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Talking Point

By M. M. Afrah, Toronto (Canada)

A Note from the Webmaster: Mr. Afrah was very optimistic after the fall of the military regime in 1991. "People wanted to live in peace, to rebuild their shattered country; their traumatized lives and society", he wrote in his diary, later converted into a best selling book with the title of "TARGET: VILLA SOMALIA" which was self-published in Nairobi. That prophecy had quickly evaporated into a thin air when warlords and outright banditry lay waste to the once beautiful Somali capital with its Mediterranean-style buildings. Baidoa became The City of Death and Kismayo became a Ghost Town. Everything was destroyed or looted. The land between Juba and Shabelleh Rivers, Somalia's Breadbasket, has been devastated by guerrillas of the United Somali Congress (USC) and the retreating government forces. The only thing Somalia has a surplus of is gunmen, weapons and warlords. A conservative UN estimate says guns outnumber the population in Somalia, estimated at seven million before the civil war.

After Mr. Afrah's eldest son was killed and his home destroyed, he organized his terrified neighborhoods to take refuge on the Lido Beach, away from artillery range, until he himself became a refugee. He single-handedly buried his son on the doorsteps of his partially demolished house. A T55 tank shell hit it. Undaunted, he continued to get the carnage stories out of the country. He received several international awards for his BRAVERY UNDER FIRE (Esquire magazine, British edition, April 1995). In 1996 he was The Newsman of the Year (Reuters World Magazine).

Following is Mr. Afrah's eyewitness account, in the form of a personal Diary about The Dirty and Cruel War in the South and Southwest of the country.

-The Webmaster


Johan Galtung, professor of peace studies and consultant for several United Nations agencies recently discussed with us at a seminar in Toronto about news reporting in conflict areas and the search for fair and accurate ways to frame coverage.

He said war journalism reinforces the mainstream belief that conflict can be resolved only through enforcement, in which the end result consists of winners and losers.

But there are no losers or winners in the dirty and cruel war in the South and Southwest of Somalia. This dirty war goes on and on with no end in sight. The only losers are the civilian population who never had a chance for a breathing space or transition, as in other conflict areas in the world. For 12 long years the people are still reeling under the effect of brutal and an ending bloodshed perpetrated by a bunch of warmongers masquerading as clan elders and faction leaders. Translation: Warlords.

To answer my question, Professor Galtung said that the Somalis, as a homogenous people, should put the gun down and learn to live in peace without seeking help from outsiders. "These outsiders could have adverse impact on the cultural heritage of the people", he said. (I presume the professor had MacDonald, Coca Cola and explicit sex movies in mind!).

THE WAR DIARY 1991-1993

Mogadishu September 2, 1991

Today, the situation in Mogadishu is very tense as the struggle for power among officials of the guerrilla organization; the United Somali Congress (USC) is beginning to intensify. General Mohamed Farah Aideed had a falling out with his rival, Ali Mahdi Mohamed over the question of who will be the new President after the overthrow of the former military dictator, Major-General Mohamed Siyad Barre. A group of politicians and elders who call themselves The Mogadishu Manifesto elected Ali Mahdi as the interim President of Somalia, to fill the vacuum. The Manifesto Group included Somalia's first President at independence, Adan Abdulle Osman, human rights lawyers, two former police chiefs and businessmen.

General Aideed who was in Mustahiil (Ethiopia) during the popular uprising in Mogadishu, arrived this morning with a big bang, leading a force of 200 well equipped, battle-hardened militia. In a speech at Mogadishu Stadium this afternoon, he declared the nomination of Ali Mahdi by what he called Afar-jeebleyaal (merchants) as null and void, and vowed to destroy Ali Mahdi and his supporters. He said these merchants hijacked the government without consulting with the Somali people at grassroots level.

"I will crush them," he told a crowd of enthusiasts who defied the hottest day in living memory. The temperature was hovering at muggy 65 Celsius. It was hot, hazy and humid.

At 6.30 P.M. supporters of Ali Mahdi had halted General Aideed's advance towards the center of the city. They had then dug in at the old Parliament Square and Taallada dal Jirka Dahsoon, where they are having a final stand. Casualties have been astronomical as both forces use everything in their arsenal. And for the first time the notorious Green Line that divides the city into North and South came into existence with a staying power.

In our neighbourhoods we are all suffering from delayed shock. Shelling, arson, rape and lootings have devastated the city. Ironically, all the weapons they are using are those left behind by General Barre.


Horror and disgust! It has been a costly war. Thousands, mostly innocent civilians have been killed or maimed and homes destroyed in a single day as most of the fighting was taking place in residential areas of the city. Everything from artillery guns to mortars have been used by both sides indiscriminately.

Afterward, I questioned the senseless factional fighting. The two warring groups belong to the same Hawiye clan, but of different subclans, the Habar-gedir and the Abgal. Could any clan be justified in sending the flower of their youth to endure such hell in the name of the subclan? The carnage is sickening and repulsive. When a disaster occurs you want to hope it's not true. You want to find out it was all a mistake and that a miracle will occur for the disaster to go away.

Hospitals are filled with shreds of broken humanity. In one instant I saw a man's intestines fall into the tarmac after he was hit by shell- fire. I saw men and women with eyeless sockets, without noses, with shell splinters sticking out of their skulls. I listened to men screaming like animals. I watched them coughing up their lungs as they gasped for air-the last air on earth.

Heaps of dirt and rubble lay everywhere. Fresh shallow graves began to appear in every space, including public gardens. The unlucky ones were left unburied, to be fed by stray dogs and cats.

As all communications with the outside world have been destroyed during the month long uprising against the Barre regime, today I managed to send my first horror story to Reuters news agency via SOS, a children's village run by an Austrian humanitarian organization in the north of the city. Trekking to the SOS village was shear madness and a dance with death as strings of makeshift road barricades manned by Qaad chewing trigger-happy young gunmen sprung up overnight.

Hanz Hartmann, the Austrian in Charge of SOS looked at me and asked if I am okay.

"I think my heart stopped twice on the way over," I said.

"They are using tank shells in crowded areas. We have even received couple of artillery shells this morning," he said after a dejected sigh.

"Any casualty figures?" I asked him. He said luckily there were no casualties, only some property damage.

"I thought they were done with Siyad Barre, and now brother is killing brother. Shit!" he exclaimed in his German accented English.

"That's the astonishing thing," I said.

"I tell you God works in mysterious ways," he said and closed the gate with a big bang.

The windfall is that the story was broadcast this afternoon by the BBC, the Voice of America, RAI, the Italian State Broadcasting Corporation, Cairo Radio among other international radio stations, and of course with my byline. That could cause me some trouble with the armed militia from both sides.

I sleep and wake up with the sound of machinegun fire. But my next-door neighbour calls the shooters "cir-toogtayaal!"

In Mogadishu tempers are getting lower and lower these days.

To be continued…

By Mohamoud M. Afrah © 2002

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