Why do Somalis look white

Security situation in SomaliaWaiting for elections

We approach the concrete blocks behind which the entrance to the so-called "Green Zone" of Mogadishu begins, a high-security zone within the Somali capital. Behind the barriers lie the fortress-like, sealed off and therefore expensive hotels and the houses of the political elite. After about two kilometers the actual "Green Zone" follows, barricaded behind further concrete blocks, another high wall, further security controls: the airport, diplomats, military, mercenaries and agents. Terrorist attacks by the Islamist Shabaab militia are still the order of the day in Mogadishu. Hundreds of people die as a result every year.

As every afternoon, traffic jams in front of the roadblock. Some veiled women stand next to the waiting cars, ignoring the heavily armed security guards on the back of the pickups. The women hold up signs with sequences of digits.

"They are refugees from Syria, they are begging here in Somalia. The numbers are their telephone numbers, people send them electronic money," explains the interpreter Ahmed Duurow Ahmed. It is impossible to talk to them directly in front of the check point.

Somali cash can hardly be used in everyday life

One of the women, Rada Mahmoud Al Abass, comes to an agreed meeting point two days later, a simple hotel in the city center.

"Nobody in Somalia has cash anymore, but everyone has a phone, everyone pays with electronic money."

And in US dollars, because the Somali shilling is hardly usable in everyday life because of the high inflation: There are only 1000 shilling bills, but one US dollar is now worth 27,000 Somali shillings. A phone is therefore essential for begging. A Somali gave hers to her, says Rada, and it cost nine dollars. She currently has four dollars in her mobile bank account.

"I don't even know how to pay with it. When I want to buy something, I give the phone to the seller and he'll deduct the amount. Sometimes I at least type in my password myself, sometimes I just tell the dealer."

Internally displaced persons in Sayidka Camp (picture alliance / AP / Farah Abdi Warsameh)

The Syrian mother of five has great confidence in the Somali people.

"Yes, they are very trustworthy and generous people. They have never treated us badly."

That's why the family is only here, fled the Syrian Homs to Mogadishu:

"The Somalis are good people, they are our brothers and sisters, after all we are all Muslims. That is why we preferred to come here rather than flee elsewhere."

Mogadishu: Slow build-up amid unrest

For example to Europe. Rada is also satisfied with the security situation in Mogadishu. Since they came four and a half months ago, there has only been one problem:

"In the neighborhood we now live in, one of my sons was kidnapped. But our neighbors are such lovely people, they immediately campaigned for his release, and we had him again after a short time."

Without paying the ransom that the kidnappers must have been about.

At the city's most important roundabout, called K4, armored SUVs, pick-ups with armed security guards, TukTuks and donkey carts chase each other off the right of way. Just beyond the heaviest traffic, traders offer their goods: bundles of the leaf drug khat, fruit, cell phones and other electronic devices. In view of such street scenes, Mogadishu actually looks like an almost normal city. It has changed a lot since the Islamist Shabaab militia lost military control of Mogadishu in late 2011, defeated by the African Union military mission AMISOM. The terrorist group belonging to the al-Qaeda network is still so strong that it regularly carries out attacks all over the country and continues to control many rural areas. But that has not stopped Somalis from rebuilding their homeland after twenty years of civil war - although the country has not come to rest to this day.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo speaking at the United Nations in 2019 (imago / Michael Brochstein)
Recently there has also been a café like the Beydan, the baristas prepare the finest caffè latte and cappuccino - even in the wildest civil war, the former Italian colony of Somalia held onto its coffee. Snacks such as brownies, American cheesecake and wraps are in the chilled and illuminated display. The high walls are painted black. 26-year-old Zahara is sitting at one of the wooden tables with a cappuccino and a laptop, working.

"We have come a long way and we are on the way to a better future, at least I am convinced of that. A lot is changing. There weren't any cafés like this two years ago. The city is still developing we still have some security issues. But it's getting better. "

But this could be countered by something that should actually contribute to the further stabilization of Somalia: "Everyone is afraid of the next election. There are so many problems, not only with the Shabaab militia, but also with the government. In the past two Months life in Mogadishu is not the same as it used to be. People are now avoiding going out. Everyone is afraid of what will happen next. "

The choice as the sword of Damocles

Those who drive into the city from the airport pass the giant posters of the presidential candidates. 14 men are competing against the incumbent head of state Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed alias "Farmajo", including two of his predecessors in office and several former prime ministers, no women. The fact that the applicants draw attention to themselves, especially in the high-security zone, to which the population has no access, is in some ways consistent: The presidential election in Somalia has little to do with a democratic process. But that's not the biggest problem at the moment. But the fact that the election cannot take place on time due to months of political disputes. A new head of state was actually supposed to be found on February 8, when the mandate of the current one expires. But for that to happen, the elections should have started in December. Instead, there is still not even agreement on the election commission to this day.

There are repeated attacks by Al-Shabaab - like here on a hotel in Mogadishu (AP)

The UN Special Envoy for Somalia James Swan outlined the main features of the complicated election process at a digital press conference in late January:

"First of all, delegates have to be elected, who in turn elect the members of parliament, both the Senate and the House of Commons. These two houses then come together to elect the President. What we urgently need now is an agreement on how to proceed We need the agreement before February 8th. " If the further course of action is not coordinated by then, Somalia will find itself on "unpredictable terrain," warned Swan. In the worst case, that means violence. Because Farmajo's opponents could have the impression that he wanted to prevent elections on principle. Given the high-flying expectations for this election, that's a modest claim. Actually, a general parliamentary election should have taken place for the first time in over 50 years, with one vote for every adult citizen. That would have been a big step, a sign that Somalia is actually consolidating its democratic statehood - for two decades the East African country was considered a prime example of a "failed state".

A state without a constitution

Because of the persistently poor security situation, general elections are still not possible. That is why there will be indirect voting again, as in 2016. But there is another reason why political tensions are escalating to such an extent, says Hussein Sheikh Ali. He heads the Somali think tank Hiraal Institute:

"There is no legal basis for how the elections should be held. The process depends largely on what the politicians agree on, according to which model they want to compete against each other."

(AFP / Mohamed Abdowahab) Situation in Somalia - drones, jihad and lucrative business
Somalia has only had an internationally recognized government again since 2012. However, large parts of the country are still controlled by the Shabaab militia. Their goal: an Islamic state of God.


Because the state in the process of reconstruction still has no constitution. In 2012, the first parliament voted with an overwhelming majority for a draft constitution, in the drafting of which the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg was involved. But this draft has not yet been ratified. Therefore, the division of labor and powers between the central government and the states has not yet been clarified. Instead of providing clarity here, President Farmajo ruled into the elections of several states during his tenure and thus turned them against him. Former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is one of his competitors in the election, which today nobody knows exactly when it will take place. He runs again for the highest office and names the most important points of contention.

"We are particularly concerned about two points. First, there is the independent electoral commission, which is supposed to organize elections at the national, state and local levels. In this commission the government has members of the secret service, government employees and others Areas that should be entrusted with organizing the elections. "

Al-Shabaab: Terrorist militia with an extensive financial system

The accusation: The Commission is therefore not independent. The government rejects this: the electoral commission complies with the requirements and is politically neutral.

"Second, the government sends special police and military units to regions where the situation is not at all unsafe. The Shabaab militia poses no threat there. And the security forces do not fight Al-Shabaab at all, they swap local ones Administration out, intervene in the existing structures. This makes it very clear that the federal government wants to falsify the elections. "

Masked members of the Al-Shabaab militia in Somalia (dpa / picture-alliance / Badri Media)

In fact, Farmajo has exceeded its competencies several times. Ultimately, these conflicts are about the distribution of military, political and economic resources between the capital and the states. The political analyst Hussein Sheikh Ali fears massive consequences if the election blockade continues. In his view, the political squabbles distract from far bigger problems in the country:

"The tense security situation, which requires 200 percent vigilance, is not getting the attention it needs at the moment because of the political squabbles. The loopholes from which the Shabaab militia and other terrorist groups can benefit grow larger when politicians get over it nothing at all, especially not about the course of the elections. "

The danger posed by the Shabaab militia should not be underestimated, warns Hussein Sheikh Ali. Recently he analyzed the strength and financial system of the terrorist group.

"Militarily, the group is not very strong, but its influence is much greater than it was four years ago. By that I mean, for example, its ability to collect money through a kind of tax system. The amount is now ten times as high as it was four years ago They make nearly $ 200 million a year. That may give you an idea of ​​how powerful and accepted the terrorist group is. They even raise money from some government institutions. "

"No other chance than to cooperate with the Shabaab militia"

This is confirmed by an expert report commissioned by the UN Security Council. Accordingly, the terrorist militia has built an effective financial system. And not only in the areas that it also controls militarily, but also, for example, in Mogadishu with its financially lucrative port.

"They tax all goods that are imported and exported - just like the government. They have infiltrated many state institutions. The population has no other chance than to cooperate with the Shabaab militia, otherwise they would face the consequences . "

Since the port is also the main source of income for the government, business people in Mogadishu complain about being taxed twice: by the government and the terrorist militia. The militia officers are in possession of all official documents, they get the documents from the officials of the port authority. The militia is just as well informed about all other economic activities in Somalia, knows the sales and profits of small businesses, large companies, state institutions - and demands their share. This is also confirmed by the UN experts in their report.

Internally displaced persons: from the countryside to the city

A refugee camp in the middle of Mogadishu. Men, women and children sit on the floor between makeshift shelters. Against the sun and rain, they formed hemispheres from curved branches and covered them with everything they could find: plastic sheeting, empty sacks of grain, old clothes. Almost 500,000 people live in such camps among the ruins of Mogadishu. The internally displaced persons have fled over the years: from the violence of the Islamists, from drought and floods and from hunger, most recently aggravated by a plague of locusts of biblical proportions. Many families have recently come to Mogadishu from the outskirts of the capital. A young mother reports to the BBC what drove her to flee a few weeks ago:

"The clans are fighting each other, and the government is waging war against Al Shabaab. We could no longer live there, no longer till our fields. Nobody supports us there. The situation became so difficult that I fled."


Internally displaced persons in Somalia - the UN warns of the consequences of climate change (picture alliance / AP / Farah Abdi Warsameh)

According to the United Nations, Somalia has been under a "triple shock" since last year: floods and droughts as a result of climate change, the locust plague and the corona pandemic. So far, this has primarily increased economic hardship, the number of known cases is low at less than 5000, the government has so far reported 132 deaths in connection with the corona virus. However, because there is hardly any testing, the number of unreported cases is likely to be high. The government fears that the second wave will also reach Somalia.

Warlord and Secretary of Defense

Now the upcoming election is also exacerbating political tensions. This is also how the 63-year-old general, nicknamed Inda’Adde, "the one-eyed man" sees it. He was already a warlord and defense minister and has switched sides many times in his long life at arms. In view of the election blockade, he warns:

"Taking up arms is not our first choice, after all we have suffered from civil war for 30 years. We have all wasted many years of our lives on this war. I want to prevent the next generation from losing their future. But we will not accept a dictatorship. You know what happened in Syria? Refugees from Syria are now begging on our streets. Or think of Iraq, Libya or our previous dictatorship Siad Barre - all of this teaches us that we are the next Have to fight dictatorship from the start. If we fail to do that, the younger generation will suffer. "

There is no serious doubt that the general would take up arms again. And he's not the only one. Some clan leaders have already reassembled their fighters. Meanwhile, gun ownership is increasing in Mogadishu. In Somalia this is still a good clinical thermometer for the political situation.