Someone just unloaded what sounded like half a clip from an AK-47 right outside my hotel in Mogadishu. I was in my skivvies working on a story (it’s hot, real hot) at the time. I pulled on my pants – forgetting to zip up, of course – grabbed my camera and scampered downstairs expecting an Al Shabab frontal assault on the hotel.
A man was sweeping. Another had his feet up on the coffee table in the lobby watching a truly embarrassing Bollywood flick. A third man jabbered on his cell phone in the courtyard. No one seemed the least bit concerned. The only surprising thing is that after week of nightly explosions and countless tales of extreme brutality in this seething city, I still get excited when someone squeezes off a few rounds on the street.
We went patrolling with the African Union’s Ugandan contingent today, zipping between their airport base, the seaport they control and a couple key road intersections that they’ve wrested from insurgent control. It’s an army on a shoestring: no air support, no robots, none of the camp luxuries that most Western armies enjoy. But they do have tanks, machine guns and sandbags, and they aren’t afraid to use them. At the critical Four Kilometer roundabout downtown, where roads shoot out in every direction, Captain Felestino Egau and his men have beat back two insurgent assaults in just the last couple months, suffering only a couple injuries. Peacekeepers in other parts of the world (U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, I’m looking at you) are mostly talk, and tend to hide in their holes when someone, say Israel, rolls across the border. But the Ugandans fight.
Of course, Lebanon is no Somalia. People still vacation in Lebanon. But here in Moga, when we journalists joined the Ugandans for a group photo beside one of their Russian-made tanks, I cracked, “This is me on holiday in Mogadishu.” And everyone laughed and laughed.