Our Man in Mogadishu

We have a new dispatch from Peter Sullivan, “Our Man in Mogadishu”.  Peter, former Editor-in-Chief of Independent Newspapers, is retired, but has taken the opposite paths to the pitfalls, both financial and mental, which lie in allowing retirement to become a time of boredom.  Peter heads up a communications unit, working under the auspices of the United Nations and the African Union, in war-torn Somalia.

“Bunker! Bunker! Bunker!
That’s the way the drill starts to get all my colleagues into our container-sized fortified bunker.
You’re supposed to blow the whistle (I couldn’t find it) bang on everyone’s doors with the three shouts, wind up the air raid siren (couldn’t find it) and get every sector to report that all their personnel are inside and accounted for or away on leave.
Worked quite well without the apparatus, everyone inside in four minutes. 34 present and correct, 21 outside on leave or Task Orders.

We are under a ‘red’ threat level at the moment, which tops the white, green, yellow and orange table, with five difference sources saying we should expect an attack on the 17th day of Ramadan – you get extra points upstairs if you die this day – or on the 18th. And last week Al-Shabaab stormed a bunch of unready troops, captured some, beheaded some, and killed 50 altogether (we think, as we have no confirmation yet) and captured a lot of alarming ammunition including 120ml, 90ml and 80ml mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and the ubiquitous AK47s.

Please excuse my rabbiting on about security. It is rather like load-shedding, an irritation up with which we must put, as Churchill might have said. Frankly there is not much fear or trepidation, it really is on a similar level to load-shedding for those of us who live in the MIA.

On Tuesday it was quiet before the celebrations for National Independence Day, which started Tuesday night for Wednesday, July 1.

Last night – pizza night for us in our camp – our TV show ‘Madasha’ aired (after last minute interventions, because the channel wanted to change the time to earlier because the President wanted to see it as it had generated so much interest, but we had been punting it on social media and elsewhere for the published time so changing it seemed daft to me. Eventually sanity prevailed) and already we have had great feedback.

It’s a pretty uncomplicated show, rather like a talk session on a political topic, but these kinds of things are few and far between in Somalia. There is no censorship, just a general refusal or reluctance to talk about politics. Specially women, yet they have strong private views. Given the history of clan fighting, religious squabbling and military crackdowns, it is enlightening to see on open TV Somalis celebrating freedom of speech as if it has just been invented.

Our mode red will continue until the 7th July when we return to normal. My cold showers in the morning have replaced the magnificent hot baths of the Kempinsky, while colleagues and clients have taken to giggling and telling me “well this is not the Kempinsky, you know” as I have clearly been extolling Vienna’s delights too enthusiastically.

Did a Skype training session with Thomas-the-Torturer this morning and realized I am sadly unfit.
In a bit more than a month, August 7, I’ll be back in Johannesburg (for a brief period). Stay warm and I’ll stay safe.