I went on a tour of Bakara Market in Mogadishu recently with a former Shabab member who I knew since his early teens. Let us call him Ali.
I last visited the market in mid-2011 when it was still held by the Shabab and it was being pounded by AMISOM and TFG artillery. I had taken one of the last public transport minivans out of Baar Ubah at the northern part of the market to KM4 on the side of the city held by the government. Such a trip would normally be ten to fifteen minutes, but we had to take a long detour, and it was several hours.
The Shabab fighters in Bakara market were bent on defending the market. And with its dense concrete buildings, they could have fought for continuous months of battles before eventually losing it.
However, due to many factors, the Shabab decided not to fight for long and withdrew after some time.
Nevertheless, the market was very badly destroyed, and after withstanding two dozen years of war and no doubt thousands of dead, Bakara Market was closed for the first time even before the Shabab withdrawal. Almost all traders had moved to Shabab-held Elasha Biyaha; nothing suggested that the market would be back to its former glory.
As we walked around Bakara with Ali, he told me not to worry about harassment from government security operatives. He told me that the guy who commanded the security forces in parts of the market was in his “pocket”. He told me of one time when he was detained; they ended up apologising as his man came to the rescue.
However, he kept stopping me from taking certain streets because he was sure we would get in trouble. He couldn’t have everybody in his pocket.
Almost every street was reminding him of something. The street behind Hormuud reminded him of the hundreds of rounds of AK-47 he shot in a few minutes as the allied forces took Hawlwadag junction. The medicine market reminded him of olden days when his foes in the Islam Courts would hang out with him in the market.
Bakara is full of life, full of business. Despite years of destruction, it is back to its former busy self. It is the embodiment of resilience. It represents Mogadishans’ hard work for a better life, dignity, and getting up no matter hard the fall.
Hard can barely start to describe the last fall of Bakara Market.
I remember how, in 2010 and early 2011, buildings would be fixed immediately after being shelled. Buildings were constructed to accommodate the security situation: heavy concrete roofs replaced corrugated iron roofs in most parts of the market. As such, most of the casualties in mortar attacks were in the streets or in the roofless vegetable market.
Like all Mogadishans, Ali is happy with Mogadishu’s newfound security and growth.
Mogadishu’s relative calm does not mean that the Shabab have lost support, but rather that the people of Mogadishu are simply fed up with war. They don’t care who rules the city as long as they get peace and stability.
The government forces still rape and kill, but mostly at the frontlines in cities outside Mogadishu. The people of Mogadishu are deeply unforgiving – they support or join the enemies of their oppressors. The government seems to be avoiding antagonising them.
Right now, they don’t care that the people that bombed their main market are in charge as long as the crimes don’t continue.
We built a prosperous market when half of it was still burning; we would build the burning half when the fire stopped. Imagine what we would do now that there is no fire.
Unlike the seaside buildings that western journalists photograph to show the destruction of Mogadishu, Bakara’s buildings were more important centers of commerce that – unlike the ghost buildings in Shingani – were continuously used during the civil war. Not highlighting the progress and rebuilding of Bakara Market is a crime against the truth; focusing on ghost buildings to give a false image of Mogadishu is unfair, to put it lightly.
The videos and pictures below represent Mogadishu today. Peace, some stability, and a more shadowy Shabab, having some security officials in their “pocket”, going deeper underground.
The first one has sounds. This is more or less how Bakara sounds like:
Walking from Qaran on Adan Adde street to the new Hormuud Building near Hawlwadag:
Walking from Hormuud to Suqa Dahabka in the Abdalla Shideye area:
Pics of Bakara:
Retaking the Shabab label: Shop in Bakara:
Masjidka Daawada street:
More pics and snapshots of the videos: