Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Have a Coke and an AK-47

Coca-Cola opened a bottling company in Mogadishu, Somalia a couple of years ago. Yes, Mogadishu. The same Mogadishu where about 140 people were killed in a two-day battle that ended yesterday.

'Cause there's money to be made.

Somalia is one of those well and truly fucked places in the world. And, maddeningly, there doesn't seem to be anything anyone can do about it. Oddly, Somalia has one of the best and cheapest cellular phone services in all of Africa. Well, maybe not so oddly, since that's how all the various clan militias handle their comms.

Anyway, I was reading the NYT article, and one name leapt out at me: Mohammed Hassan Awale.
MOGADISHU, Somalia — When a Coca-Cola bottling plant opened here two years ago, the 400-plus investors invited to finance the project were carefully chosen by clan.

There were Abgal investors and Habar Gedir investors, and representatives of other clans around Somalia as well. All kicked in a minimum of $300 to help start the United Bottling Company, Somalia’s only Coca-Cola maker. It was a deliberate effort to create a feeling of communal ownership for the factory in a place where clan-based conflict has long been the rule.

It was a bold business venture, building a sparkling, $8.3 million facility in such a tumultuous capital. The thinking was that Somalia had huge business potential and that the anarchy that erupted after its last government collapsed in 1991 would give way to economic recovery.

But Somalia is a difficult place to read, and now, two years after the plant went up, the Coke brand faces a much changed business environment, one with both opportunity and peril. Islamic militias took over the capital in June and brought stability to the city, so much so that the Coke bottler here predicts its sky-high security costs will soon plummet.

“Before, we had gunmen accompanying our distributors,” Mohammed Hassan Awale, the sales manager and acting general manager of the plant, said in an interview. “Now, no guns are needed.”
Now, I'm not sure, but it's probable that this man is the same Mohammed Hassan Awale who was Mohammed Farah Aidid's principal adviser and "foreign minister" in 1993.

If it's the same guy, he was one of the targets of the 3 October 1993 raid in which 18 US troops were killed. The events of that day and night provided the basis for the book and movie Black Hawk Down. That Awale was a high-ranking Habr Gidr clan member, and would rate a job like general manager of a multimillion dollar investment.

Now, if it's the same guy, what the hell? Thanks, Coca-Cola, for pissing all over the graves of the 160th SOAR, Rangers, & Delta guys, and of the 500 to 1000 Somalis killed that day.

I know that Somalia needs jobs and stability. Badly. And I suppose it's inevitable that powerful Habr Gidr men will benefit, should those investments ever come. But it still makes me sad.

Oh, and if you've seen Hotel Rwanda, you can't really understand what happened in Kigali without understanding what happened in Mogadishu. Just saying.

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