Marylander helping to rebuild Somalia's ports Eddie Johns: Mogadishu harbor master PASADENA

September 17, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

A love of the sea learned while growing up in Bayside Beach has given Eddie Johns a front row seat in the world's theater.

Once a tugboat operator in Curtis Bay, Mr. Johns, 46, is the harbor master for the port of Mogadishu in war-ravaged Somalia.

He arrived there last December as a warrant officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. That was not too long after the U.S. Marines had gone in to restore order and take food to the famine stricken populace.

Since then, he has overseen the rebirth of that city's commercial center.

"When I got there, there was nothing in the markets," said Mr. Johns, who is visiting his parents, Edward Sr., and Margaret Mary Johns in Riviera Beach. "Now, you can find everything, from tires to widgets and gidgets and household items."

Mr. Johns, who left the Army in May, now works for the United Nations Council on Trade and Economic Development rebuilding Mogadishu and Somalia's other ports.

Until civil war destroyed the government and anarchy consumed the nation in 1990, Somalia's merchants exported bananas, grapefruit and livestock through Mogadishu, a port similar to Baltimore's, said Mr. Johns, a 1965 graduate of Glen Burnie High School.

But three years of rule by thugs and bandits had dismantled the port.

Docks, roads, warehouses were destroyed; fax machines, telephones and copiers stolen.

Even the fishing fleet fled to other countries.

For several months this year, relief shipments dominated port activity.

But commercial freight is growing and now accounts for 70 percent of the traffic.

And Mr. Johns said that he hopes the fishing fleet will return to Somalia before the end of the month.

"We're hoping that will open the flood gates," said Mr. Johns, who married his high school sweetheart, Donna Wrangham, of Paradise Beach.

Mr. Johns is to fly to Geneva, Switzerland, next week to draft a United Nations plan to return port operations to native Somalis within the next two years.

But progress comes excruciatingly slow.

"The merchants are afraid to start new businesses and bring goods to the port because they are afraid they will lose them" to bandits, he said.

There also is great personal danger.

When he leaves the port area, Mr. Johns, who also served as a U.S. Army harbor master during Operation Desert Storm, said he must wear a bulletproof vest and is surrounded by five armed bodyguards.

Life at the eye of a storm leaves little time for introspection.

But Mr. Johns said that he sometimes wonders what he is doing there.

"I sat down on a little rock overhang, looking out over the Indian Ocean one night, under a big African moon, and had these feelings," Mr. Johns said.

"I had to wonder how in the world did I get right here right at this time," he said.

"There is no way in the world I could have dreamed I would be right here when I was at Glen Burnie High School or driving tugboats in Curtis Bay."

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