The year 2007 was perhaps the harshest time to the millions of Somalis particularly those in Mogadishu who were already suffering from 16 years of unremitting chaos resulted by the civil war. In that year, the humanitarian crisis in Somalia has reached on a scale which was not seen since the early 1990s.
For those of you, who might not remember the context and the crisis in the country at that time, let me give you a glimpse overview. In late 2006, the Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia under the pretext of protecting its own borders from the growing Islamic movements in Somalia, among them Islamic Courts Union (ICU) who controlled the capital city and much of the southern coastal parts of the country. The outbreak of the battel begun on 20th December 2006 in Baidoa, the fourth largest town in Somalia located about 243km West Mogadishu. On 29th December after series of deadly fighting the Ethiopian troops together with security forces of the transitional federal government managed to enter Mogadishu. For the coalition forces, it was victory but for the ICU along with their radical groups, it was just beginning of the battle.
On March 21st 2007, the deadliest war since the fall of the former central government has erupted in Mogadishu forcing the ICU’s ouster in late 2007. According to report released by Human Rights Watch the death toll of civilians has reached more than 16,000 while more than 29,000 were wounded. Around 1.9 million were forced to flee from their homes in Mogadishu. And under its 113-page report, “Shell-Shocked: Civilians Under Siege in Mogadishu,” the Human Rights Watch accused both sides of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
War without mercy
In the morning, it was the mortar shells landing in the nearby houses with it heavy sound and shrapnel, in the afternoon and evenings, it was the other heavy missile I can’t recall its exact term but all I know is that Somalis gave it a new name “fooriye” loosely translated into “the whistler” flying over the city then shattering on civilian populated areas. Yes, they gave it that name because its whistle was heard across the city once it is fired from the base. We used to count 10 to 15 second and then BOOMB! One time the target was the other side of the city, another time, it was on us. It was shocking and terrifying moment. Only those who lived with those traumatic moments could remember. In those days, the first thing people ask when they see you was “Are you still alive?” or more kindly “haven’t you left the country?”
Those were the darkest days for many including myself who were caught up in the crisis, young and old, the maimed and the mute, women and children, all were effected in one way or another. Anyone who survived from that harrowing period may have a long list of friends, loved ones and close family members who are no longer with them today. The news of death often came in both messages which you have to read over and over to believe it, as well as through phone calls you never wanted to pick up.
Unfortunately, 2007 was the year I graduated from high school and like any other student in Mogadishu this meant there was zero-chance of pursuing higher education in Mogadishu, so I ended up fleeing from one neighborhood to another to escape the war. We were just struggling with our survival strategies; education was not even part of the discussion. Most of my friends including schoolmates either left the country or died trying to leave the country through the dangerous journey known as (Tahriib). I chose to stay.
However, against all odds, I and other friends have started university in 2008 while the battle was still raging on. One day you go to class, next day you stay at home because there was deadly clashes on the road. First day of the university, they gave us some risk mitigation advises and instructions, on the second day, one of the lecturers whom I met during break time was killed after the peacekeeping forces fired bullets on a civilian bus indiscriminately, he was just 31 years old.
On January 2009, the Ethiopian troops withdrew from the country ending their two years invasion claiming to have eliminated the threat of the insurgences even though much of the country remained in the hands of even more extreme insurgences. The withdrawal was widely welcomed with nationwide celebrations across the country. On the same year, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed former leader of the ICU was elected as the new president in the parliamentary elections held in Djbouti.
In 2011, Alshabab lost key towns and regions to the government and the African Union peacekeepers. The country was hit by devastating famine which claimed lives of 260,000 while forcing millions, who were already uprooted by conflict, to be displaced once again. This was followed by the arrival of many foreign countries including Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa, Iran all of them offering humanitarian assistance. The Turkish have even gone too far that their Prime Minister Rajep Dayip Erdogan (currently president) visited in Mogadishu and even met with the affected people in person at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. He was the first non-African head of state to visit Mogadishu for more twenty years.
2012: The beginning of new Somalia
2012 was a year like no other, the first formal parliamentarian and presidential elections were held in Mogadishu marking another ground-breaking landmark since 1967 general elections. Members of the parliament elected academic and civic activist Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as president over the incumbent Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
From 2012 to 2017 there was a long list of the first thing, For the first time, Somali diaspora have started returning home in flocks, many hotels and beach restaurants hotels were opened in the city. Turkish Airline became the first international carrier begun a twice in a week flight to Mogadishu. The first ever cash withdrawal ATM machine was installed in hotels and bank offices in Mogadishu. The first successful book fair event was launched in 2015 in Mogadishu. The first and the biggest public peace garden was reopened which receives thousands of visitors every week. And in June 2016 Turkish government has opened it largest embassy compound in Mogadishu.
The IGAD Summit in Mogadishu
Somali Federal Government hosted The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit for the first time in 30 years since the regional bloc was formed in 1986 marking another ground-breaking come back of Somalia in the international arena. The delegates included head of states from 4 countries including Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
2017 and beyond
Out of support and respect, former Prime Minster and prominent nationalist Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was elected as Somalia’s president in February 8th elections held in Mogadishu. Thousands of Somalis took the streets in Mogadishu and other cities of the country shortly after the result was announced. Cheering Somali diaspora and refugees around the world celebrated too.
Lastly, I believe we came from very far to reach where we are today in the last 10 years and I strongly believe we can achieve other successful milestones in the next 10 years. I know that there is much more work to do to continue the journey ahead but I see brighter future in the horizon. I sometime sit alone and compare the year 2007 with 2017 and I can’t imagine the enormous change we have made as a sociality and as a nation. I encourage and call for all Somalis both at home and abroad to play a role in rebuilding this nation even if it small. This is where we all belong, we all want our loved ones in oversees to come back and enjoy the weather, the food, and most importantly the Afro-Arabian cultural. We want no more death news in the Mediterranean Sea, we have lost too many of our talented and promising youngsters. We want peace at home, we want peace in our region and in the world at large.
Abdifatah Hassan Ali is a writer, Blogger and Human Rights Activist
He can be reached at Abdifatah2020@gmail.com(Twitter): He tweets as @IamAbdi5
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ummadda Media