The biggest resource that Somalia has is its people. No foreigner will ever bring peace, security and economic prosperity to Somalia. The neighbors who today support peacekeeping in the country would never invest in that process for the long haul. In the long run, it is Somalis who have to sit down and plan for the future of their country.
Many East Africans don’t even remember that Somalia used to be a stable country that once produced enough food to feed its people and even export some. Kenyans, for instance, speak of Somalis not so much as fellow countrymen but more as their neighbors from the North Eastern region whose country has brought them violence, death and suffering.
In fact, Kenyans – and many other people in the rest of the world – would easily pair the name Somalia with al-Shabaab. Where the word Somalia appears, even search engines on the Internet are wont to point one to the word terrorism as well. This blinkered view of Somalia dominates how Somalis are viewed at airports, eating places, schools, at the market and in all kinds of social places all over the world. The stereotype ends up as a defining trait of a country and a people that has all the potential to become an economic force in Eastern Africa.
The miracle that the sleeping giant that Somalia is needs is to wake up one morning with democracy and a functioning government. There is nobody in Somalia today who wouldn’t pray for a working government that guarantees peace, security, inclusivity, building of state institutions, respect for human rights, integration of the country into the region and the return of their country to the global community of nations.
There are several factors that favour Somalia’s reinvention. First, the Somali people have the goodwill of much of the world. There are more citizens of the world who would prefer a stable and functioning Somalia than there are its detractors. From the United Nations to its all neighbors, Somalia would definitely receive massive support if its politicians and citizens decided to reemerge from the chaos that has blighted it for almost three decades. The fact that, for instance, countries such as US, Turkey and Britain have established formal diplomatic relationships with Somalia is a very good indication that the country is still seen as a viable modern society by others. It is this care that Somalis need to exploit to their advantage.
With the global concern, where it can be extracted from, Somalis wouldn’t have a shortage of global institutions and industrial corporations willing to invest in the country. Global capital, always on the lookout for where to make an extra dollar, would be quite ready to put some money into Somalia. Why? Because there would be a ready market for goods and services in the country and around it. There is also an abundance of young people who can work in new factories and offices at comparatively low wages. There are several sectors in which these organizations can invest including the old dairy products industry, hides and skins, fishery, fresh farm produce et cetera.
Speaking of industrial investment, Somalia’s long shore and ocean waters are today largely exploited by foreign companies, which hardly pay anything to Somalis. These waters offer opportunities for fishery, ports and tourism among others. These are economic sectors that supported Somalia before. The beaches combined with the plentiful sun, and an artistically and culturally rich society means that Somalia would easily take off on these economic fronts if its leaders guaranteed investors and tourists – local and foreigners – security.
But the biggest resource that Somalia has is its people. No foreigner will ever bring peace, security and economic prosperity to Somalia. The neighbors who today support peacekeeping in the country would never invest in that process for the long haul. In the long run, it is Somalis who have to sit down and plan for the future of their country. They have to calculate the opportunity cost of the continuing chaos. They have to figure out whether it makes sense to continue bickering over a country whose resources are being exploited by outsiders while its people wallow in misery. They have to do their accounts properly and decide how to reinvest in the venture that is their country so that it makes social, cultural, political and economic profit.
“The fact that, for instance, countries such as the United States, Turkey and Britain have established formal diplomatic relationships with Somalia is a good indication that the country is still seen as a viable modern society by others. It is this care that Somalis need to exploit to their advantage.”
How is it that the thousands of Somalis who are solid businessmen and businesswomen right from Somalia to Kenya to South Africa to the UK to Italy to Australia to Canada to the USA can’t see the need to make their country economically viable? The resources that these individuals have built up outside Somalia are unbelievable. Their companies support millions of lives of Somalis and non-Somalis. These men and women send millions of dollars every year back home to their relatives, friends and to support charity groups or community organizations. If there are ties that still bind them to their country, why can’t they think of Somalia as another business? If they did so, shouldn’t they see Somalia as a place to invest in?
But probably the professional class is the biggest resource that Somalia needs to exploit in order to bring back the country to its feet. Somali teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, preachers, economists, agriculturalists, chefs, nurses, mechanics, technicians, pilots among others are spread all over the world. You will find them in Nairobi, Zanzibar, Kampala, Addis Ababa, Doha, Montreal, Paris, London, Perth; all over the world. These men and women have skills, knowledge and experience that are more urgently needed in Somalia today than ever before. Why? Because the country lacks such professionals and the ones that live at home today are just too few. These individuals would also help in setting up institutions of learning that would produce the next generation of professionals and thus help Somalia to rise again.
Some democracy and a people-driven government should afford Somalis such a life as opposed to a miserable life for millions of individuals not just at home where violence is palpable, but also in refugee camps with their unending uncertainties or in cold strange lands.
The writer teaches literature at the University of Nairobi. Tom.firstname.lastname@example.org