By Dheman Bande
Three years ago, in October, 2015, I embarked on a one-month journey that took me and my two young children to visit home, three countries in East Africa (Ethiopia, Somalis, and Kenya). With Allah’s guidance, I was able to visit family, some of them siblings, and other members of my family that I haven’t seen since the brutal civil war broke out in Mogadishu in 1991.
I was also able to see Mogadishu, my birthplace, drive by the very hospital (Digfer) in which I was born some decades ago, and saw signs of the destruction of the city once called the Pearl of Africa. While some areas of the city seem to have recovered from the merciless destruction, many areas remained uninhabitable where only animals can call home.
I stayed at the prestigious Jazeera Hotel in Mogadishu where the price tag is between $150 and $200 per night. Many government officials stay there which made me wonder how a struggling government and its officials can afford such astronomical expenses.
On the security matter, many Mogadishu residents were scared yet anxious to know when and where the next Al-Shabaab strike will take place.
I was also able to visit Kismayo, where my family called home for decades, and the city where I attended my first grade at the Farjano Primary School. I had the opportunity to visit the Jubbaland Administration headquarters and the beautiful beaches of Calanley & the thriving markets of Suuq Yare & Suuq Weyne. Kismayo, indeed, is a peaceful city that’s recovering from years of neglect and civil strife. Only once during my journey did Al-Shabaab attack Kismayo, at Hotel Suhufi in which several people were killed.
This journey also took me to visit Jigjiga during Abdi Iley’s reign of terror. Fear prevailed and many people were unable to speak freely. They were persecuted, tortured, and killed aimlessly on a daily basis in Jail/Prison Ogaden. No one dared to say anything against the government. My movement was limited in Jigjiga due to the security issues of my own safety. It was an environment in which the government was, indeed, the enemy of the people. Anyone could go to jail for hailing from certain tribes or having certain political opinions towards the government. I was very lucky to have returned safely without being forced to come to the government-run TVs and be forced to say positive things about the brutal regime against my will. There were cases in which members of the visiting diaspora community were forced to appear in TV and flatter the regime. It was a sickening tactic the regime there deployed to tell the rest of the world how “good” the Jigjiga government was.
People were terrified to say anything against the government when they’re even at their own homes for fear someone may spy on them and report to the government.
Abdi Iley and his friends were mainly the government as I called them, “The Gang Administration.” If anyone uttered the word “Iley”, the nickname of the president of the region, he/she end up going to jail.
Iley didn’t like the learned people from other sub-clans as many of them were either in Jail or fled the region, or were about to be jailed. My main mission was to visit my family, see the living conditions of the people, and the overall political atmosphere of the region. I got a good grasp of it and has since changed my outlook in the region.
In that same journey, I was able to visit Diredawa, a vibrant cosmopolitan city where people lived freely and where beautiful hotels were located that offered buffet/continental breakfast, with hot scrambled eggs, fruits, and delicious pastries. The city offered the best western breakfast yet in Ethiopia.
Also, on my way to Diredawa, I was able to stop by Harar, an old gated city with very old buildings where people sell fruits and vegetables on the sides of the road. I have seen the biggest and the most beautiful banana that I have ever seen. More beautiful than the bananas that grows in Afgooye, and Janaale in Somalia.
In this same journey, I was able to travel on the road from Nairobi to the beautiful, yet famous city of Garissa – thanks to my brother, Eng. Omar Bande, who helped me take the journey in his vehicle and with his Kenyan driver. The roads were smooth and safe. No one asked me any documents on that journey and I was able to visit relatives like my mother’s first cousin and her family, who is Somali-Kenyan and whom I have never met before. It was an amazing experience to have stayed Nomad Hotel for a couple of days and was able to eat the best camel meat in the region. People in Garissa were very much living in a free country, where people can express their political opinions on the local and the national government. It was a journey worthwhile.
It was, and still remains, one of the best decisions that I ever made. I thank Allah who made it easy, successful and possible.
And I would like to thank all the friends that I made along that journey and the great and hopeful people that I met. Also, special thank you goes to the people who made my journey more enjoyable particularly my brother Eng. Mohamed Bande, my friend and niece Amina Arte, and my cousin and friend Ali Sheikh, among others who played exceptional effort for me to stay safe while enjoying. They indeed offered me their love and unconditional support during this remarkable journey.
Unfortunately, my kids didn’t go beyond Nairobi for security issues. I hope I can do it again soon – what an exceptional journey filled with life-changing experience!
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