Blog About Books Journalism Consultancy Broadcast

[Posted in Features Journalism]

Boiled Goat, Warm Beer and Mortar Bombs: Justin Marozzi in Mogadishu
From Miami to Mogadishu; from blues skies, pastel perfection, grilled red snapper, key lime pie and margaritas to blue skies, a bombed-out cityscape, warm beer and boiled goat (the main dish in ‘the Dish’).

From Miami to Mogadishu; from blues skies, pastel perfection, grilled red snapper, key lime pie and margaritas to blue skies, a bombed-out cityscape, warm beer and boiled goat (the main dish in ‘the Dish’). No question Mogadishu could use a lick of paint and a spot of rebuilding. I drive through it in the back of a Casspir, a landmine-resistant armoured personnel carrier belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom). This place makes Kabul look like Manhattan. Clan-based warfare has ripped Somalia apart for most of the past 20 years. Twenty per cent of under-fives suffer from acute malnutrition — 15 per cent constitutes an emergency, by international standards. Half the population requires humanitarian assistance. Life expectancy hovers around 50 to 55 years. A jihadist insurgency now threatens to make Somalia the sun-kissed destination of choice for al-Qa’eda. One day, they might get over all this. In the 1970s, it was tourists, not deluded Muslims, making a beeline for the sensational coastline, the longest in East Africa. I have been camped a few hundred yards from it all week, in a sand-filled tent just off a runway. The swimming is much better than Palm Beach.

If anyone is a victim of textual harassment at work, it would have to be Major Bo-Hoku Barigye, the charismatic Ugandan spokesman for Amisom. He reckons he has received 900 abusive text messages from Al Shebab, the local terrorists in this neck of the woods, in the past two months alone. Most threaten to kill him. What strikes one most about these texts, however, is not how chilling they are but how infantile. Take this one as evidence of the intellectual sophistication of these would-be world-conquering jihadists: ‘I am member Shebab fuck your marther now I will make suicide know or not fucking why do troops make genocide do what do want one day we will in hand of Shebab and we will give unforgettable lesson which will remain fresh in your mind guy guy fuck you answer.’ Less time on the Koran, boys, and more with a good English lexicon.

The first anniversary ceremony of the transitional federal government under its bespectacled leader President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is a noisy affair. First of all we have music from a military band, followed by songs and dancing, a series of poetry readings and exuberant sketches in the heart of Villa Somalia, the presidential compound built by the Italians when they were running the place. Then in come the mortars with a terrific bang. They land extremely close, killing two and wounding several others. No one among the president’s entourage even flinches. The show must go on. Even louder is the admirably robust response from the tank strategically parked outside.

In Nairobi, en route to Mog, I spent an evening smoking shisha with Waayaha Cusub, a group of Kenya-based Somali rappers. Our Yemeni hosts were whacked out chewing qat. Like most Somalis, the band has had enough of the nihilistic airheads of ‘Al Kebab’. Their latest single is called ‘No to Al Shebab’. I launched the new single in Mogadishu in a private screening with the president. In the video, shot in Somali, Swahili and English, the band hip-hop about in burnt-out buildings amid shots of terrorists on the rampage. ‘We need justice and hope in order to cope, they might hang me on a rope, but I won’t stop telling the truth,’ raps a goatee-bearded bruiser. The president, a mild-mannered former teacher whom I suspect is not a natural rapper, is intrigued and bemused. What does he make of it? ‘I think it will attract a lot of the youth and it is a powerful message against Al Shebab,’ he says. Check them out on YouTube.

Lest we be too gloomy about all the media reports out of Mogadishu — much of it sensationalised, it has to be said — Sheikh Ahmed Mursal Adam is a living reproof to the idea that Somalia is only war, bloodshed and piracy. The henna-bearded 75-year-old, who has lived through one Italian administration and seven Somali presidents, rejoices in the title of ‘Head of Presidential Gardens’. In the course of a long life tending to the presidents’ roses, he has evidently found time to romance the ladies. Indeed, he has had 27 wives and counts 200 children and grandchildren among his descendants. I wonder what Hillary Clinton, the Islamist president’s New BF, would make of that.

Al Shebab may be morons, but the world will pay a high price if it ignores the mounting Islamist threat in the Horn of Africa. This is a battle of wills. Al-Qa’eda is providing men and money to the jihadi cause, yet Amisom is dangerously under-resourced and the United Nations won’t be deploying anytime soon, according to Ban Ki-Moon. The international community needs to show steel and commitment. The fledgling government and Amisom must be reinforced before the beardies become less manageable. A Somali government adviser in Nairobi has a stark warning. ‘I think if we stay on this same trajectory, we’ll end up with the worst fundamentalist, oppressive state in Africa, if not the world. The Islamists will win hands down.’ Is the world listening? It is time to kebab Al Shebab.