by M. M. Afrah
is a dilapidated natural harbour north of the capital where
unscrupulous merchants are doing a thriving business, turning
a key component of the country’s rare woodlands into an inhabitable
desert, a shorthand for another disaster in the making.
of General Mohamed Siyad Barre’s lasting legacies, apart from
the writing of the Somali language, was the banning of charcoal
export and the cutting of trees. His regime also banned the
export to Saudi Arabia of female livestock, but woefully failed
to plant new trees in the process.
can see a landscape surrounded by endless horizon of scrubby
brush, smoke rising from distant hamlets to signal, somewhere
off, kilns of charcoal burning. The rolling countryside, still
in its late Gu session is slowly becoming a green mirage.
But soon this green mirage will vanish under the axe of the
indifferent charcoal burners.
neophyte entrepreneurs made famous by the clan/civil wars
have been taking advantage of the lawlessness and anarchy
in the country and are smiling all the way to their banks
(my last editorial.)
Ceel-macaan port is the main trafficking port of 120 tonnes of charcoal daily
– and almost 20,000 trees – destined for Saudi Arabia and
the Gulf countries. In addition the rare Somali cheetah, lion
cubs, gazelles, dick dicks, ostrichs, female goats and camels
are also exported by the same greedy merchants.
« No wonder, » said a Somali youth, jockingly over the phone, « The
Somalis could not sit under a tree to settle their differences
as in the old days, because there are NO more trees in the
country to accomodate them». He said the new crop of leaders
are scared of conference halls and paparazzi in foreign
are not even versed in the work of a technical committee and
minute taking, let alone the language and procedure of the
conference,” he said.
reported the destruction of Somalia’s scanty woodlands could
be the biggest threat to future generations. A UNEP (The United
Nations Environmental Protection) official based in Nairobi
who attempted to investigate the illicit trade nearly lost
of heavily armed youngsters on gun-mounted customized vehicles
shield the charcoal barons from possible “foreign” interference.
They block all roads leading to Ceel-macaan and impound vehicles
suspected of interfering with port operations, and in some
cases murder the driver and his passengers in cold blood.
THE NEOPHITE TREE CUTTER
tree cutter who never heard the word Qaad before now puts
a fistful of the green stuff in his left pocket and cuts the
trees with his right hand. He believes that the green leafs
cool up things out just right for him, that he could see the
trees at night like he could see them through a nightscope.
(the Qaad leafs) sure give you the range and size of the trees,”
he would say.
his heart tried to punch its way through his chest. Because
he observed everybody around him carried a gun and that any
one of them could go off at any time, putting him where it
wouldn’t matter whether it had been an accident or not. So
he bought for himself an M-16 with his first paycheck from
the baron’s paymaster. Guns are dirt cheap in Somalia, he
thought. Then he observed that everybody, including the paymaster
was chewing what they called Qaad and smoked cigarettes and
sipped bottles of Pepsi (also imported), so he bought a bundle
of the stuff and cigarettes from the paymaster who sells them
as a side show. He was hooked!
chain smoked and chewed Qaad and for the first time in his
life his pockets are lined with few US Dollars and Saudi Rials,
and he slept at night with his eyes open after consuming fistfuls
of Qaad. He never had it so good, because not long ago he
worked as a camel herder for others who never paid him cash,
only a gourd full of milk from the same camels in exchange
for his toil. Now he doesn’t give damn if the charcoal barons
are harvesting millions of dollars. And like everybody else
he carries a fully loaded automatic rifle and the traditional
double-edged knife, just in case, and he thought you was a
freak because you wouldn’t carry a weapon.
may not appear on the Somalia map, but figures estimated by
the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that the charcoal
barons harvested 2.3 million tones of charcoal in 2001 alone
and that the port is a beehive of activities in that part
of the African continent, second only to Lagos in Nigeria.
FAO statistic hardly reveals the enormity of the same problem
in Somaliland and Puntland, because the authorities there
are cautious about charcoal export. The export business at
Berbera and Bossaso ports are so discreet that these are hardly
figures to quantify it.
there is the profusion of Qaad and cigarettes in the country,
a country that is reeling under the vicious circle of clan
wars, food scarcity, disease, drought and man-made famine.
There’s Qaad and cigarette glut in big cities and towns, but
food is eluding the starving majority who do not relish the
luxury of remittances from abroad.
of those who do, however, concoct stories to their hard toiling
relatives in the Diaspora (by daily telephone calls, sometimes
after midnight!) of being poor and starving, yet emptied their
pockets to buy bundles of Qaad and packets of cigarettes flown
in daily from Kenya in light aircraft by similar voracious
merchants of death as the charcoal barons at Ceel-macaan.
They too are dubbed as the Qaad and cigarette barons.
import death and disease from Kenya and export the last trace
of our fauna and flora to the oil rich Arabs,” the French
news agency (AFP) quoted a Somali doctor at Digfer General
M. M. Afrah ©2002,