The Observer (Kampala)

10 March 2014

Uganda: Our Policewoman On Life in Somalia

interview

As the world's most lawless country, Somalia conjures up images of bullets, bombs, blood and death.

But according to a Ugandan policewoman, people in Somalia still find time for beach walks, jogging, swimming and playing volleyball. Betty Napeyok, 39, is a senior officer with Amisom, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, since April 2013.

On a short holiday in Uganda recently, Napeyok spoke to Zurah Nakabugo about life in Mogadishu. Excerpts:

What happened on your first day in Somalia?

On my first day when I arrived in Somalia, it was so hot, but the Indian Ocean lying across was a beautiful sight to behold. My first night in Mogadishu was not very good; the sun set at 5pm and by 6pm it was dark.

I was so scared. The mosquitoes there are as big as flies.

How do you start your day in Somalia?

The day begins at 5am with prayers. Then I go jogging and have breakfast at 7:30am. I report to office at 8pm and run through press releases. If there is any event in Mogadishu town to attend, I welcome journalists and arrange interviews with police commissioners.

I conduct media visits to Mogadishu, regular briefings, public information coordination meetings, compile daily situation reports and disseminate information through various channels.

We close at 5pm and take a beach walk. Beaches are busy with many nationalities running, swimming and playing volleyball. At 6:30pm, I eat dinner, read a novel after or watch a movie. I sleep at 9pm.

What is the role of policewomen in Amisom?

Within Amisom, policewomen mentor and advise Somali policewomen on many police duties that require women-to-women tasks. Amisom policewomen also train Somali policewomen in self-defence techniques to help them in case of any sexual harassment.

Is it compulsory for ladies in Somalia to wear long clothes?

Somalia is a Muslim country with a strict dress code. Women cover their hair and wear long dresses.

Any good experiences while working in Somalia?

Due to the nature of my job as a public information officer, I have met different people from various countries especially journalists within Mogadishu, Somalia, BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera. I have interacted with several Somalis and they have been good to me.

What have you learnt that you can share with other women here?

I have learnt a lot about how to deal with a politically unstable community. I have been counselling people on health, education and social development. I have also been involved in other women activities like sports, reading, music, dance and drama to make sure they are not traumatized.

Your worst experience?

On January 1, 2014 mortars [bombs] were fired inside our compound. We were lucky no one was hurt. We highly suspected that this bomb was hurled in by al-Shabab.

How did you survive this bomb?

I was inside the house and when I heard the explosion, I fell to the ground and all my colleagues did the same and we managed to survive without injuries.

How did you feel after the explosion?

I was so nervous because I knew we were the target. I felt like leaving Somalia at that time but my bosses counselled us and we settled.

What are some of the challenges you face in Somalia?

Life is not easy in Mogadishu. We don't visit towns or markets anyhow unless you are on duty because the security situation is still unstable. Most Somalis don't know English, communicating with them is a problem unless you have an interpreter.

Most Somalis take drugs and they commit a lot of crimes because they don't fear anything.

When will Amisom be out of Somalia?

The public must know that Somalia is "not a failed state" as portrayed by the outside world. Amisom is doing its best to make sure that by 2016, [it] is out of Somalia.

Is Somalia a safe place for a Ugandan?

Yes, although Somalia to the outside world is portrayed as a dangerous country, life in Mogadishu town is normal, night life is very busy, people move freely on streets, women sell khat (stimulant drug) on the streets, shops open till 3am because that is the time we withdraw from night patrol.

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