Last Friday, at least 14 people, most of them civilians, were killed after soldiers clashed over food aid in Somalia’s drought-stricken city of Baidoa. The fight broke out at a distribution site after a group of soldiers tried to steal food sacks meant for refugees, and other soldiers guarding the aid stopped them.
Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has been devastated by conflicts, famine and drought for the past few decades. Last week’s tragic incident sadly showcases how desperate the locals have become.And yet, the United Nations have been involved in Somalia for over20 years, investing billions in aid. More recently, the U.N. launched a $4.4bn aid appeal to avert“catastrophic hunger and famine”in Somalia, along with Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.
In the face of the failures experienced in the past, many voices arise in the field, in Somalia, to question the strategy set in place by the U.N. Mr. Christiaan Durrant, a humanitarian and CEO of Lancaster 6, an organization that helps states in conflict, is one of them: “After 20 years of UN involvement in Somalia and the allocation of $20 billion in aid, there is little industrial development in the country to provide wealth creation opportunities for the Somali people,”he said.
This is particularly alarming when considering the country’s demographics: 70% of the population is under the age of 30, and the youth unemployment rate is estimated at 67%. Moreover, according to the U.N.’s Economic Commission for Africa, survey evidence suggests that two-thirds of Somalia’s youth are looking to leave the country. Poor opportunities for all levels of education worsen the problem. For example, the primary school enrollment level is very low in south-central Somaliawhere it reaches only 22%.
However, for many experts in the field,change is not out of reach. It will take a shift in strategy and a more trade-centric approach to the situation. “Look at Somalia’s natural resources, which are largely untapped.Reducing the conflict requires both the development of relevant industries and security for these commercial activities to develop,” explains Christiaan Durrant
Despite Somalia’s difficult situation, it benefits from abundant natural resources, in particular in its “blue economy” (fisheries, renewable energies, and oil). Africa’s vast coastline hosts a maritime industry estimated at $1 trillion per year, and Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa. Foreign investors have already shown interest, and in 2016an agreement was signed with Emirati company DP World, which planned on investing morethan $400 million to develop the port of Berbera.Somalia’s natural resources also includeoil, gas, and the seafood industry.
Clearly, Somalia has a lot to offer but a lot of its potential remains untapped. And for many experts in the field, developing those industries while ensuring security would generate the local population the jobs they so desperately need.