By Mohamed Mukhtar
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Since the collapse of Siad Barre’s government in 1991 roadblocks controlled by unscrupulous men have been the hallmark of Somalia, especially South Central Somalia. It was only during the short-lived tenure of the Union of Islamic Courts that this part of the country experienced life without roadblocks. When the Courts had disappeared, anarchy returned and roadblocks started to appear.
Ethiopian forces drove the Islamic Courts out of power in December 2006 and South Central Somalia regained its lawlessness. According to Swiss Peace, six months after the Islamic Courts was defeated 238 roadblocks appeared in South Central Somalia alone and after one year that number reached almost 340. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted in Dec 2007, “Ad hoc roadblocks that charge taxes ranging from US$70 – US$500 to move in and out of Mogadishu have caused huge hindrances to the humanitarian community in accessing vulnerable people. In November, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) reported delays and payment of taxes of up to US$ 475 at eight roadblocks on the Mogadhishu/Afgooye road – a major area of humanitarian operations. The highest number of roadblocks since the beginning of 2007 – 336 in total – was recorded in November.” OCHA produced the following chart which shows the increase of roadblocks in Somalia in 2007.
Mogadishu spun out of control after Ethiopian forces supporting Somalia's interim government took control of the city. Hundreds of thousands of its residents fled the city. Most of the fleeing residents initially sought refuge in a near by town called Afgooye. Others still live in makeshift shelters on the road between Mogadishu and Afgooye. Steve Bloomfield of the Independent writes, “More than 600,000 people fled Mogadishu last year. Around 200,000 are now living in squalid impromptu refugee camps along a 15km- stretch of road outside the capital. According to UN officials it is the largest concentration of displaced people anywhere in the world. Those same officials now consider Somalia to be the worst humanitarian catastrophe in Africa, eclipsing even Darfur in its sheer horror.”
As a result, the road between Mogadhishu and Afgooye has become an artery for internally displaced people, humanitarian organisations and others. Unfortunately, this road is fraught with difficulties as it is peppered with roadblocks. Let us take a virtual tour of this road from Mogadishu to Afgooye and see the major roadblocks but first let us start with some operational details.
Groups that run roadblocks have certain rules that are strictly adhered to. Disobedience can be fatal. All road users are expected to pay according to the vehicle they are driving and at the main roadblocks there is no room for bargaining. However, there is room for negotiation at minor roadblocks. Regardless of the nature of the roadblock, anyone who fails to pay may be turned away or worse may be incarcerated or their car keys confiscated. According to the government, some roadblocks are legal while others are illegal. If the collected money goes to the government, that roadblock is considered to be legal. Otherwise it is considered to be illegal but it is impossible for road users to tell which is which. The government controls several roadblocks within a distance of less than 30 kilometres of Mogadishu and the following ones are legal in the eyes of the government:
This roadblock, known as Ex-Control, is about 7 km from Mogadishu. It used to belong to a militia loyal to Osman Atto, a former warlord who is currently a Member of Parliament of the Transitional Federal Government. Now the Police manage this roadblock. Ironically, the commander of the Police Force is Abdi Qeybdiid, who is a former warlord and an archenemy of Osman Atto. This roadblock is manned by 20 to 25 policemen equipped with light weapons. There are also Ethiopian troops nearby as the roadblock is situated between two Ethiopian army positions, one in KM6 and the other in the Correctional Division’s former headquarters. The following table shows how much a vehicle is charged every time it passes the roadblock. The exchange rate at the time of writing 1USD (one US Dollar) equals 21,000 Somali Shilling.
Biil is another roadblock, situated just before Siinka Dheer. This roadblock also belongs to the Police and they charge the same amount as at Ex-Control. Fewer policemen control this one.
This roadblock is about 15 km from Mogadishu and used to belong to Abdi Qeybdiid, the current commander of the Police Force. This roadblock is staffed by three separate groups – one from the Ministry of Finance, another from the Ministry of Transport and a third from the Mogadishu Administration. The mayor of Mogadishu is a former warlord. There are about 50 to 60 men at this roadblock and they charge different rates. The following table shows how much each group charges.
KM 16 is another roadblock controlled by the Administration of Lower Shabelle Region. There are about 50 to 65 men equipped with light weapons and two gun mounted vehicles. The following is their tax chart
This roadblock is about 28 km from Mogadishu and is also controlled by the Administration of Lower Shabelle Region. Before the Islamic Courts, Indha Cade, a former warlord used to run it. This roadblock is located at the junction of two major roads, one from the Juba area and one from the Baydhabo area. Vehicles are charged the same amount as at KM 16. There are about 80 to 100 men operating at this roadblock equipped with light weapons and 3 to 5 gun mounted vehicles.
Luckily, this virtual tour does not cost us anything. Had we been travelling from Mogadishu to Afgooye driving a typical pickup vehicle, we would have paid about 250,000 So Sh, which is equivalent to $12. And if we were delivering humanitarian supplies using a Fiat truck, we would have paid 1,090,000 So Sh or $52 assuming that there were no other roadblocks. Finally, just imagine how much it would cost to travel from Mogadishu to Kismayo, a city which is 500 km south of the capital Mogadishu. As the number of roadblocks increases the harder it is going to be for economic activity to continue and for humanitarian organisations to serve the needy.