SOMALIA: A Failed State with Strong People
Filippo Ballarin, IDCR Intern
©2012 Filippo Ballarin
When he left Somalia in the fall of 2009, Faisal was just a teenager of 17. His two sisters had already left the previous summer for the United States. He was living with his mother and his younger brother in Mogadishu. Faisal’s father was a police officer in the city, but he died 3 years before during one of the many Al-Shabaab attacks; shot in the head. His family was luckier than others possessing a bazaar in the centre, heritage of a wealthier past. Faisal’s grandfather was a merchant and a very well-known and respected man. Since Faisal was born in 1992, many things changed in his family life and in the whole country. First, all their possessions were taken by the militias. Second, all the older males of the family died and his friends and relatives began to emigrate. He is now living in Norway as a Norwegian citizen after his refugee status has been granted.
When I first interviewed him after his arrival in Norway, Faisal told me:
“When you are a teenager in Somalia, you have two choices: run from the militias or join then, I chose the first.”
It’s not easy to understand what the situation in Somalia is: every now and then, the central government seems to gain momentum until Al-Shabaab counter attacks send its troops back in a constant struggle that reaches this year 20 years of fighting. Even though in this last period the Somali-Ethiopian joint forces are slowly gaining ground and control of the country, violence is still widespread from the Capital to the little villages. Services are for the most absent and there are not any stable institutions or infrastructure. Only now Mogadishu is slowly coming back to normal but it still does not feel like a stable situation.
When you decide to emigrate from Somalia, you first have to know the “right people”: through underground channels, you must reach powerful men who are part of what seems to be a big international refugee market. Faisal paid $12,000 and had to walk from Mogadishu to a Kenyan village for 8 months before he was able to fly to Europe.
“I was lucky” he told me, “many people died through the travel, or they were caught by Al-Shabaab.”
They have to travel in small groups of completely stranger people, walking in the night and rationing the scarce food they have with them; if you are a woman, it’s rare you can make the travel without being raped. In case you don’t have enough money to pay the fees, you must take the longer path: 2400 miles from Somalia to Libya walking through the Sahara desert and crossing the Mediterranean Sea; violence, torture, starvation and death are all common experiences for people who made it to Europe.
“I arrived in Kenya, and here they gave me a Norwegian passport of another Somali guy who had previously got there and was looking similar to me. We don’t get to decide where we go, they just give us the first opportunity that there is and you cannot say no.”
“They put you in the plane, you arrive at your destination and then they explain you what to do once you’re there.”
The travel is only the first step for who wants to obtain the refugee status: once in Norway, you are assembled in a camp outside Oslo were you are held for a couple of months. There you have to pass through 3 interviews to confirm your identity, your story and if you have the right requirements.
Despite the effort by the Somali government, many parts of the country are still under the control of armed militias. Since the fall of the government in 1992, with the famous battle of Mogadishu, Somalia has lived in a constant climate of warfare. With the withdrawal of Americans and UN troops in the middle 1990s, the population was left alone in what soon become famous to be the perfect example of ‘failed state’. While different clans and warlords took control of their areas, the population started to move away from fighting zones entering neighboring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia.
Later efforts by the International community led to some external help with the UNOSOM I-II mission and the most recent AMISOM mission, but these missions were not really able to change the conditions of the population. After a dramatic draught in the summer which saw 1,000,000 people die and many more suffer for lack of food and water, the UN Secretary Ban-Ki Moon announced in the first visit to Mogadishu by a UN high official since the 1990s that the UN mission headquarters was soon going to be transferred in the city.
While the general stability of the country seems to improve every day, the scars of 20 years of civil war will be more difficult to heal.
“When I was a kid, me and my friends were used to hide in the city in order to avoid the militias raid that would have took us to make us become one of their soldiers,” Faisal told me during one of his refugee acceptance interviews, clearly still shocked by the memories. Somalia lost most of its working force by war or migration, but the future might be brighter than what it seems.
“If the country will finally find peace, most of the Somali people I’ve met in my travel, will surely go back: after all Somalia is our home,” Faisal told me last time I saw him.