Mogadishu's Bakara market clean-up upsets some

Like many other residents of Mogadishu, Ali Osman, who sells wares at the Bakara market, had longed for an end to lawlessness and violence that plagued the capital for two decades.

Islamist insurgents controlled most of Mogadishu for several years. Combat often erupted in the city. Mortar rounds sailed overhead and crashed into homes and market stalls. Gunmen wanting to replenish their weapon supplies could go to the Bakara market where Kalashnikov rifles, machine guns and hand grenades were sold from rickety wooden stands lining narrow, dusty streets.

The insurgents were pushed out of town last year and the government is striving to normalize this most chaotic of cities. But now that the government is clearing out "illegal" stalls in the overcrowded Bakara market, Osman and other traders feel things have gone too far.

Osman watched in horror on a recent day as bulldozers ripped through his small kiosk. Traders nearby scrambled to move their wares and stalls before the bulldozer trained its shovel on them.

"My only income source is being pulverized," Osman said as he watched the destruction of his grocery business, which sold items like rice and canned juice. "They did not give us an alternative place to do our business. They don't care about poor people."

Cigarette butts, water bottles, and cartons were strewn over the street after the bulldozers removed the kiosks. Laborers loaded the metal sheeting and wood scraps into a truck.

The effort is aimed at opening space in a crowded market throughway but traders say the government is tearing down businesses without giving them enough time to move.

Halimo Nur, a vegetable trader, watched soldiers and laborers busting up her kiosk.

"They have made our life one of misery and pain," she said.

The city's deputy police commander insisted that plenty of warning was given to kiosk owners who were selling goods in the street.

"We gave them 20 days to move their business from the streets. Few of them obeyed our orders," Ali Mohamed Ali said. "We shall keep removing the illegal kiosks street by street until we eliminate the illegal business sites."

The clean-up has had an immediate effect. Before, the streets were overcrowded and alleys were so full of merchandise that people didn't have enough room to pass.

Now the path is clear and people can walk though easily. Government officials believe the clearing of the market's walkways will also make it easier for police and soldiers to chase down remaining militants who try to flee after an attack. Bakara, the largest market in the capital, has been an active business hub since the fall of the last functioning government in 1991. Militants used it as cover from which to launch attacks from 2007-2011.

During a recent bulldozing operation at another market about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Bakara, officials said they recovered guns, bombs and other explosive materials that were for sale.

The city's general revival includes new sidewalks, new flower gardens, filling of potholes in roads and the installation of solar-powered street lights. There have been disruptions to the lives of people besides the market traders in the normalization effort. City officials recently kicked out hundreds of people from government-owned buildings where they were illegally residing.

Mogadishu became mired in violence in 1991, when clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. African Union and Somali troops pushed al-Shabab militants out of Mogadishu last August, allowing the revival in the seaside capital.