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Toronto (Canada)

This commentary is direct challenge to some of the Western Media that frequently employs slanted articles in an attempt to decapitate the Hawaala banking system.

I cannot understand how these media people jump the gun about a system that feeds hundreds of thousands of skeleton-looking mothers and their emaciated children languishing in refugee camps. It would be wrong, grotesque and inhuman to cut off this lifeline. One could only imagine what this is going to do to these innocent people, mass starvation without doubt.

Recently the Italian daily "CORRIERE DELLA SERA" and a host of North American newspapers allege that Xawaala (or Hawaala) is a money laundering system for terrorist network throughout the world. They allege that these terrorists have links with Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda organization.

The truth is that Xawaala is an informal banking system based on trust. But in the case of the Somalis it is more than trust for the simple reason that they had no government for more than 11 years; all banking, postal services and other financial institutions ceased to exist in 1990 with a brutal civil war that still drags on and on. The country had been beset by all the evils that plague humanity - military dictatorship, wars, pestilence, disease, famine, floods… There was no escaping it, and no matter how much emergency aid was poured into it, the vicious circle could not be crushed, even by the wealthiest nation on earth. Law and order completely broke down.

The hard-earned hundred or fifty dollar remittances sent by Somalis in the Diaspora to their desperate families goes a long way, that's if they survive the carnage perpetrated by ruthless warlords and their henchmen. This is so because those few lucky families who receive remittances from abroad are susceptible to marauding gangs of robbers. They are practically sitting targets and there is no government to protect them. According to many Somalis these gunmen who rob the hungry poor are comparable to international terrorism and that the Western media should give prominence to their gruesome activities instead of plugging into the Addis Ababa propaganda mill against Somalia. It is like kicking a man who is already lying down, gasping for air.

Against this background, I urge my colleagues in the Western press to send their investigative reporters to Mogadishu to witness the horror faced by the inhabitants there. I can guarantee that they will witness hundreds of trigger-happy teenagers on gun-mounted battle-wagons, locally known as technicals, roam the streets of the devastated city, shooting at anything that moved. Thousands of non-combatants are still fleeing from one battle zone to another only to be shot by snipers on rooftops. They will witness makeshift barricades manned by 12 year old boys with AK-47 assault rifles, exhorting money from already starving population, or else…

What they will see there could no longer be called a city. The clan war literally leveled the entire area from the main airport to the residential section. All public services had disappeared. When the electric plant had been destroyed ten years ago so had the telephone, postal and banking systems. The city also teemed with internally displaced people from the hinterland to challenge people for what food remained. Mogadishu, once the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, now resembles war-time Berlin 1945.

There is however one bright side to this unending tragedy. Some enterprising Somalis, mostly returnees from the Diaspora have established state of the art communications service, including a vibrant TV station and a number of radio stations. Your reporters can call anywhere in the world by satellite phone at rock bottom price. They should not for any reason miss the Bakaaraha open air arms bazaar where they could buy everything from computer laptops, cell phones, TV sets to brand new machineguns.

But the bulk of the population depends on the Xawaala banking system without which they would certainly die of starvation.

These journalists would be required to hire armed bodyguards on a 4-wheel drive Land Cruisers to protect them from free lance gunmen who target foreign journalists whom they believe carry a lot of US dollars and expensive cameras. There are no Hilton, Sheraton or Ritz Hotels, but the best journalists dig is The Saxafi Hotel at K4. The man who runs it is one of the local wheeler-dealers and a go-getter. No Credit Cards. He accepts only cash, and of course in US dollars.

And with luck your reporters would survive and would be looking at Pulitzer Prizes after their Somalia assignments!

Having said that, I cannot deny the fact that international terrorists have been engaged in money laundering through this informal banking system on a massive scale, but the amounts involved are beyond the million dollar mark, mainly from oil rich countries. But it now seems that the Western media have eyes only for the pittances occasionally send by hard working Somalis in the Diaspora to their starving families by following the catch phrase "Dir Waa lagaa daran yahee". WHY? It is evident that someone somewhere is trying to murk the murkier Somali waters for their vested interests.

Last message to the editors of major Western newspapers from a former Somali editor-in-chief: Dear Colleagues, we frequently read Muslim terrorists but never Christian terrorists of which there are many -- The Irish Republican Army (IRA) and ETA Basque separatists in Spain for example. Aren't they Christian terrorists, killing and maiming innocent civilians in the name of religion? Why can't you call them Christian terrorists? WHY THE DOUBLE STANDARD?

N.B. Copies of this commentary are emailed to the Editors of major newspapers throughout Western Europe and North America. Meanwhile visitors to this Website are free to send their comment on the Western media's wrong perception on the Xawaalla.

M.M. Afrah, Toronto (Canada)

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