US & World

Many Struggle To Survive In Somalia's Capital

A view of the strategic junction in town, known as
A view of the strategic junction in town, known as "Kilometer 4." While Mogadishu is very dangerous, bullets aren't flying all the time, and when things are calm people are often out and about shopping and chatting.
Frank Langfitt/NPR

After two decades of civil war in Somalia, Mogadishu remains one of the world's most dangerous cities. But every morning, hundreds of thousands of people wake up there and somehow make it through another day.

Part two of a four-part series.

After two decades of civil war, the Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, remains one of the world's most dangerous cities.

More than a hundred people died in fighting just last week, according to officials.

But every morning, hundreds of thousands of people wake up there and somehow make it through another day.

High school economics teacher Abdifatah Ali Hassan lives on the front lines in Mogadishu. Ali Hassan sleeps in his shoes. Given the location of his home, he has to — because mortars hit his neighborhood all the time.

"We are ready to run. All our things are ready. I and my shoes are sleeping together," says Ali Hassan, who lives with his parents.

After the first mortar hits, Ali Hassan races through the dark to the nearest shelter, a concrete house.

Mortars aren't his only problem. Another is shake-downs. Mogadishu is mostly lawless.

Over the last four months, Ali Hassan says clan militias in his neighborhood have robbed him of $700. That's more than half his annual salary as a teacher.

"I hate being robbed but we cause some of the problem ourselves," he says. "These militias are from the same clan we belong to! So it's a problem created by the community."

Somalia's weak, transitional government provides almost no services.

Fatima Abdi Ali has lived without running water for more than two decades. She lights her apartment with kerosene lamps, because she can't afford electricity.

Ali relies on the $200 her son sends her each month from South Africa — and the small profit she makes buying and reselling honey from a bee farm outside of town. But to get to the bee farm, she must take a mini-bus through a check point controlled by Islamist rebels called al-Shabab.

"It's not safe to go there, but I have no alternative," Ali says. "If I had another alternative, I would not do this job because it's dangerous. Sometimes they steal your money."

And, she says, late one afternoon, they killed a fellow passenger.

"They shot a man because he did not participate in afternoon prayers," Ali says.

Somalia's government claims loose military control over more than half of Mogadishu. Al-Shabab, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, controls the rest. The group wants to destroy the U.S.-backed government and set up a strict Islamic state.

Some Somalis are fighting back. Abdullahi Hassan is a businessman, who sells sugar, flour and building materials. He helps finance a moderate Islamist militia that is battling al-Shabab.

"Actually, they know me. I'm one of the targets," Hassan says.

Hassan travels around town with six or seven armed guards. Al-Shabab has tried to kill him.

"Many times," Hassan says. "The last attack they hit our car, but luckily, I survived; but another three were killed. ...they used an RPG 7."

An RPG7 is a rocket propelled grenade.

Fartuun Abdisalan Adan lives near a trash-strewn roundabout. It's well inside the government lines. But she says nowhere is safe. A couple of weeks ago, a woman tossed a grenade in a market there, killing a handful of street kids.

"Every morning it is scary you are thinking, today we [have] survived how about tomorrow?" Adan says.

Adan runs the Elman Peace & Human Rights Center. It's a non-governmental organization that, among other things, teaches teenage boys electrical and mechanical skills. Adan wants them to find jobs so they don't join militias or al-Shabab.

Every morning she must check to make sure boys from al-Shabab don't slip into her training sessions.

"We want to help them but at the same time we are afraid," Adan says.

She says the kids are frisked every morning to make sure none is carrying a bomb.

Adan returns home by four o'clock each afternoon for safety. She describes herself as middle class. Evenings are more worldly than you might expect.

"We have electricity, we have a TV, we have Internet, we have everything. You can watch every channel in Mogadishu...I watch Oprah... I watch the BBC news," Adan says.

Adan buys her electricity and water from private companies. She bought a satellite dish for $150. Adan returned to Mogadishu a few years ago after living in Canada. As difficult as life is here, she has no plans to leave.

"I want to stay as much as I can because we committed [to] this work and we [are] doing it and we wanted to make a difference," she says.

There's a personal reason as well. Elman Ali Ahmend ran a similar vocational program. But it tapped into the labor market for child soldiers. Warlords became angry, Adan says, and had him killed.

Amid the ruin and violence of Mogadishu, she wants to finish what her late husband started.

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