Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Charity work lagging in Somalia: Part II

By Abdi Mohamud

Somali people have always devoted some of their resources to the less fortunate in the society. In the pastoral Somali communities that have inhabited the Horn of Africa for millenia, charity work has been part of their culture. Relatives and friends in need have always been aided by others who have the means to do so. The poor have never been left on their own to suffer and perish. In most cases, livestock has been main and is still a significant portion of the nation’s wealth that Somalis rely on to meet their needs. In pastoral communities, every family has some goats, sheep, cattle and camels. Some have big herds of each type of these animals. Some others may have one or two types in sufficient numbers to meet their needs. However, the poor pastoralists  may possess none or insignificant numbers of herds in any category of the livestock that is the nation’s economic backbone. So one may wonder how the poor pastoralists have survived for hundreds or thousands of years in the absence of state or other organized entities to come to their aid in difficult circumstances.

IDPS hit by draughts, Somalia

Somali pastoralists have an age-old system of sharing with and caring for the needy. One way to help the poor is to give some, let us say, goats and sheep. Contributions from a brother, an uncle, an aunt, a cousin and even a friend. Donated animals are brought to the poor family’s door steps at the same time. These relatives and friends discuss and strategize ways to help the impoverished person in questions. Everyone contributes to the cause depending on the amount of livestock he/she owns. For instance, one may give ten goats, another six and another two. When the giving campaign is complete, the supported family will have enough wealth to sustain itself. This kind of aid, which I believe is unique to the pastoral Somali communities is known as xoolo gooyo.  Among those who receive such an aid are the newlywed and others whose herds are decimated by drought, disease and other calamaties. Objective of this kind of aid is to uplift people out of poverty and enable them to have a good life and dignity.

Aid also comes in other forms in pastoral communities. Livestock is source of meat and milk. In difficult times when there is shortage of water and pasture, it is likely that animals may not produce enough milk to sustain the owners. In such difficult situations, close relatives and friends loan some goats, camels and so on to provide milk to the affected families and individuals. In the next rainy season when everyone recovers from crises created by the drought, loaned animals are returned to the owners. Another way to aid the needy common in pastoral communities is to give a male camel to those in need to use it as a beast of burden. Pastoralists usually move from one place to another in search of water and pasture for their animals. That is when male camels come handy for transportation purposes. This welfare system has sufficiently worked and benefited many families in the pastoral Somali community for many generations.

Now, it may be desirable to see if parallel systems of charity work have developed in the towns and cities that Somalis have built in the last hundred or so years. Whatever the reasons might be, Somalis have been unable to create charitable organizations so far despite the large population of urban poor living in poverty on the streets, makeshift structures and slums. The need is there but the help is unavailable in many cases. Since 1991 the nation has seen unprecedented turmoil, dislocation and social upheaval but no meaningful efforts in terms of charity have been made. No single charity organization in operation in Somalia that serves the poor in any given town, city, region or the nation as a whole. This is the reality although we have enough resources that can make it possible for the nation to develop efficient, effective homegrown charities. Ad hoc, short-lived  charity activities happen when natural or man-made calamities strike. In drought seasons when expected rains do not come, floods or other natural disasters hit the nation or when the heinous terrorists, Alshabab massacres innocent people, authorities make appeals for assistance. Individuals and businesses usually respond by giving whatever they can in cash and kind.

Hormuud and Dahabshiil are major contributors to the aid efforts in these difficult times. Although their support is valuable and commendable, they are very strategic and selective in giving aid.  They act in solidarity with the public when the need is great and they know everyone’s gaze is on them. They do not have meaningful, year around charity programs that they either financially support or run by themselves. By saying this, the author of this essay does not mean to criticize or blame Hormuud, Dahabshiil or any other business or individual but to indicate the general neglect in aid and welfare in Somalia, particularly those who have the means to support people that are in need .

Somalis are kind and caring but their lethargy in charity work defies any explanation. They are a Muslim Suni people and homogeneous group who share all cultural bonds necessary for cohesion and support of each other. However, there is a disconnect between this fact and the way we care for the materially deprived in our midst.  The pastoral welfare system is not adopted or resonated in urban centres. Why this is the case is beyond the scope of this essay. But we may speculate that indifference and individualism are common in urban life, and these factors may play roles. It is also possible that the close-knit kin and kindred are in different places unable to coordinate their efforts and to work together. The problem may also lie in the fact that there is no individual or group who forcefully and consistently trying to promote charities in Somalia. Some attempts in this regard have been made with  unsatisfactory success. Some tried individually to form charity organizations while others came together in groups to aid those in need.

I contacted individuals who founded charity organizations. I sent written questions to them, seeking their insight into this matter. None showed willingness to share their experiences about successes, challenges, public support and so on with the exception of Shamso Shegow of Badbaado Deegaan. Shamso told me that she founded Badbaado Deegaan organization four years ago. She lives abroad but she partners with people on the ground in Somalia. Shamso expresses a great deal of frustration and disappointment at the lack of cooperation she receives from those on the ground in Somalia, who are supposed to oversee projects funded by Badbaado Deegaan. She hints at dishonesty and inconsistency of those she trusts to implement tree planting projects that her organization sponsors. Her assertions are in line with concerns voiced by others during the course of researching for this essay.

A group of young people in Mogadishu came together in the wake of the last major Alshabab bomb explosion to attend to the victims of this heinous cowardly action by this terrorist group. They called their group Daryeel. Their efforts saved many lives at that moment of need. We commended them then and commend them again today for their heroic and patriotic work. My concern was that this group would dissolve itself after the crisis was over, so I urged them to stick together and lay the foundation of a charity organization that will rise to prominence and play a significant role in relief efforts in Somalia for generations. It is believed that Daryeel dissolved itself as soon as the crisis was over.

Some organizations may still exist in name only but they do not carry out any regular charity operations. At least they are not obvious to those of us who take keen interest in homegrown, humanitarian work in Somalia.

Trust deficit

While researching for this piece, I talked to a few Somalis both inside and outside Somalia to get their perspectives on the issue. Many expressed concerns about the trustworthiness of those running these organizations. They believe these individuals and groups are in this venture for their own personal interests and not for the common good. They mentioned some cases in which great scandals happened. Top on their list is the recent Feeding Our Future scandal in Minnesota, Minneapolis. This one was really a big one involving 1 ⁄ 4 a billion dollars misused and misappropriated by individuals and agencies contracted by the U.S. Government to deliver assistance for economically vulnerable sectors in the Somali community there.

Majority of the contractors were wealthy. Some had business while others operated professional practice. What surprised the authorities was that these people showed neither concern for the poor nor honoured the contract they entered. They purchased real estate, luxury vehicles and created shell companies. They all created fictitious records meant to purport appropriate use of the funds. There was no sophistication in their theft so when apprehended they all got disoriented and incoherent in their statement. Scandal engulfed the whole community as it was seen as untrustworthy and incredible by the general public. These sentiments were played out loud and amplified in all sorts of media.

Searching for solutions

Similar unlawful activities, though less in scale, happen all the time in many organizations formed by Somalis at home and abroad. While we recognize that this is a big problem, solutions are available and within reach. We should not be discouraged by such incidents from working on the common good. There are legal and administrative tools that can be put in place to improve management and accountability in charities and community associations.

We need to overcome the trust deficit and the suspicion that grip and paralyze us as a society. National and state governments should develop policies and regulations guiding and governing charity organizations. These policies should explain in plain language that charity work is meant to benefit the needy in the society.

Those who choose to work in the charity sector are expected to be driven by humanity, good will and intentions to serve and to make a difference in people’s lives. In the case of theft or misappropriation of funds, culprits should be punished by prison terms and auctioning their properties to recover the misappropriated funds. Strong monitoring mechanism should be in place. Charities should summit yearly third-party audited financial statements. Authorities should also undertake auditing whenever there is suspicion or reports indicating financial mismanagement. When good practices and accountability in charity work are established, public trust will be regained, revenue will rise and meaningful and dynamic charity culture will take root and endure.

Abdi Mohamud
Email: [email protected]

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Read part I: Charity work lagging in Somalia by Abdi Mohamud


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