Somalia and Foreign Aid: A love affair!

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By Mohamed Ahmed

It is reported that Richard Burton once said Arabs called Somalia Bilad Wa issi, the land of give me something! This reminded me of a more apt tweet from a prominent Somali figure. As you may recall donors pledged 2.4 billion dollars at a conference in Brussels last year. This is the fund (or lack of) that got this famous Somali tweeter personality nose out of joint. He was complaining about how the donors never kept their promise! You might think with all the current corruption scandals in Somalia no one will be masochistically devoted to the begging bowl. Foreign aid is one of the most popular ways the western world recommends as a way of combating poverty in Africa. Most of the literature on foreign aid is saying that International aid is ineffective in fostering economic growth. The fundamental assumptions that aid money is effective in contributing to economy is somehow flawed. Foreign aid is effective if economic policies of a country is good. A country with no strong financial system like Somalia will most likely divert funds to the great gaping maws of greedy politicians. The aid money is mostly wasted on overhead and corruption. While considerable good comes out of supporting Somalia pay for its government, misappropriation of aid money will keep crippling the progress of state building in Somalia! I’m not suggesting any bad faith or malice on the path of those sedulous leaders trying to resuscitate Somalia. Indeed, it is the feckless leaders that have love affair with foreign aid that I am upbraiding here! If Al-shabab can be more sensitive to the plight of the most vulnerable citizens, I’m sure those in power can also be as creative and imaginative.

Al-Shabab thinking beyond terrorism

In their most ebullient moment, Al-Shabab was reported to have envisioned a self-sufficient Somalia. It is reported that as a consequence of Al-shabab’s  canal building projects in Lower Shabelle, farmers productivity increased dramatically. Al-shabab realized that it is propitious time to initiate self-help projects. It may be instructive to recall that this is the same pesky Al-shabab that have terrorized the country!  Al-shabab alleges that most of these aid groups relentlessly squeezes the local economy. According to Al-shabab,  NGO’s dependence spells disaster. A fast growing debate is generated over the effectiveness of international aid in combating poverty in the developing world. The recent public spat between Dambisa Moyo, the author of Dead Aid, and Bill Gates of Microsoft, proves that the debate is gaining more attention. Foreign aid money can be a deadly virus that attacks the bodies of countries that are beset by political and economic disappointments.  Sources like private funds, and diaspora remittance have proved to be quite effective in fostering growth and investments. These funds are less likely to be misspent as compared to misappropriation of most of the foreign aid money.

Vultures Perch in Villa Somalia

Today Somalia is poor because of the long protracted civil war, and the stifling dominance of politics and economics by corrupt elites. If your eyes are as sharp and your ears as acute as ever, you will note that Somalia is a country where institutions don’t work, criminality and corruptions at the top office goes unchecked. Aid flow destined to help rebuild Somali government mostly end up in the pockets of the well-connected politicians. Corruption should undoubtedly be a critical concern for donors. A Kenyan newspaper columnist, Rasnah Warah,   reported in her recent column that millions of dollars, mostly from Arab countries, were never deposited in the central bank (http://www.nation.co.ke/news/-/1056/2228088/-/14buggq/-/index.html). One wonders where all the money went. Some shocking reports are showing that Somalia was given close to seven hundred million dollar from 2004-2013.The same leaders responsible for mismanaging these foreign aids are sitting in their vultures perch at Villa Somalia waiting for more opportunities to steal! The late American historian Howard Zinn once commented, “There is a basic weakness in governments, however massive their armies, however wealthy their treasuries, however they control the information given to the public: Their power depends on the obedience of citizens, of soldiers, of civil servants, of journalists and writers and teachers and artists. When these people begin to suspect they have been deceived and withdraw their support, the government loses its legitimacy and its power”. Unfortunately it may come as an unpleasant surprise to some that the current Somali government is slowly losing legitimacy (if they haven’t already). And frankly speaking it is the citizens’ responsibility to demand a government that can foster their development more fully than what the current government is offering!

           This is an era of showy, but insubstantial affection for Somalia-of clan arguments that burns like a jet fuel!  You don’t have to go far back to find Somalia leaders ever present hypocrisy. The reaction of those implicated in the recent central bank scandal proves the contentious relationship of truth with Somali leaders.  Even more disturbing is that brave people like Yusra  Abrar who couldn’t stomach the corruption are intimidated. The former minister of foreign affairs, Fowzia Adan, released a statement responding to Reuters damaging allegations about her hands in the scandal .I guess the allegation lacerated Fowzia like a flying glass!  In her unmistakable stink of desperation, Fowzia decided to pass the blame like a hot potatoes! Fowzia claims she was only a messenger that passed information from assistant minister of finance to the director of central bank. Unfortunately for Fowzia, she couldn’t squeeze the paste back into the tube.Some people even rushed to Fawzia’s defense by saying women can never be corrupt! Unbeknownst to them that a new study by political science researchers at Rice University titled “Fairer Sex” or purity myth? Corruption, Gender, and institutional Contexts” writes that, “Where corruption is stigmatized, women will be less tolerant of corruption and less likely to engage in it compared to men. But if “corrupt” behaviors are ordinary part of government supported political institutions, then there will be no corruption gender gap” (http://jee3.web.rice.edu/corruption.pdf). The more society disapproves corruption, the more women also disapproves corruption.

The case for Self-help Initiatives

The most damning delusion that western foreign aid left us with is the feeling of helplessness. Al-shabab’s argument for self-sufficiency at least has some credibility! Many Somaliland locals lulled by the peace they enjoy, and paralyzed by their country lack of international recognition are tempted to think that they are missing all the foreign aid. The deeper truth is that, for quite Some time, the move in favor of Secession have insulated Somaliland  to define their own needs and come up with solutions and strategies to survive without recognition.We are all embedded in a complex network of affiliations; we are members of some clan and extended families. Few months ago I got a phone call from a diaspora group building roads in Somaliland. Now, I knew much of Somalia roads remained in tatters after the civil war. Because of the appeal of the projects, I wholeheartedly supported it. The road being built was in an area right outside Hargeisa. Today more than 13km of road is built on that part of Somaliland, and many roads are on the path of being completed in Somaliland (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_u4JBmfmaA). Foreign aid will have diminished the need of the public to take control of their roads. Moreover, foreign aid would have also provided the government with monopoly over the control of the funds for these projects. Ultimately, the effectiveness of self-help initiatives hinged on the framework of communal vision and shared responsibilities of the citizens.The celerity of Somaliland citizens in building their own roads should gratify any proud Somali. The building initiatives of roads is quite a feather in Somaliland’s cap! Most of the current successful projects are financially supported by the public and diaspora remittance. This is not to say Somaliland doesn’t receive foreign aid money, or that Somaliland is free from corruption. Far from it, if anything this proves that both Somalia and Somaliland self-help initiatives is a far better gamble than any foreign aid handouts. A good governance and low poverty rate are derived from the actions and the thoughts of good citizenship.

In sum, the golden nugget mined from self-help projects is that if done correctly they could free all Somalis from handouts. And if the underlying conditions are highly favorable, Somalia self-help initiatives is possible dream. Whether and how much Somalia actually form these communal initiatives depends on many circumstances, among which is the nature of the community leaders. The ideal for self-help remains grand, as they must have, but demanding and exacting the realization of independent Somali people requires the painstaking work of ordinary citizens and good leadership. I suppose what I’m calling for here is a national imperative to do and be better citizens.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Very good article, Somaliland will fulfil it't enormous potential even more when its recognition comes soon
    Insha-allah.Somalia in the other hand should learn from their mistakes help its people and concentrate on its country forget about claiming Somaliland because we will never make the same mistake and unite with Somalia ever again, the only way i see it happening and its big if is the original dead plan which killed by Somalia is brought to life again and that is Hargeisa,Djibouti,Jigjiga,Garisa,Mogadishu.

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