Mogadishu — Business returned to normal in Mogadishu's Bakara market on Tuesday (August 26th) after merchants held a two-day strike in protest of the illegal levy of taxes on their goods.
Merchants complained that armed men in army and police uniforms were forcing traders at multiple points along the road from Mogadishu's port to the Bakara market to pay illegal taxes on their goods.
"We have been in talks with the government for the last three days and we are still meeting with officials in order to stop this problem," Director General of the Somali Chamber of Commerce and Industry Abdi Abshir Dhoore told Sabahi on Tuesday.
"The administration has reassured us all the grievances we have reported will be resolved and we have agreed to re-open the market today," he said.
Part of the agreement was the immediate repeal of new taxes on businesses imposed by the Benadir regional administration which took effect this month, Dhoore said. In addition, the federal government agreed to deploy security forces to patrol the market to ensure business owners are protected from being harassed and forced to pay illegitimate taxes.
"The problem is not only regarding high taxes, but also the fact that there is a lot of money that is collected from us unbeknownst to the government," he said.
Dhoore said there are still at least nine illegal checkpoints on the road from Mogadishu's port to Bakara market at which traders are asked to pay money.
"This is why goods that arrive through the port of Mogadishu are more expensive than those that arrive through the ports of Kismayo or Bosaso," he told Sabahi.
The market, located in Mogadishu's Hawlwadag district, comprises an open field and surrounding shops selling everything from produce and foodstuff to clothing, electronics, furniture, construction materials and livestock.
The market was desolate Sunday and Monday as merchants sat in front of their shops and waited for the government to respond to their demands.
Traders who spoke to Sabahi said the various taxes were making it impossible for merchants to stay in business.
Abdulqadir Ahmed Foolyare, who sells imported sugar, rice, wheat and cooking oil, said he routinely had to pay taxes on the same goods at least three times whenever he received a new shipment.
"When we collect the goods at the port we are charged $2 for every 50-kilogramme sack, and we pay that," he told Sabahi on Monday. "But then on our way from the port to the Bakara market, we are stopped by officers who illegally demand money. Similarly, as we unload our goods [at the market], other officers come and collect more money from us."
"Every officer asks for $20 to $30 and we cannot afford to pay that," he said.
Traders welcome government's response but remain sceptical
Aweys Hassan, director of al-Ayn, a company that imports and sells pharmaceuticals, welcomed the government's response so far but said traders would be monitoring the situation and act accordingly.
"We hope that this is the last time we face this problem of paying soldiers," he told Sabahi. "But if the government does not resolve this issue and fulfil its commitments [to us] we are ready to strike again and even hold rallies until we find peace."
Radwan Hassan Diriye, owner of a shoe shop in Bakara market, said time will be the ultimate test to see if the government is serious about addressing this issue.
"We are very happy to return to work and welcome the government's efforts," he told Sabahi. "We hope that the government moves forward on the commitments it has made."
For his part, Abdulqadir Hayle, a 28-year-old porter at the market, welcomed the return of business and said being without work for two days was difficult.
"I come to the market to work every day," he told Sabahi. "My family and I depend on my day's earnings to survive, and not working yesterday and the day before was painful for my household."
He said he hopes to recover the money he lost in the coming days as customers return to the market.