The Platform

Somali refugees in Baidoa, Somalia.

The question for Somalia is whether the civil society can be revived without the upheaval of a revolution.

It’s a somber truth to confront: Somali civil society has veered off course, abandoning its foundational mission to enlighten and amplify the voices of its people. Now, instead of being a bulwark against corruption and tribalism, it finds itself as an accomplice—exploiting Somalia’s instability to pad its own bottom line through international aid.

This complicity is highlighted in a report by Vera Devine, an anti-corruption consultant, which paints a damning picture of multiple partners draining vital aid dollars from the Somalia Humanitarian Fund, thereby eroding the faith of crucial donors.

“In 2012, fraud and corruption was detected among multiple implementing partners, both national and international, of the Somalia Humanitarian Fund,” which “resulted in a loss of money and shook donors’ confidence, leading some to withdraw from the Fund. The Fund’s financial envelope shrank significantly between 2012 and 2016…This can be attributed in large part to the discovery of corruption, although it also reflected a decrease in humanitarian needs in Somalia during those years,” the report notes.

While acknowledging the complex factors that have led to this point—from the absence of an effective governance structure to the initial stumbling blocks of relief work—it’s imperative to recognize that the door for course correction hasn’t merely opened; it’s been ajar for some time. At its core, civil society ought to serve as the intermediary between the governed and the governing, fostering civic participation, democracy, and welfare programs.

The question then emerges: How can Somali civil society be revived without the upheaval of a revolution? The answer lies in a balanced yet pragmatic ten-step approach.

The first step calls for a reclamation of foundational principles. Civil society must prioritize civic awareness, vigorously defend human rights, and contextualize these universal ideals within the unique fabric of Somali society. Secondly, a rethinking of volunteerism is overdue. In a world where resources are limited, waiting is a luxury we can’t afford. Change isn’t engineered by mere employees but propelled by individuals fired up with enthusiasm.

Steps three through five deal with internal mechanics. Strengthening internal governance through financial transparency, integrity, and accountability is non-negotiable. These are critical for garnering both popular trust and external support, especially in an increasingly informed society. Moreover, the specter of elitism needs to be dismantled. Conducting business in upscale cafes, isolated from the everyday lives of the people, counters the essence of civil society. Lastly, these organizations need to adopt an empirical approach, underlining the importance of rational planning, skillful execution, and rigorous evaluation for the effectiveness of projects.

Turning our gaze outward, steps six and seven emphasize the urgency of addressing pressing humanitarian issues. The harrowing statistic—nearly 8.3 million Somalis facing severe food insecurity between April and June—demands an immediate focus on drought mitigation efforts. Simultaneously, there’s an imperative to strengthen the public health infrastructure. Somalia’s pre-pandemic healthcare system was already precarious, and civil organizations have a moral obligation to contribute towards its betterment.

The final three steps target the building blocks of a resilient society. Literacy and general education cannot be sidelined if development is the end goal; after all, an uninformed society is a society that stagnates. Additionally, with unemployment rates soaring—nearly 70% among young Somalis according to the Heritage Institute—it’s crucial that civil organizations engage in skill-building initiatives. Finally, the power of new media offers an unparalleled opportunity for civil society to articulate the concerns and aspirations of ordinary Somalis.

To rephrase an often-cited adage, this roadmap is less a set of suggestions and more a mandate for action. It is a strategic reorientation designed to help Somali civil society navigate the troubled waters it finds itself in, toward a stable and meaningful future.

Ibrahim Sultan is a progressive Somali journalist, writer, and advocate for social justice. He is the Founder of the Somali Progressive Initiative.