Mohammed Olad Hassan
Somalia’s interim government is seeking to strengthen its grip on
the capital, Mogadishu, less than a month after it declared victory over insurgents
but ordinary people complain they are paying the price.
Some of the makeshift shacks which survived the worst violence in Somalia’s
16 years of civil war are now being destroyed.
In the early mornings, before the sun is high in the sky, hundreds
of police with sledgehammers and bulldozers flatten kiosks and shops in the
streets of the city.
« This stall has been the only source of income for my family, but now
I have lost it and I do not know where to go, » says 65-year-old Abdi
Dinah Aden, a father of eight, as he watches men demolish his shop.
The demolition has mainly affected people who had stalls selling tea,
vegetables and other small goods by the roadside.
Almost all of Mogadishu’s residents depend on such activities to
make a living.
The government says the buildings and shacks put up during the years
without any central authority in the city – except for a brief six months
last year during the rule of the Union of Islamic Courts – are illegal.
This is why a makeover is needed, it says.
After 16 years of anarchy and civil war, much of what is left standing is
bullet-ridden and crumbling.
Khadiija Aweys Mohamud, a 17-year-old girl, used to run a small petrol kiosk
to support her widowed mother.
But the kiosk was torn down before her eyes last week – she too has
no idea how she will earn money.
« My farther and my mother parted while I was seven years old, » she
« My mother then married and had three children. But my stepfather died.
I was the breadwinner of my family. This will lead my family into financial
troubles, I have nowhere to turn. »
The situation is desperate for many Somalis with a lack of good shelter, food
Most Somalis who have returned are being helped by their relatives – but face
the danger of landmines and unexploded ordinance in the areas worst affected
by the fighting.
The Ugandan African Union peacekeepers have exploded some 2,000 devices
in the past couple of weeks.
For those still in camps outside the capital, the situation is even worse.
And for aid workers trying to help, they face a security nightmare.
A bomb exploded some 200m away from visiting United Nations humanitarian
envoy John Holmes at the weekend forcing him to cut short his visit.
Some have questioned the timing of the demolitions, seeing it as punishment
for the citizens who are largely believed to be Islamist supporters.
But Mogadishu’s new mayor is a former warlord and he appears determined.
« The campaign is aimed at ending illegal businesses built on the streets
to help police perform security patrols and to revive the lost image of the
capital, » said Mohamed Dheere.
Big shop owners argue it will further affect the economy, which is
trying to get back on its feet after more than 400,000 of the city’s residents
this year fled the worst fighting Mogadishu has ever seen.
« I think, the structures are illegal and worth demolishing because they
are built in areas not set aside for kiosks or stalls, » says shop owner
Ali Haji Aden.
« But they were very helpful for our businesses, we were inter-dependent, »
Mogadishu’s main market, Bakara, which was devastated during the fighting,
is once again thriving in the south of the city.
But in other ways, the city has gone backwards, compared to the days of Islamist
rule last year.
The roadblocks, where clan gunmen demand small bribes from passing vehicles,
These had been dismantled, leading to a fall in the prices of everyday goods.
The mild narcotic, khat, widely used by the gunmen is again widely available
on the streets after being banned.
But the city’s once-thriving weapons market, Irtogte, has gone quiet.
The weapons have gone and arms traders have gone underground.
For now whispering brokers are now only visible in the shadows, but with so
many guns in the city, peace is never assured.