Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Somalia: Mishandling Turkish Scholarships, a Sign of Institutional Corruption

Somalia: Mishandling Turkish Scholarships, a Sign of Institutional Corruption

By Faysal Mohamud

"By not taking any action and leaving the process for the incapable authorities, Turkish government is not only serving the interest of individuals, but allows its noble mission badly represented"

Following the famine that ravaged the country, Somalia has regained a global attention that not only focused on the insecurity in the country but also on the serious shortages of public servants capable to manage the crisis such as teachers, doctors, nurses and other health professionals. The prolonged conflict has caused educated professionals to immigrate to developed countries with a handful of them still working in the country, defying threats of murder and indiscriminate attacks- those working in Mogadishu hospitals, schools and universities provide a living example.

The international aid delivered to Somalia in the past has served as a short term solution. The country needs long term solutions to end its endurance. The visit of Turkish Prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to Mogadishu was significant in that it gave the prime minister firsthand experience in the level of the crisis in the country. Without his visit, Erdogan may not have pledged the large scale of aid his government is to deliver now.

Erdogan realized that Somalia's needs are beyond short term solutions to avert further deterioration of the famine and the overall situation in Somalia. As a result he mapped out long term plans to help Somalia emerge out of its chaos. This would include lending political support to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), building public institutions, i.e. schools, hospitals, and training the young generation in Turkey.

It is against this backdrop that the Turkish government has offered recent scholarships to Somalia which has been distributed to some regions of the country. Whether the distribution was fair or not is a matter of grave concern.

This is not the first time Somalia received scholarships from abroad. Countries like Sudan, Egypt, and Yemen have been offering scholarships since the collapse of the central government. Notably, most of Somalia's newly qualified doctors, currently operating in the country had graduated from Sudanese Universities. Sudan had managed the scholarships in two ways, either by giving directly to the administrations in Somalia or by locally providing university seats to Somali students in Khartoum through its Foreign Students' Office. Remarkably, the last option ensured that many Somali students make their way to Sudanese universities without being discriminated or being overcharged by Somali officials who sell the scholarships in the open market.

After 1991, Somalia had gone through a period of no-recognition for any authority in Somalia and as such, countries providing scholarships to Somalia were either accepting Somali students who applied directly to their universities or working with educational organizations in the country.

However, when transitional governments came to business, as well as regional authorities, scholarships have been forwarded to the authorities to distribute to students fairly based on their merits and achievements. Regrettably, this has not been the case. The scholarships were distributed based on individuals' kinship to officials in the administration. For an administration that practices ineptitude in delivering basic public services, such unfair distribution of scholarships is not a great deal.

Currently, the scholarships and the international aid to Somalia is managed by the TFG which is required to distribute it to the 18 regions of Somalia including Puntland State of Somalia and the Break-away Somaliland which still remains unrecognized.

This week, thousands of students have taken exams in Puntland to 'qualify' for the scholarships given by the Turkish government. The examination is not the only way to ensure fairness in the system but also to give these vital chances to the most capable students who can benefit most from studying in a developed country.

The examination was held in two cities in Puntland; Galkayu and Garowe, the capital. Thousands of Students who were given short notice were pouring to the two cities in search of their luck. 'Five thousand' students were said to have participated in the competition.

Elders and residents in Bossaso, the largest city in Puntland have complained about the way the scholarships had been managed. One commentator in Horseed media, an independent news outlet in Puntland, criticized the selection process questioning the authority's claim to have marked the exams of 5,000 participants within hours without indicating if machines had been used, although the availability of such facilities is not likely. The commentator posted images of students in the examination room, looking at each other's work while the examination is under way.

Alarmingly, some students who had been told to have passed the examination were said to be replaced with others who had not passed nor tried the exam because of their close relationship to members in the government or officials in the education sector. Although some of the individuals can be named, it is not significant at this point.

Frankly, such practice is not only ill-treated but a serious crime as it inflicts a mental trauma on to the young, vulnerable students who have made such a long journey, only to be humiliated by their own authorities. It leaves them helpless, defenseless, and feeling worthless which, in turn, exposes them to violent radicalization. The authorities have made clear that they are in office to serve their immediate family.

The Turkish government should open its own office in Somalia to recruit students who are capable to study in their country. They should also suspend the current scholarships until Somalia's authority put in place mechanisms to ensure that scholarships are well managed. By not taking any action, leaving the process for the incapable authorities, the Turkish government is not only serving the interest of individuals, but allows its noble mission badly represented.

The success made by trusts such as CfBT, which had managed English-taught secondary schools in Somalia where outperforming students were sent to Kenya for higher education through EU funding, should be considered and built upon in this regard. All sorts of corruption should be monitored, criticized and not be tolerated.

The writer can be reached at journo20@gmail.com

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