Somalia Journal, Day Thirteen: Warlording 101

30.11.07

Categorie: Africa, Axe in Somalia, Extremists |

Ali Mohamed Siyad had a problem. As chairman of Mogadishu’s fledgling Bakara Market, he was responsible for the welfare of scores of businesses employing hundreds of people. It was the early 1990s. Somalia’s civil war was over, but its troubles were just beginning. There was the doomed U.N. and U.S. peacekeeping experiment that ended in violence following the shoot-down of two American helicopters in Siyad’s market. Warlords employing narcotics-addicted gunmen fought for control of the city. It was too dangerous for commerce.

somalia-transitional-government-troops-mogadishu-nov-25-2007small.jpgSo like any good businessman, Siyad found a commercial solution. He imposed a levy on Bakara’s businesses, and with the proceeds advertised for his own gunmen. Soon he had his own private army, and Bakara become one of Mogadishu’s many self-policing precincts. Security brought shoppers; shoppers caught the eye of business owners elsewhere in Mogadishu, who began to relocate to Bakara in droves. Soon it was the economic engine driving the city’s recovery. The gunmen remained even during the brief rule of the hardline Islamic Courts. Why mess with success?

Then in March came the Ethiopian army, and the northern-based Transitional Federal Government in its wake. “When the government entered, we handed over all our weapons,” Siyad says. ”We gave them 1,700 guns. After that, they started making people displaced and looting the properties.” Now Bakara — all but abandoned by businesses — is the main battleground in Mogadishu, where deposed Courts fighters and their nationalist allies take on the TFG and the Ethiopians. At night you can see the rockets and shells streaking in.

And Sayid? The former strongman and his family fled to the refugee town of Afgooye, where they live under a tree “full of mosquitoes.” 

So where do all the guns come from? It works like this: TFG fighters get fed up with not being paid by the impoverished government and decide to seek their fortunes elsewhere. But their new lives need startup cash. So they sell their used AK-47s for $250 apiece to street thugs looking for a way to boost their criminal productivity. Wearing cast-off uniforms and carrying former TFG weapons, the thugs pose as security forces, “patrolling” the city shaking down motorists and pedestrians for cash, wrist watches and especially mobile phones. My fixer has a nickname for these toughs. “They’re not terrorists,” he says. “They’re mobile-ists.”

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10 Responses to “Somalia Journal, Day Thirteen: Warlording 101”

  1. Sean says:

    How did the Ethiopians justify invading in the first place, David?

  2. David Axe says:

    The excuse was defeating Islamic terrorists.

  3. Adam says:

    All those islamist killers are a product of American bad politics. Somali society was very secular before the silly US military adventure into Somalia of 1992. International Islamic fundamentalists simply followed Americans into Somalia. Now Somalia is ruined forever thanks to a mindless limitlessly powerful monster.

  4. [...] Related: Day One: “You Come to Africa, But You May Never Leave.” Day Two: Barnstorming! Day Three: Enclaves Day Four: Everybody Parley Down! Day Five: “I Quit!” Day Six: ”We’re Here and We’re Surviving.” Day Seven: Wise Old Children Day Eight: Riot! Day Nine: Gunfire Is Boring Day Ten: Bombs Are Boring Day Eleven: Games Kids Play Day Twelve: This Cash Is Broke Day Thirteen: Warlording 101 Day Fourteen: Arresting All the Wrong People Day Fifteen: U.S. Playing Both Sides Day Sixteen: Back on the Air Day Seventeen: Moga ER Somalia pics Sounds of the Somali aid crisis Mogadishu’s wheeled battlecruisers Somalia’s mystery weapons A.U. Patrols Moga Sounds of African Peacekeeping No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  5. [...] Related: Day One: “You Come to Africa, But You May Never Leave.” Day Two: Barnstorming! Day Three: Enclaves Day Four: Everybody Parley Down! Day Five: “I Quit!” Day Six: ”We’re Here and We’re Surviving.” Day Seven: Wise Old Children Day Eight: Riot! Day Nine: Gunfire Is Boring Day Ten: Bombs Are Boring Day Eleven: Games Kids Play Day Twelve: This Cash Is Broke Day Thirteen: Warlording 101 Day Fourteen: Arresting All the Wrong People Day Fifteen: U.S. Playing Both Sides Day Sixteen: Back on the Air Somalia pics Sounds of the Somali aid crisis Mogadishu’s wheeled battlecruisers Somalia’s mystery weapons A.U. Patrols Moga Sounds of African Peacekeeping No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  6. [...] Related: Day One: “You Come to Africa, But You May Never Leave.” Day Two: Barnstorming! Day Three: Enclaves Day Four: Everybody Parley Down! Day Five: “I Quit!” Day Six: ”We’re Here and We’re Surviving.” Day Seven: Wise Old Children Day Eight: Riot! Day Nine: Gunfire Is Boring Day Ten: Bombs Are Boring Day Eleven: Games Kids Play Day Twelve: This Cash Is Broke Day Thirteen: Warlording 101 Day Fourteen: Arresting All the Wrong People Day Fifteen: U.S. Playing Both Sides Somalia pics Sounds of the Somali aid crisis Mogadishu’s wheeled battlecruisers Somalia’s mystery weapons A.U. Patrols Moga Sounds of African Peacekeeping 1 Comment so far Leave a comment [...]

  7. Justin says:

    Maybe its oversimplified, but I have always seen geopolitics as somewhat resembling chess. In chess, pawns are frequently sacrificed, but in geopolitics pawns are nations and the lives of millions of people in these nations. Kind of like Chomsky’s ultimatum: Hegemony or Survival.

    ps. I just found this page yesterday and I wanted to thank you for risking your life for knowledge like this. Also, best wishes for your safety.

  8. [...] Axe’s reporting is extremely helpful for people trying to follow the Somalia story closely. He offers a useful history of Bakara Market, including the rise of a private militia to protect businesses and shoppers. That militia was chased out by the TFG earlier this year, and they turned over 1700 weapons to the TFG. (When TFG soliders get sick of not getting paid by their dysfunctional government, they sell their AK47s to local toughs, who use them to man barricades and rob passers-by of their mobile phones.) I’m slightly put off by Axe’s narrative of self-sacrifice and machismo – his first few entries focus on the dire warnings he ignored in going to Somalia, and his decision to quit his employ with McGraw Hill to make the trip – but I can’t argue with his bravery or with his reporting on the ground. (After all, Yahoo’s resident war correspondent, Kevin Sites hasn’t been there since a five-day trip in 2005, before the Ethiopian invasion…) [...]

  9. [...] These days the U.S. government tends to lump warlords in with terrorists, ideologically motivated insurgents and other extremists. But warlording is just a means. The ends for various warlords are as diverse as the men themselves. In other words, there are good ones and bad ones. [...]

  10. Alex Serbanescu says:

    As a journalist I strive to at least be fair, knowing I can’t be 100% objective.

    And, fairly, I’m all for Somali Islamists. They will pacify the country once Ethiopia is driven out.

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