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SOS has done some international work, to be sure. Nigerian oil scams? We were there from the first gusher of offers, back when correspondence came in tissue-thin air-mail envelopes. Phony lepers? Bogus lotteries in Canada and Spain? All familiar. But SOS made a less than triumphant return to West Africa in the past few weeks, trying to find Mamadou Diallo's clothes, and the search was instructive. In matters of international shipping, the consumer is at the mercy of the shipper.
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Diallo, of Madison, contacted SOS because of his regret at apparently misplaced trust in a countryman and entrepreneur, Daniel Lamah, of "D. Lamah Multivision," Minneapolis. Diallo, a businessman and computer scientist, acquires used clothing in Madison and sends it to Africa. This is not uncommon, especially if you have someone at the receiving end, which Diallo does, to keep things organized and facilitate the rest of the transaction. Diallo notes that the quality of used clothing here is often better than the quality of new clothing there.
It is on this end that Diallo has a problem. Last January, Diallo contacted Lamah, in Minneapolis, looking for a reliable shipper who would be sending a container to Guinea's port of Conakry. Told there was a container leaving in March, Diallo in February sent to Lamah a dozen boxes containing 750 pounds of Madison's finest used clothing, purchased from Goodwill and St. Vinnie's. He also sent $1,000 to pay for the trip. But when Diallo called to find out the shipping date, Lamah stalled, and after that, could not provide specifics or did not answer his phone, or said his mother-in-law was ill, said Diallo.
After several calls and messages, SOS caught Lamah at home, where he said of course he knew all about Diallo's shipment, though it made up a tiny portion of the 40-foot container Lamah had sent to Conakry. Lamah said the ship is in port even now, and was simply awaiting customs clearance. "There has been some problem with the government," Lamah said, "and they are trying to clear that up." Lamah said the container should be delivered by the end of last week or early this week.
Lamah said he had been shipping containers to Africa since 2006, everything from cars (Toyotas, Nissans, Hondas, Jeeps, mostly) to clothes. A typical container costs him about $5,800 to ship from Minneapolis. Two or three people usually get together and hire a container, fill it up and secure connections — usually family — in the port city. Lamah's promise to email SOS the container tracking number remains unfilled. Diallo wasn't supplied a tracking number, either. In temporary deference to the goodwill of the holidays, we will join Diallo in waiting patiently.