30 May, 2011

Somali Saga-3

Minorities and Tribes in Somalia

The majority of Somali traditionally were, and still are, nomads and herders keeping flocks of goats, black and white fat-tailed Somali sheep together with herds of cattle and camels. Over 60% of the world’s camels are to be found with Somalis and are used for meat, milk and as beasts of burden but they are never ridden. I was told the word Somali has its origins in their language and means ’go and milk’, or comes from Arabic and means ‘wealthy owner of animals’. In either case the nation has a name that has origins in the people’s dependence on livestock.

 As in many such people an hierarchical tribal system is to be found and when Siad Barre was in power his clan, the Marehan, were the top echelon with regard to power, wealth and the top jobs. At the other end of the scale were the Jerar people, (jerar meaning ‘kinky hair.) This minority group had their origins in south east Africa and were good farmers and freshwater fishermen. The Jerar people had been enslaved by the Sultan of Zanzibar over 200 years ago, and they continued to suffer in Somalia, were often victimized, and their crops could be devastated as herdsmen released their animals onto their crop. I always tried to help them with seeds, tools and chemicals as they were good farmers and I had sympathy for them as I was from a minority myself where the top echelon were the Tikriti of Saddam’s family and I was from the minority, the  victimized Faili Kurds of Iraq.

The Jerar trusted me and told me something of their suffering. During the years of the civil war the suffering of this minority increased and the rape of a Jereer girl, or the killing of a Jerar for no reason, was a common occurrence. Many of the Jerar elders and their families used to visit me in the FAO office in Hamar Jeb Jeb and opened their hearts to tell me their problems. The Jerar elders with their beards dyed red with henna were a common sight around my office and I firmly believe that they are the best farmers in Somalia.

I was limited in what I could do to help them because FAO worked within the remit of development and was highly centralized and program orientated, as are most UN organisations.  However helping the Jereer and the poor Somali nomads was really an emergency aid situation and I was accused by FAO Rome of ‘going native’ when I directed what available assistance I could to these people. I believed then, and still do, that providing good farmers and herdsmen with the seed and tools they need to produce food was the right thing to do in the situation but I could not get this across to the bureaucrats in Rome, the majority of which had no experience in the field, or indeed outside their offices. In all the years I was there with FAO the only visit by any individual from the Rome headquarters was when the Chief of OSRO (FAO’s emergency unit) came to the country. On one occasion we received a visit from consultants on a strategic mission but there was no positive outcome from their visit. Ironically I met most of the DG’s of the international organizations who had offices in Somalia, George Bush Snr and two UN Secretary Generals and worked with five representatives of the latter. A visit of a chief of service was the limit of FAO HQ support.

I was dealing with the catastrophic situation in the country and dealing each day with issues that were not really under FAO’s mandate but were part and parcel of the daily life in Somalia and required a sympathetic and humane approach. I could not make my colleagues read between the lines and fully appreciate the conditions that existed there, and especially the suffering of the Jerar and the poor nomads.

There are very few nations in the world as homogenized as the Somali speaking nation. Virtually all of them are from the same religion and sect and historically were herders and nomads with many similar physical features as opposed to the tribes of Kenya who show physical differences and tribal languages. Nevertheless the Somalis are divided to the extreme on tribal lines. Throughout history nomads have never been country makers in their ancestral lands, whereas farmers settle and establish themselves. As I mentioned previously my first task with FAO was to train nomads in primary animal health care and, from the start, I wanted to know something about the tribes and clans of the regions where we were to work with the nomads. My Somali counterpart started to fill me in with the necessary information and I even got a map and marked on it the locality of the clans. My office was in the Ministry of Livestock, Range and Forestry and I stuck the map on a board behind my desk.

Early one morning I was called to the Office of the Minister, who I had never met before, and he bluntly asked me what was the map in my office. I was taken aback by his tone and why the map should generate such interest. He told me that I should understand that in Somlia there was no such thing as tribes, clans and regions and that all of Somalia was the same and united. He then abruptly changed his tone and asked me to sit and take tea with him! I was about to drink when he asked if I had a secretary. I told him that I was running a small FAO project and there was no budget available for the employment of a secretary. Budget or no budget I had a secretary when I left his room! The secretary and the minister were from the same tribe that had come to Somalia after the Ogaden (Ethiopian Somali war). Within a year Somalia had succumbed to the strife caused by tribal fiefdoms and it has yet to recover.

In 1960, the colonial powers of Britain and Italy, who ruled north and south of the country, decided to give independence to the people and the north and south formed Somalia. This was an African country gaining full independence without a single act of violence. Now, half a century later, the land has been divided into 10 tribal defacto states. The promised future that was there in 1960 has wasted away and the tribal leaders should recognize the role they must play to regain a chance of a future for the country as a whole. The Somali people deserve a better future.

Somali Saga- 2

4X4s Vehicles and their role in conflict

 I remember that in the 1980’s the number of 4x4s in a country was an indication of, or a reference to, the level of poverty there. The greater the number of four wheel drive vehicles then the larger the number of UN agencies and NGO’s working within the country. Within two decades this formula was overturned and the four wheel drive vehicle has now become a symbol of prosperity. The four wheel drive vehicle had a great role in civil strife in those days and still has, as demonstrated in Gaddafi’s war against his people.
Before the civil war in Somalia I worked with FAO for a year then I worked for the EEC as an epidemiologist on a big project aimed at helping Somalia recapture its major trade of cattle exportation and then I did stayed on with FAO for another 6 very difficult years during the war. As the situation deteriorated during Siad last year’s most of the Italian staff of the project left the country and I found myself in charge of a very big project with dozens of yellow Defender Landrovers while the FAO office just down the road had more or less a similar number of various vehicles. In the last days of 1990 and into early 1991 General Aideed took over Mogadishu, but luckily I had travelled to Wales to be with my young family for the festive season. The chief driver of my project immediately distributed the yellow Landrovers equally between the supporters of the deposed president and that was the end of the EEC project and the Landrovers became military vehicles. The FAO vehicles were taken too, but within a few kilometers were abandoned as the FAO officer in charge had previously ordered the oil to be drained from all the vehicles, and the rebels were only able to drive a short distance before the engines were burnt out.
Most of the 4x4s were stolen from foreign organizations while some were taken from officials of the former regime who, in their turn, had ‘obtained’ the vehicles from foreign organizations. With the outbreak of civil strife it was impossible to import cars into the country as it was too much of a risk to the lives of the vehicles’ drivers. As a result during the war we had to use vehicles that had been looted by warlords and which were guarded and driven by gunmen from their tribes.
  The verbal contract for acquiring a car and the obligatory house and office that came with it, together with the gunmen that came with car and house, was binding for years even if you could not use the vehicle or the premises for security reasons or relocation. Once FAO and WHO rented a villa in Km4 that belonged to the ex-minister of interior in the old regime for a substantial amount. The villa’s owner was the head of a tribe from central Somalia that dominated Mogadishu and he became president in early 2000. We wanted to vacate the villa as it had become impossible to access it with the advent of US involvement in Somalia. First I was threatened by the younger brother of the owner who, in front of all my FAO staff in the UNDP compound, told me that he would kill me, not a laughing matter in Mogadishu. Ironically, this man was employed by UNDP. Then our guards, who were the owner’s gunmen, started to threaten the staff of the two organisations. The UNDP representative was seeking the friendship of this particular Somali family as his working situation would be easier and nothing was done to support myself and the WHO Officer-in-Charge in the situation we now found ourselves in. We were only saved from further aggression by the deterioration of the security
situation to the extent that we could not use any of our facilities in that area.

17 May, 2011

Somali Saga-1

On arrival at Mogadishu
Early in the morning of a hot December day in 1988 I arrived in Mogadishu on a flight from Rome via Cairo in one of the two planes which constituted the Somalia Airlines fleet. I later discovered that the Somali Airlines had a large building in the middle of Mogadishu as its headquarters and half a dozen mini buses that cruised around Mogadishu moving staff and their families to and from the headquarters. I later heard that one of the two planes crashed at Nairobi airport and the other was leased from a European country. My only source of information about our only connection with the outside world, Somalia Airlines, was from one of the few expatriates in Mogadishu. He was a UN staff member in charge of the local office of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a classic example of UN over management that ICAO
had an office in a country whose national airline had only one plane.

I arrived when the Americans were building their Embassy in Km7. The buildings spread across acres of land and were surrounded by a high perimeter wall. The size of this complex led many Somalis to believe that their country must have large oil deposits as why else would the U.S. build such a large embassy in their country? In the early years of the Somali civil war the
U.S. embassy site was similar to the Green Zone in Baghdad.

On my arrival at Mogadishu airport I discovered that the airport workers insisted on passing passengers’ luggage over the single, faulty conveyer belt and asked for some La’ak (Money).  I did not have any of their La’ak with me, but as it was compulsory to exchange a 100 US $ bill for Somali shillings before you left the airport, I soon had a plastic carrier bag full of La’ak. Some months later my family joined me in Mogadishu and I still remember my 5 year old son shouting, “We are rich Daddy!” as he ran towards me grasping a bag of shillings as his mother and sister, accompanied by a FAO liaison officer, emerged from the airport building behind him.

I can remember a time when a neatly banded stack of one thousand brand new 5 or 10 shilling notes was equivalent to a few US dollars. One of the rules of the UN was that staff members in the field had to exchange 25% of their remittance into the local currency and for those of us in Somalia it meant that we had more and more of stacks of worthless paper money. We used to call the bundles of shillings ‘paper bricks’ and indeed we did use the ‘bricks’ to build a shelf for my books and papers. It was actually cheaper than buying a set of bookshelves! By that time the country’s economy was in shambles and a year later General Mohamed Farah Aideed and his army ransacked Mogadishu and deposed General Mohamed Siad Barre.

I was assigned as a manager of an FAO (UN) project to train the nomads of Somalia in Primary Animal Health Care. On my arrival I found that the liaison officer, Abdull Rahman, had booked me into a private hotel, the Medina Hotel, the only other hotel in town was called the Mecca Hotel. There was a huge hotel by the sea that had been built with Arab money and it was owned by the government but, like everything else run by government, it was ruined. I was assigned for a one year contract in the country but somehow I stayed 8 years and in fact I left Somalia on July 31st 1996, the day General Aideed was killed. I lived in Hamar Jeb Jeb in the center of Mogadishu for most of the early days of the civil strife.

 Within a hour of arriving at the Medina hotel, and after a sleepless night, I was woken up by the loud ringing of the telephone in my room and, on answering it, I was greeted by a harsh eastern European voice informing me that I had to go down to Beled Weyne, a town some 320 Km north of Mogadishu near the Ethiopian border. Beled Weyne was a nice town, divided by the river Shebelle, and we had to go there as the German organization, GTZ, was organizing a seminar there on a Primary Animal Health Care project. This was a duplicate of what we in FAO were supposed to do. Duplication was, and still is the norm, with each organization or NGO talking about their separate mandates but yet they all step on each other’s toes while the poor host states have nothing to say about it at all.

The receiving country’s priorities and needs change with the availability of funds but civil servants welcome any project that brings in some money to  first line their pockets and then a little for the country. Vehicles were a priority and without failure most of the vehicles were divided equally among the hierarchy of the Ministries a day after the projects terminated. A year later I was managing an EEC project in Mogadishu and I had to buy a milk tanker to collect milk from the small farmers and bring it to a collecting point. The driver who brought the truck from the port gave the key to another driver who, in full view of my office, drove the truck away as the Minister of Agriculture wanted the truck for his farm! Apparently the Lome Four Convention between the EEC and the African and Caribbean countries allowed the countries ownership of vehicles and equipment on arrival in the ports. That was a European training program in corruption for African agriculture officials.

01 May, 2011

Hammurabi and the Veterinariansحمورابي و الطب البيطري

April 30th saw celebrations to mark the World Veterinary Day and the 250th year since the establishment of veterinary medicine as a profession. As I returned home from the celebration held in Erbil I found myself recalling a reference to veterinarians in the Code of Hammurabi and thinking that veterinary medicine is older than 250 years.
The Code of Hammurabi was recorded 4,000 years ago in Babylon and consisted of 282 individual laws which were carved on a black stone stele and clay tablets. The black stele was carried away from Babylon at some time by Elamites, (my ancestors) and was discovered by archaeologists at Elam. The laws were used throughout the region with modifications made by successive rulers and two laws, number 224 and 225 refer to the veterinarian.
Law  224: if a veterinary surgeon performs a serious operation on an ass or an ox, and cures it, the owner shall pay the surgeon one sixth of a shekel ( a Babylonian silver coin) as a fee.
Law 225:  if he (the veterinary surgeon) performs a serious operation on an ass or an ox, and kills it, he shall pay the owner one fourth of its value.

So, it can be said that the veterinary profession has been in existence for at least 4,000 years and while it did not change much for most of that time it certainly has markedly changed in recent years. When I did my training some 47 years ago there was still a stigma associated with being a veterinarian and veterinary students were often those who did not do well in secondary school. I studied public health for a year and then made the decision to become a veterinarian much to the annoyance of my father. He could not understand why I was turning from a respectable profession to become ‘a donkey doctor’ such was the stigma associated with veterinary medicine. The opinion today is greatly different and the veterinary student can follow a career in drug development, immunology, disease control, reproduction and breeding as well as species specific surgery and medicine. The role of the veterinarian is vital in food production and food safety, and in combating transboundary animal diseases (TAD) and zoonoses  (animals and human and vice versa). They are no longer regarded as ‘donkey doctors’ but as respected, scientific professionals who have a major role in helping to provide food for the world’s population.