Somalia, its Neighbours and Al-Shabaab: the Quest for Sustainable Solutions – By Seifulaziz Milas

The Juba river in Southern Somalia holds great potential for agricultural development of the country.

In Somalia, the radical Islamist militia, Al-Shabab, that has terrorized much of the country over the past five years, appears to be on the run. They have been forced out of the capital, Mogadishu, and all of the major towns that were once under their control (including Kismayo in the South). But those who believe the Shabaab are finished could find that they are sorely mistaken.

The eradication of Al-Shabaab, although essential to the peace and security of both Somalia and its neighbours, is unlikely to be achieved by military force alone. What is actually required is a coordinated and sustained regional effort to eliminate the underlying causes of the growth of Islamist radicalism among Somali youth including assistance to effectively address the persistent and structural humanitarian crisis affecting most of Somalia.

Key requirements include improved governance, and concerted efforts to rebuild and expand Somali livelihoods, and the country’s economy. Most of the current generation of Somalis have grown up in conditions of conflict, insecurity of livelihood and deprivation. This has tended to make many of them vulnerable to the arguments and promises of the Islamist militants. The new Somali Government must avoid the corruption trap and tendencies towards dividing up the governmental ‘cake’ along clan lines, and focus its efforts on solving the livelihood problems faced by the majority of the country’s population.

The new government must also urgently address humanitarian issues and start the flow of food aid to the areas liberated from Al- Shabaab. The Shabaab alienated large groups of people in southern and central Somalia by allowing them to die of hunger, rather than permit aid organizations to give them food. If the arrival of food aid, and assistance for reconstruction follows quickly in the tracks of the Kenyan and AMISOM forces, that will strengthen the local constituency for the elimination of Al-Shabaab in the country.

Food aid is a necessary but temporary expedient. It helps to keep people alive, while plans to enable them to earn a livelihood are being made. This is an area in which there is a vital role for the international community to play in putting Somalia back on the road to development and self-reliance.

Along with conflict, drought and desertification are key causes of impoverishment and destitution in large areas of Somalia and adjacent regions of Ethiopia and Kenya. With an increasing population, there is more pressure on the land and its limited resources. Drought and desertification disasters are occurring at increasingly shorter intervals, with less opportunity for recovery. Hundreds of thousands of rural households in Somalia and neighbouring regions of Ethiopia and Kenya have lost most of the livestock on which they depend, dropping entire communities into chronic destitution.

Implications for the IGAD region

Regional economic integration could make an important contribution to addressing these shared problems, in the context of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) – the Regional Economic Commission for the Horn of Africa. It provides the institutional framework for regional economic integration, towards increasing prosperity and integration into the global economy.

The countries of the region are bound by history and geography in relationships of interdependence with considerable potential for cooperation for their common development, for example, through transport corridors to seaports, management of shared water resources, and improved energy security.

Much of rural Somalia is gripped in a livelihood crisis with increasingly serious implications for human security. It is a situation that demands substantial investment in the integrated development of the region’s land and water resources and creating sustainable alternative livelihoods. The key requirements for this include improved infrastructure to provide reliable access to transport, water and affordable energy. In particular, the rehabilitation of the country’s internal roads and their interconnection with those of the neighbouring countries could open the way to increased trade, economic growth and poverty reduction.

Similarly, the ongoing oil price crisis makes affordable energy a key problem faced by countries that like Somalia where people largely depend on oil fired electricity generation. But this could be addressed by interconnection with Ethiopia’s electricity grid to enable it to purchase much cheaper hydroelectricity, a solution already agreed by Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan, in the context of the planned East African Power Pool (EAPP).

The EAPP is already on the way to becoming part of a new regional reality, and a key example of regional economic integration. In September 2012 the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved USD348 million in funding for a USD 1.26 billion project for an electricity transmission line connecting Ethiopia and Kenya. This is a key step towards the establishment of the East African Power Pool, which may later be connected to a Southern Africa Power Pool. The project will promote power trade and regional integration. Djibouti is already interconnected with Ethiopia’s power grid and buying Ethiopian hydropower at a fraction of the cost of oil-based power generation. The same could be done for Somalia.

Addressing the basic issues of sustainable rural livelihoods will need to be undertaken through forms of regional economic integration that encourage the cooperative development of the shared water resources of this drought disaster-prone region comprising Somalia, the Ethiopian Somali region (the Ogaden) and northeastern Kenya. These areas are inextricably linked in terms of ethnic ties, economic exchange and inter-dependence, shared natural resources, and the constant cross-border movement of their pastoral populations.

The Way Forward

There is an important opportunity for joint development of the hydroelectric and irrigation potential of the Shabelle and Dawa-Gennale-Juba river basins in the context of infrastructure-led regional economic integration. The cooperative development of the shared water resources of this drought prone region of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia offers considerable potential to rehabilitate the livelihoods of their populations and put them on the path to sustainable development and peace.

Multi-purpose dams on the Shabelle and Dawa-Gennale-Juba rivers could contribute to the hydroelectric power needs of the three countries, enhance their irrigation potential, and prevent the recurrent floods that from time to time devastate large areas of the lower Shabelle and Gennale-Juba basins, leading to serious loss of life and property. It would need significant investment, but it would be far cheaper than the costs of chronic conflict and humanitarian disasters and the economic returns would repay the investment.

With a million hectares of irrigable land on the Ethiopian side and hundreds of thousands within Somalia, both countries would benefit from such development. This would enable irrigation-based agriculture, livestock raising, agro-processing, and employment, for those who choose to settle, as well as those who are already settled, but are often affected by recurrent drought, and food insecurity. It would also reduce the chronic poverty and resource competition that are among the major underlying causes of conflict.

The dams to be built in the two main river basins would control the massive periodic floods like those that occurred in the lower Juba valley a decade ago, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of livestock and considerable loss of human life. The regular availability of water would prevent the loss of huge numbers of valuable livestock, and crops to frequent drought disasters. Along with disaster prevention, they would also provide opportunities for hydropower production. The availability of affordable hydropower could provide a key economic missing link, by opening the way to agro-processing, adding value to agricultural and livestock production, providing employment for the population, and reducing poverty. This could also make a major contribution to reduction of resource competition and conflict risk.

 

As in India and China, labour-intensive light manufacturing has significant potential to put the Horn of Africa on the road to development. Countries like Ethiopia and Somalia have the necessary cheap labour for this, but what they need to make the jump is abundant, affordable and reliable electricity, to enable them to add value to their production, for example, by exporting meat and leather products, rather than livestock on the hoof.

Somalia, once it settles its internal conflicts, will be well-positioned to benefit from regional economic integration. This, of course, will depend to a large degree on the success of the new government, with the assistance of the AU forces in defeating the Al-Shabaab militias, and establishing an acceptable level of governance. If successful, a peaceful Somalia could have the opportunity, based on the shared water resources of the Dawa-Gennale-Juba, and Shabelle river basins, to rebuild its long neglected agricultural and livestock economies.

In the context of IGAD and regional economic integration, a peaceful Somalia, would also be well-positioned to benefit from Ethiopian use of its port facilities, as Ethiopia begins to tap the agricultural and livestock development potential of its Ogaden region. The closest ports to the southeastern Ogaden are those of Mogadishu and Kismayo. This would open the way to a new and more constructive, cooperative and peaceful relationship between the two countries.

This is particularly important in view of the rapid increase in population numbers across much of the area, and the increasing pressure of fast-growing populations on diminishing resources. The more effective and cooperative use of the region’s water resources, could make important contributions to economic development, to the reduction of poverty, periodic food insecurity, hunger and conflict risk.

The potential for irrigated agriculture and livestock-raising could serve as a lifebelt for both farming and pastoral populations dependent on erratic rainfall, in the context of periodic drought and food shortages, and increasing poverty. It would open the way to sustainable rural livelihoods, and to increased opportunities for urban employment and trade, within Somalia, and between Somalia and its neighbours.

In the context of regional economic integration, this would reduce resource competition and accelerate development and livelihood opportunities. It would also reduce conflict risk by providing the populations on both sides of the border with resources and opportunities that they could not afford to jeopardize, or allow to be jeopardized, through conflict.

Seifulaziz Milas  is a writer on the Horn of Africa and author of Sharing the Nile: Egypt, Ethiopia and the Geo-Politics of Water.

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One thought on “Somalia, its Neighbours and Al-Shabaab: the Quest for Sustainable Solutions – By Seifulaziz Milas

  1. Pingback: Africa Blog Roundup: Tourism in West Africa, Somaliland Elections, Reggae in Mali, and More | Sahel Blog

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