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Somalia is not just a story of violence and state failure. Focus on our strengths

Friday December 9, 2022
By President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud


Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud at the presidential palace in Mogadishu on 28 May. Photograph: Feisal Omar/Reuters

Development is complex, but in complexity there is an opportunity for innovation if the right partnerships are formed.

In Somalia, where the needs are extreme, multiple and urgent, there is no shortage of development projects, but more often than not, this dominates the global view of Somalia. However, this is not the full story.

Last week, Somalia held its first International Investment Conference. The day before I opened this historic gathering, there was a cowardly terrorist attack on a hotel near the presidential offices, which sadly claimed innocent lives and injured many more. I could hear the fighting from my offices and residencethroughout the night and the attack continued as the conference opened, coming to an end towards the early afternoon, thanks to the efforts of Somalia’s brave security forces.

So, why did I still open a conference on this day? Because we refuse to succumb to the terrorists’ intimidation tactics and Somalia is not a single narrative of violence and state failure. There is not just one story but many, running concurrently to diverse stakeholders, all of whom we must keep on board.

Our situation today is one of hope, of finally overcoming the darkness of the past, which victimised and held down our entire society. Unfortunately, this story of success against the odds is not well told in the international development narratives that are still dominated by the current stark challenges and the perceptions of a crumbled Somalia. This is neither helpful to our national development nor a prudent basis from which to allocate and utilise much-needed donor financing.

This does not mean that Somalia does not have challenges that are hurting our people, challenges that are interwoven and cross-cutting as they are socioeconomic, about the climate, and security.

Today, we are in the midst of one of the worst droughts in history and, tragically, many of the most vulnerable are losing their lives and livelihoods. Our government is desperately trying to respond adequately with appropriate climate mitigation and adaptation measures alongside affected communities and the international community. The meagre resources that are available do not match the enormous need on the ground.

Somalia is threatened by al-Shabaab, the group linked to al-Qaida, who have made it their business to kill, maim and extort the Somali people for the past 15 years. This group once pretended to represent the peaceful religion of Islam but this charade has been exposed by their cruel and systematic violence against innocent people.

While al-Shabaab remains a clear threat in Somalia and the wider region, the government, people and international partners have mobilised in unison to confront them. This collective effort is bearing fruit in terms of the number of newly liberated territories and defeated terrorists who traumatised communities.

The liberation of people from terrorism, the strong grassroots-led uprising against al-Shabaab and the international partnership helping to facilitate the success of the war on terrorism are the real strengths that must be complemented with stabilisation assistance to ensure these historic gains become permanent. In Somalia, or anywhere else, we cannot allow terrorists to make us lose our development focus.

Throughout decades of governance challenges, the Somali people have proved their resilience, ingenuity and moral courage
We are recovering from almost 30 years of devastating civil strife which destroyed the fabric of our society. The pain and loss from this period scars our nation and we are working hard to rebuild trust across different communities. Genuine national reconciliation is a must but it is not instant. In the same way, development is fraught with complexity and will not miraculously appear out of thin air.

So, what is the real solution? Our experience teaches us to focus on the strengths of the people and invest in available natural resources, including livestock, agriculture, the blue economy and digitalisation to achieve sustainable development for and with the people. These must be coupled with genuine commitment to inclusive politics and good governance, as we are in Somalia.

Throughout three decades of governance challenges – sometimes even without a functioning government – the Somali people have proved their resilience, ingenuity and moral courage to survive what would have destroyed many others in the world today. Somali people are the real drivers here and now they are ready to play an even bigger role.

Their priorities and contributions must lead the development agenda for all international partners. As we rebuild Somalia and its institutions, we know we want to be an inclusive, progressive and prosperous society anchored on strong democratic process with accountability and transparency as key pillars.

In post-conflict fragile states like Somalia, development is a slow marathon which is not about winning the race but getting people to run alongside. Every society is complex and unique. There are no perfect conditions for development implementation and we must deliver results to people who are suffering today.

Somalia will not be fixed by the next development project deadline. The issues we are dealing with are historic, deep and intergenerational. If we are able to focus on Somalia’s strengths and look forward with optimism, the possibility for achieving sustainable development will be much greater.


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