It Takes Two to Tango

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Winston Churchill

Conventional wisdom dictates that one must first understand the rules of the game before deciding to play it.  Throughout  history, in times of war and peace, every nation on earth used to seek allies. The country that  was part of a strong alliance had much higher probability of surviving than the one without  and that is how diplomacy and politics have been evolving since then. Today we are in an age where one single nation cannot survive on its own.Even the U.S who is the sole hyperpower of today can’t do things on its own when it comes to certain issues. Building fortresses to protect your self is a thing of the past because leaders realized that it  will not serve any good and that  it will only work against you as it will make you a potential target, isolate you  from potential allies and invaluable information. We are in an era where one must first win the battle of ” court of public opinion”before even thinking about confrontation with others.

If history serves memory to us, the most critical lesson we have learnt from the 77′ War with Ethiopia was that we didn’t lose the war because of a lack of  military  might, courage and will power from our side. The simple reason we lost the war was because  of our feeble strategy, failed foreign policy that led to  the loss of allies  and the poor judgments  and vision of our military strategists. In a nutshell, what made the difference in that war was “allies” period. While Ethiopia’s allies came to her aid even some coming from the other side of the world we stood there defeated, isolated,  helpless and the odds were  stacked against us. What followed was history.

As they say, history repeats its self. Time and time again we have failed to understand the power of diplomacy and as a result of that we  have failed to make our arguments and cases palatable  and win allies in the courts of politics. Some argue that  Somalia is isolated because it is small and  it is located in the horn of Africa and it is bordered by countries which are hostile to it. What I say is this: It doesn’t matter if you are a big or a small country or if you live at the edge of the world- what matters is how you organize the human and natural resources God has endowed on us. What matters is how you lobby,  campaign and advocate for your rights,  how you reach out to those that matter and side  your country with those nations that will come through for us when push comes to shove.  You must always have a voice in the international arena. To put it into more perspective, New Zealand has more diplomats in the world than India!

Lately, I have been observing  a mutual consensus of disillusionment and anger  by the general public specially  by  our elders, intellectuals , and learned teenagers towards the attitude and lack of interest shown by  Muslim leaders specially the Gulf states to our country. They don’t understand and can’t digest the fact that for almost 20 years they were watching their Muslim brothers and sisters plunge into civil war ,anarchy and starvation and never came to their rescue while just last year Saudi Arabia rushed its forces to Bahrain which is another Muslim country in order to stop the violence and rebellion that was taking place there. They also hear from the  radios and watch on TVs the Arab league  reacting swiftly to the situation in Syria and trying to find a political solution. The question that always lingers in their heads is: Why this double standard?

The fact is that just because we share a common culture or common faith with some countries doesn’t mean that those countries will always come to our rescue .What we fail to understand is that as much as some of our brothers would love to help us the simple reality is that firstly, today most of the Islamic world’s leaders  don’t have  the political means and freedom   to help us as they face pressures from outside forces  and I imagine that is what made them hesitant and  forced them to mend their own businesses and look after their interests. Secondly, majority of those countries are also ruled by either dictators or monarchs  and they are just there to protect their own seats and pursue their self interest. Hence, the biggest motivating factor that is shaping  international politics today is “self-interest”. The sooner we realize that, the better we will be off.

What I recommend is that our national policy makers must design a thorough and dynamic foreign policy blueprint that  systematically takes into account the need for strategic, economic, political and ideological alliances. We need to take our fate into our own hands. We  need a policy that allows us to curve our own paths . Finally,  What Somalia needs today is a “Big Brother(s)” who  lobbies for us, who protects  us from  bullies , a brother  that has a real desire of working with us, a brother that sees us as his equals and respects our sovereignty, territorial integrity and our right of self-determination .

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Riding the Storm: Somalia’s Free market.

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’

-Plato

In the year 1331, It was  the great Islamic scholar/explorer Ibn Battuta  who described  Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia  as one of the best cities of the world in which to do business. As it is evident from the date, that was a long time ago and Mogadishu has lost that recognition because of the 1991 civil war that caused many deaths, displacements, destruction and  lawlessness .

Despite all the unrest, Somalia has maintained a fairly informal economy without government intervention with a near 0% taxation. This form of free market is mostly driven by investments and finances of the local people and the Somali Diaspora. In 2009, Somalia’s GDP was estimated by the CIA to be $5.731 billion, with a projected real growth rate of 2.6%. Although the agriculture sector is the main engine of the economy and accounts for nearly 65% of the GDP, the other two sectors that can’t be ignored and have surprised many skeptics are the telecommunications and finance sector. The former, in private control has been totally revolutionized and transformed.

For instance,Golis Telecom Group now offers one of the most technologically advanced and fairly priced telecommunications and internet services to many businesses and households across many regions in Somalia. Hormuud telecom accounts for nearly $40 million a year. People are now using mobiles to transfer money and make purchases. It takes just three days to get a landline connection up and running while it takes many months just across the border in Kenya. The tele-density in Somalia is much higher than many countries in Africa and three times greater than our neighboring country, Ethiopia.

Despite the non-existence of a Central Bank for nearly 15 years, the payment system of the country is fairly advanced. This is due to the emergence of private money transfer operators(MTOs). These remittance firms known in the country as Hawalas make sure that trade, transfer of money and transactions are done cheaply and quickly. This sector only accounts for more than one billion US dollar a year.

 On the other hand, the livestock sector which accounts for 40% of the GDP and nearly half of the export earning is now giving a fierce competition to countries like Australia who have a long history of exporting livestock to the middle east. The combination of high quality and competitively priced live stocks and the near proximity to the middle east is helping  grow the Somali live stock industry. Now countries like UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are building facilities inside the country making this sector more competitive and lucrative.

All of this is the upside of the nearly free market conditions that exist in Somalia but at the same it is worth to mention and bring attention to negative aspects this form of free market economics created in the country. Due to the lack and absence of government and regulatory agencies, many businesses and self-serving individuals have taken advantage of the anarchy in Somalia.

In the market you can easily buy and sell illegal weapons. Counterfeit products and fake currencies are in abundant circulation in the big markets of Somalia. Many Pharmacies do not have legal licenses to import and sell life-saving drugs and because of that sell expired drugs to people. This has caused many illnesses and deaths. Deforestation  is at its highest peak because of people illegally chopping  and burning down trees and exporting them as charcoals . This has had a huge impact on the environment. Many businesses and firms are also colluding and forming monopolies which makes the free entry/ exit of the market by start-ups and smaller firms nearly impossible.

This is the dark side of the free market economy we have in our country and I hope our next government will fill the vacuum it has left behind and become a government by the people, of the people and for the people.

Due to the lack of effective government for along time and the exception of these unfortunate negatives,the spirit, entrepreneurship, and business ingenuity of the Somali people have never been lost. In fact it made the Somali people more resilient, hardworking and made them realize the need to be self-sufficient and determine their own future instead of depending on the government.