My first visit to Africa – part 3

My visit to Somalia happened at a time, when the country was entering one of its most challenging but also most promising periods. During the six days I spent there, I learned what was at stake for the people of Somalia. 

Renewed hope for Mogadishu
Aunt Sacdiya is the youngest out of my late father’s ten siblings. Her physical resemblance to my father was striking. Her fresh-faced son Mohamed was dressed in a Real Madrid t-shirt and jeans, and I undeniably felt a strong bond with both of them.

One day after the first visit, Mohamed came back to accompany me to our late grandfather’s property in uptown Mogadishu. Sacdiya and her five children moved to district Waberi roughly one year ago after having spent five years in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The family ventured back to Somalia upon hearing about the restored order and peace in Mogadishu, after AMISOM and government troops successfully had driven al-Shabaab out of their strongholds in the capital.

Back on my grandfather’s rooftop
Waberi’s roads were paved and packed with new cars. Here, you would find banks, computer schools and restaurants with out-door-serving. The cost of rent in this part of town had skyrocketed in the past year, which allowed Sacdiya to earn money on renting out one of the rooms in the property to a private company.

One of my childhood memories is of visiting my grandfather at his house, where we would sit up on the rooftop as the dark set in. I hoped to recognize something, but nothing looked familiar. Nevertheless, I could not help, but feel a great sense of belonging to the place.

I discovered, that my other aunt, Hawa, lived nearby – the eldest of the bunch. I visited her multicolored, tidy and posh house, where both her children and grandchildren lived. All of my aunts’ children went to private schools, so I could tell that they were better off than my relatives in Shibis, who begged me to take their eldest daughter with me to Europe, so she could get an education.

Fear of arrests and kidnapping
My uncle Osman stated that now was not the time to be in Mogadishu. He would like nothing more than to show me the whole of the city, but he was afraid of robbers, policemen and soldiers.    

Now, my aunts and their children confirmed the state of lawlessness in Mogadishu. They told me about random arrests and persecution of young men, whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still my cousins and I were able to walk down Makkah al Mukaramah (the main road to the airport) after dark sipping on guava juice.

Both Mohamed and his brother had been arrested by the local police, and released only after the family had paid a large sum of money. Without the payment, their lives would have been at risk. Six months ago, Mohamed’s 14-year-old brother was allegedly kidnapped by al-Shabaab. The family has not heard or seen anything from him in six months. They believe that he is now a child soldier.  

The relentless targeting of terrorists and non-Muslims
The police arrests those, who they suspect are affiliated with al-Shabaab and therefore terrorists. While al-Shabaab target those, who they suspect are pro-government, and by their logic non-Muslims.

The Somali people are caught in the middle of this conflict. If you work for the government as a policeman or a soldier, al-Shabaab persecutes you. If you sympathize with al-Shabaab, the government persecutes you. The only “neutral” public workplace is Mogadishu airport, Mohamed’s sister reasoned.

Because of the insecure prospects, Mohamed and his family decided that he should try his luck at finding a job in Nairobi, Kenya. In East Leigh, a predominantly Somali neighborhood, Mohamed would be able to earn a living meanwhile practicing his English. At least this is what he envisioned.

White sand beaches and warm shallow waters
The next day, two days before my departure, Mohamed and a friend of the family accompanied me to the beach at the old seaport. Since my arrival, I had only smelled and viewed the sea from afar. It was a revelation to see the white sand beach that I remember from my childhood.

Mohamed quickly stripped down to his underwear and jumped into the wave foam. I was not wearing the proper attire for women, so I merely dipped my feet and legs in the warm shallow waters.

As a Somali woman, you are always under scrutiny. If your feet or your arms are showing, or even the slightest hair creeps out of your hijab, you will be told to cover up – even by strangers on the street. But then again, Osman’s wife, Nadia, was ordered to remove her niqab by a policeman on the street.

Before I parted with Mohamed I promised to meet with him in Nairobi. He was to leave for Kenya the following day, and I was to spend a few days there, before I left for Denmark.

To be continued…

Escape from Europe

The economic crisis and rising unemployment particularly among the youth has seen thousands of young Europeans fleeing to Africa in search of work and higher living standards.

Europe debt crisis word cloud - Copyright Vectorportal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional global migration patterns are being challenged by the economic recession. Usually, people from poor countries flee to the West in search for jobs and opportunies. Now, unemployed young Europeans are beginning to migrate to the fast-growing economies of developing “Third World” countries.

A deep economic crisis in European countries characterized by overwhelming debts, rising unemployment, drastic spending cuts has sparked emigration among its frustrated youth.

According to International Business Times, thousands of young Portuguese have migrated to Mozambique in recent years – reportedly as many as 120.000 in 2011 alone. It is estimated, that 25 percent of the Portuguese youth (between the age of 16 and 25) are unemployed.

Portuguese in Mozambique

In contrast to the dire prospects in Portugal, the economy of Mozambique is growing. The former Portuguese colony saw a growth of nearly 8 percent in 2011. Once solely an agricultural economy, the country’s vast natural resources are now being exploited for development.

Despite the economic growth, most Mozambicans remain very poor. According to the World Bank, the average life expectancy is only 48 years and about half of the population live in poverty, the majority of these in rural areas.

Thus, if Mozambique is to truly establish and sustain a prosperous society – the kind that can attract large numbers of highly-skilled immigrants that want to stay for generations, it needs to spread the wealth more widely and ensure jobs for locals.

The exodus of the skilled and well-educated

In the past decades, we have witnessed the desperate measures of people in conflict areas, such as Somalia, in their attempt to flee violence and insecurity. Thousands of Somali refugees have put their lives at risk in order to escape to Yemen, Saudi Arabia or Europe.

Now, young, skilled and well-educated European citizens are willing to migrate to these same conflict areas and former colonies in search of jobs and opportunities. It is a historic role reversal.

In Denmark, unemployment rates are not quite as high as they are in Portugal, but still I find myself applying for jobs abroad and seriously considering whether working as a journalist in Somalia is a good career move or not. I am seriously considering to return to the country my family left behind 22 years ago – in search for work and opportunities.

Sources:

International Business Times

BBC News

What business does Coca Cola have?

The Coca-Cola Company supports dictatorship and exploits workers in Swaziland, says the Danish NGO Africa Contact that has started an online protest. This makes me curious about Coke’s presence in Somalia. 

Coca-Cola has been in Africa since 1929 and is now present in all African countries. It is the continent’s largest employer with over 160 plant and nearly 70,000 employees. Its market share in Africa and the Middle East is 29 percent, which adds up to 9.1 billion liters of Coke a year. In comparison, Pepsi’s share is 15 percent.

However, Coke is accussed of supporting King Mswati III’s rule in Swaziland where it has its biggest operation. The multinational replies, it does not get involved with the politics of any country where it does business.

Nevertheless, democracy activists with Africa Contact, a Danish NGO working in Swaziland, urge the Danes to boycutt Coke. They claim that in addition to supporting the oppresive monarchy, Coke also exploit its sugar cane workers.

Recognition of Somaliland

In 2004, an $8.3 million Coca-Cola plant, United Bottling Company, opened in Mogadishu. Seven years later, Coca-Cola made a strategic relocation of the plant to Hargeisa, Somaliland. Supposedly, the Mogadishu franchise could not function, because of violence in the Somali capital.

Instead, Somaliland Beverage Industries owned by local businessman Ahmed Osman Guelleh was awarded a license to operate the franchise. It covers Somaliland and neighbouring semi-autonomous Puntland and boosts the economy in the two regions.

According to Financial Times, Ndema Rukandema, Coca-Cola’s franchise general manager for the Horn, Islands and Middle Africa, said that:

“Somaliland is a growing economy, made buoyant by the level of trading activity in the country. The stability that the country has enjoyed over the last several years is a positive indication of a conducive business environment.”

Coke leaves Mogadishu behind

When the Mogadishu bottling plant opened eight years ago, the 400-plus investors invited to finance the project were carefully chosen by clan. Each contributed a minimum of $300 to help start the company.

The project was a deliberate effort to create a feeling of communal ownership for the factory in a place where clan-based conflict has long been the rule. With the move from Mogadishu to Hargeisa, Coke seems to have lost faith in the Somali capital’s ability to maintain a profitable business environment.

Peter Kenworthy from Africa Contact says that:

“Coca-Cola is probably in Swaziland because it is a dictatorship that oppresses its unions and population. This allows wages to be kept low and unemployment high”

I wonder what business Coca-Cola has in Somalia and what business does a bottling plant have in a country that has scarce water resources.

Sources:

Danish NGO Africa Contact

Financial Times

The Blog: Facts for working people

Bloomberg’s Businessweek

Youtube Video of the Mogadishu Plant

Debate: Somali struggle to flee violence

Somali people have been fleeing violence and famine for over 20 years. This has caused a humanitarian crisis that is often met with oppression and exploitation. Most countries along the refugee routes deny forced migrants basic human rights.

From violence to safety

Somali people were fleeing the violence and famine in their homeland even before the civil war broke out in 1991. My father along with many other Somalis sought asylum in Denmark as early as 1989.

However, with the growth in violence occasioned by the Ethiopian invasion of 2006, the exodus has severely increased. The majority of Somalis flee to neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen.

Somalis, who flee their homeland may be defined as forced or economic migrants by some nation states and refugees by others, who are willing to recognize often ill-defined violence as persecution.

Migrants are denied basic human rights

Forced migrants and refugees often flee the same violence, but the former have few rights and are sometimes given some form of subsidiary protection, so that the hosting nation will not be accused of sending the migrant back into a zone in which his/her life is at risk.

On the other hand, refugees have the right to travel, work, and educate their children in a fashion equivalent to that of ordinary citizens. According to the Geneva Convention, the definition of a refugee is:

”a person, who because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable or owing to such fear unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” (UN General Assembly 2007, 16)

If say a Somali is forced to migrate because of bandits that have cleared his/hers village, so they can take advantage of the food and livestock left behind, then how does one determine whether or not the migrant is, in fact, a refugee.

The perpetrators could have been made free to commit such atrocities by the chaos created by a larger pattern of persecutions. Nevertheless, the indeterminate nature of violence can make it relatively easy for nation states to deny refugee status to people who are directly or indirectly victims of war and persecution.

Somali diaspora provides financial support

Most countries do not welcome mass migration, so they create legal barriers for Somali migrants. In turn, Somalis create and participate in a transnational community (diaspora) that operates to overcome these barriers.

A worldwide network of money-wiring offices run by Somalis allows them to send money to friends and relatives even in the refugee camps. Meanwhile, organizations smuggle Somali migrants across borders and seas.

The current approach to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia hinders organizations charged with the care of refugees and forced migrants from carrying out their missions successfully. Instead of being a temporary solution, Dadaab has become the largest refugee camp in the world and has been operated as a human warehouse for nearly twenty years.

The current approach removes Somalis from the category of human through a discourse that selectively distributes human rights – rights that were supposed to be universal.

Source:

Rutledge, Doug and Roble Abdi, 2010, “The Infrastructure of Migration and the Migration Regime: Human Rights, Race, and the Somali Struggle to Flee Violence” in Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Perspectives 3 (2), pp. 153-178

Debate: Humanitarian relief

One common image of Somalia is poverty. Add to that disease and famine. The somali people are often portrayed as in need of humanitarian relief. Images of malnourished children with big bellies accompanied by relief shows begs donations to aid agencies. But does anyone benefit from the aid?

Emergency aid and relief shows

On 27 August 2011, the Danish viewers of a national relief show named “Afrika Nu!” donated 110 million Danish kroner to people affected by famine in the Horn of Africa. The money was given to 16 Danish humanitarian organizations (NGO’s) that operate in the region.

Three months later, the Islamic militant group, Al-Shabaab issued a statement banning these organizations from working in areas under the group’s control, accusing them of “illicit activities and misconduct.”

Before that, reports told of aid relief piling up in warehouses in Mogadishu, while people were dying of hunger. Other reports showed how sacks of grain meant for starving Somalis were being stolen and sold in markets.

Aid saves thousands, UN says

Meanwhile, Valerie Amos, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, states that humanitarian relief efforts have saved thousands of lives since famine was declared in July. In Somalia, 4 million people are still in crisis and 250.000 face famine at this moment.

Humanitarian organizations working in Somalia remain strictly neutral, with their only task being to save lives, according to the UN. Amos urges all parties to the conflict in Somalia to respect international humanitarian law.

In addition, environmental scientists suspect that the severe drought in the Horn of Africa is a direct consequence of climate change and the rising global temperatures.   Droughts have so far occurred every 5 – 7 years in the region, but almost never with the extreme conditions of today.

Empowering the people, not the government

Some argue that aid alleviates suffering, while others point out that aid is not effective in the long run. The basic criticism is that aid neither goes where it was intended nor helps those intended.

According to Paul Collier, Professor of Economics, there are four known traps that contribute this problem:

  1. Conflict trap, where aid end up being used to finance military endeavors.
  2. Natural resource trap, where aid is given to resource-rich countries that already have capital flowing into their economies. However, it is not being used to its potential.
  3. Landlock trap is when it is difficult for landlocked countries to engage in global trade.
  4. Bad governance.

Collier’s conclusion is, that aid needs to somehow provide incentives for giving the people power. Power needs to be transferred from the governments to the people. Therefore, aid should be restructured in order to allow for skills building in the countries.

Civil society in Somalia

Conflict is the common denominator for Somali civil society. Many Somalis are dispersed as Diaspora or refugees. Young people in Somalia have no experience of nor interaction with the state and its institutions as conceived in a democratic society.

What civil society?

I sometimes wonder if there is a civil society in Somalia – a society which is civic by nature and has a deep patriotic feeling for the motherland. What happened? Why have they melted away when it was time to stand by their commitments as genuine civil society organizations?

Contestation for power and resources between sets of war-lords within the country on one hand and international ‘outlaws’ on the other has heightening insecurity, environmental degradation and poverty lowering the life expectancy levels for the populations.

In the implementation of the roadmap, the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) have sought to legitimize its power by consulting different groups within society:

  • Religious leaders
  • Clan elders
  • Business community
  • Diaspora
  • Youth groups
  • Women groups
Empowerment of civil society
The participation of Somalia civil society is essential for the peace process. Earlier attempts at constituting a functioning government acceptable to all Somalis have failed because it failed to represent all Somalis.
The latest advancement in engaging the ordinary Somali citizen is an “Umbrella civil society” to cooperate with:
  • Transitional Federal Institutions (TFI)
  • Puntland and Galmadug administrations (regional governments)
  • Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’s (ASWJ).
This development was the outcome of a meeting facilitated by UNPOS, United Nations Political Office in Somalia (Nairobi) and UN Special Representative for Somalia, Dr. Augustine P. Mahiga in Mogadishu on 28 November 2011.
Citizen opinions matters
The members of civil society present at the meeting with the TFG endorsed the four pillars of the Roadmap:
  • Security
  • Constitution
  • Outreach
  • Reconciliation and good governance
They also gave their recommendations for the roadmap, which concerned:
  • Financial support to implement security programmes
  • respecting the timeframe set for Roadmap’s completion
  • Establishing a Constituent Assembly to provisionally endorse Constitution
  • Supporting efforts to reform Parliament
  • Establishing Reconciliation Committees and conferences
  • Enacting anti-corruption legislation

Debate: Clanism in Somalia

Political representation is a complex issue in Somali society, which has been devastated by several decades of civil war causing distrust between people and disillusion with the ‘state’.

The clash between clanism and nationbuilding

Somali citizenship broadly derives from the concept of u dhashay (born to a family/group/clan/nation). This ancestral understanding of citizenship stresses the blood relationship of all Somalis, who claim descent from a common forefather.

Before the outbreak of the civil war in the late 1980s Somalis were commonly perceived as a homogenous ‘nation’. The military regime of Siad Barre demanded loyalty to the state above the clan.

Yet behind the nationalist facade clientism and nepotism continued. In their struggle for power later Somali governments as well as factions in the civil war have used notions of clan loyalty to mobilize support.

The difference between nomads, farmers and the people living in the city 

Different Somali communities have separate perceptions of belonging:

  • Nomads or camel herders: stress family relations. For raiding or in defence, groups of relatives unite.
  • Farmers in southern and central Somalia: stress territoriality, because they depend on land and cooperation for survival.
  • Urban communities: give religious authorities and leaders a strong influence. Here notions of hierarchy and loyalty is key.

In addition, many members of the diaspora have developed a transnational understanding of belonging, and are simultaneously engaged in their country of residence and the homeland.

The Somali diaspora and issues of representation

More than a million Somalis live outside Somalia, either in refugee camps or in countries such as:

  • Italy
  • Canada
  • USA
  • Denmark

Over the last two decades, political representation and participation in peace talks in Somalia has been based on a mixture of clan, military and financial power. This has often strengthened the prestige of warlords and political elites from the diaspora.

Many delegates at national reconciliation conferences fly in to meetings held outside of Somalia. They are paid by international donors and can simply return abroad if things do not ‘work out’ back home.

Representativeness cannot be created from outside. It has to come from within and to be accountable to those who supposedly are being represented: ordinary Somalis.