I DO REMEMBE
Point By M. M. Afrah
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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
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
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.
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
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