Commentary 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 lands.
"They 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
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.
"They (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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
"We 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