By Aweys M Yusuf
No peace caravan leads to Mogadishu. The recovery and rehabilitation point for ailing Maan-Deeq(i) should be away from any area which is prone to conflict and violence. Mogadishu has failed the nation for over three decades. There are a multitude of cities and towns in Somalia which can host a Somali capital city with immense pride, generosity, and decency. It is time to nominate two or three other districts and establish as co-capitals. It is time to support Mogadishu to recover from the ravages and psychosocial ills of the civil war.
A consensus on the status of the nation’s capital by all Somalis is a unity for the entire nation. Disagreement could produce a delay in recovery and reconstruction as well as profound disruptions in peace and state building in Somalia. Somali’s capital city not only determines unity of the nation but paves the way for a future cohesion of all Somali nations and communities in the Horn of Africa – crucial crossroads for the country’s long and arduous journey to an everlasting and full reconciliation.
Somalia needs a capital city which is inclusive – a capital city without any clan affiliation and no exclusive compounds for foreign armies, dignitaries or international intelligence services which have proven to be sovereign entities within the city and the state. Somalia needs a capital city which reflects the diversity of the entire Somalis and every ethnic group that have had moulded its historical and cultural uniqueness and diversity. It is unfortunate that the Mogadishu which Nuruddin Farah, the very ingenious and celebrated Somali author, portrayed in his lyrical and lilting prose in his book, Maps, seems today to have wilted and withered.
“Mogadiscio—whose sand was white as the smoke of a fire just built. Mogadiscio—the most ancient city south of the Sahara, a city bombed by the Portuguese, looted by the Arabs, colonized by the Ottoman Turks, subdued by the Italians and bought, at the turn of the century, by a Zanzibar! who paid for it a little more than Bombay had cost Britain or Manhattan the Dutch. The Sultan of Zanzibar sublet the territory to the Italians. I love its centre which sports a multiracial, multicultural heritage. I love it because it doesn’t make me feel small looking up at very tall skyscrapers.”
With all these previous bombing, looting, colonizing, and subduing by foreign forces and armies, Somalis from every clan and tariiqa were mostly united in defending this Somali city, this Xamar, this Banaadir region. There was hardly any claim of ownership of Mogadishu by a particular community or clan from other Somalis. Mogadishu was an identity for every Somali, a jewel for urban and rural communities as well as for the nomads. It was a privilege and a status for Somalis to visit this amazing place, the pearl of Africa. To claim to have visited Mogadishu and recall in your stories its roads, streets, eateries, its Shangani and Xamarweyne, its Lido beach and its Ceelgaab with friends and family members was a sense of pride. Not any more now. The city has lost its multiracial, multicultural heritage now.
Visiting mogadishu now is dancing on a razor’s edge. Many good friends and brave foes that I know had sadly lost their lives in continual sucide bombings in most hotels and government buildings. Extreme violence and terror have kept traumatising many residents of the city. Frequent suicide attacks seem to be the norm, even with a plethora of security check points on many thoroughfares of the city as well as giant concrete slabs barricaded around hotels and important government offices.
The Rape of the City
The most of the urbanites of the city were displaced by ferocious rural and nomadic communities mobilised on clannish slogans after the fall of the brutal dictator, General Maxamed Siyaad Barre. All political, cultural, social and educational institutions were ransacked and indiscriminately pillaged. Most of the commercial and residential properties owned by many Mogadishu urbanites were taken over by marauding militias, their families and their clan elders. Historic landmark icons and national statues were looted and sold in the Middle East and Asia.
The demography of the city has completely changed beyond recognition save few nearby villages and environs of Banaadir. This demographic change has immensely contributed to the extreme violence that the city witnessed in the last two and half decades. Provinces in proximity of Banaadir area and as far as Lower Jubba, Bay, and Central regions also suffered the plight of the internecine wars and violence.
Grudges and grievances, revenges and retributions, hatred and envy have emanated from within the current arrangements of the city after it had emerged from clanocide and selective displacements by plundering militias organised along sub-clan associations. Festering wounds are still raw and keep swelling and bleeding.
Continuous instability, insecurity and violence in Mogadishu have drained the energy and vitality of the entire nation.Tremors of the civil war earthquake can still be felt in many regions of the country. Time and again, Mogadishu has proven to be the epicentre of the great instability that many parts of Somalia have been trapped in for many decades with no exit strategy in sight.
The potential to redistribute national wealth
Another sound strategic reason for moving a capital city is to redistribute the national wealth.
Concentrating all the state powers in one city in a country still reeling from the violence and mistrust of the civil war would hinder any peace-building and state-building endeavours. Pouring all resources and energy into a single city is planning not to heal the wounds of the civil war which have been rotting in the last 30 years.
It is worthwhile to consider that each of the three state organs (executive, legislature and judiciary) be transferred into either two or three cities in the country. Moves to change a country’s capital city is not uncommon – from South Africa to the Netherlands to Cote D’Ivoire and Benin to Malaysia and Bolivia. All these countries have either two or three capital cities.
Division of the three organs of the state suits well in these cities. Social and economic development funds could fairly be allocated. No single city can retain the lifeline of the entire nation without depriving other towns and cities of essential services and funds. Moving the capital city reduces social polarisation and supports more balanced regional development in other parts of the country. Somalia needs that strategic move now.
To realise the dreams and ambitions of a peaceful Somalia, the debate about relocation of the capital city of Somalia should start in earnest. Somali lawmakers need to iron out ambiguities about article(s) in the federal constitution regarding not only the status of the capital city but also a radical move to creating an all-encompassing two or three cities which can be an identity for every Somali.
Relocating the seat of the government as well as the parliament and the judiciary body in an inclusive, safe and secure environment does not mean abandoning Mogadishu in its entirety but to provide an opportunity for recovery from the ravages of the long civil war. This could also be a wise move to crown Mogadishu as the financial hub for Somalia like Mumbai or Lagos or New York, and establish two or three capital cities in the other regions by sharing state organs.
Relocation is to reconstitute the relationship between different regions of Somalia and to provide stimulus to underdeveloped parts of the country. This is fine for Mogadishu and fair for the rest of the nation in order to achieve all-round socio-economic progress.
Aweys M Yusuf
Email: [email protected]
Aweys M Yusuf is a social commentator and an educationist based in Somalia and England.
[i] A healthy, dairy she-camel which represents the Somali nation.
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