JEDDAH, 2 January — Syed Hamza, 43, a Mogadishu-born Indian, still remembers his life in once peaceful Somalia. At the beginning of the civil war at the end of 1990, he and other Indians fled from the Horn of Africa country. Now married with seven children and living in the UK, Hamza spoke to Arab News during a visit to the Kingdom. He said that all Indian-owned property had been confiscated and many of their buildings in central Mogadishu occupied by armed militia.
"Most Indians and Pakistanis in Mogadishu were traders and had successful businesses. We had good relations with Somalis, both in the colonial and post-independence era. Our commercial expertise made a major contribution to the country," he said.
Asked when the first Indians had come to Mogadishu, he answered, "I don’t know when they came. But I learned from reading the Arab traveler, Ibn Battuta, that there were communities of Indian traders along the African coast as early as 1331. Ibn Battuta recorded that the traders lived in buildings of one or two stories with their families. They depended for their livelihood on the arrival of dhows with the monsoon winds from mainland Arabia and the Persian Gulf. The dhow trade brought prosperity to many Indian and Arab traders; they were able to furnish their households with glassware, ceramics, silver and tapestries. From my own knowledge, my father once told me of some Indian merchants who rented a German steamer in 1893 to carry raw cotton to Bombay. During that same period, the traders also began to export livestock, meat, skins and Somali agricultural products from the south of the country."
Speaking about relations between Indians and Somalis, he said that the Indians lived separately in the towns, with their own schools and other facilities. On the other hand, the Somalis were mostly wandering nomads with oral traditions based on their way of life. "A lack of knowledge about the Somali customs was proverbial in the towns and even became the subject of many jokes and jests. Those who lived in Mogadishu had their own proverb — "If a man from the town lives long enough, he will see everything — even a camel being born." That is very true; for example, though I lived in Mogadishu for 32 years, I never set foot outside the city walls." When asked whether he and his fellow Indians might return to Somalia and reclaim their property, Hamza said that they would not return unless comprehensive peace was achieved. "Somalia is still bleeding from wounds inflicted by the civil war of 1991. We cannot reclaim our property until a strong central government is once again in power." He continued by saying that he remembers his life in Somalia with longing and sadness. "I can never forget the generosity of the people or Mogadishu’s beautiful beaches." Hamza concluded by quoting the words of one of his fellow Indians, once resident in Mogadishu, who is now a writer: "The waves of the great Indian Ocean, so restless, break steadily against Mogadishu’s white sands. Those whose feet are dry, whose hands are burning, whose hearts are scorched and whose souls are parched long to refresh themselves in the cool blue water.
The waves seem eager to deliver a message of peace and tranquility with no fear of strife or bullets." Hamza echoed the sentiments of the writer by expressing his hope that before long Somalia would enjoy peace once again.