February 07, 2012
For the past two decades, Mogadishu was a lawless, bloody battleground controlled by warlords. The extremist al-Shabaab movement, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, entered the city five years ago and took over most of it in 2009, forcing many residents to find homes elsewhere in Somalia or abroad.
Al-Shabaab militants controlled over two-thirds of the capital, threatening to reach the presidential palace, until they were forced to retreat from the capital last August. On January 20th, Somali Transitional Federal Government and African Union Mission in Somalia forces announced they took control of al-Shabaab's last strongholds in the city.
Improved security conditions made it possible for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague to make historic visits to Mogadishu recently, and for the UN Political Office for Somalia to relocate to Mogadishu after being based in Nairobi for the past 17 years.
Residents of Mogadishu told Sabahi they feel safer with al-Shabaab fighters forced from the city and foreign diplomats beginning to return.
Noor Yousif, a resident of Mogadishu said life has slowly returned to normal in the capital city.
"Children and adults alike can gaze at the city's beautiful beaches and have started playing in the city's sports stadiums, which were, until very recently, military strongholds controlled by Islamist extremists," Yousif told Sabahi. "Internet cafes, nightclubs and bars have reopened and stay open until late at night. If anything, it points to considerable security progress in the capital Mogadishu."
Tahir Ahmed, 45, also said security conditions in Mogadishu have "markedly improved".
"A year ago, it was not possible to receive foreign delegations in the capital because explosive devices were going off everywhere," Ahmed said. "Now, things have changed and displaced persons are going back home and foreign delegations are flowing into the capital."
"When the militants were in the city, life would come to an end before sunset and rarely did anyone venture outside afterwards," he added. "Now, life is gradually coming back as night parks, bars and Internet cafés are open through the night."
Hassan Abdullah, 38, left Mogadishu when it was under al-Shabaab's control, but returned after the Somali government announced it had liberated the capital.
"My wife, my six children and I fled from the Wardhiigley district in central Mogadishu two years ago," he said. "We returned to the capital in October, a month after the government announced it had liberated Mogadishu and called on its [displaced] residents to return to their homes."
Abdullah, whose home is severely damaged, said, "I never imagined seeing my home in the state it is in. It has been almost completely destroyed by shelling from both sides. Also, the furniture inside has been looted and you can find bullet shells and unexploded ammunition everywhere."
"When we came back to the city, basic services such as water and electricity were non-existent and schools and shops were closed," he said. "When we came back to the city, our neighbourhood, which had been populated with residents, was empty and there were only a few returning families, as it was too soon to go back."
"With the passage of time, life has gradually come back, but our house is still in ruins and we are unable to rebuild it for the time being," Abdullah told Sabahi. "Nonetheless, a safe return is more precious to us than anything."
Somali youths playing football along Lido Beach, in the north-eastern part of the city, expressed relief that Mogadishu has been liberated.
"We feel more secure, which is why we decided to meet at Lido Beach to play ball," Mohammed Amin, 17, told Sabahi. "In the past, we could not play football here and you could not find any people here due to the security situation."
Hassan Adam, 15, said, "We feel a level of safety that allows us to go to the beach once a week and play ball with our friends. Before al-Shabaab left the city, it was not possible for us to meet here because the militants banned football. They are enemies of youth and football."
Improving conditions in Mogadishu also encouraged some members of the Somali diaspora to return and take part in commercial activity after spending years in exile.
"It was impossible for anybody to work in this area only months ago, when militants were still in control," said Hussain Abdul Rahman, 48, who returned from Canada last month and now owns an Internet café.
"The expulsion of al-Shabaab fighters from Mogadishu has given us the hope to return to our homeland and spur some commercial activity in the city," he told Sabahi. "Most members of the Somali diaspora have strong ties to their homeland and wish that the entire country could enjoy peace, tranquillity and safety so they can come back."
Muhi al-Deen Iman, who returned a month ago from London, told Sabahi that he and some of his friends decided to establish a small company specialising in real estate and the services sector.
Iman said the company's current projects are small, but he hopes it will expand and become a big name. "The real estate market in Somalia is currently lagging, but there is a huge demand for real estate companies and the private sector to take part in reconstruction and development efforts," he said.
Omar Mualim, a businessman, said, "There is a need for the well-trained Somali elite which left the country to come back and take part in rebuilding the country and transfer their skills to others. The Somali diaspora has played an important role in the relief efforts through sending aid to their countrymen who were victims. As for those returning home, they are bringing job opportunities, skills and expertise to the country."
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