British ‘warlord’ destabilizing Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea with his Nairobi-based disinformation factory Sahan

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Addis Ababa, August 3, 2021(Walta) – Matthew David Bryden, the British citizen the Somali government sued for leaking national security information to foreign entities, calls himself “angry Matt” and “Dibjir”, in Somali a “stray”, but with connotations of debauchery.

According to the people who know him, Bryden is both brutish and pharisaical.  A former friend called him “nasty and corrupt.”

Bryden declined to be interviewed for this article, saying our questions were “misleading and prejudicial”. He strangely asked for “more neutral” questions.

That is not unexpected. Bryden has a lot to hide.

For decades, Bryden covered his tracks in Somalia. He surreptitiously collected the nation’s most sensitive information and shared them with his foreign handlers. He gossiped about his Somali friends to foreigners and to other Somalis willing to lend an ear to him. He set one Somali friend against another – and the world against Somalis, all while gleefully taking advantage of, some say stoking Somalia’s chaos.

Al Shabab terror group in Somalia

“Bryden seems to be on a secret mission that only focuses on the bad image of Somalia,” Abukar Sanei, a Ph.D. student at Ohio University told The Somalia Star. “This tactic is how he and his enterprise [Sahan] keep in business.”

Bryden’s fluency in the Somali language and faux reverence for Somalis’ culture helped him worm himself into the hearts of many who initially fell for his perfidy. Somalia’s spy agency awarded him security-related contracts. He became an advisor to the immediate former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and to the Canadian and US embassies to Somalia. He led the International Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project. He worked for the United Nations and the humanitarian agency CARE.

But the truth about the dual British-Canadian citizen is finally emerging. In interviews with a half-dozen people who either worked for him or know him personally described Bryden as a mephistophelian Westerner whose activities are a threat to the stability and peace in the Horn of Africa region.

“Bryden is a con artist and hypocrite,” a Somali-Canadian economist, Abdirizak Fartaag, who was the first to expose Bryden and Sahan Research’s dirty business in 2016. “Bryden is a part of a cartel of international chaos profiteers in the region that lies to everyone, particularly to Western donors and to the international organizations about the real situation in Somalia.

“Now that Matt Bryden’s cover has been blown,” Fartaag said, “he should pack his bags and return to where he came from — that is if he has gotten an iota of intelligence left in him, which I doubt.”

Fartaag likened Bryden to lago, the envious villain in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello.  Bryden, he said, is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing and gets top billing on being unethical and pecksniffian.”

Operating from his hideout in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and using front organizations — a triumvirate of Sahan Africa Ltd, Sahan Research Ltd, and Sahan Foundation Ltd — Bryden spreads disinformation and purposefully mischaracterizes regional affairs, with a fetish for Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.

And he’s feeling smug about his mission.  “Best wishes with your ‘article’,” Bryden wrote in an email to our reporter after declining to answer written questions sent to him.

Bryden’s chicanery, exploits, and devious stratagems in the region have come into sharper focus recently when Somalis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans aghast at his organization’s daily propaganda and smear campaigns against their countries dug up more information about the man and his organization to counter their conspiracies.

Bryden, people who know him say, was always adept at regaling Western diplomats, international organizations, and journalists with his false narrative on Somalia and Eritrea before he later added Ethiopia to his list after the removal of the Tigrayan minority, an ally of him, from power after 27 years of misrule, massacres, and human rights abuses.

Mogadishu fishing harbor damaged buildings from Somalia’s decade’s long conflict.

“Bryden is a heartless opportunist who is good at cashing in on the misfortune of the Horn of Africa nations,” said Abdirahman Adan Ibi, a Somali lawmaker.

Like the heinous lago, who was fictitiously named “Honest Lago”, Bryden is wrongly referred to among news media outlets as a regional analyst, not the cloak-and-dagger man many inhabitants of the Horn of Africa region suspect he is.

Since the early 1990s, Bryden has been pushing for the breakup of Somalia, so as a rebellious northwestern region that began its agitation for secession in 1991 gets independence.  It “looks like a state, smells like a state, and tastes like a state,” he once said of the enclave that no country has recognized.

A close ally of the murderous Tigray People’s Liberation Front that brutalized Ethiopia and Somalia for decades and went to war with Eritrea, Bryden made a sinister capital out of his position as the Coordinator for the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea to falsify UN reports about the political and security conditions in Somalia. He, too, portrayed Eritrea as the villain of the piece to promote Ethiopia’s foreign policy in the region.

“Bryden has been conducting an overt and outrageous smear campaign against Eritrea for years now,” Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane G. Meskel told The Somalia Star. “His fallacious reports that he filed to the UN Security Council under the umbrella of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea is one vivid demonstration of his nefarious acts.”

Citing information intercepted by a UN Security Council member that was shared with Asmara, Yemane said Bryden was under the payroll of foreign powers that wanted him to “manufacture incriminating reports against Eritrea.”

Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, director of the Nairobi-based Institute for Horn of Africa Strategic Studies, agreed.

“Bryden may not be commandeering a mechanized infantry, but he’s literally a warlord if you want me to be a little too blunt,” said Abdisamad, who recently accused Bryden’s organization, Sahan Research, of attempts to assassinate him. “Bryden wakes up every morning to try to find a way he can create more chaos and divisions in the Horn of Africa, especially in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

“He can cant about his love for Somalia and can make millions of excuses for that, but he’s, in reality, the biggest enemy Somalia and the larger region have at this juncture,” Abdisamad said.

The behavior of Bryden – a womanizer who is addicted to a Kenyan stimulant leaf, khat, according to the people who know him — is so suspect that he even keeps his photo or any other details relating to his career from his Twitter account. He refused to send The Star his resume. Instead, he mockingly demanded that our reporter “provide a full CV and references.” Bryden is known to avoid scrutiny from governments and individuals critical of or wary of his murky dealings, people who know him say. When he visits Mogadishu, he disguises himself in a sarong and a shawl thrown over his shoulders — just to escape the prying eyes of the naturally inquisitive Somalis.

In 2016, a report from Fartaag Consulting urged the Somali parliament’s security committee to investigate the activities and presence of Bryden’s organization, Sahan, a call that was only acted on after President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo came to power.

“Sahan Research is a clear example of foreign consultants’ abusive power, mismanagement, and lack of transparency in Somalia,” said the report dubbed “Breaking Point in Somalia: How state failure was financed and by whom.”

Between December and January, there occurred a dangerous military build-up along the two countries’ common border thanks to a coordinated campaign that misled Kenyan policymakers and infuriated the administration in Mogadishu. This sophisticated misinformation crusade is driven from the heart of Nairobi by high-profile lobby figure called Matthew Bryden.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and his predecessor Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed both declared Bryden persona non grata within Somalia.

“This decision has not been taken lightly,” said President Ahmed’s office at the time, explaining the logic behind his administration’s decision to bar Bryden from Somalia. “The TFG [Transitional Federal Government] fully understands the gravity of this decision. The decision has been made because the TFG, representing all Somalis, does not believe that Somalia can endure the 3rd year of innuendo and allegation, without any concrete process for testing those allegations.”

People who know or worked with Bryden paint a picture of a carpetbagger who is devoid of principle and is being debauched by personal and financial interests.

“He can be used against anyone, even against the international community,” said a former staff member of Sahan Research, who described the organization’s toxic working environment in which views critical of the President “Farmajo” were encouraged, while individuals who expressed views perceived to be sympathetic to the governments were reprimanded or fired.

During his stint at the UN Monitoring Group coordinator, Bryden used to blackmail Somali politicians and businesspeople, his victims said. His modus operandi, they said, appeared to have been “pay me or I will include your name in the UN report’s list of peace spoilers.”

The Somalia Star has spoken to a Somali politician who said he was approached by Somali emissaries sent by Bryden who, as they claimed, wanted to get his name dropped from a then-upcoming UN report co-authored by Bryden.

When the politician, now a sitting lawmaker, refused to pay what he felt was an extortion fee, his name appeared in the UN report as a peace spoiler, a designation foreign extortionists brandished to blackmail Somali politicians and businesspeople.

The Star also received information about a prominent businessman who paid millions of dollars to Bryden just to stop him from inserting his name in a UN report.

“They’re extortionists,” a source close to Bryden and Sahan Research told The Star.

Bryden’s malicious work has so far been financed by the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Somalia Stability Fund, UNICEF, ICRC, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia and Intergovernmental Authority on Development. All of them didn’t respond to questions The Star sent to their official emails or to their spokespeople.

Curiously, the email address of The Star reporter investigating Bryden and Sahan has come under attack immediately after he sent questions to these organizations and countries, raising suspicions whether some of them may have been involved in an attempt to hack into his email.

Thread on twitter regarding coordinated disinformation coming out of Sahan Policy Research Group.

“I wouldn’t put it past him to hire hackers to break into his adversaries’ emails or target websites,” said Fartaag of Bryden, adding that his website was hacked into three times when he released the explosive report on Bryden and Sahan.

“Matt Bryden is a disgrace to his parents and to the countries whose citizenship he has,” Fartaag said. “My advice to anyone or to any organization or country trying to do business with Bryden: Please avoid this man like the plague.”

Even before Fartaag’s exhortation, many international organizations and countries — feeling gypped into financing disinformation — have started to distance themselves from Bryden and Sahan Research — and as a result, the British man’s once fat bank accounts are drying up.

Still, Bryden’s Nairobi-based disinformation factory – in fact, an army of hundreds of cyber warriors, trolls, and staff members, some of them misleadingly calling themselves researchers and analysts – still continues to daily churn out fake news, derogatory caricatures, poppycock passed off as analysis and a torrent of tweets denigrating top officials and policies in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

The Sahan Research also publishes a six-page newsletter, Somali Wire, which Bryden uses as a stick to beat the Somali government with. Written on A4 paper, the front page of the poorly edited and sourced rag is chockfull of vicious vitriol against the Somali government, its policies, and top officials.

Satan’s disinformation is a part of the larger dueling narratives going on in the Horn of Africa region, where Somalis, Eritreans, and Ethiopians have closed ranks to push back against a Western-backed narrative that aims at repackaging the loathed TPLF, whose rule was marked by dictatorship, wars, invasions, massacres and massive human rights abuses.

Leaked documents and insider information show that Sahan Research is no more than an outlet that is a front for intelligence-gathering, KGB-era active measure tactics, extortionists, tax evasion, and possibly money laundering.

A Sahan finance employee told Fartaag Consulting that the organization’s “funds for specific projects and contracts are purposely ‘moved around’” between a Barclays Bank account in the UK and a Dahabshiil account with the aim of concealing funds.

“In most cases, Sahan Africa employees received their salaries in cash via a third party underpayment code of ‘family support’ and ‘personal use,’” said Fartaag Consulting’s report, citing documents received from Dahabshiil. Using a third party to pay staff’s salaries in cash, Sahan employees told Fartaag Consulting, allows Sahan Africa to avoid paying taxes in Somalia and in Kenya.

Sahan has not publicly challenged the report’s revelation. In fact, Sahan directors admitted that the organization hadn’t’ paid tax in Kenya on its counter-terrorism contract, said Fartaag Consulting’s report, according to an email Sahan Africa director sent to the organization’s finance team in 2016.

“The investigation has been informed that Sahan Africa also uses its Sahan Research Barclays Bank account in the United Kingdom to evade tax payments in Somalia and Kenya,” said Fartaag’s report.

In November 2021, at the height of media blitz against Ethiopia’s government, protestors in Addis Ababa denounce disinformation.

One of the questions Bryden declined to answer was: “How many programs, projects, and studies have Sahan done or carried out since its inception?”

Fartaag Consulting’s report said several Sahan employees told it that they believed Bryden and his counter-terrorism team, including Premdeep Bahra and Erica Marsh, had been “involved in human rights abuses against Somalis.”

“Matt Bryden and his CT team have been linked to the disappearance of a Somali in September 2016,” said the report, citing discussions with Sahan employees.

Testimonies from Bryden’s counter-terrorism team “confirm Matt Bryden was not only involved in the disappearance but had orchestrated the disappearance in an email to Premdeep Bahra, Erica Marsh and others,” said the report that obtained a copy of Bryden’s email.

Bryden refused to answer our reporter’s questions about his role in the possible murder of the Somali refugee in Kenya. Or why his company, billed as a research organization, engages in counter-terrorism activities and operations, some of which led to abuses and even murder.

Sahan Research was founded on May 1, 2012, well before Bryden was fired from his UN position after objections from the then Somali government. Bryden admitted, according to Fartaag Consulting’s report, that he committed a conflict of interest.

Sahan Foundation Limited, which was also registered in the UK on July 1, 2014, is co-owned by Bryden, his long-term associate Belgian Emmanuel Deisser and Somali-Canadian Rage Khaire. There is no trace of where Sahan Africa is registered.

Publicly, Sahan Research falsely claims that it’s a research organization “dedicated to promoting peace, stability, and development” in the Horn of Africa region, a claim refuted by its own documents.

On Dec. 21, 2019, Sahan Research’s then-CEO and -Executive Director Hussein Halane sent an internal memo to the organization’s senior leadership team, announcing a “New Focus for 2020” in which its “strategic Senior Leadership Team” will be “focusing on new strategic areas, across the Horn, with an increased focused (sic) on Somalia.”

The objective of the new strategy was, wrote Halane, to “enhance [Sahan’s] profile as the leading private intelligence organization in the Horn of Africa to support client operations, programs and projects.”

Sahan Research hired Rashid Abdi, a controversial former Horn of Africa Project Director at International Crisis Group, to lead a “new regional initiative, with a strong focus on social media presence.”

“He will lead a team of young dedicare[sic] analysts trained in social media monitoring, targeting, grooming, and exploitation,” said Halane of Abdi who started his work with Sahan in January 2020.

The new strategy, aimed at deploying “operators” across the Horn of Africa region, assigned Bryden to “focus more on Sahan’s special monitoring, grooming and targeting [and] training programme,” said the memo.

Since then, the Sahan team has unloaded on Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy, Ahmed Presidents Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, and Farmajo of Somalia spread lies and lies and more lies. It also promoted division and federalism in Somalia, stoked chaos in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, pushed for TPLF’s return to power in Ethiopia, insulted Islamic scholars and even the Islamic religion itself, exaggerated Tigrayans’ military power — all on the pretext of promoting democracy, women’s rights and peace in the region.

“Somali activists with a genuine interest in the wellbeing of their country simply reject the disinformation machine that Bryden and his trolls want others to believe,” said Sanei, a Ph.D. student in Ohio. “Those Somali activists who monitor the media are not all pro-government people. To say otherwise is to insult Somalis’ intelligence.”

Satan’s policy change came almost a year after the Somali government banned the organization from operating inside the country on Dec. 17, 2018, because of concerns over “national security, stability, and unity of the country.”

The government on April 15 charged Bryden, Rashid Abdi, New Zealander Robison Colin, Canadian Rahman Rage Khaire, Belgian Emmanuel Deisser, and British David Hopkins with spying for and leaking Somalia’s national security information to foreign entities. The case’s second hearing took place last week in the nation’s capital, Mogadishu.

The pushback by the Somali government, however, didn’t dissuade Sahan’s team, led by Bryden and Abdi, from ramping up its diatribe against President Farmajo, Spy Chief Fahad Yasin, national institutions, government officials, ordinary citizens, and businesses.

Abdi’s and Bryden’s abusive attacks were not informed by values, but by a desperate bid to try to force the government to change its mind and allow Sahan back, says a former staff member who spoke to The Star on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

To explain the motive behind the Sahan team’s insults further, the same source said when Sahan’s funds started to dry up after Mogadishu’s ban took effect, Bryden — who when the going gets tough or he runs into trouble with the Somali government or private citizens tries to turn Somalia’s clan system to his advantage — sent an emissary, a relative of President Farmajo, to the government to plead for a “live-and-let-live” truce, an overture spurned by President “Farmajo” and Spy Chief Yasin.

Incensed by this decision, Bryden doubled down on his venomous campaign to vilify the two.

In a July 13 hatchet job titled “Thinking the Unthinkable: Fahad’s Second Term,” Bryden sounded, as he usually does, a false alarm, warning that even if President Farmajo is re-elected fair and square “much of Somalia — including the capital — could become ungovernable.” This call for violence was later picked up by Sahan trolls, like Adan Abdulle, a Somali-American who claimed that Mogadishu residents would not “tolerate” President Farmajo’s reelection.

Nevertheless, Bryden’s broadside against the spy chief, Yasin, has inadvertently unmasked the British man’s dislike for Somalia’s territorial integrity and a particular liking for the defunct TPLF.  He accused Yasin of being a part of the gallant and proud Somalis who defended their country from Ethiopia’s invasion of the Gedo region in 1996 when Addis Ababa was ruled with an iron fist by TPLF, a group the current Ethiopian government designated as terrorist.

Bryden’s obsession over Farmajo and Yasin is remarkable: The two men were instrumental in the current government’s policies that launched a drive to root out foreign agents from key government institutions. Bryden’s Sahan Research and others, including Sudan, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, the FBI, and the CIA, all had offices inside Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency, or NISA, a Somali intelligence source told The Star on condition that his name not be published.

Another source told The Star that when Yasin took the helm of the agency, he was shocked to find an organization infiltrated by foreign spy agencies. Yasin then started a cleanup to weed out bad apples within the organization. The move deprived many foreign countries and organizations, including Sahan, of a crucial source of information. Unlike his predecessor Abdullahi Gaafaw, who helped Sahan get security contracts, according to Fartaag Consulting’s report, Yasin expelled Sahan from Somalia.

Bryden’s fancy title — he calls himself a “senior strategic advisor” of Sahan — belies his wiliness, skullduggery, frivolousness, exploitation, and unscrupulousness.

A day after he refused to answer The Star reporter’s questions, he sent him an email containing what he called “questions of my own.”

One of Bryden’s questions was: “Why did you choose journalism as a profession? Is it by choice or because you lack any other marketable skills?” Another was: “Who paid you to draft the article on Sahan and why now? When was it commissioned and how much are you being paid? What are is [sic] your sponsor hoping to achieve?” A third one was: “Please rank your financial sponsors on the order of importance: National Security Office; Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation; NISA; AMISOM Political Affairs.”

Bryden’s brazen display of levity, arrogance, and contempt for accountability and transparency is emblematic of the mistaken notion among many foreigners and international organizations in Somalia that they can get away with the crimes they commit in the country, where impunity has prevailed since the fall of the last central government in 1991. In his last article on Somalia, Abdi used the pronoun “we”, as if he and Bryden and another non-Somali team in Kenya are Somali — itself a weirdly new development.

But Somalis have woken up to this reality and are fighting back.

“Bryden, the archetype of an ungrateful and sinister guest, misconstrued Somalis’ generosity and courtesy as foolishness and naivete. What a foolish foreigner he’s,” said Ibi, the lawmaker. “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you, you deluded cad.”

Ibi said Somalis may “outwardly seem passive, but are indeed warriors who jealously guard their country against enemies.”

“We’re the owners of this strategic location in the world because we’re Somali and can defend it. Let that sink in,” said Ibi.

Bryden, abrasive as he’s, is still a sniveling wimp based on his interactions with others: Although he has a penchant for reviling President Farmajo and Spy Chief Yasin and other regional leaders, yet when Twitter users from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea defending their nations’ leaders respond in kind, he promptly blocks them, accusing them of being trolls.

“Matt Bryden trades in falsehoods and disinformation that get crushed in their first encounter with the truth,” said Abdisamad, the director who accused Bryden’s Sahan of threatening his life.

“Bryden is like a liar or a thief, if you will, who doesn’t have the stomach to publicly defend himself, even from children,” said Abdisamad. “He turns tail and runs away the very moment he hears the sound of the truth. That is what Bryden does when he’s confronted with facts.”

By Fuad Abdirahman

(Source: The Somali Star, Kenya Insights)

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