Dusk was setting, it was 5:30 p.m. local time in Somalia (2:30p.m.). We assembled at the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) /UN Military Camp for night patrol duties with the police in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, on day three of our assignment in the war-torn country.
Ten journalists from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Burundi, in bullet proof jackets, got on board two Mambas (armoured personnel carriers) for the night duties. The one I boarded was driven by Inspector Amon Kotei, a Ghanaian police driver.
I peeped through the window, as we were travelling through the city, and I spotted among others, the Ambassador Hotel. I recalled that Ghana also had Ambassador Hotel, which has now been replaced with Movenpick Hotel.
Little did I know that the “innocent” hotel was a target of attack by the militant Al-Shabaab, who bombed it, killing many people including two members of the Somali parliament, a few days after we left the country.
The journey through the city was rough; portions of the roads were in bad shape, ostensibly from lack of maintenance due to the civil war. Inside the Mamba was stuffy; the air-conditioner was not functioning.
An opening on the roof of the armoured vehicle provided us some ventilation. The Mamba is wearing out as a result of the rough terrain.
Soon, we arrived at the Mogadishu stadium. We were not there to witness any football match! The stadium had been captured from the Al-Shabaab who are fighting to take over the country. The heavily fortified stadium is now a “camp” for the AMISOM police.
We assembled before a well-built policeman who introduced himself: “My name is Superintendent Theo Eze, Commander of the Nigeria Formed Police Unit, we are going out to flash points in the city for “stop-and-search”, we know the terrain, please listen to our instructions! Somalia is getting better..that notwithstanding, we do not want anything to happen tonight.”
At the camp we formed “comity of nations.” The journalists from Nigeria were at home with their compatriots, so were colleagues from Sierra Leone and Burundi who also found home in their compatriots police personnel.
Three of us from Ghana also bounced into the warmth hands of Assistant Superintendent of Police, Cecilia Harriet Ampofo, of the International Relations Department of the Ghana Police Service, on duty in Somalia.
Indeed, she was very happy seeing us. We had to turn down her proposal to treat us to fufu, a popular Ghanaian dish, because our time was limited.
I tried to cross boundaries to relate with the Hausa speaking Nigeria police, but their Hausa is “thicker” than mine, though we managed to communicate. At 10 p.m. the generating plan, which is the only source of power for the camp will go off. It will be darkness all throughout the night.
The AMISOM hospitality then began. Smart looking and cheerful beautiful AMISOM police ladies, apparently on the instructions of the commander, brought us water, and then followed by fruit drinks, apples and oranges, before they settled us down to light soap with hefty Tilapia. They crowned it all with rice.
The wining and dining is now over; it is time to get down to business of going out to ‘stop -and -search.’ We were crammed into two Mambas with, the Nigeria Formed Police, under the command of Supt. Eze in two other Mambas; one leading us and the other at the rear.
As we drove through the town, I observed the Parliament building and the Villa Somalia (Presidential Palace) heavily fortified.
We got to a place a where a vehicle from another direction negotiated a turn and joined our lane. The Mamba ahead of us slowed down for the vehicle to pass. I overheard our driver tell his colleague in the front seat that the driver of the Mamba ahead of us should not have slowed down for the car to pass.
His suspicion was that it could have been vehicle stuffed with explosives by Al-Shabaab for evil purpose; to blow it up on us. God willing that was not the case!
After about 30 minutes drive from the camp, we arrived at one of the “flash points” at the Harmajabjab District at about 8:30 p.m. where the Nigeria Formed Police Unit was joined by the Uganda Formed Police Unit to observe and mentor the restructured Somalia police on the “stop-and -search operations,” aim at ensuring peace and security at night.
People were going about their business at the busy district. But it is hectic for drivers. In Mogadishu it is better to walk about at night than on a vehicle.
The Somalia Police under the command of Captain Salad Farah Hashi will stop every vehicle and subject it and the occupants to a thorough search. It can be dehumanising, but that is the only way to maintain law and order, public security and safety at night.
For two hours, we were out in city with the police for nocturnal duties. We observed the night patrols and conducted our interviews to gain better insight into their operations. We had to go back to our hotel; arriving at about 11p.m. local time.
So tired but I could not sleep! I have to account to the newsroom in Accra for the day’s engagement. I stayed till after midnight to file stories, thanks to the efficient WiFi in the hotel. I cannot close my eyes in my room overlooking the Mogadishu Airport. The noisy generating plant at the airport would not allow me to sleep. But eventually I dozed off!
Travelling to Somalia is scary and stressful! Landing at the Aden Abdulle Airport in Mogadishu can be heartbreaking. Until the undercarriage of the aircraft touches the tarmac, and the aircraft taxies to a stop, one would feel like landing in the Indian Ocean. The runaway is very close to the shores of the Indian Ocean.
One has to endure five-and –a-half hour flight from Kotoka International Airport in Accra to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia (same name as the home town of our President, John Dramani Mahama, in the Northern Region).
Another two-hour flight from Bole International Airport to Jomo Kenyatta International in Nairobi, Kenya, before the final lap of an hour flight to Mogadishu. Of course, with numerous security checks.
Flying back was equally not a pleasant one! the rather short distance flight from Mogadishu Airport to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is done in piece- meal.
The flight landed at Wajir Airport, north east of Kenya, where sniffer dogs sniffed our luggages and security men screened us before boarding the aircraft to land at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.
Kenya is on the target lists of the evil Al-Shabaab militants who have an axe to grind with their neighbouring country for allowing her troops to fight them in Somalia, under the AMISOM.
By Salifu Abdul-Rahaman