Bush Visit Generates Excitement, Expectations
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ They paraded down a dusty street, talked excitedly in marketplaces and carried heroic drawings of a bespectacled president in a star-spangled Superman suit.
Anxious and expectant, Somalis bonded with President Bush on Thursday even though few got to see him. Even so, a miserable city sacked by ruthless armed bandits and ravenous warlords enjoyed a briefly festive moment.
″The Somali people are proud that the president is here,″ said Adam Musse Othman, 46, a former English professor at a Swedish school in Yemen. ″He can give us peace until we have time to recover. I pray for my country.″
Streets bustled more than usual in the capital. One of the warlords who helped ruin Somalia sent his militia marching band to lead a parade down a sandblasted stretch called Kafo Street.
About 3,000 people joined in, some carrying wordy banners with things like ″The presence of USA helps a lot. We need reconciliation.″
″It’s like a big holiday,″ beamed Aden Mohammed Ali, 34, a veteran Somali newspaperman who now works for The U.N. Children’s Fund, UNICEF. ″I think anyone who is not happy about Bush is probably a bandit who takes advantage of the chaos.″
Those who got closest to Bush strolled to the heavily guarded outer gate of the former U.S. Embassy and watched the president’s helicopter pass overhead. But Somalis had no way of seeing Bush address the troops inside.
″I want to see him,″ said Hawa Omar Kusow, 25, dazzling in a luminous green-and-blue sari. She was pregnant with her seventh child. Five others died in the past year from starvation and disease as feuding clans battled for control of the capital.
Marines yanked guns from cars at nearby checkpoints and patrolled barbed- wire rings around the embassy’s gates. Sharpshooters peered from sandbag nests atop the compound’s stone wall.
The streets elsewhere were abuzz with chatter about the visit of an American president to an African nation.
″I have talked to people of all walks of life,″ said Ali. ″What struck me was that all say we need U.S. protection until there is a stable government acceptable to all. We must try to convince Bush to stay deeply involved.″
Somalia collapsed into senseless clan turf battles and depraved looting and murder after the despot Mohammed Siad Barre was toppled in January 1991. An estimated 350,000 have since died of starvation.
Bush, who ordered U.S. troops into Somalia to protect aid deliveries to its starving masses, has resisted U.N. pressure that Washington expand its mandate to include rebuilding Somali society.
Somali newspapers - photocopied typing paper stapled together - trumpeted the arrival. One showed Bush dressed as Superman, an American flag as his cape, flying into Somalia and saying: ″I come to celebrate with my soldiers and get first-hand knowledge of the situation.″
At the Shik-Shik sign company, a huge painting of a heroic Bush - mouth open and fist clenched in impassioned oratory - faced the street.
Less excited was U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Mike Lowe of Eldersburg, Md., a member of the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron. His job is to beam back video of the military relief operation to the Pentagon brass.
On Thursday, he had to bounce 15 minutes of the Bush visit off of IntelSat 66E back to Washington. It was 15 minutes of fame he could do without.
″They’re really into this,″ said the 23-year-old as he lounged on a cot in the shade of a satellite dish. ″Otherwise we wouldn’t be here today. What are we supposed to do with the other 23 hours and 45 minutes?″
Bush set down in probably his most dangerous destination as president. Mogadishu remains beset by armed bandits, rival clans and crazy kids coming of age in the violent chaos of anarchy. Shots rang out throughout the city hours before the president’s plane touched down.