Young Somalis learn to live with anarchy

MOGADISHU — Somali warlords are destroying Muse Suldan’s dream to be a teacher.

The 12-year-old often flees Mogadishu and misses school to escape gunbattles between rival militias. Like a generation of young Somalis, he has never known peace or lived under a formal government, growing up in anarchy after strongman Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

“I have never seen a government but I hear that it brings peace,” Suldan says near his former school in northern Mogadishu. “We are always fleeing from fighting. If there was a government, I would be attending school.” Children — as well as women — in the Horn of Africa country of 10 million people have borne the brunt of 15 years of chaos.

Civil war, disease and famine have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in Somalia.

Although an interim government was formed two years ago in neighbouring Kenya, internal divisions have hampered its ability to control powerful warlords and rebuild schools, hospitals and other much-needed infrastructure.

Most children in Somalia do not attend school, because the majority are privately owned and too expensive.

Children from poor families rarely get the opportunity to study — many end up begging.

With his feet bare and rags clothing his body, 10-year-old Shuaib Abdullahi believes, however, there is no need for a government in Somalia.

Begging for food and money in Balidogle airport, 110 kilometres south of Mogadishu, he says government will not affect his life — he will still be destitute and hopeless.

“[A government] will not change my life so it’s irrelevant,” he says. “It has never helped me and I don’t think it’s important at all.”

`Craving’ to be a warlord

Abdullahi Aideed agrees, but for different reasons. Life is good amid the lawlessness, said the 17-year-old, who was born and raised in Mogadishu — Africa’s most anarchic city.

“I don’t want a government,” Aideed says near his house in Tarbuunka, a famous square in Mogadishu’s Hodan district. “I’m happy to live like this. If someone does anything to me now, we finish the issue there and then… He either dies or I do.” Warlords in Somalia attract youth, who make up the majority of militia members, with meagre pay, free meals and the amphetamine-like khat plant to chew.

Many leaders in the interim parliament, which has been meeting recently in the southern Somali town of Baidoa, are former and current warlords.

The current manifestation is Somalia’s 14th attempt to establish an effective central government.

Straining under the weight of an anti-aircraft gun, Dahir Adan, 17, says the only way to escape poverty is to rise through the ranks and become a warlord. He has never attended school.

“I crave to be a warlord and have my own juniors, it’s only then that I can help my family,” Adan says in Baidoa.

Some youth say they are tired of frequent gunbattles and long for a time when law and order, not the gun, rule.

“There are so many thieves and murderers,” says Khalid Bashir, 12, who narrowly escaped death last year when 14 people were killed in an assassination attempt against Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi during his first visit to Mogadishu.

“I want a government that can destroy all these bad people,” Bashir adds.

Hibak Ahmed, 12, who together with her two sisters were wounded when a mortar hit their house nine years ago, says she simply wants to feel it out first.

“I am not sure whether I need it, but I just need to see it,” the tall, slim and one-eyed Ahmed says.

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