By Joshua Kato
Peace is returning to Somalia. Kismayu, the largest remaining seaport and stronghold of the al-Shabab militants, fell to Kenyan forces at the end of September.
As the guns slowly fall silent, focus is shifting to business as opportunities open up across the country.
However, Ugandan businessmen are missing out. When Uganda entered Somalia in March 2007, it was a no-go area. Burundi joined eight months later.
Ugandan business is not following the pioneering spirit of her army.
“On average, we have at least eight huge ships docking here every week,” said the Ugandan contingent commander, Brig. Micheal Ondoga.
In addition to the seaport in Mogadishu, the Ugandan contingent is also in control of several other ports along the Indian Ocean coast, including the third largest port of Marka on the long road to Kismayu, the smaller port of El maan.
The only port still under al-Shabaab is Baraawe. Other than the major ports, AMISOM also controls the towns of Afgoye in the agriculture belt of Somalia, Balad in the central and Baidoa, the third largest Somali city.
In the south, the Kenyan contingent is in charge of Kismayu, the second largest seaport in Somalia, and a host of other towns. As AMISOM opens up across Somalia, there are lots of opportunities for Ugandan and Kenyan businessmen in Somalia.
Ugandans not fighting for opportunities
“We do not want to see a situation similar to the Sudan and the DRC where after we did the fighting, other people came up and took the businesses,” a Uganda AMISOM officer said.
Already, Uganda lost out on supplying AMISOM. The 17,500 troops consume about 20,000 eggs, 5,000 loaves of bread of 500 grammes, 2,000kg of meat, fish or chicken, about 5,000 litres of milk, 20,000 apples, hundreds of packed juices and thousands of litres of mineral water daily.
The soldiers also eat lots of fruits, canned foods and yoghurt. They also need soap, tooth paste and cooking oil.
However, only one of these items came from Uganda.
All contracts were handled according to UN regulations, but sources said priority had been given to Ugandans as long as they met the required standards.
“They were given a chance to supply the troops, but they failed to meet many of the conditions,” said a soldier.
Among the companies contacted for supplies included flour processors and known chicken producers.
“For the flour, they submitted the first quality rather than the third, which is more nutritious, yet soldiers need more nutrition than just food,” a source said.
The soldiers now feed on Ugali from Kenya.
Save for milk, which is supplied by Fresh Dairy, and bread supplied by a company owned by the Hared Group of Companies, the rest of the foods come from Kenya, South Africa and as far as Australia and Brazil.
Lots of opportunities
At the Mogadishu port, ships from Greece, India and Latin America dock. They bring lots of goods, and as they return, they take charcoal, fruits, goats and sheep.
“Had it not been for the war, we had a very good source for goats and sheep,” says Omar Ousman, who owns a truck at the sea-port.
Each of the huge ships is unloaded for at least a week.
Somalis, like countries in the Middle East, like eating goat and sheep meat.
“We also like eggs, rice and wheat,” Ousman says.
Uganda produces about one million eggs per day, most of which are consumed locally, while some are exported to mainly Sudan and the DRC.
There are opportunities in the communications sector. Somalia has got some of the cheapest call rates in the world.
“You can call for three months on just five dollars,” says an AMISOM soldier.
The Internet link operated in Mogadishu is one of the fastest in the world too. While some telecommunications companies in stable countries like Uganda cannot cover the entire country, in Somalia, Hormund Telecoms and Nation Link cover places as far as Kismayu.
In the south, Kenya is primed for a quick business kill. With Kismayu and several other areas firmly under the country’s control, the East African economic giant enjoys a huge advantage over Uganda. Kismayu port lies at a strategic point in the Indian Ocean. The port, which is mostly being used by southern and central Somalia, can easily be accessed by Ethiopia and Southern Sudan.
“Transporting goods from Lamu or further down from Mombasa to Kismayu is cheaper for the Kenyans than Ugandan traders,” says businessman Issa Mohamed, a Kenyan of Somali origin.
With Kismayu now under control, pirates who have been operating on the ocean have been dealt a blow. The cost of transporting goods by ocean from the Middle East and Far East is set to drop, thanks to the reduced insurance fees.
Even before Kenya went to Somalia, they were ranked as the third largest exporter of goods to Somalia after Djibouti and India.
Exports from Kenya to Somalia have doubled in the last few years from Ksh8b to about Ksh16b in the last five years, and yet this is the period the Ugandan contingent has been battling to bring peace to Somalia. Kenya only sent in troops in October last year.
Unlike the Ugandans, the Kenyan troops are largely supplied with foodstuffs and drinks from Kenya. Since these supplies are paid for by the African Union and the UN, it is good money going into the Kenyan purse.
Given its vantage location, Kenya can easily export goats and sheep to Somalia.
“A goat from northern Kenya will obviously be cheaper than one from Uganda because it will incur less transport costs,” says Mohamed.
Kenya is also looking to beat Uganda in providing ‘skilled’ labour. As the reconstruction of the country takes an even faster pace, Somalia needs teachers, doctors, nurses and consultants.
“There are so many Kenyans who speak Somali and Swahili. Certainly, they have got more chances of getting these jobs than Ugandans,” Mohamed noted.