Warlord's son puts paid to Somalia's yearning for peace

The death of the faction leader General Aideed has not eased the country's agony, writes David Orr
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The Independent Online
Mogadishu -In a ward of the Key Saney hospital, in north Mogadishu, is a tiny child with a disproportionately long name. Abdulahi Abdi Ahmed is 17 months old, with wispy, black hair and large, brown eyes. He lies on his back, staring up at his mother who sits on the edge of the bed, fanning him to keep off the flies. His stomach is covered with dressing and surgical tape.

At the end of the bed a doctor holds up an X-ray picture to the light. The bullet, which lodged in Abdulahi's right side, is clearly visible on the black-and-white image.

"He was in his mother's arms when a stray round hit him", Dr Hassan Sabrie said. "We have removed the bullet and now he can take some food and liquids. But he is paralysed from the waist down. This child will never walk".

Abdulahi Abdi was injured in the same fighting which, the week before last, saw the fatal wounding of Mohamed Aideed, Somalia's most infamous warlord. As the child and his family cowered inside their home, the sound of gunfire echoed all around them in the city's Medina district. General Aideed was leading an attack against Mussa Sudi, a faction leader in the capital who was allied to his bitter rival, Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

Little Abdulahi was admitted to Key Saney on 25 July, the day after General Aideed was wounded in the stomach. On that day the hospital took in 48 casualties, its highest number that month.

The child was one of 23 injured people who were allowed to cross the Green Line which divides the south and the north of the city. The two hospitals in southern Mogadishu are run down and often close because of fighting. But Key Saney, a former prison, is located in a northern part of the city, away from the war.

There are many other people in Abdulahi's ward who were wounded in Mogadishu's most recent round of fighting. Among them was Asha Mohamed, a 26-year- old woman who lost her baby when a stray bullet entered her belly. Then there is Mohamed Abdi Abdi, aged two, who was hit in the stomach while he was playing outside his house; and Moumin Gureh, a middle-aged former civil servant who lay wounded for five days before his family got him across the Green Line.

The patients in Key Saney receive the best treatment that is available in Mogadishu. Most of them will recover, more or less. Soon they will return home and pick up their lives, trading, doing housework, or being cared for, as children everywhere are cared for. They will be forgotten.

Not so General Aideed. Although his body was laid to rest last Friday, his name will be honoured by his clansmen and supporters for many years. It will live on also through his son, Hussein Farah Aideed, who was chosen as his successor by a council of clan elders at the weekend.

The 35-year-old Hussein was educated in the United States and only returned to live in Mogadishu last year. While serving as a US Marine in 1993, he was part of the US intervention force which went to Somalia under a United Nations mandate, in order to bring peace and humanitarian aid.

His father, a fierce opponent of foreign intervention, led his fighters into battle against the Americans and the other troops in the country. US forces pulled out in 1994, having lost some three dozen soldiers at General Aideed's hands. The last UN peace-keepers left last year, after losing about 100 men.

There are many Somalis, particularly those living in the northern part of Mogadishu, held by Ali Mahdi, who believe there is now an opportunity to end the war which has devastated the country and left the capital in ruins.

"We hope for peace, now that General Aideed is dead", said Daud Shino, a young man who has lost one brother and seen four others wounded in the conflict.

"We have had too much war here, everyone has had people in their family killed. Perhaps the fighting will stop now".

Mr Shino sits at a roadside tea stall with a group of traders, former government workers and students. Around them are artillery-blasted buildings and the detritus of five years' war: mounds of rubble, wrecked cars and decaying piles of rubbish.

Despite regular outbreaks of fighting in southern Mogadishu, the Green Line and the northern part of the city have been quiet of late. But there is not much business, especially for young men. So, they hang around, discussing politics. The Somalis have invented a phrase for the members of such "talking shops"; they call them "fadhi ku dirir", or sitting fighters.

Some of the men in these groups are undoubtedly militiamen, or former militiamen. They all swear loyalty to Ali Mahdi and say they will fight the Aideed faction if they have to. As they sit there, the sound of gunfire is carried on the wind across the Green Line. "Don't worry", they say, laughing, "it's only people trying out the guns at Bakara market. There is no shooting here".

But the shooting in Mogadishu could start again for real. When General Aideed died last week, Ali Mahdi declared a ceasefire on behalf of his side. However, Hussein, the newly- proclaimed leader of the Aideed faction, has made no such conciliatory gestures. Indeed, he has vowed to eliminate all his enemies, both inside and outside the country. Now Ali Mahdi has said that he will have to reconsider his position.

The Aideed faction has been considerably weakened since the defection last year of the general's former financier, Osman Atto. But, despite the splintering of the clan alliances and the death of their general, the Aideed faction seems as intent on warmongering as ever.

A window of opportunity might have opened but it is closing fast. Amidst all the suffering of this hopeless conflict, Somalis are bracing themselves for yet more death and destruction.