One of Ethiopia’s key routes to the sea outlet, Togochale (Tog Wajaale), is a small but active town in the Somali Region that borders Somaliland. This town has been one of the main routes that contraband goods passover on their way to many places.
As it is one of the important routes for import-export, Togochale is also a center for contraband in the Region and the country at large. Kemal Usman has been importing illegal vehicles to the Region for many years through Togochale. Once such vehicles reach the border, they are brought to Jigjiga at night through the desert “then, people who are part of the contraband chain are paid to get those vehicles legal.”
Kamal says he earned a lot of money from the “contraband business.” He adds “I was doing really well and everyone I knew in that line of work' id really well for themselves as well.” But suddenly, he found that things changed to the contrary. He was seized together with his companions while importing 15 vehicles 5 years ago. “I was sued and sentenced to prison and all I had was confiscated,” he says. “I regret the path I took then but I have learned from my mistakes” Kamal got a loan from the local Microfinance institution and is about to open a shop in a legal way. “I want to tell everyone to learn from my mistakes and work legally,” he adds.
Medicine is also imported illegally. Khader Abdulahi owns a truck which transports such medicines into the capital. The truck was seized 3 months ago at Awash check-point full of illegal medicines. Khader says “The driver and his assistant are detained; and I am following the court trials.”
Data from the regional branch of Customs Authority show that mostly guns, medicines, vehicles and narcotics are the main items that are being imported and used in contraband activities. "We confiscated many materials which included guns and torched them. We have also arrested 6 people that were involved in the contraband business” says Mr. Ashebir Mahandis who is the vice manager at Customs and Authority at Somali region. “Illegal materials worth 96 million ETB has been controlled recently,” adds Ashebir.
According to Mr. Ashebir Mahandis, the authority is working to provide a solution for this problem. “We are focusing on training sessions that create awareness to the community and help them not to engage in illegal contraband activity. The regional Trade Bureau is our partner in managing such forums”
These days, training sessions targeting the prevention of contraband activities are being organized in different check-points of the Region including Shebelle and Arores districts of the Fafen Zone, according to the vice manager. The Authority has also planned to conduct similar training sessions in Teferi Ber, Togochale, Harshin, Gashamo, Bokh, Dolo Ado and other centers in the Region.
“Even though security tasks have been suspended due to the current ‘law enforcement' operation in Tigray, the Regional special police forces are in charge of controlling the illegal contraband activities in all the areas in the Region” adds Mr. Ashebir.