By JUMA KWAYERA
Captain Jorum Kembo was on patrol with fellow Uganda People’s Defence Forces ( UPDF) soldiers when he spotted a group of Somali youth. They were headed for a building on Balaad Road. It was Sunday after sunset, three months after Al Shabaab fighters had been pushed out of the capital Mogadishu. Out of curiosity and aware that Al Shabaab would do anything to conscript young fighters, the soldiers went to inspect the buildings. Their fears were wiped by high-decibel music – and hip hop at that — and the patterned blinking of green, red, yellow and blue light. It was a discotheque! Mogadishu was experiencing nightlife, and safely so.
These are some of the rare stories a visitor to Mogadishu comes across today, just three months after the terrorist group that had the Somali capital in its clutch was uprooted. Even Balaad Road that links the city to the north is changing from an overgrown bush with huge trees growing in the middle, after the derelict road was cleared by the Ugandan troops. Some sections of the road are now motorable, though still largely symbolic of the two-decades of dereliction. The discotheque in Maslaah suburban region of Mogadishu is not your usual kind, although it offers some sort of entertainment to the starved city. Captain Kembo says it is a sign that things have been changing in the anarchic capital that has seen 20 years of brutal fighting come to an end.
Brutal and severe
Some of the youth venturing into the rare nightlife have not experienced peace in their city from birth, says the captain. “They have an appetite for the finer things of life like all of us,” he quips. The warlords who fought for control of the country precipitated apocalyptic inter-clan wars that created permanent scars in Somalia. The brutality and severity of the Somali conflict has been retold a million times. African Union Mission for Somalia (Amisom) is gradually winning over civilians following the restoration of a semblance of peace and security, although the situation in the capital remains largely fragile. Fears of a relapse into anarchy are a lingering reality.
The resurgence of Mogadishu is an outcome of African Union troops having succeeded in extending the defence line to more than 30 kilometres from the city. It has in the process ushered in the longest period of peace Mogadishu has ever enjoyed since the ouster of former military strongman Siad Barre in 1991. Save for Tuesday’s Al Shabaab assassination attempt on President Sheikh Shariff Sheikh’s motorcade, the sound of gun and mortar has substantially reduced, although insecurity remains a major concern. Amisom Force Commander, Lt-Gen Andrew Gutti, acknowledges the challenges the capital faces, saying it is a long way from stability. Sniper fire and remote-controlled bombs are the latest armour in Al Shabaab’s ever-changing tactics to repulse the Amisom onslaught.
A discothèque is the last thing residents of Mogadishu would have imagined could be found in their midst. But this is ku soo dhowaah Somalia (welcome to Somalia). And Jidka Maka Murkaram, the main street, boasts of hawking and roadside food kiosks that are becoming common like any other African city. Music videos and CDs once outlawed as ungodly are making a return, just as Somali popular music. (Ironically, few if any Somalis remember the 2010 theme song Wavin’ Flag, popularly known as I want My Freedom by K’naan done by their countryman who is now in exile in Britain).
Although threat of an Al Shabaab attack is ever looming, the new level of confidence manifests in the rush to repair and repaint residential buildings and business premises. Locals says the central business district, known as Kilometre Four (K4) Area headlined by Bakara Market that once teemed with humanity is coming back to life after decades of fighting that had transformed Mogadishu into a ghost city.
However, Gutti says the capital is springing back to life.
“New buildings are coming up, roads are being repaired. If security can be enforced and Al Shabaab kept in check, the reconstruction of the capital will pick up pace. Somalis are a people like any other and having a formed security unit will ensure peace is sustained,” Gutti said in response to concerns that plans on lasting security are taking too long to come on stream.
Trust of locals
Having tasted peace, ordinary Somalis are volunteering information on the whereabouts of the militia group, resulting in averting terrorist attacks against the transition Government. Many witnessed sharp decline in sniper, grenade and IED attacks, registering just six, including this week’s assassination attempt on the president.