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Hoping for Better Times in Mogadishu
"Stabilising the city is the number-one priority," Mahmud Hassan Ali, mayor of Mogadishu, said on Tuesday. "First, I want to establish security in the city and second, I will focus on health and education."
However, like almost every other issue in the lawless country, the plan has been bogged down by lack of financial and logistical resources.
"There is a problem of essential equipment such as radio communication and walky-talkies, transportation and a salary," the mayor told IRIN in Mogadishu. "In the long run, I plan to collect taxes from the residents of the city to realise this plan. But for now, I need assistance to reopen the police stations."
The taxes, when they are eventually collected, would also support the reopening of 35 government schools in the city, he added.
There is still a long way to go. "At the moment, I do not receive aid from any international organisation," Ali said. "But I admire the courage of some Mogadishu residents who clean the streets under a United Nations World Food Programme food-for-work initiative."
Ali said he was expecting similar enthusiasm when government ministries move from Baidoa and settle down to work in Mogadishu within six months. "Every ministry needs 200 to 300 people," he said.
Signs of life
A few of the buildings have been painted white and stand out in the scorching sun; others, however, bear the marks of mortar attacks, including the headquarters of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which has a hole in one side, no water and no electricity.
"Some life is returning," AMISOM spokesman Capt Paddy Ankunda said.
Many ordinary Somalis disagree, pointing to the daily barrages of gunfire and the ensuing confusion as desperate people run around in search of safer hiding places.
They point out that insurgents have become bolder ever since the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) took over Mogadishu in December, after the Union of Islamic Courts was routed by a combined force of Somalis and Ethiopians. Each day, the insurgents have killed people and on Tuesday, dragged bodies of dead soldiers on the streets, after a round of attacks on government targets.
"It is no longer a hit-and-run thing but two groups of fighters facing each other," a local resident said. Because of the fighting, he added, many families were trying to get out of the city.
"It is a very confused situation," he explained. "People are wandering from one area to another hoping that it will be safer." According to UN humanitarian agencies working in Somalia, escalating violence and insecurity in Mogadishu forced at least 40,000 civilians to flee the city in February.
The insecurity has also affected the ability of humanitarian organisations to respond to emergencies and emerging needs. "The insecurity has restricted mobility and access and this undermines efforts to re-engage at a level that would be a commensurate response to humanitarian needs," the agencies said.
According to aid workers, the needs are huge given that Somalia has been without an effective government for 16 years and witnessed conflict and drought that have displaced millions of people.
Abdu Omar Ahmed, a waiter at the Global Hotel, in the north of the city, said it was still the same story of good and bad times. Having worked at the hotel for seven years, he was happy it now had a variety of music to play - from Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda - at its weekly two-hour dance.
"Every Sunday, people come here to dance," he said.
The hotel is one of the best buildings in the city and the road that leads to it has several roadblocks manned by AMISOM troops. Apart from decent food, the hotel prides itself as a symbol of the desire by Somalis for peace - on the walls are paintings of birds of peace.
Despite the reservations of ordinary Somalis, AU peacekeepers are upbeat that security can improve soon.
"We expected a lot of hostility but surprisingly it has not been that hostile," Ankunda said, adding that a week ago, residents tipped off the AU forces about a hidden cache of weapons. "People were waving to us," he said.
Gatyanga Viva, a soldier in the second battalion of Ugandan troops, said that apart from the humid climate, which meant they had to drink four litres of water a day, his other problem was understanding the Somali language.
"We are currently ensuring security of vital installations of TFG institutions like the presidential palace, port and airport," Ankunda said. "The next move will be moving out and patrolling the city."
Analysts say it is too early to celebrate, arguing that how the situation unfolds will depend on how the transitional government handles the post-Islamist situation, especially the planned two-month reconciliation conference in April.
"Many Somalis will view the AU troops as a potentially hostile force aligned with the transitional government," an analyst said. "The international actors must pressure the transitional government to engage in genuine political reconciliation, leading to power-sharing and a comprehensive ceasefire."
Somalis such as Ahmed, however, remain optimistic - a view strongly endorsed by the interim President, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.
"My fundamental belief in bringing Somalia to normal is unshaken as ever," the president told reporters at his Villa Somalia palace on Tuesday, after meeting an AU delegation. "This will be happening in less time than the mandate of AMISOM, six months."
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]
Source: UN Integrated Regional Information Networks