Dhobley: Somali town scarred by violence picking up the pieces

Saturday May 25 2024

An aerial shot of Dhobley showing the newly tarmacked Dhobley- Afmadhow road cutting through the town. PHOTO | NMG


Dhobley town in Somalia’s southern region was once ravaged by violence, factional strife and constant attacks by Al Shabaab militants.

But today, Dhobley’s residents cannot help but marvel at the first-ever tarmac road that now connects the region to Afmadhow, an important city in the middle of the Juba region bordering Kenya.

This crucial artery was opened by the Kenya Defence Forces engineering squadron based at the Dhobley Forward Operating Base (FOB) as part of their mandate in the Africa Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis).

One of the most pressing challenges that faced Dhobley was the lack of basic services, particularly healthcare. Years of conflict had put the town's medical infrastructure in a shambles, leaving its residents vulnerable to diseases and ill health.

Read: Somalia envoy: We come with opportunities, not burdens to EA

The Dhobley General Hospital was, for years, a shell of its former self. But Abdinasir Mohamed, its director, says the KDF has been constantly supplying it with medicines and medical equipment.


“Without KDF’s and Atmis’ intervention, this hospital would have been closed a long time ago,” he told The EastAfrican while receiving medical supplies from the KDF. “We had no medicine, staff feared coming here because of security threats, but now, normal operations have resumed after a very long time.”

While handing over the medicines, Sector 2 Atmis Commander Brigadier Seif Salim Rashid said the health of the locals is paramount and they were determined to improve the hospital.

Sector 2 is the largest, with nine forward operating bases, including Dhobley. The others are Afmadhow, Hoosingo, Tabda, Belles Qooqani, Sea Port of Kuday, Seaport of Burgavo, Abdalle Birolle and Kismayu.

Despite the improvement at the facility, the residents still visit the Atmis Sector 2 Level 2 Hospital within the Dhobley FOB, where KDF medics, led by Lt-Colonel Jared Kebaso, attend to them.

Brig Rashid said theirs is a referral facility and provides medical support and evacuation for forces operating in this sector.

“Other than serving the troops, we provide medical services to the local community as well as mentor the local medics,” he added.

Lt-Colonel Kebaso says the hospitals in Dhobley need a lot of capacity building and KDF has a programme to assist the local medical practitioners in critical areas such as laboratory, biomedical engineering, and anaesthesia, and offer referral services.

One of the beneficiaries of the medical mentoring programme is Lieutenant Abdiwahab, a medic in the Somali National Army who is based at the Sector 2 Level 2 Hospital to advance his medical skills and help his fellow Somali troops while conducting operations.

Read: Why Somalia wants another foreign force after ATMIS is done

“I am here to learn all I can about medicine and I am very grateful because I have learnt a lot, which I believe will be crucial to handling medical cases for my troops,” he said.

Still, the Atmis troops have to deal with a metamorphosing enemy, the Al Shabaab.

Brig Rashid said that they sometimes get intelligence of imminent Al Shabaab attacks, which “sometimes stretches our ability to maintain a certain state over a long period”.

Whereas he is confident that the KDF has been able to contain the Shabaab threat, he says much still needs be done to prepare the Somali Security Forces —the Somalia National Army and the Somalia Police Force — before the Atmis’ mandate ends in December 2024.

“On the readiness of the security forces, the training and mentoring is ongoing as we help them reach optimum levels of efficiencies which, at the moment, I cannot say is 100 percent. We are running against time and a lot more needs to done in raising their capacities and capabilities,” he said.

Other than the roads and hospital, KDF is also one of the biggest developers of the education sector in Dhobley.

At Wamo Primary and Secondary School, one of the leading institutions in Dhobley district, deputy principal Abdiraham Salat Farah said Atmis had helped construct new classrooms and furnish them.

“They have built four classrooms and assisted this school greatly. Teachers and students are very happy that the Atmis troops are here because we easily tell them all our challenges and they readily assist where they can,” he said.

In a society where the voice of women is often silenced, Brig Rashid has prioritised the empowerment of women and has set aside a budget to assist one of the Dhobley Women Group to make money.

Neema Mohamed, the leader of the self-help group, said their goal is to improve the skills of women.

“It is very difficult to manage such a group. Sometimes we lack capital to pay our office rent and buy the materials that we need to make the beads and mats that we sell. We thank KDF who have not only helped us with capital but also trained us to make these mats and be businesswomen,” she said.

Read: AU delays plan for Somalia’s post-Atmis force

Tasked with the role of supporting this women’s group is Captain Valerie Shikuku, a psychologist at the FOB. For her, the improvement of the women’s financial status is a big boost to their mental and physical health. It also reduces cases of girls getting into early marriages, and teenage pregnancies.

“These demanding projects help them to develop their business skills and we are happy because we now understand that there will be sustainability even after we leave Somalia,” Capt Shikuku said.

At the heart of Dhobley town, business thrives. Shops, travel agencies, supermarkets and M-Pesa shops operate, a proof that Kenyans are also among the beneficiaries of the newfound peace in the once violence-wracked region.

Six Kenyans were killed by Al Shabaab operatives in this very town in March, on allegations of “spreading Christianity in an Islamic State”.
Dhobley district commissioner Hassan Abdi, however, said the real cause of the executions was business rivalry.

“It was a very unfortunate incident and want Dhobley town to be a business hub for everyone, including Kenyans who have been crucial to this town’s growth,” he said.

The EastAfrican met several Kenyans conducting business in Dhobley, most of them in the construction industry.

Nicholas Okello, a foreman at the site of one of the tallest buildings in Dhobley, has been in Somalia for the past seven months. He says his only problem is the language barrier.

“We are almost completing this project, which we began last year. We appreciate the people of Dhobley and the government for protecting us while working here. I am urging more foreigners to come join us so that we help rebuild this country,” he said.

Daniel Mativo, a welder, said there is more money in the Somalia construction industry than in Kenya.

“Security has improved. At times, there are cases of robbery, just like in every other society, but the government is doing its best to protect Kenyans working here and it is a rewarding place to work in,” he said.

But amid the signs of progress, reminders of the difficult past are visible, revealing the challenges lying ahead.

Read: Somalia stabilisation force: Uganda troops answer call up; anyone else?

In the outskirts of Dhobley, makeshift refugee camps dot the land, housing families displaced by conflict and hardship.

For them, the journey to peace and stability is far from over, but they cling to the hope that, with each passing day, Dhobley takes a step closer to realising its full potential.

For Brig Rashid, the goal is to degrade Al Shabaab, protect civilians, ensure peace and develop capacity of Somali security forces.

“We have recorded significant gains, including liberation of some areas previously under control of Al Shabaab, winning the hearts and minds of local communities as well as developing the government structure in Somalia. We will leave a safe and stable Dhobley,” he said.