The Mayor of Mogadishu
A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia
An unsparing and revealing portrayal of Somalia, from the Siad Barre decades to Al-Shabaab, seen through the eyes of ‘Tarzan’, a formidable Mogadishu politician.
The Mayor of Mogadishu tells the story of one family’s epic journey through Somalia’s turmoil, from the optimism of independence to its spectacular unravelling.
Mohamud ‘Tarzan’ Nur was born a nomad, and became an orphan, then a street brawler in the cosmopolitan port city of Mogadishu – a place famous for its cafes and open–air cinemas. When Somalia collapsed into civil war, Tarzan and his young family joined the exodus from Mogadishu, eventually spending twenty years in North London. But in 2010 Tarzan returned to the unrecognisable ruins of a city largely controlled by the Islamist militants of Al-Shabaab. For some, the new Mayor was a galvanising symbol of defiance. But others branded him a thug, mired in the corruption and clan rivalries that continue to threaten Somalia’s revival.
The Mayor of Mogadishu is an uplifting story of survival, and a compelling examination of what it means to lose a country and then to reclaim it.
Andrew Harding has worked as a foreign correspondent for the past twenty-five years in Russia, Asia and Africa. He has been visiting Somalia since 2000. His television and radio reports for BBC News have won him international recognition, including an Emmy, an award from Britain’s Foreign Press Association, and other awards in France, Monte Carlo, the United States and Hong Kong. He lives in Johannesburg with his family.
Introduction Villa Somalia
THE PEARL OF THE INDIAN OCEAN: 1956–1976
1. A Constellation of Nomads
2. A Slate Scrubbed Clean
3. Us Against the World
4. A Girl Called “Mosquito”
THE SKY HAS TURNED TO SMOKE: 1977–2009
5. A Lonely Impulse
6. From a Trickle to a Flood
7. Leave to Remain
8. Filling the Vacuum
PICKING UP THE PIECES: 2010–2016
9. A Man with a Plan
10. Wild Dogs
11. Believe Me
12. Mogadishu Mud
Epilogue Lido Beach
‘Andrew Harding, one of the BBC’s most intrepid and empathetic journalists … has chronicled the extraordinarily uplifting life of one Somali, Mohamud Nur, nicknamed Tarzan … Mr Harding poignantly describes the churning of emotions that many migrants (not just Somalis) experience as they are tossed and tugged between competing cultures.’ — The Economist
‘Part on-the-ground war reporting, part investigative biography, Harding’s book captures both the fragile hopes and the appalling violence of Somalia. It also conjures the ambiguity of its central character, a self-mythologizing showman trailed by a whiff of corruption and not averse to shading the truth … As Harding’s fine book makes clear, morally compromised figures like Nur may be the best one can hope for in a country desperately short of heroes.’ — New York Times
‘Andrew Harding, who has repeatedly visited Mogadishu as a BBC journalist since 2000, is fascinated by the city and how to make sense of it. In his new book, Mogadishu becomes legible through the biography of one man, Mohamed Nur, known as “Tarzan”.’ — Times Literary Supplement
‘A dramatic story, which, whilst examining the violence, chaos and corruption of Somalia, manages to be uplifting and redemptive. Written in brilliantly stylish prose, the author structures his narrative in a way that makes this book both informative and highly readable.’ — Irish Examiner
‘The Mayor of Mogadishu is much more than the story of one ambitious Somali politician. It is the modern history of one of the world’s most troubled countries, told with sensitivity, wisdom and compassion – and a rollicking good read besides.’ — The National
‘The Mayor of Mogadishu tells the story of Somalia with a personal and very human touch without losing sight of complex national political dimensions. […] Harding peoples the city and brings it alive as a place where lives are lived, ambitions followed, family dramas played out and stories told.’ — Mail & Guardian Africa
‘Africa can be explained in dry prose, in figures, in newspaper reports; or it can be explained, as Andrew Harding does in this book, through an astonishing personal story, vivid and utterly memorable. This is a triumph of a book: surprising, informative, and humane.’ — Alexander McCall Smith
‘A wonderful account of one of the most troubled yet beautiful countries on Earth, told by one of our most gifted and sensitive journalists. This is a book laced with hope amid the dark layers of hatred through which the Mayor of Mogadishu battles.’ — Jon Snow, broadcast journalist, Channel 4 News
‘Andrew Harding is one of the great foreign correspondents in any medium. He has a sympathy for Somalia and its people that shines through this powerful book. He disdains cliché and reductive analysis, in the process creating some of the most beautiful writing about Africa that I have ever read.’ — Fergal Keane, author and BBC journalist
‘Andrew Harding has written a powerfully reported, sensitive book about a part of Africa that when thought of at all is usually considered simply forbidding. In The Mayor of Mogadishu he goes well beyond broad strokes to give us real life and whole and vivid characters.’ — Howard W. French, senior writer for The New York Times, and author of China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa
‘Andrew Harding’s elegantly-written account is much more than a portrait of the Mayor of Mogadishu. In bold, vivid brush-strokes it captures all the charm, colour, contradiction and menace of contemporary Somalia.’ — Michela Wrong, author of Borderlines
‘One of Africa’s most experienced correspondents zeroes in on one of the most intriguing characters in the extraordinary post-apocalyptic world of modern Mogadishu. Like the city and its mayor, Harding brings depth, clarity, nuance and occasional poetry to his story. Rich, epic and important.’ — Alex Perry, author of The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free
‘An excellent portrait of Somalia. Harding captures the agony the country has suffered for the last 25 years but also the strength, resilience and the humour of its remarkable people.’ — Richard Dowden, author of Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles
‘A stunning odyssey. Harding masterfully shows us there is no “them” in the world – there is only “us”.’ — J. M. Ledgard, author of Submergence
‘A fascinating, insightful book, it explores a sensitive yet deeply topical subject that we all too often hear very little about. Andrew delves into the story of Mogadishu and mayor Tarzan in an interwoven fashion that produces a beautifully written account of the ups and downs, highs and lows, that they have both undergone and the result is breathtaking. A necessary book for all interested in Somalia and wish to have an understanding that goes beyond the headlines.’ — Idil Osman, Research Associate, SOAS
‘A fluid, sympathetic journalistic foray into the tumultuous history of Somalia as lived by an intriguing impresario and activist. […] With elegant descriptions, Harding brings this East African coastal country to vivid life.’ — Kirkus Reviews, starred review
‘Perhaps the issue for us … is whether, when we see countries such as Somalia on the news, we easily dismiss their problems as due to their own failures or whether—as a book such as this helps us to appreciate—we see people with whom we can identify.’ — The Church Times