June 24, 2005


Somalia's Welcome Warlord: A desperate town invited a businessman to be its military chief. It is now an oasis of stability in the country, which he'd one day like to lead (Edmund Sanders, June 24, 2005, LA Times)

In the 14 years since the collapse of the government of Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, Somalia has fractured into a patchwork of feuding fiefdoms, which, like Jawhar, are ruled by warlords and machine-gun-toting militias.

Mogadishu remains a no-go zone for even the interim president and interim prime minister, who serve in a provisional government formed last year in neighboring Kenya. When Interim Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi briefly visited Mogadishu last month, a grenade attack killed eight people during his speech. In October 1993, 18 U.S. troops were killed in the capital during an aborted mission to capture one of Mogadishu's most notorious warlords. It's little wonder that Somalian government leaders have spent most of their time this year in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

But for the people of Jawhar, the deal they made to install a warlord appears to be paying off. Today the town is an oasis of stability in war-torn south-central Somalia, and the region is seen by some as a possible model for rebuilding the collapsed state.

Unlike Mogadishu, where gunfire echoes regularly through abandoned downtown streets and bystanders are killed in the cross-fire of rival militias, residents in Jawhar are again free to stroll at night without fear. Illegal road checkpoints disappeared. The hospital director says he hasn't treated a local gunshot wound in two years, thanks to a ban on civilians carrying weapons.

"One of the most impressive things in Jawhar is the peace and humanitarianism," UNICEF's outgoing Somalia representative, Jasper Morch, recently told a gathering in the village. "It's precious. I hope the rest of the country does what you're doing right now."

The rest of Somalia has taken notice. Some leaders in the interim government are proposing Jawhar as a temporary capital. And Jawhar's new warlord is hoping to prove that even an unelected militia leader can transform into a respected politician.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 24, 2005 8:40 AM
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