Improvidence and Corruption in Somalia
It’s so unfortunate that some countries never see the sun rise, meaning “peace and prosperity” They continue to remain beyond the sunset.
Somalia is a good example: It was February 1976; the ship I was sailing was carrying 10,000 metric tons of bagged cement, loaded at the ports of Wismar and Rostock. (Two ports in East Germany - prior to its unification.) The cargo was consigned for Somalia; it was aid from the UN, which would assist in building a poor nation.
It was around March 1976, four days after our ship had crossed the Suez -canal and sailed through to the Red sea we arrived at the Mogadishu anchorage. After the ship’s arrival, it was almost twenty four hours, and still there was no sign of anybody coming aboard or even communicating with us. The deafening silence made the captain very anxious, and since observing there was a boat service to and from the shore he asked Peter (the Purser) and me to go ashore, visit the ship’s agents, collect crew mail and any other documents required for the ship and most importantly to find out when they were planning to commence cargo operation. He also asked Peter to take a few cartons of cigarettes to be given to the Somalis, so as to drive them into action.
We gladly took this opportunity to go ashore, having visited the agent's office and met with the Managing Director who welcomed us but subsequently continued with his own work, indifferent to us being there. It was only after Peter had handed over a carton of cigarettes to him that he broke the silence, having ordered two cups of black tea for us he was ready to discuss matters pertaining to the cargo on our ship.
In the meantime, I collected the mail that had arrived for us; there was quite a lot of it and was very welcome because this was the only mode available for communicating with our families back home. On returning to the Managing Director’s office he advised us that it would take a few days before our cargo operations commenced as there were only few barges; other ships which had arrived earlier were discharging cargo too. Having decided to expedite the cargo operation I mentioned that I would tell the Captain to 'look after' him. He was delighted and ordered some more tea! Thereafter he promised that he would definitely do something. With the good news and the crew mail, Peter and I returned to the ship.
The Captain was anxiously waiting for our return. On boarding the ship we got a rousing welcome more so because we were bringing in the mail that was much looked forward to by all. The Captain was very happy to hear that our mission had been successful. As promised by the M.D, a barge was towed alongside the ship around 9.00 a.m. in the morning and discharging of the cargo began, surprising us at the unexpected turn of events.
The cargo, which had been carefully loaded in East Germany, was now being handled in a careless manner causing a lot of damage. Somalia being one of the poorest nations receives huge amounts of aid, however it seemed that the aid received did not reach the intended destinations, but huge amounts of it was destroyed to suit the whims and fancies of a few in authority.
Two days after the commencement of cargo operations, the Managing Director sent word requesting the Captain to meet him; Peter and I went ashore with the Captain.
On meeting us he inquired about the cargo operation and impertinently mentioned that he was helping us with great difficulty. For this he wanted us to give him cash in US dollars, Scotch whisky and cigarettes. After agreeing to make the payment requested Captain further agreed to send the other items he had asked for.
On leaving the office Captain very disgustingly said,” I am sickened about the whole thing, you know I do not take bribes, nor do I offer them. But, under these circumstances I was forced into this unethical dealing.”
He requested Peter to handle this matter on his behalf; Peter agreed.
Peter and I returned ashore on the following morning, with the cash and other items. It was Peter who met alone with the Managing Director, who on receiving the goods, assured that the discharging of cargo for Mogadishu would be completed within seven days.
Knowing very well he could not take the Managing Directors assurance for granted; Peter attempted to pay the cash in installments but failed sadly. On this occasion, we both spent the night-out ashore, trying to make the best of an otherwise boring and sometimes depressing sea life.
Having observed the way things were handled at the MD’s office, the lethargic attitude and furthermore the way the stevedores handled the cargo, with most of it being dropped into the water, made us sad for the future of the country and its people. We were surprised further when we got to know that the cargo dropped into the sea was intentional, done just to show resistance to the MD’s order to discharge the cargo within the said time frame. It was such a sad sight to see humanitarian aid, meant for building the country being misused
During our stay in the port, I observed that the stevedores who were working continuously on 24 hour shifts were almost starved, the only food they ate was boiled corn and some thing made of flour. On meeting with the Ship’s Chief Steward I advised him to collect the left over food after the ship’s crew had eaten, and give it to them. When the food was handed out, they came in groups; hands covered with cement, they just grabbed their share. It was indeed a pathetic sight!
From the total of 10,000 metric tons of bagged cement only 5,000 metric tons were discharged in Mogadishu, the balance was to be unloaded at Kisimayoo, another port in Somalia.
It was March 11th 1976 when our ship arrived in Kisimayoo. Handling the ship’s operation was a Company representative. We observed right away that it was a one man show with Mr. Ali being the Pilot, the Harbor Master, the Port Manager and all, in one. He berthed our ship around 12 noon. Soon after which he joined us for lunch, prior to his lunch he had few cans of beer. During lunch he discreetly told us about the powers vested in him and how important a person he could be to us, during our stay here.
The only difference between Mogadishu and here was that the, ship was now alongside a wharf; otherwise everything else was just the same. Every morning after breakfast, Mr. Ali would yell at almost every local who came his way; this seemed habitual as nobody actually took notice of him.
It seemed that Mr. Ali had been bribed to prepare and sign documents for the receipt of 5,000 metric tons of bagged cement but whereas in actual the ship sailed away still having onboard at-least 2,000 MT of cargo which was jettisoned during the voyage back.
The bottom line is that 10,000 MT of bagged cement was destined for Somalia. However The Managing Director of the shipping agency in Mogadishu was bribed to accept less and the country lost more than 1,000 MT of cement. Similarly, Mr. Ali at Kisimayoo accepted a bribe and let the ship sail away with almost 2,000 MT of cement still onboard.
Though the cement was for the benefit of thousands of the Somali people, the whole exercise was reduced by almost half, just for the benefit of two unscrupulous persons!
With similar dishonest acts by the people in authority it is not strange that the country experiences civil unrest, anarchy, piracy and much more.
When will the Somali people see the sun-rise?
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