Somalia:  Up for Grabs *

Dawud Zwink

Posted Apr 9, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Somalia:  Up for Grabs

by Dawud Zwink

The early 1980’s witnessed a major exodus of Somalis from Ethiopian controlled lands into Somalia. The international community responded with consistent publicity, concern and major relief contributions. At the time, Somalia was a client state of the United States and the Soviet Union was perceived as a threat to the strategic interests of the West. Ethiopia was the first nation in Africa to declare itself to be a Marxist state. Today, a decade later, the Soviet Union no longer exists as a super power. The U.S. supported regime has been toppled as a consequence of the loss of Washington DC’s patronage and the country is in chaos with hundreds of thousands of refugees on the move seeking safety from marauding bands of gunmen and relief from disease, famine and thirst.

It is not only the international geopolitics that have changed. Why the reluctance to get involved? Why did a response take so long? When the need is so staggering, why the lack of commitment this time around?

Opposition groups to the previous government have not been able to create a collective rule in the capitol Mogadishu. In the absence of central authority, the country has been divided into feudal system where clan leaders described as warlords dominate by rule of terror and extortion. The nomads and farmers have become the pawns, and as such, along with women, children, the elderly and weak are dispensable.

Nearly a century of colonial rule followed by three decades of western influenced secularized governance sowed the seeds of wrath that are being reaped today. The youth that form the drug saturated armed gangs, are the youth that were deprived of the ethics of a Qur’anic school based education during the 70’s and 80’s. What was substituted was the secular values of “scientific socialism.” The common denominator of social relations was the AK47 or M-16. The absence of morality now observed is the result of systematic depravation of a generation that had its Islamic heritage stolen or abused. Both East & West are equally to blame.

And what are the sources of power for the warlords? A few are identifiable. At the outset, in the aftermath of Gen. Said Barre’s lesson in Machiavellian power politics, clan based political organizations appealed to their clan members for regular contributions of money called qaadhaan. With that initial deposit in their war chest, they expanded to exploit the opportunities of the thriving black market that flourished under the previous regime.
The traditional qat trade of hallucinogenic leaves that are run in fresh from Ethiopia, has been expanded to include marijuana, hashish, and even harder drugs. The drugs are not only used to inflame the armed cadres of the warlords, but also being transshipped to other pars of the region.

The flourishing toxic trade in chemical waste materials has also been exposed in recent weeks. Representatives of warlords have cut deals with European corporations to build incinerators on the outskirts of Mogadishu along with dumps for the toxic residues. The expected profit from each 100,000 ton shipment was $10 million. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has sent a team to investigate reports of chemical and hazardous waste being dumped into Somali water and along the boundary of northwest Soma1ia and Djibouti. The UN spokesperson said that 22,000 liters of pesticides and agrochemicals were dumped by one European country and “once the chemicals entered the ground, they effectively poisoned much of the local environment.” In a separate incident, a reported 81,200 liters of toxic chemicals are reported as already dumped and now threatening to pollute scarce drinking water in the north. There are also repeated reports of over fishing of Somalia’s unprotected territorial waters by major nations such as Russia and Japan.

The picture so far created suggests that multinational corporations and major international vested interests are deeply involved in exploiting the current situation of a tragic, suffering Somali people. They are literally sucking the blood of a ravished nation.

The vampire image comes into greater focus when one notes the growing indications of involvement of international organized crime. The south central lands of Somalia were colonized by Italy. Specialists on Somalia have noted that the individual with the largest army in Mogadishu is an Italian “who refuses to give his surname.” The principle accused toxic trade company is the Italian import-export firm Progresso. The Sunday Telegraph of London dated September 13, 1992 ran an article entitled “Has the ‘savior’ of Somalia just sold his country for $4 billion?” The article speaks of the business relations that a person named Haji Mohamed Hashi Haile (who claims to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of Somalia and President of the United Somali Salvation) has with an organization called the Investor Corporation of America. The President of Investors Corporation of America is Joseph C. Ripp. Ripp was sentenced to four years in federal prison on November 13, 1984 after pleading guilty at a Pittsburgh court to a huge mail fraud scheme. He served more than three years. “Mr. Ripp is also alleged to have had links to the Mafia and the drug underworld” as a result of having “been identified as a business associate of Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra member Raymon ‘Long John’ Martorano, convicted on July 31,1984, in the murder of Philadelphia union boss John McCullough.”

During the last week of September , in an interview with the Nadon newspaper of Kenya the Nairobi based UNEP Director, declined to name the firms involved in the toxic trade investigation saying, “We are dealing with the Mafia and some of my colleagues fear for their lives. I do not want to go into details because these people are getting a lot of profit and can kill anyone who wants to spoil their business.”

Indeed what is needed is a courageous investigative reporter to bring the full light of the international media on the tangled web of international deceit and corruption that generates billions of dollars while our babies are snuffed out. Vampires cannot stand the harsh light of truth and exposure. Who knows, there could be a Pulitzer Prize in the end for the champion who slays the dragon!

Article reprinted from Oct. 1992 ICP INQUIRY.  Originally published in the Spring 1993 print edition of

The American Muslim.

Editors note:  This article published 15 years ago is still relevant in understanding the current developments in Somalia. 

See also:

Blundering Into Somalia Yet Again, by Eric Margolis
The bombing of Somalia: U.S. grabs for power in Horn of Africa
Collection of articles on Somalia by the Wisdom Fund
The Great Game in Somalia, Abid Mustafa
It’s all About Oil in Somalia
Perfect Storm Brewing in Somalia
Somalia an Ethiopian Occupation 4/07
Somalia ‘becoming another Iraq’,9294,2-11-1447_2095796,00.html
Somalia: Democracy Wins Again?, Dr. Robert D. Crane
Superpower strategy in ungovernable Somalia
U.S. Involvement in Somalia: Is U.S. backing warlords against Somali Islamists?
War on Terror Spawns War Crimes Charges in Somalia
War Crimes Investigated in Somalia