As officials of various governments head to London for the February 23 Conference on Somalia, some interesting analyses are coming out regarding Somalia. Several of the best pieces share a focus on the country’s economy, though they approach the topic from different angles. Looking at the economy raises all kinds of important issues that go beyond what usually makes headlines – ie, war, terrorism, and famine.
Reuters‘ Abdi Sheikh and Richard Lough:
One reason for the lack of political progress is that war and instability are lucrative. Somalia’s power brokers, pirate kingpins and business tycoons are reluctant to give up the status quo.
Diplomats say many players in Somalia’s turmoil find that by spoiling reform they can continue to reap the spoils of war.
Talk of peace and reform unsettles bribe-seeking politicians, traders smuggling arms and contraband, militants making deals with pirates and aid contractors taking cuts.
Hussein’s frustration is now vented at Somalia’s rotten political system, where corruption is rampant and the selfish interests of power brokers too often trump national interests.
How much money is stolen, or handed directly to politicians is hard to pin down. Some Arab countries are known to carry suitcases stuffed with cash into Somalia, diplomatic sources say, so it is difficult to track the money.
One wonders if other governments also bring suitcases stuffed with cash.
Dr. Laura Hammond of the School of Oriental and African Studies:
With up to 1.5 million Somalis living abroad, and remittances estimated at $1.3bn-$2bn a year, it is clear the diaspora is immensely important to the country’s survival. But what role exactly is there for the diaspora to play in the political future of the country?
We found that in all areas, the diaspora was heavily involved in promoting education, healthcare, public infrastructure and private enterprise. In the relatively peaceful north the emphasis was on post-conflict reconstruction and development, whereas in the south the more dire humanitarian picture meant more people were involved in providing life-saving support to their relatives and communities.
However, the picture was not entirely rosy. On the ground, many expressed concern that people from the diaspora were taking jobs that could have been done by local Somalis. Some complained that diaspora members came with their money and their university degrees but did not understand the political and practical realities of living in present-day Somalia. Diaspora returnees complained local people did not appreciate what they were trying to do for them.
Mary Harper of the BBC:
It may come as a surprise that, despite coming top of the world’s Failed State Index for the past four years in a row, Somalia ranks in the top 50% of African countries on several key development indicators.
A study by the US-based Independent Institute found that Somalia came near the bottom on only three out of 13 indicators: Infant mortality; access to improved water resources and immunisation rates.
It came in the top 50% in crucial indicators like child malnutrition and life expectancy, although this may have changed since last year’s famine.
“Far from chaos and economic collapse, we found that Somalia is generally doing better than when it had a state,” said the institute.
“Urban businessmen, international corporations, and rural pastoralists have all functioned in a stateless Somalia, achieving standards of living for the country that are equal or superior to many other African nations.”
What are your expectations for the London conference? And where do you see Somalia heading from here? Do things like help from the diaspora and local entrepreneurship offer hope, or is the way cash moves in Somalia too problematic for the country to move forward?