AMISOM: Peacekeepers or Warmongers?
March 29, 2010 Leave a comment
Despite the much perpetuated myth of AMISOM’s (African Union Mission in Somalia) so-called peacekeeping mission in the media, the situation on the ground here significantly differs from what we were used to hearing. Skim through the international dailies or the countless number of websites and you might read lines that conjure up images of heroic Ugandan and Burundi soldiers courageously defending the teetering government from the Islamist advancement.
It sounds plausible, perhaps even a little moving too, if you were a middle-aged Liverpudlian civil servant that is. But the reality, as I have recently come to realise, is quite different. Much like the Ethiopians before them, the AMISOM forces have earned for themselves the vengeful wrath of the local population. Ingrained in the hearts of the residents here is not a warm admiration for the Ugandans and Burundis, as well as the TFG, but rather a strong feeling of hate and dislike, particularly in the Bakaara Market.
In their attempt to bolster the fragile government’s authority, the AMISOM forces have been involved in almost a daily shelling campaign of Mogadishu’s residents. Hardly a day passes by in Mogadishu without hearing the sound of missiles and mortars being fired into crowded residential or shopping areas.
While walking in the crowded Bakara market, Mogadishu’s business hub, I heard the sound of a mortar that had just landed some blocks away. I have come to learn the different sounds of guns here in Mogadishu because of their constant use.
It was a busy morning and the people went about their daily rituals. I sat in my usual restaurant sipping a cup of a coffee, students dressed in yellow shirts and long grey trousers made their way to their schools, tea ladies sat under the shades of trees and stoked the fire, loaded donkey carts made their trips to and fro the stores, vendors displayed their stock on the streets, shop owners cleaned and polished their merchandise, rows of wheelbarrow stalls formed neat lines along the edges of the narrow corridors, and the clamour of voices of the hundreds, if not thousands of people, who commute to and from the Bakaara market on a daily basis had filled the atmosphere. It was an ordinary morning and seemingly peaceful.
In the middle of such a situation, the thunderous roar of a landing mortar immediately sent the people into disarray. Terrified and shocked, the crowds scuttled to safety in the nearest concrete building, for that sound, they said, signalled the beginning of a lasting bombardment. Under the concrete roof of the restaurant I was told it was safe, so I lay flat on the floor in the farthest corner in order to stay as far away from the entrance as possible. For the next half an hour I listened, with my heart pounding heavily against the floor, as the mortars rained down on the Bakaara market, some landing a few blocks from where I was. I could hear the screams of women and children as they ran past, the ear-piercing wails of the wounded as they fell, the crushing of rooftops as they took the hammering and the sharp shrieks of havoc that echoed in the distant. That cruel cacophony of sounds constantly reverberated in my ears.
They said it was a common thing that many of the residents and people of Bakaara have become quite used to over the years. I turned to Jaamac Dheere, the restaurant owner, for an explanation.
‘This happens every time,’ he said shrugging his shoulders, ‘whenever they [AMISOM] are cornered by Al-Shabaab, they take it out on the innocent people and respond with shelling.’
Without any obtrusive reporters recounting the grim details of this war to the world, AMISOM, it seems, have been relishing their notable accomplishment of turning Mogadishu into their very own slaughterhouse.
After the shelling had stopped, I came out into the street. It was an entirely different scene than I witnessed only half an hour ago. A pile of debris lay scattered on the street where one of the mortars had landed, smoke billowed from some of the stalls nearby and the people ran to and fro in a state of pandemonium, examining their properties. As people began removing the dead bodies from the street and collecting amputated limbs that were scattered far and wide, I noticed an elderly woman standing under the shade of a makeshift stall. With blood stained on her face, mixed with a steady trickle of tears, she raised her hands up and supplicated ‘may Allah destroy them. Oh Allah destroy them as they are destroying us.’
I asked Mohammad Omar, the owner of the stall, what he thought of the AMISOM forces. A strange question in such a situation, but his answer was succinct and his tone understandably poignant.
‘They are nothing but pigs that should be slaughtered,’ he replied, the wintry look of his face evaluating my stance on the matter.
I nodded. Approaching the elderly woman, I said some soothing words which had no visible effect and offered her some water. She gladly drank the water and kept on supplicating between sips. It was not long before her voice was dimmed by the continued commotion on the street and the sound of another mortar landing.
And the cycle continues…