NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 17 – It has been an argument that Africa’s story can best be told by Africans themselves. Of course, it is an argument many people especially a journalist like myself strongly hold.
Renowned and seasoned journalist Andrew Harding didn’t give this argument a second thought when he resigned as BBC’s Africa Correspondent in 2015 to concentrate on his book about Somalia.
His mind was clear that he wanted to share the story of his life after years of appalling encounter with captives, victims, survivors and heroes of nasty situations of disease, drought, war, terrorism, piracy, poverty and among others in a shaky nation whose democracy, peace and freedom were anathema.
In his book, ‘The Mayor of Mogadishu’, Harding gives an in-depth account of Somalia through the lens of Mahamud ‘Tarzan’ Nur and his own rich experience as a journalist who frequently visited the country since 2000 and interacted with the people and their culture.
The book takes us through Tarzan’s journey as he grew up through hardship to become the Mayor of Mogadishu until recently.
“He is quite a charismatic, divisive figure like most Somali politicians. Some people think he is great; some people think he is terrible. But he is an interesting man,” Harding opined during an interview with Capital FM News.
“But what I wanted to do with the book was to dig into his past; to dig into his childhood to find out what made him and as I looked into it I realised that his life story in a way tells the story of the last 60 years in Somalia.”
‘Tarzan’ was born to a poor family in Ethiopia’s Ogaden but found his way in Somalia after he was dumped in an orphanage.
His boldness as a young ambitious yet a witty boy earned him the nickname ‘Tarzan’ same way John Clayton was featured as a fictional character raised in an African jungle.
“The name Tarzan came from a morning when he was in a dormitory before dawn. His friends had lined up to queue for breakfast and he went to his bunk bed to sleep and then he heard a teacher coming in to check. He jumped out of the window – grabbed a tree branch and the teacher saw him there just in his shorts and went ‘hey Tarzan’ and so the name stuck,” Harding explained.
Out of sheer luck, Tarzan’s stardom in basket ball earned him an opportunity to travel abroad and land on a job in Saudi Arabia and later concentrate in business in London for 20 years.
In 2010, Tarzan returned to Somalia to become the Mayor of Mogadishu.
“Through him I could trace Mogadishu’s journey and what a wonderful prosperous cosmopolitan city it was in the 1970s and its decline and also look at the issues confronting the Diaspora who are trying to come back to Mogadishu to help rebuild and the challenges and the optimism and what it’s like to have lost your country and how they try and re-engage with their country.”
Tarzan like many other Somalis are faces of hope that demonstrate how Somalia rose from grass to grace and fell from grace to grass but has still not given up on its hopes of building a united nation as detailed in the book.
“Somalia has a bad reputation. It’s become this clichéd failed State. But the world seems to be full of troubled countries and so I wanted to write something that was not just the headlines – the bad news. I wanted to write a book that explains quite what a prosperous, optimistic hopeful country Somalia was. In the 1970s Somalia was the most peaceful. Clearly there is a lot of bad news and the current situation is up for grabs.”
The award winning journalist who in 2013 got an Emmy for his coverage of the war in the Central African Republic, Harding encapsulates Somalia’s journey through the life of Tarzan right from his childhood.
The father of three has generously used his privileged access to Somalia to combine his personal account and that of the people he met to demonstrate the resilience, the hopes and fears of the Somalis.
They are apparent aspirations that beckon the world to reckon about Somalia in the quest to support its rise from shackles of prolonged instability.
The book on the same breath flips into the other side of Somalia that many people don’t know about… Somalia is not a State stagnated in turmoil.
It demonstrates that over the years, Mogadishu has developed and efforts to instil democracy have been employed at different levels especially by Somalis like Tarzan who have gone through education and are determined to restore their country to glory.
‘The Mayor of Mogadishu, a Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia’ is a fine account told from the horse’s mouth with a high level of objectivity.
Such an interesting read that it engulfs readers with its descriptive language and a real life account that demonstrates that despite the life threatening hurdles that Somalia faces on a daily basis, it proves that the struggles have not been in vain.
Harding’s book is available in local bookshops and an online version will soon be available.