The Mayor of Mogadishu
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th September, 2016
For two decades following the ousting of President Siad Barre, Somalia was written off by the West as a failed state. Yet somehow parts of the capital Mogadishu survived and braver members of the large Somali diaspora in Europe and North America returned, to set up businesses or attempt to reconstruct a shattered country, despite all the corruption and ongoing feuds between clans. Among them was Mohamud ‘Tarzan’ Nur (most Somalis acquire nicknames, his own reflecting his toughness and adventurous spirit since his childhood in a Mogadishu orphanage). Nur succeeded in becoming Mayor of the city, before being unceremoniously sacked by a president who maybe feared (not unjustly) that Nur was after his own job. Tarzan’s wife, Shamis, is a strong woman in her own right, from a more affluent background but like many who have spent years outside her native land ending up making ends meet, whether raising six children off Queen’s Crescent in Camden, or setting up a dress shop in Dubai. So although Andrew Harding’s book The Mayor of Mogadishu (Hurst, £20) is at face value a biography of an extraordinary individual, it is much more — bringing in other members of Nur’s family, friends and other individuals whose experiences make this such a graphic and disquieting portrait of a society trying to rise phoenix-like from the ruins, despite the lingering presence off-stage of the fanatical Al Shabab Islamist militants. Harding is one of the BBC’s most distinguished foreign correspondents, covering large swaths of Africa out of Johannesburg and he has been flying in and out of Somalia since 2000, often at considerable risk. But parallel to his day job as a reporter has been this quest for the truth about Mohamud Nur: a hero, or a man tainted by corruption or the brief trappings of power? That quest itself gives the story much of its potency, and at the end the reader is as unsure as the author is exactly what to make of Tarzan, despite a deep affection that has grown up between them over the years. For all its dangers and shortcomings Somalia has also obviously got under Andrew Harding’s skin. If you only ever read one book about Somalia, let it be this.