In recent weeks, many news articles and blog posts have been circling around about a transformation taking place in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.
Just to explain my interest and awareness of these articles: I have started working for the Somali Relief and Development Forum (SRDF) – an umbrella organisation representing seven Somali-led NGOs based and registered in the UK. SRDF does all the campaigns, fundraising, advocacy and awareness in the UK and our member organisations deliver projects on the ground, such as distributing food packages, building groundwater wells and setting up stable and secure shelters for the country’s displaced people.
I’m only in my fourth week of the job, so I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Somalia, but my understanding of its people, its culture and its current situation is certainly better than it was… and I’m learning every day. Needless to say, the notion of a ‘new’ Mogadishu certainly had me interested.
This article in The Economist, tells the tale of vendors along the capital’s 21 October Avenue, and how they no longer worry about staying open after dark. Ethiopian reggae plays out on street corners and groups of young men sway along to Somali pop music booming out of electronics shops near Bakara market.
Duncan Woodside, reporting for France 24, says that many Somalis who fled the violence years ago are now returning to their home country to make investments and reclaim family property bought before the civil war.
With the recent elections and the creation of a new parliament, change is certainly coming to Somalia. In this video, Professor Ahmed Samatar, a prominent Somali writer and professor, talks about his return to Mogadishu and his vision for the capital, saying that a revival of civic life is taking place, but of course, there is still a long way to go. You only have to read this blog post by Mary Harper, Africa Editor for BBC World Service, to realise that there are still millions of people living in makeshift shelters, right in the middle of the city where this so-called transformation is taking place. Harper reports that in the grounds of Mogadishu’s Catholic Cathedral, which has been partly destroyed itself, exists a small community of tattered shelters, made out of sticks, rope, sheets of plastic, cloth and cardboard and “quite a lot of hope”.
Stable and secure shelter is by no means the only concern for Somalis. Despite an “exceptional” crop this year, the Famine Early Warning Systems network estimates that more than 2 million Somalis will experience an acute food shortage crisis between now and the end of the year. What’s more, UNICEF states that 65% of Somalis still do not have access to a clean and safe water source.
And as for Mogadishu, it is still not 100% safe, especially not for Westerners. Both Mary Harper and the reporter for The Economist, known only as Baobab, were accompanied by bodyguards, some of them heavily armed.
A sense of optimism is certainly growing in Mogadishu, and things are slowly improving, but this small slice of good news must not allow us to forget that millions of Somalis are still in crisis, as they have been for decades.
Featured image courtesy of ENOUGH Project