Sunday, September 27, 2009

The failure of the international community and the resilience of a people

Somalia is officially classified as a failed state where warlords, Islamic extremists, suicide bombings, piracy, secessionists, poverty and anarchy prevail and are the norms of every day life. Believe it or not the Somali question remains one of the most difficult, unabated and unresolved conflicts in modern times while other major post-cold war conflicts in Europe and Africa have been resolved. In case you have forgotten, the unbearable roar of guns and bombs explosions in former-Yugoslavia that we used to see and hear through our TV screens, seem to have been silenced by, among other things, a massive military intervention supported by a long term political commitment and diplomacy as is the case in the Balkan, or through a peace keeping mission initiated by an individual country like the UK experiment in Sierra Leon where British forces have helped end a long civil war.

Even other hotspots, Iraq and Afghanistan, which one can called as the 9/11 conflicts, the international community (Western powers), although they might have to stay there for a long time before realising their objectives, have installed functioning governments in those countries and have enabled them to hold "democratic" elections although imperfect and flawed.

With regard to the Somali conflict, the international community seems ambivalent and divided as ever between those who have given up on Somalia, blaming Somalis for the failure! And those who are willing to help but end up taking the wrong decision, thus worsening the situation, as was the case when Ethiopia was allowed to invade and occupy Somalia.

However, to be fair on history, the international community did try to help end the conflict when in 1992 the United Nations Security Council authorised the deployment of peace keeping forces (the UNISOM). Though huge resources were allocated, the mission failed for the lack of a long political commitment and plan. The death of few American soldiers was enough to force the American administration to withdraw its forces. Compare that failure of policy with another post-cold conflict namely former Yugoslavia (Balkan conflict) and you will see how these conflicts were treated differently which led to different outcomes! One was given a long term political commitment with massive military intervention while the other was left to crumble on its feet.

Put it bluntly, the international community has failed Somalia.

However, despite the negligence and indifference by the international community, lack of normal and formal state structure, and despite human suffering and economic costs of the conflict, Somalis have proven to be resilient, entrepreneurial, creative, hardworking and ingenious, and have accomplished some remarkable and great things against the odds. In fact Somalis have done well in some development sectors and are well ahead of those "stable" neighbouring states, including Kenya and Ethiopia.

Let us tell this untold story.

Powerful autonomous regional administrations

Despite the threat of dismemberment, and an uncertain future, Somalis have succeeded in creating some administrations e.g. Puntland, Somaliland, TFG etc.  And some of them have good functioning public institutions, which provide diverse and varied levels of peace and security and some kind of basic social services. What Somalis have got now is strong and assertive regional administrations, under which they are exercising some kind of self-rule. Somalis are now more or less autonomous and independent from a centralised government or structure, which has arguably caused the failure of the state, and which Somalis have fought against it. It is really sad that it took 30-40 years and a lot of suffering before cities such as Baydhabo, Garawe and Hargeysa could try to taste regional autonomy and asserts their freedom from Mogadishu. Also one wonders whether some of these entities with a secession tendency are not really seeking total independence but merely are craving for, and expressing the desire for legitimate greater freedoms and autonomy, which have been denied by previous governments, particularly during the dictatorship in which the famous Villa Somalia was the power-house.

Somalis have now an emerging weaker federal structure embodied in the TFG, which could be utilised as a blue print for a looser federal structure. So what Somalis need right now is a negotiated federal structure that will hopefully lead to the rebirth of a stronger Somali state.  

Good primary education enrolment

At the independence, Somalis had a Grade 1 primary enrolment of only 6,000 in 233 primary schools. During the 1960s the education system stagnated and this caused a decrease in primary education enrolment. This situation got better in early 1970s because of the successful literacy campaign, compulsory primary enrolment, and the adoption of the script of the Somali language. However, the education system deteriorated in 1977-78 due to, among other things, the Ogaden war. And a year before the collapse the central government the primary and secondary school enrolment dropped to 60,000 from 300,000 in the early years of 1980s. 

Although Somalis have lost two generations who are without or with little education due to state failures in 1980s and the civil strife in 1990s, and this loss of human capital will negatively impact on future human development in the country, despite the fact that Somalis lag behind most countries in terms of primary education enrolment, they have however succeeded in creating and restoring old and new educational institutions and facilities, which now provide essential education services.  For example, the primary education enrolment though diverge and fluctuates between administration, has improved, and in 2003-04  enrolment shoot up to 300,000, a figure that is much higher than what it was few years prior the civil war. In addition, there are some secondary, vocational institutes, and adult education colleges, where students learn different subjects. Before the civil war, higher education was more or less bankrupt (1980s), and its institutions, for instance the Somali National University, were bankrolled by donor countries. However, during the civil strive with their hard work and resilience Somalis have successfully created new institutions from scratch. For example, it is worth mentioning the success story of creating the Amoud University in which Borama residents, faced with 8,000 primary and secondary students, transformed the residential Amoud Higher School to a university. So if yesterday Somalis were proud of the Somali National University – the only and dominant institution -  to serve the country today there are up to 10 universities in the country, including among others Hargeysa University, Mogadishu University, Puntland State University, and three of them are in Africa's top 100 universities.

Although the ownership, management and financing of educational institutions vary from public-community-NGO to private sector, despite the fact that some of these institutions are rudimentary and operate through varied and different curriculum and standards, although accessibility is limited due to issues around affordability, it must be recognised that these institutions provide much needed education services to Somalis. And therefore Somalis should be commended for their hard work and tireless efforts.

A vibrant private sector   

Telecommunication: Access to telecommunication before the civil strife was very expensive and not accessible to most Somalis. Telephone lines were limited to cities and to those lucky ones who could offer it. For example, in 1990 there were about 2 fixed telephone mainlines per 1,000 people. However, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of Somalis and to new technologies today there are about 9 private operators that provide competitive telecommunication services to almost every province and to even towns and village, which did not have access to telephone prior the war. Today, there are around 25 mainlines per 1,000 persons, and availability of telephone lines (tele-density) in Somalia is higher than in neighbouring countries, three time higher than in Ethiopia. Access to international telephone calls is probably the most affordable and cheapest in whole of Africa. For example, in 2005 one minute phone-call from Mogadishu or Hargeysa cost $0.50-0.80, as the rate of one minute international phone call from a small town or a village in Somalia was cheaper than of that in Addis Ababa!  In 2003, there were 63 mobile phones per 1,000 people and there are internet facilities. 

Although in need of regulatory and structural framework, the sector provides much needed services, which improve the lives of thousands in terms of, among other things, job creation and income generation etc. 

Small scale industries:  Just few years before the civil war, the 53 or so state-owned large-medium and small manufacturing enterprises, like many public institutions, were breaking down and bankrupt. Then the civil war destroyed the rest, almost all infrastructure were looted. However thanks to investment by the Diaspora, the remittance sector, and some intervention by the international community Somalis have managed to re-start some old small scale plants, as they have created new ones. These include fish canning and meat processing plants in the north, some 25 factories in Mogadishu, which produce pasta, mineral water, sweets, plastic bags and sheets, hides and skins, detergent and soap, aluminium, foam mattresses and pillows, fishing boats, packaging, and stone processing etc.

The airline industry: Again thanks to their entrepreneurial spirit and lack of strict regulatory frameworks, there are up to 14 private companies (e.g. Daallo) which run commercial flights from Somalia to abroad. These companies offer competitive flight tickets. These carriers have been a life-line to Somalis' booming trade, as they have been a helping hand in the delivery of crucial humanitarian assistance by the international community. So if yesterday Somalis were proud of the now bankrupt and defunct Somali Airline – the only national carrier that dominated the sky – today Somalis have successfully created private airlines companies that connect Somalis to the outside world. 

Road Infrastructure: in late 1970s there were 19,380 kilometres of road infrastructure which include all categories from paved, gravel, to tarmac. Despite the fact that these roads have been badly deteriorating in some parts of the country and in need of maintenance, the percentage of roads that have been paved and maintained by Somalis during the civil war period is the same as of that of Kenya and Ethiopia, and much higher than in Tanzania.

Remittance fuels booming trade: Some 750,000 Somalis in the Diaspora sent US$825 million to $1billion in 2004 to Somalia. This is estimated to be around 60 percent of Gross National Product (GNP). This generosity offers much needed subsistence to relatives, and acts as a life-line not only for immediate families, but also to wider society as the money trickles down via domestic commerce to even remote rural communities. The money transfer helps much needed construction projects, small business, credit and loans schemes, as it assists in creating some job opportunities and incomes.  

Also, the money transfer- handled by a network of roughly 8 remittance companies, facilitates international trade. Even though these companies face future challenges in terms of adopting structural and regulatory frameworks to get them integrated into the global financial system, and despite the current setbacks caused by the closure of some companies due to alleged terrorism financing, the sector has proven to be resilient, and it continues to help a booming trade in which exports (livestock etc) and imports reached a record high US$265 million and US$400 million respectively. The remittance sector also makes regional and international payment transactions from and to Somalia more efficient and smoother than pre-war system. $100 sent from Europe/USA takes 1-2 days to reach relatives in Somalia if compared to the pre-war era where because of, among other things, bureaucracy it was a cumbersome task to transfer money via banks. It would not be an exaggeration if I say that the Somali remittance network is more efficient and reliable than those "formal" banking systems in Kenya and Ethiopia where bureaucracy and cumbersome regulatory frameworks make business and banking transaction much harder.

Somalis have even tried to create banks, for example the attempt by a Somali group to open the Universal Bank of Somalia, the Dahabshiil efforts to become a bank   is worth noting. 

Furthermore, the vibrant and resilient private sector – sometimes in partnership with public/NGO sectors, continues to provide essential services e.g. water, electricity, education and health, which are sometime better and more efficient than the pre-war service provision. And towns and villages, which even did not have access to some of these services under the central government are benefiting from it. 

And thanks to their resilience and hard-work Somalis' Gross National Income per capita is higher than Kenyans and Ethiopians!!


No room for complacency

However, having highlighted some impressive achievements, I must say there is no room for complacency. This is because Somalis are amongst the poorest in the world and they owe the international community a massive debt of US$3.2 billion. Somalis lag behind in all human poverty indexes; and about 71% of population do not have access to sustainable water sources. In addition, they are far behind in meeting the UN's millennium targets that, among other things, stipulate universal primary education to all children by 2015.

Even those stable regional administrations are now facing same old problems that existed during the central government, ranging from mismanagement of public funds; corruption; ineffective revenue collection mechanism; an imbalanced public budget in which higher percentage of the public purse is allocated to security and presidency sectors, while less is spent on social services and developmental projects. For example Puntland and Somaliland spend only 1% to 5% of their annual budget on education, which is the same as the pre-war expenditure. And obviously this would mean less education for children.

Recommendations: what the international community should do:

Pragmatic and practical support to all existing and emerging governance structure be it local, regional or federal.

Refrain from inflaming the situation by whipping up the politics of war on terror in the region. Please try to learn a lesson from what had happened in Somali when Islamic Court Union was forced out and Ethiopia occupied Somalia. As extremism and terrorism forces in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to have defeated ideologically and military, it is very likely that those forces in Somalia will be defeated by Somalis' dislike of extremism and fanaticism combined with Obama administration's policy of dialogue with the Islamic world. These forces will make noises now and then (suicide bombings etc) but it is a matter of time before they disappear. So patience is required.

Do not see and use one issue e.g. piracy as a tool to resolve the Somali conflict. This is a short term strategy and policy that proved to be a failure.

In order to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, the international community should try to coerce through diplomacy and political will all stake-holders (regional states and federal government) to work together in view of constituting a federal structure. A case in point is the recent efforts by the Congressman Donald Payne, Chairman of subcommittee on Africa and Global Health of trying to bring stakeholders under one roof for dialogue and reconciliation. This was a historic landmark in America's policy. This is the kind of soft power which the US and other countries need to use  in order to bang and bash heads together because this method is much cheaper but more powerful and effective than any other methods. So please keep on inviting these institutions to your Congresses and parliaments in the hope that one day wise men with listening ears might listen to your wisdom and learn from your country's experience as united states under a federal system.

For Somalis, please continue with your resilience, perseverance, ingenuity and hardworking in order to achieve even greater results in the future. Help yourself so that the world can help you.

Muuse Yuusuf

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