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image captionA memorial commemorating those killed in the aerial bombardment of Hargeisa in 1988

In our series of letters from African journalists, Ismail Einashe considers the importance of memory for those who lose everything in the chaos of war.

Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day are dates you’ll find many Somalis celebrating their birthdays. This is not as surprising as it sounds, it is just that very few Somalis know when exactly they were born and so opt for more memorable dates.

Somalia has an oral culture – most Somalis are more likely to be able to tell you the names of the last 20 generations of their forefathers rather than the details of their birth date.

And Somali only became a written language in 1972 when official records began to be kept – but very little remains of these archives because the country has been torn apart by civil war.

‘Dresden of Africa’

Actually next year marks three decades since the Somali state collapsed leaving many families like mine without their important documents or photos.

We were forced to flee the escalating violence which began a few years earlier in 1988 with aerial bombardments and ground attacks by the regime of then-President Siad Barre.

Hargeisa, where I was born, become known as the “Dresden of Africa” as the city was totally levelled in the conflict.

I spent my formative years living in what was then the world’s largest refugee camp – Hartisheik in Ethiopia near the Somali border.

image copyrightUNHCR
image captionThe refugee camp near Hartisheik in Ethiopia was once the biggest in the world

Like many of the many thousands of people who passed through the camp, which eventually closed in 2004, I was stripped of all records of my life before the war with no birth certificate or passport – relying only on ephemeral and fleeting memories.

It was in pursuit of these that I decided decades later to return to Hartisheik to see what remained of the camp that was once my home.

I wanted to try and get a sense of where I had come from – to understand my footing in this world in flux.

‘An endless Martian expanse’

On a hot afternoon I took a flight east from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to Dire Dawa, the country’s second largest city, though it really felt more like a quaint, sleepy town with its beautiful old railway station that is no longer in use except as a home for a family of monkeys.

An old carriage lay outside the grand entrance where a few men slept underneath the wheels, while others sheltered there from the sun chewing khat, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes.

After leaving the refugee camp I had briefly lived in Dire Dawa so I visited my old haunts with interest before heading further east to Hartisheik.


I was more nervous about making that long journey on an old minibus. It was made worse by the regular military checkpoints and the several hours along a rough road from the town of Jijiga towards the Somali border.

I remembered the camp outside Hartisheik town as a dusty, remote and unforgiving place – an endless expanse with a cracked Martian hue.

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When people arrived there 30 odd years ago they found horrendous conditions -there was no shelter, water, food or medicine and countless numbers died of hunger, thirst and disease.

But the camp quickly became like a town with a large market where you could buy all manner of things and with places to sit and drink tea.

Often people think refugee camps are only places filled with misery and desperation.

Yet as a child I remember I often had a lot of fun with my friends running around playing with rocks and screaming in giddy excitement at the occasional UN plane that flew above us to deliver much-needed aid.

However, the dust that was engrained in my memory was not to be found on my return – I was dumbfounded to find a green, lush and beautiful landscape thanks to the rainy season.

No headstones for the dead

It felt strange to me that such an alluring place with its ponds, trees and long grass as far as the eye could see had been so full of people’s fears all those years ago.

image copyrightKate Stanworth
image captionA few farmers can be found on the site of the old refugee camp

I felt somewhat disappointed in my memories.

There were nothing to mark the more 600,000 refugees who once lived here at its peak – no headstones for the dead and no official commemoration – the earth had reclaimed it all.

Mohamed, who was once caretaker of Hartisheik refugee camp in Ethiopia

Kate Stanworth

I spotted an elderly Ethiopian man, Mohamed, who it turned out had once worked as the caretaker of the camp – a place he remembered as being full of the pain of war”

Ismail Einashe

Then I spotted an elderly Ethiopian man, Mohamed, who it turned out had once worked as the caretaker of the camp – a place he remembered as being full of the pain of war.

He now lives with his family in a “bull”, a small traditional house and they have cows, goats and farm what little they can.

He told me a few camp buildings were still standing, including what might have been a hospital that a woman called Sahra showed me around with her young granddaughter.

image copyrightKate Stanworth
image captionThis old camp building now serves as a shelter for goats

Painted in seemed to be the UN colours of blue and white, there was a stench of decay and goat dung as it was occupied by animals belonging to Sahra’s family, who had once lived in Wajale on the Somali-side of the border, but now farmed here.

I thought of all those who must have lost their loved ones inside this building.

Of course many of the younger people I came across, like the young cattle herder Jimale, did not remember the refugees at all.

image copyrightKate Stanworth
image captionNomads now wander over the vast expanse of the camp which was closed by the UN in 2004

I also met a group of Somali-speaking nomads following their camels in search of fresh grass and water, who offered me, a tired traveller from London, fresh and pungent camel milk.

As the sky tinted orange I decided to return to Hartisheik town before the sun set – leaving the camp for a second time, this time as a man, but a changed man slightly dazed and confused by the tricks of memory.

It brought to mind another memory – me aged about five finding a small tub of discarded Vicks ointment in the camp – which I naively rubbed all over my face.

Inevitability it ended up getting into my eyes and a fountain of tears rolled down my face as I ran dazed and confused across the camp in search of my mother.

More Letters from Africa:

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Related Topics

  • Refugees and asylum seekers

  • Somalia
  • Ethiopia
  • Refugee camps

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)

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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers


Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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