Bleached by the sun, blasted by two decades of constant conflict and now infested with hard-line Islamic extremists, Mogadishu is a hostile place. Often described as a failed state, the Horn of Africa nation and its people have endured an endless cycle of war, famine, invasion, disunity, and friction, only to now find itself the unenviable propagating ground for radical, religious fundamentalists.
Controlling less than one third of the capital city, a transitional federal government barely functions behind the protection of some 6,500 African Union peacekeepers. Daily attacks from the insurgents, often drawing retaliatory fire from their heavy weaponry, has seen many of Mogadishu's residents flee to sprawling camps on the outskirts of the city or further afield to neighbouring countries.
In areas of Mogadishu under the control of Al Shabaab and Hizb al Islam, the Islamic groups who claim an allegiance to Al Qaeda and seek to overthrow the TFG and expel the African Union force, a deterioration in civil liberties, traditional Somali culture and society and the most basics of freedoms has seen life becoming increasingly regressive and brutal for those who disobey. From a once devout yet secular and tolerant Muslim society, the militants have gradually Talibanised areas under their control imposing draconian and oppressive laws on to the Somali people, banning music, the playing of video games and watching sports or movies. Punishment for failing to comply is both vicious and swift; public stonings, beheadings and the forced amputations of limbs await those deemed to be un-Islamic.
Suicide attacks and road side bombs show an increasing sophistication and influence from the many hundreds of battle-experienced foreign jihadists who have flocked to Somalia from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to fight. With the extremists and their radical ideology threatening the East African region and beyond, the poorly funded yet determined AU force holds the line in their support of the TFG in an effort to stop Somalia being engulfed completely.
Stuart Price was in Somalia on assignmnet for Albany Associates