Thursday, March 14, 2013

Somalia: Time to catch up with the rest of Africa

Bashir Goth

In its issue, 2nd -8th March 2013, The Economist magazine drew a rosy picture of Africa in a 14-page special report of what it described as “the world’s fastest growing continent,” with a cover page title “Aspiring Africa”,  featuring the picture of a giraffe with an exaggeratedly long neck scanning the far horizon. This is the second time in a little over a year that The Economist hits such a high note on the rising economic role of Africa. In December 2011, the magazine’s cover carried an illustration of a boy flying a rainbow-colored kite made in the shape of the continent, with the title “Africa rising.”  More than a decade ago, however and exactly in May 2000,  the magazine branded Africa as the hopeless continent,” above a cover image of a militia man holding a weapon cropped in the shape of the map of the continent. One of the articles in the latter issue painted a picture of a continent ravaged by war, famine and disease.

In the 2013 issue, the magazine portrayed a continent witnessing a fast growing economy with a GDP expected to grow by an average of 6% a year in the next decade. It highlighted that  while a decade ago only three countries out of 53 had democracies, the number has risen to 25 since then and only four (Eritrea, Swaziland, Libya and Somalia) out of its current 55 countries are lacking a multi-party constitution, noting that even  the last two  (Libya and Somalia) would soon get one.

Among other things, the magazine cited the reduction of violence and the return of peace and stability as the main cause for the economic, political and cultural awakening of Africa.  It was heartwarming to see Somaliland included in the magazine’s political map of emerging African democracies, but what was even more delightful was to see Somalia described as a place where “building sites now outnumber bomb sites.”

Why I quoted The Economist? Because since the Magazine’s “hopeless continent” issue in 2000, most of the continent’s perennial hotspots on which the magazine based its negative attitude have made tremendous political and economic improvements after their civil wars came to an end. Conflicts died out in countries like Angola, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and others.

It is only Somalia that still stands out as the ugly duckling and waits to join its swan sisters in their flight from war and poverty to prosperity, good governance and respect for the rule of law.

However, with the removal of the plague of Al Shabab from the major cities and the establishment of the new Somali Federal government, Somalia seems to be moving towards the right direction. Mogadishu is bustling with construction, business and cultural activities, people are sunbathing on the beaches, women are once again driving and enjoying their freedom and the diaspora Somalis are flocking back to the country bringing with them investments and badly needed entrepreneurship and professional expertise and one hopes not with the intention of looting and running back to their foreign safe havens.

The international community is also doing its part to ensure that the baby steps being the taken by new Somali government towards recovery develop into a steady and vigorous walk.  The US recognition of the new government was a warm welcome and a curtain raiser for the huge enthusiasm the world has for the Somali people to lift their country from the internecine fratricide war and economic deprivation and to contribute to the world’s peace and stability instead of being a source of terrorism and piracy. The partial lifting of the arms embargo is a “vote of confidence” as pointed out by the Argentinean Ambassador to the UN and a small measure to help Somalia to move away from the international trusteeship and regain its sovereignty as stated by the British Ambassador to the UN.  

The question is, are we as Somalis, ready to seize the moment? Are we willing to put our tribal sentiments aside and help the government to achieve its goals in improving the country’s security and justice system? Are we willing to put the building of our nationhood before erecting fences between our clans? Are we willing to work together to rid ourselves of the curse of piracy and terrorism and show the world our acumen for entrepreneurship and innovation? Are we ready to safeguard our country from being an easy prey to foreign greed, our seas to be the permanent dumping ground for world waste, our natural wealth usurped by unscrupulous corporations, our whole country swallowed by neighboring countries and our existence wiped out from the world map?  

Well, if you think my concern is just an absurdly alarmist call for a fictional doom’s day, think again. We have already seen the abyss and we know what it looks like to be without a country, without dignity, without pride and to be roving, begging refugees on whose face every door is closed, whose identity is suspected at every airport, whose name is mocked as a symbol of lawlessness, failure and violence. It is enough that the term Somalization has become a fearful and notorious word for political failure and endless fragmentation of any country in the 21st century political lexicon. 

There is no doubt that the road to recovery is long and strenuous. And naturally people would be eager to see quick improvements in their livelihoods, security and the establishment of the rule of law, but it is also true that despite the best of intentions, the government will surely sometimes falter in its efforts deal with the monumental problems it faces and due to its chronic lack of capacity and resources. The most vital contribution we can make to help the government to achieve some of its goals is to be patient and tolerant with it. It has already achieved a lot in the short time that it has been in power. The government has already made remarkable gains in its foreign policy. In less than six months it got international recognition, partial lifting of the arms embargo, attracting some foreign investments and improving the security of the areas liberated from Al Shabab.

On the domestic front, the government has removed dozens of the notorious check points where bandits and clan militias used to rob people from their hard earned meager incomes. This is not a mean feat for a government that faces the task of cleaning up the physical mess and mental scars left by more than 20 years of war and mayhem.

This doesn’t mean that we have to give carte blanche to the government and overlook its wrong doings and shortcomings. On the contrary, we have to be vigilant to keep an eye on the government’s dealings to ensure that the government is accountable to the people and that power and resources are distributed as fairly as possible and justice is delivered where it is due. Apart from reinforcing security and defeating the remnants of Al Shabab, the other urgent priority for the government should be to establish an independent justice system that could and should immediately start a process of documenting all crimes committed against the people over the last 20 years. Justice should be where the healing of the Somali people starts and where the government should put all its power to deliver it. Criminals who held the nation hostage for 20 years and more should not be allowed to get away with their crimes. Warlords, rapists, looters who robbed food from refugee children, Al Shabab and extremist hypocrites who tortured the Somali people in the name of Islam and caused immense mental and physical agony to them should face their victims in court.

This is the hour for patriotism, if we have an iota of patriotism remaining in any of us; the hour that we have to look each other in the eyes and take responsibility for what we did to our country; the hour that each and every Somali should think what she or he can do for our country and not for our clans; the hour that we should all realize that no single clan can stand alone and it is only through the overall prosperity and wellbeing of our country that all clans can prosper; the hour that we have to collectively say: Yes, it is time we have to catch up with the rest of Africa.