Cleaning The Garbage in Somalia

Today, diplomats will meet in London to discuss the future of Somalia. I met with the Mayor of Mogadishu in advance of the conference to talk to him about the prospects of his city – and his country.

Mohamed Nur

Every morning Abdirazak Mohamed Nur reads a verse of the Koran. Then, he looks at his children and his wife and says: „I do not know whether I will come back in the evening.“ There is only one street that connects his home and his workplace.

Mohamed Nur has a job he never wanted – in a country nobody wants to go to. He is the Mayor of Mogadishu. Somalia´s capital.

His country has been considered a failed state for decades. But Mohamed Nur does not want to be a failed politician. “When I came into office, we did not even have lights in the streets. Now we do”, he says and it is hard to overlook the pride in his voice. Mohamed Nur is the man who brought back street lamps to Mogadishu.

Now, he stands at a bar table outside of a conference room at the 43rd St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland. Waitresses serve coffee and tea. As soon as Mohamed Nur is done with his cup, it is taken away. “We also have a big garbage problem in Mogadishu”, Mohamed Nur suddenly says. Then he stops talking and stares into the rainy landscape. A garbage problem – that sounds as if he were the mayor of Hilchenbach, a small German city with 15 394 inhabitants.

Mohamed Nur does not know how many inhabitants he is responsible for. But in a city that is still devastated after 20 years of Civil War, Mohamed Nur has found his role in caring about small things.

According to Mohamed Nur, a lot has changed over the last years. Mohamed Nur – back then a businessman in London – was offered the job as Mayor of Mogadishu twice. But he rejected. “When I finally accepted the offer I found a city that was lying in ashes. I did neither have any staff, nor did our city administration provide services,” Mohamed Nur says.

State authorities controlled only five out of 16 city districts. Mogadishu was a war zone. “You even had to pay the terrorists if you wanted to clean the garbage in the other districts”, Mohamed Nur says – and again, he talks about garbage instead of the 1 000 people who were dying each month in fights around Mogadishu, when he came into office. “Mogadishu used to be a black hole when I came there”, he goes on – and now again, he talks about the street lights, he recently installed.

I interrupt him, by asking: “If thousands of people are dying in Somalia due to famine and attacks, why is it that important to install street lights?” He looks upon me and seems surprised, but it does not take him long to think about the answer.

“I wanted to break a hole into this box called Mogadishu. People there do not know anything about the life outside of their city,” Mohamed Nur says.

He might not seem like a warrior, but by providing ordinary services instead of conducting street fights, he has understood a crucial part of how to achieve a victory over the al Shabaab terrorists: If he wants to win, he has to win over his population first.

“We have lots of resources in our country. A short time ago, a scientist gave me something and I asked him: ´What is that?´ – He answered: ´It is uranium!`.” Mohamed Nur laughs while he imitates himself jumping up of his chair, shouting: “Take it away, take it away!”. Under different circumstances, Mohamed Nur could be a very funny man.

But only two weeks ago, al Shabaab terrorists stormed a court complex in Mogadishu. “When we heard the first explosion, I did not react. We are used to that,” Mohamed Nur recounts. But when further explosions erupted, his security guards forced him to run to the shelter.

“Of course I was the last one to leave our building. I have armed bodyguards – but my employees do not. I want them to be safe in my city,” he says.

Three days after this interview was conducted in Switzerland, a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a government convoy traveling through Mogadishu.

“More explosions are on the way,” an al Shabaab spokesman told a wire service shortly after the attack.

Today, Mohamed Nur is in London. But he will return to Mogadishu.

And he will continue to pray.

Picture Credit: Caroline Marti

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