Monday August 20, 2018
Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, has
been described as the most dangerous city in the world. But some people
there are trying to bring life back to the place. During her regular
visits, BBC Africa editor Mary Harper came to know one of them - an
entrepreneur named Mohamed Mahamoud Sheikh. Then she received some bad
The last time I saw Mohamed, he gave me flowers. He chose
one of the biggest and most colourful bunches from the display in his
florist's shop. Next door, machines whirred at a dry cleaners - which
also belonged to him.
Stopping off to see Mohamed was always one
of my favourite things to do when I visited Mogadishu. While the world's
media spoke of famine, pirates and suicide bombs, he quietly and
determinedly got on with his life, bringing what many would see as
entirely normal, mundane services back to his country.
encouraged others. He set up a community of people involved in
start-ups, and became something of an inspirational figure - but always
remained modest. Lots of brave new businesses have sprung up,
from the young man with a motorbike who has started a food delivery
business to the girl who has set herself up as a mechanic.
Mohamed in Mogadishu was not entirely straightforward. As for all my
other appointments in the city, I never fixed a precise time. Sometimes I
would just show up outside the metal gates of the Somalia Premium
Laundry on the busy Maka al-Mukarama road. I always travelled there with
heavy security - at least six bodyguards in one vehicle, a couple more
in the other.
It is best to be unpredictable - people say phone calls are listened in on and that there are informants everywhere.
But taking care with information and security is no guarantee of safety.
this month, Mohamed was driving in his car in full daylight in a
heavily guarded area, known as Kilometre Five. Two men appeared and shot
him. This unassuming but influential young man died later in hospital.
So far, his murderers have not been caught.
Mohamed won't be able to realise the other dreams he told me about - of
opening a gym, a playground for children, of growing all the flowers
for his shop in the fertile fields of Afgoye, not far from Mogadishu. He
dreamed of greening the city and had already brought in flowering trees
to plant there.
Somali social media was soon awash with comments
from people whose lives he had touched. Many were accompanied by the
Three days after he died, a rare
demonstration was held in Mogadishu. Young people wearing white
headbands held up banners emblazoned with phrases like "Stop Killing
Youth". They asked how and why people like Mohamed were being killed,
and why nobody was being held accountable.
On that very same day, a car bomb exploded outside a restaurant in the city, killing at least three people.
first heard about Mohamed when a friend called to tell me about someone
who'd given up a safe, well-paid job in Dubai to return home and set up
the first dry cleaners in Mogadishu for more than two decades.
thought this would make a great story - Somalis like Mohamed, who'd
lived in peaceful countries abroad, coming home to rebuild their nation.
dry cleaning element also appealed. Every time I flew out of Mogadishu,
politicians and businessmen would board the plane carrying vast piles
of dirty suits to be cleaned in neighbouring countries. Once at a summit
held in Ethiopia's most luxurious hotel, I was astonished to see
Somalia's top politicians marching down the corridors with armloads of
freshly dry-cleaned suits.
Mohamed had spotted an excellent business opportunity.
His murder has thrown up questions about the nature of violence in
Somalia. About who is killing who. People often rush to blame the
Islamist group al-Shabab which for more than a decade has spread terror
in Somalia and beyond. But the jihadists are not the only killers.
could be a politician who doesn't like what you do or say, a business
rival… or caused by a property dispute, or plain jealousy. People are
quick to reach for their guns in Somalia. I have been stuck in traffic
jams where the guard in my car has rolled down the window and fired live
bullets into the air, just to get the other vehicles moving.
was not the only rising young star to have his life cruelly cut short.
Abbas Abdullahi grew up in a refugee camp and was named a government
minister last year. He was shot dead accidentally by the attorney
general's bodyguards. Young journalists are murdered on a regular basis.
seems strange that, with all the billions spent on security in Somalia,
the presence of tens of thousands of African Union troops, US drones
and special forces, there is little protection for people like Mohamed.
I keep catching myself thinking about him - about our friendship, his
welcoming gap-toothed smile and his unswerving commitment to making
I wonder about his businesses. Are they standing empty now, the dry cleaning machines quiet and still, the flowers wilting?
anybody watering the pots of plants he tended so carefully and sold to
people trying to bring a bit of brightness into the homes and businesses
they are rebuilding in Mogadishu?