The Back of Beyond is Someone’s Hometown

Huddor 1993

For those with concern for Women’s Rights, the Right to Free Expression and the desire to feel democratic principles working, recent events in Somalia show the continued problems in the Horn of Africa and reflect the growing disregard for the rule of law by a number of leaders.

Not that Somalia needs to have leaders who take lessons from Putin or Ortega in acting unilaterally. Or Johnson’s seeming contempt for law being for all including himself and his friends. Johnson popularist approaches appealing to very narrow agendas as he serves an elite reinforcing global views of British imperialism. Ortega throws the Vatican and Red Cross representatives out of Nicaragua. Putin — more than enough to reflect on as he interprets history and practices megalomania.

The murder of Amina Mohamed Abdi along with at least 48 other people causes challenges to my mind. With memories of events during the last 30 years engaged with people in difficult places and situations and with reflections on how friendship emerged from shared responsibility to each other in making sure we were all safe.

Thinking through the lessons not learned in what is the passing of a generation and the rise of children knowing nothing other than the uncertainty in asking:-

‘Is the safety on that Kalashnikov AK47?’

The fragility created by having to ask

‘Am I, my family, safe going to a meeting where indiscriminate bombs may target anyone daring to challenge the present situation?’

Two events came to mind when reading on yet more carnage and death. The carnage has continued and people, to an extent, have become impervious to death away from their immediate family. Background noise of hand grenades and small, disruptive, bombings where extremists are recruiting disenfranchised people left without voice. Shootings, assassinations of business rivals masked as terrorism allowing organised crime to take advantage of power vacuums.

This is the point. We become blasé to the near constant threat of violence. Indiscriminate weapons to disrupt, discriminatory killings to take the life from specific people at specific times for defined reasons. Defined reasons? Some of the reasons for killings are, at best, superficial. Yes, the murder of campaigners but, regularly at levels not reaching international press, people are murdered because of grievances being manipulated by outside forces. Reasons best resolved with some dialogue and possibly arbitration from a mutual friend. Not the use of a Kalashnikov rifle or a Makarov pistol.

I returned to working on Somalia, although not much time in Somalia, in 2007 and continue to be connected with people. Many of the people I had worked with are still delivering quality work.

We were all connected by bad times then and terrible moments now.

The security provisions have continued to change. As United Nations, UN, staff we all worked behind higher, thicker walls with checks on the very checks for people coming in and out of these walled compounds.

Recent events show higher walls and more checks probably create greater divides and grounds for animosity. We were not changing the state of the nation — just avoiding how the state had become ever more divisive.

In 2008 a UN civil engineer was murdered in Huddor. I sat in my chair at the weekly security session for the UN country team. The chief security officer told us the engineer had been ‘killed by al Shabab’. I asked how he knew this. It is obvious I was told in no uncertain terms, who else would do this to a UN staff member?

My connections with Huddor may be tenuous but these connections are founded in shared experiences. We all felt the wind blow, the rain fall and dirt ingrain itself in our skins the same in 1993.

The engineer murdered in 2008 led out the rebuilding of the Huddor Secondary School in 1993. Engineer Mohamed was a man of punctilious detail. He came to me to report not being able to account for a metre or two of timber as the roof was rebuilt. We talked. I chuckled as we realised he was working to such a level of detail the saw cuts in a kilometre of roofing timber meant the losses were laying on the dusty playground as sawdust and split ends to bad joinery.

Now the gentleman was dead. Shot with a pistol bullet as he walked from Friday Prayers. Must have been al Shabab — Friday. Huddor. Middle of nowhere al Shabab country. Prayers. So said the experts struggling to find their belt buckles below paunches reflecting not just advancing years but the idleness in mental and physical sharpness.

I had made some calls. Received calls given people knew the Engineer worked with me. He was killed because of a business deal gone wrong. No arbitration lawyer in sight and easier to find a young lad whose mind could be easily manipulated. His pocket bare, a small payment for this deed would make a difference.

One shot. One shot to the head. The young lad pulling the trigger walked on and disappeared leaving a dead man leaching blood into the dusty roads of Huddor.

Leaving a family who would not be impacted by languid men sitting in comfortable chairs arguing why the bullet left the gun.

Or so I was told by the security chief. He was a professional and had people listening to locals. Locals? More us and them.

The points were made regarding lazy analysis made for the wrong approaches to how we were to make any difference. Or maybe people in this distant room did not need to make a difference in Huddor? They only needed to make a difference in this room. 3, maybe 5, years and then on to the next posting. Rungs in a ladder taking them on their career to places in famous songs. New York New York, the Big Apple.

Who cares about Huddor? It’s the back of beyond. Why are you getting so angry Crook? Does it matter who killed this guy?

The principles set have been perpetuated as the divorce between active involvement is masked in internal quotas as organisations seek diversity. Taking up the agenda of localisation through changed rhetoric on partners, market-based cash programming and the term decolonisation. The last term is placed with Global North and Global South as yet another catch-all which grabs attention and misses the issues of how individuals profited or lost identity under the exploitation of people and finite resources.

In 1993, knowing nothing of all these terms, we worked as a team with a blend of different skills and mutual support. Together we were strong. Strong enough to take on powerful elites stripping resources locally.

We did not sense the way we were working had qualities we are now striving to redefine and find terms for 29 years, many lives, later.

Somalia provides (continuing) examples of the contrasts between national and international. Between doing the work and writing the report.

The question: who is truly responsible to whom? Comes to the fore.

There are people who feel exploited, being asked to work in difficult settings. A former colleague said he felt like a spy as his work was fed into the political machine. He said he never received positives to give back to people reporting on the ever-changing power dynamics in the security and political arenas.

Eng Mohamed believed in his skills and was committed to working to use them to best effect. Amina sought to change the dynamic and have politics back with people. This challenged the extractive, exploitative nature we witness as being in power means time to benefit. Benefit yourself and your clique.

Extractive economics takes on numerous forms with the common element being it always reflects the asymmetric relationships where short-term satisfaction is not building beneficial accountability longer-term.

Way back in 1993, we had a gentleman of integrity, a former police inspector, as our head of guards. He set up an old rusty Russian heavy machine gun that argumentative afternoon. Virtually everyone in the dusty compound knew the gentleman and respected him. The machine gun would probably not have fired many bullets, however, the men knew the inspector and knew he carried responsibility to act for the good of the wider community.

The gun never fired; reputations were reinforced because of beliefs far greater than money.

The school was rebuilt, and children returned to learning in their Hometown.

Maybe a few more people should return to education in dusty compounds as the Back of Beyond is, quite possibly, the place to learn.

Huddor 2021
Warehouse providing food to over 100,000 people in 1993
Still there today

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Possibilities in mind, body & spirit opened by being in Fragile States: countries & inside my own head. Exploring one’s self & community Challenging boundaries

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Paul James Crook

Paul James Crook

Possibilities in mind, body & spirit opened by being in Fragile States: countries & inside my own head. Exploring one’s self & community Challenging boundaries

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