Half relaxed, half scary: A cautious optimism takes hold

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The Independent Online

The blue-and-white uniform looks new and its wearer seems small and uncertain amid the mayhem of a Mogadishu rush hour. The drivers, many of whom are armed, are not yet used to the sight of a traffic policeman. It's something most Somalis haven't seen in their city for 20 years.

The Somalian capital, which for so long had a soundtrack of mortars and small-arms fire, is learning to live with the sounds of vehicles, street hawkers and building work. The upsurge in traffic will see the city's first conventional petrol station open later this month.

In the 10 months since the Islamic militants al-Shabaab pulled out of the capital, trench warfare and street battles have been replaced by a fragile peace, albeit one still punctuated by suicide bombings. Weekly flights have now become daily with planes landing from neighbouring Kenya and Djibouti and from the Gulf states and Turkey.

A wrecked cargo plane shot down by al-Shabaab still lies next to the runway at the Aden Adde airport, but these days it's used to shelter deliveries of the leafy narcotic khat from the sun.

To Abbas Ahmed this looks like a brave new world. The 40-year-old has worked through war, famine and foreign occupation at the crumbling, airless fish market. "This is a good year," he says waving hands stained with the blood of gutted fish. "Every day we're getting new customers. We can't cope with the demand."

On a good day he makes $35 (£22). A year ago as the city was being fought over by al-Shabaab and the African Union force, Amisom, he barely made enough to feed his family. Now he can afford to pay for his two children to go to one of the schools that has reopened.

At the nearby Hamarweyne street market, Muktar Mohamed is offering "new fashion" haircuts under a plastic awning; a Michael Jackson song blares from his tape recorder as he restyles a client with a "Ronaldo" cut. The Islamists' restrictions on music, sport and social life are being shrugged off all across town. Women and girls crowd on to the city's beaches to swim. A sports bar has opened in the centre, showing matches from the European football championships.

But Ahmed Jama, a catering graduate from Solihull College who has opened three restaurants since returning from the West Midlands, has seen at close quarters that his remains a lethally dangerous city. He was only two rows away from the suicide bomber who killed 10 people in April at a ceremony at the National Theatre. But among the Somalis who have been tempted to come home for the first time by the changed environment is Hassan Nur, the youngest son of Mogadishu's Mayor Mohamed Nur. And the excitement of his homecoming captures the cautious optimism taking hold of the ruined capital. Asked to describe his first impression of the city he says: "It's half relaxing, half scary."

This is a good year. Every day we're getting new customers. We can't cope with the demand