By M. M. Afrah2003©
note from the Webmaster: M. M. Afrah wrote this timeless Talking
Point in 2003 and as the Islamic Courts Union bans the importation
of this poison from Kenya during the month of Ramadhan, we at this
website are optimistic that Qaad will be banned for forever, and
not only during the month of Ramadhan-Insha-allah)
I wake up each morning, wondering who do I hate today, the Qaad
importers, the charcoal barons, the arms traffickers or the militia
start with the Qaad importers from Kenya. Qaad, a poisonous harvest
that made the majority of our starving people look like zombies
was introduced in Southern Somalia by Northerners and Yemeni Arabs
in 1970s, and since then there has been direct correlation between
the consumption of the green plant and life expectancy.
of this drug Qaad (wrongly spelled as khat or Kat by the Western
press), is like every other life-threatening drug, cost-efficient
quick death, because the user losses appetite and becomes victim
of insomnia (sleeplessness), impotence, restless and lack of self-control
induced by false euphoria.
The busy airfields are little more than strips of level grounds,
carefully leveled with rollers, surrounded by rusty barbed wire
and the occasional huts of corrugated iron sheets and disused steel
containers full of bullet holes from previous battles. The Mogadishu
International Airport was closed after the Americans and the UNOSOM
(The United Nations Operation in Somalia) pulled out in 1993/94.
As soon as a
light Cessna aircraft lands at the strip, the whole area turns into
a hive of activity. The cacophony is immense. It sounded as if all
the furies in the world have been unleashed at once. To the uninformed,
there was an air of uncontained rage about it--the bellowing of
a slaughterhouse. To the seasoned Qaad importers and consumers it
was business as usual.
mostly Kenya Asians and Russians could make the Australian bush
pilots look like Sunday school teachers. The Russians, in particular,
are former members of the Soviet Red Army and have seen similar
chaos in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in that country
in the 1980s and as long as they delivered the cargo of Qaad, Cigarettes
and guns, they weren't going to give much of a damn about the lawlessness
in Somalia. They flew their armour-platted Hind helicopters in Afghanistan
against the Afghan Mujahideen. No war was too dangerous for them,
no weather was stormy enough to keep them on the ground, and no
landing strip was too short or too rough to keep them from flying
their Tupolovs and Antonovs.
the daredevils of the African skies," wrote Kenya's Daily Nation,
after a giant Antonov crush landed on a golf course in 1981. They
were ferrying missiles to Jonas Savimbi's UNITA rebels. Their worst
nightmare, however, is unexploded ordnances and landmines planted
in the middle of the dirt runways.
The same goes to the importers. They knew the kind of pilots who
flew these runs were basically smugglers. They could smuggle anything
into any war-torn African country, including atomic suitcases, poison
gas and the so-called dirty bombs for all they care and promptly
fly back with cash and diamonds (in the case of the Congo, Angola,
Sierra Leone and Liberia). Smugglers hated half empty planes the
way a good bartender hates an empty bar. In Somalia, they ferry
weapons from Ethiopia to the warlords and Qaad and cigarettes from
Kenya to the Qaad barons, and then fly back, with the blink of an
eye, overloaded with people who desperately wanted to get out.
annual revenue estimated at 1.5 million US Dollars from the export
of Qaad and cigarettes to Southern Somalia. Paradoxically, the demand
for Qaad and cigarettes is always greater than the supply. It's
a seller's market. This at a time when there are acute shortages
of the basic necessities of life in the country.
and running drugs are frequently overlapping enterprises. And the
big merchants who have their hands out to protect one activity will
in all likelihood be on the take for the other as well. If the merchants
are the culprits what does tell you the warlords?
For some unknown
reasons the 1992 UN Security Council Arms Embargo on Somalia was
not enforced, even after a special committee to monitor and enforce
the embargo was created. Thus Somalia became a dumping ground for
toxic waste, drugs and weapons of all types and calibers.
the airstrip controls the loading and unloading of the merchandize
and their final destination. And there are more than seven airstrips
in Mogadishu alone. However the largest is the Soviet-built at Balli-dogleh,
with a clearance warehouse for weapons. Hundreds of militia gunmen
are in the payroll of the warlords and the merchants of death. These
militia gunmen receive small percentage plus a day's consumption
of Qaad and cigarettes. And everybody is happy.
"Well, Haji Ali," said the brisk BBC man. "Now you
look back on it, how would you sum it up?"
Haji Ali cleared
his throat in an upbeat mood and replied: "I never had it so
good. I have increased the net of my capital three folds. I am fully
satisfied with the present system."
What the Haji
really meant was that the country can do without a government to
screw up every business in the country.
With all his upbeat moods, just try to cross him, and he would cock
his pearl-handled revolver as quickly as the baby-faced kids who
manned the string of makeshift barricades in the city.
Are the Haji
and his circle of merchants happy? Who was happy? Many of them have
medical problems and being a mortal, the merchant died like everyone
else. He is stuck into the ground, and the family, the clan and
business partners wrangle over what was left of his ill-gotten gains.
No will and no income trust. Most of his cash was stashed away without
a trace. Unlike his colleagues, he never trusted foreign banks;
even the national banks in peacetime Somalia were foreign and untrustworthy
Usually he is
rare specie who survived the Italian and British colonial administrations,
three regimes and a brutal civil war. And what's more, he does not
worry about the current law and order problem in the country, because,
like every merchant in the city, he is the proud possessor of his
own private army carefully selected from the Commandos of the defunct
Somali National Army.
It is not the
old Somalia you and I had known. It's a moonscape, a hostile land,
and no doubt because we made it so. It's no-man's land to hurry
through. But to the new big merchants and businessmen it's El Dorado
gold mine. And the poor folks continue to chew Qaad to dull the
pangs of their misery.
The great silent
majority wants clean up. The first step is for the UN Security Council
to immediately reinforce its own arms embargo and stop the arms
proliferation in Somalia. Step two: confiscate all weapons already
in the country and incinerate them. Step 3: stop importation of
Qaad and other harmful drugs. Step 4: end dumping toxic waste in
our territorial waters (the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea). Step
5: end forthwith the foreign trawlers illegally fishing in our territorial
waters with impunity. Step 6: help charcoal burners to diversify
their hazardous enterprises.
This is a tall
order, but it should be carried out with great weight backed by
the United Nations and regional organizations if Somalia is to survive.
Setting up a committee to monitor those who break the so-called
ceasefire is not the answer in a country like war-ravaged Somalia,
and guns are galore. The raison d'être is to disarm the warring
factions once and for all.
Obviously, neither the Somalis themselves nor the so-called frontline
states had the will or the capacity to rectify the situation.
Maybe I am grasping at straws, but this state of affairs must not
By M. M. Afrah©2003