A night with stoned govt security forces on the frontlines against the Shabab

Sometime in the past two weeks, I spent the greater part of a night with a unit of Somalia’s internal spy agency, the National Security Service Agency (NSSA).

The idea was to see them in action, so I went with them on their nightly patrol in the neighbourhood. To onlookers, I would say they were detaining me – in Mogadishu, being cosy with the feared and ill-repute internal spy agency is a liability; the kind that may cost you your life.

The unit’s commander was interested in chatting with me as they were doing the patrol. Apparently, the night patrols are a sham: the idea is to make it look regular and that people are being randomly stopped and checked, all the while going for somebody pinpointed by a local informant.

Just when I was starting to think they were a little smart, they rounded up everybody at the café where the suspect was supposed to be hanging out, produced a paper in which the name of the suspect was written (how hard is it to memorise a name?), and started asking the people their names, as if the suspect would be honest to them. Turns out, no one was arrested that night.

Back at the “safe house” (known by everybody in the district), there were a couple of men who had been arrested. Guess where they were being held at. No, not there. They were hanging out with the operatives. They chewed Khat with them, smoked weed with them, and chatted the night away with them.

And that is not what alarmed me.

The NSSA operatives, who by now were very high, would leave their guns around the prisoners and go to the bathroom or wherever. It was really pathetic. If any of the prisoners was indeed a Shabab member, I doubt I would be typing this now: I imagine he would grab any of the guns that were lying around and spray the whole room with bullets, and easily escape.

One of the prisoners was from a Shabab stronghold. Despite his smoking of weed with them, the operatives still kept threatening to send him on to the main prison where he would not be easily released and may be forced to pay to be released. He broke everybody’s heart by crying. Even the NSSA guys seemed to be touched and seemed to try to console him, telling him that everything would be fine if anybody in the neighbourhood came for him in the morning.

As I left them in the early morning, I had mixed feelings about the local NSSA guys. They did not seem corrupt, were not trigger-happy, and not eager to antagonise the people in the district. However, they came off as very ineffective to me, making me wonder why the Shabab is not more active in the district. But again, no one poops in his bed, if you know what I mean.

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