Aug 17th 2007
Even hope is in short supply as violence flares in Mogadishu
WHO was behind the murder in the past week of two prominent journalists in Mogadishu, Somalia’s wretched capital city? Ali Imam Sharmake, the director of the country’s respected HornAfrik Radio, was killed while returning home from the funeral of a colleague, Mahad Ahmed Elmi, head of the city’s Capital Voice Radio. Mr Elmi, also a popular presenter, had been shot dead earlier the same day by unknown attackers. Mr Sharmake's jeep was blown up by a remote-controlled landmine—the cowardly assailants watching from a nearby alley. The double killing was a miserable reminder in the rubble-strewn city of how far Somalia has to travel if it is ever to become a normal country.
Both men had been defiant in the face of threats, providing balanced reporting on the tense local situation. The Somali government said the killings were “obviously” the work of Islamist insurgents and quickly picked up two men it says were responsible. The suspects were also accused of trying to murder a Reuters correspondent. Were Islamists behind it all? The device that shredded Mr Sharmake was apparently of a type used by Islamist fighters in the city, but no one really knows. Life in Somalia, for journalists and other civilians alike, remains perilous and miserable.
The killings in Mogadishu are not going away. This week alone at least 30 people have been murdered and 60 seriously injured, most of them civilians. In one incident a grenade was thrown at police from a crowd. In the chaos that followed somebody, perhaps a policeman, let fly with a gun and several others were killed or injured. Elsewhere there were also bombings, mortars, attempted suicide attacks and sniper fire.
Life grinds on, but insecurity keeps down an already feeble economy. Unlike Iraq, Somalia has no oil revenues (although some, including Chinese firms, are rumoured now to be looking) or Pentagon job schemes to keep poverty at bay. Some 1.5m Somalis, about 20% of the population, are thought to need humanitarian aid. An estimated 3,000 civilians flee Mogadishu each week, most of them to disease-ridden camps at the edge of the city. The World Food Programme says that since June insecurity has made proper distributions of food impossible. Even the sea is unsafe: some food shipments have been intercepted by pirates.
Mogadishu, in any case, remains too dangerous for non-Somalis to visit. So most outsiders with an interest in helping the country do their talking in Nairobi, the capital of next-door Kenya. The Somali government wants to create a Green Zone for foreign visitors, but that would not be likely to have much impact given the world’s indifference. America backed Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia in December, in order to bring down an Islamist group that had control of Mogadishu and much of the south of the country. The Americans have promised Somalia more cash and appointed a new envoy, based in Nairobi. But this seems to be little more than window-dressing. America’s main interest is not in creating regional stability but in catching a few suspected al-Qaeda operatives, who may or may not be in Somalia.
America is not alone in its clumsiness. A report issued this week by Human Rights Watch, an NGO, blamed the Somali government and Ethiopia for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in fighting in Mogadishu earlier this year. The shelling of neighbourhoods, occasionally with phosphorous bombs, and summary executions of civilians, caused 400,000 people to flee the city. Oddly, the report made little of the Islamist insurgents, whose fighters took cover in the neighbourhoods. Ethiopia, in particular, was bitter in its denial of the report's findings, calling it “factually and morally repugnant”.
But Ethiopia was meant to be gone from Somalia in February, to be replaced with peacekeepers from the African Union. The fact that it is still the main occupying force reflects the listlessness of the AU operation. So far, of 8,000 peacekeepers promised by the AU only 1,600 Ugandan troops have arrived. Meanwhile, the Islamist insurgents are evidently as determined as ever, remaining a threat to Somalis and, perhaps, to their neighbours as well.