of men wade waist-high into the ocean, hauling heavy sacks
onto their shoulders and dragging them back up the beach.
cement dust sticks to the sweat on their faces as they move
in shifting columns, racing to unload the dozen ships that
lie hundreds of metres offshore before the next high tide
makes the task too dangerous to continue.
bellow orders to the army of stevedores, each with a 50 kg
(110 pound) sack on his shoulders, and dozens of gunmen are
on hand to impose order and keep out rival militias.
has a perfectly good manmade seaport in the capital Mogadishu
but a civil war between rival clans has kept it closed for
natural port of El-Ma'an and this stretch of white sand is
now the only trade link to the outside world for Mogadishu
and the rest of southern Somalia.
mechanical equipment is brought in by barge while Brazilian
sugar, Indonesian cement and rice from Thailand are among
the basic products hauled in by stevedores for six cents a
collapsed and lies face down in the sand. The chaos extends
beyond the beach as truck drivers jostle for position to load
up quickly and weave a way through market stalls and donkey
carts to take the rough 30-km (20-mile) road back into the
it is possible only because port managers spend $40,000 a
month to deploy 400 militiamen and 20 battlewagons inside
El-Ma'an and on the road linking it to Mogadishu.
the whole port would be overrun by gunmen and they would steal
everything," says Haji Abukar Omar Addan, one of the port's
owners and a prominent Mogadishu businessman.
is a vivid example of Somalia's ability to survive a decade
of anarchy and, in some areas, even flourish. There has been
no central government since early 1991 and, with clan militias
running wild, up to a million people have died in fighting
and a series of famines.
POWER OR DISGUISE WEALTH
the country has been destroyed and virtually every business
was looted at one time or another. Power plants, factories,
hotels, government ministries and office blocks -- they were
either levelled or stripped clean. But trade continued and,
in the last few years, entrepreneurs have set up three separate
telephone networks, two mobile phone companies, private power
firms and recently an Internet access service.
sprawling open-air Bakara market in downtown Mogadishu, even
heavy guns and passports are sold with no questions asked
and money changers decide among themselves the exchange rate
of the Somali shilling against the dollar.
has forced businessmen to take one of two survival strategies
-- employ enough private gunmen to deter the clan militias
and freelance hoodlums, or adopt such a low profile that they
either don't notice you or can't get at you.
of Mogadishu's taxis routinely tear apart their own vehicles
to make them as unattractive as possible to thieves. They
rip off the doors, pull out the windscreens and dashboards
and batter the bodywork with iron bars.
rusting and sputtering vehicles look as if they have spent
years rotting away in a junk yard. "When the cars look like
this, it is worthless to them," says Mohamed Issa, whose stripped-down
Toyota pickup truck carries up to 20 passengers, some of them
clinging on to the sides, as it shudders its way over bumpy
smuggle their own cash out of the Bakara market in small batches
and a wide network of money transfer offices allows businessmen
to move goods without moving cash along the country's dangerous
roads. Businessmen have not always been simply the victims
of the war -- in many cases, they financed the clan militias.
an inter-clan war and a businessman is from one clan so, when
he feels his clan is endangered, he feels he is endangered
too," says Ahmed Nur Ali Jimale, who has extensive banking
and telecommunications interests in Somalia. "Tribalism is
the biggest problem we have.
would do anything to assist in the fight," he says, although
he insists he never financed the militias and believes the
vast majority of Somalis have come to realise the war was
"useless and futile."
FOR PEACE AND BETTER BUSINESS
is now Somalia's greatest asset and could sustain a new deal
under which the rival clans share power rather than kill each
other for it. A new interim president, Abdiqassim Salad Hassan,
was elected at an inter-clan peace conference in August and
he has named a cabinet with members from all the country's
government faces a mammoth task in pacifying the nation, setting
up an administration from scratch, providing even basic social
services, reviving the shattered economy and rebuilding cities
practically levelled in the years of war.
by Mogadishu's clan warlords and two northern breakaway regions,
Abdiqassim Salad relies largely on Mogadishu's business community
for political support and cash. The businessmen are financing
the planned formation of a new police force and, with no money
in state coffers, their support will be crucial as the government
tries to establish itself. In return, they want a stable government
that can guarantee the rule of law and stimulate economic
growth. Many of the city's smaller businessmen are also optimistic.
the new government will bring new investment. It would give
us ports, proper banking services and we could reduce our
security expenses," says Mohamed Yusuf, who fled Somalia after
the civil war began but returned in 1997. He set up a tannery
in Mogadishu and now exports up to 50,000 goatskins a month
to Europe and the Gulf. "If there is peace, this could be
a very good business," he says.
was precious little room for private enterprise under the
Marxist dictatorship of Somalia's last president, Mohamed
Siad Barre, but those who flourished during the war and others
returning from exile hope to exploit a possible peace dividend.
Salad has promised to adopt pro-business policies and many
businessmen are predicting an economic boom as the government,
backed by foreign allies, begins rebuilding.
on the beach at El-Ma'an, the port's managing director, Abdul
Kadir Hassan, says he believes Somalia, for long a place of
only chaos and misery, is open for business and there is good
money to be made.
imagine the opportunity here in Somalia in business. Anyone
can invest here. You cannot have that kind of opportunity
anywhere else in the world."