As someone who witnessed the worst part of the beginning of the civil war and who has never seen government in any form in Somalia, my expectations of my visit to Mogadishu were quite low. I had also read the global headlines and although I lead one of the most innovative and trusted Diaspora organisations and ought to know better than the headlines, I still worried about security and what awaited me in Somalia.
To my surprise, the once militarised and dormant Mogadishu airport was now a bustling centre of aviation and business. To shock me a little further I was kindly asked by “Somali” security personnel to join the foreign immigration queue as I held a foreign passport. The security at the airport was excellent and the civil servants and security guards were friendly and approachable. Nothing like one would expect from watching Somalia on TV in the Diaspora.
As I explored the city of Mogadishu, met policy makers, civil society activists, academics and young people who were reshaping their nation, I was amazed by the level of human talent that had congregated in the diverse melting pot that is Somalia’s capital. It is always argued and presented as a given fact that Somalis are ethnically divided but in Mogadishu’s public spaces, hotels and government offices, Somalis from all over the nation were working together. The question that is synonymous with Somalis supposedly, “What tribe are you?” was never asked of me once.
Whilst in Mogadishu, Act For Somalia engaged with all stakeholders in Somalia’s development process. We were privileged to meet all of them and grateful that they made time for us in their busy schedules. My meeting with the British embassy staff and ambassador, Neil Wigan, reassured me that my adopted nation is not only serious about Somalia’s future but is actively and effectively working on the
ground to make its and the people of Somalia’s hopes come alive.
Act For Somalia organised our monthly event in Mogadishu and it focused on youth empowerment and political participation. Somalia is unique in that the majority of the population is young people and luckily for us, they are and have proven themselves to be extremely intelligent and patriotic. The meeting was attended by both young people from the Diaspora who were now settled and working in Mogadishu and local graduates, students and employees who were a match in every measure for
their Diaspora counterparts despite their challenges.
The youth, both at the event and outside, were impressive in their attitude, commitment to their nation and determination to make the most difficult of circumstances work for themselves and their people. Indeed, I did feel that, if the youth are Somalia’s future, the future is bright. My visit also brought me into contact with many young policy makers and professionals. However, despite their efforts they need guidance, support and leadership from the central government. I felt some disappointment among the public with the current government for not living up to the high expectations they instilled in the public with the early promises. But on the other hand, the Somali public must roll up their sleeves and work with their government on all issues of public policy, especially security.
Rebuilding the nation
Rebuilding a failed nation is no easy task and while politicians are critical to this process, they need dedicated public servants to carry out the essential day to day work which makes government and governance possible. In my short time in Mogadishu I met doctors, nurses, teachers and other public servants working tirelessly in the public interest often without pay for months. I was most moved by those traffic wardens who continued their vital work after one of their own was murdered on a nearby street.
Such valour and dedication is what Somalia needs from its government, people, public servants and the international community. The physical upgrading of Mogadishu city is evident in the number of
building works that are simultaneously operating side by side. Brick by brick, Mogadishu is been rebuilt. However, this could be eroded if more effort is not directed towards nurturing, developing and supporting human capital which the country desperately lacks and needs. Security is a big problem in Mogadishu but if the government can support the public better, inspire loyalty and in return the public responds with cooperation, as Ministers continuously beg, this hurdle will be overcome.
I look forward to returning to Mogadishu soon.
Opinions expressed in this page are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect that of Goobjoog News editorial policy.
Mohamed Cantoobo is the Director of Act For Somalia, a UK based awareness raising and advocacy organisation based in Bristol but with global reach. He welcomes feedback and comments and can reached via: @Cantoobo or @actforsomalia (Twitter) and [email protected]