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Toronto (Canada)

1, March 2003

M. M. Afrah

From Toronto to Jesira

An old Chinese proverb says, "Give a hungry man a fish but it is still better if you teach him how to catch that fish."

In the latest chapter of Somalia's long, but futile battle to resuscitate the collapsed economy in the middle of lawlessness and bloodshed, seemed a "no go area". The Somali entrepreneurs tried hard to make a breakthrough in the field of communication; import and export but it did not ease the economic downturn in the war-ravaged country, mainly because they failed to diversify their business ventures. This compounded with the arrival in the country of counterfeit currency that made it impossible for merchants to boast their businesses in a big way.

However, the curse did not have an impact on Mohamed Ali Jesow, a Toronto Accountant, who in spite of all the bad news emanating from Somalia, often travels to his native country to supervise his thriving fishery company, The Siamo Fishing Company located in the spectacular Siamo Beach near Barawe, south of Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

"Despite the unending tragedy, one could embark upon fisheries, among other projects if one tries harder and thinks big," said Jesow in a recent interview.
He said he had commenced his company in 1995 with an investment capital of $25,000. Today the company employs 40 permanent workers and an equal number of seasonal workers and generates gross annual profit of $100,000.

He complained that the Somalis paid scant attention to the rich and unpolluted marine life in our territorial waters that stretches from Ras Kiamboni in the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, "because we have been busy killing each other for no apparent reason."  

He stresses that if we could change the lifestyle of our people many foreigners, who now scorn the name Somalia, would wonder how these Somalis got this bright idea after centuries of harsh nomadic life and feuding.


Many of us buy imported tinned fish from Italy, Japan, Korea and Russia without thinking that the same fish was stolen from us. The fishermen of these countries practically vacuum clean our territorial waters by using factory trawlers with impunity. Worse, organized crime syndicates, including the Mafia, taking advantage of the conflict, dump toxic waste on our hitherto unpolluted territorial waters. And when Somali gunmen apprehend the ships and crew of these violators, the foreign press describes them as "pirates". Reuters news agency recently questioned what a mystery ship, Princess Sarah, was doing hanging around the Somali shore for two days before Somali gunmen finally detained it. Ironically, the Western press continues to describe the detention of these poachers as "hijack" purely for "commercial purpose." The United Nations International Law of the Sea is being swept under the carpet!
Reuters quotes one authoritative source as saying; "maybe the crew of Princess Sarah were trying to land something and one of the rival factions didn't like it. Maybe arms, maybe something else." These something else could be toxic waste or weapons or both.

Now one wonders why people blessed with Africa's longest coastline (3000 km) rich in marine resources should be victims of vicious circle of man-made famine and drought.

"The simple answer is that the majority of our people are unaware of our rich marine assets. And as nomads they disapprove the idea of eating seafood which they consider as repulsive and disgusting," Jessow said. He said we run to the capitals of those who illegally fish and violate the International Law of the Sea for a handout when the going gets tough.


Admittedly, lots of competing clan leaders (or warlords) are at each other's throat, encouraging their militia gunmen not to lift a finger to help boast food production, except of course to shoot unarmed civilians and expropriate large tracts of farmland and prime real estates whose owners fled the country at the outbreak of the civil war. Others work in their own farms as slave labours for people with guns.

Beaming with nationalistic pride in his highly decorated office, Jesow, a holder of BSC, MSA degree from the Oklahoma City University said Somalia, with its turquoise waters and lonely beaches, like granules of snow-like sugar could be a haven for sun-starved tourists from cold climate, bringing in much needed revenue. To prove his point he proudly displays on the walls of his Bloor Street West office colourful posters depicting lonely beaches and tiny islands full of fauna and flora. One breathtaking spot is the Jesira Beach with its miles and miles of unspoiled beaches, strewn with shiny pebbles and driftwood.

The photograph of a giant blue marlin that could win a gold medal in sport fishing is conspicuously displayed on one wall of his office.

"It is within ourselves that we will find the path of success," he said with conviction, saying he would keep the spirit going and project Somalia's image in Canada and the world at large.

That's a resolution worth keeping. NO MORE HORROR STORIES FROM SOMALIA.

M.M. Afrah 2003


Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country for more than two decades".

Many of us remember his critical articles in his weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was wrong in the country. He received several death threats from the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993. But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!


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