By M.M. Afrah©
note from the Webmaster: This Talking Point is a rerun
of one of Mr. Afrah's though-provoking articles posted
on this Website two years ago, and we thought that it
is worth for a rerun for some of you who must have missed
it -- The Webmaster)
There do seem a lot of interesting emails pouring
in this week. Some are outraged about my recent eyewitness
accounts in Somalia, and the greedy petty politicians
and some from the U.S. Marines former President George
Bush committed to Somalia to do what he called "God's
is what an African-American who said he was on the Army
Rangers who had survived that hostile firefight around
the downed Black Hawk helicopters by what he calls "skinnies",
I thought the world had forgotten the carnage in that
hellhole you call Mogadishu. Anyway, thanks for your impartial
and balanced description during our involvement in Somalia,
which I personally believe was wrong and misguided. We
should have left the f*****Somalis alone to kill each
other till doomsday.
Now, I've been talking to a Somali-American who has just
paid a visit to Hargeisa in Somaliland with his American-born
son and I asked him if it was safe to go to Mogadishu
in order to revisit the scene of the downed Black Hawk
helicopters where I was wounded, but he advised me to
avoid Mogadishu and the rest of the South. Because he
said nothing has changed since the overthrow of the former
As you seem to know what's going inside that hell's gate
I'd appreciate if you could advise me on the following:
How safe is it for an African-American who admires the
courage and bravery of the skinnies?
2 How is the immigration and customs situation, i.e. do
I need a passport and a visa to enter Mogadishu airport?
3 Do I have to carry with me cash or credit cards?
4 Are there hotels in Mogadishu?
5 Who rules the country now?
Tucson, Arizona (USA).
Thanks for your honest and receptive email, and I try
to unwrap some answers in my own modest way.
A character in Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart
advises readers thus: "The world is like a dancing
mask. If you want to see it well, you do not have to stand
in one place."
the situation report (sitrep) in US military-speak. Is
Mogadishu safe? The answer is absolutely NO. In Somalia,
specifically, Mogadishu you don't have to have a reason
for killing somebody, other than a loaded gun in your
hand and a fancy to fire it off. Usually the young militia
fire off the whole magazine to prove their manhood. And
no one raises an eyebrow, let alone weep. The inhabitants
of Mogadishu have been weeping and mourning for more than
a decade and have lost the feeling of weeping and mourning
for loved ones killed.
the way, Somaliland, where your Somali-American friend
visited with his American-born son, has gone solo in 1991,
and its capital Hargeisa is much safer than the mean streets
of New York and Chicago where daily mugging and home invasion
are no longer newsworthy and are often buried on page
six of New York Times or The Chicago Tribune.
you must have witnessed during your ordeal in the city
of sorrows, guns are everywhere. Even kids as young as
10 or 12 go armed in the smoking ruins of the city. And
every city and town is run by different groups of gunmen
who shoot at anything that stirred. Clan ties loosely
linked them, but inter-clan disputes and shootouts regularly
break out, so an area that was safe on Tuesday maybe best
avoided on Wednesday. Reminiscent to the Hollywood movie
"OK Corral," score settling is the name of the
game. However, the epicenter of the hell is Mogadishu,
the capital. Very often bullets whistle over your head
until the real thing comes along and poof! You are dead,
expired in agony. No 911 or a policeman to pursue your
killer and no ambulance to pick up your dead body and
take it to the morgue.
of the new kids on the block! Each family with a modest
income or receive remittance from abroad have their own
private arsenals. A daily diet of kidnapping is crashing
across the city in recent months imperiling persons whose
families receive remittance from relatives in the Diaspora.
Foreign visitors and expatriates are their prime target.
Most of these new kids on the block are war orphans whose
parents died in the civil/clan warfare.
must have also observed during your short torment in Mogadishu
that the warlords made the capital a mini-Hiroshima in
the Horn of Africa. There are no rules or ethics only
pillage, arson, murder and rape. Oddly, it seems these
warlords and their ragtag militias never run low in ammunition.
And the warlords thrive on the chaos. They never had it
so good. It is like driving around Mad Max movie set.
It defies logical explanation. As one US Marine in Mogadishu
later whispered to me, after a deadly shootouts at K4,
that these militia "are pretty dangerous motherf*****ing
skinnies, more dangerous than the Vietcong." The
majority of the American soldiers had no idea why they
ended up in Somalia. Do you remember that order from the
Pentagon for you guys to cease disarming the militia immediately?
It said it was toll order to disarm the population in
a country, the size of Texas, where everyone owns a gun
or two, ready to pull the trigger before you know it.
The CNN called it "Mission Impossible." Some
of us journalists called it "A Misguided Mission."
But our reckonings fell on deaf ears. They (the top brass)
even put on hold the weekly press briefings without explanation,
only "No Comment".
asked me who rules the country now? Answer: Anyone with
a gun and is quick to pull the trigger when you least
expected it, and in most cases simply to prove his manhood,
are no law-enforcement officers in the country, customs
or immigration officials at the string of makeshift airstrips
across the country, which are controlled by a punch of
warlords. You are free to come in and go out at will.
No problem if you hire the right armed bodyguards. The
Mogadishu International Airport was closed after you guys
pulled out, leaving the inhabitants to fend for themselves.
Your first priority is to hire armed bodyguards on arrival
to protect you from rival gangs or free-lancers. Even
then there is no guarantee that you'd be safe. Your own
bodyguards could spray you with machine-guns if they suspect
you are carrying with you a fat wallet full of greenbacks
and expensive electronic gadgets, such as cell phones
or laptops, the most sought after items in Mogadishu these
know from experience that by paying your bodyguards in
time for their evening khat-chewing session could save
your skin. Khat is a narcotic drug flown in daily from
neighboring Kenya on light aircraft. The drug helps the
boys to get through the day to the next. In a traumatized
and frightened society, the boys sit on the hood of the
gun-mounted vehicles known as Technicals and sing classical
Somali love songs, oblivious of the death and destruction
that visited the once beautiful city. It is a good diversion
from the culture of violence. The khat and cigarette importers
on the other hand laugh all the way to their foreign banks,
while the people are dying of starvation and curable disease.
government and the giant US media accuse the Somalis of
harboring international terrorists, but the truth is that
no foreign terrorist will survive in Gun-rising Somalia.
He would be a sitting target for home grown terrorists
locally known as Mooryaans (predators). A light-skinned
foreign terrorist will stand out like a sore thumb in
Somalia. But as an African-American you may easily mingle
with a crowd, masquerading as a Somali Bantu, but once
you open your mouth you're dead meat.
the tiny bird sanctuary island, where intelligence agencies
allege that Osama bin Ladin's boys are using it as a training
ground is even off limit to the homegrown terrorists,
because the birds would not welcome human beings, especially
during the mating and breeding seasons.
are several hotels for visitors, including the Saxafi
Hotel at K-4 where international journalists were housed
during ill-fated Operation Restore Hope spearheaded by
Uncle Sam. The Olympic Hotel and Shamo, not far from where
you were engaged in a nasty firefight with the local skinnies
offer good services. Only cash in US Dollars or Euros
are accepted, but you can convert your dollars into Somali
Shillings, which would make you a millionaire overnight.
A cab-ride from your hotel to the Bakaaraha open-air market
would cost you 10, 000 Somali Shillings, but you may still
bring into play your bodyguards unless you want to sneak
out solo-at your own risk. No sweat. There is no speed
limit, no license number for your car, insurance policy
or driver's license, and you can drive your car like you
was in the Grand Prix-that's your insurance policy. Drive
slowly and you are likely to receive a high-velocity bullet
at the back of your head from the young khat-chewing driver
are no-go areas in the city, even for the armed militia,
but at the sprawling Bakaaraha open-air market you can
hear endless crack of test-firing and the whole place
smells of cordite and carbon monoxide. But don't fret;
the strong monsoon wind and deluge will clean the air
before you know it. Visit there, with ear muffs, and you
can buy everything from computer laptops, 20 inch color
television sets, the latest cell phones (Somali's choice
of cell phones is Nokia and Samsung), DVD players to shoulder
fired stinger missiles, RPG7s, Milan anti-tank mines,
mortars, cannons, hand grenades and all types of machineguns
at bargain price. No GST, PST or Value Added Tax (VAT).
You can even buy a Somali passport with your photo, stamped
and laminated, and at the same time exchange your US Dollars,
Euros and Saudi Rials in one sitting. No problem. But
hey, watch your wallet!
short Somalia is the world's first privatized state and
as the way things are now it will remain so for decades
to come. A visiting American colleague from the New York
Times once described it as a groundbreaking venture, and
if it worked for the Somalis, it should work for others
sit back and enjoy the ride, Mogadishu-style!