SOMALIA: Restrictions on trade affecting livelihoods

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Restrictions on the movement of people, in addition to continuing insecurity, have closed Somalia’s largest market for the first time since the start of the civil war in 1991, limiting the ability of the population to make a living, said local sources.

"Nothing has come in or gone out of the market for the last five days," Ali Muhammad Siad, the chairman of Bakara market traders in the capital, Mogadishu, told IRIN on 9 July.

Government forces backed by Ethiopian troops have been searching the market for weapons, said a local journalist, who declined to be named. Attacks by insurgents targeting government and Ethiopian forces continue, despite a curfew since 22 June, and house-to-house weapons searches by government troops.
"Through all these years [civil war years] we have never closed for one day but today [9 July] it [the market] is totally closed," said Siad.

The market’s closure is affecting not only business people but the entire city, he added, as thousands of people depended directly or indirectly on activities there. "From the tea ladies to porters, thousands have made their living here, but now all including myself have nothing to do." He said if the situation did not improve there would more people on the streets begging.

Many traders have already left for other towns, such as Baidoa, 240km southwest of Mogadishu, and Merka, 100km south, according to a trader who gave his name as Mohamed. "Many of those who could have already left the Bakara market," he said.

He accused the government of wanting to close the market. "What they are doing is more than checking for guns. They are choking the life out of us [traders]," he said. "It is almost as though they have a hidden agenda. It has never been this bad." He said that government troops were behind some of the mayhem in the market in the last few weeks, firing indiscriminately to scare people away. "They create these problems so they can loot. We have been robbed at gunpoint by people who are wearing uniform," he said.

Abdi Haji Gobdon, a government spokesman, denied the accusation, saying: "The only agenda the government has is to restore law and order."

Gobdon said the market area had become a place where forgeries and other illegal activities were taking place. He said it was possible that individuals within the security forces had committed a crime, adding: "If that happens the government will deal with them." He said any wrongdoing on the part of government officials would be investigated and proper action taken.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for Somalia said entire districts in Mogadishu were being sealed off, restricting people’s movements. "Together with the night curfew, the limited freedom of movement is adding an economic burden to the already difficult humanitarian situation in Mogadishu. Access to the most vulnerable populations by humanitarian workers is getting complicated by the day," it said in its latest report on 6 July.

"It seems that the violence is increasing every day and we [civilians] are caught in the middle," said the journalist. "So far today [9 July], we had three explosions around Bakara market. The last one was near the gold market."

He said at least seven people are reported to have died on 9 July in the Bakara market area. "It has been a very bad week for ordinary people," he added.

Source: IRIN