Qat – The Multi-Million Dollar Battle

Somali men fumble through the leaves

It is a busy day here at the Qat stalls located just on the outskirts of the Bakara market. Hundreds of sandalled feet scuttle towards the stalls, in tumultuous excitement, and frantically rummage through the tightly bundled leaves in the hand-woven Qat baskets in order to pick out the moist, tender shoots. Scores of young men and women visit these stalls on a regular basis to purchase Qat – a mild stimulant with a bitter taste that a large number of the Somali population – in Somalia or abroad – is highly addicted to. Under the commotion and the emotional frenzy, tensions often rise and agitated customers as well as vendors seem to always be in a combative mood. But perspiring under the heat, the wide-eyed, and almost anaemic, Qat-sellers appear to be relishing this kind of atmosphere.

‘Hurry up Waryaa! hurry up! this is the cheapest you can get. Hurry up! Qat is almost out of stock!’ screams one seller, as he wipes away the trickles of green saliva dripping down his chin with a grubby handkerchief. Behind him, dozens of young men sit on the concrete slabs, or squat on the floor, unmindful of the staccato rounds of gunfire in the distant neighbourhoods, and gnaw away at the leaves in a surrounding far less salubrious than can be appreciated. This is a very loud and unforgiving place. Bestrewn with dry twigs, discarded leaves and plastic bags, these squalid stalls, adjacent to the old Cigarettes and Match Factory, receive hundreds of customers a day, but they have now become even increasingly populated since Al-Shabab’s closure of KM 50 airport yesterday.

The KM 50 airport was, until now, the largest Qat depot in Somalia. Located in the Lower Shabeelle region, near Afgooye, the airport received an average of 7 plane loads of Qat a day, adding an estimated $1,500,000 a day to the Kenyan economy. The cargo would then distributed to all the cities in Southern/Central Somalia and to individual sellers. The Islamists’ decision to forbid the landing of Qat planes at the airport is by far the toughest verdict, in their long list of punitive measures against the stimulant, to be meted out to the Qat merchants in Somalia, and consumers alike. But how will this decision affect the people of Southern Somalia?

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Roobow: Relationship with Al-Shabab Still Robust

Sheikh Mukhtar Roobow ‘Abu Mansoor’

In a country where the media is as much a weapon of war as the gun, Somalia’s airwaves are rife with rumours; so the news over the last few weeks of an Al-Shabab split was sort of expected. But despite this, the news, reported by anonymous sources, rocked the country, filling the cities with gossip and the public houses with debate. The locals here were deeply divided on the issue but those attuned to the political circles in Mogadishu, however, understood that Somali politics was a messy business – labyrinths of deception and treachery – so they tend to regard every statement with some level of skepticism. I adhere to their wisdom. But as the rumour gained momentum and traveled beyond the city’s limits and into the villages, saturating the airwaves with the news, anxiety soon replaced the frivolous whispers.

If the news was true, then it meant that the predominant influence of Al-Shabab in the Southern/Central regions of Somalia was coming to a rather disgraceful end, particularly, since the Islamists were deemed to have transcended the customary commitment to tribal allegiances with their calls for the implementation of Sharia Law. It also meant that the prevailing sense of safety and stablity in the areas under Al-Shabab administration would soon be jeopardized. But was it true?

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Peacekeeper’s Bodies dragged in Mogadishu

Burundian Sodier dragged

The streets of Mogadishu have a long history of brutality. Here the body of a Burundian Peecekeeper, who was apparently captured alive by Al-Shabab fighters after an intense battle yesterday in the Northern districts of Mogadishu, is dragged by children in Baar Ubax, near Bakara market. I was told that he has been dragged for the entire day by children until the body was ripped apart and then finally disposed of in a ditch.

But horrific scenes like these are not as stomach-churning here in Mogadishu as they may seem to the rest of the world. Only a few days ago, dozens of government soldiers’ dead bodies were displayed across Mogadishu’s main junctions. It has become a sort of a daily spectacle, with bodies of slain soldiers often paraded around the city.

Warning! Graphic images…

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Duplicity and Disenchantment: The Collapse of the TFG

 

Somali President, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed

‘It is the President who is causing all this trouble surrounding the government and if this government collapses, it is he who is responsible!’

Mohamed Weheliye Waqaac, MP

For the last few weeks, and the last few days in particular, Mogadishu has been in mired in disarray. The curtains of confusion have been raised and the residents here were entertained to a remarkable show: a political tug of war between the Somali President and his Prime Minister! In a bitter dispute that is threatening to break up the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the Somali President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, called on lawmakers to pass a ‘vote of no-confidence’ regarding the Prime Minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, in order to bring about a ‘change’ that would propel the government in the ‘right direction.’ In turn the Prime Minister, who is vehemently opposed to the President, denounced the attempts by the president as ‘nonsensical,’ stating that there was no need for changing the existing structures of the government. Indeed, the banality of the political landscape in Mogadishu has received its much-awaited makeover with a squabble at the highest level.

Amid the upheaval, the members of the parliament, with a 296 out of 300 majority, passed a motion last Thursday calling on the government to appear before the Parliament for a vote of confidence on Saturday in order to stay functioning. The Prime Minister, who decried the decision of the parliament, must win up to 276 votes of confidence in order to retain his position, otherwise he leaves empty handed. In this whirligig of Somali politics, however, it appears that the session was cancelled today due to reasons not revealed to the media and when a group of angry MPs decided to stage their own parliamentary session, AMISOM forces have managed to disperse them by force.

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Eid in Mogadishu: Fear Overshadows Celebrations

Ali M. Rage, Al-Shabab spokesman, leads Eid prayer

 

Somaliland Press:- In one of its rarest occasions, the city of Mogadishu today felt like a city of peace and calm rather than the deadly war zone that it has become renowned for over the last few decades. The thunderous roar of mortars and rockets and the rapid exchange of gun fire remained eerily muted this morning, and as if to honour the blessed occasion of Eid, the city remained silent. The frequently pounded Bakara market, though still healing from yesterday’s heavy shelling, closed its doors to business and public and a steady trickle of people, young and old, made their way towards the prayer site. Reveling in the rare moments of respite from the barrage of mortars that have recently pulverized much of the city, a multitude of men and women moved at aـ leisurely stroll while ecstatic children, blowing multicoloured balloons and whistles, trailed the footsteps of their parents, merrily frolicking on the streets. Their radiant faces displayed, for once, that long lost look of innocence, delight and happiness.

To mark the occasion of Eid, thousands of Mogadishu residents made their way towards Maslax, a Siyad Barre-era military compound now occupied by Al-Shabab. Though the stadium was the usual spot for Eid prayers, as it is large enough to accommodate the thousands of residents, it was abandoned in the last hour for fears that Amisom forces might shell the congregation in retaliation for the attack at the airport that killed several AU and government troops. The Islamists, however, have organized several locations in and around Mogadishu to accommodate the influx of residents rushing to the congregational morning prayers that marked the end of the fasting season and the beginning of family reunions and splendid feasts.

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Mogadishu: The Imminent Fall

Maj. Barigye Ba-Huko

The voice of Major Barigye Ba-Huko, the African Union spokesman in Somalia, hit the airwaves yesterday evening. Denouncing the attempts by Al-Shabab to overthrow the Somali government along with the AU troops as a mere ‘dream,’ Major Ba-Huko challenged the Islamists fighters to be braver and take on his well-trained soldiers.


‘Let them come and fight us. They know we are at the airport and I challenge them to come there instead of hiding inside the residential areas.’

 

Not more than 48 hours had passed when Ba-Huko’s imprudent dare turned into a grim reality. Al-Shabab has, a few hours ago, carried out another daring attack on the Somali government and the African Union troops stationed at the airport. Two cars, tailing one another and loaded with explosives and armed fighters, infiltrated the government-controlled territory and quietly made their way to Adan Adde International airport, passing by dozens of government bases and hundreds of armed soldiers along the way. They carried neither passports nor tickets and boarding passes; what they carried, however, was a firm conviction in their breasts that, after their operation, they would die as ‘glorious Martyrs.’

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Somalia: Legitimizing the Illegitimate

Al-Shabab Parade

 

As I type this, a fierce battle is underway in the northern districts of Mogadishu. The rapid sound of machine guns and other firearms combined with the loud reverberations of tanks firing and mortars exploding can be heard from miles away. Since the beginning of Ramadan, there has been no respite from such daily battles, but as the month of fasting comes to an end, the battles here have become increasingly intense, particularly in the last few days. And with the ever changing formations of the battle lines and territorial boundaries that define the authority of the warring sides, the battle for Mogadishu, and eventually Somalia, has entered another new neighbourhood.

After a series of co-ordinated attacks yesterday that targeted the Ugandan forces in the vital artery of Makka Al Mukarrama and Shangani district, the Burundi forces in Boondheere district as well as the Somali troops, the Islamists seem to be getting ever closer to achieving their goal. At around evening the loud sounds of heavy artillery fire echoed throughout the city and the sparks of fireworks glowing against the setting sun could be seen from every corer of the city. After several hours of the rapid exchange of bullets came the deadly silence. In this bullet-scarred city, where the gun wreaked havoc for nearly three decades, the sound of a gun has become a part and parcel of life. Silence, especially after a fierce battle, often signalled that something ominous was in the air. People immediately scampered to safety, and not before long, the mortars made their daily rounds, tearing apart the tin-roofed ramshackle buildings and huts. In response to the attack, Amisom began shelling the residents. Soon the news hit the airwaves that up to 23 people were killed and dozens more injured. And though up to 230 are reported dead this month alone and more than 400 injured, the numbers are far greater than that. Estimates here are at around 500 killed and more than a thousand injured.

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Somalia: The Instinctive Truth

You would never imagine the serenity that surrounds the beautiful Mogadishu skyline in the early hour of the morning. Standing at the balcony this morning and watching the rays of the rising sun shimmer across the great blue ocean, plunged me into a reverie that looked, well, more presumption than a possibility. There was no rattle of gunfire in the background or the sounds of mortars landing or even the clamour of voices in the crowded streets of Mogadishu. Everything seemed peaceful and calm; a feeling that is hard to come by in this part of the world. A gentle breeze whistled through the silent streets, playfully breathing life into the old cardboard boxes and plastic bags lying around in the dust. Even the melodious notes of the chirruping birds seemed to be quite in harmony with the tranquil setting for once.

Amid the stillness of the surrounding, the loud clanking of metal coming from a shop across the street immediately distracted me. A young shop owner was receiving a delivery of some stock. Three sturdy men unloaded the goods and carried them on their backs and stacked them inside the shop where the owner had instructed them. For a while it was somewhat pleasant to watch their neatly choreographed movements in the way they organised and unloaded the goods. They’ve nearly emptied the truck when another car, a Toyota 4×4, zoomed in from the distance, horns blaring. The delivery truck was blocking the road and the three men hurriedly tried to unload the last few remaining items in order to clear the road for the approaching car. But they couldn’t manage that in time. The car, which was driving at quite a speed, soon approached and forcefully hit the brakes at the delivery point, still beeping the horn.

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Somalia: The Battle for Hearts & Minds

Ali Jabal, Al-Shabab Governor of Banadir

 

The battle for hearts and minds in Somalia has long been fought and won on the basis of tribe and tribal allegiances. But with the rapidly changing political landscape, particularly here in Southern Somalia, a recent shift in perspective has had a tremendous effect on the Somali population. Today the battle of hearts and mind is fought and won on the basis of religion and the people of Somalia judge the worth of an administration by what it can do to alleviate the suffering of the population or by the number of services they can provide the public; and here there is a great divide.

In the congested streets of the Bakara market, an unusual event took place today. Al-Shabab, the Islamist force waging a bitter battle against the Western-backed Transitional federal Government (TFG), have launched a new ambulance service to help those injured by the bullets and mortars. It is out of the ordinary of a group labelled a ‘terrorist organisation’ to set up an ambulance service, But Al-Shabab seem to be defying the norm.

Unveiling this news service, Al-Shabab’s governor of Banadir region spoke at the scene with assurance that his administration was determined to help a population suffering at the hands of the ‘crusaders’ as he put it. Wearing a white overcoat, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Hussein or better known as Ali Jabal, addressed the amazed public:

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The Ramadan Remedy

Mogadishu Morning

As the sun rises in Mogadishu this morning, it does so with a new spirit and a new prospect. Its luminous rays glow with the promise of hope and suffuse the hearts of these suffering souls with renewed optimism; it is optimism intertwined with some pessimistic undertones. But with the spirit of Ramadan saturating the surroundings of this bullet-battered city with its unique sense of jovialty and peace, some of the long-lost passions of the people have also been revived. Just like in its glory days, when Mogadishu was pulsating with youthful vitality, an animated public move about the city in preparation for the month of Ramadan. Ebullient Mogadishan women fill their baskets with dates in preparation for the holy month and buoyant kids are already counting down towards the Eid festival. All around, the city is bustling with a fertile effervescence and yet has a distinctive aura of tranquillity about it. It is surrounded by a peculiarly soothing ambiance which has somehow managed to remain defiantly placid despite the ricocheting bullets and the menacing mortars.


But while the high spirit appreciably diffuses some of the tensions in Mogadishu, a strong sensation of hostility also seems to pervade every part of the city. Ramadan, as the people of Mogadishu have come to learn, is a month of intense battles. The UN is increasing its international and local personnel in Somalia, though they are still not venturing out into the deadly Mogadishu streets. The African Union troops are positioning their mortars and have promised to increase the war. The mystic Sufis have declared war on Hizbul Islam and Al-Shabab. And the Islamists, on their part, have also vowed more attacks during Ramadan and have promised to defeat the ‘Christian Crusaders’ and the ‘enemies of Allah’ in the path of their holy war.

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Al-Shabab: Christian Organisations Closed

In a press release distributed to the media today, Al—Shabaab, the Islamist force controlling much of Southern Somalia, have closed down at least three organisations working inside the country, stating that they were ‘found to be actively propagating Christianity in this Muslim country’ and that ‘the propagation of the Christian faith is unacceptable in Islam as well as in the Muslim society.’ The press release stated that:

  • The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) was started by the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a way to follow Christ’s example.
  • Diakonia is an organization founded in 1966 by five Swedish churches and the members of these congregations form Diakonia’s support base. The primary goal of this organization is to spread the Christian faith.
  • World Vision is a Christian organization motivated by what they call ‘their faith in Jesus Christ’ and dedicated to spreading the message of Christianity to the children, families, and the communities they work with.

I checked up these claims and looked up the websites of the organisations and here is what I found:

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Somalia: The Blurred Perspectives of Peace

The menacing sound of rockets whistled past my window and exploded, a few seconds later, with a thunderous noise. It is a common occurrence here in Mogadishu. Every day dozens of rockets and mortars claim the lives of innocent civilians living in areas often far away from the battle fronts. Despite living in a hotel protected by large slabs of concrete, the power of the explosion threw me to the ground. Soon the pervasive smell of gunpowder filled the corridors of the hotel. It was a harrowing experience, and though I had expected my journey to be very dangerous, the moment of explosion completely dismantled my determination. For a while the whistling sound continued, as I lay flat on the ground, followed shortly by large explosions. Once the hailstorm had subsided and things appeared normal again, I went out in response to the neighbour’s loud bellows of rage.

Outside the shattered tin-roofed house, Amina Hussein, a nurse at the local clinic, screamed her lungs out. Rummaging through the debris and gesticulating wildly, Amina had to be restrained by a group of women standing nearby. And as the crowd consoled the grief-stricken nurse, I peered into the destroyed house. Through the ruins, and illuminated by the sun’s rays seeping through the small openings, I was confronted by a horrific scene. Digging through the rubble along with some helpers, we quickly uncovered the four bodies. The nurse’s husband and three children, lying peacefully next to each other, were all covered in blood. Dressed in what seemed like a colourfully embroidered frock, the state of the youngest daughter, no more than five years of age, was perhaps the most shocking. Shrapnel had completely punctured her delicate body while blood slowly trickled out of her beautiful face.

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A Parody of a Parliament


Golaha Shacabka

Another meeting delayed, another MP resigns, another punch-up on the way. Amid the never-ending saga that has crippled the Somali parliament, the long-awaited meeting of the MPs scheduled for Sunday 18 has now also been cancelled. The parliament was expected to convene today for the first time since December last year, but it failed. Not surprisingly also, Cismaan Cilmi Boqorre, the second deputy speaker of the Parliament, has officially declared his resignation today. Criticizing the government of ineffectiveness and detailing some of the reasons that led to his resignation, Mr Boqorre said:

Though there was some dispute between me and the Parliament Speaker, the main reason of my resignation is the ineffectiveness of the parliament and its lack of action when needed…and after looking into all this I’ve decided to resign.

Mr Boqorre’s decision comes at a time when the parliament has been facing a severe power struggle from within. Divided into two camps, the parliamentarians have been at loggerheads ever since their call to duty.

On one hand, the Pro-Sharif division of the parliament has been calling for the speaker of the Parliament, Sheikh Adan Madoobe, to step down and allow the election of a new speaker. A call vociferously repudiated by the speaker who recently returned from a meeting with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, to discuss security and bilateral relations. Also, the president and the Prime Minister both want to oust the Parliament speaker in favour of the President’s right hand man – Sharif Hassan. Read more of this post

Najma: The Abduction Case

As Mogadishu mourned the death of more than twenty civilians in the last two days, another depressing tale hit the airwaves today. But in a country afflicted with endless woes and suffering, the story of this young girl is not very unusual.

When a bus was stopped at the city control in Xudur, Bakool region, for a random check by Al-Shabaab administration, the shocking details of dreadful deed came to the surface. In the back of the bus was a woman holding a child in her lap; the child seemed to be fast asleep and, from the outward appearance, peaceful. But when the search was prolonged for some time, the annoyed passenger turned around to the screams of a panic-stricken child in the back. The ‘mother’ tried hopelessly to smother the child with kisses and soothing words, gently rocking her back and forth in her lap, as a mother would, to silence her but to no avail.

And when the child’s screams intensified and she began screaming ‘help! Help! The plot quickly unfolded. Najma Maxamad Shire, as the child identified herself, was a 12-year-old girl abducted from Bosaaso, more than a thousand kilometres away from where she was.

A Tanzanian man, who said his name was Ramadan Abdallah, and sat at the front of the bus was caught at the checkpoint, about 90 KM away from the Ethiopian border, accompanied by a Somali woman, Faduma Qasim Abdullahi, who claimed to be the mother of the child. And though this worrying trend of abduction has long been talked about here in Somalia, its hideous face has rarely been seen this clear and brazen. Travelling on land, it is thought that, throughout the journey, the couple administered a constant dose of sedatives to tranquilise the girl. The effects wore off just at the right time.

Najma’s father, an elderly man whose feeble voice was heard on the airwaves, broken up by bouts of silences and coughs, spoke to the journalists profusely thanking the Islamists:

‘we sent her to the shop to buy groceries…but…she never returned. Some people told us…that…a woman placed something on her nose…and led her away. We haven’t heard from her for 15 days. May Allah reward you!’

Najma is among the hundreds of children kidnapped from the streets of Somalia every month. The family of the child also confirmed that similar stories have been circulating widely in the North Eastern port city of Bosaaso. It is only a wonder how they managed to cross thousands of kilometres through Puntland without being noticed by the authorities; not to mention the infamous Puntland Intelligence Service (or rather Puntland Intelligence Agency)

Nonetheless, Al-Shabaab, who govern by a strict Sharia code, have vowed to sentence them according to the Shariah Law. And if thieves are getting their hands chopped off, one can only wonder what sentence awaits these child abductors?

I have personally heard of several stories of young children abducted from Somalia. These children, as legend has it, were either sold into slavery or taken to Europe where their organs were sold. Almost all of the kidnappers were Somali women luring the children with money or promises of taking them abroad. Though I usually dismissed such tales, only today have I come to realise the gravity of the situation!

How many more children, I wonder, have gone missing without a trace!

Mogadishu Without Music

Almost all of Mogadishu’s radio stations have stopped playing music in compliance with the order of Hizbul Islam, who ten days ago banned all radio stations from broadcasting music.

At that time, the government’s Ministry of Information Spokesman, Sheikh Abdirizak Mohammed Qeylow, strongly condemned the instructions of the Islamists, stating that their instructions would have no effect on the media:

“The so called Hizbul-Islam is now like a drowning man who clinches to straw, they are having no other options other than oppressing the media, they are ordering the radio stations not to air any sort of song may it be the national anthem. I know very well what they want to fill the gap of the songs – they are bringing the songs of Al-Qaida, and why they are doing all this is just because they are envious of Al-Shabab”

Today, however, except for the few radios under the TFG-controleld territory, Mogadishu’s radio stations remain silent. No music and no commercial jingles to spice up the programs. I don’t know how the rest of the Mogadishians here are coping with the ban, but luckily I brought my 160GB iPod along with me.

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