Somalia: Lost Generation Seeks Rebirth

Posted on 17/05/2011


It is two decades since Somalia descended into anarchy that has seen the Horn of Africa country in a protracted war. While the violence has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions, the biggest price many believe is the impact the civil war has had on Somalia’s youth. ABDILATIF MAALIM tells the story of troubled childhood, dashed hopes and renewed optimism of young people who have only known war in their lives.

Any child in the world will want to follow the footsteps of the most influential in society. For Abdirahman Shariff Mohamed, a Somali songwriter, growing up in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, meant that all his dreams were focused on becoming part of the gun-totting militia who were considered powerful in his surroundings.

Abdirahman, 25, was four years old when the government of Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled. He says he barely remembers the existence of a functioning government in his home country. He was born in 1986 to a business family which was at the time financially stable. His father ran a successful business in the Bakara Market while his mum was a stay-at-home mum who took care of Abdirahman and his siblings.”All I remember is the constant fleeing; I have never seen a functioning government in Somalia. When dictator Siad Barre was toppled, fighting broke out in our neighbourhood. It was all chaos, we had to abandon our house and left everything we owned behind,” Abdirahman narrates.

I met Abdirahman in the Somali-dominated neighbourhood of Eastleigh in Nairobi. The setting of the interview was the balcony of the Andalus Restaurant. There was a refreshing wind blowing over us. As we settled for the interview, Abdirahman used his left hand to clear the sweat on his face. “You can’t find this in Mogadishu,” he tells me. “A lush window and a comfortable setting like this; no way, no way.”

As a young man growing up in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, where residential places are often turned into battle fields, Abdirahman describes his entire life as “unfortunate”.

He was born and bred in Hodan which is not very far from the Bakara Market, the epicentre of the constant battles in the volatile Mogadishu. Unlike children in other parts of the world , Abdirahman had to wait until 1997 when he was 11 to attend school in Taleh, a neighbourhood that was a bit far from Hodan where the family resided. “Every day, I woke up and headed to school uncertain about the future. It was a difficult environment; one that you never knew when the bullet will hit you,” he said. “Sometimes, it was scary. I remember vividly one day when gunmen loyal to warlord Osman Aato engaged in a fierce battle with supporters of Farah Aideed,” said Abdirahman. “That day will forever remain etched in my mind. It was nasty.”

Abdirahman’s frustration and trauma about the war is shared by millions of Somali youths who were born during Somalia’s two-decade civil war. Some describe this age group as ‘Somalia’s lost generation’.

“My life had been wasted because of the violence that has engulfed my home country. I have been denied all my rights; right to live in a peaceful environment, the right to good and quality education etc. All these have been curtailed,” Abdirahman sadly notes.

In a hushed tone, Abdirahman says that in his childhood all he wanted to be was a gunman. He admired the people with guns who seemed to wield a lot of power.

“They could do everything they wanted and people feared them. To me at that tender age, they were my heroes and I wanted to follow their footsteps,” he said.

That was the past. Abdirahman, who recently got married, now wants nothing to do with the war. He currently works in Nairobi as a webmaster. I asked him what he thinks of his generation; being born and bred in a time of war and now marrying while the conflict in Somalia still rages on.

“Every day, I hope this crazy war will come to an end. I have grown up and lived through a time of hardship, bloodshed and struggle. I don’t want my child to go through the same. I ask all the youth in Somalia to shun fighting because the future belongs to us. We should give peace a chance,” said Abdirahman, with tears welling up in his eyes.

At the same venue, I met Muhyadin Ahmed Roble, a freelance Somali journalist who is now a student at the United States International University in Nairobi. He was also four years when the government of Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown leading to one of the bloodiest civil wars in the world.

“I was born in Wardhigley in Mogadishu very close to Villa Somalia. I was very young and I can’t recall how life was under Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime. All I remember is how we fled Wardhigley to the Soqo Holahaa (livestock market) after violence broke out in the city,” he said.

At a tender age and growing up in hostility, Muhyadin says his role models were the gun-totting clan militia.

“On Fridays we used to divide each other according to the estates we came from and engage in a mock gun fight. Each weekend, the children in the nieghbourhhood will launch an attack on our estate and sometimes we used to use light weapons,” said Muhyadin.

But Muhyadin explains that his life is now back on track. Attending a university in Kenya, he believes, will give him a break and chance to repair the ‘potholes’ in his life.

“I always wanted to be a journalist and I have made it. Now it is time to gain knowledge and take part in the development of my country,” says Muhyadin.

“In Somalia, the young are the ones who have destroyed their lives. Believe me the people who engage in the war are young people. They are being used by old people with selfish interests who don’t want peace in Somalia,” he said. “This generation is killing every possible effort to give peace a chance,” he added.

At Garissa Lodge, a business centre in Eastleigh, you will find many young people, some as young as 12, working as casual labourers for the rich merchants.

In the Amal Shopping Complex, I met Abdinasir Ahmed, an 18-year-old shopkeeper.

He was a bit hesitant at first to grant us an interview, saying he doesn’t want to talk about his life since it will remind him of the sorry state in his homeland.

“You very well know the impact the war has had on our lives; it written on our faces,” he says. “Look, I wanted to be a doctor but now that is all lost; I am now a mere shopkeeper.”

Abdinasir went to Omar bin Abdiaziz Primary School in Mogadishu. Their family lived in Towfiq. He says he is nostalgic about something he has never witnessed. “When I watch the video of Mogadishu when it was peaceful, the tales of the peaceful neigbourhood, I hope that one day we will see Mogadishu peaceful.”

For Abdinasir, the sight of children going to school in Nairobi without any hindrance makes him envious.

“I envy them; their country is peaceful, ours is burning,” he says. He recalls a day when he and his classmates were held hostage by forces loyal to the Somali Transitional Federal Government, then led by Abdullahi Yussuf.

“They said we are members of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU); they told us to produce bombs.” Abdinasir now supports his parents who are still in Mogadishu with his meagre earnings.

The civil war in Somalia has virtually seen the collapse of the educational institutions. With no formal education, the generation after the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre regime can only find casual jobs.

“My life is ruined, no education and no life. Today my life would have been very different if there had been peace in Somalia,” Ibrahim Abdi, a 24-year-old waiter at Silverpark Hotel in Nairobi, said.

Football is a popular pastime for many of the so-called ‘Somalia’s Lost Generation’. In Eastleigh, Section 3, what has been an emergency landing site for Kenyan Air Force planes has been turned into a football pitch.

We visited the training ground which is home to a group of young footballers from Somalia. Abdiaziz Abdirahman, popularly known as ‘Cesc’ among his peers, after the Spanish international and Arsenal skipper, is the captain of the team. He is the nephew of Mohamed Ali Shire, a one time Minister for Livestock Development in Somalia.

Today, he juggles the ball in the dusty playground which is surrounded by heaps of garbage. “I want to be a great footballer; it is my only hope and I want to represent Somalia one day in the World Cup,” he says with a broad smile. His colleague, Deq Mohamed Qorane, interrupts our conversation. “Peace! Peace! Somalia!” he says.

“I left Somalia when I was seven. I don’t have any memory about how the situation was then. Our family ran away to Ethiopia before crossing over to Kenya,” he says. “As a young man, I am confident that one day we will have peace when the clan elders who are poisoning our minds die; they are all to blame.”

by Abdilatif Maalim 
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Source: Hiiraan online