Friday, March 01, 2013
Bus drivers complain of losing livelihood, as fighting between government troops and al-Shabab make journeys riskier.
It's ten minutes past 10 AM, and Hussein Mohamed is sitting in the
driver's seat of a half-empty sixteen-seater minibus parked at an almost
deserted bus station in Kismayu - Somalia's third-biggest city.
times a day for six days a week over the past five years, Mohamed has
driven his minibus between Kismayu and Jilib, a town 114km north of
Kismayu, ferrying commuters.
But since late last September, Mohamed has only been able to make the trip once every week.
Kismayu was in the hands of the hardline rebel group al-Shabab until September last year.
pressure from the Ras Kamboni brigade - the Somali government's allied
militia group - and Kenyan troops, al-Shabab retreated from the port
city. It still, however, controls many of the nearby towns and villages.
Mohamed's route has been divided between the two fighting
groups, with some in the hands of the Kenyan-backed Ras Kamboni and
others in al-Shabab's.
This has made business very risky for
Mohamed and has put new financial pressure on him - not just by limiting
the amount of trips he can take, but also by forcing him to pay a toll
to both sides.
“Before there was only one group controlling the
whole of this area, and I only dealt with them,” said Mohamed. “Now
there's al-Shabab, Ras Kamboni and Kenyan troops in this part of the
country. For business, it is better and cheaper to deal with just one
Crossing an active frontlineTo get from Kismayu to Jilib, Mohamed has to cross an active
frontline and at least 10 checkpoints manned by gunmen from the
“You can drive past a village in the morning,
and when coming back in the evening it is in the hands of a different
group. If you are unlucky, you can drive into a battle between the
groups as they fight for villages.”
Part of the tarmac road from
Kismayu to Mogadishu via Jilib has been closed, meaning drivers are
forced to take a dirt road that triples their journey time and fuel
“We used to spend two hours, but now we spend a minimum
of six hours,” said Mohamed Nuur, a fellow minibus driver who now works
two days a week because of the reduced passenger numbers.
we spend a whole day [at the checkpoint]. You don't know what they
want, and they can decide to keep you and your minibus,” Nuur added.
are also paying for the increased fuel costs and journey time. “Before
this war I used to pay $3.50 for the journey to Jilib, but now I pay $7,
so I'm forced to travel less often,” said Hassan Bashir, a charcoal
trader who used to travel to Jilib three times a week but now travels
once every two weeks.
Before the war, at least 300 passengers used to travel this route
every day using minibuses. Now, there's only a trickle of passengers,
sometimes not enough to fill one minibus. “People are staying away
because no one wants to be caught up in this war,” said Hassan Imran,
the ticket seller at the bus station.
Abdinasir Serar, the
spokesman for Ras Kamboni, the group that now controls Kismayu, says the
road closure is necessary and blames al-Shabab for the problems faced
by the people. “We had to close the tarmac road for safety reasons and
for the benefit of the whole city. If we open the road al Shabab will
use it to attack the city,” said Serar.
“We are still fighting al-Shabab. When we defeat them, we will open the road.”
Al-Shabab, which still controls significant parts of the Juba regions, refutes this claim.
“If they allege that the road was closed to prevent the mujahideen
[fighters] from using it, then it is worth mentioning that there are
literally hundreds of roads that we can use for the same purpose,” said
Sheikh Hudaifa Abdirahman, the al-Shabab governor of Juba region.
categorically reject the allegations of the apostate militia and do not
take any responsibility whatsoever for the closure of Kismaayo-Jilib
road. Full responsibility for the closure of that road must lie with the
militia who closed it,” he added.
However, not everyone in
Kismayu is unhappy with these developments in this part of the country.
Muhidin Hassan, a mechanic at Sheikh Ali garage, is managing to turn a
profit off the fact that drivers must now use the dirt road.
the road has been closed, we see many vehicles with problems. Our
business is very good. I have recruited two new mechanics to help me
with the increased workload.”
Vehicles going to Mogadishu, the Somali capital more than 500km away, also have to use this route.
Before the start of the war, hundreds of personal vehicles made the journey between the two cities using this route every week.
the number has now declined significantly. Abdi Noor Ali, a lorry
driver that carries goods from Kismayu to Mogadishu, said, “This war is
not good for anyone. Drivers, passengers and business people: everyone
is affected badly. For me, every trip might be my last one because you
don't know what you may find on the road.”
Sitting on top of
sacks of potatoes at the back of Ali's lorry for the journey is
50-year-old Deeqa Ahmed, a struggling grocery seller.
fighting young men] are dying because they are killing each other, and
we will die because their war will stop us from making money to feed our
families. War is no good,” Ahmed said, shaking her head.
minibus driver Mohamed, all he wants is for the fighting to stop so he
can go back to his normal routine. “I don't care who wins or controls
this area. All I want is for peace to return so I can go back to making a