In Somalia, Those Who Feed Off Anarchy Fuel It
https://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/25/world/africa/25somalia.htmlGALKAYO, Somalia — Beyond clan rivalry and Islamic fervor, an entirely different motive is helping fuel the chaos in Somalia: profit.
A whole class of opportunists — from squatter landlords to teenage gunmen for hire to vendors of out-of-date baby formula — have been feeding off the anarchy in Somalia for so long that they refuse to let go.
They do not pay taxes, their businesses are totally unregulated, and they have skills that are not necessarily geared toward a peaceful society.
In the past few weeks, some Western security officials say, these profiteers have been teaming up with clan fighters and radical Islamists to bring down Somalia’s transitional government, which is the country’s 14th attempt at organizing a central authority and ending the free-for-all of the past 16 years.
They are attacking government troops, smuggling in arms and using their business savvy to raise money for the insurgency. And they are surprisingly open about it.
Omar Hussein Ahmed, an olive oil exporter in Mogadishu, the capital, said he and a group of fellow traders recently bought missiles to shoot at government soldiers.
“Taxes are annoying,” he explained.
Maxamuud Nuur Muradeeste, a squatter landlord who makes a few hundred dollars a year renting out rooms in the former Ministry of Minerals and Water, said he recently invited insurgents to stash weapons on “his” property. He will do whatever it takes, he said, to thwart the government’s plan to reclaim thousands of pieces of public property.
“If this government survives, how will I?” Mr. Muradeeste said.
Layer this problem on top of Somalia’s sticky clan issues, its poverty and its nomadic culture, and it is no wonder that the transitional government seems to be overwhelmed by the same raw antigovernment defiance that has torpedoed earlier attempts at stabilizing the country.
Granted, many of the transitional leaders acknowledge that they have made mistakes and that they have not played the clan politics as deftly as they could have. But they say they believe that there are some Somalis — actually, many Somalis — who will never go along with any program.
“Even if we turned Mogadishu into Houston, there would still be people resisting us,” said Abdirizak Adam Hassan, chief of staff for Somalia’s transitional president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. “I’m talking about the guys bringing in expired medicine, selling arms, harboring terrorists. They don’t have a clan name. They’re a congregation of people whose best interests are served by no government.”
In the past month, the resistance has intensified and more than 1,000 people have been killed or wounded as the country has sunk into its deepest crisis since the famine days of the early 1990s.
Most of the victims are civilians, like Amina Abdullahi, who recently fled Mogadishu with two small children holding her hands and a baby tied to her back.
“I don’t understand why this is such a problem,” she said. “If people don’t like this government, can’t they wait until there is an election and vote them out?”
American diplomats had mostly shied away from Somalia since the infamous “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993 when Somali militiamen shot down two American helicopters and killed 18 United States soldiers. But now the Americans are involved again, driven by a counterterrorism agenda and armed with a pledge of $100 million to rebuild the country.
And it is exactly this kind of hefty support that is fueling the resistance’s urgency, because the opportunists sense that this transitional government, more than any other, poses the biggest threat yet to the gravy days of anarchy.
Somalis are legendary individualists, and when the central government imploded in 1991, people quickly devised ways to fend for themselves.
Businessmen opened their own hospitals, schools, telephone companies and even privatized mail services. Men who were able to muster private armies, often former military officers, seized the biggest prizes: abandoned government property, like ports and airfields, which could generate as much as $40,000 a day. They became the warlords. Many trafficked in guns and drugs and taxed their fellow Somalis.
Beneath the warlords were clan-based networks of thousands of people — adolescent enforcers, stevedores, clerks, truck drivers and their families — all tied into the chaos economy. Ditto for the freelance landlords and duty-free importers.
Over the years, prominent members of the Hawiye clan, Mogadishu’s biggest, have tried to cobble together a government and end this system. But they have failed every time. Though Somalia is notoriously fragmented among dozens of rival clans and subclans, and has been that way for centuries, clans alone did not seem to be the problem.
“It was the opportunists who didn’t see a role for themselves in the future,” said Mohammed Abdi Balle, an elder here in Galkayo, a city about 450 miles north of Mogadishu.
Not all opportunists had the same agenda. Many in the business community became fed up with paying protection fees to the warlords and their countless middle-men.
Business leaders then backed a grass-roots Islamist movement that drove the warlords out of Mogadishu last summer and brought peace to the city for the first time in 15 years.
The Islamists seemed to be the perfect solution for the businessmen. They delivered stability, which was good for most business, but they did not confiscate property or levy heavy taxes. They called themselves an administration, not a government.
“Our best days were under them,” said Abdi Ali Jama, who owns an electrical supply shop in Mogadishu.
But then a radical wing took over, and the Islamists declared war on Ethiopia, which commands one of the mightiest armies in Africa. The Ethiopians, with covert American help, crushed the Islamist army in December and bolstered the authority of Somalia’s transitional government in the capital.
Many residents initially welcomed the transitional government. But then it made some questionable calls that cut across clan and business lines. It abruptly closed ports and took over airfields belonging to Hawiye businessmen, denying them revenue they had been accustomed to receiving for years. Many Somalis began to worry that the transitional government, which includes elders from all of Somalia’s clans, was being pushed around by the Darod, the clan of the transitional president and a historic rival to the Hawiye.
At first, just a few Hawiye sub-clans — mainly those connected to the Islamists — took up arms. But as the government has moved to curtail the profiteering, business leaders say that more and more clans are embracing the rebel cause.
For many Abgal, an influential subclan of the Hawiye, the last straw came in mid-March when the government raised port taxes by 300 percent. Mr. Ahmed, the olive oil exporter and an Abgal, said that after that, there was a mass Abgal defection to the insurgency. “The government is trying to destroy business as we know it,” he said.
Despite attempts at a cease-fire between insurgents and government forces, the violence has raged virtually unabated in Mogadishu.
And once again, the opportunists have stepped in. In some areas, displaced people are forced to pay a “shade tax” to local residents for resting under their trees.