Aid comes with the barrel of a gun

MOGADISHU looks from the air like a city which once tried to get out of Africa, but was brought to a halt at the water's edge, where its buildings, battered and roofless, gave up the struggle.

This is one country where there is no need to show a passport, no customs to negotiate, no forms to fill. Even anarchy has its up-side. And even anarchy has its rules. We climb into the truck that will drive us to the city, but we have no armed guard as we head towards the airport gates, passing groups of young men, easy with their weapons. It is a bit like walking in your underwear through a room full of men in suits.

Once through the gates, we can collect our guards. These employees of our hosts, Save the Children Fund, belong to a different clan from that in charge of the airport: they cannot set foot inside. They lean against the back of the vehicle and lay their guns across their legs, barrels pointing to the road.

We turn into a main street, a sand road between stalls made of corrugated iron, of sacking, of grass. The street is crowded, hectic with packed buses and trucks. Technicals - the roving killing machines of the local teenagers, vehicles mounted with machine guns, anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns - are parked at intervals along the street.

Stalls are offering car parts, grapefruit, tomatoes. Goat legs hang from the roofs. Suddenly we are staring through the windscreen down the barrel of a gun several inches wide. A dozen youngsters hang on to it. The truck carrying the gun swerves past.

We hear of how, last week, one Technical rider, 10 or 12 years old, managed to get through a traffic jam in a Mogadishu street by shooting dead the driver of a taxi in his way.

We arrive at the Save the Children house; even a newcomer can sense an unusual degree of tension among the women based here. A Somali woman, a tea-seller, was shot dead in the street outside this morning.

As we talk, there are occasional bursts of gunfire in the streets. One relief nurse gets a walkie-talkie message to go to the gate to talk to two Somalis. She walks out on to the veranda. Her disappearance is followed immediately by two gunshots. None of the women flinches, or turns her head. I look at the cigarettes and lighter, left neatly on the table by the nurse. Will she return? Eventually, she does.

I hear of how recent fighting in a Mogadishu suburb rendered the Save the Children centre inaccessible to its workers. In the suburban centre's therapeutic section, 400 children at high risk of dying were being fed four times a day. One Somali superviser hired a 'bush taxi' at his expense, and drove food supplies through the fighting.

Three days ago, travelling with a colleague bringing medicines, he was stopped and told if he did not turn back he would be killed. No one has got through since, though a few mothers have turned up at other centres with babies.

I learn more of the ways the workers survive here; of the necessary negotiations before travel or the bringing in of new people; the ways predictability is cajoled out of chaos.

This place no longer exists as a country. But people work, heal, survive, as well as fight. One day, the Somali people will have to reinvent Somalia.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss