Saturday, June 8, 2013

Good old Mogadishu is open for business

By Guled Mohamed
June 8 2013 - Today, I had a sumptuous lunch of marinated fish, rice and a glass of really refreshing grape fruit at Liido beach in Mogadishu's pristine white sandy beaches together with two Somali friends and a foreign colleague who was visiting Mogadishu for the first time.

As we drove towards Lido beach, my colleague could not believe how the old central business district (CBD) of Mogadishu was destroyed. He was so sympathetic and hysterical that he almost shed a tear. However, the beauty that lay in his eyes when we finally arrived at Lido beach wiped out the damage and destruction he had empathized about a few minutes ago when he saw the ghost city of Mogadishu.

In reality, Liido beach is actually behind the ruins and rubles of a that ghost city that once used to be Mogadishu's upmarket market city.

I have always been amazed by my people's audacity and you can never argue about their resilience either. Surviving 20 years of anarchy after anarchy is not a walk in the park. The Somalis have literally fought each other using anything and everything they laid their hands on. As a matter of fact, Somalis were so good at modifying weapons to the point that they mounted anti-aircraft missiles and machine guns on pickup trucks famously known as technical. The rest is history as the saying goes.

What strikes you as soon as you arrive these days in Mogadishu is the huge construction boom ongoing almost across the seaside Somali city as well as the traffic jams in the main streets. As if that is not all, emergence of street lights, road works and other ongoing rehabilitation works coupled with the generally vigor and vitality of the Somalis as they go about building their shuttered lives and their bombed out capital city is simply encouraging if not mesmerizing.

Mogadishu is officially open for business. The world knows this and so is the United Nations as well as western powers.

Turkey has literally moved there as the sight of Turkish agencies and professional working in Mogadishu has suddenly risen so fast since Turkish Prime Minister Tayep Erdogan become the first foreign leader to visit Mogadishu after over 20 years of war, death and destruction.

His visit seems to have opened the doors for Somalia and since then businesses have spurred and the local economy is slowly emerging from its deathbed thanks to the foreign investment and goodwill pouring into Mogadishu.

As if the rest of the western world were envious of the Turkish presence in Mogadishu. Suddenly, almost every other country that matters in this world started appointing ambassadors and envoys to Somalia and even went to the point of recognizing the Somali government for the first time since the ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

The UN did not want to miss out too, it has just re-branded itself from the small-scale United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) to a new, bigger and better United Nations Mission in Somalia or UNSOM headed by a former British diplomat.

For the first time in so many years there are daily fully booked flights to Mogadishu from Nairobi including a Turkish airline flight that plies Mogadishu to Istanbul route via Dubai. The number of African troops contributing countries has also suddenly grown initially from just 2 to 5.

Everything in Somalia seems to be growing these days, including its unrecognized currency the Somali shilling which has suddenly appreciated against the US dollar from 33,000 per dollar down to almost halfway at 18,000.

Suddenly life in Mogadishu is never the same again and residents have fast adapted to that reality. Many are turning their houses into guest houses and lodgings to accommodate and benefit from the huge influx of people jetting into Mogadishu. Somalis in the diaspora have literally moved back home and are leading in the reconstruction and rebuilding of their war-torn country.

So what's the fuss about Somalia and why has the world suddenly fell in love with this barren country? A young porter at the Aden Ade International airport in Mogadishu summed up everything for me as we chewed the evening away.

"We have of oil, uranium, a very fertile land for agriculture, Africa's longest coastline with so much fish that is enough for everyone, the most camels in the world as well as our geographical location is so strategic that it is closer for a ship to sail through us to go to Europe and the Americas from Australia and southern Asia. In which country can you get all that? And why do you think we fought?" he sarcastically asked.

I wish I knew the answer.

Do you know? Please tell us?