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A new banana war looming ahead
The Indian Ocean Newsletter
The new company Fruit Som will have to overcome quite a few obstacles to relaunch its banana exports and avoid a repeat of the 1995 “banana war”.
It will still be a while before the new company Fruit Som will be able to restart exporting bananas from Somalia. This firm was created in Mogadishu last December by a group of little-known businessmen, including Sheikh Osman, who runs a farm, and Sheikh Ali Wajis (Hawiye/Abgal), who is not a banana operator. The latter is, on the other hand, a figurehead of political Islam and a former leader of the Salafist group Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya. Sheikh Ali is therefore very close to the former President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. He has worked closely with Saudi Arabia in the past and has maintained an extensive network of contacts there. According to sources in Somalia, he has struck a deal with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to export bananas there from Somalia.
Despite these advantages, Fruit Som has to face some significant obstacles. For one thing, the majority of the bananas are grown in the lower Juba region, in the zones where Al-Shabaab radical Islamists are endemic. Secondly, the project could attract the attention of certain Western companies who waged a veritable “banana war” in Somalia in the mid 1990s.
Murder, slavery, beatings, theft in Somalia
MOGADISHU, June 23 (AFP) – Farmers in Somalia`s fertile lower Shabelle region came forward Thursday to tell stories of an area ostensibly at peace but where they say militiamen beat, murder, enslave, tax, steal and expropriate.
The farmers added that they ended up thanking the gunmen — loyal to south Mogadishu warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid — for not killing them.
Among the stories: one 29-year-old man killed because he ate two bananas as he worked as a virtual slave on a plantation, and a woman who gave birth after being forced to work all day.
The slave-workers are fed a meagre diet of beans boiled in unsalted water, the farmers say, but are forbidden to eat the fruit they pick.
Ironically, life was actually easier for them in the days of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, overthrown in January 1991, since harvesters then could eat as many bananas as they wanted so long as they did not take any home.
The farmers say that two big banana companies, Sombana, a subsidiary of the US-based Dole corporation, and Somalfruit, which has Italian backing, use militiamen aboard dozens of “technicals” — pickup trucks with heavy weapons mounted — to force men, women and children to work on the plantations for more than 11 hours a day for little or no pay.
Roadside sellers said they would give terrified nods of appreciation as passing militiamen helped themselves to cigarettes, coconuts, and fruit juices.
Sombana head Ahmed Duale Gelle “Haaf” denied the charge. “We haven`t seen human rights violations in the region so far,” he said.
Somalfruit refused to comment.
Local faction leader Ibrahim Mohamed Dirie said at least 10 farmers had been killed after resisting militiamen who tried to take over their farms.
He accused the companies of instigating the farm take-overs, and called for a withdrawal of all militias and a boycott of exported bananas.
The farmers say some militias are employed directly by the companies, and that the others are loyal to General Aidid, who they say is supported financially by both Sombana and Somalfruit despite his ouster as chairman of the Somali National Alliance on June 11 by his financier-turned-rival, Osman Hassan Ali “Atto.”
Aidid`s supporters elected the general as Somalia`s “interim president” on June 15, a move unrecognised by his rivals or any government.
During the banana harvest, the farmers said, militiamen pay 50 Somali cents for each bunch of bananas. This means a strong man able to carry 400 bunches in a day can earn the equivalent of three US cents, enough to buy 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of bread.
But the militiamen sell untreated river water for drinking at 500 shillings per jerry can, the equivalent of nine US cents, and charge 150,000 shillings for enough canal water to irrigate a small farm once.
On top of that, the farmers say, they levy a “regional defence tax.”
Moallim Mudey Hassan, 45, owner of a 100-hectare (250-acre) farm testified: “First I was refused water from the irrigation canal, then the militias said they would share my farm and give me protection. Finally, six technicals surrounded my farm, and I was ordered to leave. I obeyed the gunmen to save my life.”
Hussein Osman Moallim, 55, said 13 Somalfruit gunmen told him they had helped liberate the area during the overthrow of Siad Barre, and that they therefore deserved his 400-hectare (1,000-acre) farm.
“I tried to negotiate, and offered them half the farm, but they rejected the deal. After I heard that one of my colleagues had been killed in his home after trying to resist orders to abandon his farm, I fled to north Mogadishu (under the control of Aidid rival Ali Mahdi Mohamed).”
Abdurahmin Malaq Abdi, 60, was abducted from a bus on his way to Mogadishu and taken with 15 others to work on a farm taken over by militiamen.
He said he was too weak to work in the fields, so was put on garbage collection while the others were forced to clear a canal.
“We worked all day long without payment, but we finally thanked them for allowing us to leave unhurt,” he said.
A university graduate who gave his name only as Dr. Musa said he saw a 32-year-old man “tortured, then shot in the head and thrown on a garbage pile, where his body was set ablaze.”
Musa, showing his cracked hands, said he did receive payment for his forced labour — 14 bananas.
Somali companies go to war over banana exports
February 17, 1995
SHALAMBOT, Somalia, Feb 17 (Reuter) – In a bloody feud that gives new meaning to the term “banana republic”, two private companies with their own armies are fighting for control over Somalia`s banana exports to Europe.
Up to eight people, including an Italian journalist, have been killed this month as a result of the struggle which pits the Italian-backed Somalfruit company against Sombana, agents for the U.S. fruit giant Dole.
Business in the Horn of Africa state has revived since United Nations troops stormed ashore in 1993 to end famine and persuade warring clan militias to establish a new government.
They failed to do that and the U.N. is withdrawing this month under the protection of U.S. and Italian forces.
U.N. special envoy Victor Gbeho said this week the banana feud: “gives an indication of what will happen in the future if you have no government”.
Carloads of Somali militiamen wielding AK-47s and rocket- propelled grenades patrol the banana plantations in Shalambot, about 90 km (55 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu along a bandit-infested dirt road.
“We are not people of war. We came here to start a business,” said Asale Muhammad Abdi, an official of Somalfruit.
Ahmed Duale Haf of Sombana, sitting in his office as teams of gunmen lounged in the shade, said the same: “We are ready to do business but we are not ready to shoot.”
Reporters saw a convoy of empty Somalfruit trucks driving to Shalambot protected by “technicals”, vehicles mounted with machine guns and in one case, by a 37 mm anti-aircraft gun.
Somalia`s banana industry dates back to Italian colonial rule, when fascist dictator Benito Mussolini encouraged the first plantations.
After independence, military ruler Mohamed Siad Barre gave a monopoly to Somalfruit which was jointly-owned by Italian interests, the state and local farmers. But militias which overthrew Siad Barre in 1991 turned the plantations into battlefields and the industry all but collapsed.
As Somalfruit struggled, Sombana began exporting from Mogadishu`s Indian Ocean port last year, backed by Dole.
Dole`s presence in Somalia was publicised by the U.S. ambassador Daniel Simpson and the U.N. Operation in Somalia.
“Competition is good. It`s democratic,” said Gbeho in defence of this. “But then both companies sought political bases — and that`s why the problems started.”
The Somalis in control of both companies have close ethnic links with Aideed`s militia, but the Somali leader`s efforts to get them to agree to share the monthly export of up to 200,000 12.5 kg (27.50 lb) cartons failed to resolve the quarrel.
Mohamoud Dirshe, a senior official in Somalfruit, said that on February 1 Sombana technicals prevented his company from getting 30 truckloads of bananas into Mogadishu port.
The next day, the convoy tried to enter the port again and a gunfight broke out. Witnesses said two militiamen and a woman bystander were shot dead.
That night, two mortar bombs slammed into the port area. Dirshe claims they were aimed at the Somalfruit ship.
Ahmed Duale, the chief of Sombana, denies this and says his rivals were attacked by truckers over a contract dispute.
On February 9, Somalfruit cars were ambushed near the U.N.-controlled airport in Mogadishu by “technicals”.
Marcello Palmisano, a cameraman for Italian RAI television, was shot dead while his female colleague escaped. The team was apparently attempting to cover the story of the “banana war”.
A senior Somalfruit official and three others were also killed in the attack. Duale denies his company was involved.
Both companies say they have invested large amounts of money in the banana planatations, providing fertilisers and chemicals.
The prize in the dispute is access to the European market under the Lome Convention trade agreement which ensures Somalia a quota for its bananas. Water melons and grape fruit are also exported to Europe and the Middle East.
Aidid paid by banana firms to capture Kismayo port: rival
August 21, 1996
MOGADISHU, Aug 21 (AFP) – Banana exporters have paid Somali warlord Hussein Mohamed Aidid 100,000 dollars to capture a strategic port in a bid to resume exports of the lucrative cash crop, a rival faction leader charged Wednesday.
Major-General Aden Abdullahi Nur Babyow, nominal chairman of the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) faction, told journalists that militiamen from Aidid`s United Somali Congress/Somali National Alliance (USC/SNA) faction were planning to attack Kismayo, 500 kilometres (312 miles) south of the Somali capital.
Dozens of heavily armed wagons (technicals) belonging Aidid`s USC/SNA were heading toward Kismayo and the Lower Jubba region, he said.
Gabyow accused two Somali banana exporting companies — Sombana and Somali Fruit — of financing the impending attack by giving Aidid`s faction 100,000 dollars.
SPM deputy chairman General Mohamed Said Hirsi Morgan , whose SPM faction controls the southern Somali port, to the impending attack on the port city.
The former defence minister under dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, who was ousted in January 1991, said Aidid aimed to capture the port to allow a resumption of banana exports.
The operation was being mounted to compensate for the closure of Mogadishu airport last October by the Somali Salvation Alliance (SSA) faction of Ali Mahdi Mohamed and the USC/SNA faction loyal to Osman Hassan Ali Atto, Aidid`s former financier-turned bitter political rivals.
Gayow said the banana exporting companies wanted the port to be captured by Aidid`s militiamen before September 1.
The SPM chairman also accused the American Dole Company and Italian firms of supporting the illegal export of bananas harvested from farms confiscated from the unarmed farmers in Jubba Valley.
Jubba Valley, one of the war-torn country`s richest areas for agriculture, livestock and fish industries, has been the scene of many battles since the overthrow of Barre.
Il Mondo Profiles Somalfruit
Il Mondo, 30-P31
February 27, 1995
Somalfruit is a small Italian business that was recently in the news when an Italian television journalist was killed in an ambush in Somalia; the company had organised transport with an armed guard for him and a colleague.
The company`s owner is Bianca De Nadai, daughter of the founder, born in Addis Ababa in 1941 and now living in Padua. She also owns a string of other very small firms, some of them jointly with her husband Roberto Conti. The parent company seems to be De Nadai, set up in 1977 at Romans d`Isonzo in Gorizia province. It has a staff of only four people, two of whom are members of De Nadai`s family. Its foreign operations, including Somalfruit, are headed by Evergreen Trade, formed in 1992 in Padua, with authorised (but apparently not paid up) capital of L99m, and a staff of three, one of them a member of the owner`s family. Its stated objects are promotion, consultancy, marketing, wholesaling and brokering of agricultural products of all kinds and from any source, in Italy and abroad. In March 1993 it expanded its activities to include wholesaling of fruit and vegetables.
Tico Tropical Isles Company, formed in 1991, is registered at the same address in Padua and has practically the same objects and, again, authorised capital of L99m. It is different from the other two companies in that its board of directors includes two foreigners: Stuart Anderson of New Zealand, and Kevin Bragg of the USA.
While Bianca De Nadai is involved in the agricultural produce business, her husband is engaged in the property and transport sectors. As well as being a shareholder in some of his wife`s companies, he is either chairman of or a shareholder in at least another five firms, one of them a Florence- based import-export company, Camar, which does business with Somalia.
Somalfruit operates a fleet of about 30 ships. It is 51% owned by the children and grandchildren of its founder, with the other 49% divided between a group of Italian business colleagues and a number of Somali operators. Management of the company`s affairs in Somalia is in the hands of Vittorio Travaglini.
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