It was supposed to be proof of how peace and stability have progressed in Mogadishu: For the first time, a small group of foreign journalists would be permitted a brief walk in the streets of the world's most dangerous city. The public-relations officers who polish the image of the African Union military force in Somalia (known as AMISOM) boasted that the city was now safe enough for us to stroll freely.
It turned out to be a tightly guarded, 500-metre hustle from the gate of the airport military base to another heavily guarded military post. We were required to wear body armour and helmets, and military vehicles rumbled alertly behind us, while the PR people urged us to hurry up. Somali civilians laughed and waved, but we were told there was no time to talk to them.
Everywhere else in Mogadishu, we travelled like the rest of the soldiers - in South African-made Casspirs, massive armoured vehicles with V-shaped hulls to withstand land mines and improvised explosive devices. Through the tanks' murky windows, the civilians were silent shadows, beyond hope of contact.
Somalia's vicious street war has changed little in the 19 years since my first visit to Mogadishu. The combatants have new names, the technology has evolved, but this city remains a shattered urban battlefield. The front lines still snake through the bombed-out shells of its once-grand villas, just as they did in 1991. The gunmen still aim their weapons from sandbagged slits, crumbling walls and ruined rooftops.
And, as he has for years, Osama bin Laden still exerts a hold here, even from his grave: Al-Shabab, the Islamic militant army that controls much of Somalia, is among the world's biggest remaining strongholds of al-Qaeda influence.
As the Canadian government sends its warplanes roaring over Tripoli in an ostensible mission to protect Libyan civilians (and continues to fight in Afghanistan), it may have forgotten the lessons of Somalia. This impoverished nation in the Horn of Africa was the prototype for "humanitarian intervention" - the concept of using military force for humanitarian ends, the same rationale that is used to justify the Libya adventure.
After the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, Somalia was the first country where the West experimented with these idealistic new notions. In 1992, the United States and Canada gambled that their military muscle could protect millions of civilians from political chaos and clan fighting. It was a gamble that largely failed.
What you find in Mogadishu is not the high-tech war of Libyan skies. This is the trench warfare of the First World War. The 9,000 Western-armed troops of the African Union are waging a painfully slow battle, fighting from house to house, advancing only a few hundred metres on the best of days, and then consolidating their positions with mountains of sandbags as they wait for the inevitable counterattacks from the Islamic militants. To defend its gains, AMISOM deploys its soldiers every few metres along a network of newly dug trenches, where they sleep and fight in 12-hour shifts, rarely leaving their posts.
Today, almost two decades after Canadian and other Western troops rolled into an apparently welcoming Somalia, the country is still trapped in a quagmire of war and despair. At least 400,000 people have been killed since the war began.
Despite pouring billions of dollars into the country, despite years of direct and indirect intervention - first with its own military forces, later with a supply of guns and money for the United Nations and AMISOM "peacekeeping" troops - the West still cannot find a way to stabilize and secure Mogadishu, let alone the rest of the country.
For most of the past 20 years, Mogadishu has remained the world's most lethal and chaotic city. Somalia is perpetually on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe, with one of the world's highest rates of child malnutrition. And now it is fuelling a piracy epidemic: Its unemployed young men are terrorizing the seas, hijacking ships and seizing hostages.
After the death of Osama bin Laden, hundreds of people marched in celebration in the AMISOM-controlled section of Mogadishu. But they were carefully guarded by government troops. The militants of al-Shabab, who killed 76 people in a bombing in Uganda last year, have threatened revenge attacks for the killing of the al-Qaeda leader.
Having intervened in 1992 and failed to fix the crisis for two decades, the West cannot wash its hands of the Somalia mess. And as a key contributor to the original failed intervention, and a financial contributor to the subsequent UN efforts here, Canada cannot ignore Somalia either.
Reports of successes may be exaggerated
Knowing that they need foreign support to survive, the AMISOM peacekeepers and their UN allies have launched a charm offensive, hiring two British public-relations firms to lobby the international media. They took us to the front lines of Mogadishu, where we spent two days inspecting the latest territorial gains.