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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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!

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