A World of Dust continued.
Despite the impending lawsuits, Ato's relations with the Americans were now warm again, he said, just as they had been before the civil war. The managers of Conoco, the American oil company, had asked him to look after their local facilities, and he was doing so. He had assured the United States government and military that he would try to help keep the final U.N. withdrawal peaceful. Aidid might try to rouse public fears with warnings about American plans to "recolonize" Somalia, but Ato would counsel calm. Lately, he said, he had been in constant contact with Ali Mahdi's group, and he was now in a position to say that the transfer of the airport and the seaport from U.N. control to Somali control would be uneventful. Looters would be kept at bay, and there would be joint management of both facilities by both militias. Nobody wanted to see the port or the airport shut down again -- not even Aidid. Indeed, Ato was so confident that the transfer would be orderly that he planned to spend part of the withdrawal period on a United States Navy ship offshore, where an American doctor had agreed to remove the pins from his injured ankle.
I seemed to be the only person there who found this image amusing. Perhaps it was the khat.
Throughout the evening, small groups of men came in, sat with us, talked for a few minutes with Ato, and left. Awale translated some of the conversations for me. Most of the groups were delegations, it seemed, from a council of subclan elders that was meeting nearby. The elders were trying to settle various points of contention between Ato and Aidid. Arguments from both sides had already been heard. These visits were to offer progress reports or to attain clarifications. Awale described for me in some detail a set of countrywide clan alliances that he and Ato had proposed as the best way for the Habar Gidir to consolidate power in the post-U.N. period, and outflank Ali Mahdi. Aidid had a narrower, more military strategy, apparently. (But the plan that Awale described stood in sharp contrast to the goals that Ali Mahdi and his advisers outlined when I interviewed them. "Once we have justice and democracy in Somalia, the clan system will disappear," Ali Mahdi said. He struck me as a pleasant man, but I had to fight to stay awake while he and his men regaled me with lectures about human rights. Ato's interlocking clan alliances seemed like a more plausible political blueprint. And Ali Mahdi's wife, it was useful to recall, had been Siad Barre's legal adviser.)
The subclan elders meeting nearby were a reminder that, even while Somalia has no government, a great deal of political decision-making does get done, most of it far from Mogadishu and indistinguishable from what goes on -- elders solving problems, settling local disputes -- when there is a government. The elders' meeting was also a reminder, though, that a distinction often made by critics of the intervention, who contended that the U.N. should have been dealing with clan elders rather than with warlords and politicians, was largely false. That is because a great many elders work closely with the warlords -- just as many worked with the Siad Barre regime. The image of wise, community-minded, uncorrupted elders is seductive but ill-founded. Some well-informed (but discreet) observers, including Anogeel, even lay a large portion of the blame for the civil war at the feet of the elders, some of whom have been all too willing to help fill the armed ranks of the warlords with illiterate youths from their rural domains.
To an outsider, the most striking thing about the clan and political business being conducted at Ato's that evening was the lack of visible deference being shown, even by the most junior members of the various delegations, to Ato himself. It is an aspect of Somali society often noted: though some clans use Arabic terms like "sultan" to describe their leaders, the strict hierarchical relations that characterize most Middle Eastern societies are absent. There are titular royal families and stronger and weaker clans and much racial condescension toward the more Negroid Somali Bantu minority in the south, but the sharpest distinguishing feature of Somali society remains its egalitarianism. This proto-democracy has its roots in the hard, proud life of the nomad, who, if his herd is large and healthy, reckons himself as rich as any merchant.
Ato started talking at one point about his childhood -- how he got his first break at the age of thirteen, when he was working as a laborer for an oil-company search crew. The bulldozer operator, an Italian, got hurt, and Ato jumped into his seat and showed that he could operate the rig. An American millionaire, I thought, might have told the story as an illustration of the American Dream: humble origins, moxie, and the rest. But Ato's moral seemed to lie elsewhere: something about how the complexities of machinery are overrated. Certainly nobody seemed to find it odd that this tycoon had once been a manual laborer.
Although much of the local political discussion that evening -- the sub-subclan level of affairs -- flew past me, I did make one startling connection. Abide Qeybdiid, the quiet man whose house had been destroyed by the Americans, was also, I realized, the man who had allegedly directed Qaylaweyne to have Anogeel assassinated. This was not a state secret. In fact, a few days before the assassination attempt Qeybdiid had stood on a stage at an Aidid rally and publicly torn up a copy of Xog-Ogaal, urging members of the crowd to do the same. Now I studied Qeybdiid, who was thoughtfully sipping his tea. I should have been more disturbed than I was. Again, it was probably the khat.
At the end of the evening, Ato sent Maren and me back to our hotel in one of his cars, accompanied by a dozen gunmen and a state-of-the-art technical. For a few minutes, flashing through the lightless streets, it felt as if we owned the city.
In the worldwide ideological migration away from statism and toward unfettered markets, Somalia may be seen as a sort of battered advance scout. Taxes could not be lower, regulation less onerous. Everything is privatized. "In ten years' time, you'll be able to buy fucking plutonium in Bakara Market," a British wire-service correspondent with long experience in Somalia says. "The streets of Mogadishu will be ruled by monster technicals." Hans Magnus Enzensberger's description of modern civil wars -- "The unprecedented comes into sudden and explosive contact with the atavistic" -- seems ever more apt in Somalia.
Wild-frontier capitalism is already operating where conditions allow. Thus multinational corporations, including the Dole Food Company and the Italian-owned Somalfruit Company, have been battling for control of a swath of lucrative banana plantations south of Mogadishu. (This battle has been literal, and Marcello Palmisano, an Italian journalist, was caught in the crossfire on February 9th. Gunmen allegedly working for a subsidiary of Dole apparently mistook him for an executive of Somalfruit, and executed him outside the Mogadishu airport. Dole denied responsibility.) I have seen the northern port of Boosaaso -- where civil peace has reigned since a group of fractious Islamic fundamentalists were run off by local clan militias in 1993 -- jammed with big diesel-powered dhows in from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates, which were loading livestock at a furious rate. Somali goats, camels, cattle, and black-headed sheep are highly valued in the Middle East, and livestock exports have long been the country's leading earner of hard currency. The one problem with shipping around Boosaaso now is pirates: they like to board foreign vessels by claiming to be the "coast guard" of a semi-fictitious regional authority, and then levy huge fines for the violation of obscure laws.
The lack of ordinary, tax-supported public services does lead, as in the Republican fantasy, to a certain amount of voluntarism. Travelling from Mogadishu to Jowhar on a highway that is mostly in a disastrous state of repair, I noticed my translator shoving thousand-shilling notes out the car window -- disintegrating leftovers from Siad Barre times, they are worth about fifteen cents each -- whenever we passed a dusty laborer patching the road with a shovel and a bucket. "It is to encourage them," he said. "I went to Merka with an Arab diplomat who threw out bundles of Somalian shillings whenever he saw someone maintaining the road."
A more popular enterprise among those who live alongside Somalian highways, however, is the erection of roadblocks for the collection of tolls. This is not the sort of effort one wants to encourage, and so one's escorts routinely make a show of force -- eight or ten assault rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and a belt-fed machine gun in the case of that trip to Jowhar -- at roadblocks to persuade the toll collectors to move their rocks out of one's way. (The personal-security business has been an economic growth sector, clearly. It is also a seller's market: when you are told you need twenty gunmen and a technical to go safely where you want to go, your bargaining position is weak by definition.)
In Africa, where modern governments have been notoriously lax in delivering services to ordinary folk, there is something to be said for statelessness. On balance, the masses living under some of the worst kleptocracies would probably be better off with nothing. Indeed, the withering away of the state is already far advanced in some countries, such as Zaire, where a minuscule élite in league with international capital has accumulated great wealth and essentially withdrawn from a completely exhausted and immiserated society, leaving almost no public sector behind. Somalia may be headed in that direction -- toward total, permanent privatization, and an increasingly polarized class structure -- if its leaders continue to fail to form a government. But the state and "civil society" are never really entirely distinguishable, and particularly not in modern-day Africa, where the rickety structures of the colonial period, including the nation-state itself, have been either swiftly adapted since independence to the purposes of other structures, most of which predate European colonization, or abandoned. The state's authority has been spotty, at best, everywhere on the continent. Even in stateless Somalia, there are today many overlapping zones of authority, some of them highly popular, which will challenge a government when, or if, one arises.
An obvious example is the Islamic shariah court system. Applying the civil and criminal law found in the Koran and in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, shariah is filling the void left by the disappearance of a secular justice system. Most shariah advocates are careful to distinguish the courts from Islamic fundamentalism, which they say is an anti-Western political movement, given to terrorism, whereas shariah is simply a popular response to social disorder. This distinction was made repeatedly by the judge and the chief prosecutor in a shariah courtroom I visited in the Wardhiigley neighborhood, in north Mogadishu. Their court's purpose, they said, was practical: to fight crime. And, by all accounts, they have had great success. In north Mogadishu, which is controlled militarily by Ali Mahdi's forces, shariah courts have been functioning for only six months, and already the streets there are much safer than those in the southern half of the city: women can wear jewelry in public, and children can play in the streets, even after dark.
On the wall above the judge was a painted motto, in Arabic -- translated for me as "Those Who Do Not Judge by What God Has Revealed Are Infidels" -- along with a set of scales and a vividly rendered sword. I asked how suspects are identified. They are brought in by the public, I was told, or by special police hired by the court. They are tried according to the Islamic teachings, which have strict rules of evidence, requiring at least two eyewitnesses or a confession to convict. The conviction rate, I was told, is nonetheless high. That may be because no defense counsel is allowed or because, despite the severe punishments ordered by the Koran, many defendants simply plead guilty.
I asked about punishments.
The judge, a thin, severe man in a sand-colored embroidered cap, and the chief prosecutor, a big, bearded, bright-eyed fellow in a red kaYyeh, and a host of onlookers who had gathered around began to tick them off. For eating in public during Ramadan: public flogging -- thirty-five lashes. For robbery: a hand chopped off with a sword. For armed robbery: a hand and a foot. For murder: execution, with the body to be left outside for three days.
"Does a guilty plea temper sentencing?" I asked.
Not at all, I was assured. The family of a murder victim can, however, opt to receive traditional financial compensation from the killer rather than let him be executed.
I asked about sexual crimes.
Adultery: if both sinners are married, both are stoned to death; if one is unmarried, he or she is flogged -- a hundred lashes -- and the other stoned to death. For unmarried lovers: a hundred lashes. For public kissing: thirty lashes. For married men caught in a homosexual act: death by stoning. For unmarried men: a hundred lashes. For, in my translator's phrase, "making love to goat": a hundred lashes.
I got the feeling that the shariah crowd could have gone on listing sexual crimes and punishments all afternoon, but the judge cut them off. The biggest problem in Wardhiigley had been armed gangs, he said, robbing and raping, looting and killing. The shariah court had stopped them cold in six months.
Whether the shariah court's authority will ever be more than local is an open question. I imagine that in a showdown with one of the major clan militias any shariah judge would have to back down. And I suspect that the civic peace so harshly imposed on north Mogadishu will be overwhelmed if there is a resumption of the civil war. The shariah courts will have a place in whatever political equilibrium Somalis eventually find, but the major clans will have to work out their relative positions first. That is what they were doing when the world intervened to stop the famine in 1992, and it is what they will resume doing now that the United Nations is gone.
Ato was right about the final U.N. withdrawal, and about the transfer of the port and the airport: there was little fighting. The United States troops overseeing the pullout exchanged some machine-gun fire with the mooryaan; the latter suffered all the casualties. The withdrawal was complete by March 3rd, and a combination of Habar Gidir and Abgaal militias quickly sealed off the port and the airport, chasing away freelance looters. The joint-management arrangement seemed to be working as had been planned, at least for the moment.
The rest of the world, meanwhile, seemed relieved to be seeing the last of Somalia. The most often quoted official remark of the week came from General John M. Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said, simply, "They're on their own now."
They are, indeed. Actually, they have been for some time. Virtually all the foreigners not hunkered down at the airport were pulled out of Somalia weeks, if not months, ago. Some of the international aid agencies still have projects going in the more peaceful parts of the country, such as the far north, and many of the ones that have left will be watching for a chance to return: Somalia, if security conditions only improve, promises to be an excellent future market for the relief-and-aid industry. In the meantime, except for a handful of journalists, there have been almost no non-Somalis anywhere in sight for many weeks. It has thus been possible lately to begin to see what it is that Somalis are on their own with.
Anogeel and I took a ride out the Afgooye Road a couple of weeks ago. Our destination was Lafoole College, his alma mater, ten miles west of the city. On the way out of town, he identified some of the larger ruins we passed. "This was the university faculty of economics and law," he said. "And this was a medical factory." I had taken a similar drive out through Mogadishu's main industrial district, during which my guide intoned, "This was the former fish cannery. This was the former Toyota distributor. This was the former aluminum factory." Somalia's former life as a semi-industrialized country stands around it in the shape of these hulking ghosts. The cost of rebuilding such infrastructure would be no greater, presumably, in real terms than the cost of rebuilding Germany or Japan was after the Second World War. But international capital may not be willing to come back here. There is a sense in which Somalia, along with a number of other African countries, has simply shrugged off the colonial interlude -- relieved itself of the whole first tier of imported industrial development. Certainly, without a government in place international lending institutions such as the World Bank will never come back. And any central government that is formed, no matter how modest, will need an immediate infusion of funds from outside to keep running until it can collect taxes. In many ways, the Somali future is slightly unimaginable.
Still not quite out of the city, we turned in to the grounds of the former university faculty of politics and journalism for a quick tour. This, Anogeel said, was where he had wanted to study. He had written "Journalism" on his college application, but the minister of education, who happened to be Siad Barre's brother-in-law, had ordered that Anogeel study history instead. The faculty of politics and journalism turned out to be an empty shell on a hilltop. Stinging red sand blew through the concrete skeletons of classrooms and offices; goats and donkeys grazed in the sun.
Once we were back on the road, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that the single worst aspect of Somalia's breakdown has been its impact on education. Public schools and colleges deteriorated during the last years of the dictatorship, and then, more than four years ago, they closed altogether. A handful of primary schools are open today, most of them supported by foreign charities, a few by determined parents. But there are no public high schools, let alone colleges, and the vast majority of Somali children have received no secular education for years. Koranic schools have sprung up, and everywhere you see children carrying their loose -- wooden boards on which a sacred verse is painted until it is memorized, then is sanded off and replaced by a new verse -- but the focus in these schools is entirely on memorizing a religious text in Arabic. Neither literacy nor numeracy is part of the curriculum. What happens to a country without secondary schools and with no university? What happens to all the bright children who would have gone to college? No anti-statist with a heart can contemplate these questions without horror. And nothing that we might recognize as a university, say, is imaginable without a government.
Big trucks piled high with bananas and bristling with gunmen streamed past us in the opposite direction, heading for the port. Smaller trucks loaded with khat, even more heavily guarded, also sped past: they were coming in from an Ato-controlled airstrip known as K Fifty and were bound for Bakara Market. Some of them would head back to the airport carrying stacks of Xog-Ogaal. I asked Anogeel if he chewed khat.
"No, no, no, no, no," he said, and he made his most priggish face. "I don't believe in it. It is also bad for your health."
He indicated Abass, my translator, who, along with some of our guards, had been energetically chewing khat since lunchtime, and said, "Look at his teeth." But Abass refused to open his mouth. And so Anogeel, to my surprise, grabbed him by the jaw and tried to force his mouth open. No luck. Anogeel shrugged. He pointed at Abass's stomach, saying, "It is also bad for the stomach." Then he pointed at Abass's crotch. "And it makes the sperm go out," he said.
I was not sure what that meant -- impotence? sterility? involuntary emissions? -- and I did not ask. But Abass, perhaps noting my confusion, spoke up from behind his hand (shielding his teeth from Anogeel's view), saying, "He means that if you chew you cannot play sex." Abass dropped his hand and gave me a khat-filled grin. "But he is wrong."
We came to a roadblock. We had a second vehicle with us, giving us a total of five or six armed guards -- or "drug-crazed gunmen," in the favored news phrase -- which more than trumped the two pubescent boys with beat-up Kalashnikovs at the roadblock. They stepped aside. A small squatter camp trailed off behind them into the thorn scrub -- probably supported, I thought, by the tolls the two boys managed to collect. I remembered Anogeel's calling the warlords the aids of Somalia, and I imagined that many people would say the same thing about the young thugs who were everywhere now -- the mooryaan. But the metaphor might be crucially inexact, I thought, for the aids virus eventually self-limits by killing its human host. And the warlords and the militias are beginning to demonstrate adaptability, to show some mercy for their hosts: rather than steal all of a community's food, they might steal half.
"This is the hospital President Bush visited," Anogeel announced, pointing out a rambling structure south of the road. Remarkably, the facility seemed to be operating. "It is a private hospital for women."
I had forgotten that George Bush ever visited Somalia. But he did, over New Year's, 1993, a few weeks after sending in the troops. That visit was part of a "victory lap" through the scenes of Bush's foreign-policy successes. Was it really only two years ago?
I noticed another going enterprise: a water-pumping station, formidably guarded. This, I realized, was the source of a dozen or so water-distribution points I had seen along a main road in Mogadishu. There was not enough pressure in the pipeline to operate taps in buildings, but there was plenty of water, so entrepreneurs were selling it out of impromptu wells to lesser entrepreneurs with donkey carts and fifty-five-gallon drums. I asked Anogeel who owned the station.
"Some intellectuals," he said dismissively. In Somalia, "intellectuals" are not necessarily tweedy Kantians. They are just people with degrees. "And a soldier," he added. "Dhegaweyne is the soldier's name. That means" -- he pointed at his ears -- " 'big ears.' "
Anogeel, I knew, did not have the highest of all possible opinions of "intellectuals," who routinely appear, along with "elders" and "women," on the list of groups that critics believe the United Nations should have been dealing with politically, rather than with the warlords. I had heard Anogeel dismiss the list as simplistic and misleading. Like the elders, some intellectuals worked with the warlords, he said, advising them on matters like foreign funding. Not even women had been blameless: "They sell their jewelry to buy arms, encourage their defeated fighters by singing, and perform victory screams when there is a victory for their tribe."
We arrived at Lafoole College. A low-rise, modern-looking place, it had been the home of the college of education and the history faculty of the national university. Now it was a displaced-persons camp. The classrooms and dormitories were full of families; the walls were blackened by cooking fires. We pulled up to a row of small cinder-block houses standing apart in the scrub -- faculty housing. A tall, middle-aged man wearing thick eyeglasses and a ma'awis, a traditional Somalian sarong, came out to greet us. He was Anogeel's old history professor, Hussein Haaji Yuusuf. We talked with him in the shade of his house.
The college had closed in December, 1990, two days before the final battle for Mogadishu began, Professor Hussein said. It had been closed ever since. "It has been crush-èd," he said quietly.
He had worked for the United Nations for three months, producing a report on "stray children." Otherwise, he had been unemployed since 1990. "I go in to Mogadishu to ask for food for my children," Professor Hussein said. "Sometimes I go to my former students. Anogeel once gave me fifty thousand shillings. The young people in Somalia like their teachers."
At something of a loss, I asked the professor if he had ever been overseas. He said that he had studied educational psychology at the University of London for three years.
He offered to show us around the college. Accompanied by a growing throng of ragged children, we walked through the campus. Anogeel, who swung his long arms strangely while he walked, pointed into a trashed gymnasium. "This is where we played basketball," he said. Inside the gym, a painting of Siad Barre was still visible on the wall.
We came to a large green building. It was the old main library, Professor Hussein said. A wary-looking elderly Muslim cleric came out, surrounded by the women of his family. This was Sheikh Hassan, the professor said. He was a well-respected man, and he and his family were living here, "defending the library." Yes, many of the college's books and papers had been saved. The Sheikh, who had a white beard, did not speak or look at me. Professor Hussein persuaded him to fetch his keys and let us into the library.
It was a world of dust. Books were piled everywhere, on sagging shelves, on toppling heaps. Some were stained and disintegrating, but most were intact. Every title I saw seemed, under the circumstances, absurdly ironic: "The Psychology of Adolescence," "Adolescents Grow in Groups," "Primitive Government," "The Red Badge of Courage." Sunlight drifted through high windows on the west wall. A cow mooed somewhere. The dust was so deep it was as though the desert itself were creeping through the walls, burying the books in fine sand. The Sheikh rattled his keys.
Back outside, surrounded again by children, I asked Professor Hussein if any of the camp's youngsters went to school. Only Koranic school, he said. He asked them to chant something in Arabic, and they did.
As we returned to our cars, a woman wearing a brilliant head scarf caught my eye. She had something in her arms, under a shawl. In the moment that I looked at her, she unveiled her bundle. It was a baby, very badly burned. I looked away sharply, and when I looked back the woman had covered the baby. She looked embarrassed, as if she had made a mistake. We left. I was breathless with shame for having looked away from the baby -- who had appeared, at a glance, to be too badly burned to survive. I turned to Anogeel. I couldn't tell whether he had noticed the woman. He said simply, "She thought you were a doctor."
I immediately wanted to go back and offer her a lift -- perhaps to the hospital we had passed. But I knew that the gesture would be pointless. She knew where the hospital was. And our guards were adamant that we should be back in Mogadishu before sundown.
We blew through a couple of roadblocks, then passed the water-pumping station owned by Big Ears and the intellectuals. Feeling very flat, I asked Anogeel if Professor Hussein might not involve himself in such an enterprise. I knew that Hussein was a different sort of intellectual from the Big Ears group, but his life of begging had struck me as excessively passive.
"No, no, no, no, no," Anogeel said. He made his prim, righteous face. "If he did that, he would become nothing. A professor must save his name."
Maybe Anogeel knows what he must save it for. ©