The positive attitudes I encountered during my first visit to Mogadishu at the beginning of March suggested that peace and stability might finally be taking root in the Somali capital. Last week's suicide bomb attack at the National Theatre was an important reminder that security in the city is still extremely fragile.
On March 8th, two photographers and I took part in a parade for International Women's Day outside the National Theatre. Ladies danced in the streets wearing coordinated traditional outfits in every colour imaginable. Asha Omar, the head of the Somali Women's Federation, told me the women wore matching clothes to show the men how well-organised they were.
The streets were closed to traffic; the African Union's armoured vehicles and soldiers with AKs were at times a necessary reminder of where we were. "This is not how to behave in a war zone", said Fanha, our guide and translator, at one point, having dragged me from a crowd of dancing women. One lady had started striking my bottom with a tambourine while others were shrieking and clapping and wiggling their hips to the beat. It would have felt churlish to walk away without joining in.
Abdi Hosh, Minister for Constitution, described it as "the first such event I ever observed in Somalia and the first event held at the venue for 21 years". The March reopening of the National Theatre symbolised the consolidation of peace in Mogadishu after muslim extremists al Shabaab pulled out of the city last August. Al Shabaab abhorred leisure activities, particularly for women. It was sickening to hear that a similar celebration at the National Theatre was struck by a suicide bomb strapped to a young Somali girl on 4th April last week. Personally it was poignant for having been there so recently and witnessed peoples' hope for the city first hand.
During our 6-day stay in Mogadishu, we followed another very positive story - the Somali Olympic athletics team, most of whom are training 6-days a week for London 2012. One male and one female runner will take part. Around 10 volunteers are working to make Somali representation at the Olympics possible. They are fundraising, organising visas and passports, facilitating training, supporting the young female runners who are fighting stereotypes to take part, and battling for necessary equipment.
Amal, 18, told me she used to wear a burkha over her sports kit to get to training sessions while al Shabaab controlled parts of the city. She would meet her coach behind walled compounds and run in secret. Incredibly determined, Amal's goal is to win medals for her country. With such persistence and good-will behind the sporting federations in Somalia, it was hugely dispiriting to hear that among the 10 left dead by last week's blast were two of the main champions of the Olympic team, the head of the Somali Olympic Committee, Aden Yabarow Wiish, and Football Federation chief, Said Mohamed Nur. It is very sad that they will not see their hard work pay off in London later this year, but at least the world will be watching.
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