How Al Barakat Closure is Affecting Somalis

Mogadishu- Somalia (PANA) -- When the United States authorities clamped down on the Al Barakat group of companies on November 7 last year, accusing it of having terrorist links, they changed the face of life in Somalia for the worse.
In a country where anarchy and lawlessness have become the norm, Al Barakat became to symbolize the belief that human beings can rise above any adversity and restore normalcy even where there is none.
Started in 1986 in Saudi Arabia by Somali businessmen based there, Al Barakat's main objective was to act as a money transfer service for Somalis in the diaspora sending money back home.
As its reputation grew so did the investors who wanted to be part of the success story.
At present, Al Barakat has some 394 shareholders always pumping money into new ventures.
The firm had since evolved into a giant, with interests spanning nearly all spheres of life - from telecommunication to banks and property investment.
Its telephone wing has 25,000 subscribers to the land line service while the mobile phone division offers services to 4,000 subscribers.
Charging a flat rate of one US dollar per minute for any international call, Al Barakat was the service of choice for many Somalis.
Within that period, Al Barakat, meaning blessings in Arabic, had won the confidence of Somalis from as far afield as Australia and South Africa.
Now things are gloomy and nobody knows what to do, says the firm's spokesman, Mahmoud Mohamed.
"When this action was taken against us, we had on our hands some 10 million US dollars we were supposed to transfer to families in this country but now we cannot access these funds," Mohamed told PANA in his Mogadishu office.
The affected families are turning the heat on Mohamed and the other investors in Mogadishu.
"It is a bit complicated explaining to an old woman that she cannot get money sent by her son from abroad because of some legal technicalities.
In most cases they would think that you are conning them out of their money," Mohamed says.
In a country with no public postal service, the Al Barakat Internet was the cheapest and the most effective way of keeping in touch with loved ones abroad.
Some of the existing Internet service providers, taking advantage of the situation are charging anything from 30 dollars per hour for the service.
But all that changed with one presidential order and right now Mohamed and his team are operating on the goodwill amassed over the years.
Many Somalis talk fondly of the period before the November 7 action.
Internet service, then easily affordable, is now out of the reach.
It is this goodwill that Al Barakat is building on.
To show their disappointed customers that they are not about to flee the country, Al Barakat officials have come up with a unique offer - all the 25,000 land line subscribers are not charged a cent for any call made within Somalia.
This, the officials believe, will help boost customer confidence in their firm.
As it is now, nobody is sure where the allegations tying Al Barakat to the Al Qaeda terrorist cell emanated from although Mohamed sees the hands of business rivals and some Mogadishu-based warlords in the whole matter.
A letter to U.
President George W.
Bush, allegedly written by warlord Hussein Aidid, accuses Al Barakat of being a covert operation for terrorism.
"This company is actually invested by Al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden and through his instruction the company finances Al-Itihad and fundamentalists based in Somalia whose members trained in Afghanistan.
"It is our kind request for urgent and an appropriate action be taken from your end, because with the huge financial support they received from Al Qaeda network their evil acts is spreading by using the poor and starving Somalis and conducting mass recruitment of terrorists," Aidid says in his letter.
But Mohamed of Al Barakat denies these allegations.
He says they have a meticulous record of all their transactions which they are ready to furnish the US investigators with.
"If there is anybody who used our money transfer system and is a wanted terrorist, we are ready to supply the United States with their names and addresses.
"We have never been members of the Al Qaeda and the first time I heard of Osama was after the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania," Mohamed states.
Last week the US began investigating Al Barakat offices in the United Arab Emirates and might later move to Mogadishu, a prospect Mohamed says, he wants done quickly.
"This closure has shattered the confidence of Somalis that they can invest in their home country.
Our 174 offices are not working and we must continue to pay the staff," he says.
According to Mohamed, their business had strong ties with the United States and there is no way they could have undermined that country.
"Our international phone service was done under the American AT

21 janvier 2002 17:22:00

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