The legacy of Mogadishu

Amanda Sperber assesses the long-term consequences of Somalia's worst suicide attack.

14 October 2017 Mogadishu bombings. On 14 October 2017, a massive blast caused by a truck bombing in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, killed at least 587 people and injured 316. ... In response to the bombings, Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of mourning.

The exact number has never been confirmed. It could be 500. It could be 1,000. What is certain is that the number of people who died on 14 October 2017 when a car bomb exploded during rush hour at Zoobe junction, a busy thoroughfare in Mogadishu, is staggering.

On the first anniversary last October, thousands circled the junction. Political and religious leaders spoke at the ceremony; the crowds sang the national anthem, booed and hissed when al-Shabaab – the militant group responsible for the bombing – was mentioned in speeches, and they cheered fervently for the Prime Minister.

Despite this show of good will, and the news that one of the men allegedly responsible was executed by firing squad that morning, civilians, analysts and politicians do not think security in their country has improved at all. ‘Mogadishu is burning down,’ as Mohamed Mubarak, the director of Hiraal Institute, a security research firm, put it.

National security apparatuses have been infiltrated by al-Shabaab at the highest levels. Militants dressed in fresh army uniforms have attacked checkpoints and training centres. Leadership within the defence and security ministries and intelligence agency shifts as frequently as the Indian Ocean tide that runs along the country’s vast coastline. At the October ceremony, as young police dressed in new sky-blue Adidas uniforms clasped hands to form a human barricade to keep the enthusiastic crowd from surging forward, it was difficult not to worry that one was not on better-paid duty with al-Shabaab.

‘I can assure you of the resilience of Somalis. We will not stop until we get to the bottom [of what happened],’ State Minister Hamud Abdullahi told New Internationalist. The Mayor of Mogadishu, Abdirahman Osman, spoke about the plan to double the number of police within the next six months, and said that, since the attack, community policing has been on the rise.

But constituents across the country are angry that the government has not released conclusive information confirming exactly what happened. Mubarak said if he could ask one question of the government about the attacks, he would demand the precise number of dead, wounded and missing.

A round of firings and imprisonments followed the bombing, but there remain unanswered questions. Who within al-Shabaab’s ranks arranged the attack? What prompted this organization to kill countless hundreds of ordinary people? Where were the bombs meant to detonate (reputable narratives have it they were not intended for that busy an intersection)? And when and how did enough explosives to kill hundreds of people get to the centre of the capital?