Mogadishu pins hope on marines: Somalis wonder why US troops did not come sooner, writes Richard Dowden in Mogadishu

IT WAS not an exceptional incident by Somalia's standards. A group of gunmen at the airport yesterday got into a quarrel over an aid cargo, flown in by a light plane. Some say they tried to hijack the plane, others that they were trying to steal the cargo. They opened fire on the UN Pakistani troops who are said to have 'secured' the airport. The Pakistanis returned fire, captured some of the gunmen and handed them over to their clan elders.

One Somali is reported to have been hit and last night more gunfire was heard from the airport. The more relaxed atmosphere Mogadishu has enjoyed in the last few days evaporated as the streets emptied around the UN headquarters near the airport in the south of the city.

The incident is evidence, if more were needed, of the ineffectiveness of the UN force and the need for the eagerly awaited US force. The hull of a huge vessel can be seen on the horizon and everyone assumes it is the USS Tripoli with 1,800 marines.

There is also a very strong feeling here that the timing of their arrival has little to do with UN planning and much to do with the arrival of the US television networks. Last night Ted Koppel was due in town with a team of 15 to add to an ABC crew of 12. One flight from London to Nairobi made an unscheduled stop at Larnaca to pick up a CNN crew of five and several tons of equipment.

Many Somalis who have seen their country destroyed while the UN and the US ignored it, feel the arrival of the Americans has more to do with US politics than Somalia's needs. 'The general feeling is that the Americans will be welcome but I am unsure about their overall objective,' said a senior Somali aid worker. 'Why are they coming only now? If the scheme works Mr Bush goes out looking good and America gets nice pictures of starving kids being fed at Christmas. If it doesn't work, Mr Clinton inherits a problem.'

All the aid agencies agree that the mass starvation which occurred in July and August has been reduced to pockets such as Bardera, where 40 to 50 people are dying daily. The new harvest is about to be gathered and the general situation has improved. Observers point out that if the militarisation of food aid had to take place, it should have happened months ago. None of the serious aid agencies are planning to alter their programmes when the US troops come but some are sending away staff during this uncertain period. 'We resent the idea that this is being done for our benefit,' said one aid agency chief.

Meanwhile, the price of getting the services of an armed guard - an essential accessory for any foreigner - is rising hourly as television crews hire vehicles and the guards who go with them. The Independent yesterday hired Ali (with an AK-47) and Omar (with a G-3 assault rifle). They come complete with a small Toyota for dollars 90 (pounds 59) per half-day. The street price of a second-hand AK-47, which had fallen from dollars 200 to dollars 50 last week, is also expected to rise.

One of the questions is whether the force will disarm these guards and gunmen when they arrive. Nicolas De Metz, head of the Medecins sans Frontieres mission in Mogadishu, said yesterday that to dispense with their services immediately would mean putting several thousand armed but jobless men on the streets overnight.

These gunmen are not always biddable; one tried to kill an aid worker who sacked him for stealing. Many use their weapons to emphasise a point, and just how the US marines will react to such language is crucial. 'What will happen when the first Somali dies at the hands of the Americans?' asked one Somali, pointing out that Somali culture is steeped in retaliation and blood revenge.

The United Somali Congress (USC), led by General Mohamed Farah Aideed, is probably the largest force; although its leader has welcomed the US initiative, he is using it to play off Washington and the UN, with posters depicting the former as friend and the latter as invader.

Yesterday, in one of the more bizarre scenes in this nightmarish city, a band, complete with leader brandishing a silver-topped baton, drummers, buglers and clarinetists, marched through town followed by banners proclaiming 'Somalia needs peace'. It had been organised by the USC as a show of peaceable strength. Much of its heavy equipment including tanks and artillery pieces have reportedly been moved into hiding.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballIt's not a game to lose, writes Paul Scholes
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
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

Teaching Assistant

£60 - £65 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: Teach...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobWe are currently recruiting for an...

PMLD Teacher

£95 - £105 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: SEN ...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes