NEWS 2007


No place to hide for the innocent



Publication Date: 4/9/2007

When I looked at my daughter’s eyes, I couldn’t find the bright glow that always warmed my heart. What I saw was fear. The usual sparkle and joy that shines deep inside Maria’s eye was missing, only a few weeks after she had celebrated her fourth birthday. 

I looked at her eyes and made a decision. I could not keep my family in Mogadishu. I had to get them out of a city where rockets were landing indiscriminately on residential buildings. The Ethiopians were using the heaviest artillery ever seen in this city of war. Intensive air strikes targeting the insurgent hide-outs were also taking a heavy civilian toll. 

In a few minutes I packed, taking only the most essential items, and headed out to the bush in search of peace, in search of a place without fear, a place where little Maria might regain the sparkle in her eyes. 

It was the second day of the fighting and all transport had ground to a halt. Moving around was hazardous because bullets and rockets launched from afar were whizzing all over. 

Temporary abode 

It was a perilous journey, but by using all kinds of transport, ranging from handcarts, donkeys and the light vans, popularly known as Homy, we managed to get out of Mogadishu into the surrounding wilderness. Our temporary abode was under a tree, a shelter shared by so many others who had also fled the terror of Mogadishu. 

The human suffering I witnessed on the way was unimaginable. The appalling condition of the people, the starving children, the desperation of the elderly and disabled, all in the scorching heat of the season. 

I couldn’t avoid asking myself: “Why do African leaders spend millions of dollars in war while their people suffer from hunger and disease?” 

Even when temporarily safe from bullets, life is still hazardous. Prices of basic commodities have skyrocketed. We are paying triple the normal price for food and fuel, which have become unaffordable for the ordinary citizens. Yet in such chaos, the profiteers thrive, using their connections to make money out of peoples’ pain and distress. 

When we arrived at bush, we unpacked under qurac tree, a thorny and hardy member of the acacia family. 

Under that tree, we found peace. The distant sound of mortars in the city could still reach us, piercing through the dry winds of the summer season. But at least we were secure in the knowledge that we were safe, that we were not in danger of a rocket crashing through the roof. 

But there was hardship. One immediately becomes aware of the shortage of water. There was only one well around, and it was under great strain from the heavy usage. To get a chance to draw water for your drinking, cooking or washing, meant spending a whole day jostling for space around the wall. 

And when done, you had to push through a milling crowd. 

Under the shade of our qurac, every available space had been taken by displaced families who had fled Mogadishu when the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) soldiers, backed by Ethiopian troops, clashed with insurgents resisting what they called an invasion. 

Around the qurac tree there are no latrines, no health facilities, no electricity and no means of communication. A few lucky people still have their mobile phones, but they will last only as long as the batteries hold out for there is no way to get a recharge. 

Of course, there are no computers and no access to the Internet. News from Mogadishu, and the outside world, comes from little transistor radios. A few enterprising people have set up stalls where small items, like batteries for the radios, are available. Business is flourishing in the bush. 

The biggest fear comes in the night. When darkness descends, you can look at the stars, but for the urban person, you are more likely to be distracted by the sounds of unknown creatures. 

There are moments of relief through. One time Maria asked me: “Dad, who is singing around?’’ I pricked my ears and finally made out a sound I had not heard before. I got frightened as it drew closer and louder, then came the palpable relief, and joy, when I discerned what it was. 

“Maria, it is the wind whistling over the thorny trees,” I told her. It certainly was not the sound of rockets whistling over our roof in Mogadishu. 

As we packed to move for the fourth time within a space of three days in the bush, Maria asked a question: “Dad are we moving to another qurac tree?” 

“No, dear,” I replied, “we are going back home. 

There was a hint of delight in Maria’s eyes. But she still remembered why we had left home our house. 

“Are they not falling any more” Maria asked. 

“Falling what, honey?” I asked her, feeling perplexed as I groped for my Somali stick. 

“The bullets,” she said. With tremendous sadness I realised what the war had done to the souls of the Somali children. 

I fumbled for a quick response. 

“No,” I said, “They are not falling any more.” 

I hoped I was right. I was relying on the unreliable ceasefire accord between the Ethiopians and Hawiye clan elders in Mogadishu. 

It was not long after we returned that I was proved wrong. The ceasefire hit a snag when the defence vice-minister of the Transitional Government, Mr Salat Ali Jelle, dismissed the truce as null and void, vowing that the war would go on till all those militias he claimed were linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist organisation, were cleared from the city. 

So a new wave of flight has started. My neighbour, an 80-year-old woman, had tears rolling down her cheeks when she heard the news on the radio. 

“Why is this war never coming to an end?” she asked herself and then came up with the rhetorical response: “Have sanity, power of reasoning and judgement been wiped out from the minds of Somali people?” 

A new plan is now brewing in my mind; to leave the city before all hell breaks lose. Unfortunately, the Somalia border with Kenya is closed. 

Starving children 

People who fled in that direction are already camped at the border town of Dhobley, hungry, ravenous and crying out for mercy, but moving no hearts in the Kenya Government officials, just the terse “go back”. 

They might as well be knocking on soundproof doors with the wails and screams of starving children. 

It is unsafe and dangerous to try and make an illegal crossing as the heavy border patrols show no mercy, they could shoot you down like a gazelle 

So at the moment my worry is: Where shall I flee? Where shall I find safety and security for my family?