Somaliland: Waaheen Market fire was caused by an epic government failure

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This week, a blaze destroyed the Waaheen, the largest open market in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital. The Firefighters were having problems accessing the blaze because squatters of hundreds of small-scale retailers were blocking streets leading to the market for decades. The fire destroyed the livelihood and business of communities struggling with poverty and unemployment. However, this was a tragedy that could have been prevented if the government did its primary job public safety.

All Somaliland previous administrations are responsible for keeping blind eye on evicting the squatters on the streets of Waaheen market. On March 18, 2022, after extinguishing a blaze on the Waaheen market grocery store, Somaliland Fire Chief, Ahmed Hassan “Sawahili” said, “The Waaheen Market is time bomb waiting to explode.” He added that the firefighters struggled to get access to congested markets because of lack of access to streets. I do not know whether the fire chief communicated to the Interior Minister the urgency to clear waaheen streets.

Apparently, the Bihi administration did not take his warnings seriously. The incompetent Interior Minister Mr. Kaahin should take responsibility for the failure to evict those occupied streets illegally.

This tragedy is a wake call for Somaliland. We should set up a credible committee to probe the cause of the fire. We should not rule out anything, including arson from those who hate Somaliland people. There are reports on uptick recently on the number of fires on the market.

The lawlessness and corruption that have permeated among our society and government must stop. People do not respect the police or the firefighters, who provide essential and lifesaving services.

But we have seen the firsthand the importance of our firefighters—heroes putting their own lives in harm’s way for the sake of the people they serve. We salute the service of fire chief “Sawahili” to Hargeisa and far beyond. We want to thank him for his service and dedication. He helped create the Somaliland fire service in 2014 from scratch with 2 used fire engines. Now, all regions and major cities and towns have fire departments. Regardless of what city or town they serve, remember to acknowledge and appreciate your local firefighters.

The legislature should pass laws defining the powers of the fire department, including arresting anyone interfering with their jobs. We should increase the funding of the ill-equipped fire service equipment, training, and salary for the firefighters.

The funding of the fire department must come from the budget of the central government. Government should start collecting taxes from Dahabshiil and the subsidiary of Hormuud Communications, Telesom, who pay little or no taxes. We should publicly auction our cellular bandwidth and to award the highest bidder. Telesom or Somtel should not have a monopoly on our airwaves.

We should also address the immediate needs for those who lost everything. However, the government does not own any more lands in Hargeisa city limit to relocate them. The Corrupt Riyaale and Silanyo/Hersi administration had sold out most if not all government land and buildings. For example, Dahabshiil through corruption and bribes bought the former headquarters of the SL traffic police and then he grabbed more land belonging to the police, to build a hotel—a city with 80% vacancy rate of the hotels. Look at the old Hargeisa theatre. These were robberies.

That location could have been the main fire station for the downtown area, or the government could have relocated people that lost everything from the Waaheen fire. How can we strengthen our law enforcement when the SL corrupt politicians are colluding with merchants of corruption?

Some of the traders are claiming to have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars cash at waaheen fire because they did not trust to put their money on SL Central Bank. I could understand them because no sane person would trust the fiduciary duty of his/her hard-earned money to corrupt politicians taking a cue from entrenched businesses, who are undermining our governance and institutions.

Somaliland politics is not about leadership, delivering results, or accountability. It is focused on clannish, power grabs, by different vested interests, mostly oligarchs, “Sowers and exploiters of division”. Those who hate Somaliland the most and scream the most and use religion and clan identity to gain political power are ones that get the most attention.

The Waaheen Market fire was caused by an epic government failures. The fire showed how weak our governance is. A weakness that can not be ignored anymore.

Mr. Kaahin is a veteran and a patriot, but he should resign because he has direct ministerial responsibility for the fire department. He is more concerned about the 2022 re-election campaign of Kulmiye party than the safety and security of the nation. He also spent a great  deal of his time bullying and intimidating duly elected local councils. He must go because Somaliland deserves better.

But I did not think Kaahin would resign, or the President would fire him because of the convoluted relationship between them based on political convenience. And that is bad for Somaliland, for our security. Bihi should do the right thing and put the nation over his re-election efforts.

More urgently, President Bihi should have to explain to the public why the SL government failed miserably to clear the squatters away from the streets around Waaheen market. This tragedy happened under his watch because “The buck stops at his desk.”

Ali-Guban Mohamed

aliadm18@gmail.com

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