Somalia: The Blurred Perspectives of Peace
August 4, 2010 3 Comments
The menacing sound of rockets whistled past my window and exploded, a few seconds later, with a thunderous noise. It is a common occurrence here in Mogadishu. Every day dozens of rockets and mortars claim the lives of innocent civilians living in areas often far away from the battle fronts. Despite living in a hotel protected by large slabs of concrete, the power of the explosion threw me to the ground. Soon the pervasive smell of gunpowder filled the corridors of the hotel. It was a harrowing experience, and though I had expected my journey to be very dangerous, the moment of explosion completely dismantled my determination. For a while the whistling sound continued, as I lay flat on the ground, followed shortly by large explosions. Once the hailstorm had subsided and things appeared normal again, I went out in response to the neighbour’s loud bellows of rage.
Outside the shattered tin-roofed house, Amina Hussein, a nurse at the local clinic, screamed her lungs out. Rummaging through the debris and gesticulating wildly, Amina had to be restrained by a group of women standing nearby. And as the crowd consoled the grief-stricken nurse, I peered into the destroyed house. Through the ruins, and illuminated by the sun’s rays seeping through the small openings, I was confronted by a horrific scene. Digging through the rubble along with some helpers, we quickly uncovered the four bodies. The nurse’s husband and three children, lying peacefully next to each other, were all covered in blood. Dressed in what seemed like a colourfully embroidered frock, the state of the youngest daughter, no more than five years of age, was perhaps the most shocking. Shrapnel had completely punctured her delicate body while blood slowly trickled out of her beautiful face.
These gruesome scenes are a part of the daily life here in Mogadishu. Every day a mortar lands and every day a neighbour mourns the death of a loved one. With the growing anger, AMISOM mortars have been blamed for the increasing number of civilian casualties in the capital. And while the African leaders grapple with the idea of sending more troops to save the embattled Somali government, the sounds of rockets and gunfire continue to resonate throughout the streets of Mogadishu.
In the Ugandan capital, Kampala, Al-Shabaab have made their debut with a devastating force. While they look towards the Horn for answers, however, the Ugandan public is blithely unaware of what is going on in Mogadishu and is oblivious to the human rights abuses embarked on by their soldiers.
Now, as Uganda reels from the recent attacks that rocked the capital city and seeks retribution for the innocent lives killed, with calls by the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, to sweep Al-Shabaab out of Africa, the Somali public also remains resentful about the hundreds of people killed by the shelling carried out by AMISOM forces in Mogadishu. It is thought that despite the confidence he exuded with his exuberant performance at the meeting in Kampala, Museveni has little to offer Somalia and his call for more troops has been submerged by a flood of resistance here in the capital city.
The Ugandan troops in Mogadishu have been criticized for indiscriminately shelling residential areas and now with a highly politicised public, burning with indignation and harbouring deep resentments towards the presence of the 6,000 strong AU troops in Somalia, there is talk of severe repercussions and a country-wide call to arms. The recent developments in Uganda, particularly Museveni’s threat of a full invasion of Somalia, have kindled a new nationalistic wave of emotion similar to the days of the Ethiopian invasion.
Al-Shabaab, the most dominant Islamist force in the country, has rallied thousands of people in the capital and vowed to intensify the attack on the AU forces. The Islamist group already govern the ten regions under their control according to Shariah law are now looking to topple the weak US-backed Transitional Federal Government. On its part, the TFG, whose tenuous existence is further exacerbated by claims of incompetency surrounding its leaders and corruption,(yes, Somalia is still at the bottom of the Corruption Index) still cling on to small patch of land in Mogadishu.
It is a political tug of war. The notion of peace embraced by Al-Shabab lies in its application of Shariah law throughout the country; a notion that has produced some results as they have been credited for bringing stability to the areas under their control. The Somali government, on the other hand, is calling for democracy, thought still in its premature years. The two cannot reconcile.
With the mounting civilian deaths raising the anger of the population, however, an impetuous decision may plunge the troubled Horn deeper into an endless abyss of destruction. Whatever practical outcome the meeting of the African leaders yields, Mogadishu will continue to mourn. And without a regulatory body in place to fairly monitor the activities of the African forces in Mogadishu, the unassailable truth remains that the pledge of more troops serves only as a portentous sign of the gruesome times ahead.