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Mogadishu: Life after the Shabaab

It's now a year since the al Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents pulled out of Mogadishu in a "tactical retreat". The Somali capital is coming back to life and attracting investors once again. Our reporters Stéphanie Braquehais and Duncan Woodside went to Mogadishu to find out about life after the Shabaab.

With each passing day, the Somali capital continues to transform. New cars and other vehicles are back on the streets. Pedestrians and small kiosks line the pavements. Buildings obliterated by ferocious fighting sit alongside newly-painted shops.

The feeling of hope is perceptible among the population, and many Somalis from the diaspora are returning home to invest and reclaim family property bought before the civil war. We met Liban Egel, who has spent most of his life in Baltimore, in the US, where he ran a string of small businesses. Eager for new challenges, he swapped Baltimore for his childhood home, returning to Mogadishu in 2010 to create a bank. Since the fall of long-time ruler Siad Barré in 1991, Somalia has had an informal money-transfer system based on mutual trust, called hawala, but which is not internationally recognised.

Liban knows he faces momentous challenges ahead to succeed in a country that has been ravaged by 20 years of civil war. The lack of any formal legislation means electronic money transfers are impossible. But he has other ideas, such as transferring funds by mobile phone or wireless internet.

Along with economic opportunities, religious freedom has returned to Mogadishu with the departure of the Shabaab. However, thousands of people remain displaced by last year’s famine; others squat in public buildings that belonged to the state before 1991. “We have nothing; some days we eat; others, we go without”, says Fatima, a mother of five children.

The police are woefully under-equipped and assassinations have surged this year, with a record number of journalists killed. Politicians and businessmen are also vulnerable, and the killers invariably go unpunished.

In a police station in the Hodan district, there is only one vehicle, its windscreen partly shattered by a bullet hole.

"The police are a target”, admits Major Ali Mohamed Salal. “All those who work for the government are targets.”

He admits he has only recently received part of his salary, after nothing for eight months. He remains philosophical: "I was born one day, I'm going to die one day, I am only afraid of Allah.”

But not everyone can have the same determination.

The Somali transitional government, plagued by corruption allegations, has just finished its mandate. A new constitution has been approved, based on federalism and Sharia law. But it will take more than a written document and new institutions to reconcile a population that has lived through so many years of bitter civil war.

By Stéphanie Braquehais , Duncan WOODSIDE

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