Somalia: Mogadishu residents back to living in constant danger


2-18-07, 8:51 am

MOGADISHU, 15 February 2007 (IRIN) - Maryan Aliyow Isse had hoped the security situation in Mogadishu would stabilise after the Ethiopian-backed transitional government took control of the Somali capital in December.

She was wrong. 'We are in constant danger,' said Maryan, who lives with her four children among 945 displaced families in a compound that used to be the Taleh government school in the southern Hodan district. 'Mortars explode near the camp every night.'

Other Mogadishu residents said worsening violence had already forced many families to leave the city. 'Many families have left,' Muhammed Rage told IRIN. 'It is not an exodus yet but you can see families moving, particularly from the south of the city.'

Many of those leaving were heading south to the nearby towns of Afgoi and Merka, and others as far north as Beletweyne (340km north of Mogadishu), he added. According to the United Nations, an estimated 1,000 people left Mogadishu in January due to fear of conflict and instability.

The recent attacks, Mogadishu-based aid workers said, have targeted both military and government installations, as well as internally displaced people. On 2 February, a mortar attack hit Taleh, killing four people and wounding dozens of others.

Three days later, another hit Liban camp in southern Mogadishu. Abdirahman Fatih, a displaced person in the camp, said eight people, most of them women and children, were killed.

'The mortars were fired by unidentified people,' Maryan said. 'I worry about the safety of my children.”

Security deteriorating

Mogadishu, residents said, had become more insecure since the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) left the city, having been routed by Ethiopian and Somali government troops. The Transitional Federal Government, formed in Kenya in 2004, had never managed to take full control of the country, instead remaining holed up in the southern towns of Jowhar and Baidoa.

Deafening sounds of artillery fire and bullets boom throughout the city on most nights, as insurgents opposed to the transitional government target sites associated with it, using rockets, mortars and various other weapons.

According to Mogadishu residents, the UIC, which administered the capital and a swathe of the south for nearly seven months, restored much-needed peace, stability and order - even if many Somalis found it harder to make money after the Islamists banned a narcotic, Khat, which is widely consumed in Somalia.

'Women are now taken away and raped by armed gangs at night when they go out because toilets are very scarce here so we use the open at nights,' Murayo Mohamoud Hassan, a 36-year-old mother of four, said.

The troops deployed in the city, she claimed, shoot at displaced people’s camps whenever they suspect that gunmen may have sneaked in. 'We do not know where to flee to,' she said. 'We are victimised by both the Ethiopians and unknown armed men firing rockets at Ethiopians.

Echoing that view, Fadumo Hassan, a mother of one living in Coca-Cola camp, said the UIC had encouraged Somalis to help each other. 'When Islamists were here even Somalis in the diaspora helped us, sending money. But now everything is stuck,' she said.

Rage said the displaced had been most affected by the current insecurity. 'They don't have a support base here so they cannot expect much help from the local population,' he said.

Somali government officials acknowledge the situation is dangerous, but vow they are working to restore order. 'I am ready to die defending the capital,' the transitional deputy defence minister Salad Ali Jelle said.

Increased hardship

More than 870 families live in Coca-Cola (a former Coca-Cola factory) in the south of the capital. Some fled drought in their villages years ago and have lived here ever since.

Halimo Mo’ow, a mother of eight, said she left her village 130km south of Mogadishu a year ago. 'We fled the village after droughts killed our goats and threatened my children. But here life is really hard. My husband is unemployed,' she explained.

To earn money, she carries a 20 litre jerry-can of water to sell to small restaurants in the narrow alleys of Bakara market where donkey carts carrying a barrel of water cannot enter. From this, she earns 15,000 Somali shillings (US$1) - not enough to meet the needs of her large family. 'The kids go out begging to help the family,' she explained.

However, she says, armed militias often rob the children. 'The militias pretend they represent us. We cannot say anything because they will kill us if open our mouths. They take most of the donations,' she said.

After the torrential rains and floods that hit southern and central Somalia in 2006, hundreds of families displaced by the floods were forced to flee to Mogadishu. Many live in compounds such as Taleh and Coca-Cola - former government schools, unused military compounds or factories.

However, while they may have shelter, the displaced face extreme difficulties. 'No one in Taleh camp is able to pay medical fees. When they are wounded by shrapnel, they are treated if they are lucky by [getting] contributions of money from other people,' Maryan said.

Local leaders said the difficulties endured by the displaced had hardened opinion against the country's leaders and their Ethiopian backers. The lingering presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia and the proposal to send in African peacekeepers, they argued, could only be justified if the transitional government could sort out the rampant insecurity in the capital.

'Since the Ethiopians entered Mogadishu, we are under curfew,' Abdi Hassan, leader of the Shabeele compound near Bandir hospital, said. 'Yet we are very vulnerable to mortars and rockets that unknown men fire at the Ethiopian bases near us.'

More than 700 displaced people live in Shabeele. Most, Hassan said, were unemployed and had no skills. 'Most of them push wheelbarrows, carrying people’s stuff to earn their daily bread [and] the women go out to beg and wash clothes for other people,' he explained.

Resistance and survival

Frustration with the worsening security situation has started to boil over. On 9 February, two demonstrations took place after prayers. The first was at Ex-Control intersection in the northern suburb of the capital. Here, for the first time, 10 masked men claimed responsibility for rocket attacks against Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu.   'We are the 'Somali People's Resistance Movement',' a man who called himself Abdirazak told hundreds of protesters. 'We are warning other African countries trying to send troops to Somalia to back off or here will be their graveyard,' he shouted.

In the frenzy, Kenyan, Ethiopian, Ugandan and American flags were set ablaze by the demonstrators. Abdirizak claimed attacks against foreign troops would continue until they all left the country.

Separately, an estimated 300 people, most of them younger men and women, demonstrated in Tribunka Square at the centre of the capital, chanting anti-government slogans. They demanded that nightly mortar attacks should stop.

Despite the violence, however, the displaced have to make ends meet. Murayo said she had encouraged her older teenage child to become a shoe cleaner. Two younger ones sell peanuts on a street corner.

'With my smallest child on my back, I sell toothbrushes [sticks],' she said. 'Our livelihood hinges on this. Sometimes, our income is hardly enough for one meal a day. You can see my small child - malnutrition is prevalent in the camp.'

Convinced that the transitional government has brought worse times to the capital, she adds: 'Life has been so hard since the UIC have gone.'

Like Murayo, Maryan, who divorced her husband three years ago, has to cope with the demands of bringing up her children. 'I feed my children by going to Bakara market and carrying items on my back for people. I earn 10,000 Somali shillings [less than US$1] or less sometimes,' she explained.

While she is in the market, the kids remain in the shelter - and at risk of attack. 'Constant danger from all types of weapons has become part of our life in Mogadishu,' she says. 'The displaced people in Somalia have become victims of war.'