Mogadishu Approaches a 'Tipping Point'

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman recently returned from Mogadishu. He says that although al-Shabaab fighters are still able to strike in the capital, the city he saw recently was much different than the Mogadishu he'd seen on previous visits.

Jeffrey Gettleman: For the first time when I arrived at the airport, instead of giving this mimeograph sheet that asks for your name, address and caliber of weapon, I got a bright yellow welcome card that didn't have any mention of guns and had little check boxes for reason of visit, and one of them was holiday. Then you leave the airport, you go out onto the streets, there is construction going on everywhere. Buildings are going up, people are fixing up homes, the roads are being fixed and cleaned up, there are street lights, fresh coats of paint everywhere you look, so you get the sense that people are trying to reclaim this city from the rubble. Then just the access that I had. You know, most trips to Mogadishu I have to hire this militia of 10 gunmen to stand behind me. We make limited trips to refugee camps or certain sites, then we retreat back to our hotel. This time we were able to drive around the city for hours, go into other people's homes, go with students to school, hang out at the fish market and I watched these fishermen hauling in these enormous sharks.

Werman: And you were doing this without these militia men bodyguards?

Gettleman: They were with me, but they were hanging back and it was just a different environment. People were walking to school. They're hanging out at night, which used to be a definite no-go thing to do. Now you see people in the streets, listening to music, just kind of lingering on the sidewalk. There's a big beach now that's open on Fridays. It's just a big public beach, but everybody goes there on Fridays, the Islamic holiday of the week. And there are thousands of people swimming in the water, playing soccer on the sand, selling popsicles and things like that. It's really remarkable if you know what it had been like because I've been there so many times. And just a year ago there were large parts of the city that you know, you would get shot at if you raised your head. You know, it happened to me. And those parts of the city are now totally quiet.

Werman: Yeah, it's a pretty extraordinary before and after shot that you describe. What is the driving force behind this increased stability?

Gettleman: First of all, there is a large African Union peacekeeping force in Mogadishu and they have been getting bigger, better equipped, better trained and they have steadily battered the Shabaab. The same time, you have the insertion of Kenyan Ethiopian troops and other parts of Somalia that are pushing against the Shabaab. So as soon as the Shabaab left Mogadishu that created space for businessmen, for aid workers, for ordinary civilians to move back into the city. And finally, the famine last year cast the spotlight on Somalia and brought in new players like the Turkish government, who came delivering aid and are now doing business in Mogadishu. It just started twice weekly flights between Istanbul and Mogadishu, which would've been unheard of a few years ago. And Somalis are legendary traders, legendary entrepreneurs, and they are pouring money into Mogadishu. One government official estimated at least $50 million in the last couple months.

Werman: As you said about Mogadishu earlier, a lot more needs to be done. I'm just wondering how Mogadishu though contrasts with other parts of Somalia and is there a war going on once you leave the city?

Gettleman: Outside Mogadishu it's a bit of a mixed bag. Shabaab controls a few areas, you know, their slice is very thing right now, but they still control a few towns. There's fighting around those areas because the Kenyans and Ethiopians are trying to get in. Of course, it is tenuous, but I think once there's enough investment and there's enough to lose in this sort of new vision of Somalia, it's gonna be harder and harder to tear it down. Now, there's like people putting serious money into Mogadishu. They're gonna be standing up to protect that. They're not gonna want violence to breakout in front of their new multimillion dollar hotel. That business owner is now on the side of stability, and that's very important.

Werman: Jeffrey Gettleman with the New York Times, just back from Mogadishu, thanks so much.

Gettleman: Glad to help.