17 February, 2005
against glorified guns
The latest book by
world renowned Somali author Nuruddin Farah is a gripping account
of the dangers and insanity of life in Mogadishu after 14 years of
Farah lives in exile
in Cape Town
Links, which is being
published in the UK next week, is the story of Jeebleh, a Somali who
returns to Mogadishu for the first time after living in the United
States for 20 years.
He finds a city destroyed
by civil war, in the grip of collective madness, where normal human
compassion is only extended to members of the same clan.
Walking the streets, he
finds a large crowd looking at a man who has collapsed after having an
"Why do you need to
know his clan family before you help him? You make me sick, all of you,"
Despite his gloomy account
of life in the Somali capital, Mr Farah told the BBC News website that
Somalia's exiled government should return to Mogadishu as soon as
possible and not wait for foreign peacekeepers.
"Many of them have
not been back for a long time. It's a lot easier place than many
assume," he said.
Hope and death
Like Jeebleh and the
government, Mr Farah lives in exile but he goes back twice a year and
says he feels safer in Mogadishu than in Nairobi - where the
government is based - or Johannesburg.
Mogadishu is in ruins -
looters tried to steal this oil drum
He says that as a Somali,
he understands the "code" to survive in Mogadishu, which
would also hold for the government.
If there is fighting, you
just avoid that area, he says. "You can be hit by a stray bullet
but that could also happen in New York."
In the novel, Jeebleh
returns home for two main reasons - to rebury his mother, who died
while he was in the US, and because Raasta, the daughter of a close
friend, has been kidnapped.
As you would expect in a
story about Mogadishu, which remains divided between several rival
warlords and their gunmen, death is a constant theme.
"[A] Somalia proverb
has it that the shoes of a dead man are more useful than he is,"
His mission is to let his
mother rest in peace - which has been denied to so many victims of
Somalia's 14-year civil war.
of the gun in the hands of an African peacekeeper is not what we need
now" ( Nuruddin Farah )
Jeebleh is shocked to see
so many vultures circling for freshly-killed bodies.
In the midst of all the
death and destruction, Raasta has a mysterious ability to bring calm
and tranquillity to those around her and has built up quite a
following among the many Somali refugees who have flocked to the
This young girl symbolises
Somalia's hopes for a peaceful future and the novel ends with
Jeebleh's dramatic attempt to recover her from the gunmen's clutches.
Despite his disappointment
about the government's reluctance to go home without the backing of
peacekeepers, Mr Farah says he remains optimistic.
He said the huge, cheering
crowds who turned out to welcome the first government delegation to
visit Mogadishu shows the goodwill of the Somali people towards
President Abdullahi Yusuf's team.
"Some people lack the
courage or the conviction that they can go back and rebuild Somalia.
If they don't, it would be a tragedy for Somalia," he said.
Links has many references
to the disastrous US intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s, which
is remembered in the west for the image of US troops being dragged
through the streets of Mogadishu by gunmen.
But Mr Farah spells out
why many Somalis celebrated when the US troops left, even though they
had arrived as saviours, safeguarding food aid deliveries during a
overwhelming force in such an indiscriminate fashion and lots of
innocent Somalis died," says Raasta's mother, Shanta.
everything in black and white, had no understanding of and no respect
for other cultures. They were also let down by their intelligence
services," says Seamus, an Irishman who flees Belfast for
Many Somalis back Mr
Farah's opposition to foreign troops
The book was written
before the invasion of Iraq and Mr Farah says that many of the
problems the US troops encountered there could have been avoided if
the lessons had been learnt from their experience in Somalia.
He says that many of
Somalia's current problems stem from the militarization of Mogadishu
during the US intervention.
"The glorification of
the gun in the hands of an African peacekeeper is not what we need now,"
he says. "What we need is for Mogadishu to be emptied of
Mr Farah says that any
money raised for peacekeepers would be far better spent on rebuilding
Somalia's shattered schools and hospitals.