Young celebrate freedom in a city where fear is still lurking
Rob Crilly, The Times, January 3, 2007
There was not a hijab or niqab in sight as clubbers at the Global Dance Hall worked up a sweat to gangsta rap and Kenyan hip-hop. Instead, women shook their hair and stole glances at the men lining the wall.
Quite what Mogadishu’s Union of Islamic Courts would have made of the occasional flash of ankle beneath the long dresses is anyone’s guess. But no one cared as they celebrated their new freedom.
For six months this liberal northern corner of Somalia’s capital had been under the rule of one of the city’s most conservative Sharia courts. Cinemas were shut and music had to be played discreetly. “Even booty [flirting] was banned,” said Suad, 20, giggling before she rushed back to the dancefloor. Little more than a week ago the city was under attack from Ethiopian warplanes.
Today Mogadishu is in the hands of the country’s two-year-old interim Government. As their Prime Minister announced the end of engagements, the young celebrated their freedom.
“People were scared, isolated before,” said Jamilla, a human-rights worker. “I would not be able to speak to you as a woman to a man.”
But there is a price. The dark city outside the Global is silent. People are kept at home not by a curfew, but by fear. From time to time a lone 4x4 speeds through the streets, AK47 muzzles bristling from the windows.
The courts brought security to a city riddled by bullets and anarchy for 15 years since the collapse of Siad Barre’s brutal regime. His was the last government to wield any authority over a country where blood feuds date back generations. Memories of Mogadishu’s warlords remain fresh. They extracted hundreds of thousands of dollars at checkpoints and from protection rackets. Carjackings and shootings were common before Sharia courts took over. The guns have already returned to Bakaara Market. Arabey Ma’Alim Abdulle has the job of trying to co-ordinate security in the bazaar. “When the courts were here it was like the days of Siad Barre, when the security guard carried a torch and a watchman’s stick. That’s what I carried,” he said. As the Islamists fled, he dug out his AK47.
Ali Mohamed Gedi, the Prime Minister, has ordered the surrender of all guns in private hands. Yesterday he said the remaining Islamists had been driven from their stronghold and were on the run.
Ethiopia has been the Government’s strongest supporter since the faltering administration took up position in Baidoa. They saw it as the best hope for preventing an Islamic state developing on their doorstep.
There was little sign of the Ethiopian war machine yesterday, apart from tank tracks around the old US embassy. Only two tanks stood guard at the airport and a contingent of troops remained at the port.
At the Global, Mustafa Haji Abdullahi, 22, said: “All it would take is for one Ethiopian soldier to make a mistake, and it is all over. We would be in for another 16 years of mayhem.”