Somali Government Attempts to Assert Control

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Somali government forces and Ethiopian troops have seized control of Mogadishu, and the once powerful Islamist movement has fled. But the battle is not over yet. Somalia's capital has not fully accepted the authority of the transitional government, and there's a chance it never will.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

In Somalia, the once powerful Islamist movement that seized Mogadishu last summer fled the capital last week before Transitional Government forces and Ethiopian troops could reach them. Now the government and Ethiopia are chasing the Islamic Courts Union farther south. But they cannot count Mogadishu as a war prize just yet; Somali's capital has not fully accepted the authority of the Transitional Government.

And there's a chance it never will, as NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports.

GWEN THOMPKINS: The best view in Mogadishu is on the beach, looking out over the Indian Ocean. It's as warm as a cup of tea and wonderful. Somewhere in the distance is India, but that's too far to see. On the left, there's just more of that ocean. And on the right, more ocean still. But turn around, and all you'll see is a mess.

(Soundbite of rooster crowing)

After 15 years of anarchy, the streets are torn up and the buildings are tumbling down. But there's more than one cock of the walk in Mogadishu this morning. Majid Abdul Kadir(ph) is a lanky 22-year-old kid in an Al-Jazeera T-shirt who's been standing outside the bombed out parliament building of Somalia's old military regime. He's in a crowd of people. They're looking at two Ethiopian military vehicles that are parked under a carport.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Mr. MAJID ABDUL KADIR (22-Year-Old Somalese): (Through translator) I know that the Ethiopians are here to restore the law and order of Mogadishu, and we are welcoming them.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

THOMPKINS: Ethiopia helped Somalia's Transitional Government drive back the Islamic Courts because the courts had declared a holy war on Ethiopia. Now they're pursuing the Islamists farther south. But Kadir has a different reason to root for Ethiopia and the Transitional Government. They don't care how long his hair is. Kadir likes his in a style that black men in the U.S. call a fade, crew cut short on the sides with a tall lick of hair in front. Last month, the Islamic Courts Union said it was outrageous.

Mr. KADIR: I was not (unintelligible), but I was arrested (unintelligible) because of my haircut. I was in the (unintelligible) for six hours. Then they lift me, and then shaved my head.

THOMPKINS: Hair may be a small thing to some, but in Mogadishu, where most people have no control over anything, what's on someone's head can mean as much as what's in someone's head. Shukri Hussein's(ph) head is full of dollar signs, literally. She sells cot(ph), a leafy green spinach-like plant that Somalis in particular love to chew. Cot is a narcotic and the Islamic Courts Union banned it months ago. For Hussein, happy days are here again.

Ms. SHUKRI HUSSEIN: (Through translator) We are very happy. They were our brothers but they were putting on us pressure and restricting our business. So that's why we don't need them.

THOMPKINS: Business is good. Before the Islamic Courts came in June, cot sold at about $10 a kilo. Now she's getting $20.

Ms. HUSSEIN: (Through translator) We want the Transitional Government to restore the law and order. If we get security, we can do our business. But if we don't get security, can't we do any business here.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

THOMPKINS: Here's moral support for the Transitional Government from a circle of men singing on the west side of town. They're singing in honor of Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi, who's coming to Mogadishu.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

THOMPKINS: At 44, Akmed Ali Hussein(ph) has seen them come and he's seen them go. He says the trick is to survive no matter who is in power. He's a cab driver by trade, but nowadays Mogadishu is dangerous. He needs a security detail and someone to look out the back window.

Mr. AKMED ALI HUSSEIN (Cab Driver, Mogadishu): (Through translator) Never welcome the power, unless I see the power is good. I work with the government now.

THOMPKINS: Jamilla Abdi Abdullahi(ph) is the kind of Mogadishu resident who the Transitional Government and the Ethiopians should be looking out for. She's 21 years old, a wife and mother of two. She loves the Islamic Courts. Last week, in the town of Daynuunay, she said she took off the veil that covers nearly her entire face, picked up a gun and started shooting in the direction of the government and the Ethiopian forces. Soon she says she'll be joining her husband to fight again somewhere in the south.

Ms. JAMILLA ABDI ABDULLAHI: (Foreign language spoken).

THOMPKINS: She says she's thinking about bringing the kids.

Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Mogadishu.

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