Reportage Somalia: EUTM-S, the CIMIC cell

(To Giusy Federici)

Appointment to the 7 in the morning. We are going to visit a fire brigade barracks, a clinic dedicated to the care of mothers and children and a primary and secondary school. These are "work in progress" projects realized thanks to the CIMIC (Civil-Military Cooperation) cell in favor of the population, in the most difficult area of ​​Mogadishu. We had to do it a few days before, but there was no security and everything was postponed.

We leave on board the Lynx, escorted by the Close Protection Team, the rangers of the 4th Alpine Parachute Regiment of Verona. The journey is towards the center of the city, we pass on the seafront, at the port, we cross what was the Italian colonial part. The arch erected for the visit of Prince Umberto di Savoia in 1928 is under restoration, we go down to take some photos. But the rest falls apart, including the cathedral which, looking at the period images, was beautiful and today a ruin, you look at it from afar and a cross appears, you seem to see it bleeding ...

We leave fast, it is not safe to stay a lot and then they wait for us. Many buildings have collapsed or punctured by rifle shots, you realize that it is a wounded city but also that people here want to smile again: you see it from the children playing, from the people who greet you when they recognize the Italian flag.

We pass in front of a bank, also collapsed and, suddenly, appears the head of an eagle with parachute and red lightning and under the writing nimbus, a little further there the head of an eagle and the gladius: these are the tangible traces that here, in the nineties, was the Check Point Bank, there were the paratroopers in much of the 4 cp. Falchi from Livorno. It's an emotion, the tears rise to me: and not just because there were "my" paratroopers but because I think about the other Check Point, Pasta, and the fallen soldiers in Somalia is a moment, but a moment full of meaning. And, as an Italian, of gratitude and pride ...

We also cross what used to be our embassy: uninhabited, and it's a shame ... But today is not the time for memories or recriminations, the three CIMIC projects, three of the many made by our soldiers, are waiting for us.

The CIMIC cell, with inter-force value, is specialized in civil / military cooperation in support of the population. He has been in Mogadishu since 2014 and in other theaters where the Italian army is present since 2002. He is part of ItaNSE. The Italian National Support Element, in Mogadishu commanded by Colonel Pino Rossi, is the support to the nation. All the practices inherent to the Italians who are in the operating theaters are managed by this central command which has the various cells, from the Personnel office to security, from logistical support to the mission, to the ordering of transport vehicles, etc. The ItaNSE is also within the EUTM mission in Mogadishu, but it is external to it. The mission is self-sufficient but Italy, the Defense Staff, on its own accord, dedicates a "support package" to the 116 military personnel on the spot. The funds come from the Ministry of Defense. They are single projects and do not provide for large funding, a maximum of 35 thousand euros or a little more for each.

The fact that they have been built in the most radicalized neighborhoods is a further added value. Because in Mogadishu people keep shooting and dying. Anyone can be a target, the politicians of the old guard as well as the new one, the military, the policemen, the journalists, a category, the latter, particularly sought after for the "pigeon shooting". You shoot for a misinterpreted look or word, for an old revenge among the clans or because you are a target of Al Shabaab, the terrorist group that it would perhaps be more correct to define "bandits", which uses terrorist methods. The group is not affiliated with Daesh, it is the son of the same Somalia that martyrs. It is difficult to understand the purpose. And it is difficult to identify the affiliates, it could be the neighbor. For this "people do not love them, but they are afraid", Tell me Somali men and women. "If anyone knows and speaks, he can be killed".

Women, as often happens, give us more. "Once everyone dressed as she wanted, not all covered her hair. Not anymore. Many also cover their eyes, it is not a Somali tradition And also many men dress differently, as religious, it is something that I have never seen. This to me is a sign of fear. Because the men of Al Shabaab know where you live and if you once agreed to cover yourself you have to keep doing it, otherwise they will kill you. They are everywhere. It is among us Al Shabaab, they are Somalis. So they are no different, the enemy is not outside but between us and they can hurt you. This is why people are afraid".

Banadir Fire and Emergency Service Department

Detachment of firefighters, 90 firefighters working here. Around, the children who play "Pompieropoli": every world is a country and they are a show ...

"We have not yet done any structural intervention. But there was a donation of material, 30 fireproof uniforms, to allow firefighter teams more complex interventions, such as post-explosion or fires with chemical products", Explains the captain Giuseppe Guzzo.

We are in the district of Bondheere, one of the most targeted by Al Shabaab and, among other things, a few hundred meters from the former Italian embassy. A few months ago, Italians donated equipment to handle the emergency. For clarity, there were no donations from third parties, but uniforms were bought by our soldiers in specialized agencies with special funds.

"We have listened to their needs and based on the type of intervention we have drawn up the technical characteristics and standards. These uniforms now have the highest technical standards in Europe, which are suitable for the fire as an explosive. We have already ordered a second tranche of uniforms".

"As for the training of firefighters training, AMISOM took care of it (African Union Mission in Somalia), training the specialists who then, in turn, have become the trainers. Another group is attending an advanced course in Kenya, in Nairobi", Says the director of the Abdiqani center Mohamed Ahmed. They send the best that, once returned, will have the task of training others. "For now, the only equipment we have had to the Italians. Here we are the only intervention team and for now also the only public detachment".

There are other realities of firefighters, but they are private and once they intervene they want to be paid. Not here, included in a reality that is not at all simple, with about twenty different interventions per month, from fires in the markets to various explosions, from diesel to precarious electrical systems. In the training, they also study first aid.

While we are watching the barracks, the old commander arrives: it is a real surprise. "Can I speak in Italian? ... I took the course in Rome Capannelle in 1972 and for 23 years I was commander of firefighters throughout Somalia, at the time of Siad Barre”, Recalls General Mohamed Farah Ahmed. "At the fall of the government, we all left, Then, in the 2012, I came back and we created a team of firefighters in the police".

At the detachment of the VVF they are proud of what they have, from the training room to the vehicles equipped with a lot of scale. "We try to concentrate where we know there is more shortage and more urgency. From here, they cover all of Mogadishu. The next integration of equipment will be material such as axes and shovels, individual first aid kits and other uniforms", Adds Captain Guzzo. For them, in addition to fire protection, it is also important to make culture for citizenship in some way. The future goal is to create a flyer that gives basic instructions on behaviors and safety to prevent fires and possibly how to behave when there is an outbreak. They are all ideas of the Director of the Detachment, who believes a lot in prevention, as well as in timely and professional intervention. At the moment, there is no other nation or organization that supports firefighters except Italy. CIMIC projects are medium-term, but you can work on it, step by step, giving priority to priorities.

Shibis Medical Center (Mother and Child Healthcentre) 

Going through that door that leads into the Shibis Medical Center (Mother and Child Healthcentre) means entering a riot of colors, among the clothes of mothers and children, crowded on the ground or sitting on the benches. This is a happy oasis dedicated to women, giving birth or weaning their children, with an adjoining anti-violence center where the line is very long: it is a sign that things are moving and that women are regaining their rights to respect.

After the first impact between bright colors, voices, laughter and baby cries, you look at yourself better and notice that many of these mothers are almost like little girls themselves. For us, it is estranging; for them it is normal, here we get married soon. Eighty refugees from outside Mogadishu, many others come from the various districts of the city, almost all live here and are part of a nutrition program. 

This clinic was renewed by ItaNSE, by the CIMIC cell last year. It was uncovered, roofless, sand on the ground instead of the pavement. Here we now follow different programs, from nutrition to vaccination to breastfeeding. The common areas are used to carry out these activities, not only medical but also awareness. They are the vehicle of information, those who follow these programs can talk about it to other women and inform them at 360 degrees, from the prevention of childhood diseases to proper nutrition to sexually transmitted diseases.

This place is a jewel because they can do many activities that then have an impact, not as immediate as the cure, but prolonged over time.

Thanks to the reconstruction there is an additional classroom, used as an office in which they collect and report domestic violence and there are nurses who do monitoring. Women come here, feel at ease (because the environment is fenced and closed) and speak.

Observing better, trying to go beyond those intrigued and frightened eyes that scrutinize you, some of these women have signs of violence on their faces, the only thing that is discovered and therefore evident. As is evident the long line towards the anti-violence listening center, but as soon as the women see you are watching them, they come back and vague. That's right, they're delicate things and they do not know who you are, if they can trust you. Because then they will have to go home ... and anyway here we talk about any topic concerning women to children.

Among the young there is an albino, that the mother tried to make more similar to others dyeing her hair red: if they were to find the men of Al Shabaab, they would consider it impure and at the same time rare and therefore to kill in sacrifice to their god, it has already happened.

"Many children arrive with obvious signs of malnutrition, here they are weighed before, during and after treatment and stabilized. The Shibis is organized by stages: from prenatal to birth, from zero to five years, the part dedicated to awareness and that of monitoring", Explains director Shukri Hussain Maramed.

One of the nurses shows me a picture of a malnourished child when he arrived here and it's not a good show. Then they show you the stabilized children, one they are weighing on the scales like those of ours once and the heart opens to you. You can not not move. And you can not but reflect on us that we have everything and nothing is ever enough for us and on them, who have little more than nothing and are a hymn to hope, to life

Talking about it, faithfully, does not make the idea of ​​beauty and work that director, nurse and volunteers, there are also men, play in this center, in favor of women and children. If in Stockholm they were undecided about the name to indicate for the next Nobel Peace Prize, consider a situation like this among the candidates could be an idea ...

Dhamme Yasin Arten Primary and Secondary School

Among the requests that the CIMIC cell received, there was to build a basketball court. It was done in the Primary and Secondary school Dhamme Yasin Arten.

Basketball is a very common sport in Mogadishu, even among girls, although Al Shabaab does not agree. And then, in response and precisely because of this, such initiatives are welcome! The school is surrounded by high walls, especially the playground is inside, it is a place protected from the eyes of others and therefore the girls can play.

From May until the 2 August in Mogadishu there was a women's basketball tournament. The stadium was very full, the mayor publicly thanked the Italians. The sporting event was possible thanks to the donation of sports equipment and game uniforms, as support to the local administration in the development of this sport among the young women of Mogadishu.

"The mornings come in the morning, in the afternoon those in elementary school", Explains the director Said Ahmed Hassan as he accompanies us to visit the school.

The classrooms, where English is also studied, are mixed, male and female, each in separate rows but together in the same place and this is also a great challenge, in the worst neighborhood of Mogadishu, very radicalized. Helping these young people and their activities in a closed, therefore safe environment, with mixed classes, with the desire to support women's team sports, is a small niche of excellence, which must be supported. It also has an impact on the neighborhood and, not surprisingly, has also been the subject of other international projects. And here as elsewhere, in Somalia, it should be emphasized that it is true that we help them, but it is they who ask for it, it is they who are the first to say no to radicalization, even if they will hardly admit it to a stranger. And if the youngest say this "no", the future definitely belongs to them.

(photo by the author / EUTM-S)