Qaamqaam village is located near Kismayo, a port city in the Southern part of Somalia. The village has a dense population of acacia trees which are shaped like umbrellas on one of the sides. The other side has coconut trees straight out of a travel scenery, running along the Juba River’s bank. Some kilometers on, the River’s water meets the Indian Ocean.
Cantar Hussein had settled in Qaamqaam in the 1990s. Back then he had not known the rules in the village. Unknowingly, he had cut down a tree’s main trunk. Elders of the locality had immediately. They held him guilty of “killing the tree”. To them, killing a tree was as criminal as taking the life of another human. They fined him an estimated $1,500 worth of Diya (or, blood money) for the crime. There was another order: Cantar had hours to leave Qaamqaam.
The Custom Of Qaamqaam
Ali Farah Ismail was the one who had decided on the verdict. Now more than 70 years old, he was once a military soldier. He is one of the first settlers of Qaamqaam in 1991. The area was a training camp for the military in the past. Specifically, it is an estimated 20 kilometers to Kismayo’s north. The regional state of Jubbaland is the administrator of the region. Ismail was a trainer in the camp during the government of Siad Barre.
During the beginning of 1991’s civil war, Ismail along with some other officers decided against participating in the fight. Instead, they protected whoever came to their area. Ismail says that all of them had agreed upon protecting the people and the environment. They did not have any politics. As such, people trusted them to ensure their protection from rival groups.
Qaamqaam is unique among the region’s rural areas. It has thick acacia trees which are drought-resistant. These trees have been Somalia’s backbone in its illegal charcoal trade worth millions of dollars. Currently, the village has a closely connected community of farmers numbering approximately 2000 families.
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The charcoal trade was the major reason behind the ban. When Cantar had committed the crime, he did not intend to turn it into charcoal. A harmful sap was dripping from the trunk into his yard. His punishment was reversed after 9 months. Cantar has since realized his mistake. He says that people may think of the incident as crazy. But the trees’ benefits are more important. Without the trees, it would be impossible to be alive. So they should be protected using any means.
Qaamqaam Is A Jewel In Somalia
Climate change is adversely affecting Somalia. This includes extreme patterns in the weather, increased droughts, and flash floods. The immense deforestation that has been brought about due to the “black gold” production has only worsened the situation.
Ali knows how the trees had been devastated in the majority of regions to produce charcoal ever since the central government’s collapse. So they knew it was on them to protect the trees by doing something. He added that for the previous 3 decades, they agreed to enforce this strict rule: the trees are to be treated like a fellow human.
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The unique approach is a blend of environmental protection laws and customary laws of the land. A mixed legal system is formed that also includes parts from Islamic law.
Ali said that whenever anyone new comes, they are informed about the rule. No one has ever been displeased with it. For the ones who break the rule, they are not only slapped with a fine but also expelled from Qaamqaam. It is done so that the other people get the message. Somalia does not have any effective regulations for the environment. But Qaamqaam’s grassroots efforts are producing results. Not only is it protecting the environment, but it is also attracting local tourists.
All image courtesy: Iidle Aadan/Al Jazeera