Up early after very little sleep for a meeting with head commander of the Ugandan troops. The guy is legit. He was leading the forces when they were fighting Al-Shabaab block by block, house by house and forcing them out of Mogadishu. He deserves his credit, but he’s good at staying on point, so nothing really interesting came out it the conversation.
Then back into the kaspirs to ride to Afgoye. The road between Mogadishu and Afgoye - known as the Afgoye Corridor - grew from almost no population to 150,000 in a period of 18 months when the heaviest fighting was happening in Mogadishu. We met with the Governor of Afgoye and learned about their challenges, which include, but are not limited to: outside clans taking over land, Al Shabaab and a drought. AMISOM just cleared Al-Shabaab out in February of this year but they are struggling to move forward.
To add to the Governor’s problems, his tax collector was killed in the market that morning. Though this is officially AMISOM controlled territory, there are still elements of Al Shabaab in the town looking to disrupt and create chaos. We saw the police bringing in suspects for questioning, and the thing that struck me was exactly how young Al Shabaab is. Al Shabaab is literally translated “the youth”, but until you see them face to face, it’s hard to completely comprehend that they are so young… just 12 or 13 year old boys.
We visited a field where they are laying lemons out to dry. It’s a big export from this region, and they had a decent crop this year. Apparently the dried lemons are exported to China for use in perfumes. We talked about the process, price and supply chain.
It was good to get out Mogadishu and see a section of the country that isn’t as physically ravaged by the war as Mogadishu is. But, nobody has escaped the impact of two decades of conflict. And rebuilding is difficult, slow, tedious work. Some wins. Some losses. Today was a tough day for the Governor, he’ll likely have many more tough days ahead.
After arriving safely back to base. Will and I decided that we wanted to enjoy our last afternoon at the beach on the base. Will always wanted to swim in the Indian Ocean off the Somali coast. So we went for a swim. As I bobbed in the surf, I was able to exhale and simply enjoy the moment. Happy to have made it through the week safely, hoping that we are walking away with some interesting articles and photos, but most of all, grateful for the experience.
And what trip to the beach would be without spending a little time collecting shells on the beach… Somali style.
Then we took it all in watching the sun sink over Somalia.