A Change of Heart

by Dahib Mohamed Odwaa [Handicap International]

Geedka Dheenta is a small village in Somaliland located 45 kilometres (28 miles) east of Hargeisa in a mountainous area on the road between Hargeisa and Berbera. With a population of approximately 390 inhabitants according to the Landmine Impact Survey conducted in 2003, its citizens usually go to Hargeisa (the capital of Somaliland) to sell their products. The villagers' main income is from small irrigation farms surrounding the village where they raise fruits and vegetables such as pawpaw, oranges, greens, and tomatoes, as well as some livestock.

During the civil war that broke out in Somalia in 1988, this farming community was a battlefield area; former Somali National Movement camps were located nearby. When the SNM captured Somaliland (previously the northwest sector of Somalia) in 1991, SNM troops scattered into towns, leaving empty camps open to the public.

Mohamed Gahayr Geele was an SNM guerrilla fighter, and he lived in Geedka Dheenta. He later told journalists he had received short, intensive training in mine-laying in 1989. Following the war, he came upon several items of unexploded ordnance that he collected and kept buried under a tree on his farm. To keep it safe, he piled brush on it as well. From 2000 to 2005, demining agencies, especially the Danish Demining Group, visited the village several times to collect and remove unexploded ordnance, but Geele never mentioned his UXO stash.

Then in 2005, Handicap International, with funding from Ireland Aid/UNICEF, began mine-risk education in Somaliland and trained its mine-action partners, Somaliland Mine Action Centre Regional Liaison Officers, the Police Explosives Disposal Team, the National Demining Agency, and the Quick Response Teams of The HALO Trust and DDG, creating mobile teams to visit every village and collect UXO.

HI MRE teams also developed an MRE radio program that continuously airs on the local radio. The production teams of Radio Hargeisa and Havoyoco, a local nongovernmental organisation, issue these public-service announcements every three months and then Police Explosive Teams and demining agencies' mobile teams collect the UXO from citizens. The MRE was directed at the people as a whole, and Radio Hargeisa journalists and Havayoco youth groups were trained to produce MRE radio programs such as dramatic programs, radio spots and feature programmes.

Image 1These pieces of UXO are unarmed Egyptian mortars (60mm) that are very dangerous for anyone who tampers with them. They may explode when hit, burned or taken apart to remove some parts. All photos courtesy of Dahib Mohamed Odwaa
Image 2Mohamed Gahayr Geele was a former member of the Somaliland National Movement guerrilla fighters who admitted to hiding UXO on his farm.

This project focuses on the population mainly affected by the mine and UXO risks, as identified by the Landmine Impact Survey. The overall goals of the project are to contribute to the national mine-action efforts in decreasing the socioeconomic impact of landmines and UXO and to contribute to the reduction of mine/UXO-related accidents in the affected communities of Somaliland. The project aims to provide an adequate and effective exposure to MRE to children 5–14 years of age working as herders in affected communities in Awdal, Togdheer, Sahil and Galbeed regions of Somaliland. Before MRE they are often not aware of the danger, and these children tend to tamper with pieces of UXO or anti-tank/anti-personnel mines. Another target of MRE is adult and teenage travelers, ages 14–29. Representing around 30 percent of all mine and UXO survivors, they are stricken as they move about the area. This group is not aware of the nature of the threat or the location of dangerous mined areas. Other groups also benefit from this project—returning refugees and the population as a whole, especially people who have never been educated on mine and UXO dangers.

In January 2006 the two teams from Radio Hargeisa and Havayoco conducted an Audience Feedback Survey in 32 highly and moderately mine-affected villages/communities in the Galbleed region (Hargeisa area) including Geedka Dheenta village. The teams met in Mohamed Gahayr Geele's village, emphasising their objective was to create a safe environment for its inhabitants. During the survey, the team also collected raw data to be used for the production of MRE radio programmes such as interviews and dramas. The team sought to discover how mines/UXO affected the area. During his interview, Geele admitted he had hidden some UXO items on his farm and said he wanted to hand over the munitions to the demining agencies.

Radio Hargeisa did not notify the authorities; instead, it aired the interview with Geele three weeks after the visit. Garaad Ismail Essa, DDG Operations Manager, listened to the programme and telephoned Handicap International's MRE team to identify the person who admitted he was willing to hand over the items of UXO to demining agencies. Together in late February, HI's MRE team, SMAC Deputy Manager, DDG Operations Manager, a Radio Hargeisa journalist and a representative from Somaliland National Television went to Geedka Dheenta and met with Geele. He showed them the stockpile, and the DDG Quick Response Team collected the items safely.

Later, the Radio Hargeisa journalist interviewed Geele again, asking how he felt and what perspectives he could provide to other communities with UXO in their area or in their homes. He replied that he was very proud to hand over the UXO. He said he hid the items under the tree to prevent injuries to children. Recently, however, he had begun to think the hiding place was not secure enough, that someday heavy rain or children might bring them up and it might kill or injure them. So he had a change of heart and decided to turn the items of UXO over to authorities.

Biography

HeadshotDahib Mohamed Odwaa is MRE Project Manager for Handicap International in Hargeisa, Somaliland. He has been working in the field of mine-risk education since November 1997, when he became MRE Education Officer for Handicap International in Ethiopia. He also worked in the Somali refugee camps of eastern Ethiopia. He transferred from HI Ethiopia to HI Somaliland in June 2001, serving as Assistant Programme Manager. He also helped develop MRE projects funded by UNICEF and Ireland Aid in 2005/2006.

Contact Information

Dahib Mohamed Odwaa
Mine Risk Education Project Manager
Handicap International
26 June, Near WHO Office.
Hargeisa / Somaliland
Tel: + 252 2 52 12 02
Mobile: +252 2 440 31 84
E-mail: hihargeisamre@yahoo.fr