NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Six months ago, the Afgoye corridor in Somalia had two terrible tags.
It was the world’s largest settlement of internally displaced people (IDPs), home to 400,000 Somalis who had fled incessant violence in their war-devastated capital, Mogadishu.
Secondly, it was in the grip of a devastating famine as the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents who ruled it refused to allow international aid agencies in.
Today, its population has fallen by two-thirds and it looks set to become a satellite for labourers working in Mogadishu.
“Probably we cannot say anymore that Afgoye is the biggest concentration of IDPs in the world unless something terrible happens in Mogadishu and people move out again en masse,” said Bruno Geddo, head of the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) in Somalia.
“We have to think of Afgoye like the periphery of any big city in the world.”
Temporary shelters are being replaced with corrugated iron and brick buildings.
“It is a visible transformation of the corridor into a peri-urban area, what the Americans would call suburbs,” Geddo added.
“If the situation in Afgoye stabilises, we can only foresee that Afgoye will be very rapidly urbanised because the rents will be cheaper than in the city.”
The U.N. now estimates the population of Afgoye at 120,000 people, following its capture by African Union (AU) troops from al Shabaab insurgents on May 25. The rebels had used the town, 30 km (20 miles) outside Mogadishu, as a base for staging attacks on the capital.
The seizure of Afgoye is one of a string of victories by the African Union and its allies since the Islamic militants were forced to retreat from Mogadishu last August.
With improved security under the AU forces who are propping up the U.N.-backed government, Mogadishu is enjoying an economic boom. Building sites are mushrooming, street lighting is being installed and mountains of garbage cleared.
“As the stability increases and the level of trade and businesses increases, more and more people will be able to find jobs in Mogadishu,” said Geddo.
“A lot of these IDPs will be commuting to become daily labourers in building sites for example.”
Most of the IDPs who left Afgoye have moved to Mogadishu, where the displaced population has swelled from 184,000 in December to well over 200,000 today.
The exodus began in February, when the African Union force and the Somali government warned they were going to launch an offensive.
The lucky ones were able to reclaim their property in Mogadishu. Others moved into IDP settlements scattered across the city or were hosted by friends or relatives.
But some have already returned to Afgoye as the price of land in Mogadishu is skyrocketing.
“Some of the people who went to Mogadishu are going back to Afgoye because the level of rent is more convenient,” said Conor Flavin who monitors population movements in Somalia for UNHCR.
“They are going to live in Afgoye and then commute every day to go to the city and do their daily business in the city.”