The Dual Role of Somalia’s Football Field: Recreation and Capital Punishment

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On the sun-kissed beaches of Mogadishu, where the bright blue Indian Ocean meets the pure white sand, stands a haunting sight – six tall concrete posts, silent witnesses to a grim reality.

Periodically, the security forces escort individuals to this place. Bound to the posts with plastic ropes, their heads shrouded in black hoods, they face a firing squad, their fate sealed with a barrage of bullets.

The executioners, their identities concealed, carry out their macabre task, leaving behind lifeless bodies tethered to the poles. Despite death’s grip, their ragged attire flutters in the ocean breeze, a chilling reminder of their humanity.

Among those condemned are members of the Islamist group al-Shabab, perpetrators of terror in Somalia for nearly two decades. Others face the same fate for crimes ranging from murder to common criminal offenses.

Last year alone, at least 25 individuals met their end on this desolate stretch of sand.

The most recent addition to this tragic tally is Said Ali Moalim Daud, sentenced to death for the heinous act of setting his wife, Lul Abdiaziz, ablaze in their home. His chilling motive? She had dared to seek a divorce.

Just steps away from this grisly scene lies a small settlement in the Hamar Jajab district. Home to about 50 families, the community resides amidst crumbling structures, their lives intertwined with the site’s grim history.

“As soon as my five little boys return from school, they rush to the beach to play,” shares Fartun Mohammed Ismail, a resident of the coastal enclave. “They use the execution poles as goalposts.”

Concerned about her children’s well-being, Ismail laments the lack of cleanliness in the area following the executions. The blood spilled during these events serves as a stark reminder of the violence that permeates their lives.

Despite growing up amidst conflict in Mogadishu, Ismail and other parents draw the line at allowing their children to play amidst such macabre surroundings. However, with parents preoccupied with making ends meet, they struggle to intervene effectively.

Executions typically occur in the early hours of the morning, witnessed only by journalists. Yet, local residents, including children, often gather to witness the somber spectacle.

This beach, chosen as an execution site in 1975, was deliberately situated to allow nearby residents to observe. While crowds are no longer actively encouraged, children still risk encountering the grim reality of death when executions occur.

For Faduma Abdullahi Qasim, another resident living in close proximity to the execution site, the constant threat of violence casts a shadow over her life. Gunshots in the morning serve as a grim reminder of the executions taking place nearby, instilling fear and anxiety in her family.

Though many Somalis support the death penalty, particularly for members of al-Shabab, Qasim remains a vocal opponent, decrying the inhumanity of the practice.

Yet, amidst the somber backdrop of the execution ground, life continues. Young people, like 16-year-old Abdirahman Adam, flock to the beach, drawn by its central location and scenic beauty.

Despite their awareness of the executions, the allure of the beach overrides any qualms they may have. For them, it’s a place of leisure and camaraderie, where they can escape the harsh realities of life in Mogadishu, even if only for a moment.

As they frolic on the sands and capture moments of joy, they remain oblivious to the weight of history that surrounds them. For them, the beach is simply a backdrop for youthful exuberance, a place to make memories amidst the shadows of the past.

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