SOMALIA: Bomb kills students, ministers at ceremony

A bomb attack has killed 23 people, including students, graduates and three cabinet ministers -- among them Minister for Higher Education Ibrahim Hassan Adow -- at a graduation ceremony in the capital Mogadishu.

Also killed were Education Minister Ahmed Abdullahi Wayeel and Health Minister Qamar Aden Ali.

Minister of Interior, Abdulkadir Ali Omar, said the government had leads on the identity of the perpetrators but would withhold names until the investigation had been completed. Local sources said the Islamist group Al-Shabab was being blamed for the attack, but it has denied responsibility.

The graduating students were only the second class to receive medical diplomas in almost two decades. Benadir University was established in 2002 by a group of Somali doctors whose goal was to train medical graduates to replace those who had fled or been killed in the civil war, and to treat victims of the seemingly endless violence.

Shakhaudin Ahmed, a graduating student who was slightly injured in the attack, told the UN news agency IRIN that the bomber wanted to kill "any hope of a better future for Somalis but they will not succeed". Ahmed said he was immediately returning to work at Benadir hospital.

Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a researcher at the National Research Centre in Egypt, said the killing of the Somali-American higher education minister, as well as medical graduates and computer science and engineering students who were supposed to help build a peaceful, stable and prosperous future for Somalia, showed the "devastating impact of war and instability on the development of higher education".

Higher education could play a vital role in rebuilding the war-torn Somalia, Abdelhamid told University World News. "But it must be accompanied by the restoration of the political, economic and social infrastructure and, above all, security."

There are some 29 universities and two under construction in Somalia. Most of the institutions are new but of poor quality and they are spread around the country though more than a dozen are in Mogadishu. The country's principal institution is Somali National University, founded in 1970 in the capital.

"The international community should respond by helping Somalia build more universities," said Kenyan scientist Calestous Juma, Director of the Science, Technology and Globalisation project at Harvard University in the US.

"Such a show of strength will help give hope to the Somali youth who are caught between a painful history and an uncertain future," he told University World News.

Universities in Somalia needed to focus on research and teaching in areas of pressing importance to Somali civic life such as peace-making and conflict resolution, the interaction of customary Sharia and international law, human rights, gender issues, and civic and democracy education, experts have said. They said universities should work urgently to produce a skilled workforce, especially in the fields of agriculture, livestock husbandry, health, education and administration.

Somali universities are also in dire need of establishing centres of research into areas relevant to the country's development, and places for open debate about critical national issues and social problems in the country's many communities. They could be greatly assisted through partnerships with international universities.

Somalia's transitional federal government said it had established a team to investigate the 3 December suspected suicide bombing of a hotel in Mogadishu.