I get inspiration and energy from Mogadishu markets. They are so alive with activity, noisy traders, heavy traffic, teaboys hassling. For the time you are there, it is like a time machine, you will totally forget you are in a city that hasn’t fully returned to normality. I love the traders optimism, I suppose they have no choice. People have to make a living. But still, they could trade in a low-key market with less chance of suicide bombers hiding in the massive and disorientated crowd. Majority of the traders show up in their thousands very early in the morning, 6 days a week, hoping to make enough to cover their basic needs. Some thought, make more in a month than most of us with useless university degrees make in a lifetime!
It is a fascinating place to get a glimpse of a resilient free market that has survived 22 years of civil war, countless governments, warlords and extremist groups. A reminder that all this nation needs is an effective but minimal government to facilitate business and it will fly.Walking through the market, a friend explained that when I Al-Shabaab controlled the city, they cleaned up the chaotic streets of the market and created a working system. They have ordered all the shop owners who used to ‘rent out’ the space outside their shops to petty traders to stop renting out an illegal space that is supposed to be a public street. They ordered the removal of all the shacks blocking the streets and now you can comfortably drive or walk thorough Bakara market.
People are selling everything you can imagine, from construction material, cheap made-in-China nylon clothes unsuitable for the Mogadishu heat, to university degrees! Yup, you can have a degree from “Oxford University” conveniently made in Bakara for few dollars. No need to pay a fortune and spend years stressing in the real Oxford Uni. I passed up the opportunity today coz I couldn’t think of a subject I would like to have an Masters degree on. I will think hard and go back to get me a home-made MA in minutes.
I spent the last month and a half in a Presidential campaign, meeting crooks, so called elders, wannabe ‘Ministers’ with absolutely no clue how government is run. It was an eye-opening experience but also depressing to get a glimpse of our future misleaders. A day spent in Bakara market gave me hope that we are not doomed. With this level of hyper active entrepreneurship, surely, we can’t totally go wrong? At least the ratio of honest hard working folks to the get-rich-fast from politics fat men gives me a bit of hope.
The most curious thing about Mogadishu markets is the visible presence of female traders at every level! How can we have a culture where women are equal, if not more dominant in trade, to men in business but totally invisible in politics?! Some of these women must be wealthy and influential, how come they are not trying to push for their agenda in politics and support women candidates or political organisations? I have so many questions and I can’t wait to meet women traders to ask them directly.
Of course, not everything I have seen in Bakara was good. I find it baffling that some male traders are rude, call you names, shout at you and expect you to buy something from them! WTF moment, lots of moments, actually. Men shouted at me “naa hooy, naa hooy, kaaley oo wax naga gado!”, which loosely translates to “hey you, hey you, come and buy something from us!”. In Somali it sounds a lot more aggressive. What do u say to that? “Mofo, thanks, but no thanks?” Lol. You will def scream “Dayuusbaro” and probably get shot. You better ignore them and walk on.
The other totally depressing thing you see everywhere in the market is the mistreatment of donkeys! They are overloaded, beaten, harassed, and looking malnourished. These animals must be the ultimate slaves for humans, how horrible for them. I am told since there is no enough food and they won’t work properly if they are not fed well, they are given drugs! Mixture of qaat leftovers and pills!! No wonder they look so skinny and permanently hangover, poor things! I won’t be surprised if one day these 4th class slave citizens of Mogadishu go on rampage and take over the city. That day, I will arm them and help them find an escape root, eff this inhumane treatment. If you ever think you were born in the wrong clan and get treated like shit, think of these guys. They don’t even have a clan elder to speak on their behalf.