A Return to Mogadishu

Abdi Latif Dahir

The plane came to land practically in the middle of nowhere. The runway was dilapidated. The bushes around were thick. The once-calm atmosphere inside the cabin quickly turned chaotic. Everyone was on their feet, frantically scrambling about for their luggage. We got off last, part of a column of grim-faced  passengers, eager to escape the  claustrophobic contraption that  had delivered us to Somalia.

The first time I flew into Mogadishu was on September 10, 1997. I was nine and it was the height of the civil war. One cool morning, my mother upped with me and my seven young siblings and moved us out of our home in Nairobi. It was my mother’s decision and she never tried to romanticise it to us. No fuss. No drama. No wahala, as they say in Nigeria, just a sense of excitement and adventure at something new.

Years later, my mum would call it her destination of choice “for a new life”, one that would give us “a flood of experiences that would shape our lives.” Living in Mogadishu, I came to know, was like living in a theatrical pregnant pause: you got the feeling that something was round the corner, that the pause would soon bring forth something dramatic. I knew that the eerie silence was only temporary, the calm before the storm. And soon enough, the thud of the heavy guns would not disappoint.

A green line separated the city’s north from its south. We lived in the south, in Hodan, a once-posh neighbourhood that had now dropped such pretensions. I went to school in the north, where every morning a crippled man with bloodshot eyes and an AK-47 waved us across the green line to walk to school in the Boondheere district. As we walked past him, thanking him for his “generosity”, he would admonish us to “keep learning. Never carry the gun, you are good boys and girls.”

On September 10, 2012, exactly 15 years from the day we moved to Mogadishu, a former lecturer was elected as Somalia’s president. It was the first election held in the morning country in more than a crippled two decades.

In the intervening years, Mogadishu has transformed. It is no longer the wretched capital of the world that i grew up in. The warlords are out  and Al-Shabaab is on the run.  It is Mogadishu’s turn in the limelight buzzing with activity, bustling with life bubbling with expatriates. Like a fair lady being courted by eager men, Mogadishu gives you a nonchalant, coquettish smile knowing well that you want to woo her.

On Mogadishu’s main street, Mecca al-Mukarramah, lonely edifices such as parliament and the national theatre stand like proud sentries, stark reminders of 20 eventful years. The message is not lost on the countless Somalis, both home and abroad, whose newfound purpose is to return this city to its old glory: a touch of Havana, a tinge of Casablanca – amid a whiff of uncertainty. .

Abdi Latif Dahir is a Somali journalist based in Nairobi and fellow at United Press International

Source:The Africa Report