Missiles Rock Mogadishu

Mogadishu is under attack. Dozens of BM rockets, as they are called here, fired by the AMISOM forces have crippled the busy Bakara market and brought the entire business hub of Mogadishu into a complete standstill. Just as worshipers exited the mosques, after noon prayer today, the rockets fell. Hundreds of people in the market scrambled for safety, some hiding under concrete buildings and others rushing back into the mosques.

I had just left my apartment and decided to meet a journalist, Keyse, for lunch when the shelling began. Squeezing through the riotous crowds of shoppers, hawkers, tea ladies and past the tightly crammed stalls whose fetid odour assaulted our senses, medicine shops and juice bars, we made our way to Tawakkal Restaurant, a fairly clean and quiet place compared to the other noisy eating places in Bakara. But just before we could enter the restaurant, the sound of a rocket fired caught Keyse’s attention. Being still fairly new to this war-torn city, my senses were not quite alert yet, though I am now slowly becoming attuned to the music of mortars.

The frenzied look on my friend’s face explained it all. Without a second spared, we dashed into the nearest building, hurdling past donkey carts, screaming kids and stumbling women. Though it becomes the natural instinct to help the elderly and the weak when in need, but during times like these, and in Mogadishu’s mayhem, it is every man for his own. Several rockets, whose whistling noise was enough to send fear running through your veins, fell a few streets away from where we were.

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Al-Shabaab Silences The BBC

Al-Shabaab has banned the BBC from operating in Southern Somalia. In a press release read out this morning here in Mogadishu, the Islamic Administrations in Mogadishu, Marka, Kismayo, Jowhar and Bidoa have taken all of BBC’s FM transmitters off the air and seized all their property. The statement described the organisation as a ‘vile western mouthpiece’ propagating ‘a barrage of depraved Western views’ to the unsuspecting Muslim population.

The air seems somewhat strange and silent here in Mogadishu. The renowned BBC tone is no longer on the radios and the public is buzzing with discussion and debate. HornAfrik radio which used to air the Somali Service apologised to the public on newshour. Al-Shabaab have also issued an order to HornAfrik, the only radio station that airs VOA news, to stop airing its programs.

Al-Shabaab’s daring display of authority comes at a time when majority of the Somali listeners have been expressing great concerns about the BBC’s management and editorial content. The BBC Somali Service has been riddled with complaints from the Somali media and the public alike.

Al-Shabaab, which has been banned as an organisation in Britain has struck back fiercely and banned the BBC, accusing it of inaccuracy, impartiality, lack of objectivity, propagation of Western views and fanning the flames of enmity among the Somali population. Some of these accusations, however, are coming not only from the Islamists but some professional and journalists have also voiced somewhat similar opinions.

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Al-Qaeda in Somalia

It may sound plausible; Yemeni Alqaeda would perhaps be welcomed by the thousands of Al-Shabaab fighters eager to receive them and they may even be garlanded with wreaths by Al-Shabaab’s unwavering local supporters.

But when Somalia’s Treasury Minister, Omar Osman, tells the world that according to the TFG’s superb ‘intelligence’ (who can’t seem to locate or capture even one of the thousands of Al-Shabaab youths by the way), 12 members of Al-Qaeda have crossed from Yemen into Somalia, what was the implication of his message?

Perhaps it was to distract the world’s attention away from the failing government and point the beacon away from the chaotic situation of the Somali parliament. Parliamentarians have been at loggerheads with each other lately – particularly with the parliament speaker, Adan Madoobe, whom more than 75 MPs are forcefully urging to step down. But of course, he refused. And soon we might witness another classic parliament brawl

The MPs have also criticized the embattled government for doing nothing to improve the security situation of the country and also accused Shekh Sharif of spending his time jet-hopping instead of tending to the affairs of the country. The government did not sit idly too as it was reprimanded but instead retaliated and banned the MPs today from holding any meetings.

So with a country in such a mess, it is only a wonder how the Treasury Minister got his information! Good detective work, Mr. Osman, but though this story of yours may sell in Western publications, even the young shoe shiners of these ruthless Mogadishu streets will laugh at you when they hear your tale.

Regurgitating old Al-Qaeda tales is only fit for western consumption. Here in Mogadishu, the TFG has become but a laughing stock. But since Osman and his ministry are quite accustomed to taking bribes, perhaps he aims to point out that either Somaliland or Puntland is an accomplice in helping the Al-Qaeda fighters to cross into Southern Somalia.

And with the long awaited offensive now turning out to be simply a gradual push, and Kenya denying the TFG’s request for some troops, perhaps Osman’s attempt was to titillate the ears of the West once again with some poorly crafted Al-Qaeda fables.

The Law of Retribution: An eye for an Eye

The Islamic Administration of Lower Shabeelle region yesterday executed one of their own soldiers as a retribution for the murder of a local villager while on duty. Muuse Ali Abud’s sentence was carried out in Marka in front of hundreds of spectators by an Al-shabaab firing squad just after mid-day yesterday. The 27-year-old soldier confessed to killing a 20-year-old villager, Ahmed Abdi Yusuf, after a heated brawl in the market of the tiny village of Balow, near Awdheegle.

Shortly after he killed the villager, on the 27th of March, Muuse was arrested by his comrades and taken into custody. After an investigation into the matter, the family of deceased was called and presented with some options:

  1. To forgive him
  2. To accept blood money
  3. Qisas or retaliation

The family chose the third option, demanding the execution of the murderer, and Muuse’s fate was sealed. But in front of the large crowd that had gathered in Marka’s main square, the convicted soldier displayed a calm disposition and awaited his final moment. Though Muuse might have been the soldier responsible for arresting criminals and bringing them to the Islamic courts for justice in his earlier days, this time he was on the stand.

Sheikh Mohamed Abu Abdallah, Al-Shabaab’s governor of Lower Shabeelle, delivered a sermon to the expectant crowd just before the execution. He said:

‘Us and the public are equal in the eyes of the Shariah. We pledged to live under the rulings of the Qur’an and whoever commits a sin, he will be punishmed according to the rules dictated by the Shariah.’

But while the Sheikh’s speech was received with loud chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’ and Muuse’s case attracted a huge media attraction, another case went under the radar. Just as twilight fell yesterday, one of the TFG soldiers shot and killed a teenager as he left his house in Xamar Jajab district of Mogadishu. But this case has largely gone unreported in the media and no one was brought to trial for the murder. The number of killings has increased recently in the three government-controlled districts in Mogadishu as soldiers are said to often rob residents at gunpoint, killing whoever retaliates. Many of the residents have now relocated to areas such as Dayniile, under Al-Shabaab, and the remaining persistently complain to the government, which has done nothing so far.

Unlike the government’s corrupt and bribe-riddled system, Al-Shabaab follow a strict Shariah code and govern all the 10 regions under their control in this manner. The people living in regions under Al-Shabaab control have had a relatively greater degree of safety and peace compared to those living in the TFG controlled areas. With establishment of the Islamic Administrations in Al-Shabaab controlled regions, and the introduction of the Islamic penal code system, the number of killings has significantly decreased.

They may be branded as terrorists by the western world, but Al-Shabaab continue to gain more support and popularity here from the local population they govern. When questioned about the events, Ali Osman, one of the spectators in Marka, couldn’t control his tears:

‘I never thought I would live to see the day when a killer is punished for his crime in Somalia. Never! This is just a miracle. And on top of that he was their [Al-Shabaab] soldier. This is the justice we need and if every killer today was brought to this sort of justice, we would have lived happily. I feel sorry for the man and it was painful to watch but this is the justice we wish to live under.’

The Sufi Disintegration Phase – 2

Continued from The Sufi Disintegration Phase 1

We continue to look at the gradual decline of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaaca.

Politically:

The merger of the Sufis with the TFG could not come at a worse time. When internal strife had debilitated the energy of the group, the Ethiopians concluded the merger between them and the TFG. Though the aim of the merger was also partly to save the Sufis from disintegration, it was primarily two-fold:

  • To bolster the weak government’s deteriorating credibility by allowing it to claim the few successes of the Sufis in Guriceel and Dhuusamareeb.

  • To pressure the Islamists in the middle regions so as to reduce the pressure from Mogadishu

The results, however, were quite the opposite. The Sufis and their allied TFG forces met with a series of defeats in Galguduud and Hiiraan after their initial victories. Now the Sufis are confined to Galguduud region and maintain only the towns of Guriceel, Dhuusamareeb and Caabudwaaq under their control, with the towns of Ceelbuur, Galhariiri, Wabxo, Warxoolo, Maxaas and Ceelgaras under Al-Shabaab. Many of the prominent Sufi leaders also criticized the deal and the political wrangle between its top leaders did not go unnoticed, despite the media’s attempts to bury it.

At a press conference in Nairobi the Vice Chairman of Ahlu Sunna, Sheikh Hassan Sheikh Abdi convened a meeting to openly denounce the deal. The main cause of the split in the Sufi leadership is a complex clan structures. Sufis are comprised of a Hawiye and a Darood group, all sharing one common goal, i.e. to avenge their scholars. But with the merger, it emerged that since the parliament and allocation of seats were based on a 4.5 formula, the few Darood clans would receive nothing; therefore they all denounced the deal. A power struggle ensued, with the Darood elements of the Sufis disowning the deal and intending to retain the name of the group for themselves and the Hawiye tribes eager to join the TFG.

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The Sufi Disintegration Phase

When Al-Shabaab exhumed the graves of the Sufi scholars in their Polytheism Eradication Campaign, all the people here in Mogadishu expected, in addition to the usual public outcries, an all-out war between Al-Shabaab and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa’a (ASWJ). Radio stations were abuzz with debates, coffee shops were alive with the silent Somali murmurs, animated discussions filled the public gatherings and the vociferous Sufi supporters protested as much as they could. But when the campaign swept through Somalia, leaving no stone unturned in its quest, and the Sufis, except for their spokesman vehemently expressing his sorrow on the airwaves and some demonstrations outside Somalia, silently bewailed their loss, the public noticed something slightly disconcerting. Was this all ASWJ could do? Or was there something more to come? The answer was a painful let-down for SWJ supporters. Nothing happened; not the much expected boldness in words and deeds, not the gathering of forces and not even the slightest of movement towards reclaiming their lost honour and saving the reputation of their saints.

Though it has been known fro quite some time here, as the well-versed politicians and coffee-shop pundits are quick to point out, that the Sufi elegance is slowly becoming out of fashion, it has now come to the realisation that soon they will no longer be able to survive. Made up of Sufis who claim mystical communication with their saints, unsuitable alliance of clan militia groups and political opportunists, ASWJ has now entered a phase of gradual disintegration. And there are many reasons for this. Some of which are:

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AMISOM Mortars Claim More Lives

While the rest of the world welcomed April with a feeling of unrestrained joviality, it was a sombre mood here in Mogadishu. For many of the weary Mogadishans living in these dismal blocks of concrete and tin-roofed houses, their mornings began with – well, the usual – death. No convivial atmosphere greeted them and no cheerful jokes made the rounds in the streets, for as March ended and the residents recoiled from the round of mortars that had crippled them, another greeted them.

Mogadishu knows no April fools day. Everything is real here.

Yesterday evening at around 5 PM, just as the workers returned home from a hard day’s work and reached their houses to spend some time with their families, the menacing sound of mortars began. AMISOM forces dished out their daily allotment of mortars to the unsuspecting civilians.

When a battle, between Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam on one side and the TFG forces on the other, raged on for a few hours in the once upper-class district of Hodan, some 500 metres away from the Ugandan base and now one of the many fronts in Mogadishu, AMISOM’s reply was unmistakably loud and clear.

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When Qat Rules…The Soldier Obeys


Qat

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?

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A Mogadishu Morning: Guns and Grenades

Militiaman Fires a Heavy Machine Gun

I woke up to the sounds of heavy gunfire this morning, and so did the residents of Mogadishu. Though at times peaceful, unexpected battles take place at Mogadishu’s front lines. This morning the forces of Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen launched a surprise attack on the defences of the government troops. After a heavy exchange of gunfire in a battle that lasted an hour or so, the local radio stations reported that Al-Shabaab have taken over Shibis district headquaters – one of the main strongholds of the TFG.

By conceding defeat in this district also to the Shabaab, the government now retains only 3 districts under its control; namely, Xamar Weyne, Xamar Jajab, Wadajir – that is three districts out of the total of 18! They are also present in the district of Shangani but do not control the whole district.

Since the government’s announcement of a major offensive, Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, the two Islamist groups confronting the feeble TFG, have been gradually advancing towards the Presidential Palace – which is now merely a few hundred metres from where the battle took place this morning – and the government troops seem to be extremely unsuccessful in keeping their grounds, let alone regaining lost territory. Now they are all cornered into a few blocks and the sea is behind them. A few weeks ago they launched an offensive, accompanied by Ugandan tanks, but failed miserably in their attempt and retreated with a wounded pride and morale as Al-Shabaab took over Global Hotel, a very strategic location in Cabdicaziiz district.

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Maxamad Dheere: An Incompetent Appointee


Imagine that a stray bullet, one of the thousands that constantly whiz past you in this deadly city, dislodged itself in your mother’s heart. Quite a normal thing, considering the situation we are in. So you quickly rush her to hospital, hoping that she stays alive at least until you reach there. You put her on the stretcher expecting that the doctor, assessing the severity of the situation, would instantaneously drag her into the theatre for that life saving operation. But no – you are told, instead, to pay upfront the operation cost, the admin fees as well as extra for the services of the handlers; all this while she profusely bleeds beside you. You came in a rush and were perhaps a little too traumatized to remember bringing some sacks of money along with you, so throw yourself at the compassion of the doctors. You march restlessly to and fro pleading with them and promising them that you will bring the money. ‘Just begin the operation please, I will go and get the money,’ you scream but to no avail. The doctor informs you that the hospital operates under the instructions of the governor and he has laid down these rules.

You stare on despairingly as your mother convulses with agony on the stretcher, her blood gently dripping onto the concrete. Her listless body begins to deteriorate as life slowly seeps out of it; her face gradually loses colour and her eyes fade away against her pallid features. Only a few meters away from the operating theatre, she breathes her last as you look on helplessly.

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AMISOM: Peacekeepers or Warmongers?



AMISOM troops

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.

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