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Town rising from shackles of Al shabaab

The Standard Digital
Wednesday, June 20, 2012

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Business is slowing picking up at Afmadhow town in Somalia after the Kenya Defence Forces liberated it three weeks ago.

The iron-fisted Al Shabaab operatives had subjected locals to untold suffering since 2008 following the fall of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia.

Afmadhow, before it fell, was a key town for the Al Shabaab as it is about 120km from the free port of Kismayu, the operational base for the militants. KDF took over the town without any casualties on their part while the militants retreated to neighbouring towns.

The town is a key springboard for the soldiers as they prepare for the battle for Kismayu expected to fall anytime soon. More than 5,000 residents of Afmadhow turned out for a historic baraza a day after the Al-Shabaab had been removed.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Nyagah, the commanding officer KDF first battle group, Brigadier General Ismael Sahardid Keydsanen who is the commander of Somalia National Army in the region, Sheikh Ahmed Madobe in charge of the Ras Kamboni Brigade flanked by local elders addressed the residents.

“We assured them Kenyan soldiers had nothing against them and that we were not after their territory in anyway. They pledged their support in the fight against the Al Shabaab,” Nyagah told The Standard in an interview at the military camp near the town.

Nyagah added: “There is a lot of acceptance of our soldiers by locals who now understand that we mean well for them. They are a very happy.”

Amenities

DC Abdihakim Omar Haji appealed to youths to lay down their arms and participate in reconstruction of the country.

The DC’s office is  one room with a table and a few chairs, walls are cracked and the ceiling almost falling. It used to be the operational base for the Al-Shabaab.

It is guarded by heavily armed TFG security officers who patrol the town in pick up vehicles. Most of the buildings are mud walled and replicates those in Maasai manyattas while others were constructed using reeds. Shops are lying in ruins after being ripped by hand grenades from the militia.

The town has no water or electricity connection and few traders use powerful generators to light their premises. There is only one dispensary and two private pharmacists in the entire town of over 20,000 people.

The main market is a replica of the Gikomba market in Nairobi with traders selling goods ranging from fresh farm produce, processed foodstuffs, clothes and other wares.

“The warlords collected taxes from the business community and peasant farmers and used it to procure arms. Whoever did not pay up was harassed and had his property confiscated and sold,” Mr Mohamed Hersi, a trader said. Locals engage in small scale farming of maize, watermelon and pumpkins while others are pastoralists.

Trading in contraband goods is the order of the day with sugar, rice and clothes being sourced from Kismayu.

It is an open secret that the goods in Afmadhow find their way through unmarked routes to the Kenyan border where they are transported and sold in major towns by unscrupulous businessmen evading taxation.

Cattle from the area is also driven to Garrisa in Kenya, some 180 kilometres where they are sold and transported by trucks to slaughter houses in Nairobi.

“Al Shabaab did not encourage trade and operating small shops was forbidden,” a trader who only identified herself as Khadija told journalists.

Khadija said following the driving out of the militia group, business had resumed in the town and that things were finally looking up.

“Women were not allowed to freely mingle with men, especially foreigners. But Kenyan soldiers are a friendly and professional lot who drop by to buy items once in a while. We are proud of them,” Khadija said.

“Horia, biashara ni mzuri sana, hundred per cent (business has improved greatly)” Mrs Amina Haji, a trader said in halting Kiswahili after realizing we were Kenyans.

New police station

The local police station has been refurbished after years under a terror gang.

“At night, remnants of the militia group attack locals in the outskirts of the town in desperate attempt to instill fear on the people,” Suleiman Abdi, a transporter said.

The other key towns falling under Amisom Sector Two are Bardhere, Buale and Bhande.

One can freely walk in Afmadhow with soldiers chatting with the locals until late into the evening.

While on their way to liberating the town, the KDF soldiers encountered the first hurdle at Abayebnu area, seven kilometres from Bellesc Qoogani where they were ambushed.

About 50 Al Shabaab fighters engaged KDF in a fierce where six militants were killed and one captured.



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