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Mogadishu petrol station offers motorists alternative to jerry cans

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mogadishu motorists no longer need to rely solely on roadside vendors selling dirty petrol in jerry cans to fill up their cars, trucks and motorbikes.

  • SOPICO, which opened March 7th, is the first petrol station with pumps to operate in Mogadishu in 22 years. [Abdi Moalim/Sabahi]SOPICO, which opened March 7th, is the first petrol station with pumps to operate in Mogadishu in 22 years. [Abdi Moalim/Sabahi]

For the first time in 22 years, motorists in the Somali capital can fuel up at a newly refurbished petrol station equipped with pumps dispensing high quality fuel.

The SOPICO station in Mogadishu's Hamarweyne neighbourhood opened on March 7th. It is the first of eight petrol stations now slated for revival. Pumps at these stations stopped working with the fall of the central government in 1991.

A second station, the Benadir Petroleum Company, will open soon in Mogadishu's Abdiaziz District after undergoing testing.

"The last time I filled my vehicle at a petrol station in Mogadishu was 22 years ago, before the collapse of the government," said Mohamed Addow Qalinle, 55, who queued up at SOPICO to fill up his vehicle. "Therefore, I am very happy today that I can access refined fuel."

Qalinle said the re-emergence of a functioning petrol station in Mogadishu is a "treasured victory", while bus driver Nuur Alasow Oorfane was so excited about the new petrol station that he likened it to being "as happy as when I got my first child".

"This is because we have suffered too much from contact with unrefined petrol," Oorfane told Sabahi, referring to the below-standard and often contaminated petrol sold in jerry cans by roadside vendors. At SOPICO, Oorfane pays $1.20 per litre -- the same price he used to pay for jerry can petrol.

Engine breakdowns and other problems caused by poor-grade petrol has been a long-time headache for Somali motorists like Dahir Warsame, who said he wants to see the roadside petrol hawkers pack up shop for good.

"The vendors [by the streets] do not store the fuel in clean containers while dust and other dirt find their way into the fuel," said Warsame, a mechanic and dealer of imported vehicles. "This kind of fuel destroys the vehicles' engines while unhealthy fumes are released into the air."

"All this leads to waste of resources. Motorists also waste a lot of time waiting for vendors to fill their vehicles with fuel using small containers," he told Sabahi. "All these challenges are addressed by the service stations retailing refined fuel."

Enterprising Somalis

For the new petrol stations, motorists can thank some enterprising Somalis who are testing the local business climate and taking advantage of improved security in Mogadishu and high demand for petrol.

Mohamed Omar, a trader who had lived in the Netherlands, has returned home to Somalia, where he now works as the manager at SOPICO.

"[The petrol station] is still in its initial stages and many people have yet to adapt to the availability of clean petrol," he said. "Besides that, we have received a lot of acceptance and high demand, and we strive to offer our customers petrol that meets internationally acclaimed fuel standards. This is an option many motorists never had before, and we offer other products and services that motorists may need."

The Somali government is providing licenses to investors who want to refurbish the petrol stations, which are located on state-owned land, and charging rent for the use of the property.

"The government does not own any shares in the business, therefore, this is a private enterprise," Omar said. "We also use privately owned warehouses that we use independently to store the fuel we import." Peace activist Halimo Ga'ayte, 35, said the resurgence of the city's petrol stations shows how far security in Mogadishu has improved.

"In the old days, investors used to invest their resources in foreign countries for fear of conflict [in Somalia], but if they trust their home country now, then that is victory and progress," Ga'ayte told Sabahi.

More petrol stations coming

To pump new life into the petrol stations' recovery, the Benadir regional administration has granted licences to eight entrepreneurs, administration spokesperson Mohamed Yusuf Osman told Sabahi.

In addition to the two petrol stations already in the city, Osman said six others "will be operational very soon".

"We do not charge the entrepreneurs any taxes at the moment as we have prioritised the availability of fuel," he said. "For that reason, we have permitted entrepreneurs to invest in the government-owned fuel service outlets."

Deeqa Hassan, a mother of eight who sells fuel at the KM 5 junction, said she was worried the new petrol stations will put her out of work and is now searching for a new source of income.

"The service stations are going to push us out of business because our customers will [eventually] shift to petrol stations retailing clean fuel," she said, urging the government to help street vendors transition to other business ventures.

Osman suggested that roadside fuel vendors pool their resources and obtain one of the licenses for opening a petrol station.


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