Abdi Karshe Abdi is a 75-year-old soldier
I was recruited as a soldier in 1967. I never thought Somalis would ruin their own country and destroy people's property.
Back then my salary was only 120 Somali shillings and with this I could feed my family well and save some cash in the central bank. Only 25 cents was enough to dine at a restaurant. Now we don't have coins or notes of less than 1,000 shillings. See how illiterate Somalis have spoilt our life?
The worst moment in my life was the Somali-Ethiopian war in 1977, which lasted eight months. At that time, Somalia was called the lion of Africa. We had jets and T-55 tanks. Somalis had courage and dignity. We captured many towns from the mighty Ethiopians. Thousands of soldiers from both sides died, although Ethiopians died the most.
As we neared Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, after capturing its highlands, Russian planes began unloading tanks to fight us. Fighting escalated and we were in hell. Our commanders were ordered to shoot any Somali soldier who turned back. We had to fight to the death.
Anwar Sadat, Egypt's president, called our president, Mohamed Siad Barre, to warn him that we would be overrun by troops from Russia, Yemen and Cuba. Barre ordered us to back to Somalia and we finally had a chance to run for our lives.
I appeared like a ghost to my family. When they hadn't heard from me for eight months, they carried out my funeral ceremony. They never thought I was alive. My wife, kids and I hugged and shared tears of happiness in 1978. I was by then a captain.
We expected Barre to stand down because of the shame he brought on Somalia. But he didn’t. In 1985, Somalia started deteriorating. Barre’s regime worsened and the democracy he only paid lip service to turned to cruelty, prompting citizens to turn against his government.
Hargeisa (now the capital of Somaliland) started a revolution and Barre fought them like he fought with the Ethiopia, with tanks and jets. Eventually, he overpowered Hargeisa.
But what happened next? A more powerful revolution led by General Mohamed Farah Aideed started from central Somalia. General Aideed, Ahmed Omar Jees and Abdirahman Tur together planned to topple the dictatorship and form a broad-based government for Somalia.
They toppled him but the other dream did not come true. Hargeisa split and formed Somaliland, Bosasso split and formed Puntland. General Aideed struggled to pull the parts together but in vain.
Somalis turned into wolves - camel herders, thieves, street boys and prisoners took up arms and started robbing, looting, raping and shooting.
There was no reason for me and men like me to carry a gun. There is dignity in soldiering only when there's discipline.
The looting started at the central bank. They even dug up tarmac roads and took away the electric cables. The airport was destroyed and crushed rocks collected to build private houses. Government buildings were destroyed and their bricks looted.
I threw down my gun and started selling watermelons on a wheelbarrow in the streets. Most of the literate men or those who depended on the government died of hunger in the streets, fled abroad or were killed in gunfire. They could not cope with the new life.
General Aideed was patriotic and he hated extremists. I'm sure Al-Shabaab would not exist if he were alive. He was the only man in the world who made the mighty U.S. surrender. He dragged their corpses through the streets of Mogadishu.
I never left Mogadishu. I kept on selling watermelons and lemonade as the season allowed. I will never forget my beloved wife who was devoted to helping me bring up our seven children. She used to sell tea. None of my family was killed or injured but the list of friends and relatives who were casualties is endless.
In 2002, an interim government led by Abdiqasim Salad Hassan was formed. Warlords were better than this government, which after three years were unable to control the same amount of territory that even a weak warlord had in his power.
In 2006, the worst morning was born for Somalia. Somali extremists enlisted cursed foreigners. The Islamic courts led by the current president bred all evils.
It was a strange culture of beheading, cutting lips, ears and limbs, digging graves of great sheikhs and taking the bones. They started beating any woman who wore no veil and any man who did not grow his beard.
Extremist Islamists do not give a cent to their parents or relatives unless they conform to their ideology. Cockroaches breed in toilets and extremists in collapsed countries.
A relative of mine leads a dog’s life. His wives and children were indoctrinated by Islamists in 2006. They told him he was not a good Muslim and threatened him with death.
One of his wives and two daughters married jihadists and his sons became fighters, hunting down their old father. Since then, he's been hiding in hotels in the areas under the control of the government and African Union forces. This is where I also hide. I cannot go to Al-Shabaab areas. They will obviously behead me.
Somalis were deceived by these Islamists. They supported and helped them fight the warlords but afterwards the Islamists slaughtered them like animals, stole their money and took their wives and daughters.
Most Somalis now regret ousting the warlords, but gone is gone. Only minority clans and two or three powerful sub-clans support Al-Shabaab and believe in the so-called jihad as a means of attacking the other clans.
Al-Shabaab is totally hated but the current president, who was head of the Islamic courts in 2006, has deprived civilians of their weapons. He says, “Help me fight Al-Shabaab,” but people cannot fight weapons with their fingers.
In January 2011, I said to myself: "You should join the military again". I saw some dignity in this new government of Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi.
I'm still a captain but now we are given $130 per month. There is a bit of law and order. Nowadays a military officer is saluted and his orders are followed. That is what I see.
As told to Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu. Photo by Omar Faruk
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