until August. Before 1991, Somalia had known twenty years of dictatorship, under the rule of Mohamed Siad Barre who came to power in 1969, while at the time of its independence in 1960, Somalia was touted in the former Europeans colonisers as a potential model for newly independent African nations, when the southern Italian Somalia and northern British Somaliland merged to form the Somali Republic. The problem started when, “in the new political order, the south obtained de facto hegemony over the underdeveloped north”, with growing regional rivalries, which started to have an impact on clan politics. The prestigious Isaaq clan - once the majority in Somaliland— became a national minority. The Darood clan - once a minor player in the north - rejoined Darood from the south to form a powerful new entity. Tension between the clans inducted a fractious parliamentary system, as the clans aligned themselves with competing political parties.
Regarding its infamous reputation, it is fair to reckon that Somalia’s recent organisation of a whole process of renewal of the remaining political leaders and institutions’ heads is a major step forward, as it becomes the first time Somalis recognise a legitimate government since 1969, year when dictator Siad Barre came to power.
Yet Somalia still has no central government holding power over the three presented regions; it still combines three areas having more or less obtained a form of semi-autonomy, especially Somaliland and Puntland, on the north-eastern coast. The boundaries between these territories and the rest of Somalia, ‘South Central’ as it is often referred to, are blurred, disputed and shifting. Only Mogadishu is considered under the complete control of the government, its surrounding regions in central Somalia having been only partially and temporary controlled by the TFG. And until October 2012, the Southern part of Somalia remained under the control of Al Shabaab militias. On the social level, Somali politics relies on various powers including members of the military, elected officials and clans’ leaders, a key constituent of the Somali society.
Despite this challenging context, Somalia held its first elections in twenty years this summer 2012. Yet it was more of a selection process than proper elections. The Transitional Federal Government, TFG, had to manage to organise sustainable elections, while not controlling the whole of South Central Somalia, and despite continuing fighting between the Al Shabab militias and the AMISOM soldiers, the African Union Mission in Somalia. Creation of the international community, Somalia’s TFG’s mandate was coming to end this summer, under the statement signed under the United Nations. According to this timetable, it was given until August 20th to organise elections and set up a more permanent form of government.
And on September 10th, Somali newly-chosen MPs met in Mogadishu to elect the country's new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in the latest step to end decades of
 Somalia: A Country Study, by Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1992.
war. Since that date, the new President nominated Abdi Farah Shirdon as Prime Minister, and the MPs unanimously backed the ex-businessman, mid-October, which means that Somalia now has a new legislative power, a new President and a new government. Somalia's new Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon unveiled a ten-member Cabinet on Sunday November 4th, with two female Ministers in the proposed Cabinet, including Fauzia Yusuf Haji as Foreign minister.
In the meantime, members of Parliament had been selected through a complex and unique framework in August, in order to install a new legislative power and to organise an indirect presidential election in a country where organising polls would still be impossible. This selection started by the creation of a council of about 800 elders among Somali clans and clan leaders and involved Somali politicians as international actors and partners. Here is a presentation of the key moments:
*The United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), and Western members of the international community (IC) started by considering the TFG’s mission had failed, and then decided to force the process of change.
*Toward the last days of December 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron stated that the transition would finally end as planned by the UN in August 2012, despite the TFG’s requests to postpone it.
*On February 23, 2012, a one-day international Conference on Somalia thus brought together senior representatives from over 40 countries and international organisations (such as the UN, AU, European Union (EU), World Bank, Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (the East African regional body IGAD), Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and League of Arab States) in London, along with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Institutions, the presidents of Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug (regional governments of autonomist regions) and representatives of the largest armed group, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a (ASWJ). Most of those foreign partners had expressed their desire to stop the TFG’s mandate.
*Somali government officials met in the Northeastern town of Garowe in February 2012 to discuss post-transition arrangements. Regional actors and international observers were also consulted and after extensive deliberations, the conference ended in a signed agreement between TFG President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, Speaker of Parliament Sharif Adan Sharif Hassan, Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, Galmudug President Mohamed Ahmed Alim and Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama'a representative Khalif Abdulkadir Noor stipulating that a new 225 member bicameral Parliament would be formed, consisting of an upper house seating 54 Senators as well as a lower house. Later on, a new President would be chosen through an indirect election by appointed MPs. Finally, the Prime minister would be designated by the President, and would, later form a government by naming a Council of Ministers.
*This process was baptised the ‘Roadmap for the End of Transition’, following the Road Map agreement signed in Mogadishu on September 6th 2011. And the proper political renewal process started early July, when a new Constitution was drafted, not without pain, and finally approved early August by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), made up of 825 prominent Somalis, mainly former elected officials and traditional elders.
*One of the key moments of the successive votes was the election of the House Speaker, Mohamed Osman Jawari, in the last days of August. Former minister in the administration of Siad Barre, Jawari is from the Rahanweyn clan, which meant that it would be very unlikely a candidate from his clan could be chosen as President. The former Speaker, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Adan, running for President among more than twenty candidates, was consequently almost certainly cast out of the position, as president is traditionally from a different clan to the Speaker of Parliament - all those votes respecting the traditional influence of Somali clans.
As a result, a turning point of finally emerged, unprecedented, after twenty years of civil war and therefore lack of central government.
Improvements on the security level
In parallel to this political renewal process, the security has also improved on the ground in Somalia. With the joint effort of the AMISOM, the African peacekeeping mission in Somalia, the Somali army and the Kenyan army, the TFG forces regained power on the Al Shabab militias in central and southern Somalia. This has brought Somalia to its most peaceful time since 1991. Somalia's clan-like structure and complex history of invasions and cultural exchanges with its neighbours created a much divided society, mostly nomadic and oral, with very unique political models and religious patterns, which did not survive the end of Siad Barre holding-together dictatorship.
Foreign powers got involved in trying to resolve the conflict from 1992 but have later on often exacerbated the situation. First occurrence, the Unified Task Force (UNITAF) was a United States-led, United Nations-sanctioned multinational force which operated in Somalia between 5 December 1992 – 4 May 1993. A United States initiative (code-named Operation Restore Hope), UNITAF was charged with carrying out United Nations Security Council Resolution 794 to create a protected environment in order to conduct the humanitarian operations needed in the southern part of Somalia. But the US failed to acknowledge the political dimensions of the situation and Operation Restore Hope was considered a failure despite some humanitarian success. Another example: years later, in 2006, when the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) took control of most parts of Somalia,
 See the UN document here:http://unpos.unmissions.org/Portals/UNPOS/Repository%20UNPOS/110906%20-%20Signed%20statement%20on%20adoption%20of%20the%20Roadmap.pdf
“The USA and its allies misinterpreted these events”, comments Mary Harper, “they mistakenly equated a home-grown form of political Islam with the international al-Qaeda franchise and, by doing so, inadvertently advertised the country as a promising new battle front for jihadists from across the world”. In reality, what happened in south-central Somalia at that time was that those Sharia courts managed to provide a form of stability, some safety and a type of justice to the people after years of chaos due to the civil war and the central administration’s fall in Mogadishu.
The US misinterpretation of the religious movement and social changes in the mid-2000s encouraged the UIC's fall in 2007 and the rise of al-Shabab militias representing an accurate threat for the country. In neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya, leaders have also repeatedly qualified the Shababs as a threat for the whole region, since the 2000s. According to Harper, Somalia was then “squeezed into the dominant Western post-9/11 narrative”, as a general area of dangers for the Western world, especially in the USA. But in Southern Somalia, the Islamist fighters would not let their country turned into a field of experimentation for the Western world's so-called War on Terror.
Compared to the most troubled times, the new government now sees a more secured era, after the liberation of Mogadishu in August 2011 and the recent victory of the AMISOM/Kenya forces in the Shabab stronghold in Kismayo. The new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is an academic as well as a civic activist who has worked for several national and international peace and development organisations, which led many commentators of Somalia’s political life to praise his election. His victory was moreover highly regarded by the Somali people who feared the former leaders might manage to keep the power into their hands. Graduated from the Somali National University in 1981 and Bhopal University in India, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud also worked for the United Nations children's organisation (Unicef) and co-founded the Somali Institute of Management and Administration Development in Mogadishu. He speaks Somali and English and we can underline that he is from the Hawiye clan - one of Somalia's largest and most influential.
However, as Ken Menkhaus wrote in the September issue of Foreign Policy, “Mohamud's election does not signal an end to Somalia's 21 years of state collapse. Nor will it bring a quick end to the country's systemic political violence. The new president is taking the reins of a failed government that exercises only nominal control over the capital, Mogadishu, and faces a real, if diminished, threat from the al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab. Even in a best-case outcome, it will take years for the government to extend and deepen its authority. And
 ‘Getting Somalia wrong? Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State’ by Mary Harper, African Arguments (Royal African Society), Zed Books, London
 For more read here: http://www.ssrnetwork.net/document_library/detail/4424/sharia-courts-and-military-politics-in-stateless-somalia and “Protracted State Collapse in Somalia: A Rediagnosis” in Review of African Political Economy (2003) by Ken Menkhaus
though it brings to a conclusion Somalia's deeply flawed, eight-year political transition, Mohamud's new administration must still take on a host of difficult, unfinished transitional tasks”.
Somalia’s new government still face serious challenges
The new government and institution leaders are hardly in power that they must already deal with huge challenges.
Somalia started its political renewal process by drafting a new constitution, which could seem like a solid step but soon entailed further worrying disputes. After many disagreements, Constitutional Affairs Minister Abdirahman Hosh Jabril declared it was “a historic day” – as Somalia “witnessed the completion of a task that has been worked on for the last eight years”.
However, according to BBC Somalia analyst Mary Harper, the constitution adopted early August “appears to exist in a parallel universe, a fantasy land, when compared with the reality on the ground in Somalia”. For example, Harper noted that, in a country where large regions are not under government control, ensuring universal access to education and ending female genital mutilation is unlikely to happen any time soon.
Additionally, according to human rights advocate Sadia Ali Aden, a few corrupt Somali politicians participated with one goal: to convince the Somali people that “the new constitution was for their protection, and that it was essential for lasting peace”. Thus the “new constitution was shrouded in secrecy for some time when it was finally endorsed, several differing versions were released, creating a state of confused frustration. Dissenters who dared to question the substance of the new draft, its timing, or the secrecy surrounding it were met with warnings of being labelled a ‘spoiler’ and of being referred to the International Criminal Court. All of this has combined to create a fearful environment that hinders the dialogue necessary to establish long-term plans for Somali reconciliation.”
In the end, despite good intentions, contentious issues remain unresolved, including the allocation of power and resources between the centre and the regions, this is where ferocious arguments are likely to develop, and possibly become violent.
 Ken Menkhaus, “The Somali Spring”, in Foreign Policy, September 2012:http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/09/24/the_somali_spring
 See weekly regional magazine The East African, Saturday, August 4 2012
 Interviewed by the author from the BBC World Service headquarter in London, UK, on August 20th2012
See column in Think Africa Press’s website : http://thinkafricapress.com/somalia/consequence-crooked-constitution
Lack of federalism
Some examples of local governance give hope for a form of possible stability for Somalis, as the breaking-away region of Somaliland shows. But the current situation also emphasises the lack of central order and the long lost unity inside Somalia, as Somaliland and Puntland remained excluded from the political selection process voluntarily.
In April 2011, in Hargeisa, the province’s capital, the Minister of Information of Somaliland Ahmed Abdi Mohamud explains that this will for independence is rooted in his region’s history:
“Somaliland was already different and separated from the rest of Somalia at the independence in 1960 because it was ruled by the British Empire with Southern Somalia was colonized by the Italians. We have since and are still undergoing through misunderstandings because we have a different culture and have become a different people. We could not become the same country again. During the 20 years Somalia was at war, Somaliland had a functional government, a Parliament with a House of Elders, and was living in peace, organizing democratic elections and peaceful transition or power. Do you really want our region to become caught into fighting again like Somali is still going through?”
While the Somaliland leaders are still showing a strong commitment for independence claims, semi-autonomous Puntland is still part of Somalia’s political process, even though it does not have senior leaders represented in the new institutions and its President has been weakened. As the Somalia’s new Constitution remains vague of the definition of its federalism, this situation could cause weaknesses for the new government. The recent discoveries of oil in Puntland and Somaliland could add some more tensions if the exploration of the crude were to brought serious revenues.
Clearly, this 2012 political process can also not be called entirely democratic; it does not measure up with Somalis’ expectations of democracy as very few people were finally involved to choose an even more narrowed group of elders to select their new political leaders. And while the goal was also to maintain a form of traditional and clannish form of leadership it only occurred in a very adapted way. For instance, some minority clans were represented in this process, something that would have never happened in accordance with old Somali traditions.
The other major threat to stability and to the new government’s effectiveness is that the country is still undergoing a serious humanitarian crisis, after the severe 2011 drought, causing food insecurity and malnutrition. According to OCHA (the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) deputy humanitarian coordinator in Mogadishu, Kilian Kleinschmidt, Mogadishu is now liberated and reopen for business,
 Interview conducted in Hargeisa, Somaliland in April 2011, facilitated by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, a week before the celebration of the 20th anniversary of self-declared independence of Somaliland
but the humanitarian situation remains critical. On top of food insecurity, Somalia remains a highly military environment with lots of guns still circulating, even in Mogadishu. The UN and Western aid organizations are currently increasing their partnerships with Islamic aid and Turkish assistance in order to improve the food and health relief distribution on the ground.
Nonetheless, the humanitarian crisis remains one of the highest challenges the new government will be very limitedly able to cope with. The aid agency Oxfam recently called on the humanitarian community to maintain support for Somalia at what it believes is a “critical moment” because of the danger to see the international community turning its attention elsewhere. Overall, incomes were found to be two thirds lower than during a normal Gu season putting increasing reliance on support from agencies. “The poor rains, combined with the loss of livestock and income during last year’s drought, have left almost three quarters of people questioned concerned they will not have enough to eat over the next four months”, shows the Oxfam report.
The impossibility to hold elected officials and civil servants accountable in Somalia is also a major challenge to the government’s control. “The committee which selected the Members of the Parliament this summer had to exclude some candidates who should not be running because of the very poor human rights records and well-known sensibility to corruption, but most of these candidates remained on the running list”, explains Laetitia Bader, from the Human Rights Watch (HRW) bureau in East Africa. The justice system also remains a major weakness for Somalia’s sustainable stability. Building a proper justice system is an absolute priority. “The international community is pushing for it and Human Rights Watch is constantly calling for more accountability, but politics have different views on the ground; they often choose a short-term peace over a fearful justice”, underlines Laetitia Bader.
As a BBC report announced in July 2012, a leaked UN report on Somalia has alleged that much of the money received by the former interim government – the TFG - had been frittered away: “the allegations of such high-level corruption have shocked many, with estimates that around 70% of money intended for development and reconstruction in a country racked by 20 years of war was unaccounted for”. The government, whose mandate expires next month, dismissed them as "absolutely and demonstrably false". The 198-page report, published on the Somalia Report website, makes observers wonder how to change a reality when numbers of local leaders and MPs are still in power in Somalia despite the recent change of government.
 Interviews conducted in Mogadishu on April 28th 2012, with OCHA at the AMISOM compound and visiting IDPs camps and food distribution centres
 Interview conducted on August 30th 2012, over the phone, with Bader from Addis Ababa.
Security is still a daily challenge
Despite numerous 2012 military victories over al Shabaab and other islamist groups in Somalia by the AMISOM, the Somali army and the Kenyan intervention, the greatest security challenge remains to secure peace in the near future and on the long run.
The AMISOM launched its biggest operation against the al Shabaab islamist militia in Mogadishu, in May 2011. “The offensive started on May 28 and by October we had about 75 to 80 percent of Pogadishu”, explained brigadier Paul Lokech, Ugandan contingent commander, in april 2012. “these were crucial areas of the stadium, Bakara market… Bakara market was the economic hub, the centre of gravity of al Shabab, where they were collecting revenue”, the AMISOM brigadiers added.
Since august 2011, the city has been considered freed from the enemy, and the TFG - the transitional federal government - regained power and started planning the city’s reconstruction. For the first time in 20 years, Mogadishu is declared at peace and starts coming back to life. The end of the military operation in Mogadishu opened the way for the new political process. Former Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali was appointed in June 2011 and organised the end of the transition period: “we are in a critical time. Somalia is moving from an era of lawlessness and chaos into an era of peace and stability. To reach there, we have a framework called the roadmap. Somalia has been in a transition for the last 12 years, we came to the end of that road and not for a transitional government anymore but a more permanent government”. The then prime minister was already very vocal on the fight against resilient al Shabab forces: “we gained a lot of territories from al Shabab in 2011-12 and they are on the run. It is to be consolidated because people are now aware that they have no Somali agenda; they are foreign and ideological forces, they want nothing good for the Somali people. If you ask me, I say the Shabab lost the battle and the war”.
Nonetheless, security remains an issue in Somalia, especially in the southern part of the country but also and even in the capital. One of the main threats to the current peace process is the instability in the rest of Somalia outside Mogadishu. “The more stable situation of Mogadishu has very little impact on the whole country”, argues Laetitia Bader, from the Human Rights Watch bureau in East Africa. “In Baidoa and Kismayo for instance, in southern Somalia, the security control is completely independent from the government’s control. The whole political selection process is a Mogadishu-only-centred process”, argues Laetitia Bader, from the Human Rights Watch bureau in East Africa. “The political power has unfortunately no control outside the Villa Somalia […]. Some
 Interview conducted in Mogadishu on April 27, with the help of the AMISOM
 Interview conducted in Mogadishu’s Villa Somalia, headquarter of the TFG, on April 29, 2012
 Read Ken Menkhaus in Foreign Policy:http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/10/03/somalia_kismayo_al_shabab
 Interview conducted on August 30th 2012, over the phone, with Bader from Addis Ababa.
 Interview conducted on August 30th 2012, over the phone, with Bader from Addis Ababa.
Official positions exist like the district commissioners, but how their work has to be conducted technically remains an open question”. The movements from town to rural areas remain very difficult according to the AMISOM and Somali police, and state organisations as well as humanitarian aid have no better access to remote areas than in 2011.
Regarding this turning point events of the year 2012, it will only be possible to see the newly elected officials reinforce their power in Somalia if the AMISOM forces remain into place in the country, assuring some continuing control. While the process of nomination of the government’s ministers was still under way early November, we can only confirm that these leaders have high chance to become the most legitimate Somalia had in decades, a feeling most people share on the ground in Somalia and even in Somaliland. Especially with the election of President Mohamud, the selection process resulted in a good outcome despite a flowed process. It remains to be seen how far the new government will extend its control.
 Interviews conducted in Mogadishu in April 2010, with the help of the AMISOM