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By M.M. Afrah©

(A 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)
Hmm… 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 work."

Here 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", writes:

"Hi Mr. Afrah,
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 military dictator.
As you seem to know what's going inside that hell's gate I'd appreciate if you could advise me on the following:

1 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?

Dave Stockwell,
Tucson, Arizona (USA).
Hi Dave!
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."

Here's 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.

By 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.

As 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.

Beware 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.

You 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".

You 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, period.

There 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 days.

I 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.

Your 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.

Shimbiraale, 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.

There 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 behind you.

There 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!

In 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 too.

Just sit back and enjoy the ride, Mogadishu-style!
Good luck.

M. M. Afrah©

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