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Toronto (Canada)

17, Aug. 2003

M. M. Afrah

Hmm…. There does seem a lot of interesting emails pouring in this week. Some are outraged about my recent eyewitness accounts and some from US Marines former President George Bush committed to Somalia "to do God's work."

Here's what an American who said he was one of the Army Rangers who survived that hostile firefight around the downed Black Hawk helicopters by what he calls "the skinnies."

"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 think was wrong. 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 Somaliland and I asked him if it was safe to go to Mogadishu in order to revisit the scene of the carnage, but he advised me to avoid Mogadishu, because he said nothing has changed during the last 12 years or so.
As you seem to know what's going on inside that Hell's Gate I'd appreciate if you advise me on the following:
  1. How safe is it for an African-American guy 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 Mog Airport?
  3. Do I have to carry with me cash or credit cards?
  4. Are there hotels in Mog?"

Dave Stockwell,
Tucson, Arizona.

Hi Dave,
Thanks for your receptive and touchy email and I try to unwrap some answers in my own modest way.
A character in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart advises readers thus: "The world is like a dancing mask. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place."

Here's the situation report "sitrep" in U.S. militaryspeak. Is Mogadishu safe? The answer is: Absolutely No. 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 militia fire off the whole magazine to prove their manhood.

Mogadishu City
And no one raises an eyebrow, let alone weep. The inhabitants of the city have been weeping and mourning for more than a decade and have lost the feeling of weeping and mourning.

By the way, Somaliland, where your Somali-American friend has visited, has gone solo in 1991 and its capital, Hargeisa, is much safer than the mean streets of New York City and Chicago where daily mugging and home invasion are no longer newsworthy and are often buried on page 6 of the New York Times or The Chicago Tribune.

As you might have witnessed during your ordeal in the city of sorrows, guns are everywhere. Even kids as young as 10 or 12 go armed, and every city or town is run by different groups of gunmen. Clan ties loosely linked them, but inter-clan disputes and shootouts regularly break out, so an area that was safe on Tuesday may be best avoided on Wednesday. Score settling is the order of the day. However, the epicenter of the hell is Mogadishu. Very often bullets whistle over your head until the real thing comes along and poof you are dead, finished! No 911 or a policeman to pursue your killer and no ambulance to pick up your dead body to take it to the morgue.
Also you must have observed during your short anguish in Mogadishu that the warlords made the capital a mini-Nagasaki. There are no rules only pillage, arson and rape. Oddly, it seems these warlords and their ragtag militia gunmen never run low on ammunition. It defies logical explanation.
As one U.S. Marine in Mogadishu later muttered to me that the "Somali militia are pretty dangerous motherf****ing "skinnies."

There are no customs or immigration officials at the string of makeshift airstrips in the country. You can come in and go out at will. No problem if you hire the right armed bodyguards. The Mogadishu International Airport was closed when you guys pulled out, leaving the inhabitants to fend for themselves. But your first priority is to hire armed bodyguards on arrival to protect you from rival gunmen or free lancers. Even then there's no guarantee that you'd be safe. Your own bodyguards could spray you with bullets if they suspect you are carrying with you a fat wallet and expensive electronic gadgets, such as cell phones or a laptops, the most sought after in Mogadishu these days.

I know from experience that by paying your bodyguards in time for their evening Qat-chewing session could save your skin. Qat is a narcotic drug imported daily from neighbouring Kenya on light aircraft. It helps the boys to get through the day to the next. Also, in a traumatized and frightened society, their classical Somali love songs as they sit on the hood of the vehicle with their guns at the ready, is a good diversion from the culture of violence. The Qat importers on the other hand laugh all the way to their Swiss banks, while the people are dying of starvation and disease.

Your government and the giant U.S. media accuse the Somalis of harboring international terrorists, but the truth is that no international terrorist will survive in Gun Rising Somalia. He would be a sitting target for homegrown terrorists locally known as Mooryaan, the freelancer predators mentioned above. 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's Al-Qaeda boys are using as a training ground is even off limit to the homegrown terrorists, the Mooryaan, because the birds would not welcome human beings, especially during mating seasons.

Beware of the new kids on the block-the young gun-totting kidnappers.

There are several hotels for visitors, including the old Saxafi Hotel at K4 where international journalists were housed during the ill-fated Operation Restore Hope, Global Hotel, The Olympic Hotel and Shamo, not far from where you were engaged in a firefight with the local "skinnies," as you used to call them.

Only cash (in US Dollars or Euros) are accepted, but you can turn your dollars or Euros in Somali shillings, which would make you millionaire overnight, so far as the exchange rate of the Somali Shilling is concerned.

Global Hotel in Mogadishu

There are still no-go areas, even for the armed militia, and at the sprawling open-air Bakaaraha Market you can hear crack of test-firing and the whole place smells of cordite twenty-four hours a day. Visit there and you can buy everything from computer laptops, television sets, the latest cell phones, DVD players to modern shoulder-fired stinger missiles, RPG7s, anti-tank mines, mortars, all types of machineguns and even cannons.

Each family with a modest income or receive remittances 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.

On the positive side, business and commerce is surprisingly booming and small industries are on full throttle to produce daily necessities. No GST, PST or Value Added Tax (VAT), no government inspectors or police to give you hard time, no license numbers for your car, drivers' license or insurance policy. There's no speed limit and you can drive like you was in the Grand Prix-that's your insurance. But drive slowly and you are likely to receive a high-velocity bullet at the back of your head from the young driver behind you. It is a brainteaser how these 12-year-old boys get their meals and other logistical support. But the answer is simple: Looting, kidnapping and extortion.

In short, Somalia is the world's first privatized state and as things are the way they are now it will remain so for decades to come. Even the Ethiopians who have been dreaming to invade the country for centuries now think twice before sending mechanized divisions to Mogadishu, bearing in mind what had happened to Uncle Sam's misguided boys ten years ago.

Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

P.S. I do not pretend to be as straightforward as Dr. Phil but I hope this answers your questions. Good luck!


A Somali student who wrote from Finland wanted to know more about Omar Mukhtar, the Libyan hero who fought against Fascist Italy for more than 20 years. And says he heard there was a movie about Omar Mukhtar and wants to know where he can get this film.

The film LION OF THE DESERT directed and produced by Moustafa Akkad and starring Anthony Quinn as Omar Mukhtar, Rod Steiger as Mussolini and Oliver Reed as General Graziani was one of the greatest film ever produced and directed by a Muslim Director in a very balanced approach.


The year is 1929 and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini is still faced with 20-year long war waged by Libyan patriots to combat Italian colonization and the establishment of "The Fourth Shore", the rebirth of the Roman Empire in Africa.

Mussolini appoints General Rodolfo Graziani as his sixth governor of Libya, confident that the eminently accredited soldier can crush the rebellion and restore the dissipated glories of the Roman Empire (he was well-known in Somalia for his arrogance and high-handed rule.)

Inspirational in the resistance towards the oppressor is the leadership of one man-Omar Mukhtar. A Quranic teacher by profession, guerrilla by obligation, Omar Mukhtar has committed himself to a war that cannot be won in his lifetime.

Arrogant imperialist-ideological visionary-the conflict is between two implacable enemies. Graziani confronts North Africa with the might of the Italian army. Tanks and airplanes are used in the desert for the first time.

Despite "mindless" bravery, the Libyans suffer crippling losses: their primitive weaponry no match for the mechanized warfare.

And still they strike back…

Desperate for positive results General Graziani consigns the population to barbed wire concentration camps. Building his own "Hadrian's Wall" he encloses the desert from the Mediterranean to the sands below Jerubub-no supplies, no escapes.

Within three years 200,000 Libyans perished. And Omar Mukhtar is captured. In chains he is brought before triumphant Graziani. Following a trumped-up tribunal, Omar is sentenced to be publicly hanged. The scene is acted out with all the pomp of the Italian military.

Thousands of Libyans are numb with disbelief, hurt…anger. To the weird trilling noise traditional Libyan women in moments of emotions, the great masses of people slowly start to walk on their captors.

In embarrassment the Italians leave the scene and their retreat becomes prophetic. In immortality Omar Mukhtar lives and the struggle continued by others until Italy losses its empire in Africa forever.

General Graziani was also Governor of Italian Somaliland in the 1930s and was notorious for his arrogance and high-handedness. He was later convicted for high treason and died in Italy in 1955.

NOTE: The film LION OF THE DESERT can be purchased or rented from Video stores in most countries. It is also available online by clicking e-Bay.

By M. M. Afrah©2003,


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