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Today’s Muuq-disha




Muqdisho of Yesteryears and Today’s Muuq-disha

 October 06, 2005


Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short if there is no central authority

                              Thomas Hobbes A 17th century philosopher


Few of the residents of Muqdisho of today have probably heard of Hobbes, but most would likely agree and identify with his description of a state without authority.  Therefore, taking Muqdisho city as an analytical frame of reference, this short paper discusses the role that this ancient city has played in transforming Somali social networks, which spread beyond clan- affiliation, in sustaining the urban livelihood of many of its ever-increasing residents.  In the first part of the paper, we first examine Muqdisho’s historical background and the process of assimilation that was surfacing during post-colonial period, in order to illuminate the emerging local characteristics of “ceeshow-milix” networks that has influenced among the different clan-members of Muqdisho inhabitants.  The second part of the paper points out the resultant social networks that have developed in Muqdisho during the last fifteen years of the civil wars; whereby numerous local warlords have spatially extended their Isbaaro fiefdoms into all districts (xaafadaha) of Muqdisho – so that they can secure their financial gains and have access to either own or destroy all public infrastructures, through the mooryaan might of clan-based networks.


Historical Background


Among the difficulties besetting the study of the medieval history of Muqdisho is the lack of enough written sources.  The few that are available contain the constructed tales and imaginations of medieval travelers such as Ibn Battuta.  As a result, what has been recorded about Muqdisho in this period is either exaggerated or distorted for various reasons.  We will however review the few medieval historians and geographers that have recorded early Persian and Arab Muslim settlements in southern Somalia.  For example, a Portuguese historian, de Barros wrote, in the 16th century, about the Persian establishment of East African coasts before the 14th century states.  He tells us that Muqdisho and Marka which became to be known as Banaadir (sing. Bandar, a Persian word for seaport) were built by Shirazī Persians in around mid 10th century [1] Al-Idrisī (1100-1165) also recorded that the population of Muqdisho and Marka were Muslims, and “[Muqdisho] was the most important place on the coast in the early thirteenth century according to Yaqut (at the beginning of 13th century), who regards it as on the frontier between Barbar [Somalis] and Zanj [Bantu-speaking people] [2].”  These early settlements indicate a great deal about the Banaadir coast settlements and its role in the creation of urbanized, multicultural, and islamized fiefdoms, which served all during the medieval period as the staging centers from which Islam and migration spread southward [3]


Medieval Muqdisho is thus renowned for its strategic coastal location for medieval seafarers and traders, hosting as port of call for dhows that sail by the trading Monsoon winds – en route to and from the rich Zanzibar archipelago.  Its ancient glory includes being a city-state of its own and at times the seat of important local rulers that control a large territory.  Medieval Muqdisho is also characterized by foreign influences and its remoteness from the local Somali pastoralists.  For example, the two quarters that comprised Muqdisho (Shingaani and Xamarweyne) were walled quarters that had considerable dimensions in dividing rural people from urban people – both quarters had their own gates of entrance. 


However, these segregating walls and gates have crumbled and were removed revengefully by the rural people.  On the contrary, an interview with historian Scott Reese in July 5th 1994, a prominent Reer Xamar elder, hajj Abukar Hamud Sokorow argues that the disgruntlement (oral account) of his community and the crumbling of the boundaries between ‘ahl al-balad’ and ‘ahl al-bādiyya’ began during the Italian colonial project – for allowing, for example, the interior people (nomads) to settle in Muqdisho.  Historian Reese confirms that it was the Italian fascist administration (in 1927) that “forcibly resettled the rulers of two previously autonomous northern sultanates, along with hundreds of their followers from the Majeerteen clan in the center of Muqdisho [Isku-raran] [4].”  Thus, Isku-raran village in Muqdisho was a form of Italian colonial urban development as well as colonial power control.  Dr. Reese cements his findings with the Reer Xamar community’s oral account, summed up by hajj Sokorow’s own words:


Before the Majeerteen, the people of Xamar ate their food in bed.  After they came we had to sit up.  When the others [e.g. other nomads] came we began to eat standing.  And when the Ogadenis arrived we began to run [5].    


Although the walls have disappeared, they have retained its influence on the psychic of its residents and the morphology of the city, dividing the city into: Xamar (for Reer Xamar) and Xamar-daye (for Abgaal pastoralists).  Thus, for centuries, Muqdisho was experiencing alternating phases of peace and political calamities.  It also witnessed population growth, physical expansion, prosperity, and stagnation.        


As early as 10th century, magnificent stone houses and mosques laid the urban foundations of Muqdisho.  Soon, the town’s services, relating to sea-route facilitation, tended to enhance its urban growth.  Urbanization had nevertheless its own prize; it initiated new social and economic hierarchical networks that sometimes caused a rift between the rural (Xamar-daye) and urban (Reer Xamar) communities.


To retrace the footsteps of the fourteenth century traveler, Ibn Battuta (d. 1369), he has wondered the charms of Muqdisho, referring it as “a very large town” with wealthy merchants [6].  Reflecting this ancient glory, Muqdisho had generally been a tolerant place that emerged out of the interactions of variety of cultures and grew to urban dimension, only after it became a major seaport in some time late 10th century – it is believed that its vibrant urban cultural foundation was laid during this time.  Muqdisho developed cosmopolitan outlook to rival cities in the Middle East – with big bazaars, tall mosques, and trading services.  Some of its ancient buildings still dominate the skies of today’s Muqdisho, such as the famous Arbaca-Rukun mosque.  Therefore, the city’s ancient cultural traditions that persisted through ages afforded its local inhabitants to dub the city with the maxim: Xamar Xisaab Xarardheerana Xoog.


Xamar Xisaab Xarardheerana Xoog


Based on the historical recognition, the introduction of urbanization in the Somali Peninsula restructured the inter-clan relationship of the Somalis.  Muqdisho, as a case in point, suggests the necessity to scrub social links that are based on inter-clan relationship so that vibrant urban lifestyle is acquired, with special reference to the pair of possible connections between a citizen as an identity and elevated status of “ceeshow-milix” or ‘ahl al-balad’ of the one hand, and the sacralized Italian “Paesano” attitude on the other.


This sedentary outlook illuminates that social change has had a bigger significance for the new settlers of Muqdisho, in their social networks concerning self-identification – i.e. the new settlers began to identify themselves with inter-village associations such as ciyaal Isku-raran, ciyaal Boondheere, ciyaal Hodon etc.  Therefore, in the 1970s, one could notice that most of the youth have already developed a sense of clan-free broader concept of social networks, including friendship, acquaintanceship, and inter-village linkages.  These social networks connected people of different back-ground and supported cooperative small business enterprises to emerge.  Economically, the city became a destination for local tourist attraction. 


However, the new urban economic activities placed heavy demands upon Muqdisho vicinity (Xamar-daye) – most of these lands were part of the Abgaal-clan pastoral domain.  Populations have increased dramatically from 1970 – 1980.  In fact, the increases have been amongst the highest in Somalia.  Since the city’s boundaries have changed and expanded, its neighborhood structure was formed into fourteen districts (xaafado), ranking the highest urban density and most expensive real estate in Somalia.  With over a million inhabitants, Muqdisho became at least three times as large as the second capital, Hargeisa – an indication of the problem of over-centralization and bad proportional regional development.  It is therefore fair for one to say that Muqdisho of the 1970s was growing, to some extent, at the expense of many other towns and settlements – which appear to have actually lost population.      


Muqdisho of the 1970s provided new social and economic networks to its inhabitants, setting out as one of the most powerful indicators of “maxay qabatay tawraddu” socio-economic development in the whole country.  Small factors were established on the edges of the Muqdisho vicinity.  Muqdisho benefited from “maxay qabatay tawraddu” efforts, continuing its legacy of the Prima Donna of Somali cities.


Maqal-disha & Muuq-disha of Today


Since the toppling of the last government of Somalia in 1991, Muqdisho has been divided into a myriad of different fiefdoms controlled by rival warlords, who from time to time clash over the control of a territory.  The city of Muqdisho has experienced the brunt of the civil war and saw clan and factional fighting and much destruction and the demise of its citizens for the past fifteen years.  Under the warlords (Yalaxow, Caato, and Qanyare) and their numerous sidekicks, this once-picturesque Horn of African port city had been reduced to a post-apocalyptic nightmare.  Debris and remnant trash mount whatever few paved roads that are left.  Any building structures that have not suffered the demolition of clan wars stand in the heaps of grey rubble, pockmarked with bullet scars and cannon shots.  The city is hostage by criminal gangs who have stripped its citizens of everything including the bare belongingness on their back. 


Today, Muqdisho is described as a paradise for organized crime.  Rape, which was once unknown, is today one of the most common crimes in the city.  Another popular occupation with warlords and criminals is abduction for ransom.  The biggest mafia was the human traffickers, who fleeced $5,000 each from the poor job seekers from Somalia and elsewhere.  They are promised to be smuggled into Italy through Bossaaso, which has become the conduit for Human traffickers of Muqdisho Mafiosi businessmen.


In today’s Muqdisho, the distinction between a businessman and a warlord is not that apparent.  Virtually every businessman keeps a legion of private militiamen and every militia leader is engaged in some business to finance his war machine.  Many of the warlords and so-called businessmen in Muqdisho sustain themselves by extorting money.


As if these problems were not enough, the undisciplined and reckless militia drivers speeding on the pot-holed roads of today’s Muqdisho is another life-threatening matter in this traffic police-free city.  Driving from one area of Muqdisho to another would subject anyone to pass through the numerous checkpoints, each run by a different militia.  At each of these “border crossings” if one may call that, passenger vehicles and goods trucks must pay an “entry fee” ranging from few dollars to as much as $300, depending on the value of the goods being transported- and what the militiamen can swindle.  As Warlord Caato has recently confirmed, there is no pretense that any of this money goes to provide any public service, such as roads, education or health.  Much of it is actually spent on by these rouge militiamen on the consumption of Qat.  Ultimately, the warlords and the so-called businessmen swindle from the average person, who is struggling to survive in the most dangerous zone of Africa, to wreck havoc on the social fabric of the entire Somali society.


People in Muqdisho nowadays live in shacks made from branches, plastic sheets, and scrap metal.  An old lady told a journalist that has recently visited Muqdisho that she couldn’t afford to send her children to school.  Instead they sell nuts in the streets of Muqdisho to earn a little bit of money and contribute in feeding the family.  The amount her husband earns from his porter job is not enough.  This family represents the average family in Muqdisho, a survival of the fittest scenario where standard of living is below the poorest in the world.  


The universal health and education service that once existed in Somalia are no longer available.  Very few can afford to see the few private clinics that charge $3 per patient.  People in Muqdisho die from diseases that are easily curable in countries that have a functioning government.  It is now estimated that only about 11% of the primary age children of Somalia [Muqdisho included] actually go to school [7].  Compare that against the backdrop of almost every child in the urban areas of the country having access to free education during Dictator Siyaad Barre’s regime.  Nowadays, many of the schools and collages as well as government offices have become either motels-for-rent or offices for the warlords and their mooryaans or a make shift refuge for the internally displaced people.




We would like to conclude with the following observations.  Early 20th century forced resettlement programs in Muqdisho that were initiated by the Italian colonial administration opened the door for the influx of more people from other parts of Somalia.  Such steady inflows of migrants have recently been clan-politicized by the early communities of this ancient city of Muqdisho, without giving considerations to the causes behind it – i.e. colonial legacy as well as bad post-colonial regional development.  The first wave of a large section of migrants was from the central and northeastern parts of Somalia, after forced displacement from their native place due to the Italian colonial military campaigns of colonization.  This forced resettlement was a form of colonial urban development as well as a form of social control.


Other migrants came to Muqdisho because they considered it as a better place to live and find jobs.  In addition, post-colonial Somali State was designed as a city-state, whereby most of the State’s development occurred in the capital and its vicinity.  In post-colonial governments, this massive migration of people, from other towns to Muqdisho, and the problems of unbalanced regional development in Somalia did not call forth urgent attention to the administration for immediate remedies before it creates tensions within the clans – such remedies could have been the re-focusing upon the neglected regions and towns, enhancing their potentials by utilizing their local natural and human resources.


The Muqdisho of today is sacking by the mooryaans, causing massacre to occur inside its ancient stone houses.  The mooryaans brought fifteen years of squalour, destruction, and great loss of life.  They have prevented prolonged progress; and they are also repelling the return of any Central Authority to the ruined city.  Those who are attempting to relieve the ruined city from the mooryaans annihilations are regrettably not equipped with the proper policies, financial programs, and man-power to subdue even parts of the city.  They are therefore unable to deliver the fruits of hope to the beleaguered people of Muqdisho but watch the mooryaans continue to derive their benefits through Isbaaro business.  While recognizing their predicament, how far the inhabitants of Muqdisho could be subjugated at the hands of mooryaans has to be seen.


Prepared by:

A. S. Ismail                               Ahmed A. Hassan

Roobdoon Forum                      Wardheernews

Toronto, Canada                        San Diego, California




[1] Neville Chittick, “The Shirazi Colonization of East Africa,” The Journal of African History, vol. 6, no. 3 (1965), 282.

[2] Ibid., 275.

[3] Randall Lee. Pouwels, “The Medieval Foundations of East African Islam”, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 11, no. 2 (1978), 220.

[4] Scott S. Reese, “Tales Which Persist on the Tongue…” Sudanic Africa, 9, 1998, 5.

[5] Ibid.

[6] G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, The East African Coast: Selected Documents from the First to the Earlier Nineteenth Century,” (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 26.

[7] Faisal Roble and Omar M. Abdihashi, The State of Somalia’s Children 2005: an Analysis of a UNICEF Report, (June 17, 2005): http://www.wardheernews.com/articles/june/17_Somali_children.htm


Roobdoon Forum

Toronto, Canada




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Today's Muqdisho, August 2009





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