Somalia’s GDP will double in the next five years (if…)
On June 3, 2014 I attended a speech given by Wendy Sherman, Undersecretary for Political Affairs on “US Foreign policy in Somalia” at the US Institute of Peace.
Ambassador Sherman’s announcement that the president will be naming an ambassador to Somalia “soon” ignited many rapid-fire conversations within the Somali Diaspora, Somali media, as well as non-Somalis; all sharing a similar hopeful reaction for what is to come. Those of us in the Diaspora who have been working and appealing for this major step, see it as a sign that Somalia and the Somali people are on the long road back to becoming contributing members of the global community. I was encouraged to hear in Ambassador Sherman’s remarks a changing of the narrative of the Somali people, from one of solely focused security concerns, to one with a vision that includes economic growth, development, investment, and opportunity.
Great to the ears of those who have given much of themselves to rebuilding the quality of life for Somalis including its crumbling and non-existent infrastructure. In the past several years many Diaspora business, social and political entrepreneurs have ventured back to the country to do what they can. And while the Ambassador’s acknowledgement that economic development is important for the future, more needs to be done to foster and encourage real development by focusing on development of infrastructure. Ensuring the gains of the millions of dollars spent to stabilize the region are reinforced with people-focused development.
Somalia’s GDP is on the road to doubling in the future, simple math and demographics bear that out – but it can double in the next five years and vastly improve the quality of life for the entire region if the global community understands not only what is at stake but appreciates what is possible.
Already, the infusion of development assistance from Turkey and China for example are reshaping much of the Horn of Africa as they have recognized opportunities that lay in investing. And an engaged world body, starting with the United States, leading with investment capital will not only speed up the recovery but will bear a high return on the investment that will continue to pay dividends for generations and not betray the valuable resources that have already been spent.
Somalia’s strategic location in Horn of Africa as a convergence point of the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, East Africa and Arabian Peninsula make it a natural stopping for the large scale trade that Africa will surely demand in the coming years for the continents coming growth. Thereby ensuring jobs, and sustained growth for a generation as rebuilding of major cities welcomes more growth and stability.
Somalis for the most past have learned a blood-written lesson and recognize that they need to stop isolating themselves into clans, and work to rebuild the country. They know that their remittances are at least 1/3 of the country’s GDP, that they must carry the lion-share of the work because they are the key to Somalia’s comeback. Recent history has shown that the Somali people are resilient but they need to step up and take on the challenge of building their country in all aspects – and allow an entryway for a generation within the Diaspora who are disconnected from the back and forth of the politics, but attached to the wellbeing of the people and the country.
And while Somalia has yet to name an Ambassador to the US of its own, the Somali Diaspora has had hundreds of thousands of Ambassadors already in the US for many years not to mention the UK, Canada, European powers and others. The almost daily diplomacy between the Diaspora and those in-country is beginning to shape into a coherent vision of the future. Both sides of the remittance transaction pay very close attention to the security climate, political climate and most importantly to the economic climate. And both sides of the remittances would prefer not to be sending and receiving remittances. Opening the door for this unifying vision to turn into a mission will create an inward bound heavy flow of additional Diaspora money, talent and energy, it is time for Somalis to get in gear.
Ambassador Sherman’s welcomed remarks will continue to ripple within the Somali global community and I believe will be heard loudly throughout the continent of Africa. A continent with 1 billion people and every conceivable natural resource, yet hampered by persistent instability, chaos and violence. This could indeed be the US-Africa century (as mentioned to me by several policy experts in Washington DC), encouraging Foreign policy announcements as major as this coupled with real progress are sure to have an impact on so many looking toward a hopeful tomorrow.