Our Man in Mogadishu

The point has been repeatedly made on this blog – most retirees need to find a way to supplement their income, or if they are financially secure, they may still need to find ways to keep life stimulating after retirement.

Peter Sullivan, retired Editor-in-Chief of Independent Newspapers, has taken this advice to heart – although in ways which not many may be keen to follow.  He is working for a United Nations agency in Mogadishu, capital of the desperately dangerous nation of Somalia.  In a newsletter to friends, he shares his experiences:

So all the hype with heightened security was just conservative tactics in case of an attack, it seems to me. Classic ‘cover your arse’ from the military and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and I suppose you can’t blame them, because if there was an attack people would have wanted to know why we did not have intel.  But the intel is clearly not as accurate as we would want, it probably expresses Al-Shabaab’s intent rather than their ability.
So we have had a week of ‘lockdown,’ all rather boring.  No movement allowed.  Bedroom, office, canteen, office, bedroom.  Went to a farewell party for a Sector Commander on Tuesday, truly among the most boring set of speeches ever, my only entertainment was a South African explaining to me – with the enthusiastic help of a Kenyan General — the difference between my old army R1, the G3 rifle the Kenyans still use, and the American M5, the latest but not greatest one on the market.

It would take pages to tell you all I now know about rifle choice for troops in Africa, but it would badly entertain you.  Suffice to say the real difference is the 7.62mm bullet in the R1, R5, G3, old FN rifle; and the 5.56mm bullet in the American version which apparently would not stop a flea.  And so the debate raged.  Which would you rather have?  All agreed the old one with the big bullet because when it hit your enemy he went down.  That or the AK.  The debate is of the order of “I once saw a man take four 5.56s and still fire back!” and “Did you read the article in ‘Soldier’ of the guy shot in the body eight times with an M5, who still ran away.  I’d rather carry a spear!”  They debate despite agreeing.
Not intellectually stimulating, to say the least.  It lasted an hour.  Today I have been given a ‘Tasking Order’ to create a video, posters, billboards and leaflets telling AMISOM troops and police not to rape.  Heaven help me.  Thinking of just creating a billboard saying in huge letters six feet high: DON’T RAPE.
Well, two hours after I typed that bit, Al-Shabaab struck at the Ministry of Education, five km from us, killing eight civilians, three soldiers and seven of themselves.  Two Al-Shabaab fighters blew themselves up, another five were shot dead.  Small comfort for the innocent civilians.  A difficult enemy to fight, these fundamentalists, who believe only that getting themselves shot dead is a certain ticket to heaven.  So 18 dead people.  For what?
Now it is Thursday morning, and for the first time since arriving we have real rain.  Almost monsoon-like, big drops followed by a downpour which has so far lasted an hour.  One by one people have cancelled morning meetings scheduled, citing the rain.  Distances are small as this place (the MIA) is the size of Melville, but even moving ten meters in the rain would ensure a severe soaking.
This afternoon we produce a TV show of questions and answers, devised from putting stuff on the social media and asking people to send in their questions.  Called ‘Madasha’ which means Forum, it is all in Somali, of which I understand zip, so it sounds like gobbledygook to me, specially when they all start getting quite het up.  Hope the rain stops then, otherwise we won’t have any sound except rainfall on the tin roof.
Rain is a wonderful relief from the relentless heat we have had every day since my arrival, temperatures stay the same daily, every day, every day, every day, about 32 deg raising a shimmer off the stones, the walls, the roof.  As you open your door from the air-conditioned prefab offices the heat hits you like a wall.  So rain is more than welcome, it is joyous.  Heat is dissipated, the sound is great and the whole camp shifts into a good mood after a few dark and moody days.
Tomorrow I leave on my rotation or R&R.  Mine is six weeks on and two off.  Others have six on and six off.  Some four on and one off.  At home friends and I hope to cycle the Karoo.  Sending this on Thursday morning while on a rain break from meetings.

*Peter Sullivan resumed his duties in Mogadishu on May 4 after an enjoyable cycle ride through the Karoo.