War Affected Children: Somalia

The desolate buildings are shot out, windowless and roofless, only good as cover for the roving young “militiamen” who scrutinize me and my cameras, and say they are the security here on the outskirts of Mogadishu.

Mostly I try and avoid contact with these boys roaming the streets with their weapons, but my intuition tells me that they are more curious than suspicious of me. For the moment, they are happy to show off for my camera. I take the picture and move on before anything changes, as it can so quickly here. And when I ask a man I meet on the street, what these young “militiamen” might think of me walking the streets of Mogadishu, he replies that “they probably think that you have armed security people guarding you from the surrounding rooftops”.

About all that flourishes is starvation and desperation. In the sweltering sun, I pass by buildings awash with drifting sand, home to foraging dogs. One hairless mongrel runs past with part of a human arm in its mouth. On another day a young boy tries to sell me a human head, no doubt scavenged from one of the shallow, sandy graves that pepper the city. I get used to racing through the rumbled streets in “security” vehicles with young “militiamen”, guns drawn, speaking a language I don’t understand. Live grenades roll on the floor and the driver plays a Neil Young cassette so loud I can’t hear anything else.

It is like being stuck in a horror film with an incongruent sound track. The most dangerous people are the ones who have nothing left to lose, most notably the angry, demanding youths. They can change their minds, and sides, anytime. Here, guns are essential for survival and the only sign of power, and a truck-load of food is worth more than a truck-load of gold. In Kismayo, a woman with two starving children tells me “Don’t leave us food because the men with guns will come and kill us for it”.



Robert Semeniuk – Mogadishu, April, 1992