For years, people living in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu wanting to watch the World Cup on television have done so at great risk. The Islamist militant group al-Shabab threatened violence against anyone watching the games.
The danger was especially high in 2010. The militants controlled most of Mogadishu. They searched the city for anyone trying to secretly watch the soccer games.
But the 2018 World Cup has been different. So far, there have been no reported attacks on Somalis watching the games on TV in public or private. People in Mogadishu have been gathering to watch the World Cup inside hotels, restaurants, and government centers.
Somalia’s Security Ministry spokesman said the change is because of improved security. He added that there is a greater willingness of people to ignore what he calls the “terrorists’ psychological war.”
Al-Shabab believes that sports are un-Islamic and a waste of time.
Al-Shabab militants killed two people watching a World Cup match in a movie theater in 2006. In 2010, the militant group bombed two World Cup parties in Uganda’s capital Kampala, killing more than 70 people.
But an increase in the number of Somali government soldiers, African Union peacekeepers and private guards has made Somalis feel safer about enjoying the World Cup in public.
The threat of attack has not entirely ended. In April, at least five people were killed and 10 others injured after a bomb exploded during a soccer game in the city of Barawe. In the last five years, al-Shabab has bombed or shot up more than 20 hotels and restaurants in Mogadishu.
But it is becoming harder to keep Somalis away from the country’s favorite sport. High-speed internet and satellite TV have become more common in the past few years. This permits more people to watch games from the privacy of their homes.
Khadija Mohamed Diriye is Somalia’s minister for youth and sport. She believes sports and other forms of entertainment will “distract Somali youth from pursuing extremist ideologies and the deadly migration to Europe.”