Monday, December 7, 2020
By: Hodan S. Isse & Sagal B.H. Musa
Somalia is on borrowed time. There is no more time to continue in the same trajectory of putting all our eggs in the political basket. We need a paradigm shift. We played polarized politics for decades that has handicapped the fabric and socio-economic landscape of the country. Enough is enough; it is time for real change. We start with economics.
As we see it, and has been proven time and again, there is a consistent lack of political will to uplift millions of Somalis out of economic despair. The next government has a moral duty to come up with a real, viable framework of sustainable economic development that is an inclusive model with shared prosperity. As critical technocrats whose sole self-interest is aligned with the national interest of the millions of economically and socially disenfranchised Somalis who only want to get educated, feed their families and live a peaceful life with dignity — we find ourselves at a critical juncture where we can no longer stand in sidelines because of the urgency of the dire situation that Somalia can’t extract itself from.
We do not need to be lectured on the state of Somalia. We are not out of touch; we are aware of both the historical and current context of the country. Moreover, similar to most Somalis we can articulate the many wrong events that have transpired in the country; however, how we differentiate ourselves is that we are solution-oriented in our attempt to shift the national dialogue. We continually keep having the wrong national dialogue where we are concerned with figureheads and finger-pointing tactics. The next President and whichever clan/region he/she will be from will NOT feed our children. We need to stop looking at the country as a politically motivated ticking time bomb and instead focus on the plethora of economic possibilities and demand for inclusive economic development once and for all. Somalia’s political class keeps arguing to win an argument as opposed to just winning – which would mean to have a developed and prosperous nation. Somalia’s economic problems cannot be cured by the band-aid of business as usual. The next government must prioritize economic development as a tool for encompassing security and social, economic, and national reconciliation.
Our divisions are numerous. We are a tribal set, conflict-oriented politics is our forte, and unfortunately, we have some segments of the media who benefit from enflaming and misinforming on these divisions. Instead of having a collective identity and shared goals, we harp more on our perceived differences which on any measure compared to other countries are not tangible nor real. We, as economists, believe our shared vision and goal should be to rebuild our national allegiance that was once the envy of Africa through economic development and an equitable resource sharing strategy. We believe nothing is more revered in life than the pursuit of prosperity and our shared national agenda should solely be one of great economic development locally, regionally and federally which will have the outcome in creating the peace and political stability that has eluded us for decades.
Is the glass half empty or half full – we would say neither. There have been many encouraging developments such as the creation of regional states, the debt relief process, various institutions have been created, the private sector remains a rich source of pride, and the NGO’s have provided a much-needed lifeline. However, for each other of those developments, there is a negative flip side. Though we welcome the political consensus that has been reached, the lack of political cohesion with the regional states and the federal government continues to negatively impact economic growth and both domestic and foreign investor confidence, debt relief does not translate into policies that grow the economy and is not structured in a shariah-compliant method, the institutions created do not have clear mandates that are enforced, the private sector needs stringent regulation, and the NGO’s have built parallel institutions that have handicapped the role of the government in providing essential services.
Are we optimistic? Yes, however, we recognize the fragility of this statement as Somalia continues to be a case of unrealized economic and social potential. Our optimism is dimmed by the perennial state and institution building that Somalia is not able to crack. It is a broken record, as Somalis say “jug, jug meeshaada joog” (you take a step forward and two back). Our conundrum is that it is very difficult to reconcile the potential resource abundance that Somalia has been blessed with and the first-class entrepreneurial abilities displayed by Somali men and women across the world with the excruciatingly abject poverty that is displayed by low literacy rate, highest unemployment, high rates of internal displacement, and deteriorating environment. Our cautious optimism is tempered by the fact that without the execution of the various ingredients that are necessary prerequisites for viable and sustainable economic growth and shared prosperity we find ourselves perpetually pessimistic which is not an ideal state to dwell in.
The urgency in which we write this article is premised on the fact that women suffer disproportionally in Somalia, whether it is from violence, lack of education, work possibilities, social protections, etc. While on the other hand, women are the main productive contributors to the engine of the economy: the SME’s and petty trade. They are the mothers (sole providers in many cases), they are peace-builders, remittance payers, and it is time for them to be included in a meaningful way instead of using women empowerment as a weightless buzz word. We are citizens that are considered more than half of the population, and we should not be at the mercy of self-interest politicians who are not able to recognize the essential contribution Somali women dominantly play in society. They are used as political pawns when playing lip-service to their contribution; however, they do not have a real stake or a seat at the table when decisions are made that disproportionately affect them and the future generations whom they are raising.
An essential human feeling is to have hope. Our youth are hopeless. They are told to pick up the pen and not the gun. In a country where the incentive of picking up and nurturing the pen does not translate into a concrete livelihood; we have to re-design and re-tool our economy to serve the youth so they can reach their potential and become productive members of society rather than being a societal burden and easy prey to destructive activities such as clan wars, piracy, terrorism, drugs and illegal activities etc.
Political will is at the crux of any economic development plan and we, as Somali women economists, businesswomen and most importantly mothers who are the vital backbone of the society urge the politicians to implement effective economic development policies. We are not writing this in a politically motivated capacity but as concerned daughters of the country who are attempting to shed light and provide solutions using our expertise. Within these solutions, we believe inclusive and representative politics and shared growth are essential to the national economic dialogue. Regardless of age, gender, clan, political affiliation/region, all citizens of the country should be included in the national agenda (policies, resource-sharing, etc.). How can we, even within our privileged platform, feel constructive and valued members of the society when we do not see women represented in various aspects of socio-economic structures in the country?
Similarly, social, and shared benefit should accrue to all – especially the vulnerable populations who need a safety net. Whether it is national revenue, international and foreign aid or loyalties/contributions should be used to grow the marginal social benefit of the citizens of the country. Somalia continues to be the typical African state where political standing and associations amass social benefit. This will never be an equitable or sustainable model and will lead to continued social and economic strife.
Therefore, we urge the Somali people to demand from their future leaders the ambition and courage to have the political will to promote inclusive policies through equitable access to economic opportunities that will restore the dignity of the citizenry.
Dr Hodan Isse is the Clinical Assistant Professor Emeritus at Finance and Economics School of Management University of Buffalo. Dr Hodan is an FGM UNICEF goodwill ambassador and goodwill ambassador UNFPA Maternity and child death, and a research associate at Tangaza University in Kenya. Dr Hodan formerly served on the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of Somalia and was selected as one of the “200 Women who will change the world.”
Sagal B.H. Musa is a Managing Director of BHM Holding, Ltd, one of the largest FPC’s in Somalia with a focus on East Africa real estate development and private equity investments. Sagal, an MIT Sloan Fellow, has an MPA from SIPA, Columbia University and B.S. from Leonard N. Stern School of Business, NYU. Sagal has over sixteen years of corporate finance, asset management and business development experience working for and alongside institutions such as Merrill Lynch, HSBC, Orange, IFC, UNDP Private Sector, and Credit Suisse.