Ex-Killers Learn Skills in SomaliaHAROUN HASSAN , Associated Press
Mar. 13, 1998 2:25 PM ET
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Two years after Somalia's most ardent peace campaigner was slain by masked gunmen, the technical school he founded is turning killers into technicians.
More than 4,000 men _ most former gunmen in the militias that have terrorized the capital for seven years _ have passed through the school Elman Ali Ahmed founded to teach them the skills they needed to abandon their lives of violence.
``We're still operating the technical school to rehabilitate militiamen,'' said Elman's older brother, Sudan. ``And we still distribute shoeshine boxes and polish to street children _ just like Elman used to do.''
The family also continues to run the power company Elman created when the government-run electric plant was destroyed during the factional fighting that broke out after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.
Elman the Electrician, as he was known, was shot and killed in southern Mogadishu by three masked gunmen on March 9, 1996. He was 42.
His killers were never identified, but his father, Ali Ahmed Ganey, and other relatives say Elman had received death threats from the faction led by the late Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid and was planning to leave Mogadishu the day he was killed.
Aidid was killed in fighting in August 1996. His son, Hussein Mohamed Aidid, has assumed control of the most powerful faction in the country and is a key figure in an agreement to establish an interim government.
Hundreds of friends, relatives, aid workers and the street children he befriended gathered at Elman's grave Monday to celebrate the life of a man who they recalled wore dreadlocks like Bob Marley, walked like Elvis Presley and talked like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Elman, who drove unprotected through the streets of Mogadishu in a yellow Fiat, founded the Elman Peace Foundation and created its motto: ``Put down the gun, pick up the pen.''
A wealthy electronics magnate before the war, Elman lost all but one of his 12 electronic stores to looters who rampaged through Mogadishu after the fighting broke out.
He resolved to donate his time, money and remaining equipment to teaching those same young looters how to earn a living without using a gun. At his technical school, former militiamen learn how to drive, repair vehicles and other technical skills _ including how to be an electrician.
Elman, who studied electrical engineering at a German polytechnical school, often said his goal was to run for president in a peaceful Somalia.
'I'll stand for the presidency when the head of state is not guarded from anyone,'' he told The Associated Press in a 1995 interview. ``And I'll have the support of all those silent victims who suffered under the warlords.''