The Ambition to Tackle Poverty

By Jaylani Arif & Abdirasheed Shaam

Most of Mogadishu’s street vendors are women committed to insuring their families’ survival in a chaotic city. Nevertheless, economists from the public and the private sector, as well as the Somali independent news outlets were unable to detect the benefits of this business, which creates thousands of survival jobs for many and silently, contributing to Somalia’s economy.

Ubax Yarey is a single mother of two children, who got divorced by a negligent and abusive husband. She’s at her early 30s, and had refused to get remarried right away.

She said, “I couldn’t even get a job as maid and I need to feed my family and pay rent.” Despite the many offers has received, Ubax continues to work the most vulnerable career, which is not conductive to business growth.

Instead, Ubax chose to take care of herself first, so she could independently generate a sufficient income for herself, her kids and her live-in old aged mother.  

Women who are food vendors, in their early 20s and 30s, nowadays are more common in Somalia. Unfortunately, they don’t get access neither to entrepreneurial skills nor to startup capital, yet they are confident and resilient.

Ubax started off doing any type of business, selling khat (jaad) on the street at the beginning, but then later on of her life, she had decided to stay away from the narcotics “khat” business due to the conflict of her faith and violence.

She joined the many other Somali women selling vegetables “qudaar” in the neighborhood. Soon, Ubax learned that there wasn’t much money in the vegetable business, and tried the charcoal selling business.

Again, the charcoal business required a lump sum of huge investment to make good money out of it, plus the business was not conducive to her health as Ubah is asthmatic.

Ubax then joined the “Caanooleey” group, hearing that the Camel Milk industry is extremely lucrative. Somalia, home to a third of the world’s camels, its milk plays a vital role in the daily nutrition of the population.

Ubax tried out with the Camel Milk wholesalers. She liked the business as it had a secure return, but not much as she was told. The wholesale market was saturated with bigger, richer and more powerful enterprises, and that joining the camel milk retailing market might be the better choice of the two. 

Then she decided to be part of the two Camel milk industries, purchasing large amounts of Camel milk as a whole-seller, and then retailing the milk uniquely.  

I mean uniquely, because the retail market sells the Camel milk as it is, without cooling it in the fridge. Ubax bought a picnic cooler, filled it with smashed ice, wrapped up the milk into retail plastic sachets of ½ liter, and let the milk cool on ice. 

She also understood the importance of location, location, location, as she had surveilled on a very busy area full of hotels, restaurants, and “hawala” banks, not to mention the busiest main road of the capital city of Somalia.

The Makka road is wide 2 ways, with public walking paths, clean mostly and with some trees to provide shades. Ubax bargained $50.00 per month for the sidewalk space, because location is a critical choice for her business survival. 

Mogadishu vendors have no choice, but to use sidewalk space without protection from constant threat of violence, city bullies as well as terrorist attack. According global security expert Rober Muggah report, the unemployment rate of women between 14-29 years old was 74% in 2016, (Business Insider – September 28, 2016).

Ubax noticed the high income increase, as she was earning two times more than her previous wholesale business. Instead of stopping it there, she hires two people, a girl to cook “Ambulo and shah” – beans and chai – and a young boy to serve and clean, while she focuses on the retail milk at the same spot. 

Ubax’s income rose, paying reasonable wages to her two employees per month. “I am here from six in the morning to receive the milk until 10 pm, seven days a week” Ubax said. Her two employees set the street vending stage, prepare the Tea, buy the ice and bag the milk in the sachets.

Her children are now going to a private school, mom has a maid to help her with the house, and Ubax had saved enough money of which she had bought a piece of land up at Kaxda (outside Mogadishu), for future secured housing. 

“I have been selling on the sidewalks for the last ten years, which is the way I feed my family, and kept my self-esteem high,” Ubax Said.

She is still available, but now her stock price is way much higher as she looks for a man who can generate three times more than she’s generating in order to relax at home, open up a bigger shop and for the future husband who can erase her from her past pains and nightmares, and replace it with love, kindness and respect. 

Among others, Ubax is young and attractive, but what she did is the ambition needed to tackle the poverty in Somalia.

The views expressed in the article are solely the opinions of the writers. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the authors not Jamhuriyadda.  Wargeyska Jamhuriyadda reserves the right to edit articles before publication. Please include your full name, relevant personal information and political affiliations.

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