Mogadishu’s blacksmiths worried by cheap imports of metal goods

Ali Warsame Elmi, 31, a blacksmith in Mogadishu has been struggling to keep his business going since the market was flooded by cheap imported products since May.

He’s now struggling to pay the $35 rent for the two room iron-sheet house in Karan district where he and his wife and three children live.

“Some of the items I’ve been making are knifes, shovels, hand saws, magnets, cooking pans. We can’t sell them because of all the shiny imports. Ours is better quality but the Somali people just look at the shiny aspect,” he complained.

In October they produced 110 different items but only managed to sell less than 20 pieces. He believes there has been a change in peoples buying habits. People used to depend on local products that stand out for their quality and affordable pricing.

Ali has been a blacksmith since he was a child, boasting 22 years of experience. But this year has been the worst that he has known.

Two of this three children go to free government-run Nureyn school, but they have had to drop out as he can’t afford the $30 transport to and from school.

“We used to pay our bills from this work but it isn’t enough now. Our children were in school but they’ve been affected by the lack of market for our products. How will they go to school?” he asked.

There has also been a drop in scrap metal available locally, as most of it is being collected and sold for export. Ali said they can no longer walk around the city and collect scrap to use. Metal collectors are selling scrap at two dollars for a kilogram.

“It’s hard to find metal parts just lying around as people and street children are busy collecting it to sell. We are forced to buy it and that also affects our prices,” he said.

Ali had to put his pride aside and ask help from his relative in Finland, who sent him $100 for the month.

Another blacksmith, Mohamed Abdullahi Omar, 25, thinks their business might cease to exist given the market trends. He used to earn $5-10 a day but now doesn’t make that much in a week.

He believes that the consumers in Mogadishu are fixated by the shiny and stainless steel products now on sale even though they are not strong and don’t last long like the locally produced items.

Mohamed learned his craft from his late father, who died of tuberculosis in 2019. He and the rest of his family are faced with uncertainty. He had been going to school on Thursdays and Fridays but stopped in August as he couldn’t raise the $18 fees.

Mohamed and his family had to move out of their three room iron-sheet house in Karan as it was getting harder and harder to pay the $25 rent. They are now in a two room house owned by a relative.

Mohamed has turned to driving tuktuk taxis to earn a living but it is not bringing a stable income. His mother sells milk along the roadside and earns just enough to provide her family one meal.

“You can understand a young man who wanted to work and learn, and it got hard due to change markets. We are faced with unemployment,” he said.

Blacksmiths are locally known as Tumal, referring to their low artisanal caste, and as smiths and leather workers they have traditionally been segregated because of their occupation.

Salah Munye Yusuf, 26, spends most of time at his workplace in Mogadishu. He said beside the reduced profit margins, he concerned about the demeaning comments from people.

He now gets $2 which is a far-cry from the $10 he used to take home.

With no other skills he is worried about his future, but still hopes to find a strategy to get his products moving.

“Some hurl abuse at you, saying you’re just a metal worker, or such things. They can say whatever they want, I don’t care. No matter what they say I won’t lose anything. Some other people are happy to see our work though as they’re locally made Somali products,” he said.

Salah, a father of two, has been working in this sector for 12 years and until now making sufficient income to take care of his family needs.

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