A truck passes a roadblock set up by residents protesting al-Shabaab in Tobanka Buundo in Lower Shabelle on March 6, 2014
Life is steadily improving in Galgadud region’s El Bur since Somali and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops removed al-Shabaab’s blockade of the town two months ago.
After allied forces drove al-Shabaab from the town in March, the group’s fighters cut off access to El Bur by blocking the surrounding roads.
When the roadblocks were cleared in late September, most El Bur residents, who had been displaced from the town, returned to their homes and businesses, said traditional elder Mohamud Guled, 61.
But for a time, residents continued to live under difficult circumstances until the town’s three generators used to supply electricity and pump water were replaced by early November, he said.
Just before El Bur was liberated, al-Shabaab looted and vandalised two power stations that provided electricity to the district and another one that was used to pump water to local residents, making off with power generators and other critical equipment.
“We have lived through very difficult days that I thought we would never overcome,” Guled told Sabahi.
Al-Shabaab was powerful and imposed harsh rules on citizens when it controlled the town, he said, adding that the group continued its abuse of power even as they fled. “They filled the town’s water wells with rocks and took the generators that provided electricity to the wells.”
In early November, El Bur residents finally got a reprieve when the Turkish Red Crescent in collaboration with the Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs donated food aid and water pumps to the town, according to Radio Bar-Kulan. The distribution was funded in part by members of the diaspora and facilitated by the Ministry of Interior and National Security.
“The survival of living organisms is dependent on water and that is what led to the return of the people who fled the town with their animals,” Guled said. “I am grateful to the Somali diaspora from El Bur for the help they provided to us at a time when life was really difficult.”
Yasmin Dahir, 40, said she and her six children were among the hundreds who fled the area after al-Shabaab incapacitated the water wells and placed the town under blockade.
“For more than three months, my children and I, along with hundreds of civilians from El Bur, tried to survive in rural areas outside El Bur, since al-Shabaab made our lives extremely difficult,” said Dahir, who returned home in September. “But, thanks to God, we overcame all the hardships al-Shabaab inflicted upon us.”
Not all El Bur residents survived the ordeal, however, as a number of elderly residents who were left in town died due to the lack of water, Dahir told Sabahi.
“One of the saddest things that I remember caused by al-Shabaab’s theft of the water wells’ generator was the death of elderly people from thirst,” she said.
Many of El Bur’s elderly citizens were too weak to travel and live in remote areas, so they stayed behind hoping that things would change, she said. “I do not know the total number [of those who died], but they included three people that I knew, two women and a man.”
Life returns after death and displacement
Omar Farah, 35, who owns a mobile phone store in El Bur, told Sabahi life has returned to normal and people now have the freedom to do many things that al-Shabaab prohibited while it was in control of the area.
“Among the signs that life in El Bur has gone back to normal is our ability to bring modernsmartphones, which had been banned by al-Shabaab, to the town,” he told Sabahi. “The people are also free to hold wedding parties and free to live their lives as they please without undue attention.”
The livestock market in El Bur also has resumed operating, Farah said.
“The market had closed because livestock traders were afraid al-Shabaab would forcefully take the animals, as al-Shabaab had taken animals from the residents of El Bur and the areas that come under it several times before,” he said. “It is worth celebrating that all this is behind us now and no one is living in fear.”
El Bur District Commissioner Nur Hassan Gutale said the people of El Bur are grateful to the Somali federal government and the Turkish Red Crescent for bringing the town back to life with the donated generators.
He also thanked them for a 50-tonne shipment of food donated by the Turkish government that is en route to El Bur now and expected to arrive by Saturday (December 20th).
The food aid — comprising flour, rice, sugar and oil — is being delivered by road with assistance from the Ministry of Interior and will be handed over to the local administration for distribution, he told Sabahi.