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Meet Somalia’s trailblazing female camel trader

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Every morning just before sunrise, Zamzam Yusuf makes the short drive between her house in Kismayo to a farm about 30 kilometres (19 miles) outside the Somali port city.

Tired with life in London where she worked as a carer for more than 10 years, the 55-year-old decided to return home three years ago.

With almost all sectors of Somalia’s commerce destroyed due to more than 20 years of civil war, Zamzam spotted an – unlikely – business opportunity and swiftly acted upon it.

“Many thought it was a bad idea. Others laughed at me. My own family advised me against [it] – but it is the best business decision I have ever made,” she says.

Zamzam is a camel trader, a job often reserved for men in the conservative country in the Horn of Africa.

Of the world’s estimated 35 million camels, Somalia, a country of more than 15 million people, houses more than seven million camels – the highest number per country globally.

Livestock is the backbone of the Somali economy with more than 65 percent of the population engaged in some way in the industry, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. But it is extremely rare to see a woman at any of the busy camel markets in the East African country.

“When men found out what I do, they told me it is not a woman’s job. That it is too difficult and I should leave it to them,” Zamzam, a mother of seven, says.

The industry is lucrative with a fully mature camel costing $1,400 and the young ones going for at least $900. Most of the camels are exported to the Middle East where they command a premium.

The milk, often referred to as white gold, also brings in a decent return. In Kismayo, one litre (33.8 fluid ounces) of camel milk is sold for $1 and Zamzam’s herd produces at least 400 litres (105.7 gallons) a day.

“First, I started with 30 camels. But slowly the herd has grown. Now the total is 145 camels and growing,” she says, as dozens of calves bleat in the background.

“The target is to have more than 1,000 camels. God willing.

In a bid to expand her business, which employs 10 people, Zamzam decided to join forces with two other traders. 

“I had no other choice but to have two men as business partners,” she says. “I wish more women could join me but that is very difficult. Most women here think it is a job for men.”

When she is not busy tending to her herd or dealing with orders, Zamzam spends her time visiting schools and women’s workshops where she tries to convince them to give camel trading a chance.

At Kismayo’s Alanley area, Zamzam has found eager listeners among those taking sewing classes at the Awale Womens’ Group.

“If a woman can raise children, which everyone agrees is a very tough work, we can easily look after camels,” 32-year-old Khadra Abdullahi says.

“Camels are part of our culture and who we are. I want to become like Zamzam. If men can do it we can do it, too. We are strong, too. Some people have the wrong mindset and it is up to us women to prove them wrong.” she adds, while other women in the workshop nod in agreement.

But at the city’s restaurants and tea stalls, the mood is different. Men are dismissive of the idea of women joining the industry. They know of Zamzam, but in a deeply conservative society where many men believe women should stay at home, they avoid using her name when talking about her.

“My advice for the mother from the diaspora is: Looking after camels is difficult. It brings lots of work and worries. It is not a challenge a woman can handle,” Khadar Khalif Hersi, a businessman, says.

“I will strongly advise her to find something else to do and to leave it to us, men. There is a reason why other women are not doing it. She should be like other women,” the 40-year-old adds.

The industry is dominated by men who have never had to compete with a female trader and they find the idea of being challenged by Zamzam unpalatable.

But Zamzam has loyal and vocal support from the young men she has employed.

“I have been working with her for two years. I like [it] and I don’t see any problems with her doing this job,” Abdullahi Mohamed Aden, one of the camel herders, says.

“It is not against our religion in any way so it is OK. She is a good woman and she is doing something good. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be working for her,” he adds.

For Zamzam, nothing will stop her from pursuing her chosen career.

“I’m doing this for my grandchildren. I want them to come back to their country and have a good life. Life in Europe is hard and opportunities are few. Somalia has more opportunities for them,” the grandmother-of-29 says.

“The men can say what they want. I will not stop. No way,” she adds, laughing.

Source: Al Jazeera

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Education

University education in Somalia: Quality or quantity?

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Students at Mogadishu National University. Photo l Ilyas A. Abukar.
   

There has been proliferation of universities in Somalia as guns continue to fell silence and relative stability returns to the Horn of Africa nation.

Business people, Non-Governmental Organisations and religious bodies have taken advantage of a lack of central authority that could regulate and accredit the education sector and started their own universities as businesses. There are calls to reduce the number of tertiary institutions in the country amid concerns that the standard of education has weakened.

Somalia needs universities that produce graduates who would be able to rebuild the country and a shuttered economy, but its universities are mostly commercial focused – competing for students, qualified or not qualified – and at the end, produce half-baked graduates.

There are 100 tertiary institutions across Somalia, with Mogadishu hosting 60% of them, according to Abdulkadir Abdi Hashi, a former minister of Education and Culture.

These universities admit students who are not qualified to join any university, compromising the standard and quality of education. Many students securing places at universities lack secondary school education, a number of them “graduating” from private tuition and those who home-schooled themselves.

The education offered by some of these universities is of poor quality that does not meet international standard, and the recipients are students who were originally not qualified to enroll in a university. Majority of them offer social science and business-related courses, although important, Somalia needs science and technology to rebuild from the ruins it is in.

Somali universities admit 50,000 students annually, but the number of students graduating from secondary schools is much less. For example, 27,000 students from 120 secondary schools sat for a unified national examination. In normal circumstance, not all secondary school graduates get admitted to university. In the last three years, students sitting for national examinations jumped from 4,600 to 27,000.

The government standardised and unified the examinations three years ago. Before that, there had been no standardised examinations since the collapse of Somalia’s last effective central government in 1991. This means every secondary school leaver and others – join universities.

“When these students graduate, they are not fit for the market, and cannot compete with students from neighbouring countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia or those from Djibouti,”Hashi said at a educational forum in Mogadishu.

The government said it is working to strengthen rules governing the establishment and regulation of universities, but almost nothing has been done. Few universities are self-regulating.

Employers in Somalia, including international organisations and investors hire foreigners because of lack of skilled personnel. Somalis from the diaspora with foreign university education are returning to the country to fill the vacuum. Still, that is not enough.

“We have had an uncontrolled upsurge of universities, leading to a scramble for students to enroll; thus we have been seeing even those who don’t qualify to join universities enrolled and this has saturated the system and put a great dent on the standards and quality of higher education in the country,” Hassan Ali, a former education consultant at Somalia’s Ministry of Education, said.

Somalia has only one public university – Somali National University which was established in 1970 and closed in 1989 due to unrest that led to the collapse of the government in 1991. It was reopened in 2014. The rest are privately-owned and run.

Somalia’s 30 year-old civil unrest has almost completely destroyed the country’s educational system, affecting the future of millions of school-aged children. The government has initiated a “Go-To-School” campaign to target one million children and youths who were out of school so that they could study and help their country is producing good results, with so many children going to school, although enrolment due to security and Somali’s pastoral economy remain a problem.

Although gains have been made, education in this Horn of Africa nation faces many challenges, including underinvestment. Somalia’s schools are dealing with poor quality of education, insufficient numbers of qualified teachers, and inadequate resources.

Successive governments have always promised to give education the same priority as security, but those promises have not yet been fulfilled and it does not look like it will happen in the near future.

After reforms targeting secondary education, the government needs to look into the university education and bring about reforms.

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Arts and Culture

How Somalia came to have its name

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In the strictest sense of the political theory, Somalia is one of the few countries in Africa that we may refer to as a ‘nation’. The overwhelming majority of those in that territory share common ancestry and heritage.

To explain further, we can say that a “Somali” is not simply a national of Somalia but also possibly one person who has an ethnic background in Somali-land.

According to Somali tradition, all Somalis share the progenitor Samaale. This mythical father of the Somali nation is often considered the basis for the nomenclature Somali.

However, there are different schools of thought regarding the name of the people. One of the most potent theories holds that Somali was derived from two words in the language of the people: soo maal, which translates into “go and milk”.

The potency of the “go and milk” theory lies within the nearly one millennium of pastoralism practiced by the people. Livestock breeding, especially of cattle and sheep, continues to be a fundamental aspect of modern Somali life.

There is yet another theory that holds the Somali is actually the Arabic word zawamal corrupted. Zawamal means “wealth”, a reference to the people’s livestock.

This presumptive connection between the Somalis and Arabia is part of a belief that has persisted for centuries. There are those who say that the nation of Somalis descended from the Quraysh Banu Hashim clan, specifically Aqiil, a nephew of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

However, scholars dismiss this belief that Somalis descended from the Holy Prophet’s clan. It is often treated as an abstract notion reified by the place of Islam in Somali society.

The people of Somalia have been through a lot since 1960 when the first Somali Republic was formed, with the country struggling to maintain stability over a significant period of time. But in their uniquely shared identity, they retain the opportunity to find common purpose.

 

This article was adopted from Face2Face Africa

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Arts and Culture

Bollywood: Why Somalis love Indian cinema

Editorial Team

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Photo: Hollywood Reporter
   

Indian cinemas are popular among Somalis in the Horn of Africa region with many households which own TV sets subscribing to at least one Indian channel which airs Bollywood movies and series.

The popularity of these shows is not restricted to the Horn of Africa country but extends to Somalis living in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.

The love of Bollywood can perhaps be epitomised in this quote from one of several Somali pirates who was arrested by the Indian navy in 2011: “I love India and Bollywood. I have seen India on television and started loving it. I want to visit every Indian city,” India’s NDTV reported at the time. Among the items seized from the pirates – besides weapons – were DVDs of Bollywood films.

Popular Somali TV channels almost often air Indian soap operas. The movies are dubbed into Somali thus enabling viewers to follow the plot without any language barriers.

Cinema halls, and movie stores in the region, aimed at Somali audiences, almost exclusively screen or sell Indian films.
The popularity of the movies has also promoted Indian music, featured in the films, among Somalis. This music is often played at home or during weddings.

Before Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabab group emerged, youths in the northeastern Kenya border town of Mandera would occasionally cross over into Somalia’s Buulo Haawo to watch Indian movies. This was as a result of Muslim clerics, and the local authorities, clamping down on cinema halls which have sometimes been perceived as enticing school children into truancy.

Cinema halls in Al-Shabab-held areas in Somalia are non-operational as the Al-Qaeda-linked group considers pop culture “unIslamic”. In 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts – the precursor to Al-Shabab – which was in control of central and southern Somalia, arrested, and flogged, many people for watching Indian movies in public entertainment spots.

In 2014, Al-Shabab banned the sale and use of smart phones in areas under its control. Part of the reason was to prevent locals from downloading and watching movies, or listening to songs, through their phones.

Somalis are also increasingly obtaining Bollywood gossip from websites and blogs which publish in their vernacular. Some of the popular websites for news and information on Indian films include Netherlands-based Fagaare.com and Raaciye.com.

A few years ago, an online forum, Somalinet Forum, hosted a discussion on whether Somali women should be allowed to watch Indian movies with critics opposing the shows saying they would encourage them to “ask their husbands to treat them the way Bollywood actors treat their partners.
Bollywood influence is common among students. Popular girls have often been given nicknames such as Kajol or Priyanka derived from star actresses Kajol Devgan and Priyanka Chopra. Boys on the other hand have been nicknamed after characters such Karan and Arjun, rather than the actors themselves.

Shah Ruh Khan, Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan are among the most popular Indian actors among Somalis.

Not every actor is referred to by his actual name. For example Akshay Kumar is often referred to as Mr Bond for his role in the eponymous 1992 movie directed by Raj Sippy.

Another actor, Amitabh Bachchan, is popularly known as Ali Dheere – the tall Ali – because of his height. Ali is a popular Somali name and it is easier for most Somalis since his real name is difficult to pronounce. Bachchan gained popularity in India’s film industry in the 1970s and is one of the most influential Bollywood actors.

Indian films, unlike productions from Hollywood and Nigeria’s Nollywood, are popular due to cultural similarities between Somalis and Indians. Hollywood is seen as violent and full of nudity and indecency.

Amina Ali, a 24 year-old mother of one in Nairobi, Kenya, is watching Kasamh Se (The Promise) – an Indian soap opera produced by Ekta Kapoor of Balaji Telefilms. The story is about three sisters Bani, Pia and Rano. After their father’s death, the three sisters go to Mumbai according to what their fathers will said and go to live in Jai Walia’s house a famous business tycoon who knew their father.

Malyun, Amina’s younger sister, is fightingfor the remote-control.She wants to switch it into another channel airing her favourite series, Jamai Raja. Jamai Raja is the story of a young man Sidharth, who despite being a jet-setting hotelier with a growing empire to tend to, takes it upon himself to repair the estranged relationship between his wife Roshni and mother-in law Durga Devi Patel (DD).

“I like watching Indian films, we do have some similarities. We wear the saris as the Indian women and they don’t show indecency films,” said Amina.

The plots usually revolve around the themes of love, family relations, and arranged marriages, which attract Somali audiences.
The Indian female dress, the sari, is almost similar to the Somali ‘garba saar’ while women in both societies don’t kiss in public.

Similarly, the fact that members of extended Indian families often live together is a trait that Somalis can closely identify with.

However, Indian films are facing competition from Yesilcam – Turkish cinemas. Turkish soap operas are also gaining popularity among this community. The filsm are bubed in Somalia, so there would e language barrier.

Despite Bollywood’s popularity, few realise the shared cultural connection between these two societies on either side of the Indian Ocean.

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