How Somaliland’s Biggest Market Had Vanished Within a Day. By Ahmed Abdi

Hello everyone, it’s been a while since I haven’t written something, two months to be correct. This’s the longest time I haven’t penned a blog I guess, or I simply missed writing. Whatsoever I am back to the world of writing again. First of all, Ramadan Mubarak! To some of my friends who want to know a little more than what they might have already known about Ramadan; it’s a time of the year when Muslims around the world refrain from eating, drinking, and having sexual intercourse from sunup to sundown. It’s a time of deep spiritual connection to Allah, the creator. This Ramadan is a bit different here as it came in at a time when people are experiencing one of the worst droughts of its time. It’s the 12th Ramadan day today and it’s fast going. My today’s blog is about a fire incident that destroyed the largest market in Hargeisa, the capital of the northern breakaway region of Somaliland. How did it happen? Let me take you on a journey of how the biggest commercial market in Somaliland had vanished in a spare of 20 straight hours.

On Friday, the eve of Ramadan was a time every Muslim was anticipating. I was in Hargeisa that Friday to do the last Ramadan excursion and have lunch. There was a sense of Ramadan vibe already going on in town and I could feel that myself. Right after I attended Friday prayer, I returned to my workplace to finish some work leftover. It was never a pre-planned trip. Ramadan is a special moment as it comes only once every year and it’s a special occasion for Muslims everywhere. As people patiently waited for the news of the birth of the Ramadan moon crescent from the Islamic council that night, another news came in shortly before the announcement of Ramadan and that was the news of a fire eruption in the biggest Hargeisa market.

The Internet had made the world such a small place, it’s where everyone was keeping their eyes on the status of the Ramadan start date. As the sun set off and dark overtaken the last light of the day, I began to stroll through my Facebook feeds for more Ramadan news. As I scrolled up and down, the news of the start of Ramadan was everywhere on my feed. I was happy and finally realized that the long- time awaited month of Ramadan had finally arrived. I began to think about my Suxuur, a late-night food eaten before fasting starts but Somaliland was yet to announce Ramadan. The ministry of religion was withholding the Ramadan information and this took longer than people thought. Now it was around 9 pm overnight and we yet had to wait for more information. Unexpectedly, a notification came on my Facebook, it’s from these Somaliland journalists who frequently post random things on Facebook but this time it’s a fire that is ravaging the Wahlen market. It popped up on my screen and I can’t ignore it anymore. At my first glance, it looked like a small fire. As people waited for the final Ramadan verdicts, the fire was still spreading through the city and this time got more media coverage. ‘Hargeisa main market is burning’ this news had taken Somali social media by storm and it was getting out of control time after time.

There was nothing we could do than pray for ease.There were pictures of fire scenes being posted on social media one after the other. “What’s happening?” Everyone had this question asked in the comment section followed by prayers. Now, the wait for Ramadan was over, the minister of religion ruled out fasting that next day and declared Ramadan on Sunday instead while the majority of the Muslim world welcomed Ramadan on Saturday, April first hence the fire continued to spread to the other cloth stores and business buildings. The news of the fire had now consumed everyone’s attention about Ramadan. Firefighters came sooner than later but they couldn’t handle the intensity and speed of the fire expansion. The more firefighters put off the fire, the more it spread. It’s 12 am-midnight now and Hargeisa was still burning. The sky of the city was lit and everyone was shocked by what they have seen. Firefighters had no idea what was going on and this time, the national military was called on to do anything they could to contain the fire but it wasn’t a war, it was a fire that needed extinguishing, not another fire. However, their presence was a sign of national solidarity and heroism. As the fire continued to escalate and destroy more business places at rapid speed, firefighters had no other choice at that time than to call neighboring regions, mainly Ethiopia, where I am from for urgent help. It soon became a national crisis. The government had done everything it could to contain the fire. They even appealed to the public for help but little can anyone do. All the water trucks rushed to the scene yet Hargeisa was burning and everyone was watching.

A moment of uncertainty and crisis unfolded in one of the most peaceful places in Africa. Pictures of market burning broke the internet. It’s now 4 pm and firefighters are still pushing themselves to their last limit to put off the fire but yet it was burning. Ethiopian firefighter trucks have now arrived at the scene from some 200 miles from where the fire went off. FYI – it’s help coming from a different country. They eased the spread of the fire but it wasn’t over yet. With more hands and help combined this time, the fire was eventually contained at 12 pm mid-noon next day. This was one of the worst market fire disasters the city has seen in its history. It had destroyed property worth 2 billion USD according to the government estimate but luckily no one died. It was the biggest market in Somaliland and a hub for the biggest business in the horn of Africa. Many people who relied on that market have lost their businesses. 

The incident had sent signals to the world with the British prime minister, Boris Jonson, and other world leaders tweeting about the tragedy. Somalia, a country that had no formal relationship with the breakaway state felt this more than any other nation and stepped up for immediate support and soon pledged 11 million USD for reconstruction and recovery. They reacted to the tragedy both emotionally and financially. Their fast response to the incident was hailed by the people of Somaliland and Somalis in general. It became evident that at times of tragedy and national disasters, Somali people are united for the common good. People from all walks of life stepped in and reached the scene after the fire and carried out a mass clean-up in the aftermath of the fire. They helped feed first responders at the scene and cleared the fire debris.

Waaheen market fire was a national disaster that shook the hearts of everyone who watched. Even though nationwide efforts of reconstruction and property compensation soon began, there is still a lot to lose in the meantime. The Somaliland government has promised that it will do everything it can to build a new market and bring the business back on track.

Here are some pictures of the Waheen market fire during and aftermath of the incident.

Waaheen market burning mid night
Waaheen market on fire
Residents cleaning up the debris of the fire remains.

I stood at Waheen market a few days after the incident and watched a zero ground of what could have been the biggest market in the city as I reflected on how terrible the fire was. I thought of anyone who lost their business to the fire. I pray everyone affected finds a way to manage their life. Hargeisa was built from the ashes of destruction in 1990 and I hope this ashes of destruction from the fire today will turn into a beautiful market again. 

Till I come back to you with another blog, stay safe.

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