Somalia happy just flying flag in Beijing – By Abdi Mohamed, MOGADISHU(Reuters)

August 9th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

For Somalis watching the Olympic Games opening ceremony on television in the bombed-out capital Mogadishu there was little thought of medals, just pride at seeing their team in Beijing at all.

Despite staggering disadvantages, the impoverished Horn of Africa nation has managed to send a small number of competitors to the last half-dozen Olympics. This year their team is 10-strong.

The country slid into anarchy after warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991. Now a new insurgency by Islamist rebels has killed more than 8,000 civilians since the start of last year. (more…)

For Somalis watching the Olympic Games opening ceremony on television in the bombed-out capital Mogadishu there was little thought of medals, just pride at seeing their team in Beijing at all.

Despite staggering disadvantages, the impoverished Horn of Africa nation has managed to send a small number of competitors to the last half-dozen Olympics. This year their team is 10-strong.

The country slid into anarchy after warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991. Now a new insurgency by Islamist rebels has killed more than 8,000 civilians since the start of last year.

“I was excited when I saw our blue flag being waved in the stadium,” Nur Ahmad, a 52-year-old Mogadishu man, said.
“Even though we are in anarchy, for a few hours yesterday we were no different than developed countries like the United States, Spain, Germany or Canada,” he said.

“It reminded me of our heyday before the civil war.”

Elsewhere, there were brutal reminders of the plight of ordinary Somalis caught between the insurgents, the divided interim government and its Ethiopian military allies.

Abdukadir Abulahi and a group of friends in Afgoye, on the outskirts of the city, were captivated by the colourful scenes from China when a heavy battle broke out nearby.

“We were watching the opening carnival with great interest, but we switched it off when we heard the gunfire,” Abulahi said.
At least seven people, including five civilians, died.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on all warring parties to respect a traditional ceasefire during the Games.
Most Somalis who watched the ceremony viewed it on televisions in the relative safety of homes. In the past, groups gathering to watch movies or football matches at video halls have been targeted by grenade-throwing assailants.

GUNMEN OCCUPY STADIUM

Abdinasir Said Ibrahim, who will run in the 5,000 metres facing stiff competition against athletes from neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, trained in rubble-strewn Mogadishu.

“The main stadium there is now a military base, so we trained on the highways and at the smaller Banadir stadium,” the 19-year-old told Reuters by telephone from Beijing.

“Sometimes the violence stopped us from attending training, but we are determined to do well,” he said.
Somalia has never won a medal at the Olympic Games. Its best performance came in 1996 when its most renowned athlete, Abdi Bile, took sixth place in 1,500 metres at Atlanta.

That success triggered a typically Somali type of adulation: fighters in lawless Mogadishu began dubbing their “technicals” — pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons — as “Abdi Biles”.

“It’s the best name we could get because of its speed and power,” one former militiaman, Ibrahim Maalim, said with a grin.
Humanitarian workers say the violence has triggered an aid crisis in Somalia that is feared to be the worst in Africa.
About 1 million people have been displaced by the fighting, and their dire situation has been compounded by severe drought, high food and fuel prices and record inflation.

“Many here are poor and cannot afford to install a satellite dish to watch the Olympics,” said Maalim, the former militiaman.
The United Nations warned last month that attacks on aid workers threatened to wreck all attempts to resolve a disaster that could soon rival Somalia’s famine in the early 1990s.

But Adan Hashi Yabarow, deputy chairman of Somalia’s Olympic Committee, said he hoped the sight of the country’s team just taking part in the Beijing Games would bring hope to many.

“Our main priority is to see the Somali flag being hosted here,” Yabarow told Reuters. “We have a young team and although we hope they will do well, our desire is to see our flag among the other countries participating in the Olympics.” (Additional reporting by Ibrahim Mohamed in Mogadishu and Guled Mohamed in Nairobi; Writing by Daniel Wallis) (For more stories visit our multimedia website “Road to Beijing” at http://www.reuters.com/news/sports/2008olympics; and see our blog at http://blogs.reuters.com/china)

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