My first visit to Africa – part 3

My visit to Somalia happened at a time, when the country was entering one of its most challenging but also most promising periods. During the six days I spent there, I learned what was at stake for the people of Somalia. 

Renewed hope for Mogadishu
Aunt Sacdiya is the youngest out of my late father’s ten siblings. Her physical resemblance to my father was striking. Her fresh-faced son Mohamed was dressed in a Real Madrid t-shirt and jeans, and I undeniably felt a strong bond with both of them.

One day after the first visit, Mohamed came back to accompany me to our late grandfather’s property in uptown Mogadishu. Sacdiya and her five children moved to district Waberi roughly one year ago after having spent five years in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The family ventured back to Somalia upon hearing about the restored order and peace in Mogadishu, after AMISOM and government troops successfully had driven al-Shabaab out of their strongholds in the capital.

Back on my grandfather’s rooftop
Waberi’s roads were paved and packed with new cars. Here, you would find banks, computer schools and restaurants with out-door-serving. The cost of rent in this part of town had skyrocketed in the past year, which allowed Sacdiya to earn money on renting out one of the rooms in the property to a private company.

One of my childhood memories is of visiting my grandfather at his house, where we would sit up on the rooftop as the dark set in. I hoped to recognize something, but nothing looked familiar. Nevertheless, I could not help, but feel a great sense of belonging to the place.

I discovered, that my other aunt, Hawa, lived nearby – the eldest of the bunch. I visited her multicolored, tidy and posh house, where both her children and grandchildren lived. All of my aunts’ children went to private schools, so I could tell that they were better off than my relatives in Shibis, who begged me to take their eldest daughter with me to Europe, so she could get an education.

Fear of arrests and kidnapping
My uncle Osman stated that now was not the time to be in Mogadishu. He would like nothing more than to show me the whole of the city, but he was afraid of robbers, policemen and soldiers.    

Now, my aunts and their children confirmed the state of lawlessness in Mogadishu. They told me about random arrests and persecution of young men, whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still my cousins and I were able to walk down Makkah al Mukaramah (the main road to the airport) after dark sipping on guava juice.

Both Mohamed and his brother had been arrested by the local police, and released only after the family had paid a large sum of money. Without the payment, their lives would have been at risk. Six months ago, Mohamed’s 14-year-old brother was allegedly kidnapped by al-Shabaab. The family has not heard or seen anything from him in six months. They believe that he is now a child soldier.  

The relentless targeting of terrorists and non-Muslims
The police arrests those, who they suspect are affiliated with al-Shabaab and therefore terrorists. While al-Shabaab target those, who they suspect are pro-government, and by their logic non-Muslims.

The Somali people are caught in the middle of this conflict. If you work for the government as a policeman or a soldier, al-Shabaab persecutes you. If you sympathize with al-Shabaab, the government persecutes you. The only “neutral” public workplace is Mogadishu airport, Mohamed’s sister reasoned.

Because of the insecure prospects, Mohamed and his family decided that he should try his luck at finding a job in Nairobi, Kenya. In East Leigh, a predominantly Somali neighborhood, Mohamed would be able to earn a living meanwhile practicing his English. At least this is what he envisioned.

White sand beaches and warm shallow waters
The next day, two days before my departure, Mohamed and a friend of the family accompanied me to the beach at the old seaport. Since my arrival, I had only smelled and viewed the sea from afar. It was a revelation to see the white sand beach that I remember from my childhood.

Mohamed quickly stripped down to his underwear and jumped into the wave foam. I was not wearing the proper attire for women, so I merely dipped my feet and legs in the warm shallow waters.

As a Somali woman, you are always under scrutiny. If your feet or your arms are showing, or even the slightest hair creeps out of your hijab, you will be told to cover up – even by strangers on the street. But then again, Osman’s wife, Nadia, was ordered to remove her niqab by a policeman on the street.

Before I parted with Mohamed I promised to meet with him in Nairobi. He was to leave for Kenya the following day, and I was to spend a few days there, before I left for Denmark.

To be continued…

What business does Coca Cola have?

The Coca-Cola Company supports dictatorship and exploits workers in Swaziland, says the Danish NGO Africa Contact that has started an online protest. This makes me curious about Coke’s presence in Somalia. 

Coca-Cola has been in Africa since 1929 and is now present in all African countries. It is the continent’s largest employer with over 160 plant and nearly 70,000 employees. Its market share in Africa and the Middle East is 29 percent, which adds up to 9.1 billion liters of Coke a year. In comparison, Pepsi’s share is 15 percent.

However, Coke is accussed of supporting King Mswati III’s rule in Swaziland where it has its biggest operation. The multinational replies, it does not get involved with the politics of any country where it does business.

Nevertheless, democracy activists with Africa Contact, a Danish NGO working in Swaziland, urge the Danes to boycutt Coke. They claim that in addition to supporting the oppresive monarchy, Coke also exploit its sugar cane workers.

Recognition of Somaliland

In 2004, an $8.3 million Coca-Cola plant, United Bottling Company, opened in Mogadishu. Seven years later, Coca-Cola made a strategic relocation of the plant to Hargeisa, Somaliland. Supposedly, the Mogadishu franchise could not function, because of violence in the Somali capital.

Instead, Somaliland Beverage Industries owned by local businessman Ahmed Osman Guelleh was awarded a license to operate the franchise. It covers Somaliland and neighbouring semi-autonomous Puntland and boosts the economy in the two regions.

According to Financial Times, Ndema Rukandema, Coca-Cola’s franchise general manager for the Horn, Islands and Middle Africa, said that:

“Somaliland is a growing economy, made buoyant by the level of trading activity in the country. The stability that the country has enjoyed over the last several years is a positive indication of a conducive business environment.”

Coke leaves Mogadishu behind

When the Mogadishu bottling plant opened eight years ago, the 400-plus investors invited to finance the project were carefully chosen by clan. Each contributed a minimum of $300 to help start the company.

The project was a deliberate effort to create a feeling of communal ownership for the factory in a place where clan-based conflict has long been the rule. With the move from Mogadishu to Hargeisa, Coke seems to have lost faith in the Somali capital’s ability to maintain a profitable business environment.

Peter Kenworthy from Africa Contact says that:

“Coca-Cola is probably in Swaziland because it is a dictatorship that oppresses its unions and population. This allows wages to be kept low and unemployment high”

I wonder what business Coca-Cola has in Somalia and what business does a bottling plant have in a country that has scarce water resources.


Danish NGO Africa Contact

Financial Times

The Blog: Facts for working people

Bloomberg’s Businessweek

Youtube Video of the Mogadishu Plant