The first ATM and the construction of modern buildings and trendy restaurants are exciting signs of growth for those living in Somalia’s capital. That is, if you have money.
Even as war-torn Mogadishu makes strides forward, thousands of residents are facing the prospect of severe hunger. It’s a tale of two very different Mogadishus. One — violent and hungry — is long known to the world. The other is not.
Outside a makeshift home built of scrap wood and sheets, Halima Muse holds her crying baby. The women in this small refugee settlement have begun tightening bands of cloth around their stomachs to try to diminish hunger pangs. Two years ago, Muse left Mogadishu and returned to the town she fled at the height of the devastating 2011 famine that killed an estimated 260,000 people. After bad seasonal rains, she and her family returned to the capital in search of food.
“From hunger to hunger. Our life is all about that for now,” Muse moaned, tears dropping down her cheeks. “I couldn’t stay in my hometown anymore because there was no food and animals were dying by the dozens.”
Across Mogadishu, new buildings are rising where the shelled structures of two decades of war once stood. Workers this week installed cables on the top of a new 10-story building that will rent office space and apartments. Across the street a high-end restaurant served Arabian food. Two dusty-faced women stood outside begging for money.
“Feels like you are in Nairobi or Manhattan,” said Ahmed Mohamed, a Somali-British man, while sipping coffee. He expressed hope that Mogadishu would emulate those two cities rather than return to violence.
The installation of Mogadishu’s first ATM inside the high-end Jazeera Hotel has been hailed as progress for the city.
“We are planning to install at all other major hotels, the new airport terminal, and all major Salaam Bank branches in Somalia,” said Mohamed Abdulahi Ali, communications manager for the bank.
“A real change is taking hold here. No going back,” said Mohamed Hassan, a dual Somali-Dutch citizen, withdrawing cash this week.
Last week U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Mogadishu with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Ban said that peace and security cannot be sustained without development and that the two should go hand in hand.
“Even though my visit is very brief today, I can already see and feel how the country has made remarkable progress since my last visit,” said Ban, who unlike his first visit to Mogadishu did not wear a bullet proof vest this time.
Ban acknowledged Mogadishu’s other side, too, saying he was very concerned about the humanitarian situation.
“Over 3 million Somalis are in need of humanitarian assistance and unfortunately that number is growing. I urge donors to step up contributions to avert another famine in Somalia,” Ban said.
Back in the filthy camp where Muse and her family live, hungry kids go from hut to hut looking for food or milk. Nicholas Kay, the U.N. representative to Somalia, told the Security Council last month that if another humanitarian emergency hits Somalia, it could undermine political and security gains made since 2011.
Parts of southern Somalia that have been overly dry are now being hit by severe flooding, aggravating the food problem, the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization said last week. Many indicators across Somalia resemble or are worse than those seen in the pre-famine period in 2010, the group said.
Bukar Tijani, a top FAO official said: “If we’ve learned anything from the devastation of the 2011 famine, it’s that early warning signs must lead to immediate action.”