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by Abdirizak S. Hassan Ph.D
Saturday, December 17, 2016

1. So you want to become the president of Somalia… and you feel ready to tackle the different challenges facing this post-conflict nation. Here is what to expect:

2. Welcome to Somalia, poor, corrupted, fractured, insecure with weak and under-developed institutions. The government apparatuses are ineffective and inefficient to carry the smallest imaginable task. Its people are tired, frustrated, humiliated, and deceived by unscrupulous businessmen and opportunistic tribal minded politicians. This has allowed them to mortgage their future and accept every promise from these pseudo-politician and witty clansmen.


3. Let's assume that you are a leader with impeccable integrity with good intentions. That you want to realize the dreams of millions of Somalis…? The Somalis are generally forgiving and grossly gullible – initially, but are quick to gauge the inner soul of their leaders. Simply, their blind trust can eviscerate in no time.


4. Somalia lags behind in all average conditions and statistics of all African and non-African countries.  The coronation period is over, and you made a wonderful speech promising to tackle corruption and insecurity. That you would work tirelessly to improve the living conditions for millions of Somalis that live in destitute conditions, primarily the internally displaced, migrants, refugees, unemployed, widows, pensioners, wounded, and marginalized ones. Similar pledges were made by your predecessors but unequivocally failed their promises. However, you are determined to prove them wrong. You consider yourself a man of the people.


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5. Now you are in control, the most powerful man in Somalia. It's time to rule. Since you have never held a government post or have a marginal experience, you need to be prepared for your day-to-day work. You assembled all your ministers and senior officials to a meeting at Villa Somalia. It is time for an overview.




6. Somalia has 12,300,000 citizens on a landmass of 637,657 sq km. Average life expectancy is around 52 years, and population growth is estimated around 1.9% a year.  The unemployment level is estimated around 80%, which means a limited regular income for the majority of your citizens.  Still, the majority of your citizens live in a rural setting; largely a combination of nomadic pastoralists and small plots farming. Large numbers of your citizens are either refugees or internally displaced which would increase the pressure on the land.


7. Gross national product in Somalia is estimated around US $6.6 billion a year.  This means a per capita income of roughly US $537 .00 per person in 2015(data from Somalia is unreliable). Despite prolonged social strive, the economy grew modestly and will continue to grow given an improvement of the underlying security and general citizen sentiment and expectation. The most important source of income for the majority of the Somalis is the USD $1.3 billion remittances per year. This crucial source of income is seriously threatened by the new de-risking of banks in fund originating countries. Also, the remittances fund the ever-expanding trade deficit. The productive sector(s) - livestock, fishery, and agriculture is decimated by a multiplicity of factors and would take years to recover and require substantial targeted investment. Construction and telecommunication have been the new engines of the economic growth.


8. So far, you are not an expert in these macroeconomic facts. You need to inquire what these numbers mean for the people of Somalia and how this impacts the day-to-day life of the average Somali. Your Finance Minister explicates these are extreme poverty measures by all internationally accepted standards. The majority of your citizens die young, lack basic necessities and infrastructure (clean water, food, shelter, medicine, and school). These are not privileged necessities rather basic human rights that every citizen must have. The above conditions indicate a part of the improved security and return of resemblance of normalcy, Somalia faces daunting socio-economical and political challenges.




9. Still, you aren’t intimidated and sincerely believe you can make a difference, you can succeed where others have miserably failed. You believe for the right purposes, you can clearly do more today than yesterday, and the people of Somalia have done so well while operating at a fraction of their potential during last several decades. Now is the time to ask the nation’s well-being. Civil-wars or general social strives are sometimes called “development in reverse”. Somalia continues to be mired in a latent conflict that a part from the obvious direct impacts such as death, disability, rape, violence, famine, and spread of diseases, has taken indirect psychological and social impacts.


10. A new study has found 2/3 of all adult Somalis suffer a sometime type of mental disorder as a direct result of the conflict. Your social advisor advises you that Somalia lags behind the majority if not all of Human Development Index (health, education, and income). Somalia ranks 123 out of 130 countries, even though the country suffers from a lack of credible data. Low health and education standards along with general insecurity have considerably contributed to high rates of infant mortality, low life expectancy, the spread of preventable disease, acute food shortage – hence chronic malnutrition. The education sector doesn’t fare better than the healthcare. Gross education enrolment is less than 20%; with less than 1% in nomadic communities. Most of the health and education services are provided by community-based organizations. The general literacy rate is approximated around 40%, and it’s lower for women. Your advisor denoted that one of the major constraints is the lack of government finance and focus in these sectors. You took a note.


11. I am assuming you are well-versed on the general insecurity and vulnerability of the average Somali. You are elected on a platform to restore peace and defeat the anti-peace elements in the country, so I wouldn’t bother you with its grim statistics. On related aspect close to 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced, and more than 3 million are dependent on humanitarian aid. Conflict and insecurity are the major reasons of the general displacement.


12. On the productive sector - agriculture, which contributes more than 60% of the Gross Domestic Product, half of employment and exports, is severely stressed. Somalia’s general infrastructure is debilitated and requires immediate rehabilitation. Investment is immediately required but due to the risks and uncertainty in the country, no direct foreign investment is coming to the country, and the domestic savings can't support the required investment amount to undertake critical investments in electricity, telecommunication, ports, and innovation.


13. The briefings continued… until all the budget line items are addressed and their importance successfully defended. Finally, it's time to hear from the budget guy. On one important note, if you thinking to reduce the public service to safe costs, Somalia is in the midst of insurgency and defense cut is off-limits and civil service employees number less than five-thousand (5,000) not including regional employees which are another problem I am not going to stress you about.


14. As any Somali politician, you should be concerned about your ultimate political survival in a byzantine politics for its decadence and for intricate intrigues and power-plays. Most importantly, there is a great public incredulity about your sincerity to deliver key promises. You can’t impute them in our current tribal politics characterized by one of Bedouin’s infamous saying ““Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers.”


15. You may be thinking to appoint impartial technocrat ministers who are not based on clan, region, and other intrinsic factors but you must thread cautiously. Somalia is politically, socially, and even religiously fractured country. This means there wouldn’t be one-size-fits –all solution or radical departure from the status-quo must be carefully recalibrated. Simply put you need to appease all sides of your constituencies and will take additional resources that Somalia currently doesn’t have.




16. With Gross National Income (GNI) of approximately US$6.6 billion and the average tax-to-GNI ratio of approximately 2.8 percent, the Federal Government of Somalia has a budget ceiling of US$ 185.00 million, excluding any international assistance for direct budget support and federal member states. This means around merely US$15 per person to meet the needs of education, health, infrastructure, defense, reconciliation, water, sanitation, productive sector, administration, diplomacy, civil service, and policing.  The international aid flow (developmental, humanitarian, and peace-keeping support) to Somalia has been increasing for the last several years; however, most of the support is off-budget. The external debt is around US$5.3 billion (93 percent of the GDP). Somalia lacks the ability to service this debt and has been building significant arrears.


17. If you are genuine president, you should be petrified by the magnitude of the challenges that would unfold in your presidency.  How would you solve your country’s problems with less than $15 per person, not factoring in debt, development projects, or any social programs? Most important, Somali hasn’t seen any meaningful progress for the last several decades that would support the reduction of poverty or attract much required foreign/private direct investment. Most acutely the absence of sound management and unrestrained rampant corruption across all social stratum discourages any brave souls that would attempt to invest in your country.  I believe these underlying challenges should make you think with the best intentions; there is no possible way to fulfill your objectives.


18. It's time to reflect on the hard choices that you face as a new president against the promises that you made for the people of Somalia and the resource limitation you face. What do you need to give up? Healthcare, education, military spending, development projects, sanitation, clean water, or everything since you don’t have any meaningful resources to implement any meaningful agenda.


19. I hope by now you come to the conclusion that there is no way you can meet the basic needs of your citizens with available resources, irrespective of your vision and leadership quality and you are doomed to fail. Also, I wish you believe that bad governments are the center of this vicious cycle and adding new resources wouldn’t have that much material impact other than line the pockets of those that are already well to do.


20. Let's hypothesize that you are a good leader and you effectively and efficiently managed available meager resources, and you need extra resources – Aid and possibly trade. Similar to any post-conflict country, Somalia confronts a wide range of developmental choices and challenges. Your decisions would have tremendous impact ranging from on how to i) articulate or define national priorities, 2) bring national alignment and accountability, 3) provide incentive or disincentive, 4) empower or disempower national institutions, 5) support or obstruct capacity development, 6) drive or inhibit coordination of national priorities.


21. The donor community has chosen multi-donor trust funds (MDTFs) as the premier transition financing modalities for post-conflict countries to hedge their perception of risk in recipient entities while at the same time satisfying domestic and international political pressures. Someone would assume since, the first MDTF was set up in Bosnia-Herzegovina and West Bank/Gaza the donor community, donor agencies, and their donors learned and adopted the best modalities for respective recipient states, however, still weak and fragile states continuous to face supply-driven modalities with no significant relevance on the ground. Colossal impediments remain to establish on-budget transition financing that utilizes in-country systems.  Most importantly, MDTFs are perceived as dependable long-term funding sources, which facilitates quick donor coordination and disbursement of funds. MDTFs are designed to provide recipient states with a dominant role in reconstruction and development programs. However, current modalities have contributed little to its conceptual benefits in areas of strengthening institutional capabilities, promoting legitimacy, and prioritizing recipient state needs. Donor domination, short-termism, dominant oversight bodies, and unattainable standard and procedures have reverted donor funds to their traditional modalities.


22. Since you are a new-comer to the Somali scene, Somalia wouldn’t be an exception to the modalities described above. You would face determined donor community that would continue to pursue or implement narrowly defined pet projects that are not in-line with your campaign promises. On-going government work-plans and flagship programs would face predetermined agendas by donor agencies priorities. This conundrum hinders effective management and planning of government priorities and interpolates generic improvement of institutional capacities. Moreover, lack of centralized decision-making process coupled with excessive external influence would hamper your most good intentions and would create parallel and overlapping projects that would have no strategic links with your overall desirable goals that you told to the people of Somalia.  


23. I hope I have illuminated the challenges that you would face on your first day at the office, and I wish you the best luck!

Abdirizak S. Hassan Ph.D.

[email protected]

[1]  The format and central theme of this short-essay is adapted from: Africa Doesn't Matter: How the West Has Failed the Poorest Continent and What We Can Do About It (2012).

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