“I will tell you the truth,” said Ali Mohamed Siyad. “I don’t care what they do to me.”
Siyad, chairman of Mogadishu’s central Bakara Market, has seen his once-thriving businesses looted and his customers and colleagues harassed, arrested and even murdered by Ethiopian and government troops who are increasingly challenged by Islamic insurgent groups. Last week he drove into Mogadishu, leaving behind his family in the refugee town of Afgooye, in order to talk on the record about the government’s crimes against the people it purports to represent. He predicted it might land him in prison. He was right. Two days ago Siyad was arrested.
He’s not the only government critic to wind up behind bars. Pretty much every one of Mogadishu’s roughly 100 independent media workers (pictured) has been arrested for reporting on the fighting – some for days, some for weeks. Radio Shabelle director Moqtar Mohamed Hirabe handed me a list of around thirty of his staff who’ve been tortured or forced to flee the city.
Justice in Mogadishu is a farce. Want to arrest an annoying reporter? Claim someone tossed a grenade from his building as a pretext for an armed raid, or accuse him of knowing the whereabouts of insurgent leaders. Radio host Mohamed Farah Italy was arrested for answering the phone when an insurgent spokesman called in during a live talk show.
The system is so broke that Dr. Hawa Abdi, director of a refugee camp near Afgoyee, has raised her own police force and built her own jail in order to deal with crimes internally. Even murderers get locked up in Abdi’s jail “to think about what they did,” she says.
That the Baidoa-based government is guilty of abuses is not surprising, considering the body’s sordid history. What’s surprising is that the African Union – normally a decent bunch of guys – plays along. The fortified prison compound near the seaport, where I can only assume Siyad is moldering, is guarded by A.U. troops.
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