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Talking Point By M. M. Afrah

A Word from the webmasters

We Apologize for the swapping of the two Talking points. It was purely technical reasons. Thanks.  

The Webmasters

I am always happy when a non-Somali writes to me about my country, because it shows that Somalia still matters to some people.

I commend Steve Hall’s knowledge of Somalia (he said he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Merca in 1960s) showing his interest in Somalia history, a country his fellow countrymen calls a failed state and a haven for international terrorism led by Osama.

The only problem Steve apparently has is in dealing with today’s situation in Somalia. He said “that the Americans should coalesce their relationship with the Somali Warlords, (Afghanistan’s Northern-Alliance-style) in order to bring peace and stability in Somalia.”

Steve went on to say that a country like Somalia is a “dream destination” for followers of Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network because of the anarchy that prevailed there during the last 12 years.

I do not pretend to have the whole truth at my fingertips, but as I have said more than once that any international terrorist who dares to take refuge in Somalia would be like a blind man carrying a looking glass.

You are right. Somalia has became a haven for all kinds of illegal trade, such as counterfeit currency, drugs, toxic waste, arms trade, forgery of passports and expired medicine, but as far as I know it has never been a haven for international terrorism. Somalis say, “Wixi xumba Xaawa leh.”

Visiting journalists from Britain and the USA underscored in their Somalia dispatches that an international terrorist will stand out like a sore thumb in war-torn Somalia.

Personally I cared little for labyrinthine politics that centered on personal animosities, treachery and opportunism, but the Somali faction leaders and the Arta Group represented what never was or will be. They seem to have appeared on earth --full-blown, bypassing childhood, basic education and family.

Most of them sent their wives and children abroad before they brought the country to its knees. They live a comfortable life while the common people are suffering over and over again.


The Somali people, normally law-abiding citizens, are forced to live in Dante’s Purgatory. It was Dostoevsky who wrote, “Man is a pliable animal, a being who gets used to anything.” The Somali people are living in degradation that anyone could imagine, and the faction leaders are not the sort of people to walk out in a huff.

 An old Somali proverb says, “A sinking persons grabs a straw.”

Steve, you said you wanted to hear my version of what had happened in the immediate aftermath of the popular uprising against the military dictator in 1990/91. Well, it is simple enough to be liberated from a military dictator. Then what?

In the ensuing chaos, a number of clan elders got together and tried to form a transitional government and elected Ali Mahdi, a Mogadishu hotelier, to fill the vacuum, but that hasn’t worked. Then a couple of religious zealots attempted to set up an Islamic Court (an eye for an eye) in the north of the divided capital, but that too went belly up. And after ten years of lawlessness and blood-path another transitional government was formed at Arta, a small resort town near Djibouti on the mouth of the Red Sea. That too still stands on one foot, because it failed to deliver the goods.

Somalis say, “We were liberated from a military dictator without being liberated from disorder.” 

As a reporter, I spent most of my adult life at wars or near them, but as far as I recall none of them made the world better. A glaring example is the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The country is still seething with anarchy and chaos perpetrated by a bunch of ruthless warlords and the remnants of the Taliban who are regrouping for another go at Kabul and Kandahar.

Despite highly sophisticated electronic surveillance and well-paid “Humint” (human intelligence), Osama is still at large and the trail has gone cold. I recall the heydays when Osama and to some extent Saddam Hussein were “good guys” during the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the long drawn Iran/Iraq war. All of a sudden the two men became “bad guys”, according to the administration in the White House.

Ironically, there are certain similarities between Afghanistan and Somalia. Both countries are ungovernable with a cluster of tribes and a bunch of warlords who are at each other’s throat. Both peoples have gone through hell and high water during the last century. There’s however one remarkable difference between the two countries.

Somalia, for example, is the world’s first privatized state, where despite the anarchy, you could buy anything from computer laptops, state of the art PCs, Nokia cell phones to brand new machine guns, including Uzi -- at a bargain price. A phone call to anywhere in the world costs only 2 cents per minute, the cheapest in the world. No Goods and Services Tax (GST) or Value Added Tax (VAT) and of course no government license or immigration and customs policy. No passports or visas are required to enter the country! You can simply walk in with your atomic suitcase. Nobody gives damn about it.   But the danger of being killed or kidnapped by gunmen is ever present in the smoking ruins of Mogadishu.

Your old turf, Merca, is even more dangerous than Mogadishu. Local fishermen found the body of the last foreigner in Merca, an Italian, floating on the turbulent waters of the Indian Ocean. Apparently he failed to pay protection money.

Yes, I do remember.

By M. M. Afrah©2002

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