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In Somali capital, a year without Islamist militia

One year after the forced departure of Islamist militia Al Shabab, Mogadishu is rebuilding and prospering. But residents worry the group may return.

By Abdiaziz AbdinorContributor, Correspondent / August 6, 2012

A Somali soldier stands guard as Somalis gather in a stadium in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, Aug. 6. Somalis took to the streets Monday to celebrate the first anniversary of the ouster of Al Shabab militants, the culmination of years of warfare by African Union and Somali forces that has allowed Mogadishu to bask in a year of relative peace.

Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

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Mogadishu, Somalia; and Nairobi, Kenya

A little over a year ago, perhaps the most common sound regularly heard on a Mogadishu morning, after the muezzin’s call to prayers, was gunfire. 

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Then, an army of African Union soldiers was battling Al Shabab, an Islamist militia encamped in foxholes and sniper positions dotted throughout Somalia’s seaside capital. 

Now you’re more likely to hear the clang of hammers and the drone of drills. 

Mogadishans will Monday celebrate a year to the day since Al Shabab, now partnered with Al Qaeda, slunk out of the city’s center under cover of darkness, leaving it to government forces. 

Within weeks, Al Shabab’s fighters would be pushed from Mogadishu’s margins, too. 

“This used to be a place where misdirected mortars always fell, where buildings collapsed and people were killed daily,” says Nur Ibrahim Adan, a stallholder at Bakara Market, once an Al Shabab stronghold. 

“Now there is a great change. There is no fear. There are no casualties. There are new buildings, new customers. Already my profit is much higher. 

“This is how it will stay, I think. Al Shabab cannot come back, not when the African Union soldiers are here. Unless they leave, I think we can hope to live in this new quiet situation.” 

Boom town, in the good sense

Somalia’s capital is in the midst of a transformation of greater significance, happening at greater speed, than at any time in the last 20 years, bringing cautious hope that a measure of peace may finally be taking root. 

The shift started with the removal of Al Shabab, beginning early Aug. 6, 2011, after months of daily bombardment by the African Union (AU) mission AMISOM

Now traders who no longer fear stray bullets or mortar blasts are repainting and fitting glass to their shop fronts. Solar-charged streetlights brighten evenings along newly patched roads that marked front lines just a year ago. 

Down at Lido Beach, where couples on Vespa scooters once cruised the palm-lined promenade in prewar times, the sea is again dotted with swimmers and teams play boisterous volleyball beside the surf. 

Above them, scheduled flights from Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Kenya come in to land at the refurbished Aden Adde International Airport, bringing with them Somalis returning home with money to invest after fleeing years ago to wait out the war.  

Inflows of remittances have increased by 20 percent since January, according to Dahabshiil, an international money-transfer firm. The Somali shilling has strengthened by almost 50 percent against the dollar in 12 months.  

“People realized that we now had security when we saw there was no more fighting and no more bombings, and every area became populated again,” says Farah Jimale, owner of Cosmetics Center at Bur Ubax in Bakara market.

“Now truly there is opportunity here and I have many new customers.” 

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