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Mogadishu: The most dangerous place on Earth


“Mogadishu:  The most dangerous place on Earth,” is part one of a series on terrorism and piracy in Somalia.

In the hit film Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi found himself standing high atop a desert cliff with his new apprentice, Luke Skywalker.  The two gazed out at the “haphazard collage of low-grade concrete, stone...  structures” spread over the desert floor.  “Mos Eisley Spaceport,” pronounced Kenobi, “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

Clearly, the old Jedi had never been to Mogadishu

“The Most Dangerous Place on Earth”

The Republic of Somalia is a state situated in the Horn of Africa.  Mogadishu, the capitol of Somalia, is the country’s largest city and it’s situated along the coast of the Indian Ocean, in the Benadir region.  Geographically speaking, Somalia was ideally situated throughout history.  The Silk Road passed through Somalia, and during the Middle Ages, “Mogadishu became the center of Islam on the East African Coast.

This situation, however, has not been a blessing.  For the last few decades, Somalia has degenerated into a failed-state.

After losing its moral authority in the latter part of the twentieth century, the Somali government only survived because of the country’s strategic importance during the Cold War.  In 1991, when the Cold War ended, the United States and Russia lost interest in the country.  The ensuing power vacuum caused the government to collapse; it also sparked the Somali Civil War.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the nation “descended into turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy.”

Sadly, “chaos and lawlessness [now] rule in Mogadishu.”  It has become, in the words of Fareed Zakaria, what may be “the most dangerous place on Earth.”

According to Jeffrey Gettleman, the East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times, the city has been destroyed by “small caliber” bullet fire.  Consequently, many buildings have been pockmarked with bullet holes, their walls barely left standing.

Imagine Mogadishu in the film, Black Hawk Down.  The city was in shambles, but the imagery may not do it justice.  It is still as it was described by Mark Bowden, author of the book by the same name:  Black Hawk Down:  A Story of Modern War.

The “awful reality” of Mogadishu, says Bowden, is that it’s “a catastrophe, the world capital of things-gone-completely-to-hell.”  Mountains of garbage, a crumbling infrastructure, burnt out vehicles, and other debris make the city look as if it’s stuck in some post-apocalyptic limbo.  No wonder it’s the “most dangerous place on Earth.”  In fact, the fighting between various warlords, combined with famine and disease has “led to the deaths of up to one million people.”

When Foreign Policy magazine recently published its annual “Failed States Index,” Somalia was ranked as the number one failed state for the third year in a row.

It is this environment that has given rise to the waves of piracy and terrorism that are often reported on CNN.  In fact, Somalia is back in the news after a devastating and tragic terrorist attack last week in Uganda.

The al-Shabab militia, a Somali militant group that controls a sizeable portion of Mogadishu, claimed responsibility for two explosions that left 74 people dead in Kampala, the Ugandan capitol.  The explosions ripped “through two venues… where crowds were watching broadcasts of the World Cup final” on Sunday, July 11, 2010.

In a statement released by al-Shabab, the organization threatened Uganda and Burundi with more attacks if they did not stop supplying an African Union peacekeeping force stationed in Somalia with their troops.

This should come as no surprise.

Dr. Dan G. Cox*, coauthor of the forthcoming book, tentatively titled The Somalia Trap, and an Associate Professor of Political Science at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, says al-Shabab “is an insurgency group that employs both terrorism and insurgency tactics to gain wider control of Somalia.”

Al-Shabab seeks to impose a Taliban-style Islamic emirate on the people of Somalia.  If Mogadishu isn’t the most dangerous place on Earth, it may be soon.

Read part 2, Amid Somali turmoil, pockets of hope remain, today!

*Dan G. Cox is an Associate Professor at the School of Advanced Military Studies at the General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.  He has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Nebraska and is one of the authors of Terrorism, Instability, and Democracy in Asia and Africa (University Press of New England, 2009).  Dr. Cox is currently writing another book, tentatively titled The Somalia Trap, with Major Christopher J. Heatherly, an Army Military Intelligence Officer.  Cox’s research has recently appeared in several peer-reviewed journals, including Congress and the Presidency, The International Journal of Public Opinion Research, and The Journal of Peace Research.  His work has also appeared in influential journals, such as The Joint Force Quarterly, the Terrorism Monitor, and the Small Wars Journal.  Cox’s work has even been cited in Foreign Policy magazine online.  Disclaimer:  The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied are solely those of Dr. Dan G. Cox, and do not represent the views of the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the United States Army, the Department of Defense, or any other U.S. government agency.


  • Jeans 5 years ago

    Very interesting article. I cannot wait for part two to come out. Hopefully it is soon.

    BTW, to anyone reading this article, I highly recommend Dan Cox's books. He is very talented. You won't be disappointed.

  • princeofbrava 1 year ago

    No its not!!
    Just came back 3 months ago and its very nice place, but when i see it on the TV it is.
    By the way I am a Somalian so maybe its different then others.

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