Saturday, May 11, 2013
A female soldier roughly passes her hands over the waistband of my
jeans as a finishing touch to the most intimate pat down I've ever
received. But we're not done yet, a metal detector is then passed in
unusually close contact with my skin. Up down, over and around.
And that's just to get through the first gate.
At the second entrance, a
Somali close protection officer bars the way and Special Forces
officers crowd around as our camera is switched off and on to prove it
is indeed a camera.
Even though we had
traveled in with African Union soldiers tasked with escorting the
President, suspicions still had to be assuaged.
And if all this seems extreme, it isn't.
On his second day in
office, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was targeted by the al-Qaeda linked
militant group al-Shabaab, and even on this day, as we drive through
town, we pass the still-smoking wreckage of the Somali Minister of
Interior's convoy. A car filled with explosives drove into his flag car,
detonating on impact.
Fortunately for the Minister he wasn't in the car at the time. Eight civilians, though, were killed on the street.
And yet, Mahmud insisted
on keeping this appointment at an opening of a hotel in Deynile, on the
outskirts of Mogadishu where Al-Shabaab still have a presence.
If he's worried he
didn't look it, smiling from behind his wrap-around shades as women
dressed in the Somali flag sing traditional songs of welcome.
Eventually he is brought
to us around the back of the courtyard for our scheduled interview --
but not before the perimeter is repeatedly swept.
In an open-air space
like this, though, there is only so much his men can do. Especially when
his enemies are willing to die for the cause.
The president tells me
he is aware that these trips he makes cause consternation among his
advisers, but he has absolutely no intention of stopping. He says they
send the most powerful message of all -- that al-Shabaab no longer call
the shots in Mogadishu.