Foreign Policy

An election is not going to raise Somalis out of financial despair

Somalia has time to borrow. The fabric of his society is in tatters due to the incessant clan-based political conflict that has hampered economic and social development for nearly three decades. Since 1991 the civil war in Somalia has led to political instability, famine and terrorism, among other things. The country goes from one disaster to the next, and this cycle must end. It is time for real change – and Somalia needs to start the economy.

Since Somalia formed a transitional government in 2000, Somali politicians have repeatedly lacked the will to free millions of Somalis from insecurity, instability and economic despair. Instead, they continue to engage in the wrong national dialogue, motivated by clan-based politics, and the Somali people fall victim to their tactics. Somalia’s economic problems cannot, as usual, be cured by the patchwork of politics. Regardless of which president Somalia elects on February 8, the new heads of state and government have a moral duty to create a viable framework for sustainable economic development that emphasizes inclusivity and shared prosperity. Millions of economically and socially disenfranchised Somalis want to receive an education, feed their families and lead a peaceful life in dignity. It is possible, but it will require firm commitment and sincere commitment from the country’s decision-makers – something Somalis have not yet seen.

With the country’s divisions numerous, rewiring Somalia’s economy for the benefit of all citizens is a huge task. Somali society is largely structured by clans. And since 2000, its political system has been based on the “4.5 formula” – an agreement to share power between the four large and one group of smaller clans – which has led to a political stalemate and further divisions. Rather than having a collective identity and common goals, Somalis play with their perceived differences – insignificant as they may be. This trend has worsened with the democratization of the internet. Although the media has played a positive and important role in informing Somalis around the world on national affairs, marginalized media often benefit from both misinformation and flames in the divisions of the country – and Somalis eagerly consume and disseminate content on social media, what you see.

As Somali economists, businesswomen, and mothers who form the backbone of our society, we believe that Somalia can strive to restore its nationality, through economic development and fair resource sharing, to which Africa was the envy of Africa in the decades before the civil war Strategy. Nothing is more important than the pursuit of prosperity at the local, regional and national levels. Only when this is achieved will Somalia create the peace and political stability that have long escaped it.

Somalia has seen many encouraging economic developments over the past decade. This includes creating regional states such as Hirshabelle, Galmudug, South West State and Jubaland in a system designed to decentralize the power of central government. Somalia has also gone through tough debt relief, overseen by various administrations under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund, to help Somalia repay its loan obligations. In addition, the last three administrations have set up various institutions to replace the old ones – from large ministries to district-level institutions – that were destroyed in the course of the civil war. These include educational institutions, health care, consumer protection and military institutions.

However, each of these developments has its drawbacks. Despite the long-awaited consensus on the formation of regional states, the lack of political cohesion between these states and the federal government continues to hamper economic growth and the confidence of domestic and foreign investors. Debt relief is only a short term solution that will not keep the economy growing and attract the kind of private equity investment Somalia needs. The country shouldn’t rush from paying back debt to taking on more debt and instead use its resources to attract long-term private equity stakeholders. The new institutions have no clear mandates and no clear supervision. In the meantime, the private sector needs more regulation as Somalia is currently operating on market economy principles which have created further inequality and NGOs have built parallel institutions that hamper the government’s ability to provide essential services.

The country’s economic and social potential is cause for hope for Somalis, but Somalia’s efforts to build strong institutions that harness it have so far failed. As Somalis say, “Krug Krug Meeshaada Joog” (“You take one step forward and two back”). Somalia has been blessed with an abundance of resources and industries, including oil and gas, minerals and mining, and agriculture and fishing. The entrepreneurial skills of Somali men and women around the world continue to exist alongside abject poverty and its consequences: high unemployment, low literacy rates, high internal displacement rates and a deteriorating environment. In 2015, 67 percent of Somalis between the ages of 14 and 29 were unemployed, and in 2018 around 62 percent of Somalis were illiterate. Up to 70 percent of Somalis live in poverty and it is estimated that more than 2.6 million Somalis are displaced within their own country.

When Somalis are doing badly overall, women suffer disproportionately, especially when it comes to violence, education, job opportunities and social protection. Women are the main contributors to the small and medium-sized businesses and retail trade that are the engine of the country’s economy. They are often the only providers for their families and play a vital role in the peace process by providing a voice of reason. However, they are not involved in government or politics in any meaningful way. Instead, politicians throw around “female empowerment” as a catchphrase. And while politicians pay lip service to the contribution of women to Somali society, women have no place at the table where decisions are made that harm them the most and the future generations they raise. Women currently hold a small fraction of government positions and even fewer corporate positions.

In the midst of political turmoil, it is important to still have hope. Yet many Somali youth are hopeless. In their society, picking up the pen instead of the weapon does not mean a sustainable livelihood. The Somali economy must serve the youth so that they can reach their potential and become productive members of society rather than being a societal burden falling into destructive activities like violent clan wars, piracy, terrorism and drugs.

Since political will is at the core of any economic development plan, Somalis must urge their politicians to prioritize and implement effective policies. Inclusive politics and shared growth must be central. Regardless of age, gender, clan, political affiliation or region, all citizens of Somalia should be included on the national economic agenda. Women in particular need to be represented throughout the socio-economic structure of the country: they should have more seats in parliament, senate and cabinet, as well as in boardrooms and executive suites in the private sector. One way to get there would be to introduce a quota that requires women to take on 50 percent of government roles. The government should also incentivize businesses to hire and promote women. And the government should have financial resources to empower women who provide women’s capital to start businesses and make existing businesses thrive.

Likewise, shared growth should extend to all members of society, not just the elites. Somalia’s resources must benefit the country’s vulnerable populations, who also need a safety net. Whether through national revenue or foreign aid, the government must work with all stakeholders – the private sector, NGOs and civil society – to produce an economic development plan that will enable the country to achieve specific development goals that will help it move out of poverty . These goals should include, for example, the transition from an import-based to a food-safe economy, job creation in manufacturing and engineering in Somalia, and investment in free, quality health care and education.

Otherwise, Somalia will continue to fall into the stereotype of a deeply corrupt state, where political standing and connections ensure social and economic comfort. This will continue to damage the country’s image worldwide and divert the divestment to other more reliable and transparent African nations.

Without these changes, Somali society will never be a just or sustainable model, and there will be more social and economic conflicts. Therefore, in the run-up to the elections and beyond, the Somali people must demand the ambition and courage of their future leaders to promote inclusive policies through equitable access to economic opportunities that restore the dignity of citizens.

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