Parts of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, can feel like the Tower of Babel: Lido beach, say, or a branch of The Village chain of restaurants, are upmarket places where British, Italian, American and Canadian accents mingle.
Decades of war had a centrifugal effect and propelled Somalis across the world but recent years of gradual hard-won stability have brought some of the diaspora back into politics, business and much else besides.
Many have come from Canada. At least two of the candidates in presidential elections due in late October are Canadian-Somalis, while in recent years their compatriots have held positions such as prime minister, cabinet minister and police chief – the best pizzeria in town is owned by a Canadian-Somali too.
Prominent among the many returnees are Ilwad and Iman Elman, sisters aged 26 and 24 respectively, from Ottawa. They were born in Mogadishu, fleeing with their mother in 1991 as the government collapsed in a hail of bullets and rocket fire. Their father, peace activist Elman Ali Ahmed, stayed on until his death in 1996 at the hands of gunmen.
But in 2010 Ilwad returned, joining her mother who had established a human-rights organisation that specialises in providing safe houses for girls affected by the conflict. Her younger sister followed the next year.
“At that time most of the people coming back from the diaspora were much older men with political ambitions,” says Ilwad. A year or two later that changed and there was “a huge influx of young people”.
Iman had grown up as a Canadian woman and so the discrimination she found back in patriarchal Somalia was a surprise – but fortunately it shocked her into action. “I wanted to break all those stereotypes and prove just what a female is capable of,” she says. So she joined the military – and now she is a captain in the Somali National Armed Forces.
The Elman sisters visit Canada from time to time but have committed to Somalia and Mogadishu despite the dangers of regular terror attacks. Asked what she misses about Canada, Ilwad doesn’t hesitate: “The simplicity of not having to think about logistics, to live life without planning anything.”
Iran’s Lake Urmia has been drying up for years due in part to farmers overusing the resource but a government-led resuscitation programme is ongoing and there’s a rise in water levels. The case reflects a broader water crisis in the region, underlined by the lake’s colour change from its usual green to a deep red this summer, likely down to a recent algae bloom.
But University of Tehran biologist Hossein Akhani is cautiously optimistic: “Our intervention means that winter rainwater is better preserved but recovery is fragile.” Post-sanctions, Iran is more open to international partnerships. “It’s an opportunity for collaboration.”
The Ottoman-era rail link from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv takes an hour and a half to meander a mere 60km but a new line should cut journey time to just 28 minutes. The centrepiece of this ils6.8bn (€1.6bn) investment is Jerusalem’s new central train station. Due for completion in 2018, it will be one of the world’s deepest at 80 metres below ground and will double as a bomb shelter.
Q&A – Franklin Oduro
Center for Democratic Development, Ghana
Ghanaians head to the polls on 7 December as president John Mahama looks to retain his seat. Dr Franklin Oduro is the head of research and programmes at the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, which has been keeping an eye on Ghana’s electoral processes since 1998.
How will recent electoral reforms make an impact?
They address issues such as correct collation of votes at polling stations and making the Electoral Commission more proactive in how it communicates with voters. The 2012 election exposed the commission’s lack of an internal legal department and one of the key reforms has been to establish that.
What still needs to change?
Voting went biometric in 2012 but we need a more enhanced voter register. Ghana doesn’t have a proper national identification system that all agencies can draw data from and until we do we’ll have a problem with verifying voters.
Do you foresee any post-election violence?
I don’t buy this idea that Ghana doesn’t do conflict – internally we’ve seen common land disputes unfold in barbaric ways. But we have witnessed post-election violence in neighbouring countries and that cautions those who would want to make trouble. Ghana has been fortunate to have leaders who believe in the democratic project. There is a consensus between the two main parties that they are best served by democracy, even if they don’t get power.