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PART TWO Mogadishu, September 4, 1991.


The person who said that, peace, until lost, is seldom valued was dead right. Coming so soon after the overthrow of the former dictator, the factional fighting in Mogadishu cannot be justified. Some say remnants of his supporters, dubbed as Faqash are bent on massacring all Hawiye subclans, but it seems that the accusation is baseless. It was an excuse to kill innocent non-Hawiye people who decided to remain in the capital, hoping that conditions will return to normal. But their dreams for a return to normalcy quickly evaporated, as some sort of ethnic cleansing is taking place in Mogadishu. This is revenge killing in the true sense of the word. This started when the army and the security forces (known as Faqash) targeted anyone who they thought belonged to the Hawiye clan at the height of the civil war.

“They killed unarmed Hawiye people in cold-blood, why should we let them get away with it,” said one elderly gunman, armed with a G3 rifle and a number of hand grenades hanging from his belt.

“You have been killing women, children and the elderly just because they happened to belong to the Darod and the Galgale,” I said.

After some thought, he said: “They too have massacred our women and children. Where were you when they murdered our elders and other important community leaders in cold blood? You must be one of those faint hearted people,” he exclaimed, shooting in the air with his G3 rifle to prove he is not faint hearted.

“You cannot justify murder,” I said very slowly in order not to provoke him. A loaded gun in the hands of an exasperated man is very dangerous and unpredictable.

“Whose murder are you talking? Those who started it in the first place, or those who defend themselves?”

“I am talking about cold blood murder of women, children and the elderly, no matter which clan or tribe they belong to.”


He cleared his throat and spat a mouthful surplus of Qaad on the ground between my legs in a violent gesture of contempt and left without another word. I began to tremble with horror. He did not shoot me, but it was a close call!


For generations the Somali people have been fighting with spears and arrows over grassing rights, boreholes and forfeited dowries, but killing women, children, the elderly and the infirm was alien to the Somali character. But now, with modern weaponry and attitudes (settling of old scores) things have changed fundamentally. Helpless women, children and the elderly became sitting targets.


Skeleton looking mothers, trying to protect their emaciated babies, screamed, wept and prayed Allah for salvation. The sight of these screaming mothers gave me the worst shock of my life and I hope I may never have another as bad. It was a dreadful sight.


Now we are moving blindly towards another disaster. Cholera, the swift dreaded plague of the Third World is expected to sweep the city. More dead bodies are scattered everywhere. A young mother with her two children lay on the dusty road, dead. Small babies are abandoned on the streets by their parents. There is acute shortage of food and drinking water. People are compelled to drink contaminated water from ancient water wells, because, like everything else, the water and electricity systems have been completely destroyed. Pipes have been excavated and electricity wires are melted and sold to local merchants who exported them by dhows to the Gulf countries to be blended with gold. Now they are trying to dismantle the national monuments.


Today I told my family to join the exodus to the countryside, but my elder son, Abdullahi, insisted that he will stay with me, come what may.


Death has become too commonplace to matter. The two greatest products in Mogadishu these days are shootings and rumours, from morning to night they manufacture rumours, from morning to night they manufacture shootings. Civilians are being killed at an alarming rate. People run from one war zone to another only to be shot by gunmen on rooftops.


The chatter of machineguns rises in a crescendo over our heads. We can hear the whine of the bullets as they pass over us.


  Uncertainty is still the name of the game here. Simple people can sense how volatile things have become. The worst of all is that every time I fall asleep, I wake up with a start and the bitter taste of fear in my mouth. Shells come whistling over our houses in great arcs, dispatched from invisible batteries to strike targets close to our home.

From my window I can see houses set ablaze by shellfire during the night, now burning fiercely. Wherever I look, fiery red and yellow flashes split the darkness of the night, making clearly the deadly path of the armoured attack.


A new sound mingles with the tank shells. It is the hollow, whining of the Soviet-made Stalin Organs or the Katyushas. They fall not far from us, and the holes they make are tremendous.


A group of youngsters with automatic rifles and bazookas are telling me that General Aideed and his forces now occupy the gutted Villa Somalia, seat of the presidency. Villa Somalia is on a hill overlooking the city and anyone holding it will have amble choice of targets. In retaliation, forces loyal to Ali Mahdi deployed their own Katyushas on miniature hills at Sheikh Muhiyaddin Village and near Lido Beach. Trading of Katyusha rockets is now gaining momentum without pause. Sheikh Muhiyadiin’s followers and other religious leaders from different clans have been running about in the middle of the attack, trying in vain to negotiate ceasefire, holding the Holy Quran high over their heads, shouting “ALLAHU AKBAR” and “STOP THE CARNAGE”, and reading verses from the Holy Quran, but no one seems to listen to their plea.


12.30 P.M. A tank in front my house just swung out and rumbled thunderously after mounted jeeps, leaving behind dozens of spent shells and geysers of smoke and dust. Several bodies lay spread-eagle on the dirt road, some of them still gripping their AK-47s in one hand. Part of my roof collapsed under the impact from the tank shells. I have been deaf and coated with dusty for several minutes.




Suddenly, everything was still this morning. So still I could hear my neighbor cursing Ali Mahdi and General Aideed. The fighting was over just as it began, and a waiting, threatening silence fell over the ruined section of the city where we live. People are taking advantage of the lull and try to scavenge for food and drinking water.


This morning I went to the Sinai Market, where you could buy everything from toilet soap to machineguns – at a bargain prices. But now it was razed to the ground. Few merchants are trying in vain to salvage what little was left of their merchandise, but the whole place is still smoldering.


Luckily, we survive on dozens of cartons full of tinned foodstuff left behind by a Chinese colleague who represented, XINHUA, the Chinese news agency in Mogadishu before all foreigners were evacuated. The tins are labeled in Chinese and some of the contents are bizarre and outlandish, such as bamboo shoots and pickled onions and duck eggs, not to mention something that looked like pickled snakes! One look at them in normal times will produce a shuttering vomit. But this is not normal times. So we decided to be discerning, throwing away only what looked like pickled snakes and pork to the hungry pariah dogs. THANK YOU, LEE. You helped me fight against starvation and malnutrition.


Those who still cling to life greet each other with the words: “Are you still alive? Al-Xamdullilah!”



On the dirt road behind the mosque lay the carcasses of cows, blown up like balloons, with their legs jutting stiff upwards.


Hajiya Habiba, the only human being who refused to join the exodus to the countryside, apart our next-door neighbour, and us was trapped in her own hovel for weeks without our knowledge. She brought us water and charcoal, very rare commodities in Mogadishu these days. She is brisk, stout and motherly, and had once been a nurse at Digfer. She lost one of her sons during the popular uprising against the Barre regime. She said the Red Berets killed him in front of his grandfather at the beginning of the uprising.

“They are regrouping and rearming themselves to have another go at each other,” she said referring to the brief lull in the fighting.      


To be continued…

By Mohamoud M. Afrah © 2002

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