Monday, 30 July 2012


I have just been to Mogadishu. I spent a few days there, and managed to visit many parts of the city including the airport area, Kilometre Four, Hamarweyne, Hodan, Medina, Abdi Aziz, Bondhere and other places. I went deep inside Bakara market to a former Al Shabaab headquarters. I also travelled down the coast south of Mogadishu to the beautiful Jazira Beach and a nearby fishing village. 

I will be writing a number of blog posts about what I saw and heard, complete with pictures. You can see some of the photos via this link:

I did a piece for the for the BBC about my overall impressions of Mogadishu. You can listen to the radio piece via this link:

Below is the script for the piece. I have added some of photos I took in Mogadishu. 

The noise of hammering was one of the three main sounds I heard while moving around Mogadishu. After more than two decades of war, some parts of the city resemble a graveyard for buildings. 

Former parliament building in central Mogadishu
The post office in Hodan district, formerly controlled by Al Shabaab
But that is changing. People are emerging from the shadows to rebuild shattered homes, shops, offices and government buildings. 

Rebuilding a house in Hodan
I saw many people making bricks for all the construction work
Flying into Mogadishu you see lots of shiny new roofs glinting in the sun
The Hormuud telecommunications building is the tallest, poshest building I saw in Bakara market
Freshly painted buildings in Bakara 
The second sound I heard was the constant blaring of vehicle horns -- it is important to keep moving in a city where suicide bombs and grenade attacks are not uncommon. The third was the sound of bullets. There are two kinds of gunfire in Mogadishu. The single shots fired into the air to assert a presence. And the more sustained exchanges, signalling proper gunfights between rival groups or criminal gangs. 

There are lots of bullets in Mogadishu

The atmosphere in the city is jittery but hopeful. It is as if a tipping point has nearly been reached when the majority of people will have more to gain from peace than war. People seem to be willing for stability to win through, both those who never managed to flee the violence, and the flood of Somalis rushing back from overseas refuge to get a taste of the new Mogadishu. Somalis are very entrepreneurial so it is perhaps not surprising that the most vibrant place I visited was the city's main commercial area, called Bakara market. It was until last year the stronghold of the Islamist group, Al Shabaab, and its main source of revenue. The local authorities told me millions of dollars worth of trade is done there every day. The enormous sprawling market sells everything under the sun - shoes, medicine, plump fresh fruit, charcoal, meat, mattresses. 

Bakara market

Suitcase area

Shoe alley

Money storage tins

An open-air tailor in the mattress area

The only thing I didn't see were the guns and grenades I saw for sale when I visited Bakara in the 1990s. But the thing that will stay with me the longest from my Mogadishu visit is the children of the city. Everywhere I went small groups of tiny children would appear out of smashed buildings and dark corners. One even climbed out of a filthy rubbish bin. There was usually no adult with them. Their skin was dull with dust, their hair matted and discoloured. Most were barefoot and their clothes so old they appeared to be rotting on their bodies. A disproportionate number were physically deformed or mentally disabled. But that is not surprising. They were born into violence. Food has been scarce. Many have lost their parents. But maybe, just maybe, a slightly brighter future awaits them.

 I saw this baby lying all alone in a tent

I saw a child climbing out of the blue metal bin (or skip) on the right of these two pictures 

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