by Heikal I. Kenneded
Friday, March 27, 2015
A few days ago I paid an impromptu visit to Mogadishu and I was determined to get a good-feel about the old city and how it was faring lately after three years of relative peace. I was not the least disappointed for the first time in decades – much rather rejoiced. My initial skepticism of the city’s recent evolution was immediately affronted by the immense transformation achieved over the past few years. I was captivated by the aura of the entire city that was priming with new vitality and renaissance like recovery of its old charm, unlike my last visit in 2011, when I felt visiting a city hit with strong earthquake. Mogadishu no longer looks like a downtrodden city from the Middle Ages, but rather a vibrant city with so much potential and captivating charm that takes hold of you and never wants to let you go. Despite all this, the city has still miles to claim of its old nickname as Pearl of the Indian Ocean; nevertheless, the road to a remarkable recovery is well underway and there’s no turning back. Thus, there’s every reason to believe that Mogadishu’s worst days are behind her and the future is as clear as its blue sky.
I was enthralled not only by the intense rebuilding of war-ravished buildings along city’s major streets, but by the spirit of hopefulness amongst the city’s populace, as if by resolve alone they could restore their city’s place in history. The biggest change is showcased by Turkey’s unprecedented soft-power, which has given the city a new lease in life and all Somalis around the world feel in awe and indebted forever to their brothers-in-faith who came to their rescue in the city’s darkest hour. Thanks to the Turkey’s faith on the city’s strategic potential, Mogadishu’s decrepit infrastructure has tremendously improved and most of the city’s historic landmarks have been shaped to their original shape and design. For instance, the city’s new modern terminal at Aden Ade International airport with gleaming spacious departure and arrival halls captures your eyes as soon as one descends onto the incandescent tarmac of the city’s airport. Another modern face of the city’s future is the Turkish renovated hospital Digfer (renamed after Turkish President, Erdogan) in Mogadishu, which boasts 200-bed with Training and Research Hospital. Not to mention the ever-bright solar-powered streetlights that has tremendously improved the city’s overall safety, not to mention increasing businesses to attract more customers.
Another commendable achievement belongs to the city’s relentless mayor and governor of the Banadir region, General Mungab who seems to possess the qualities of another American General, Patton who was nicknamed “Old Blood and Guts.” The mayor is credited to have single-handedly transformed the city’s general outlook for the better, unlike his predecessor who spoke the loudest, but accomplished little to show for it. General Mungab who only came to office in a little more than a year ago by presidential decree, since taking office, he has accomplished various reforms intended to consolidating the city’s district administrations and spearheaded district developmental projects. For instance, the mayor carried out important renovation projects at government centers throughout the city and created a task force to carryout municipal beautification campaigns intended to improve the city's general outlook and bring back its old attractions alive. In fact, I have witnessed with my own eyes how incessantly the city’s streets and other important landmarks are cleaned every day.
Mayor and governor of the Banadir Region General Hassan Mohamed Hussein (Muungaab)
Apparently, the word is out, Mogadishu is open for business and a plethora of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and institutions in such areas as education, health, sports and peace-building had been allowed to spring up, often encroaching on government ministries. In addition, the true creativity and resilience of Somalia's business community is once again thriving and sky is the limit for their potential to turn the country around into the Horn’s business hub. For example, I was able to witness how enthusiastically the business community in the Bakaara market joined forces to rebuild the main streets of the market with their own money and resources. These sorts of initiatives will eventually translate into job creation and prevention of Somali youths from being idle and taking to the seas, or much worse joining into terrorism.
However, the one thing that almost nobody in Mogadishu discusses is politics in the country and the city’s residents mostly contend to tend on their own lives, unlike Somalis in the Diaspora who seem to feed on and quite often relish on such double-dealing world of Somali politics. In other words, it seems as though the city’s residents became innocuous to the false promises of various forms of governments who promised heaven and earth to change the way government business is run, nevertheless failed miserably and only to disappoint everyone. Most people show political-fatigue over successive governments’ constant squabble over whom to appoint important posts that eventually results in political paralysis, not to mention the constant reports of widespread corruption of government officials. Moreover, the government terribly failed to foil most of the security threats posed by the remnants of Al-Shabab and other vicious contract killings that incessantly haunt the city’s residents.
Further, despite all the achievements of the city’s emergence from the last quarter century’s failed state, targeted killing of politicians and other relevant professionals, such engineers and educators carried out by callous death squads is still rampant, not to mention the constant suicide bombers who continuously rock the city to its core. This has the consequential effect of most people remaining indoors after dusk, except those fateful brazen ones who without a care crisscross the city’s debilitating many checkpoints manned by fearful looking soldiers wearing facemasks and wielding their AK-47 and ready to fire at instance’s notice of suspicious activities.
Another challenge for the city’s residences is relearning tolerance for difference because the city seems to lack its greatest asset as an old metropolitan – cultural diversity. Since at the dawn of the civil war, cultural diversity has been driven out of town and it was replaced by a different kind of diversity where the same clans are fighting for space and for economic and political control of the city. Nonetheless, Mogadishu will never be the same again without the safe return of its historical cultural diversity that gave the city its unique identity and exceptional aura. In effect, what the city’s residents need to focus on and practice daily is how to live with each other, to accept each other’s differences and to turn in peace spoilers. The city needs to promote new kind of schools, libraries, cultural centers and playgrounds for the young generation to grow without fear of bombs exploding in their midst. Then the city’s residents may be able to enjoy the sound of music to start playing again, a true form of renaissance. Nobody can change what has happened over the last 25 years, but if everyone starts thinking ‘what if’ today, the story will not be in the telling but in the thinking for a better tomorrow.
Heikal I. Kenneded