An Oxford University Professor Pins Down the Problem of Bad Governance in Somalia

By Liban Ahmad

Sir Paul Collier: “If the absence of government is all we need for prosperity, Somalia would be the most prosperous place on earth. It is actually the most impoverished.”

It is very dispiriting when your homeland becomes the worst example about societies that suffer consequences of state collapse and attendant degradations. Several years ago, an Israeli historian argued that without nationalism a country will follow in the footsteps of Somalia. Only people who do not think highly of their country destroy libraries, loot museums, dispossess their compatriots and result in a total break down of law and order. A few Somalis accept this verdict. They point to the entrepreneurial zeal of Somalis, how one-time Somali regions in the periphery recovered from state collapse without foreign aid, and booming telecommunications and financial devices sectors.

Much of what many Somalis view as a miraculous economic progress remains dependent upon remittances from the Somalia diaspora who fled their country due to the civil war. The other factor that drives growth of certain, capital-intensive sectors is the absence of regulation. Businesses in Somalia have metamorphosed oligarchic concerns that benefit from an alliance formed by politicians and tycoons. The national seaports are controlled by political entities loyal to politically influential members of clans. In this political environment a business environment comes into existence to serve only the interests of businesses that prosper without competition. A businessman from region X in Somalia cannot compete in l region Y. Rival companies merge or are acquired by a conglomerate to deepen monopolistic nature of the business.

Sir Paul Collier, a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, has used Somalia as an example about a place where there is no public policy. “There’s a place without any public policy, indeed any government, it’s called Somalia and they seem to prefer to buy territory in New Zealand. If the absence of government is all we need for prosperity, Somalia would be the most prosperous place on earth.  It is actually the most impoverished” said Professor Collier at a discussion entitled Capitalism: what has gone wrong, what needs to change, and how can it be fixed? organised by Oxford Martin School.

Why do many Somalis try their luck with immigrating to Europe or North America or Australasia? Risk of being conscripted by Al-shabaab, and lack of opportunities force young Somalis to flee their homeland in search of better life abroad. That the rate of immigration from Somalia is as high today as it was thirty years ago, when the state collapsed, corroborates Professor Collier’s example about the Horn of Africa country. Thirty two years ago an unscrupulous businessman relied upon political patronage to become successful. Now politicians are dependent upon business patronage to make a splash in politics.

In Somalia business owns politics. In such an environment terrorism thrives, unemployment becomes a persistent national problem. Public services get measly funds due to lack of sufficient tax revenues collected by authorities. Many children remain unschooled because their parents cannot afford to pay school fees. Health care is private and unaffordable to millions of Somali citizens. Lack of public policy in Somalia puts a big question mark upon the claim that Somalia has had governments protecting the sovereignty of the nation state.

Liban Ahmad