Once a bustling place, Waaheen, Somaliland’s largest market, is now a smoldering ruin and despite government promises, stallholders say little is being done for them

By Hibaq Farah

Once a vibrant and noisy place, the market at Waaheen was Somaliland’s largest market. It had about 2,000 shops and stalls, selling fresh fruit and meat alongside tailors’ and tech support stores. When fire raged through the city of Hargeisa earlier this month, at least 28 people were injured and hundreds of businesses were destroyed.

It was “a massive calamity” for the city’s economic center, says Hargeisa’s mayor, Abdikarim Ahmed Mooge.


With much of Waaheen in ruins, many of those who worked there have been left devastated. Most are women.

It’s All Gone The Women Left Bereft When Somaliland’s Largest Market Burned Down
‘Nobody is coming to help us’: Amina Ali, a meat-seller whose business was lost in the fire. Photograph: Hamza Sulub/The Guardian

Amina Ali, a meat seller at Waaheen, says that although the flames have gone out, the damage continues: “Today, our situation is at its worst. Waaheen is at the heart of everything in Hargeisa and now it’s all gone to waste. Nobody is coming to help us. We don’t have anyone, we only have God.”

Ali says the fire has affected her whole community – family and neighbors – and the scale of damage is difficult to measure.

It’s All Gone The Women Left Bereft When Somaliland’s Largest Market Burned Down
A woman picks through fire-damaged remains at the market. Photograph: Mustafa Saeed/The Guardian

Ayaan Salaad Mohamed, who had a beauty services business, says smaller businesses like hers are not a priority. The federal government promised money but despite asking for assistance, Mohamed says not much is being done.

“Nobody knows how this has impacted us. We weren’t rich people, but we would make enough money to get through our daily affairs. Our life has taken a drastic turn, but we will work with whatever God provides,” she says.

It’s All Gone The Women Left Bereft When Somaliland’s Largest Market Burned Down
‘We left with our baskets filled to the top’: Khadra Mohamed Dahir who lost her stall in the fire. Photograph: Hamza Sulub/The Guardian

Mohamed has seven people financially dependent on her, including her widowed mother, and says she is now trying to sell fruit to make ends meet. People haven’t been able to return to the market to search for any goods that survived the flames.

 “The night before the fire, we left with our baskets filled to the top. Today, we are standing around aimlessly,” says Khadra Mohamed Dahir. “People are only thinking about those who had big businesses that burned down, but what about those of us who ran smaller businesses?”

It’s All Gone The Women Left Bereft When Somaliland’s Largest Market Burned Down
Shukri Abdi now sells under a bridge in Hargeisa. Photograph: Hamza Sulub/The Guardian

Shukri Abdi sold meat in the market. All her books of receipts and customer orders were burned, making it difficult to find her regular customers and to call in money she is owed. Like others, Abdi has moved to sell under a bridge in Hargeisa.

“Before, we sat comfortably selling our goods, and now we are outside in the sun, with no shade. We are sitting in between the rubbish and our feet are swollen from standing up all day.”

It’s All Gone The Women Left Bereft When Somaliland’s Largest Market Burned Down
Yurub Omar used to sell bananas but now sells salt and ground coffee. Photograph: Hamza Sulub/The Guardian

Yurub Omar has also moved under the bridge. She used to sell bananas and now sells salt and ground coffee. Nimco Hussein Abdi owned a business and sold bedding, clothes, and more. Her customers paid in installments. “All my things are gone. I still haven’t paid my rent but if me and my children are alive, we have to thank God. I’m just sat at home most of the time because there is nothing for me to sell. But today, I came out to see if I could find some food for my children from my friends.”

Halima Abdirahman Nur considers herself one of the lucky ones. “My mother and I owned a small store and we’ve been working since 1991,” she says. “We started as roadside sellers before there was an official market.”

It’s All Gone The Women Left Bereft When Somaliland’s Largest Market Burned Down
After 30 years working at the market, Halima Abdirahman Nur lost her business in the fire. Photograph: Mustafa Saeed/The Guardian

She lost everything in the fire but says her business had already enabled her to buy a house and land. “We have lost a lot but our efforts from the last 30 years will help us survive this moment. We aren’t completely empty-handed.”

At an event organized to raise support for the women affected by the fire, organizers asked people to put politics aside and focus on how to help rebuild lives.

“We need to help the girls and mothers of Somaliland, especially focusing on those who are small business owners. There are people who will not even be able to afford to eat after this,” Khadra Aadan, one of those affected by the fire, says.

“It’s not enough for us to just feel sympathy for these women, we need to act quickly now.”

Hibaq Farah

Hibaq Farah is a reporter at The Guardian and a former recipient of the Scott Trust bursary

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