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By Janine di Giovanni
Mogadishu, Somalia, February 2002 (The New York Times Magazine)
Early morning, Mogadishu. The wet equatorial heat is rising from the chewed up streets, and the gunmen are already working. Truckloads of militiamen, hanging off the back of pickup trucks cruise the neigbourhoods of South Mogadishu. They chew quat, the bitter narcotic leaf imported from Kenya; wave Kalashnikovs above their heads, and stand defiantly in position behind anti-aircraft guns chained to the back of the trucks.
The American marines used to call them Skinnies, and it still makes the gunmen laugh, because it makes them seem innocent and sweet, like a cappuccino at Starbucks, which they are not. They are young men, some of them boys. They wear dark Gucci-style sunglasses, bandannas around their heads and Homeboy gear – jeans slung low, t-shirts, flip-flops. Some of them are barely into their teens, their weapons bigger than their tiny frames, but they know how to shoot and kill and ambush and raid. Figli di nessuni, someone scrawled on a shot-up wall near the former Italian Cultural Centre. Nobody's Children. "With the lack of government," says General Ahmed Sahal Ali, who runs the Mogadishu prison. "The militias are uncontrolled. At least three people are killed a day, uncounted wounded."
But who cares? This is Somalia, a totally forgotten war, a forgotten country.
Still, this is what it looks like, smells like, sounds like: the pop of bullets is frequent. The smell of decay permeates through the haze of heat. The trash lies heaped up in a pile, smoldering, like an apocolyptic vision. A few children and veiled women wade through it, ankle-deep, searching for scraps of food. If you try to take away the trash, you get shot for it. My friend Abdi says someone from UNICEF tried it once, but they tried to shoot him.
No one wants to get shot and no one wants to work for UNICEF. Or any UN organisation for that matter – Somalia is too high risk. Aid organisations are generally staffed by locals, who still get kidnapped or killed. "It's okay for NGOS or diplomats to go in for a few days," is how one regional aid worker puts it. "But a permanent prescence, forget it." So the misery spreads.
Abdi is one of the figli di nessuni. He tells me a story. He's one of 17 children. One day in 1995, he's casually walking down the street with a brother when he hears a bullet whiz by. He looks down, sees it's gone through his sleeve. Lucky again, he remembers thinking. Then he noticed his brother, no longer by his side.
The brother, who was 17, takes a few steps, stumbles, falls. Abdi tries to lift him. But the boy doesn't move. Abdi finally rolls him over.
He sees the same bullet that went through his sleeve had cleanly entered his brother's heart. Abdi tells me the story one night as a way of comfort. A close friend, a war correspondent had killed himself in Bolivia. I had contained myself all day and then burst into tears. Abdi was telling me that in the midst of life we are in death. He gave me a cigarette lighter as a present, to cheer me up. Then one by one, the hardened gunmen who have been sent to protect me, shuffle up and clapped me on the shoulder.
"We are all on that train, moving closer to death," Abdi says. "It's just that in Somalia, it happens so much faster."
There is a war here, but not a war as we know it. Somalia is a failed state, driven by conflict.
"It is always dangerous here," says one surgeon, Dr. Sheikhdon Salad Cilmi, who struggles to keep a small hospital running with virtually no aid money. "There is no law. There are no police. Kalashnikov is the rule here." Troops do not patrol the streets like Kabul or Grozny, there are no real defined front lines. There are no trenches or snipers posted on hilltop positions. But clan battles break out without warning, and Mogadishu is carved up by warlords, essentially into two fractured parts but within those, dozens more frontlines.
The Mogadishu Cathedral is destroyed and if you wander around there, sooner or later you get pinned down in a firefight between militias. The first foreigner, an Italian bishop, was murdered here in 1989 as President Ziad Barre's security forces spun wildly out of control. Then he was dug up and his teeth ripped out of his skull for gold.
The Cathedral lies on the Green Line. From there, the city is divided into two, north and south, split between the militias of the Transitional Government (TNG) and various war lord factions of the Samal and Sab clans and their numerous clan families and sub-clans, such as the Abgal of North Mogidishu and their Habr Gedir of South Mogadishu. Battles begin quickly here, so you don't linger on the streets. One minute, a fisherman proudly shows off a 60 kg shark pulled from the Indian Ocean. Then the stillness is shattered, people scatter. The rattle of machine guns; civilians caught in cross fires; the hospitals floods with broken bodies.
Doctors begin treating the wounded under the trees because there are not enough beds. You look around some days, at the utter chaos, and feel as though you have landed on a planet inhabited by extras from a Mad Max film.
To reach this other world, you take an early morning quat flight from Nairobi, slipping down between hemp bags of the leaves. The real president of Somalia is quat, a pilot told me. One and a half tonnes of quat come in to Somalia each day. Each sacks sells for $200 to dealers, who then sell small bundles, a day's worth, for $ $7.00 The Mogadishu port and the airport are technically non-operational, but Musa Suudi Yelehov, one of the most notorious war lords, controls the armed positions that overlook them. So he gets lots of quat. While Musa Suudi's big guns scope out everything on the horizon, the grizzled war lord prospers. From here, he can tax quat and food exportations. As the Prime Minister told me in a tired voice one afternoon, "There are so many people who gain from the chaos here." Musa Suudi, who is a member of the government opposition, the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC), is one of them. Still, even he admits Somalia is a disaster. "Any terrorist can arrive here," he says, meaning Osama bin Laden. "You're a witness. Did you come here with a visa? There are no consulates, no control. Anyone can get it, or get out." He is right. In the Bakara Market, I purchase a Somali passport for $20. It takes under thirty minutes to fill out the paperwork. For an extra $30, I could have gotten a Diplomatic one.
The TNG, described by Western diplomats as "well-intentioned by weak"
does not extend past Mogadishu, and the SRRC, who see themselves as the Northern Alliance waiting to topple the Taliban, are viewed by many as war lord thugs. An umbrella group of several fractured parties, they are most visibly led by Hussain Farah Aideed, son of the notorious late Mohammed Farah Aideed.
There are two breakway republics in the north, and a battle raging in the south where TNG forces clash with the opposition. Islamic fundamentalist groups feed off the lawlessness and the only aid that comes in comes from the Arab world with a price tag on it: take this, pray to Allah, build an Islamic state. There is no justice system, no courts, no law. Somalia is a black hole on the map, a vaccum in the Horn of Africa, as well as being a humanitarian disaster.
Until September 11 however, Somalia was a distant disaster, someone else's problem. America was aware of Al-Itihad, the Islamic movement on the Pentagon list of terrorist groups with links to al-Qaeda. But even the knowledge of Osama bin Laden having some foothold here was fairly irrelevant. It was too remote, too messy.
But in the past six months, Somalia has moved up on the foreign policy agenda. Such an vast political vacuum has left room for a radical Islamic movement to flourish. While it is believed that al-Ittihad was crushed in the early 1990s by Ethiopia, who have their own agenda for wiping out fundamentalism in the Horn of Africa – they share a long border with Somalia – there are regional analysts who fear that by Somalia being allowed to sink into chaos, we allow Al-Ittihad and its' satellite organisations to grow. There is a feeling that Somalia could evolve into an Islamic state, ready to turn towards the only hand that is feeding it. And while Osama bin Laden would probably not find shelter here – as one Somali put it, "We have no secrets here, he could never hide" – what is likely is that a radical Taliban-like government could gain a foothold. As one western diplomat put it, "If you have an Islamic state, will they move beyond the borders? Somalia is a regional |concern, but it's also a| U.S. concern."
According to Andre Le Sage, an analyst who has been watching Somalia for a decade, the problem is more pressing. "The threat of al-Itihad is its' potential," he says. "Potential to infiltrate weak Somali institutions in the future. Al-Itihad still exists and there is still a cause. But there is nothing tangible to target but individual leaders."
Targetting those leaders, or the entire country, is the dilemma. A certain block in U.S. government, led by Paul Wolfowitz, believe that following the success of Afghanistan, a new template for global military action against terrorists is needed. Iraq is the primary target, but there are other concerns and Somalia is one of them. If it happened, it would involve American special forces and air power supported by local opposition. But while the TNG, is unacceptable for various reasons, pushing them out using the SRRC as a Northern Alliance, is dangerous. "The SRRC are composed largely of insidious war lords who at one time or another had relations with al-Itihad," says one Somali working closely with Washington.
Ken Menkhaus, an American expert on Somalia, also cautions against any kind of immediate intervention, including bombing campaigns, snatch operations or proxy wars against the TNG "which may appear to the rest of the world as assasination sans frontieres," he writes. "if the United States is going to assume the role of judge, jury and executioner within the borders of other sovereign states, it will have to weather fierce criticism." So temporarily, the TNG will remain in place. Pushing them out at this vulnerable moment is not an option. "It would simply fuel another civil war," sighs Le Sage. "Which would only push people further into the arms of al-Ittihad." ***
In the dark days of Somalia – following the disaster of the American led humanitarian mission which culminated in the 1993 street battle of Black Hawk Down – Somalia slipped into obscurity.
To Somalis, Black Hawk Down has its' own consequences which Ridley Scott's film chose to ignore. In a run-down block of flats in Central Mogadishu a 14-year old girl called Kifah, blinded by shrapnel from an American rocket, sits quietly in a chair. Even though her family hid when they heard the first whir of the helicopters, Kifah lost her 38-year old father, three brothers and a cousin. Her mother Binti, survived with a broken leg and relatively little bitterness for someone whose family was wiped out in the course of a street battle.
Binti does say, however, that she was "pleased" to hear that the American helicopters crashed that night and the pilots were dragged through the streets. "If someone kills your children, that's how you feel," she states. As for the September 11, she shrugs. "It's good for them to experience the pain we have felt."
Before that, she did not hear much about Osama bin Laden. Now she says, "If he was around that night of the helicopters to help us, I would have supported him." After the withdrawl of UNISOM in 1995, Somalia faded from television screens. With a lack of any real funding from Western NGOS, the Muslim humanitarian aid organisations quickly moved in. Money from Saudi and Kuwait flooded the schools and the hospitals. It was inevitable that organisations such as al-Itihad – listed by the US as one of the terrorist organisations linked to al-Qaeda – and to a less extent, groups like al-Islah, al-Tablik and al-Takfir – all of whom call for an Islamic state,
would mushroom across the country. Like al-Qaeda, al-Itihad inhabits a shadowy world. There is little tangible information about the leadership, but it to be 15 core leaders and an unknown number of rank and file. Sometime around 1995, Osama bn Laden was said to have paid a visit to northern Somalia and to training camps, although whether or not he got to Mogadishu is unclear. Others say he was in Somalia after the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya.
The SRRC labels various government members – including the President Abdulkassim Salad Hussein – as al-Itihad. And while it is believed most active members have gone underground, Musa Suudi argues that their operations continue.
"Somalia is a feeding ground for these terrorists," the war lord says, from his headquarters, a villa surrounded by a small army in North Mogadishu. he says. "the government is completely al-Ittihad," the war "Abdulkassim is the head. They have direct relations with al-Qaeda." Then he adds ominously: "Who do you think was behind the 18 U.S. Marines that were killed?" The suggestio beng that Islamic extremists were arming the war lords from the beginning. During the civil war, Musa Suudi, a central player in the Mogadishu turf wars, was controlling Medina. His main battle was against Mohammed Farrah Aideed. "It was my men, in fact, who killed Aideed" he says proudly, hooting with laughter at the suggestion that Aideed died of natural causes. It is difficult now to find people in Bakarra market who profess support for bin Laden. Initially, in the early days post Septembe 11, there was condemnation of America as Islamic factions tried to mobilise public support. But soon after the bombing of Afghanistan began, "They realised what a danger it was exposing themselves to American scrutiny," says Andre Le Sage. "They saw the military repraisals to terrorism.",
Organisations like al-Islah, which hails itself as a society for businessmen, still operate openly, supporting Koranic school and harvesting Arab money to build mosques. Dr. Ibrahim Disuqi, a soft-spoken cardiologist and member of the Transitional National Authority is not afraid to speak on behalf of al-Islah – whose name roughly translates to reconciliation or mediation – but he chooses his words carefully.
It's all harmless charity work, he intones, which is funded by generous Muslim backers. He does not mention their primary objective: of building an Islamic state. "Building mosques is natural," he says. "Ten per cent of Somali children are now being educated. None of the school are strictly Koranic. That is a myth." He adds that "the Arabicists have no political interest in Somalia." pause. "Anyway, most Somalis regard themselves as Arabs." As for Osama bin Laden in Somalia, he scoffs at the idea: "Somalis talk too much, Osama could never hide here," he says. Still, with American ships partrolling the Kenyan-Somali coast and observation planes circling the skies ahead, not to mention rumours of American land invasions, there is increased paranoia. Like Kabul after the Northern Alliance overran the Taliban, everyone is metaphorically shaving off their beards. ***
Al-Itihad originally came into being as a military movement in the early days of the civil war, with a strategy of trying to build power by seizing key economic installaiotns. At first, they tred to capture airports and administer towns with porous borders, such as Luuq and Dolo in the Gedo region. Here, arms and supplies could flood in, and they could court support from local clans. But when it became clear that they could not hold these towns, they began an alternate strategy. Like the Taliban, who also set about initially trying to "clean up" a broken society, they consolidate their support base by setting up social services, health care and schools. "But always with strings attached," says Andre Le Sage.
Al-Itihad then established themselves as protection for the business community, much in the way that the camorra operates in Southern Italy. While the businessmen grew fat on money from the banana trade, the sugar trade, or simply bagash – the market fodder of plastic sheeting, flip flops and other trinkets that make up the Somali household – they needed al-Ittihad for protection.
By 1994, al-Ittihad affiliated themselves with the sharia courts. Their modus operandi was to infiltrate and take over weak public administrations. Thus, the businessmen and the traders found a common banner under the extreme Islamic faith, and one that over rode the rival clan system. al-Itihad had essentially become the Rotary Club of Somalia.
But according to Le Sage, al-Itihad began losing power prior to September 11. In the wake of the creation of the TNG in Djibouti in August 2000, they began to become politically maginalised. In towns such as El Waq, in the Gedo region, they no longer had the money to pay militias and were forced to join forces with the clannic militias, selling their technicals and weapons and moving back to Mogadishu.
Which still does not erase their threat.
"Somalia is a dangerous place to itself, to its neighbours and to the world, because it could easily be a terrorist breeding ground," says Dr. Sheikdon Salad Cilmi, a surgeon at Medican hospital as he tries to dress the wound of a 10-year old with abdominal gunshot wounds. "Any terrorist who comes here can recruit as many people as they like because of the poverty. Mr. bin Laden would get plenty of followers. Anyone he can feed."
Merca, a languid, sultry coastal town with a flourishing banana trade, is a place reknown for beautiful prostitutes and rabid fundamentalism. Here, Mr. bin Laden is still popular. There are even said to be Osama impersonators who dress and walk like him, in the fashion of Elvis impersonators.
One week after a 70-year old Swiss aid worker was gunned down by machine gun fire in Merca, I sit in a cafe, drink a coke and and gaze upon the portrait of Osama bin Laden. His photograph is pinned on the wall underneath the late King Hussein of Jordan, and above a youthful Saddam Hussein. The owner of the cafe, Ali Musa reverantly calls Osama, "Something for the Gods. All the most powerful nations on earth are looking for him, but no one can find him. He is working with God." Abu Bakar Shekil Ali, a 27-year old local, calls bin Laden "the hero of Islam." Ali's got his own personal portrait of bin Laden, that he bought in Bakara market in Mogadishu for $ 1. He flashes it, and says, "I love Osama because there is evil in the world and Osama does not allow aggression." Of the acts of aggression on September 11, Ali looks puzzled.
"That wasn't aggression," he says. "That was something right. An eye for an eye. Think of the suffering of the Palestinians." | ***
If the TNG see them as war lords, the SRRC on a good day see themselves as something far noble – knights in shining armour ready to carry a bleeding Somalia off on horseback. On a bad day, they see themselves as a less efficient – if it is at all possible – Northern Alliance. Based in Baidoa in the south of the country, they include infamous leaders such as Hassan Mohammed Mur a.k.a., General "Red Shirt"; Hussein Aideed; and General Morgan a.k.a., The Butcher of Hergeisa, who is responsible for levelling the northern city at huge civilian costs. "It must be very clear that the SRRC are war lords, the people who ruined Somalia and waged war," stresses Dr. Ibrihim Dusuq from al-Islah. Although they deny it, their operations appear to be based out of Addis, where they are shadowly backed by Ethiopian money and arms. Ethiopia does not recognise the TNG. Instead, the regional strongman throws their their weight behind the SRRC which was founded in March 2001, as a buffer against the threat of Islam.
"Ethiopia sees the TNG as a nest of Islamic extremists, another al-Qaeda," says a diplomat in Addis. In return, the TNG sees the SRRC as a tool of Ethiopia who have long had interest in the Somali borders. Of their relationship with Ethiopia, the SRRC will only admit to a "security arrangment to rid the region of al-Itihad."
This comes from the most controversial, if not the strongest player in the SRRC, Hussein Aideed. Hussein is the son of the late war lord, Mohammed Farah Aideed. His son is the co-president of the SRRC and president of the United Somali Congress – his father's former party.
On a rainy weekend afternoon, Aideed answers the door of his dreary cottage at the Hotel Gion in Addis wearing a starched shirt and tie. Outside an Ethiopian wedding is in full swing, complete with women ululating and a band picking up tempo. Aideed makes the mock gesture of covering his ears. "It's the wedding season now," he says, annoyed.
His bodyguards linger in the shadows. Since he has taken up this high-profile position in the SRRC, and since he is his father's son, Aideed says he has suffered assasination attempts, the closest call being Mogadishu, May 2001, when a battle broke out between his militia men and his attackers. He got away, he says, just barely. Aideed is tall and honed, with high cheekbones. The 38-year old civil engineer speaks English and Italian, the result of an early education at the elite Vatican school in Mogadishu. He later graduated from Corvino High School and California State University, Long Beach, and served as a US Marine in the 1990s. He sees no irony in his being a soldier in the First Division California Marine Expeditionary Forces in Mogadishu while, at the same time, his father was being hunted down.
"There was no conflict of interest. I was trained to defend the U.S." he insists. "We were soldiers, helping a small country, delivering food."
One wonders what his father would make of him now, an advert for the American way. His wife, mother and children are still in California (one detractor claims his wife collects welfare there), and he calls his youth there as "the best days of my life." Indeed, listening to Aideed is like hearing the American involvment in Somalia re-written. His father – a former diplomat and advisor to the Ziad Barre, who helped oust the dictator in 1991 thus sparking the Somali civil war – did not steal humanitarian aid. UNISOM soldiers were not dragged bleeding through the streets after being gunned down by his men. "My father was a historic myth," Aideed says. "The most respected military man. Even his enemies respected him. He opposed Islam in Somalia. He would oppose it now."
Perhaps, but at the height of his father's powers in Somalia, 300 people were dying a day of starvation. The aid that arrived was quickly "liberated" by clan check points, and the money pocketed by war lords such as Aideed. The UNSOM forces, which began arriving in Decembe 1992 as part of a New World Order, a political experiment, quickly found themselves embroiled in a war against fanatics. The battle of Black Hawk Down was a failed attempt try to snatch-and-grab Aideed Sr. That negative image of his father, Aideed claims, was fostered by the U.N., in particular by Boutros-Boutros Ghali, whom he loathes. The former Secretary General is an Arab who had other intention for Somalia, he says. "The UN targetted my father," he says bitterly. "Not the United States." Somalia today, he argues, is being hacked up by Arab states who want to enforce Wa'habism.
The SRRC are the only option, he says. Controlling 85 per cent of the country, they have the public support. He estimates "thousands" of troops are at his disposal. "We don't think in terms of troops, they are more militia like the movie Patriot starring Mel Gibson," he explains. Their main agenda, he says, is to squash al-Itihad. As part of his mission, he prepares endless drafts to the American embassy in Addis and the CIA, as well as producing documents linking various individuals – most of them well-placed TNG members – to the terrorist organisation.
"The threat is not those old men running the TNG," he sniffs. "the threat is al-Itihad. Go and look in Mogadishu. Look at them teaching 11 and 12 year olds in the madrassas about the jihad."
Aideed is fond of dropping frequent euphenisms from Machiavelli's The Prince, and appears confident that he is indispensible to the Americans. At the same time, the Americans do not quite see him in quite the same light. "This is a man who is a primitive smooth talker," says one diplomatic source in Ad dis. "It was clear he was not going to be the solution." Another analyst scoffs, "he was never going to be able to fill his father's shoes. " A diplomat in Nairobi calls him a "lightweight." His own cousin, a member of the TNG's cabinet, says in a condescending honey-dripped voice, "Ah, Hussein. Isn't he a handsome boy?"
Meanwhile, in Mogadishu, in the midst of what Aideed calls "the nest of al-Itihad" is Abdulkassim Salad Hussein, the President of the TNG. A Soviet-trained biologist and a former minister in the regime of dictator Ziad Barre, he was appointed president of the TNG during the Djibouti conference.
A natural linguist, he switches easily from Somali to English to French to Italian, and although I did not hear it, Russian. Although the SRRC accuse him of being in the heart of al-Ittihad (Musa Suudi even supplied document allegedly linking him to the organisation), one American diplomat described him and the TNG as ineffectual but "well intentioned." Abdulkassim's view is a standard TNG line: the war lords have destroyed his country, looted it, caused the disintigration of all state institutions. He believes the United States "ignoring" Somalia after the UNISOM withdrawl was a grave mistake. He does no recongise the SRRC, other than as a bunch of war lords stooges backed by Ethiopia. "The SRRC does not exist," he says simply. "It is the Ethiopians." His cronies, seated around him, guffaw. As for terrorism, the only terrorists are the war lords. "I am a Sunni Muslim," he says. "we do not believe in extremism. We even forbid the killing of animals or the cutting down of trees." he simply laughs at the al-Ittihad charges against him.
Then, suddenly he drops the defensive tone. He sounds almost vulnerable when he talks about the chaos that Somalia has descended into. He pleads for help, saying that Somalia has something to offer: huge resources that could be managed in a free market economy. But first, steps must be taken.
"We must disarm the militias," he says. "we need the international community and means the United States. If they really want to fight terrorism, they should help Somalia and the TNG. Otherwise, it will be difficult to fight terrorism."
As a parting note, he throws in a warning: "If Somalia is divided and insecure, then we will have a breeding ground for terrorism. al-Itihad may appear dormant, but they could easily resort to violence."
The sky is darkened when I leave the President's villa. My own freelance militia – who cost $5,000 for two weeks protection – are waiting outside patiently, high on quat. Stoned or not, their protecton is essential, especially after dark. When – if it is at all possible – the broken down city becomes even more spooky and lawless. ***
What has been done in Somalia post-September 11 is marginal. al-Barakat, the bank and the main telecommunciations facility in Somalia (and according to Aideed, one of the "places where Islamists dwell") has been closed down because of alleged links to al-Qaeda. But all that has done is fuel resentment amongst the locals who have lost their jobs and lost their ability to send e-mails and use their mobile phones. Conferences on Somalia are frequently called, symposiums organised. Privately, analysts have little hope that it will achieve much. Twelve reconstruction conferences have already failed. "About the only thing Somalia has going for it at the moment," admits one diplomat. "Is a weariness, a willingess to get going."
While much focus has been given to the formal structures of the TNG, such s the cabinet, the parliament and even the constitution which the Swiss are helping to re-write – no one is focusing on the bigger issue of territorial control. What is not being looked at is how a dysfunctional beaurocracy such as the TNG can survive in the violent atmosphere of Mogadishu. At the moment, their entire future rides on their ability to service the interests of the Somali business cartel. Without them, they sink.
In 20000, when General Tommy Franks visited the region searching for Al Qaeda, Somalia briefly hit the headlines again. But to most Somalis, it doesn't make sense. The threat of repraisals hanging over the heads of the Somalis, does in some ways, make the coutnry uninhabitable to al-Qaeda.
So is establishing a quarantine around Somalia; stepping up intelligence gathering flights to moniter al-Ittihad movements; in addition to forging strong regional agreements with neighbours such as Ethiopia and Kenya. In other words, to limit Somalia's potential to be used for terrorism.
But it does not stop the clan war fare or the humanitarian disaster. Everyone knows that America, still wounded from its' 18 dead soldiers, will never really return to help this dying place. The question is, who will? AbduSalam Omer, a Somali UN consultant puts it this way: "The only people who can defeat the war lords are the fundamentalists. And it would have to be a unifying force, like the Saudis." Even those who don't support and Islamic state will support them, he says, to rid the country of the war lords. "It wouldn't be a big deployment," he says with a straight face. "Five Apaches could wipe out the war lords." Until then, Somalia bleeds. Sheikh don Salad, the surgeon from Medina Hospital, spoke for many ordinary Somalis when he said in a defeated voice, "Afghanistan was lucky. They got the intervention of the international community." Somali will not. But it will unravel, although how is difficult to predict. Over lunch in a lush Nairobi garden, one Somali sighed: "There should be no illusions of Somalia solving its' problems alone," he said. And we are leaving it alone. Meanwhile, Abdi keeps getting older, keeps dodging the bullets. Last year, I managed to get him a week-long scholarship with the Reuters Foundation in London, thinking it might get him out of the country, maybe set him on the trail of a new life.
Abid was ecstatic. Such excitement! He telephoned me from a call centre in Mogadishu, and with borrowed mobile phones belonging to the odd aid worker who passed through. He wondered what to pack, and what kind of food would he eat? It was the first step to a new life.
Except it never happened. Abdi managed to get to Kenya, and then was meant to go on to London. But the Kenyan authorities would not give him a visa. Somalia does not really exist and no one would take responsibility for him, this child of no one. Reuters and I both tried to help but it was senseless. A mass of red tape and restrictions; laws and customs officials who gave us a steely no. Abdi stayed in Nairobi for a week then his money ran out and he flew back to Mogadishu.
I hear from him from time to time, though it grows less frequent. The last time he said he was surprised he was still alive. ends