By Hasmik Egian, Chief of Staff - United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS)
January 24th, 2013
No amount of hearing and reading about the “paradigm shift” in Somalia, could have prepared me for the incredible reality of the change that unfolded in front of my eyes as we were driven last week from southern to northern Mogadishu to witness the transformation of the city. These were my first sightings of life outside the “UN wire”.
The skeleton symbols of the past war were everywhere, standing next to the newly rising constructions of residential houses, shopping centres, small businesses, restaurants and cafes, new streets being built and old ones cleared of debris.
As I continued the journey with my UN colleagues, we saw what real change meant in Mogadishu. It was an eye opener to see how the bullet-ridden city has changed for the better. It was also confirmation that the successful end of the transition in August 2012, leading to the establishment of Federal Government, is truly benefiting the country. In the past, the streets of Mogadishu had been deserted, but as we drove we saw a vibrant residential area around Lido Beach, the ghosts of once elegant villas and former embassies, juxtaposed with the ever-present tented IDP camps. Still, it was all reminiscent of a place that must have been beautiful once.
The lighthouse near the fish market, was picture-perfect, with fishing boats floating in the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, while holed-out edifices of Ottoman and Italian architecture line the road close to the market area. We witnessed a stunning beachfront of cafes and restaurants serving delicious fresh juices and an array of hot drinks - from traditional tea to cappuccinos, as well as an assortment of local dishes, with families enjoying a peaceful afternoon of togetherness. Had it not been for the armed guards on the beach, it would have been a perfect place of peace and harmony in any other part of the world. Even more surprising was to see a group of young boys and girls playing football on the beach, full of laughter.
Amidst all the destruction, there was so much vibrancy, life and hope … no one would have believed that this would have been possible a year ago in a city/country which had become the quintessential “failed state”. It was a place where hope was the last thing on people’s minds and yet, there it was hope being materialised right in front of our eyes. Seeing “inside” Mogadishu and “feeling” the vibrancy was also a reminder of the great strides made by the Somalis, with support from the international community, including UNPOS, in bringing about a successful political transition which has helped, in turn, to herald these changes on the streets of Mogadishu.
Now that Somalia has a new President, Prime Minister and Parliament, there is a new sense of hope, hope that is paving the way to a brighter future for the people of Somalia.
See scenes of change in Mogadishu on the UNPOS FLICKR site: http://bit.ly/Won9rF and on @UNPOSomalia.