Somali livestock trade booming despite ravages of war

Updated 21 November 2012

Somali livestock trade booming despite ravages of war

At Hargeisa’s dusty livestock market two men quietly size each other up, haggling over animal prices by placing fingers on their chequered headscarfs to indicate how much they would pay.
“If I press one finger, it means 100 shillings, the whole hand, 500, a bit of a finger, 90 shillings...we want to hide negotiations from other traders,” said animal trader Mohammed Iid, explaining the reasoning behind the silent barter.
Amidst the chaos that has characterised life in conflict-ravaged Somalia, the animal trade has survived — and even managed to prosper.
Traders in the northern Somali city — capital of the self-declared independent nation of Somaliland — rake in healthy profits, with sales spiking during Islamic festivals.
The symbolic sacrifice of sheep in accordance with Islam sees orders increase from neighboring countries such as Yemen, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) across the Gulf of Aden.
Up to $250 million is generated from the export of goats, sheep and camels, although the lucrative trade was crippled when Saudi Arabia — one of the biggest consumers of animals from the Horn of Africa — imposed a nine-year ban on imports amid fears of an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever.
After the import ban was lifted in 2010, Somalia exported 4.3 million animals to Saudi Arabia and 4.7 million the following year, even though Somalia was experiencing one of its worst droughts on record.
Animals are exported through the ports of Berbera in Somaliland and Bossaso in Puntland. Both have established relative stability compared to the two decades of civil war that has ravaged southern and central Somalia.
From behind a pair of glasses, 78-year-old Mohamed Aden offers an insight into what the livestock trade means to the average Somali.
“Animal rearing is our life,” he said, an animal trader for 21 years. “They are the source of our resources, our work and a source of tax for the government.”
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says Somaliland’s animal industry provides 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, employs 65 percent of the workforce and is responsible for up to 80 percent of foreign exchange.
Over two thirds of Somaliland’s rocky and bushy scrubland are given over to the animals.
“They are free range animals, they are organic,” said Ali Gulu, chief veterinary officer for the key port of Berbera.
Berbera, constructed by Russia during the Cold War, has already exported three million animals this year.
“The port is our main source of funds up to 80 percent of the country’s budget,” said Omer Abokor Jama, the port’s deputy manager, noting the port earned $120 million in revenues last year.
While the lucrative business may be making enormous profits today, its foundation lies in long-standing ancestral ties between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula.
“It is easy for us to do business with them... they have always been our traditional business partners,” said Dhamac Barud, one of the most prosperous traders, earning over $1 million a year from exports to Saudi Arabia.
Britain’s seizure of Somaliland in 1888 was driven partly by the wish to secure regular livestock exports to fuel its growing empire, including the major Yemeni port of Aden, and that link is maintained today.
Britain supports the FAO’s efforts to develop the livestock industry, encouraging the growth of other related industries.
In Hargeisa, women extract marrow from the bones of slaughtered camels, mixing it with incense and soda ash to create soap, undercutting imported bars from surrounding nations.

Arabs ‘crazy’ about British royals

Updated 23 min 26 sec ago

Arabs ‘crazy’ about British royals

  • Cafe Diana's owner Abdul Basset Daoud named his shop 30 years ago after the late Princess Diana 30, who lived across the road in Kensington Palace
  • People from the Middle East really respect the Queen and not just because she is old, says one Arab restaurant owner

LONDON:  The cakes are ready, the flowers are ordered and the drinks are on ice. At the Cafe Diana in London’s Notting Hill, all was in place for a celebration marking the birth of Britain’s newest royal, the baby boy born Monday  morning to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

“Of course, we’re having a party. We always do,” said manager Fouad Fattah.

The same was true a few kilometers away at the Fatoush restaurant, where manager Alaa William Chamas kept a watchful eye on the news headlines and a lookout for extra police traffic heading towards at St Mary’s Hospital, the venue for the royal birth. “We’re expecting a busy evening,”  he said. 

While an element of celebration might be expected at some British establishments,  Cafe Diana and Fatoush are Middle Eastern-owned and run. But they are embracing the latest royal event —  as well as the forthcoming wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle next month —  with all the enthusiasm of the most ardent monarchists.

“Are Arab people interested in the British royal family? Are you kidding? They are crazy about them!” said Lebanese-born Fattah, 55, who throws a party for his customers on every notable royal occasion.


Royal neighbor 

Cafe Diana forged a very real link with the royal family 30 years ago,  when the owner, Abdul Basset Daoud, decided to name his cafe after his royal neighbor, the late Princess Diana, who lived across the road in Kensington Palace.

He put up the sign at around Christmas time in 1988 and to his amazement, she came in two weeks later. She had seen it as she drove out with her bodyguard and it had made her smile, she told him, so she decided to drop in for a coffee.

It was not her only visit. She came again a couple of weeks later and Basset Daoud asked her if he out up a photograph of her. She returned the next day with a black and white studio. Then she began dropping in regularly, sometimes alone and often with her sons for a full English breakfast.

“The boys loved it. We are not a five-star restaurant. This is just an ordinary  neighborhood coffee shop. She wanted the princes  to experience things like normal kids,” said Fatah. 

“She didn’t mind queuing like any other customer. She usually sat with her back to the room. The other customers did not realise who she was until she stood up and they got a real shock.” 

And that, he insists, is why Arabs love the British royals.

“It’s because we can see them. They are not far away from the people. When the Queen goes out, there are just two cars with her, not 200. If the Queen goes past and you wave at her,  she waves back. You can shout out to the royals and they just smile.”

The walls of the cafe are now covered in  photographs of the princess, both formal portraits and informal snaps with the staff, and letters thanking them for sending her flowers for her birthday. The last is dated July 1, 1997, just two months before she died.

“Everyone who comes here wants to talk about the royal family,” said Fattah. “There was a lady from Kuwait who came in recently and she was crying her eyes out. I gave her a cup of tea and asked what was wrong. She said, ‘I loved Diana so much’.”


Arab love

It is much the same at Fatoush, a popular Lebanese restaurant on Edgeware Road, in the heart of what has been dubbed “Arab Street.”

Chatting over coffee, manager Alaa William (“Yes, that really is my name”) Chamas was adamant. 

“Arab people LOVE the British royal family. If they are living here, they really care about them. If they are visiting, they just want to talk about how they visited Buckingham Palace,” he said.

“I’m not interested!” boomed an unseen voice from the kitchen. “Be quiet!”  Chamas boomed back. Having admonished his wayward employee, Chamas returned to his theme.

“When there is a wedding in the royal family, the public are invited to share it. Now there is a new baby and they share this with the people.

“People from the Middle East really respect the Queen and not just because she is old. Some other rulers are also old but nobody thinks much about them. In some places, the people fear their rulers. Here they see that the Queen is loved.”

At the nearby Simit Sarayi cafe, manager Mukhtar Mohamed agreed. “It’s because the British royal family seem so accessible. You can visit Buckingham Palace — actually look round where they live! Arab visitors who have been coming to London for years follow all the news about the royals and they buy every souvenir they can get their hands on. If it’s got a picture of the Queen or Diana or William and Kate  on it, they want it. With Prince Harry getting married in a few weeks, they are buying like crazy.”

Back at Cafe Diana, Fattah is recalling a poignant visit by Harry a few years after the death of his mother.

“He must have been about 16 or 17. He was with his uncle, Prince Andrew, and he had just been to the barber next door to get his hair cut. On the way back to the car, he put his head round the door of the cafe and said, ‘Hi.’ Then he looked at all the photos and smiled and left.”

In four weeks’ time, Prince Harry is getting married. Cue for another party? “Absolutely!”