Friday, July 30, 2010

The Mogadishu you never hear about

By Guled Mohamed

People visiting the Somali capital Mogadishu for the first time are being fallaciously petrified that as soon as they step out of the plane at the city's international airport they should expect to be greeted by a mortar shell or sniper fire.

I sometimes also get similar sentiments thrown my way in spite of living and working in Mogadishu even under worse conditions than the present flare-ups. Every other time I am about to travel to Mogadishu my friends and family in Kenya give me that weird look as if to say: Do you really have to go there?

If you have never been to Mogadishu you will probably be thinking in the same lines, that the Somali capital has nothing to offer a part from the violence that we are constantly reminded of by the blinking breaking news on our television sets or in our local newspapers.

But, there is an image of Mogadishu that is rarely told by the media. You will hardly hear of any positive development except war and ruins which have unfortunately became synonymous with the city and the country of Somalia.

The following are just but a few of the positive things that you should expect if you ever visit this white-washed seaside city that is much-talked about albeit negatively.

The city of Mogadishu enjoys the services of some consulates or embassies belonging to several African and Arab countries which give visas to Somalis wishing to travel mainly for medical and educational reasons.

There is a thriving international airport called Aden Ade International airport renamed after Somalia's first president who recently died and who also went into history books as the first ever African president to peacefully relinquish power after loosing an election.

Built by the Italians in the late 50s, the 300o meter long facility is adjacent to the sky-blue Indian Ocean and just like any major airport has a waiting lounge, immigration services, air traffic controllers, fire fighters, baggage system even though it’s sometimes chaotic.

There is even a VIP lounge where if you happen to be a Very Important Person you should expect to be served with a hot cup of cappuccino, tea, a cold coca cola or bottled water both of which have been manufactured in Mogadishu.

Along the same coastline, you will find a 24 hour functioning seaport with the stunning view of the Somalia coastline where ships dock day and night bringing in almost everything from food, building material to vehicles while 90 percent of all humanitarian suppliers also come through the same port.

Back to our city guide, once you leave the airport, you will find the metropolis of Mogadishu waiting for you.

As you drive or walk out of the airport, you will see the imposing city of Mogadishu. You can afford to relax in the neighbourhoods around the airport because its controlled by the interim government, its relative peace has added some vibrancy and life compared to the northern districts controlled by extremist groups like the notorious Al-Shabab.

Generally, the further you go from the airport the less people you will see. This is simply because these areas enjoy relative peace and have social amenities like hospitals, schools that are operational compared to the opposition controlled areas further in the north where their strict application of Shariah law has forced many residents to flee.

As you leave the airport you will also see long telephone masts and huge dishes mounted on top of buildings belonging to the various multimillion dollar telecommunication companies that offer one of the cheapest tariffs in sub-Saharan Africa as they help connect the people and drive Somalia’s economy at very cheaper rates of less than half a US cent per minute for calls to anywhere in the world.

Local Mogadishu landline calls are free of charge! Yes its absolutely free, while local mobile to mobile calls are also as lows as 10 US cent compared to your phone network. The companies who have made it possible for the Somali people to enjoy such low cost calls are namely Hormud, Telkom, Nation link and Somafone.

You will also find running tap water and 24 hours electricity also provided by other similar private entrepreneurs at nominal prices. There is a Coca-Cola plant in Mogadishu as well as many other light industries that manufacture other household essentials.

These huge investments have all been overshadowed by the fighting in Somalia to paint a lawless country that has nothing to offer except war and destruction. As you might probably know by now, this is not the entire truth, as these privately run companies employ tens of thousands of people and continue to defy anarchy to help create jobs in Somalia as well as restore the country’s dented image that is badly needed if the country is to attract any any foreign investements.

“Mogadishu has been painted as the world’s most dangerous city. If this was the truth would we still be a live or would the huge investments prosper? The answer is No. We know there are some little security problems but that cannot stop us from living. We have to rebuild our country,” Businessman Mustafa Sheikh who operates a textile shop in Bakara market said.

The main seaport is one of the busiest ports in the region and a major lifeline to the big-time businessmen importing electronics, state of the art vehicles, designer clothes and perfumes from Europe, the Far East and the Middle East.

“Can you believe I saw a 2010 latest Toyota Land cruiser LX in Mogadishu? This latest model is hardly available in many African cities. The owner told me he bought it straight from Japan. Before coming to Somalia I was made to believe that I will be dead as soon as I step out of the plane. I just can’t believe it was all hype,” said a foreigner who works in Mogadishu and who did not wish to be named.

The plenty of sunshine and the picturesque image created by the beautiful sight of the sky-blue Indian Ocean joining the bright red sand dunes and the stretching white beaches surely qualify to be among the world’s best spectacular tourist attractions.

During one of my recent interviews with the African Union peacekeepers or AMISOM marine unit near the airport at a bay surrounded by huge coral reefs in the shores of the Indian Ocean, my guide Captain Chris Magezi, the Ugandan Peacekeepers Spokesman in Somalia could not hide his admiration of the serene view.

“This place is really beautiful. Even during the war it is still beautiful. If there was no war it would have been paradise,” Magezi said as we drove past a stunning view of the sea as huge tides pounded the rocky reefs to send a cloud of water droplets high in the sky.

In terms of higher education, the city has over 10 universities. The Mogadishu University was recently ranked ahead of other established institutions in Africa.

If you are fond of fruits like me, then the city to be is Mogadishu. Somalia is generally known for its sweet grape fruits, mangoes, papayas, sweet melon and other citrus fruits.

Mogadishu gets its fruits and vegetable suppliers from a small but agriculturally rich town called Afgoye some 30 km west of the city along the shores of river Shabelle.

Since the Somali people are pastoralists there is also a constant supply of fresh goat, cow, sheep and camel meat and milk.

The huge sea provides the city with lots of fresh fish including the rare yellow fin tuna as well as other marine life depleted in most parts of the world but which are in plenty in the rich Somali waters that have attracted international illigal fish hunters to pray in the unpoliced waters.

“If I were in a position to live in Mogadishu I would never have thought twice. I have worked in so many capital cities in the world. But nothing is comparable to Mogadishu where life is so cheap, the people are so friendly and the food is just so sweat,” an Arab diplomat in Mogadishu once told me before his term ended.