ON July 1, 2015, Somalia will be celebrating 55 years of independence - and doubtless it has been a tough and painful ride.
The country had no formal government or parliament for more than two decades after the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991 which was followed by years of anarchy. It was not until 2012, when a new internationally-backed government was installed, that the Horn of Africa nation that had become a poster child of state failure, began to take baby steps toward recovery and a measure of stability once more in some parts of it.
Despite the major challenges, Somalia has over its history still managed to pull together some feats, producing impressive results. Here are a few of the country’s success stories:
Peaceful power transitions
In the 1967 presidential election, Somalia’s first president, Aden Abdulle Osman Daar, was defeated by Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, his former Prime Minister. His term as president ended on June 10, 1967. Daar accepted the loss and made history by becoming the first head of state in Africa to peacefully hand over power to a democratically elected successor.
Competitive telecom market
Somalia has one of the most competitive telecom markets in Africa. Telecommunication firms provide wireless services in most major cities and offer the lowest international call rates on the continent. The World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion Database (Findex) recently revealed that Somalia was one of the most active mobile money markets: 26% of the population reported using mobiles to pay bills, which is the highest rate in the world, and 32% to send and receive money.
With six out of 10 children not in school, those who went to school were a real minority in Somalia. One of the worst enrolment rates in the world.
However, in September 2013 the Somali government, supported by UNICEF, launched its ambitious “Go to School” initiative providing free education for the first time in more than 20 years. During the past year, nearly 40,000 children in Central South Somalia, where enrolment figures have been lowest, have started formal primary education.
Diaspora for development
Somalia’s diaspora is one of the country’s great success stories and explains why its economy is “still thriving” despite the long absence of the state. The Somali diaspora has been heavily involved in humanitarian relief in the country. Figures vary, but there are estimates that remittances contribute between $1.3 billion and $2 billion per year.
This includes money transferred to individuals, families, private investment and money for development. This support is quick, efficient, trusted and effective. It is also very well targeted, even in remote rural areas.
Defying the odds, in the face of civil strife and conflict, Somalian health officials pulled off a large-scale immunisation campaign getting almost 2 million children vaccinated between 2005 - 2007.
With support from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there was broad community engagement and targeted strategic immunisations; 10,000 Somali volunteers and health workers vaccinated more than 1.8 million children under the age of 5, declaring the country free of polio in 2008. A huge achievement. Unfortunately in 2013, 194 cases of polio were reported from Somalia, the first since 2007, but this was brought under control and in 2015 there have been no reported cases.
Somalia is positioning itself as a new oil and gas frontier. The government has helped to bolster confidence by green lighting a number of new projects to make access and investment in the oil and gas sector easier. This includes an expansion into the Mogadishu port to enable the transfer of rigs and the building of an entirely new port to handle other equipment needed by international oil companies.
They did have a lot of help, in the form of a multinational coalition task forces, but the government and it’s forces should be commended for their efforts in curbing piracy off the coast of Somalia.
The International Maritime Bureau Piracy Report shows zero incidents for Somalia in the first quarter of 2015 – a remarkable turnaround given that just a few years ago, the country’s waters were considered amongst the world’s most dangerous, with attacks occurring almost daily. The bureau says Somali pirates have been deterred by a combination of factors, including the key role of international navies, the hardening of vessels, the use of private armed security teams, and the stabilising influence of Somalia’s central government. Today, according to the EU Naval Force, there are 26 hostages and no ships being held.
The administrations of the autonomous Puntland region in northeastern Somalia had a big part to play in this. They were actively involved in combating piracy with the establishment of the Puntland Maritime Police Force, which began operations in early 2012, which made some progress in denying pirates sanctuary on land and also with on-land raids on pirate hideouts. In 2010 the Puntland government also constructed a new naval base in conjunction with UK-based security company Saracen International.
King of sheep
Somalia is a world leader in export of sheep and goats. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said that in 2014 Somalia exported a record 5 million livestock to markets in the Gulf of Arabia “thanks to heavy investments in animal disease prevention backed by the European Union and the United Kingdom”.
Despite its “war-torn” reputation Somalia, over the past five years, the Horn of Africa country has been incredibly impressive in its livestock production and export figures. In 2011 for example, with almost 4 million exported, Somalia was the world’s leading exporter of sheep and goats. Second was Sudan, with over a million less in numbers exported.
Happy 55th Soomaaliya.