Political Ownership is it the Key to the Dispute between Somalis and the International Community?

Posted on 06/07/2011


Analysing and defining the concept of ownership is tricky at best and a mine field at worse. The concepts itself encompasses many different areas or fields for example; political, legal, and sociological. On one hand most dictionaries define the concept of ownership as: the state of being an owner; the right to own; exclusive right of possession; legal or just claim or title; proprietorship. On the other hand, gauging the temperature and the reality on the ground in Somalia reveals that Somalis do not have any say as to who will lead the country. An atmosphere that curtails and ignores the notion of social contract has been created by the International Community. 

Let me use this classical example in highlighting the utter lack of political ownership Somalis are facing today. The dozen or so reconciliation ‘peace- processes’ and the inception of the current TFG itself took place abroad whereby the vast majority of our leaders were artificially manufactured. It’s no wonder that our leaders have failed to live up to the expectations of Somalis, since they are only accountable to the International Community that pays their salaries.  In contrast, both Puntland and Somaliland’s political success and stability is partly attributed to ownership.

No foreigners were involved in the process of setting up these administrations, no money came from abroad, no foreign technocrats clad in black suits were present, nor did foreign peace-keepers play any role. The whole process was simplistic in nature, in other words it was a bottom up approach. The clan elders, academicians, politicians, women and the youth converged and created whatever form of authority Puntland and Somaliland enjoy today.
However, when it comes to the formation of Transitional Federal Government -TFG foreign involvements and hand-picking of individuals who are most likely to safeguard the interests of foreign powers at regional and global level has become the rule of the game. Whenever a dispute arises between the top brass of the TFG, a ritual trip to Addis-Ababa must be undertaken, though of lately Kampala has been gaining prominence and its share of political influence, thus leading to mass Somali demonstrations across the globe. The regional leaders of Puntland and Somaliland themselves are not immune from these master and slave like trips to foreign capitals. The fact of the matter is that this reprehensible act happens to be the only game in town. 

Additionally, the interpretation of ownership may vary depending on who you ask when, where and why. To make matters worse, ownership is profoundly influenced by the quality of government-to-government partnership[1] (Weeks et al. 2002). Given the nature and the magnitude of the state failure in Somalia, it is evident that any significant ownership in all policies that affect us vanished. subsequently, the power vacuum that emerged after the collapse of the central government in Somalia prepared and paved the way for the conception of countless local NGO’s and invasion of international NGO’s along with an assortment of United Nations Organs. My central argument is that unless Somalia regains a strong central government our influence on any given matter will remain feeble.

Pros and Cons of UN organs and NGO’S

It is incontestable that UN organisations jointly with local and international organisations saved millions of lives; they have also to some extent improved the livelihoods of our people, reduced poverty to certain extent and carried out important immunization programs.

But, having said that we will also need to present the grievances of the Somali people together with the perceptions they may have toward these organisations. According to my sources, in Somalia it is estimated that more than 6000 persons representing International Organisations, and local NGO’s work for Somalia and they are mostly based in Nairobi living in spacious villas, driving expensive cars and dinning in five star hotels. Only few of them are Somalis and none of the Somali employees hold high position. These people are not willing to lose their jobs and will perpetuate the Somali conflict. Similar sentiments were repeatedly echoed during the 9th Horn of Africa Conference in Lund Sweden in 2010 which I attended in person.

Besides, the Somalis who were present at the conference mostly academicians and representatives of various United Nations organs hurled accusations and counter accusations at each other. The level of mistrust and animosity between them was not only immeasurable but shocking too. Another factor that drew these groups far apart was an Italian PhD student who presented a critical paper that called for total withdrawal of all International Organisations in Somalia. According to this student the aforementioned organisations did more harm than good. This student received massive support and admirations from the vast majority of the Somalis at the conference, while representative of the UN were startled and dismayed.

In reinforcing this claim  (O’Dempsey, and Munslow 2009) observe that humanitarian organisations are increasingly distrusted, viewed  as aligned with political stakeholders, perceived as competing against local organisations and national ministries[2].

For us to figure out this phenomenon we must uncover what UN organisations and International NGOs have created inside the country. For example dependency culture has taken deep roots in Somalia. The TFG technocrats as well as ‘reformed’ or ‘adopted’ former war-lords salaries come from donor countries. The security of TFG members lies with AMISOM. Nevertheless, the most damaging effect is embedded into the encouragement and the creation of local NGOs that are financially dependent on them. So how on earth can Somalis obtain any influence to any given matter when almost everything is being financed by external forces?

In Puntland alone, there are over 250 local NGOs. In Mogadishu the number is more than 600. When we add these numbers to the local NGOs in Somaliland and other parts of the country, the number goes beyond thousands. The local NGOs are the only meaningful employers in the country and it seems the workforce in the country for the most part depends only on them. This workforce is paid 10 times more than public and private employees in the country and it will resist any change in the labour status or political solution in the country without acceptable financial security for them in the future. To make things worse, these organisations headhunt and hire the best educated people locally, thus suffocating other sectors who need qualified workforce, since no one can resist their generous incentives.  Finally, an in depth analysis into the ownership agenda and the indispensable issues of power relations between funders and recipients requires immediate consideration.

Aid Failures

Over-flooding Somalia with aid and NGO’s will not solve the problem. Aid itself is part of the problem and not the solution. A historical journey into the aid industry could perhaps offer us some answers. According to Danbisa Moyo in her book Dead Aid, observes that the idea of aid was born out of the success of the Marshall Plan in Europe. According to her this approach is completely wrong[3].

In comparing and contrasting the successes of European countries that received aid and the failures of African countries that have received aid for half a century.  The author states that the European countries were not wholly dependent on aid. Despite the ravages of war, Western Europe economic revival was in progress. Secondly, Marshall Plan flows were only 2.5 per cent of the GDP of the larger recipients like France and Germany, while never amounting to more than 3 per cent of GDP  for any country for the five-year life of the program.

In contrast, Africa receives development assistant worth 15 percent of its GDP- or more than four times the Marshall Plan at its height. Given Africa economic performance in the past fifty years, while billions of dollars of aid have poured in, it is hard to grasp how another swathe of billions will somehow turn Africa’s aid dependency into one of success. Another important observation by Danbisa is that, the Marshall Plan was also finite. Money flowed in and it stopped after five years, however in Africa the reality is endless misery and suffering coupled with endless money.

Likewise, Danbisa argues that unlike Africa all war-torn European nations had had institutions in place on the run-up to the Second World War; they had experienced civil services, well-run businesses, and efficient legal institutions on place, all of which had worked. Finally, whereas Marshall Plan aid was largely (specifically) targeted towards physical infrastructure, aid to Africa permeates virtually every aspect of the economy. In most poor countries today, aid is in the civil service, aid is in political institutions, aid is in the military, aid is in healthcare and education, aid is in infrastructure, aid is endemic.  Finally, Danbisa claims thataid undermines economic growth, keeping countries in state of poverty, but it is also, in itself, an underlying cause of social unrest, and possibly even civil war.

In the light of the roles played by the institutions and civil services in enabling the success of the Marshall Plan in Europe it is apparent to me that the TFG is off the mark. The constant internal strife and squabbles that has consumed more than three quarters of its tenure suggests that no viable institutions are currently in existence, while less money and attention is being diverted into institution building.

Aid and Politics

Another essential aspect that requires attention is the link between aid and politics. We are all aware that the Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was forced to resign against his will by the architects of the so called Kampala Accord Yoweri Museveni the Ugandan president and Dr Mahiga the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia.

Underestimating the powers at the disposal of these men will be a grave mistake. The former has thousands of soldiers in Somalia, while the later shapes political agendas and has the capacity to hire and fire any Somali leader that deviates from Mahiga’s roadmap as well as the wishes of regional countries. In that sense Museveni motives are imbedded into his country’s interests while Mahiga has an employer that needs quick results. We can already detect politics tip toeing into our internal affairs. Although Museveni may claim his involvement in Somalia is entirely driven by brotherly spirit and moral duty, his interests outweigh everything.

In  clarifying the link between aid and politics the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Sadako Ogata, 1998) was quoted as saying: ‘politics and aid are ‘uncomfortable bedfellows’,  (Schimmel, 2007, cited in Vaux and Eade:65).[4] Schimmel goes on to state that the biggest problem lies in policies that attempt to separate the two, instead of such separation , what is needed is constructive and coordinated engagement so that positive humanitarian and development could achieved. Most Somalis have been so naive by separating the two.


As I had mentioned earlier on, it will be naive for Somalis to receive foreign help while expecting and maintaining full sovereignty and ownership with regards to issues that affect them. Lack of political ownership in Somalia is more likely place us at the top list of failed states.  At the same time trust building measures and neutral space has to be created for the inclusion of all stake-holders. When all stakeholders are onboard consensus can be achieved. Somalia needs massive aid in the form of building and strengthening the existing institutions, together with other forms of humanitarian assistance.

The political quagmires and the dramas that are unfolding in Somalia do arise from these structural conditions in particular: the exclusion of minorities, socio-economic deprivation combined with inequity and external forces that hell-bent on implementing their interests. The International Community together with the representatives of International NGO’s need to work hard on addressing the grievances of the Somalis both genuine and imagined. Winning the hearts and minds of Somalis is essential if the differences and misunderstanding that exist between the parties has to be sorted out. Another important element that cannot be ignored is trust. Without any form of trust no meaningful development can be achieved.


Moyo, Dambisa (2009). Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

O’dempsey, T. and Munslow, B. (2009), Editorial: Reshaping humanitarian assistance in twenty- first century. Progress in Development Studies. 9 (1), 1-2.

Schimel, V. (2007), Humanitarianism and Politics: The Dangers of Contrived Separation in Vaux and Eade (eds) Development and Humanitarianism, Practical Issues, Bloomfield: Kumarian Press, Inc 

Weeks, J. et al. (2OO2). Supporting Ownership: Swedish Development Cooperation with Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, Evaluation Report. Available: www.sida. Se. Last accessed 21.6.2011 

Ahmed. A. Hirsi 

Edmonton Green , London
E-mail: ahmed.hirsi@yahoo.com

 [1]Weeks, J. et al. (2OO2). Supporting Ownership: Swedish Development Cooperation with Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, Evaluation Report. Available: www.sida. Se. Last accessed 21.6.2011.

[2]O’dempsey, T. and Munslow, B. (2009), Editorial: Reshaping humanitarian assistance in twenty- first century. Progress in Development Studies. 9 (1), 1-2.


[3]Moyo, Dambisa (2009). Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[4]Schimel, V. (2007), Humanitarianism and Politics: The Dangers of Contrived Separation in Vaux and Eade (eds) Development and Humanitarianism, Practical Issues, Bloomfield: Kumarian Press, Inc.

Source: Hiiraan Online

Posted in: African papers