Somaliland: Stateless but Definitely not Aimless – Let us Build Inclusive Growth and Employment


By: Paul Crook

Somalilandsun – The people of Somaliland are, mainly, a great deal younger than the birthday Somaliland celebrated recently. June 26th was the 53rd anniversary of when the British Protectorate was granted its chance to go it alone. Somaliland joined Italian Somaliland, Somalia, some days later (July 1 being the Somalia Day).

The late 80s saw massive ructions, Somaliland, or elements within Somaliland at first, sought to return their separation from all. In 1991, Somaliland unilaterally declared separation from the Somalia union. A paragraph to whet the appetite, there is a library of books published on this history and a swathe of electronic media still interpreting what went on and its implications on what is now happening.

Somaliland has been a conundrum for the international community since then. But not for Somalilanders. Here in Hargeisa, people may not have a recognised state but they do have aims. Often these aims are ill defined and manifest themselves with calls for recognition. It is not within our purview to grant any such recognition; nor are we asked to as we deal with the issues underpinning the vast majority of people on this planet – where and how am I going to make a living? Last year, as the ILO worked on a labour force survey for selected districts, the Minister of Planning asked for a comprehensive planning process to be undertaken addressing the issue of employment. The ILO responded and took up the challenge to support government and civil society to look at what is required to deliver decent work.

‘Over the last few months we have been listening to people talk about a major defining element for anyone of us – the work we do. But many, nearly three in every four people under 30 years of age, have no real defined work and struggle to have others help them define what they want to do; can do. The majority of these fall into two categories: University graduates searching for a ‘suit and tie’ job or those who have migrated from rural Somaliland or Ethiopia searching for casual work which is increasingly seen as the work of migrants’. So said Nimo-Ilhan Ali currently back ‘home’ finishing off her research with the School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS, University of London on how education alters a person’s socio-economic position. 75% unemployment amongst the youth is a frightening statistic; made the more real when placed in to the Horn of Africa context.

As July opened some 120 people talked further building on what people said in Las Anod, Erigavo, Burao, Berbera, Hargeisa and Boroma; towns in all the regions of Somaliland. Add to this, websites, mobile phone technology, print and, yes, word of mouth directly, and we are getting mass participation on how to address the issues of employment

We have drawn on a number of other ILO member states to assist Somaliland’s shaping of what the people, The People, do here. South Africa’s New Growth Path was enormously helpful, Uganda’s continued openness and assistance has influenced the dialogue we are now engaged with in Somaliland.

Somaliland, the whole East African region as well as Central Africa, is concerned about what has come to be called Tahreeb here. Tahreeb is an Arabic word, do not ask me to fully explain, I am but the typical Englishman, which has come to refer to the youngsters who seem to have lost hope and are seeking ways to illegally migrate to The Gulf and Europe. Figures of just how many people are moving from Somaliland are hard to gauge. Dependent on the season, crossing the Sudan desert or the Red Sea is a seasonal occupation, the numbers of people leaving the Horn of Africa countries illegally are now staggering now running into the tens of thousands annually trying to reach new shores. Usually without qualifications of any real merit, maybe a few connections but rarely with the skills to cope with those who will exploit them. And exploited they will be. Charged large sums to move illegally, never able to claim Rights even if they know those Rights, they are the fodder of sweatshops we know but rarely see. Time to start addressing the root causes of such issues. Time to talk, and do, deliver, inclusive growth and employment creation; granting people the sense their lives not hooked on precarious day-to-day living but there is a way to offer more people a sense of being able to contribute from a position of strength.

ILO remains project driven and has struggled to have the funding to influence core factors where impact is often more difficult but appreciably greater. ‘The development of Decent Work programming was notable for the manner it was enjoyed because of its heavy participative and consultative nature. The Employment Strategy work builds on this and is warmly welcomed as granting government opportunity to manage all the projects doing bits of work on employment’ Mohamed Hassan ‘Dhere’, ILO’s lead person in Somaliland, enthused. ‘The work gives a programming basis for our projects working on youth at risk (now called Youth for Change) and the local governance work where we are doing much not only on government capacity but local economic development’ Mohamed went on to explain.

We are being realistic. Everyone knows it will take a great deal to achieve full employment. However, everyone knows by working now, then, we can work toward achieving greater targets. The effort and commitment made now will draw people in to fulfilling wider goals. We are seeing real time democracy, good governance, in action as people speak, government, at all levels, is listening and the sense of engagement continues to increase.

People need to see tangible benefits, talk can be cheap. But talk is also the root, route, to achieving real engagement and delivery of employment. We are seeing people network and generate ideas. Already people are seeking and offering advice and assistance. The sense and vibrancy of wanting to achieve is there. Somalis are a networked people and their use of language means jobs are generated by talking. ‘Talk is trade, trade generates work. Work generates income so we can sit and talk over a Somali tea and so build more business. Now we need more than trade, we need to add value to trade of what is grown here. We need to build better roads so what farmers grow can get to people who want to eat fresh fruits and vegetables more. We need to manufacture more things for ourselves and trade more with others throughout East Africa. We are the gateway to East Africa’ So said Mustafa Othman, Shaqodoon Organization, a gentleman born in Somaliland but educated in London who returned four years ago to live, earn a living, in Somaliland.

Nowhere else will you see people who have embraced technology so much. Standing outside a little shop, there was the usual furious negotiation over the price of a water melon and then agreement. Then an exchange of telephone numbers. US$2 was transferred by mobile money and Mohamed Dhere left with his water melon to eat as part of Thursday evening dinner. The young man running the stall had US$2 toward the family income. Done deal, no cash and an active log of how you spend every last piece of money you work to earn. The future of employment in this type of setting will be a tremendous blend of staples; growing water melon, mending the roads to get the produce to consumers and building the towns back so there is adequate water and affordable housing, and then cutting edge; language and logistical skills for Global trading, designing and maintaining the systems required to pay for the water melon and ensure transparency in Global movements of money in the remittance industry. I am waiting to see a 3D printer here in a shop – I just know it will happen sooner rather than later.

Yes, there, will be frustrations and there will be those who will say the Employment Conference next week, even the town hall meetings over the last month, were just an excuse to spend some money on the few. The few are many and the money is very little in comparison to recent high profile events related to Somalia. Somaliland has been adamant this is their process and have not sought large blocks of funds and turned down the offers of a number of people sticking their logos on the events. The Government are setting the agenda in partnership with youth umbrella group and having input from notable projects and the International Labour Organisation. The overall process is driven by Somalilanders under the management of their government. After all, the people voted in this government and a key area of work was delivery of employment. But people know government is the people and so we have seen everyone engage, the opposition parties have engaged in meaningful debate to find durable solutions. Religious leaders, clan elders and members of both houses of the parliament have contributed. Everyone knows the need to grow and build employment is essential if the gains made over the last twenty-two years are to taken to the next level.

Certainly Somaliland may not be considered a state by the international community; but Somalilanders are not without aim; they aim to employment under Nimo’s suggested ‘Getting Somaliland to Work’ headline.