Life in Somalia under peacekeepers and al- Shabaab threats
After a long day’s work, Somalis and foreigners like to catch up for a drink and chat at the Leaf Camp hotel in Mogadishu. The Somalian capital is busy and bustling despite the threat of attacks by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab, says Suleiman Elmem, one of the patrons. Maka al Mukarama is the busiest street in Mogadishu, with overflowing traffic jams, pedestrians crisscrossing under the scorching heat, and crowded business outlets displaying all sorts of merchandise. Life seems to be normal unlike in the past when the al-Shabaab Islamists were in control. “Three years ago, they used to control parts of Mogadishu – now they don’t control anything, so their presence is insignificant,” Elmem told DW.
The al-Shabaab Islamists not only controlled Mogadishu but also large portions of the Somali countryside. Although an African Union–led military campaign has pushed them back, the insurgents remain a major security challenge in Somalia – where their ultimate goal is to establish an Islamic state.
“A journey of 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) begins with a step,” says Ama Shiddo, a Mogadishu-based real estate salesman. He is convinced Somalia is headed for a bright future. “People are coming back, rebuilding their houses, universities and hospitals are opening, and business is booming more than ever in the past three years,” he told DW.
Hope for the future
Young people like Ahmed Abdul, who studied civil engineering in Uganda, are increasingly returning home to be part of the reconstruction process of their country. “The Somali youth are now active and they participate in development and reconstruction,” Abdul boasted.
Further to the southwest, in the village of Ceelijaale, the Quick Impact Project initiated by the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), is helping young people develop their capabilities and talent. And they are excited about this initiative, says officer Muhumuza, pointing out the importance of targeting young people and keeping them busy “because if you don’t, that gives al-Shabab the chance to lure them in their ranks.”
In the framework of the project, 25- year-old Salim Hamis joined the local soccer team in Ceelijaale and is now team captain. Soccer keeps him from being bored, and “joining bad company”, the jobless young man told DW, adding that he fervently hopes to play professional football in the future, maybe abroad.
In Buufo, a remote village southwest of Mogadishu where people tend their cows, goats, chickens, and camels, 55-year-old Abdallah Bashir argues that al-Shabab is still a threat, explaining that is why people turned to the African Union (AU) for food, safety, and an education. The villagers can only go to UPDF-patrolled areas, he told DW.
Back at the AMISOM base, a group of women and children lined up for free medical treatment. Hadija is one of the patients who has come to seek medical treatment. “I have malaria, a headache, and a fever,” she says. The soldiers say the turnout for free drugs to treat diarrheal diseases, malaria, respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, and diabetes is always overwhelming.
Apart from free medical treatment, Somalis also enjoy free food handouts the soldiers share when they have plenty of provisions. Despite such increasing threats from al-Shabaab, Brigadier General Paul Lokech, commander of the Ugandan contingent in AMISOM sector 1, concludes that the people of Somalia are now enjoying relative peace and stability apart from a few isolated areas where the peacekeepers are stepping up their operations.