The Aden Abdulle International Airport, Somalia. Photo/DICKSON MIGIRO
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Aboard Jubba Airways, a rickety plane filled with a cacophony of Somalis all speaking at the same time, we landed in Mogadishu.
Maintenance and safety has been outsourced to Nairobi and other neighbouring countries.
In the long-term though, if the fragile peace holds and as Aden
Abdulle airport becomes more vibrant, the re-entry of more established
international and regional airlines that offer better services—we were
served a sandwich on the flight that didn’t impress by an even less
impressive stewardess—and that are able to take advantage of lower fuel
costs, on ground services and better trained staff will likely force the
small local providers out of the market.
For now, they are making good sales with an ever increasing demand for domestic and cargo flights.
Tourism could eventually become a huge contributor
to the income of Aden Abdulle airport. Sitting on a coast of over 3,300
kilometres, one could almost see the planeloads of tourists out to
catch some beach action.
This prospect is still far off owing to negative
perceptions, the reducing threat of Al Shabaab and political crises
within the Federal government.
Even though Kenya has a similar topography as
Somalia and relies on tourism for a quarter of its GDP, it is still a
huge stretch to imagine a Serena Hotel Mogadishu.
On the ground, the person in charge was a jovial
UPDF Major Remigio who heads the AMISOM component of the Aden Abdulle
airport and is the officer commanding the Fire and Rescue department at
He explained that the only sources of revenue
collection are, and for some time will be, from ports and airports in
Mogadishu, Kismayo, Bosasso and other coastal areas. These ports will
also act as points of entry for aid and remittance flows.
The challenges at the airport are security, instrumentation, use of ICT and human capacity .
“Our job here is not so difficult,” he said in a self-effacing manner.
“We have UPDF and Burundian forces who man the
incoming and outgoing gates. They search passengers and luggage to
ensure that everyone who gets onto an aircraft is secure. Inside the
airport, SKA, a private security company handles the passengers
"Once they are on the plane, Satmo Musoke and his
team of air traffic controllers take over. The immigration component we
let the Somali Civil Aviation Authority handle,” he said.
Later in a meeting at the airport with President
Hassan Sheikh Mohammed of Somalia, a former university professor and one
of the most heavily guarded men, he talked of the challenges his
nascent administration is facing.
“Our biggest challenges are dual. First is
security, security and security. The second is state building. These
problems are interlinked and can be solved together. But it will require
patience, persistence and time.”
His administration faces the threat of renewed conflict for a number of economic and resource-based reasons.
After the collapse of the Siad Barre regime, in
the words of Nurrudin Farah, ‘‘Mogadishu was invaded by warlords,
rapists and those who have expropriated property and whose presence
makes reconciliation impossible.’’
With property changing hands as many as five times, there are
properties now in Mogadishu that have multiple ‘legitimate’ owners.
Some cases are beginning to crop up of people
within the greater Somalia accusing the central government and Mogadishu
of taking the lions share in resources and foreign currency.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has been
steadfast in his support for a united and secure Somalia, something he
views as a regional priority.
In a squat, all concrete building, we were
processed by UPDF soldiers, searched for weapons (something that was to
become routine over the next few days) and ushered into a waiting room
with low seats and air conditioning.
After a few minutes delay, we were ushered into
another office. Behind the desk sat the Mogadishu sea port manager
Abdillahi Ali Nour.
He did not offer much in the way of statistics,
something else we were to encounter repeatedly. Market intelligence is
non-existent and information is hard to come by.
Estimates in 2010 place the total value of imports
at about Sh57 billion or $700 million. The major imports are staple
foods such as vegetables at Sh16.4 billion, sugar costing Sh 5.7 billion
and rice at about Sh4 billion.
Small imports were generators, electronics, satellite dishes, clothing, batteries, foodstuff amongst among other goods.
The total value of exports stood at Sh19 billion
or $230 million, and included livestock and livestock products,
charcoal, gums and resins. This created a trade deficit of over Sh38
billion or $470 million.
The main markets for the import and export trade
were and remains Dubai, which functions as a sort of Somalia off-shore
haven, Gulf states, East Africa, Asia and Turkey.
From these figures, it is easy to see why the
fight for the control of the ports was a do or die matter among the
rival armed groups and why the work of men like Dr Nour is crucial for
the support of core government functions.
The Mogadishu sea port that has served the region
for centuries is nowadays teaming with activity, over 5,000 people are
employed mostly on a part-time basis as loaders and off-loaders with
roughly 500 people in full-time employment.
The trucks in the shipping yard are ancient but
they provide the route through which goods are transported to middlemen
and to retailers. The sea port now handles between 30 to 40 ships a
month and now attracts bigger freighters.
Last year, 222 vessels and 248 dhows docked at the port bringing with them 1.2 million metric tonnes of goods.
“Previously there were no big vessels docking here, they were
not confident about security and we only had small business dhows that
were susceptible to the Monsoon seasons,” said Dr Nour, nadding that
with the country becoming more stable over the past two years, the port
is recording growth in operations and expansion plans are underway.
Such facilities are the new government container terminal and the harmonisation of tariffs and port fees.
It is difficult to estimate the real value of
exports and imports in and out of Mogadishu because most of the big
ships with consignments bound for Mogadishu dock in Dubai and the cargo
is then transferred to smaller vessels that then cross the Indian Ocean
to Mogadishu due to security and fear of piracy.
In this regard, post 1991, Dubai and to a much
smaller extent Mombasa have operated as an off shore business centre for
Somalia with many of the now prominent Somali business elite
co-locating their businesses in these two areas.