The mayhem has receded from Mogadishu—for the moment.
Egal emigrated from Somalia in 1988 amid armed insurrections that would burst into full-blown civil war in 1991. He spent the next 20 years in America, building a string of businesses—convenience stores, pizza parlors, fried-chicken shops, check-cashing services—before he paid a visit to his hometown last August and found a new world of opportunity. Residents say Mogadishu’s downtown feels more secure these days than it has since the fighting began. “That gave me the hope that this is the beginning of something,” says the 42-year-old Egal. “In business, you have to pick up on trends early enough to take advantage of them.” Like the shopkeepers who have finally begun repainting their battered storefronts, like the local businessman who’s building a hotel, Egal is gambling that the city’s newfound security will last.
Egal’s arrival in Mogadishu coincided with a pivotal moment in the war. That same month, the al Qaeda–linked group Al-Shabab was driven out of the city by African Union peacekeepers and Somali troops under the flag of the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The militants presented the pullout as merely a tactical maneuver, but the peacekeepers, the city’s residents, and the U.S. government all say Al-Shabab departed under intense duress. “Infighting, financial hardships, and continuous loss of fighters and strategic positions in city battles” made the group’s retreat inevitable, says Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Nevertheless, the struggle for control of the city continues. Reinforced by the AMISOM outposts that now dot Somalia’s eastern coast, the peacekeepers have formed a perimeter around the city and have gradually pushed outward. Sniper fire remains a part of everyday life on the town’s outskirts, where the front lines weave in and out through the living rooms, kitchens, and courtyards of partially demolished houses. Peacekeepers say they take fire from the militants most nights, and at times the shooting gets heavy. But inside the perimeter of peacekeepers and ragtag TFG troops, the Al-Shabab threat seems to be subsiding in a city where previous pacification attempts have failed spectacularly.
AMISOM began five years ago in the wake of Addis Ababa’s ill-advised 2006 intervention in Somalia, a move that had only worsened the bloodshed. The fiercely nationalistic Somalis have a history of armed conflict with neighboring Ethiopia, going back hundreds of years, and they were unpersuaded by the insistence of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi that his country was only seeking to protect its own borders. Instead, rising Islamist factions like Al-Shabab were able to exploit the incursion to rally the Somali public’s support. Wanting no repetition of that disaster, the African Union excluded Somalia’s immediate neighbors from AMISOM’s ranks.
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