Braying donkeys outside my makeshift accommodation unit woke me up from the deep sleep that had momentarily rested my fears of an attack by the Al-Shabaab militants.
The sound of the waves on the Indian Ocean could clearly be heard as the Islamic call for prayer, Athan, for the morning prayer (Fajir) went off from different corners of Ceeljalle village, Marka district in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region.
The makeshift shelter at Ceeljalle, the headquarters of the UPDF battle group 22, is the safest that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) could find for the team of 14 Ugandan journalists who were in Somalia to monitor the progress of the implementation of the UN security council resolution to have a gradual down-draw of the AMISOM troops in the war-torn nation.
Sand bags made a wall around our respective accommodation units, but a thought of the fact that we were within less than 10km from the Al-Shabaab base was enough to keep one worried.
If you are to take a walk outside the camp, you must be wearing body armour and helmet, despite the scorching sun. A military escort was a must.
The only ‘safe’ means of transport by road are infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) locally known as Mamba.
“Forget your air-conditioned cars that you travel in in Kampala; for your safety, we are to take you around in infantry fighting vehicles and you must keep your body armour and helmet on,” Maj Ceasar Otim Olweny, the spokesman of the Ugandan contingent in Somalia, said as he briefed our group upon arrival in Mogadishu on April 30.
Hotels come equipped with bomb shelters
Olweny and Kenya Defence Forces’ Col Richard Omwega, the AMISOM forces spokesman, gave several assurances for safety but there were security guidelines that had to be strictly adhered to.
For instance, after checking in at the Leaf Camp hotel in Mogadishu, the manager, David Ndayisenga, took the group to the hotel’s bunker – the safest place just in case of a bomb attack.
“In case you hear a bomb alert, kindly leave whatever you are doing and run to the bunker. There, you’ll not be affected,” Ndayisenga said.
In Ceeljalle, about 75km south of Mogadishu, there were no bunkers and no thick walls surrounding the camp like at Leaf camp. Under a scorching sun with about 10kg of a body armour and helmet on, we boarded the IVFs to Shalambood, a once popular city built by the Italians in the 1920s.
A girl carries a saucepan of food in Bufoow.
Because of its nearly 3,000km-long coastline, Somalia once had well-built cities that brought in tourists as well as traders across the Indian Ocean. But the effects of the more than two decades of civil war has left the cities in ruins and the Somali coast a no-go area because of pirates.
In fact, it is hard to find any semblance of a city especially in the Lower Shabelle region.
“Where we are seated is the site of a once luxurious Italian hotel but when the war broke out, it was razed to the ground,” Lt Col Fred Mwesigwa, the first infantry commander at Shalambood said.
Mwesigwa tried to “reconstruct” the hotel by erecting two tents; one for his residence, and another serves as his conference hall.
Dos and don’ts
Save for the foreign forces, Somalia is purely a Muslim country and this explains why almost every home is a mosque.
The country’s centuries-long ties with the Islamic Arabia (it is within a two-hour ride on a speedboat to the Middle East) made it adopt the Islamic culture. For instance, a headscarf has become part of the female soldiers and other staff under AMISOM and the United Nations Mission in Somalia (UNISOM).Fadlan Hadii aad u baahantahay Macluumaad dheeraad ah naga la soo Xiriira.