7, March 2003
QAAD IMPORTERS AND ARMS RUNNERS
wake up each morning, wondering who do I hate today, the Qaad
importers, the charcoal barons, the arms traffickers or the
let’s start with the Qaad importers from Kenya. Qaad,
a poisonous harvest that made the majority of our starving
people look like zombies was introduced in Southern Somalia by
Northerners and Yemeni Arabs in 1970s, and since then there
has been direct correlation between the consumption of the
green plant and life expectancy.
consumption of this drug Qaad (wrongly spelled as khat
or Kat by the Western press), is like every other
life-threatening drug, cost-efficient quick death, because the
user losses appetite and becomes victim of insomnia
(sleeplessness), impotence, restless and lack of self-control
induced by false euphoria.
THE BUSH PILOTS-CUM-ARMS TRAFFICKERS
busy airfields are little more than strips of level grounds,
carefully leveled with rollers, surrounded by rusty barbed
wire and the occasional huts of corrugated iron sheets and
disused steel containers full of bullet holes from previous
battles. The Mogadishu International Airport was closed after
the Americans and the UNOSOM (The United Nations Operation in
Somalia) pulled out in 1993/94.
soon as a light Cessna aircraft lands at the strip, the whole
area turns into a hive of activity. The cacophony is immense.
It sounded as if all the furies in the world have been
unleashed at once. To the uninformed, there was an air of
uncontained rage about it-–the bellowing of a
slaughterhouse. To the seasoned Qaad importers and
consumers it was business as usual.
pilots, mostly Kenya Asians and Russians could make the
Australian bush pilots look like Sunday school teachers. The
Russians, in particular, are former members of the Soviet Red
Army and have seen similar chaos in Afghanistan during the
Soviet occupation in that country in the 1980s and as long as
they delivered the cargo of Qaad, Cigarettes and guns,
they weren’t going to give much of a damn about the
lawlessness in Somalia. They flew their armour-platted Hind
helicopters in Afghanistan against the Afghan Mujahideen.
No war was too dangerous for them, no weather was stormy
enough to keep them on the ground, and no landing strip was
too short or too rough to keep them from flying their Tupolovs
are the daredevils of the African skies,” wrote Kenya’s
Daily Nation, after a giant Antonov crush landed on a golf
course in 1981. They were ferrying missiles to Jonas
Savimbi’s UNITA rebels. Their worst nightmare, however, is
unexploded ordnances and landmines planted in the middle of
the dirt runways.
same goes to the importers. They knew the kind of pilots who
flew these runs were basically smugglers. They could smuggle
anything into any war-torn African country, including atomic
suitcases, poison gas and the so-called dirty bombs for all
they care and promptly fly back with cash and diamonds (in the
case of the Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia).
Smugglers hated half empty planes the way a good bartender
hates an empty bar. In Somalia, they ferry weapons from
Ethiopia to the warlords and Qaad and cigarettes from Kenya to
the Qaad barons, and then fly back, with the blink of
an eye, overloaded with people who desperately wanted to get
receives annual revenue estimated at 1.5 million US Dollars
from the export of Qaad and cigarettes to Southern
the demand for Qaad and cigarettes is always greater
than the supply. It’s a seller’s market. This at a time
when there are acute shortages of the basic necessities of
life in the country.
arms and running drugs are frequently overlapping enterprises.
And the big merchants who have their hands out to protect one
activity will in all likelihood be on the take for the other
as well. If the merchants are the culprits what does tell you
some unknown reasons the 1992 UN Security Council Arms Embargo
on Somalia was not enforced, even after a special committee to
monitor and enforce the embargo was created. Thus Somalia
became a dumping ground for toxic waste, drugs and weapons of
all types and calibers.
controls the airstrip controls the loading and unloading of
the merchandize and their final destination. And there are
more than seven airstrips in Mogadishu alone. However the
largest is the Soviet-built at Balli-dogleh, with a clearance
warehouse for weapons. Hundreds of militia gunmen are in the
payroll of the warlords and the merchants of death. These
militia gunmen receive small percentage plus a day’s
consumption of Qaad and cigarettes. And everybody is
Haji Ali,” said the brisk BBC man. “Now you look back on
it, how would you sum it up?”
Ali cleared his throat in an upbeat mood and replied: “I
never had it so good. I have increased the net of my capital
three folds. I am fully satisfied with the present system.”
the Haji really meant was that the country can do without a
government to screw up every business in the country.
all his upbeat moods, just try to cross him, and he would cock
his pearl-handled revolver as quickly as the baby-faced kids
who manned the string of makeshift barricades in the city.
the Haji and his circle of merchants happy? Who was happy?
Many of them have medical problems and being a mortal, the
merchant died like everyone else. He is stuck into the ground,
and the family, the clan and business partners wrangle over
what was left of his ill-gotten gains. No will and no income
trust. Most of his cash was stashed away without a trace.
Unlike his colleagues, he never trusted foreign banks; even
the national banks in peacetime Somalia were foreign and
untrustworthy to him.
he is rare specie who survived the Italian and British
colonial administrations, three regimes and a brutal civil
war. And what’s more, he does not worry about the current
law and order problem in the country, because, like every
merchant in the city, he is the proud possessor of his own
private army carefully selected from the Commandos of the
defunct Somali National Army.
is not the old Somalia you and I had known. It’s a
moonscape, a hostile land, and no doubt because we made it so.
It’s no-man’s land to hurry through. But to the new big
merchants and businessmen it’s El Dorado gold mine. And the
poor folks continue to chew Qaad to dull the pangs of
great silent majority wants clean up.
first step is for the UN Security Council to immediately
reinforce its own arms embargo and stop the arms proliferation
two: confiscate all weapons already in the country and
3: stop importation of Qaad and other harmful drugs.
4: end dumping toxic waste in our territorial waters (the
Indian Ocean and the Red Sea).
5: end forthwith the foreign trawlers illegally fishing in our
territorial waters with impunity.
6: help charcoal burners to diversify their hazardous
is a tall order, but it should be carried out with great
weight backed by the United Nations and regional organizations
if Somalia is to survive. Setting up a committee to monitor
those who break the so-called ceasefire is not the answer in a
country like war-ravaged Somalia, and guns are galore. The
raison d'ętre is to disarm the warring factions once and for
neither the Somalis themselves nor the so-called frontline
states had the will or the capacity to rectify the situation.
Maybe I am
grasping at straws, but this state of affairs must not
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
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