“It is wonderful how little we have yet managed to impress the Somalis with our superior firepower.” (British officer following attempts to put down the ‘Mad Mullah’ in 1920s with R.A.F. bombers)
Today was spent in a time capsule of sorts – visiting the destruction wreaked on the buildings of Mogadishu’s seafront at the end of 1992, and seeing traces of the old Italian colonial presence. I sought some recognition of the trip Gerard Hanley takes on foot through Mogadishu some half a century ago in his book Warriors, but to no avail.
People are still living in the ruins, some of whom have been in the same building for the past 18 or 20 years – to my mind it is almost unimaginable what they have lived through. Fighting between forces loyal to Aideed on one side and Ali Mehdi on the other laid waste to this part of town; we saw only one building that had been reconstructed in the area since then.
There were, however, lots of women wearing brightly coloured clothes working to clear sections of the old buildings.
This, we were told, was a food-for-work scheme operated by some local NGOs, but often food was not distributed so they are forced to register at one of the IDP camps to receive food handouts.
We visited the fish market in the afternoon, where fishmongers cut the catch down to size. The roof was newly rebuilt, and some two hundred people were there buying and selling fish.
This, I think, was the overwhelming impression of the day: the way Somalis have managed to continue living in some shape or form despite everything that has happened to them and their country, despite history’s downward tug.
Almost everyone agrees, though, that residents of Mogadishu are living through the worst time that they have known – worse even than the chaos of the 1990s.
P.S. Click here for slideshow of photos from today.