When Qat Rules…The Soldier Obeys
April 1, 2010 Leave a comment
The putrid stench of blood waylays the senses as you walk past the covered bodies on the pavement. Blood, like depressing murals, paints a permanent sketch of red on the walls. Huddled around the corner, some few metres away, are the government troops, a rag-tag militia trained to serve as troops, dressed in a mismatch of colours and slinging their guns on their shoulders.
But despite the disparity in their uniform, they all share one thing in common: they are obsessed with Qat, a mild stimulant thought to produce a feeling of euphoria. And that is where the problem lies.
The corpses that lay lifeless on the pavement were all shot down by the government troops during their scuffle for Qat. At least 5 were reported to have been killed and several others injured. Incidents like these have become increasingly common among the TFG forces and tensions between the soldiers usually arise during their Qat sessions, as these are moments of absentmindedness and unrestrained feelings of elation. A drugged soldier with a gun.
But when the entity that was supposedly meant to govern the public and ensure their safety eats itself on the inside, because of a bundle of dry leaves, what remains of the governed?
Well, the reasons seem pretty obvious. Qat-crazed militiamen-turned-police cadets: that is what the TFG police force is mostly comprised of. After their road blocks were swept away by the advancing Islamists, hundreds of coarse and undisciplined militiamen enlisted their services at the TFG headquarters for a return of a few dollars. And now, after a few years of rehabilitation and refinement in Villa Somalia, they seem to have mastered, with remarkable degree of skill, all the methods of mayhem and the government is now reaping the fruits of their labour: which include rape, pillage, treachery, deceit, rebellion and of course the daily inter-battles between them.
And sadly the ones who feel the heat of these senseless battles are the poor victims of Mogadishu who are caught in the government crossfire. The clashes often occur during the afternoons, and sometimes during the mid-day break, when the Qat trucks arrive at the troops’ defenses and unload their weight.
It seems outrageous but the old adage of ‘old habits die hard’ seems to hold true today. For to expect a morally objectionable, Qat-induced militiaman who spent decades of his life robbing, looting and manning roadblocks to conform to the standards of morality is itself bizarre!
In these harsh streets of Mogadishu, it is usually the civilians who have suffered greatly at the hands of the government. Despite the heart-rending pleas of the civilians, the soldiers seem to have adopted a blasé attitude towards them, and at times indiscriminately shower them with bullets and mortars.
So when the US says that it aims to supply tons of weapons to these reckless soldiers, the world, and not only the weary Somali population, has a cause for concern. For when machine guns and mortars are placed in the hands of the incompetent, the consequences could be fatal.
The militia cadets are also quick to sell their weapons to Al-Shabaab whenever an opportunity arises, and even though the government claims to have curbed this act of betrayal and allegedly captured a stockpile of weapons headed for the Islamists, the trade routes are still open and the deals increasingly lucrative.
Many TFG soldiers, and also some prominent politicians, are secretly deserting their posts, and usually with weapons, for the highly alluring Al-Shabaab treaties. In addition to their offer of clemency to the deserters, the Shabaab are said to offer them an above-the-market-price value for their weapons also. This, the Mogadishans (as I like to call them), say is what forces the TFG troops to surrender their arms as well as anything else that they can pilfer from government warehouses to Al-Shabaab or Hizbul Islam commanders.
This perhaps is what left the United States vacillating between getting involved in the Somali conflict or fighting safely from a distance. Perhaps, a repeat of the Black Hawk Down scenario would greatly embarrass the Marines, as it did the Rangers! In both choices however, the US will make a grievous mistake – for this country is but a tangled web with an intricate system of tribal lineage that no outsider can understand.
But whatever the decision becomes, the mundane routines of life in Mogadishu will continue. Death will still surround the city, the militia cadets will continue their indiscriminate killings and I will continue to depict the macabre narratives of Mogadishu’s cold streets – narratives which could be written with the blood.