Mogadishu's airport moving on up and online
The carcass of a Russian aircraft shot down in 2007 was finally moved from Mogadishu's runway to a side street, where its parts are being sold. MICHELLE SHEPHARD/ TORONTO STAR
Mogadishu's airport now has a slick website, with an artist's rendition of a new terminal and tourist links for hotels and attractions under a heading titled "Discover Mogadishu."
It's a bit premature, but encouraging.
Before you pack your bags for a beachside holiday, just know, Somalia's capital is not ready for foreign tourists and the website is a little misleading (I'm not sure where The Bazooka Bar is but I'm pretty sure it's not in Mogadishu).
Visitors must still travel carefully in the capital and many foreign diplomats meeting their Somali counterparts never make it out of the well-guarded airport, which sits inside a sprawling compound guarded by local forces and peacekeepers with the African Union mission, known as AMISOM.
On Friday, an Ethiopian Air Force cargo plane crashed in circumstances that are still unclear, killing four crew members. The government immediately appointed a high-level security committee to investigate the crash. It does not appear to be terror-related as Al Shabab, East Africa's Al Qaeda group, did not claim credit (but nonetheless hailed it as "a victory from Allah.")
That's the bad news and a little reality check, but the airport's website is a promising sign of progress.
There were many instances during the last two decades of conflict when the airport was completely shut to commercial traffic, further alienating the war-torn capital from the world. When a Russian aircraft was shot down in 2007, its carcass remained on the tarmac greeting visitors, an unnerving sight for those who dared to fly to the capital.
But the twisted wreckage was finally moved to a side street last year where its parts are being sold. Also gone now is the immigration form that asks passengers to list the "make and calibre" of their weapons. And after Friday's crash, the airport quickly resumed business.
Turkish Airlines, part of the Star Alliance airline group, which includes Air Canada, now flies regularly to the capital. According to a New York Times magazine article by Joshua Hammer, the managing director of Jubba Airways, Somalia-born Canadian Abdullahi Warsame, is "starting inquiries" about purchasing the first plane for the airline, perhaps a Boeing 737-800, or a newer version 737. The airline now only leases its Boeings (manufactured before 1988).
But the airport website may need a few more pointers under the heading, "Planning Your Trip."
Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recipient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm