Of Somalia’s cheap deaths

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LAST week’s Somali catastrophe really moved me.
The scale of death, from a single terrorist attack, was mind-boggling.
Among the dead was a young girl who was due to graduate in medicine that day, after six years of study.
The terse news report noted: “Dr Maryam Abdullah, among more than 300 killed in the Mogadishu truck bombing, was due to graduate that same day as a medical doctor after six years studying medicine.”
The fate of the young doctor, more than knowing that 300 people had perished, is what brought teary eyes in me.
So in fact, persons, not just numbers, had perished. Compounding this is the fact that I am also a father with a daughter studying medicine.
God forbid!
The global conspiracy to give minimum or emotionless coverage was shocking.
This contrasted markedly with frenzied mourning and media coverage as the US and the world struggled to come to terms with the recent Las Vegas shooting.
On screens and on whatsapp platforms, our sympathies were sought through an overdose of images from the horror attack. Yet six times more people died in Mogadishu.
What was it with death and Somalia that would keep me so pre-occupied?
My first encounter with death was as a six-year-old in the village.
Sekuru Nduna had died and we eavesdropped on funeral proceedings from a distance.
Not long after another male from the village, John, was reported to have been run over by a car in the then Salisbury (Harare). That was one death too many for the village.
The reality of death awoke the spiritual side in me at a very young age.
Death, I grew to respect and fear.
Not even the inflation of deaths in wartime could shake me from the values I attached to death.
Somalia and Mogadishu I had met in Geography at school and was to remain that distant place going into adulthood.
The first Somali I met was Ahmad in 1989 at a conference in Madagascar.
He was doing doctoral studies in archaeology in Sweden.
I remembered him for his heavy accent.
I heard absolutely nothing from his presentation.
After that, we often bumped into each other quite a lot at global archaeology fora.
By then, Ahmad had become a career doctoral student, having taken up Swedish residence following political upheavals in Somalia in 1991.
Last week I gathered from the archaeology fraternity that Ahmad is alive and kicking as a ‘naturalised’ Swede and probably yet to undertake field research for his doctoral research in his beloved country but unable to on account of post-1991 disturbances in Somalia.
In the 1990s, a cousin of mine saw action in Somalia as Zimbabwe joined United Nations efforts to rid Somalia of warlords.
Farah Aideed had notable notoriety in that regard.
Suffice to say it was a failed mission.
But once upon a time Mogadishu was not the morgue or war-zone it has become.
Death was as rare and feared as encountered by me in the village in the 1970s.
Somalia had been faithful to the post-colonial, anti-imperial script of Africa.
Tribal and bourgeois contradictions took centre stage.
The centre struggled to hold.
Expectedly, a group of army officers under Mohamed Siad Barre staged a coup in 1969.
They had strong views against imperialism and believed in scientific socialism.
Under the Barre Government, a semblance of national unity was achieved with outlawing of tribalism.
Initially the socialist economic model appeared to be holding its own.
Volunteer labour planted and harvested crops, built roads, hospitals as well as universities.
Almost all industry, banks and businesses were nationalised and co-operative farms were promoted.
A new writing system for the Somali language was also adopted. Somalia was working and appeared to be destined for Libyan scale success.
All this, however, changed overnight with the Gorbachev-led capitulation of the socialist order in the early 1990s.
That inspired several tribal-based and imperial-funded rebel groups to take up arms.
After over two decades of military and socialist rule, Barre’s Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party was eventually forced from power in the early 1990s by a coalition of armed rebel groups.
Barre died in political exile in 1995.
A Somalia without Barre has not known peace, much like post Gaddafi Libya.
And unlike deaths in the village I grew up in here, death is cheap and ordinary.
That explains why North America and the EU paid so little attention when over 300 people were massacred, and another 500 people are struggling for their lives.
With the exception of Turkey, Europe was conspicuously silent. Africa, so dependent on American and European news coverage also inadvertently joined the silence conspiracy.
Death has become cheap in Somalia.
As the injured fight for dear lives in Turkey, and with the Mogadishu massacre already off our screens, I can imagine Ahmad’s reflection in the comfort of Sweden.
Did he run away from relative Somali comfort in the 1990s? Was Farah Aideed’s 1990s rebel movement a march of the saints compared to Al Shabaab?
Did Barre miss an opportunity to save the fatherland?
Does Somalia represent an African post-colonial legacy of anarchy and struggle for power?

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