Friday, August 20, 2010

Somalia's Beauty and the Beast

Engraving of the ancient Fakr ad-Din Mosque in...Image via Wikipedia

Somalia is a Horn of Africa nation bordering Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and endowed with assortments of natural resources yet its people are starving-in fact it is fed by the international community. Majority of Somalis are followers of Islam; predominantly Somali is their language; and they share identical physical features. Somalis are categorized as Cushito-Hamitic and they have historically traded with Egyptians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Abyssinians, Arabs, and Persians. In historical antiquity and depicted in hieroglyphic writings retrieved from Egyptian tombs, Somalia has been referred to as the "Land of Punt" or the "Land of Gods". The "Hamitic Theory" conceived by colonial European explorers, missionaries, and discoverers is placed somewhere in the Horn of Africa. Perhaps, archeological excavations would reveal much about the past history of the Somali people. Besides the tall stature and acquiline features that make them distinct from some tribal groupings of Africa, the preservation of relics and artifacts such as the "Sibraar" or headband worn by adolescent Somali girls that resemble those worn by female pharaohs of Egypt, the cluster of cave paintings notable in the northeast of Somalia, Somali style of tribal hierarchy and administration, the discovery of Somali vernacular wordings identical to Egyptian hieroglyphics, Somali nomadic women mode of dress, and the vast archeological mounds resembling Egyptian pyramids could hold significant historical treasures if only there was stability and assured peace.

Geographically, Somalia’s physical features range from arid to semi-arid, tropical coasts, mountain terrains and ranges to the northeast as the great Rift Valley that runs from Jordan to Mozambique dissects a portion of the country, depleted tropical forests in the south, and a patch of burnt land known as Guban. It has two perennial rivers-the Shebelle and Juba Rivers respectively. It has dry river beds and ravines, creeks, and anthill mounds. The growth of acacia tree species sustains various types of wildlife and livestock as it is indigenous to the arid and semi-arid ecosystem. Perhaps, trees that grow in the Somali wilderness are the Acacia albida, Acacia senegal, and Acacia seyal. These acacia species may also be found in the Sahel or much of sub-Saharan Africa. Species like Cassuarina equisetifolia, Casia Siamea, and the neem tree that capture the landscapes of many towns and cities have been introduced recently before the outbreak of civil disobedience.

The beautiful gazelle-like Litocranius walerii or Gerenuk has its name derived from the Somali word Garanuug which translates to "Giraffe-necked". Once home to the big-five game-Elephant, Buffalo, Giraffe, Lion, and Rhino-the horrors of poaching and the crackle of gunfire has driven many animal species toward extinction. Also, environmental degradation and human encroachment have driven many animals across Somalia borders into neighboring countries. What was once a land teeming with leopards, cheetahs, lions, hyenas, elephants, and giraffes has been rendered useless and empty as animal breeding grounds and the soil that could sustain vegetation has been denuded of vital nutrients. A few miles outside of the town of Garissa in Kenya, herds of migrating giraffes have now found safe haven in a snactuary managed by the public with help from Kenya's wildlife department.

Even Somalia's bird and insect species have not been immune from the general calamity either. With the collapse of the central government, so disappeared the science of insectology and ornithology. A great many nesting fields and breeding grounds have instantly disappeared. The tampering of the ecosystem accelerated the demise of many bird and insect species only to be replaced by swarms of locusts and dangerous weeds, creeping deserts and intermittent doughts.

The southern part of the country has the potential to support agriculture. Before the collapse of the central government, Somalia was the second leading producer of bananas in Africa. Somalia's banana industry was funded and overseen by Somalita-a joint Somali-Italy consortium-consequently making Somalia a haven for bananas. Prior to the outbreak of the civil war, citrus and mango farming sustained a sizable population of the Juba and Shebelle regions. What is left today is not worth mentioning. Heartless warlords drove out farming communities into destitution either as refugees or internally displaced persons surviving on humanitarian handouts. Shockingly, the once arable lands that served as Somalia's breadbasket have been replaced with massive marijuana plantations. It is the introduction of the very mind-altering or psychotic drug that has affected many of the youth serving narcicistic warlords. The absence of drug control procedures and pharmaceutical companies has inundated Somalia with multitudes of controlled substances having debilitating effects. Coupled with insecurity and destitution and the collapse of the education sector, the rate of decimation on fauna and flora remain dispropotionally beyond comprehension. The central and southern regions once contained large swathes of forests that have been indiscriminately deforested by previous warlords who burnt vital tropical trees for charcoal processing. This coldhearted decimation of forests has been harmful to the sustainability of nitrogen-fixing tree species. Charcoal is in great demand in the Middle East where it is used for fireplaces and for barbeque. Climatologically, various regions of Somalia can effectively maintain arboriculture*, agrisilviculture (tree + crops), agrisilvipasture (trees + crops + pasture/animals), hortipasture (fruit trees + pasture/animals) and horticulture**.

Unlike some densely populated parts of Africa where land is scarce due to population explosion, Somalia’s sparsely populated and empty lands could be transformed into ranches so as to entice livestock owners abandon their nomadic lifestyles. Despite suffering educational retardation, a good number of educated Somalis in the Diaspora will unleash expertise and monetary value once stability is found. Regardless of the two decades of war and the destruction it wrought on the country, still many educational institutions training the future creams of the nation operate inside Somalia. Universities and colleges can be found in almost every region of the country today. In the past before the current turmoil, Somalia had a ministry that was solely responsible for overseeing forests and rangelands. An institute outside of Mogadishu in the town of Afgoi produced the bulk of foresters. Foreign governments and international organizations provided the funds and expertise for various projects related to forestry, agro-forestry, and silvipasture.

The most famous project spearheaded by the fallen military government was the Shalambood Sand Dune Stabilization Project that ended in success. A massive airlift for people affected by the prolonged 1974 drought in the towns of Obbia and Aynaba led to the creation of three settlements in Jujuma, Sablaale, and Kurtunwaareey in a program that came to be known as “Danwadaagaha” meaning “collective duty”. In early 80s, the United States Agency for International Development or USAID provided $800,000 to the Somali government to fight deforestation. Thus was born the Jalalaqsi Reforestation Project. Working in concert with Africare Inc., an African-American humanitarian organization and the Somali Ministry of Forestry and rangelands, hundreds of thousands of trees and cactus were planted inside the town of Jalalaqsi, within several refugee camps, and alongside sand dunes. It is here I worked as a Social Science Field Assistant working directly with a PhD candidate in Sociology. This inspiring project brought together foresters, nursery managers, field assistants, and an array of faces drawn from the U.S. and the Somali government respectively. I am not sure if this project reached its final phase or if it was abandoned midway as I left after the expiry of my contract in 1984.

In the Sanaag region, the towering Caal Madow mountain range is suspected to contain unexploited petroleum and other natural reserves. In the 70s and 80s, several Western-owned oil consortiums carried out explorations in several parts of the country though the end results of their activities remain elusive. Of the two hydro-electric projects conceived in Somalia-Faanoole and Baardheere-not much power has been generated. From what I know, the southern town of Gelib (Jilib) had enough supply of electricity while Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, experienced continuous blackouts at all times.

From the time a hijacked German airliner landed in Mogadishu in the 70s, the relationship between Somalia and East and West Germany have been good. Consequently, the West Germans brought several projects to Somalia including the water and sewage projects implemented by Saarberg Interplan that may be credited for the installation of water systems in Mogadishu,Jowhar, Afgoi, and Shalambood. Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit or GTZ in short, played a great role in the provision of technical expertise by training Somali technicians. On the other hand, the West Germans were responsible for the maintenance of the fleet of motorcyles and police vehicles operated by the Somali police force. LibSoma and RomSoma were two other bilateral projects visible in the country perhaps operated by Libyans and Romanians.

To the north east of the country straddle the famous Golis Mountains teeming with exotic wildlife. This is the perfect place for wildlife conservation, national parks, and tourist attractions. Hard currency extracted from tourism could stir the economy and also create jobs for thousands in a land where unemployment rate is a staggering 80%. Somalia’s pristine beaches that had been neglected by previous governments could be a hotbed for luxury hotels. However, in order to achieve success for the hotel industry, effective running should be the prerogative of foreign companies that possess tested knowledge and experience.

Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa measuring approximately 3,333 km. To the north is the Red Sea and to the south is the massive Indian Ocean. With abundance of fish and other types of marine life, these two bodies of water can sustain the entire Somali nation of ten million. Unfortunately, since 1990, illegal fishing of Somali waters by foreign fishing trawlers has drastically reduced Somali fish stock. The proliferation of piracy and the contamination of Somalia’s pristine and tropical coastline with industrial wastes remain obstacles to maritime management and exploration. The coastline of Somalia contains a wealth of fishes and marine life ranging from tuna, crabs, mackerel, sardines, lobster, shrimps, turtles, sharks, exotic porpoises, and dugong. During the rule of the military government, Somalia leased trawlers from foreign governments exclusively for the exploitation of maritime waters. Located in the Sanaag region inhabited by the Warsangeli sub-clan of the Darod, the famous Las Qoray Fishing Cannery was reputedly the biggest in Africa producing processed canned fish that was exported to European destinations and a sizable product consumed locally. The factory was funded and run by the Russians before their departure from Somalia in the late 70s. Surprisingly, the cannery is now in operation thanks to the efforts of Warsangeli entrepreneurs.

On the other hand, Somalia is endowed with livestock. It is estimated that the number of camels in the country outnumber human population. Besides, there is a wealth of cattle, goats, and sheep that, if effectively managed, could be used to rejuvenate the economy. If the Somali-inhabited Garissa District in Kenya has the highest concentration of Livestock in East and Central Africa, likewise, Somalia’s livestock population must be vast and boundless. Previously, the ports of Berbera, Bossasso, Mogadishu, and Kismayu served as major transit points for Somali livestock destined for Arabia. Originally built by the Russians, the port and airport of Berbera was rehabilitated by MWK Int’l Ltd. Inc., based in Seattle, WA. I worked in the accounting department of this massive project which in fact was made possible by a contract agreement between the United States Department of Navy and the Somali Ministry of Defense. On the other hand and upon completion of the Port of Berbera, the Somali government this time embarked on the rehabilitation of the Port of Kismayu located in the south of the country. An overseas-based company by the name George Fuller Company became the final benefector for the bid. Unfortunately, the fragmentation of the nation into fiefdoms controlled by warlords, religious factions, autonomous governments, and tribal secessionists handicapped the operation of the livestock industry. Most of the nations infrastructure was either sold as scrap metal in the Middle East, became delapidated for lack of maintenance, or became target for artillery fire. It beats logic that Somali livestock are being sold at throwaway prices in North Africa and the Middle East. A goat or sheep bought in Somalia by Arab merchants fetches the same price as a plate of rice sold in Arabian restaurants. Surprisingly, whether in Cairo or Jeddah, Arabs, are fond of consuming meat originating in Somalia because of its freshness, delicacy, and taste .

*The study and care of woody plants; example trees.
** Care for garden.

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments: