Somalia: Can One Woman Fix a Failed State?

Hodan Osman on Harvard’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 16, 2018. Natalie Montaner/Harvard Kennedy School

Somalilandsun: On the afternoon that Hodan Osman watched an acquaintance enter the central bank, she did a double take.

It wasn’t his army uniform that concerned her. Nor that he was flanked by his men. Hodan was used to soldiers; Somalia was fighting a jihadi insurgency. Explosions and gunfire were commonplace, and the capital Mogadishu was a lattice of nervy checkpoints.

It was his bag that got her. She watched him wheel a carry-on suitcase into the cash office and start to fill it up. “They were just piling millions of dollars into that battered bag,” recalls Hodan. “I thought: ‘My god, that’s what $3 million looks like. I just can’t believe this.’”

Hodan, who had recently started as a senior advisor at the central bank, watched the man take $200 from one pile and give it back to the cashier, a bribe as casual as his entrance and exit.

He drove away in a bulletproof truck, accompanied by two more mounted with machine guns. But Hodan was not watching a heist unfold; this was business as usual in Somalia. She learned that the money was for the entire national army’s soldiers’ monthly salaries. The catch was that no one seemed to know where it went next.

Hodan knew the man in charge, a colonel, was tasked with army logistics, not army finance. “He shouldn’t be the one picking up money and distributing it,” she said. “He shouldn’t even be touching money.”

For Hodan, this misguided official process was almost worse than a bank robbery. “Putting that much cash into the hands of people with guns can’t be right,” she said. “If you start with that much, every hand is going to take a bit off the top. Who knows how much is getting to the soldiers?”

Hodan saw many of the ills of a broken state in that single transaction, but she also felt urged to fix the process. She wanted protocols. She wanted automation. She wanted her country to work.

Continue reading Can One Woman Fix a Failed State?