Thursday, August 09, 2012
Liban Egal grew up amid the oily clatter of hulking iron letterpresses in his father’s shop behind one of Mogadishu’s main junctions. Daha Printing Press, opened in 1967 and named after his sister, is still there and so are the vintage machines.
After years in self-imposed exile from Somalia’s violent anarchy, Egal, like others in the far-flung diaspora, has come home hoping to put an end to his country’s reputation as a “failed state” and make some money while he’s at it.
Although he was born into printing, Egal sees his future in financial services. Capitalizing on the opening up of Mogadishu, which has enjoyed relative peace in the last year, he opened Somalia’s first private bank.
“Printing is in our blood,” said Egal, 43, whose uncle manages the business. As a teenager, Egal would hurry back from high school to manage the evening shift, watching over the production of government documents, ID cards and ledgers.
Nearly 30 years later, mildewed and moth-eaten documents spill out of boxes stacked around four musty underground rooms. The papers serve as documentation of Somalia’s recent political history.
There are Central Bank account books from the time of President Mohamed Siad Barre, whose ousting in 1991 kicked off two decades of war. And there are identity documents from the subsequent warlord era of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, whose forces killed 18 US soldiers in 1993 during a battle made famous in the book and film Black Hawk Down.
“I get emotional when I come here,” Egal said as he sifted through the dusty papers. “It’s where I grew up, where I learned to work.”
For years Egal worked in the United States. He had left Somalia for Germany in 1986 to learn the printing trade and two years later went to university in Maryland. Soon after, civil war erupted in Somalia, leaving Egal stranded in America, cut off from everything he had known.
In Baltimore, he made a home and started a business, first with a chain of fried chicken joints and later with a check-cashing business. By 1994 he had saved enough money to fly his mother, sister and two little brothers out of Somalia’s chaos.
“When the war broke out the family that had supported me needed my support,” he said.