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Mogadishu is happening; guess who’s rushing there?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Well, there have been stories of Mogadishu, the war-weary capital of Somalia, rising miraculously from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix.

It is not hot air. After more than 20 years of madness, and with the African Union peacekeeping force Amisom having trounced Al-Shabaab and enabled a new Constitution and election, Mogadishu is happening.

New building and renovation are all over the place, but an interesting piece of news recently caught my eye. After years in which they were out of work — or moonlighted as pirates — Somali fishermen are working overtime.

They are struggling to meet the surge in demand for fish from mushrooming restaurants and returning middle class Somalis who were in the diaspora.

However, three other surprising factors are also driving the Mogadishu boom. One of them is South Sudan. In the past six years many East Africans, especially Kenyans and Ugandans, streamed to South Sudan to work and set up business.

And for a while they did very well. Then petty economic nationalism set in, and in the past two years South Sudan has become hell for small-time Kenyan and Ugandan traders, even ordinary workers.

Kenya and Uganda played critical roles in South Sudan’s Independence. Despite that, anecdotal evidence suggests that South Sudan rejects more visa applications from Kenyans travelling to Juba, than for example Ethiopia and Djibouti do.

Prolonged crisis

This hostility has forced adventurous Kenyan and Ugandan workers to look to Mogadishu. There are hundreds of them employed there now.

Secondly, several Somali businessmen and contractors have told me that Somalis are very enterprising, make very good traders and truckers, but have been corrupted by the prolonged crisis of the past 20 years and have a “lousy work ethic.”

They tell me they can’t employ fellow Somali to repair a road, or build a three-storey building that doesn’t fall over in a month. As a result, they are having to bring in workers from Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.

Thirdly, a few months ago the Kenya government issued a directive that all Somali refugees must return to the Dadaab camps. Over the years, several Somalis left the camp, set up businesses in Kenyan towns, and grew rich.

To do so, most partnered with Kenyans, as they didn’t want to expose themselves. With the recent directive, fear has spread among these refugees that their Kenyan partners could take advantage to rob them of their investments. So they are cashing in and shipping back to Mogadishu with bags full of money.

Similar movements have been seen in South Africa, where Somali traders are regularly targeted and beaten or robbed in xenophobic attacks.

A new confidence is beginning to stir among the Somalis. The Somalia Economic Forum is organising an investment conference in Nairobi starting June 12. Also, British Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced a Somalia economic conference for May.

In the past, all such meetings on Somalia were either peace or humanitarian conferences. It would have been a waste to hold an investment conference then. It would be a miss not to do so today.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected]. Twitter: @cobbo3


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