Seven reasons to be optimistic about future 0f Somalia. By: Abdullahi Hamud

Posted by on Aug 12th, 2014 and filed under English, MAQAALO, NEWS IN ENGLISH, Warar. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

10374160_10202187040493712_851978852_nDespite the many challenges Somalia face, there are several reasons why we should be optimistic about the future of Somalia.

1. A communication revolution, a data revolution

The communication revolution is a boom for Somalia. The rise of social media will lead to more transparency and more sophisticated forms of democracy, both in Somalia and elsewhere. Citizens now have extremely powerful tools to hold leaders to account and ensure funding is correctly channelled. The communication revolution has spawned a data revolution, and mobile phones will help Somalia catch up with other countries in the gathering of data. Somalia surely needs more, and better, data collection. I am confident that new technologies will help level the playing fields and will give the country a chance to generate the data it needs for better decision-making. In 2001, only 25 million Africans had a mobile phone subscription; today, Africa has over 650 million subscriptions and in Somalia, without a properly funded infrastructure, the private sector was able to build an invaluable communication network. According to Reuters, 20% of Somalis now subscribe to one or the other telecom network providers operating in the country and this number is going to increase substantially in the coming years.

2. Somalia: the Silicon Valley of banking?

According to Carol Realini, California-based mobile banking innovator and executive chairman of Obopay, “The future of banking is being defined in Africa … It is going to change the world”. Mobile phones spread information about agriculture and healthcare to far-flung areas. The Grameen Foundation (not yet involved in Somalia) is going further and using mobile technology to gather extensive data directly from farmers and connecting them with resource and investments.  The mobile phone is the ultimate data-capturing device. More and better data is surely needed in Somalia to ensure informed policy and investment decisions. For too long, the rural poor have been used as tools for a tribal/ideological battle between various groups. The mobile phone has the potential to integrate them into the mainstream economy and into the body politic thus better involvement and enhanced decision making.

Somalia, the banking revolution has already started as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of dollars transacted daily through mobile phone payment systems, and this innovation will continue to grow to even better heights. It will dramatically reduce risk of carrying large amount of money for trade transactions with the fraction of the cost as well as being quick resulting timely payments.

3. Consistent sustainable development leads to prosperity

Somalia has the opportunity to learn from the developmental mistakes of more established countries. One such mistake was to take a narrow approach to reading on data. Per capita GDP is now considered a blunt instrument for determining if a country is on the right trajectory. The trend is towards a holistic approach (e.g. the Legatum Prosperity Index), whereby individual well-being is as important as raw wealth. According to Legatum, prosperous societies are those that afford their citizens good education, entrepreneurial opportunity, freedom and social integration – among other things. Countries become prosperous by consistently investing in sustainable development over a long period. Legatum Prosperity Index 2013, Norway came best country; UK in 16th place and Djibouti occupy 120th spot. Unfortunately, Somalia does not feature in the index but as the country emerges from long and protracted inter clan civil war, things are looking positive and good governance has the opportunity to shape the future of the country.

This more nuanced approach to prosperity helps explain the concern that Africa’s growth is mainly attributable to the extractive industries. Yes, this constitutes economic growth and development, but how sustainable is it, and can it be considered quality development? How do we ensure that primary sector e.g. Agriculture; fisheries and mining wealth leads to prosperity? Short term thinking was one of the sins of colonialism: it takes time to build strong institutions, which can counter the tendency towards centralisation of power. America is rich and powerful because of the early establishment of property rights, a strong judicial system, a sound and fair system of taxation, and representative government reaching down to the village level.

4. The power of individual liberty

In many African countries, there is growing trust in the power of individual liberty. Certain African governments seeking to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of their young and energetic populations have downsized. Cleaner, leaner governments are driving growth on the continent and helping to boost the private sector. Nigeria is a prime example of this, as is Ghana and to certain extent Ethiopia.

We must not forget that one of the most sustained and ordered development stories is Europe after the Second World War. When the countries of that continent stopped fighting and channelled their competitive energy into commerce, the results were spectacular. It’s very encouraging when African countries can look to others in the region for examples of economic success and technological innovation. Rwanda has, in 20 years, gone from devastating genocide and war to a progressive, entrepreneurial, tech-savvy dynamo, posting record growth. Countries that get their policy house in order can attract investment from neighbours. Successful African countries pull others along in their wake.

Somalia is an a primary position to learn from others and pave own development trajectory.

5. Bring back the dignity of the land

Countries that develop institutions, with roots deep in their soil, will build wealth for their citizens. Agriculture is an important source of income, and too many African countries have to import food. This is a drain on national finances and undermines national confidence. Infrastructure development, incentives and secure property rights could reverse the trend and usher in a food boom in Somalia. Farming demands a certain commitment to land and community: the same cannot always be said for other sectors. Further, agriculture and primary sectors employ 71 percent of Somalia’s labour force. Farm yields in Somalia are relatively low – productivity gains in agriculture directly benefit the millions of Somalis who work the soil. Promoting the development of agriculture is the quickest way to build prosperity. We must bring back the dignity of the land. Somalia’s self-reliance depends on it.

Somali Government must lead the way and put medium to long-term Economic Development plan in place and foster Agriculture/fishery revolution through education; innovation and investments.

6. Better data for better education

We must enhance the dignity of the teaching profession. School enrolment has improved dramatically in Somalia, and the recent Go 2 School initiative sponsored by SFG and UNICEF is a good step forward and it is to be celebrated. But the quality of instruction is of concern. Again, qualitative data will help. Children attending school is not enough, there needs to be the expectation of high standards. Improved data collection will help ascertain areas of weakness in the school system. Targeted curriculum that will enhance future economic activities is crucial. Vocational qualifications will better target known gaps and can give results quicker than the formal perhaps standard qualification route.

Certainly, Japan’s early development years was mainly based on vocational training to enhance a particular industry and to build sustainable human capacity to ensure enough skilled personnel were available as the sector grew.

7. Knowledge equals power and wealth

If it is true that knowledge equates to power and wealth, then Somalia can look forward to an exciting future. No country stands to gain as much from new technologies, which allow for the exchange of information, as Somalia. Soon, many Somalis will have the world’s entire fund of knowledge in the palm of his or her hand. As Somalia gathers strength in capacity building; continues to build solid institutions with good governance and entices educated Somalis back to the country, this should boost confidence of outside/inside investors to feel comfortable to invest in building systems of knowledge gathering and analysis to help Somalia join the world’s most prosperous nations.

Abdullahi Hamud is a Senior Manager with a B.Sc in Development Economics from SOAS – University of London.


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