Somalis in Zambia, why they came and where they settled

Somali embassy in the Zambian capital Lusaka
Somali embassy in the Zambian capital Lusaka

SINCE first setting foot on the Zambian soil in the 1960s, some Somalis have hit headlines for wrong reasons,

prompting security agencies to now rid the country of criminal and other undesirable elements from the war-torn nation. CHARLES MUSONDA reports.

IN HIS wisdom, first President Dr Kenneth Kaunda brought in Somalis to work as expatriate drivers for the defunct Zambia Tanzania Road Services Limited. This was after Zambia stopped using the south route for her exports and imports following declaration of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith’s white Rhodesia regime in 1965.

Though Tanzania was in no position to replace southern Africa as an economic partner, it became Zambia’s new principal link to the outside world and the Great North Road went into emergency service taking out copper and bringing in oil; earning its name “Hell Run,”

This marked the genesis of Somalis’ presence in Zambia and many of them settled in Ndola and Lusaka mainly in Chaisa Township and surrounding areas. According to one Hassan Ali, a truck driver, his father was among the first chauffeurs to settle and work in Zambia.

“Since then, many Somalis have lived in Zambia. I came in 1981 and had my first child here in 1982. So many of us have children who are Zambians by birth and we have been working according to laws and regulations of this country,” Ali said.

Consequently, the increase in the Somalis’ population in Zambia has given rise to many decent businesses run by a number of them especially in the transport and oil sector but others have chosen to be on the wrong side of the law.

Over the years, a number of Somalis have been and continue to be nabbed for human and drug trafficking, illegal entry and stay; and memories of the 2012 shooting to death of a Zambian worker by his Somali boss, over a wage dispute in Ndola, are still fresh.

Despite the countless arrests of their compatriots, a number of Somalis have continued with their shady deals mainly done in Chaisa on the fringes of Great North Road.

Therefore events of Tuesday, August 12, 2014 did not come as a shock to many concerned citizens when a crack squad comprising officers from the Immigrations Department, Zambia Police, Drug Enforcement Commission, and Zambia Security Intelligence Service pounced on them.

They grumbled and wailed as cops bundled hundreds of them into police vehicles for screening at Edwin Imboela Stadium in an exercise lasted three days.

Of the 136 initially detained, 123 have since been released after most of them produced valid documents while some refugees were warned and ordered to return to refugee camps. According to Immigrations Department spokesperson Namati Nshinka, 13 suspects are still detained pending prosecution.

While many concerned citizens hailed the raid, innocent people were caught up in the dragnet and have bitterly bemoaned their ordeal. Dorothy Phiri, a maid for Khalif Mohamed Hosane and his wife Habida Akhman, says she was traumatised when the cops allegedly harassed her at her workplace located within the garage belonging to Ohan Transport Limited.

“They pushed me like a thief and threw me in the police van together with taxi drivers who were merely doing their business on that day. We spent more than five hours at Edwin Imboela Stadium and were only separated from the Somalis around 20:00 hours.

“After that we had to find our way home and when I came back, I found that my phone was missing. The police have a right to arrest any offender but they shouldn’t harass innocent people. I have never experienced anything like that before,” a glum-looking Phiri said.

For Isaiah Banda, a truck driver who also endured the August 12 nightmare, the raid was timely but “too harsh” in that the officers allegedly handled it with “severe brutality.”

“Although they were searching for drugs and other illegal things, that was too much. The way they came and picked us up was not good. They treated us as if we are not their fellow Zambians,” Banda lamented.
Kelvin Chimwange, another truck driver, said the cops pounced on him at the bus stop on his way to Makeni.

“I was standing on the roadside waiting for the bus when the officers surrounded me and others who were nearby. They pushed us into the garage and told us to sit down. No one was allowed to make or answer a phone call.

“I showed them my driver’s licence indicating that I am Zambian but they proceeded to take us to Edwin Imboela Stadium. I only left that place around 18:00 hours and I was so embarrassed to appear on TV in such a situation,” he said.

Chimwange argues that the officers should have screened all the suspects on the spot rather than inconveniencing innocuous people like him.

“I lost out because that day I was supposed to pick up the truck from Makeni and deliver goods somewhere. I am not in full time employment now and that was the only piece work I had,” he said.

A check by the at the affected places revealed that the officers’ search for drugs and other illicit items left the Somalis’ belongings in tatters.
Bags were slit with bayonets, clothes, books, computers and other electronics were strewn around in the rooms and some Somalis claimed to have lost various amounts of money ranging from single notes to bundles of cash.

“How could the officers round us up and bundle us in their vehicles first and come back to search our rooms in our presence?” asked Omar Osman who claimed to have lost K10, 000 cash.

Ministry of Home Affairs spokesperson Moses Suwali said that during the clean-up operation, some suspects were found with drugs, large sums of money and equipment suspected to be used for production of pornographic materials.

Some safes believed to contain cash could not be opened at the scene and were among items seized by the officers. Some officers were seen counting stacks of cash in US dollar and Kwacha denominations.

A day after the raid, the Sunday Mail crew found Osman relaxing in his room at a garage, which is also used as Somalis’ community centre. The messy centre also hosts residential flats, a number of restaurants serving Somali cuisine, and is always crammed to the brim.

A Chaisa resident who sought anonymity said he has every reason to believe that a number of Somalis are making a fortune out of drug trafficking and other illegalities they have been accused of.

“Many of them come from Somalia with ‘rags’ and just sit in the garages without doing anything but we are surprised that within a short time they start buying trucks. Where can such a poor man get money to buy a truck?” he asked.

Another Zambian truck driver spoken to said many Somali truck owners favour their kith and kin when it comes to giving jobs.

“These guys just give us wrecks to drive but give good trucks to their friends and relatives,” he said.
But Muhammad Ahmed, who has lived in Zambia since 1970s, claimed that most of his countrymen have co-existed with Zambians without any problem and trashed drug and human trafficking allegations levelled against them.

“If there are those who are dealing in drugs, they must be arrested and those without papers to live in Zambia should equally be arrested and deported. However, as far as I am concerned I have never seen anyone selling drugs here (at the community centre),” Ahmed said.

Since 1991, Somalia has been hit by the endless civil war, famine and all crimes that go along with the two. Therefore, Somalis living in Zambia shudder at the thought of returning home where fighting, crime and hunger are the order of the day.

“Even if I go back to Somalia today I won’t know anyone. I consider Zambia as my home, the Zambian government as my government and I am here to stay!” says one Khalif Mohammed.

Source: Zambia daily mail