THE HERITAGE INSTITUTE OF POLICIES STUDIES “SOMALIA FEDERAL, NOT IF BUT HOW”: A CRITICAL PERSPECTIVE

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www.heritageinstitute.org/federal-somalia-not/ 

The recently published Heritage Institute of Policies Studies (HIPS) policy brief on “Federal Somalia: not if, but how?” is not fit for purpose. The main reason for my assertion is in relation to its lazy methodological approach.  Perhaps one may concede and understand the logistics and the security difficulties associated to undertake such research in Somalia, but the erroneous approach of this study doesn’t do justice to such an important topic which deserves closer scrutiny and effort. In my opinion, on this occasion HIPS has regrettably failed to meet its stated organisational remit “to fill in the existing gaps in understanding, to raise awareness and to inform policy”; it makes a number of tacit assumptions and it omits essential information required to understand Somali sentiments on this pivotal topic.

  1. A total of 213 professionals and students were surveyed…Really?

Arguably, the only way this study would have been acceptable is if it had been presented and designed to capture a fraction of the views of Somali public sector, students and NGO professionals on the Federalism system in Somalia, but to suggest that this limited surveying represents the general Somali view on the question of federalism is a mockery to Somalis.  A meagre 213 individuals from a national population of approximately 10 million have been surveyed. Bizarrely, the overwhelming majority in Somalia – the unemployed, IDPs and entrepreneurs – have been left out from this important conversation. Instead, the research concentrated on the easy-to-reach NGO, public sector professionals and students.  In addition, the research paper does not specify the number of female -to-male ratio and also does not state the age range of participants. These are major elements which have a great impact on the findings. Tacit assumptions and the omission of key information weakens a great deal of its findings.

  1. Research timeline

The outcome of any research depends on a variety of factors, one of which is the period in time the study is conducted. Research in general (and qualitative studies in particular) is heavily influenced by participants’ views in certain periods linked to a particular societal, economic and political situation.  The HIPS briefing does not mention when the survey was conducted or make any attempt to refer to a periodical timeline. The omission of such key information weakens the analysis of the study.

  1. The Elephant in the room

In a post-conflict environment, in order to recuperate the community’s trusts and to be credible, the State and independent researchers have the responsibility to confront issues in an inclusive, frank and fair manner. In “Somalia Federal – not if but how” HIPS overlooks the elephant in the room. The unaddressed elephant in the room is the role clans play in this context. Somalia is notorious for its clan-based society.  The HIPS study has been carried out in five major Somali cities; perhaps assuming the association of clans with these geographical areas. Given Somalia’s recent history, the topic of clans is sensitive and holds a vital role in the discussions on governance. However, HIPS’ “out of sight, out of mind” approach is counter-productive because it fails to provide evidence of a transparent, inclusive and credible representation of all clans in Somalia.

Summary

HIPS should be credited for bringing to the fore stimulating discussions on key Somali topics such as the governance system. It is also noteworthy that HIPS is the first and only post-civil war, Somali-led think-tank which operates within Somalia. I may be an idealist but because it holds such an important role one would expect the production of good research to help the Government make informed decisions. Disappointingly, on “Federal Somalia: not if, but how”, the methodology shows major elementary shortcomings: participants are too few to reach a valid conclusion, the omission of important information such as participants’ general details and the period the research was conducted make the findings futile, and the fact that the complex Somali societal structures are not appropriately addressed and represented weakens further the initial objective of this research. Currently, ‘all hands on deck’ is a pre-requisite for Somalia to overcome its challenges and to assist in the peace-building and state-building efforts. I believe HIPS could play a crucial part in this operation, but first its researchers may want to rethink “…not if, but how” they could improve on their research methodological approach.

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MOHAMMED EMWAZI COVERAGE: WORRYING TIMES FOR THE “AVERAGE MO”?

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Finally, “Jihadi John” has been unmasked. He is Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born UK citizen. He was known to his teachers as a loner; a hard-working pupil who achieved the required grades to get into University. Mohammed performed relatively well at University – he passed all his modules and graduated with a lower second class degree. Mohammed has then secured employment as an IT consultant. His former employer describes him as “the best employee they ever had”. Since then, Mohammed has joined the (un)Islamic State (ISIS), and turned into a barbaric international terrorist and throat-slitter. ISIS play him like a piano for propaganda purposes. Since his exposure, Mohammed has enjoyed a great deal of media coverage, in all the analysis we have yet to decipher his influences and motivation that turned this young man who wasn’t a huge societal concern into a monstrous being.

Many Muslim men share his first name, and like him, many have migrated to, settled in, and have graduated in the UK. Unlike Mohammed Emwazi many contributed and continue to contribute significantly and positively in the UK.  An overwhelming number of them condemn terrorism of any sort and have no desire whatsoever to join an extreme and odious political group that has nothing to do with Islam. Unfortunately, and I fear inevitably; the coverage of Mohammed Emwazi will have a detrimental impact on the rest of the Mohammed’s living in the UK. I foresee; for example, those unable to critically process information exploiting prima facie the Mohammed Emwazi case. Predictably, the Pegida type, the likes of the (luckily) now former UKIP councillor with “a problem with negroes” and her friends who enjoy racism will try to gather support by pointing out that all Mohammeds are the same – they benefit from our immigration and education systems to fight against us! This group will undermine the important role British Muslims play in the UK and the West. They will instead focus on the very few “bad apples” to paint all Muslims and immigrants with the same brush, in order to satisfy their hateful prejudices.

In order to address this worrying and unhappy trend, at a time when community relations are volatile and crimes of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic nature are on the rise, the media and our leaders have a fundamental role to bring people together and report the news responsibly. Ideally, one would hope that we learn from our past. Imperialism and colonialism utilised successful ‘divide and rule’ tactics to physically and mentally destroy indigenous populations. Furthermore, the only way extremists are able to benefit is by installing an ‘us and them’ mentality at the micro and macro level. Therefore, while it is important to responsibly report on Mohammed Emwazi, it is also key to keep in mind the numerous Mohammed’s who abhor his actions; and it is equally fundamental to foresee how this could be exploited by certain extreme right groups. It has been said that ISIS uses Mohammed Emwazi as a piano on which to play their propaganda. I am sure Mohammed Emwazi will be used by the extreme right groups to compose a bad taste piano piece. Regardless, we should not dance to their tunes.

SOMALIA AND TURKEY: AN OPEN AND TRANSPARENT PARTNERSHIP?

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Earlier this week, the Turkish president and his dignitaries were warmly welcomed at the new Mogadishu International Terminal. The key purpose of the visit was to inaugurate and witness the grand opening of what was once known as Digfeer Hospital, now renamed Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital in Mogadishu. This occasion follows the visit of Mr Erdogan and his family to Mogadishu during the devastating famine of August 2011. At the time, Prime Minister Erdogan was the first leader from outside Africa to visit Mogadishu. It was significant in many ways. Firstly, it was during the holy month of Ramadan. Secondly, Mr Erdogan brought his family to visit, converse with and hug the famine-affected population and they then generously delivered a monetary donation from the Turkish public to the transitional Somali Federal Government. Mr Erdogan addressed Somalis as “brothers and sisters”, warning that the famine in Somalia was “a test for civilization and human value” and urged all world leaders “to do their parts, not only for short term humanitarian assistance but the long term economic development of Somalia”. This was a man with a plan, ready to execute it. As such, since that time, Mr Erdogan was elected President of Turkey, where he maintained his promises. Turkey deployed personnel in Mogadishu as part of the Somalia rebuilding effort, whilst also offering scholarships to young Somalis to study in Turkey. In addition, on Sunday, the Turkish government pledged to intensify further its efforts by building 10,000 houses within two years to house IDPs, thus redefining the lost image of the Somali capital.

Turkey’s involvement in Somalia has been received with mixed feeling by Somalis. For instance, Mohamed and Haawa are happy with the Turkish unilateral commitment in Somalia; they regard the involvement as “a light at the end of the tunnel”. They met the news of investment with exuberant waving of Turkish flags. They have named their new born twins Istanbul and Erdogan, and often downplay the commitment of the International Community in Somalia in comparison to the effectiveness of the Turkish approach. Mohamed and Haawa are excited about Mr Erdogan’s promises; confident they will be delivered and have already started fantasising about how Mogadishu will look once the 10,000 houses are built. On the other hand, Jamaal and Mariam are sceptics. Although grateful for Turkish assistance and generosity, they are weary of its involvement in Somali affairs. Essentially, they argue that in International Relations, the State is a selfish entity, and as such Jamaal and Mariam don’t regard Somalia and Turkey as partners or equal traders. They see Turkey as an exploiter, willing to do whatever means necessary to benefit from Somalia’s natural resources. They believe that Turkey is adopting a soft power approach to win Somali hearts and minds, thereby creating the political environment for resource extraction.

Let’s face it, these two groups will debate and argue until the cows come home. Whilst I think this is a healthy and necessary discussion, it will be fruitful only if conducted in a mature, respectful and above all inclusive manner – by involving all Somalis.  Undoubtedly, both sides of the argument are keen to express that their views are in the best interests for Somalia; both are keen to see a functioning and prosperous future for the State. To be fair, it is also important to acknowledge the progress Somalia has made in recent times. But, in my opinion the Government must improve on its transparency mechanisms and information access to gain credibility and trust from Somalis and partners. This aspect of the issue should not be taken lightly, especially in this context. The following are three key suggestions on the importance of an open and transparent government:

1) Somalia depends on external funders, therefore clear information on how the funds are acquired and spent is required.

2) Access to information is necessary to ensure the integrity and reputation of Government officials.

3) Government officials should be open for public scrutiny before an independent and impartial Committee.

The Scottish Referendum: an International lesson in Democracy

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On Thursday 18th September, I and a large number of fellow British citizens resident in Scotland will vote in the Scottish self-determination referendum. In October 2012, Alex Salmond and David Cameron signed the Edinburgh Agreement. They agreed to “deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect”. They also agreed on the question to be posed: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”. In the past 16 weeks, we have experienced an exciting and engaging campaign by both sides of the debate. It has been so captivating that even my Ayeeyo (granny) who lived under colonial rule and Siad Barre dictatorship in Somalia has an opinion and is enjoying this democratic and peaceful campaign process. The ‘NO, thanks’ and the ‘YES’ campaigns have bombarded us with messages to win our hearts and minds. One side argues that we should vote NO because we have the best of both worlds and we shouldn’t risk the cost of separation. On the other hand, the YES campaign denounces this as “scaremongering” tactics and believes Scotland can use its wealth to build a fairer nation.  I have read, listened and reflected at length and decided in which direction I should cast my ballot.

Some argue that the whole referendum campaign has divided the nation. I disagree, instead I think it has galvanized and politically empowered historically disengaged communities in Scotland such as ethnic minority groups. For instance, the relatively large Somali population in Glasgow are overwhelmingly registered to vote, discuss and share their opinions about the referendum fervently.  Scottish residents are passionate about this vote because they understand the magnitude of the decision and the consequences of their vote, not least with regard to its impact on the future generation. The engagement of all Scottish communities and age groups from 16 year olds to ‘Ayeeyos’ is a clear sign of a healthy and mature democratic society. I am also confident that regardless of the eventual outcome of the referendum, people will get on and try to better their lives.

History teaches us the destructive nature of wars over land, dictatorships egocentric acts and the global socio-economic disparities between people. Unfortunately, we continue to face this malaise in our contemporary globalized world. In contrast, to decide the fate of our 300-year-old union, the UK and Scottish Governments decided to call a referendum. In order to advance this democratically and peacefully, both governments agreed and developed a legal document, the Edinburgh Agreement, which sets out the rules of this democratic process. I am aware we live in a mature democracy and we take it for granted, but it is important to note and celebrate the elegance of this process. Both camps invested and empowered people to respectfully discuss, debate and decide. As expected, my friends ask me what I will be voting for on the 18th.I recognise this to be the most important vote I cast so far, but I also see it as a lesson on how to conduct domestic and international affairs. Some argue that democracy is an abstract affair. This referendum has proved in contrast, that democracy is solid, relevant and achievable.  I feel the International Community should take pen to paper and note down the lessons they can learn from the plans, preparation and execution of this referendum in Scotland.