Originally Published in: The Africa Report
Last week in Mogadishu, unidentified gunmen attacked Ann-Margarethe Livh, a Swedish diplomat, by a major intersection, killing her Somali translator and driver and leaving her seriously wounded.
This was the latest in a series of attacks in the city that have targeted foreigners and high profile Somali leaders. A bomb was recently placed in the car of a prominent businessman and a few days later a state-run radio station employee was gunned down and killed.
About 15 minutes before the attack on Livh, I happened to be driving by that same intersection.
Upon hearing of the attack, I was seized by an untrammeled flood of emotions that ranged from heartbreak at the senseless deaths, to anger at the assailants, to a guilty sense of relief that I had just missed the horrific incident.
The intent of the attack is not hard to discern: it is part of a concerted campaign to intimidate the increasing number of foreigners that have come to Mogadishu to help rebuild the city and to drown out the stories of growth and stability that have been coming out of Mogadishu for the past two years.
As I thought about what this attack and similar ones mean for Somalia, I was reminded by quote by one of my favorite authors, Chimamanda Adichie: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
These terrorists want to push a story and single narrative of anarchy, civil disorder, and instability onto the psyche of the international community and Somalis interested in returning to rebuild their country.
We must not let them succeed in making this the single story of Mogadishu and Somalia.
When I had driven by the location of the upcoming attack, I had just returned from a meeting with a group of foreigners and young Somalis that were determined to tell a different narrative of Mogadishu.
We were meeting to discuss the logistics of an upcoming TEDx talk I’m helping to organize. The topic: rediscover Somalia. The event would focus on innovations and traditions that once built and will again rebuild Somalia.
We were brainstorming possible additions to a roster of speakers that included youth activists, entrepreneurs, and government leaders that were doing some amazing things in Mogadishu. Amidst the negative noise that has been surrounding Mogadishu over the past two months, they are voices that speak of resilience, ingenuity, and hope.
I had just arrived in Mogadishu that morning from the US. I was there to organize a youth summit that would recognize the achievements of young Somali entrepreneurs, leaders and activists based in Mogadishu.
Through this event I want to put the spotlight on a new generation of young innovators, leaders and social entrepreneurs living in Mogadishu. These are dynamic, innovative and courageous young people who are transforming their country and contributing to peace and development.
And they have great stories to tell: one of our participants, and a speaker at the TEDx event, was a young woman fighting to protect Somali women against rape. Another is a young social entrepreneur launching a micro-credit program for Somali business women.
These are the stories that need to be told. Stories are powerful things, and the single narrative being pushed by Al-Shabaab and other terrorists groups, has the power to negatively impact future investment in Somalia and deter the return of Somalia Diaspora looking to rebuild their country.
Mogadishu has its challenges. On my way from the airport, I saw the tents of internally displaced people living in abject poverty in the outskirts of the city. Many buildings remain pockmarked with bullet holes and some of the roads are barely navigable.
However, Mogadishu and its residents do not reflect a single story but a diversity of narratives that include challenges, triumphs, and optimism. Let us not allow these attacks to be the single story of Mogadishu. I remain committed to helping rebuild my city of birth and urge the international community to remain steadfast in their support of Somalia.
Mohamed Ali, J.D., is the founder of the Iftiin Foundation which aims to encourage youth entrepreneurship in Somalia, and in 2013 was named as one of the Aspen Institute’s New Voices Fellows.