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Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999 20:39:44 -0700 (PDT)
From: IRIN—Central and Eastern Africa <irin@ocha.unon.org>
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Subject: [BRC-NEWS] SOMALIA: IRIN Special Report on Mogadishu—part 1 of 2
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Somalia revisited

IRIN special report on Mogadishu, April 27 1999


Four years after the departure of the large-scale international military and humanitarian intervention in Somalia, UNOSOM, Mogadishu remains tense and sometimes dangerous. Pockets of factional fighting still erupt, and there is little real prospect for an established central government or reliable and authoritative leadership. Yet there have been changes.

Having tested the absolute limits, Mogadishu seems to have exhausted the extremes of social and political anarchy and is now depending as much on the dynamics of enterprise as on the dictates of political leadership. In the peak years of the civil war 1991-1994, the city was a maze of battle fronts. Now, the city enjoys a semblance of routine.

Among the ruins, private enterprise has gained the upper hand, with factional leaders heavily dependent on a small wealthy elite—many of whom fled to the neighbouring and Arab states during the height of the civil war. A tiny number of educated city dwellers have also returned to set up local humanitarian organisations, run private schools, or organise political groups.

An overwhelmingly poor but tenacious population has made homes amongst the shell-shattered houses and offices, or congregates in makeshift camps for the internally displaced. International development aid has effectively been suspended, and those displaced by war and hardship are left to a precarious hand-to-mouth existence—but business is working.

Businessmen in Mogadishu like to refer to the economy as laissez faire, a euphemism for a no-holds-barred war economy. Dependent on big businessmen, faction leaders like Hussein Aideed make demands at the expense of basic government structures and social services. Aideed told IRIN that Mogadishu has a lot of millionaire businessmen who had spent years financing the war, and are now being justly rewarded with tax-free conditions.

But in reality, there is no single authority able to impose systematic taxes. Recent attempts to impose taxation by opposition leader Musa Sude Yallahow, for example led to a fresh outbreak of fighting in the capital. The real price being paid for this new business boom is a total absence of public services.


Huge piles of garbage in the streets are big enough to block the passage of vehicles and pedestrians. Rusted and twisted metal litters the destroyed city, and the once striking coastal capital is being overtaken by the elements. The desert is creeping from the outskirts onto the main roads, covering highways with sand, and the small population that continues to live in Mogadishu is forced to lead an essentially rural existence amongst the shattered offices, shops and houses. Sanitation is poor, and the water supply inadequate and often contaminated. What few services exist for these people now depend on local volunteers and private input.

In Benadir Hospital, South Mogadishu—once one of the busiest and most sophisticated hospitals in the city—a handful of voluntary nurses attend to cholera patients lying on the floors in the entrance and the abandoned wards. Intravenous drips hang from window bars. In the nurses’ room—a small, bare office—oral rehydration salts are being emptied unceremoniously into a large container of water. Halima Hassan Abdi says she has been a nurse for more than 32 years in Benadir Hospital, and still turns up most days on a voluntary basis. I work part of the day here, then spend the rest of the day in the market to make some money, she says. Staff on duty say they have received about 50 suspected cholera cases a day since mid-March, with the numbers now declining. The death rate recorded at Benadir was described as relatively low, with one or two - mostly children—dying each day.

For the most severe cases, the staff say they rely on the hospital director, Dr Abdulrazak, buying antibiotics from local pharmacies. A limited amount of emergency surgery is still carried out by Dr Abdulrazak on a private basis at the hospital, mainly for road traffic accidents, hernias and caesarean births. Patients or their relatives have to be able to purchase intravenous drips, antibiotics, drugs etc as well as pay a doctor’s fee.

According to a UNICEF official, some 30 percent of patients in hospitals in southern Somalia and Mogadishu suffer from gunshot, knife and stick wounds. Most other cases needing surgery relate to maternal problems, reflecting on the near absence of clinics and basic maternal health care. Birth complications are also linked to female genital mutilation and the poor socio-economic standing of women.


Makeshift camps of displaced Somalis and refugees (primarily originating from Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s) have mushroomed in the city since the fall of Siad Barre’s government in 1991. Most of the dome-shaped huts are made from paper, sticks, sacks and cloth scavenged from the growing mountains of rubbish, with barriers of scrap metal delineating different sections of the camps. Some camps receive rudimentary help from humanitarian agencies or Islamic organisations, but the vast majority of internally displaced people must rely on their own survival skills. At four different camps visited in south Mogadishu, people reported new arrivals from southern Somalia (because of drought and insecurity) and from the Ethiopia-Somalia border (because of Ethiopian attacks on Bula How, Dolo and Lugh since 1997).

Many families in the camps have been repeatedly displaced, and for some, it is their second or third time in the capital. Some arrive seeking relatives, but others come because it remains a traditional migration route—even with Mogadishu’s precipitous decline, the displaced still expect the capital to provide opportunities. The majority interviewed said they survived by begging, by receiving food scraps, and by earning a little cash by providing carrying services to people in the market - earning about 2,000—3,000 Somali shillings a day.

Conflict, drought and flood have battered Habeba Mohamed, who arrived in Masala Camp in February from Bay region, because of drought and food shortage. She left her home for the first time in 1991 when invading clans looted animals and killed family members, but returned to Dinsor in 1992. She found her property looted and destroyed and her livestock gone - I collected wood and built a new home. She started farming again, but says her sorghum was destroyed by drought this year when the floods [in 1998] finished, the drought started. Her six children are healthy, she says, but she suffers from chest pains and coughing, and is surviving by begging.

Camp managers and volunteers say some of the main problems in the camps are TB, pneumonia, skin diseases, malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, cholera and malnutrition. In Tribune Camp, volunteer manager Jahawir Mohamed complained of security problems with thieves and outbreaks of fighting inside the different sections of the camp. She said one resident had killed another in a knife attack early April, and had been taken to an Islamic court. The two clans were called, and the aggrieved party given the option of killing one man or demanding payment. Eventually payment of 100,000 Somali shillings was agreed, although are problems in raising the money.

Islamic organisations provide some assistance to the displaced, but mainly during Muslim festivals. Some 20 or 30 head of sheep are delivered to each camp for the Eid festival. Otherwise, Islamic organisations are concentrating on orphanages, funding Koranic schools, or injecting money into business ventures. The main Islamic organisations operating in Mogadishu are the International Islamic Relief Organisation; Al Haramayn; Al-Islah Charity; Monazamat Al-da’wa; African Muslim Agency and Muslim Aid UK. Western humanitarian organsiations maintaining a rudimentary presence in Mogadishu are ICRC, MSF Spain, Action Internationale Contra la Fame, Peace and Life (Sweden), and Daily Bread from Germany. United Nations offices include representatives from UNDP, FAO, UNHCR, WFP and WHO. These humanitarian agencies presently have no permanent expatriate presence and depend on a skeleton structure of local staff.

Some local Somali humanitarian organisations have made efforts to work in the camps, but lack funding. For example, the Somali Refugee Agency SORA, founded in December 1998, has mapped out the camps and compiled lists of families, adults and children, as well as the main health and sanitation problems. It has recorded 138 camps in Mogadishu, North and South. SORA estimates that refugees make up about 30% of the camps. But the NGO ACF estimates 234,000 displaced Somalis alone live in 201 camps in Mogadishu.


In interviews with the two main faction leaders in Mogadishu, Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Hussein Aideed—presently in an alliance—both admitted to the limits of their authority as their joint administration struggles to gain control of the city.

The Benadir Administration, set up to govern Mogadishu and its environs in August 1998 as a result of talks in Cairo, has been recognised by four governments: Egypt, Libya, Sudan and Yemen, which have a diplomatic presence in Mogadishu. Regional organisations and representatives from international bodies had demonstrated cautious interest in the progress of the Benadir Administration, until fresh fighting erupted in the capital in March-April 1999.

According to the Egyptian ambassador in Mogadishu, Mahmoud Mustafa, who has taken a direct role in the Cairo talks and has lived in Mogadishu for more than a year, there has been real progress with the Benadir Administration. He told IRIN that the international community should continue what has already been started by supporting the administration as it will help resolve problems in the other regions. Despite setbacks, security has improved considerably. He said support was needed in terms of representation, mediation and in efforts to encourage flexibility in dealing with Somalia.

The recent fighting was initially blamed on a tax dispute, but Musa Sude (former vice chairman to Ali Mahdi Mohamed) and Osman Ato (formerly vice chairman to General Mohamed Aideed, father and predecessor to Hussein Aideed) have presented a challenge to the administration. The Benadir governor’s house in north Mogadishu was destroyed, and, in April, Ali Mahdi’s house was looted. The challenge led to a serious outbreak of fighting in north Mogadishu, with some 60 people reported killed, and has also created tension in south Mogadishu. The two main faction leaders say talks are still in progress with elders, in the hope the dispute can be peacefully settled.

Ali Mahdi Mohamed, interviewed in his offices in north Mogadishu, lamented his own lack of authority but claimed Musa Sude and Osman Ato did not have a large enough force or following to destroy the Benadir Administration. He said the 3,000 strong police force, which has received uniforms and medicines from Egypt, had only received two months of salary and rations provided by Libya, but was now without funding. The administration can’t pay the salaries so we can’t deploy the force, he said. Libya initially injected US $800,000 into the new administration. Ali Mahdi is adamant that the international community take responsibility for Somalia until there is a breakthrough with reconciliation—I am not the police, I am not an authority, I can’t stop people killing each other, so how can I as a leader take responsibility?. Islamic courts have reduced in influence in Mogadishu, and are now functioning only on a limited, local and ad hoc basis. Local Imams are called upon to settle local disputes.

General Secretary of the Benadir administration, Ahmed Abdikarim Noor, agrees that attempts to establish dialogue over the last seven months had so far failed. Both Musa Sude and Osman Ato are technically members of the Supreme Council but refuse to attend meetings. Things had slowed down since the recent fighting, he said, and added that the administration was relying on contributions from private businessmen.

The joint administration has two co-chairmen (Ali Mahdi and Hussein Aideed), 29 members of a Supreme Council (which incorporates other faction representatives) and a body of governors, including a port manager and an airport manager. One of the main aims of the administration is to open the port and airport. At present Cel’maciin Port, about 40 km north of Mogadishu, is used, and occasionally Merca to the south. Balidogle airport, a former military facility, and Kuid’sanuy airport, also outside the capital, are used in place of the main airport. But these facilities are described as being for Hawiye residents—in other words, members of Ali Mahdi and Hussein Aideed’s clan.


In the absence of government structures and international support, the most consistent and powerful dynamic in Mogadishu is private business. Although faction leaders receive some funding from regional and international players, their main backers are Mogadishu entrepreneurs.

Remittances from abroad continue to be crucial for the economy, but have been complemented over the last few years by locally operating businesses. With no taxation or controls on the airports, the coast or the borders - but with relatively good security over the last two years—businessmen are regularly importing sugar, oil, fuel, pasta, clothes, cars and electronic goods. Livestock is exported to Dubai and Yemen, but livestock exports to Saudia Arabia were halted after a suspected outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in northern Kenya and southern Somalia in 1997. The ban is expected to be lifted soon. Fish and fruit are also exported.

An example of new business is the Barakaat Telecommunications Company, which has enjoyed considerable success over the last year. It offers public telephone, fax and postal services as well as private land lines and mobile phones. It has a stake in the international code (+252), and brought in new telephone equipment from Canada, US and Sweden in 1995 with an initial investment of about US $800,000. The rental fee of a mobile phone is US $10 with billing for international calls only, at US $1.50 a minute. The manager of Barakaat, Abdullahi Hussein Kahie, says business is very good, and that communications services have in turn assisted businessmen in dealing with Dubai, Kenya and the Arab States—as well as providing much sought-after communication with the enormous Somali diaspora abroad.

The success of business is directly interlinked with the position of warlords in that it provides essential financing for the leaders, but also depends on a relatively secure environment—in other words, protection. Smaller businesses employ exclusively from the clan, so that security and theft is tightly controlled.


While big business enjoys the no-holds-barred economy, elements of the international business community have also taken economic and political advantage of the lack of border controls and the absence of government structures, particularly along Somalia’s long coastline. Fishing fleets from Taiwan, Korea, Japan and European countries obtain illegal licences to fish for lobster, grouper, snapper and tuna, using illegal methods such as explosives and gill nets, causing damage to the coastline and mass fish mortality.

All fishing and mining should take place outside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Somalia, which is 200 (nautical) miles from the shore, but the pirate fleets reportedly fish so close to the shore line that they have direct—and often hostile—contact with local fishermen in small boats. Somali businessmen—especially former employees from the Ministry of Fishing under Siad Barre’s former regime—have profitably exploited the lack of government by setting up companies abroad issuing illegal licences. There is also concern that licences and deals are being offered to some European companies to dump industrial waste, which has been investigated by FAO and some European governments.

In the area of northern Somalia now known as Puntland, local leaders from the Bossaso port area have actively pursued foreign ships. Using small boats with mounted anti-aircraft guns, militia have attacked large factory ships and held crews hostage for hundreds of thousands of dollars—one ship was released for US $700,000. Somali businessmen are used as go-betweens, and receive a percentage of the fine when the ship’s company has been tracked down and persuaded to pay up.

Other concerns about the way in which Somalia’s predicament has been internationally exploited centres on political influence by extremist fundamentalist groups, which enjoy freedom of movement in the absence of any border controls. Since the failure of the military intervention in 1992-93, the US has been particularly concerned with what it sees as the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism, and is anxious about the potential of Somalia as a base for terrorism.


The vulnerability of Somalia is exacerbated by the pull-out of most international humanitarian organisations, leaving Mogadishu very isolated. The threat to aid workers in Mogadishu was such that aid moved out of the capital and almost exclusively into the regions—particularly Somaliland, Puntland, and areas of southern Somalia—with expatriate presence in Mogadishu on a visiting basis only. In Mogadishu, since the pull-out of the humanitarian and military operation, expatriate staff are, in many ways, seen as a commodity or a resource. Hostage-taking has sometimes resulted in huge pay-outs by local businessmen. Likewise, aid programmes are seen far more as an economic opportunity than a humanitarian effort - in terms of employment, finances and equipment. Not only an economic asset, the expatriate aid worker is also a political target, with resentment over the international military and humanitarian effort still a factor.

International organisations have therefore headquartered themselves in Nairobi and operate in absentia through a skeleton local staff, which results in large proportions of available funding being used for logistics and salaries—and has increased feelings of resentment.

One consequence of this is that Mogadishu has become one of the most isolated capitals in the world. Apart from the strictly controlled aid flights, no commercial flights as such operate from the capital - chartered small aircraft from Nairobi, carrying the stimulant plant qat, take only one or two passengers at a time. Information is therefore very scarce, and dependent on the security perspective of humanitarian agencies based in Nairobi—which try to act in concert over threats, kidnappings and killings in order to protect staff and programmes. This extreme isolation of Mogadishu and lack of information in itself inhibits development.


While there was some hope that Somalia—particularly southern Somalia - had recently been more conducive to successful, community-based programmes, there is now real concern that tension between factions and clans is on the increase again. This has been attributed to increased interference by regional countries, particularly related to the Ethiopia/Eritrea war.

Regional countries may not want to take on Somalia, but do nonetheless want significant influence with any administration or leader who looks set to hold power. There are many more weapons around than before; they may be less visible, but there are more heavy weapons, said an international representative. In particular, diplomats and aid workers are concerned that the proxy war in Somalia is opening new doors for the fundamentalist movement, al-Ittihad, who indirectly benefits from renewed instability, gaining more arms and more room to manoeuvre.

There is also entrenched pessimism over the numerous peace and reconciliation attempts between the different factions, even though the violent push into the fertile south by the Habr Gedir has stabilised. In the early days of the civil war there seemed to be more desire by the different factions to try and sort it out, but now it seems to have gone on for too long said one observer from the various talks.

UNICEF Somalia representative Gianfranco Rotigliamo said there was both good news and bad news for Somalia at present: We have had a successful experience in southern Somalia, with a major influx of commodities and food, yet few problems—but we have to keep an eye on Gedo region and hope that inter-clan conflict doesn’t increase. An expatriate aid worker from Terra Nuova was kidnapped in Gedo region in April, and negotiations for his release continue; this follows the killing of an expatriate vet in January from the same organisation, also in Gedo.

Fighting has also flared in the south following the killing in February of a US aid worker by Islamic fundamentalists in the coastal town of Ras Kamboni. The local clan carried out reprisals against al-Ittihad, resulting in some armed fundamentalists fleeing across the Kenyan border. Mogadishu, according to Rotigliamo, is a special case because insecurity makes it is difficult to involve the community in humanitarian programmes. But, he says, any progress by the newly established administration is seen as promising for the future.