As a young Nigerian graduate student alone in Montreal and Toronto in the late 90s, I found myself and place in the Somali community.
I spent time with this community because they were the most affirming of all the African migrant communities around me.They called out to me as I walked by, ‘my sister how are you. My sister how are you doing’. I ate delicious rice and beef stew with my hands in their restaurants while they told me how proud they were of me `a young Africa woman’ alone in the country pursuing her education deligently. (their words). They told me often and often again that there were here for me. I had to insist many times to pay for my meals.
The next time I found myself amidst Somalis was in 2011 in Liboi, a small Kenyan town bothering Somalia. I had gone on mission to Liboi advocate for increased response, and to raise awareness on the humanitarian needs of Somalis fleeing the 2011 drought to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.
I met Somalis in the refugee hospitals in dadaab managed by MSF barely alive from their trek to Kenya. Words cannot describe the state of the children, and mothers who shared stories of having to choose which child to flee with and which to leave behind knowing their fate.
Sprawled along a strategic position of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is the country Somalia. Somalia covers 627,337 square kilometers of land and 10,320 square kilometers of water, making it the 44th largest nation in the world with a total area of 637,657 square kilometers. Somalia became an independent state in 1960, after gaining its sovereignty from Italy.
A population of 10,085,638 (2012) Somalia was known to the Egyptians as the Land of Punt, famous for frankincense and myrrh. It must be hard for many to imagine that until the 1970s, Somalia’s capital Mogadishu was home to top fashion houses and cuisine from Europe; the city was a haven for jet setters from around the world.
A country blessed with so much in landscape and human resources has been at war with itself for close to 40 years. Decades of civil hostilities have virtually destroyed Somalia’s economy and infrastructure and split the country into areas under the rule of various entities.
Amid Somalia’s conflict is a thriving livestock trade. The shores of Somalia could provide bustling source of external revenue, but Somalia has been appealing for humanitarian aid every year mainly due to conflict, and it does not look like it is ending anytime soon.
Somalia has proven that conflict does not have to be inter-ethnic based. Somalia has successful demonstrated that a mono ethnic and mono religious community in Africa can find other reasons to fight itself.
Somalia has been ravaged by inter-clan conflict that has left millions displaced internally and fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya’s Dadaab.
In addition to inter-clan conflict, Somalia is prone to recurring drought. Somalia is a poster child of what the typical complex emergency looks like although it is hard to use the word `emergency’ with Somalia.
The country has become a prototype of a protracted predictable recurring humanitarian crisis. Looking at Somalia, the self-destructive nature of the human made, and induced crisis leaves one sometimes helpless.
To answer the question of what would need to happen before Somalia can end its presence in annual humanitarian appeals is obvious, but increasingly near impossible to accomplish or implement.
Sustained robust engagement in peace building and peacekeeping in Somalia would restore peace, but the international community has invested efforts mainly in raising funds for humanitarian assistance for Somalia.
Between 1991 to 2018, at least 25 billion usd was raised for humanitarian assistance to Somalia. I have used the preceding phrase `raising funds for humanitarian assistance to Somalia’ deliberately to distinguish between international humanitarian funding and international humanitarian presence or foot print in Somalia.
There is a limited presence of international humanitarian actors in Somalia. Global humanitarian action is carried out for Somalia primarily outside Somalia around fund raising. The level of insecurity and the efforts it takes to manage an international humanitarian presence it the country is too high to effectively provide humanitarian assistance in Somalia.
The presence of international humanitarian actors in Somalia can disrupt and distract from providing humanitarian assistance in the country. Unfortunately, the world provides humanitarian assistance to Somalia from a distance.
The humanitarian community has been consistent and generous in providing humanitarian aid to Somalia each year for 3 decades, but one cannot but realize that this has not addressed the crisis in and of Somalia.
At some point, we must come to the realization that humanitarian aid does to address insecurity in Africa. The story of Somalia and the rest of the world is one where neighbors shut their doors each night while a neigbour is being attacked by armed robbers and the next day come over to offer a bowl of rice. Food aid does not address insecurity and armed insurgency.
I took on this review to provide hope and a way out of humanitarian aid dependency for African countries that have been dependent and reliant on short term life saving humanitarian aid for years.
For Somalia I see the way out but cannot frankly speak on the international community’s willingness to invest in the way out. My apologies for not providing an update of hope on this one.
A sign of hope is that Somalia does not survive on humanitarian aid, but remittances from Somalis abroad. Bottom line, Somalis are the front-line responders to the country’s crisis.