Globalization and its impact on Somalia

Originally published

R.Marchal, J.A. Mubarak, M. Del Buono, D. L. Manzolillo *
UNDP/UNDOS, Nairobi, January 2000.


Somalia’s communities have had to deal with a period of statelessness for longer than any other society in the contemporary world. Somalia also ranks among the lowest countries in the world on UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI). It might, therefore, seem reasonable to view Somalia as a country left out of the loop of new global markets, technologies, politics and cultures. In reality, however, Somalia has had a complex and uneven set of interactions with global actors and trends. This paper examines the impacts of globalization on Somalia. We see globalization as the extension of trends and influences (such as ideas, concepts, knowledge, ethics and technology as well as behaviors) across erstwhile barriers (ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious, political or environmental). It must be emphasized that globalization is not merely a homogenizing and integrating force, but divides and fragments societies as well. Globalization creates differences. The unevenness of the process is creating inequalities within nations, regions, and communities; disparity and insecurity of incomes; rapid transmission of financial and political crises between different areas of the planet; the spread of crime, health threats and environmental degradation on a previously unknown scale. People are affected differently by globalization, and they react in a variety of ways. Groups vary in the permeability of their boundaries, allowing some trends to filter through, while others are firmly rejected. Somalia illustrates dramatically the complexity of this transformation, the choices societies can make in the adoption or rejection of trends or behaviors, and the interesting ways in which ‘directives’ from well-off global partners are interpreted and used for local benefit.

Whereas the collapse of the Somali State (and the ensuing civil war) has causes (and hopefully solutions), that are profoundly endogenous, it can be said to be in some ways a consequence of globalization (especially the end of the cold war), it is also true that the process of globalization in Somalia was enhanced by the collapse of the State. Because the former Somali State had been of the "command and control" type, its persistence would have meant greater opposition to the penetration of trends and ideas than its disappearance.

Although the jargon associated with globalization is new, the process is ancient. The Horn of Africa has been affected, on and off, for almost 4000 years. The Ancient Egyptians imported frankincense from Somalia, which they called the "Land of Punt". It was known to Rome as the "Regio Aromatifera" or "Regio Cinnamomifera". It was a center for trade by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Indians and other East Asians. As a commercial center it went into decline with the Christian era, although it was used as a refuge by Muslims to escape persecution before Islam became widespread in the Arab countries. In the latter half of the second millenium Turks, Portuguese and Egyptians visited the coastal areas. The interior was periodically invaded by Ethiopian forces. At the end of the nineteenth century, the area was partitioned between the European colonial powers, Britain, France and Italy, as well as Ethiopia.

In Somalia, and elsewhere, ‘global’ interactions have, until now, been limited and sporadic. At the end of the 20th century, however, globalization has become a dominant force with distinctive features that include technologies that have dramatic effects on time and space, and the interconnection of people in ways that are more immediate than ever before.

In order to understand the impact of this new era of globalization on Somalia, it is necessary to look at three different areas of Somali society: its political history, the diversity of its social groups, and its economy. In each area, the civil war has added another dimension to the set of interactions. It is important to understand that globalization has had direct effects on Somalia (colonialism, foreign aid, imposed ideologies, telecommunications, the spread of new cultures), and indirect effects, the most dramatic of which has been the civil war which has caused acute internal conflicts, and widespread international concern.

Globalisation and the political process.

For a period of 21 years, Somalia existed under the authoritarian regime of Mohamed Siyad Barre, whose adoption of "scientific socialism" ("Hawliyo Hantinadaag") led to the imposition of a Statist economy. Somalia’s low rate of urbanization and the small number of foreigners in the country at the time accounted for the low level of exposure to the more obvious global trends. The lack of outside influences was maintained by restrictions on the importation of foreign books and periodicals. Although viewed as a society in isolation, Somalia’s geographically strategic location in the Horn of Africa meant that, between 1960 and 1990, it attracted one of the highest amounts of per capita foreign aid in the world. The effects on the expansion of the civil service, military build up, industrial development and patronage and corruption in the financial sector are difficult to overstate. In the mid 1970s, Somalia had one of Africa’s largest standing armies, and spent from 40% to 50% of its budget on defense and security. External donors underwrote nearly all of the human development activities and services. In some cases, the accomplishments have a positive aspect: a thriving export market in livestock and bananas and cereal production, though even these activities enjoyed the benign neglect of the Somali State, rather than its enthusiastic support (especially in the case of livestock). Unfortunately, the State never came close to sustaining itself on locally generated revenues.

Globalization resulted in the détente between the East and the West. Somalia’s strategic importance was based on East/West competition in the Horn of Africa. But Siyad Barre was oblivious to the changing international situation, and the possibility that Somalia’s loss of strategic importance would soon be followed by a decline in military aid. The withdrawal of support by the USSR during the Ogaden war was followed by the provision of aid from the US. The amounts provided by the Americans were substantially lower, as they had never considered Somalia as strategically placed as Ethiopia. A series of insurrections began to plague the country, and in 1988 Siyad Barre’s brutal attack on Hargeisa led to charges of genocide, and the subsequent freezing of aid from the West. Within two years the regime collapsed, the end of the Somali State came shortly after, followed by a civil war. Siyad Barre’s regime and its manipulative relationship with global partners on opposite ends of the political spectrum left a dangerous legacy. The massive amounts of weaponry provided by its former patrons contributed to the violent warfare and banditry experienced in 1991-1992. Siyad Barre’s previous manipulation of clans had created an atmosphere rife with inter-clan mistrust and hostility. The abuse of power and repression suffered by the Somali people left a deep distrust of any central government. Finally, the high levels of corruption and personal wealth amassed during the days of massive foreign aid donations continue to fuel the fixation that Somali faction leaders have with foreign assistance. To this end, Somali leaders still believe that if they can create some sort of internationally recognized state, or political structure, international funding will resume on a grand scale.

The UN intervention in Somalia from 1992 to 1995 resulted in a new influx of foreigners, their values and their money, and a new and rapid phase in its globalization. Somalis who had cultivated contempt for the Western languages suddenly found them useful in acquiring well-paying jobs. Foreign products (sodas, computers and other items) which had, until then, been prohibitively expensive (or simply prohibited) made an appearance. Losing one’s life over inter-clan rivalries became less tolerable, as many Somalis realized that a different way of life existed, and might even be within their reach.

Somalis came up with a number of ingenious strategies to please donors, while at the same time getting access to the resources available. During the period from 1960 to 1969, Somalia had experimented with multi-party democracy. After that, it entered a period of nationalism and repression, together with the prohibition of local NGOs and political parties. The international presence in Somalia after 1992 was looking for political movements of one sort or another. Somalis responded by establishing factional organizations, then a number of local NGOs, and then systems of representation by elders (whose traditional influence had been, tour a tour, undermined and enhanced under Siyad Barre). Although these groupings have roots in the indigenous cultures of the region, it is clear that most of them reflected the desire to obtain a share of foreign aid, using paradigms and structures acceptable to the international community. For example, most of the many local NGOs that emerged during this era were known as ‘pocket NGOs". They were simply fronts for factions or businesses formed to secure grants and contracts from international agencies, which had been encouraged to work through ‘local counterparts’. When aid began to dry up in 1995, these NGOs disappeared. Those that remain now tend to be authentic, and will perform useful service, provided that they are able to maintain their independence from clans and factions.

Another method used by the UN to revive the government in Somalia was an attempt to establish district councils in the country, which could serve as local authorities, and as interlocutors between local communities and aid agencies. In some cases, these creations have been successful, but in many instances they ceased to exist after UNOSOM’s departure.

A current trend in globalization is a shift in political culture from unity and nationalism to the concept of regionalism, decentralization and local governance. Interestingly enough, the Somali leaders at the forefront of this shift towards regionalism (Abdirahman Tuur, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, Abdullahi Yussuf) are political veterans of nationalism (or chauvinism, in the eyes of some). They were, however, able to take up this new point of view, and Egal and Yussuf are now ruling regions of the former Somalia. These leaders were able to see the trend towards decentralization and local governance, and that a commitment to these principles is accepted (encouraged, in fact) by international bodies. It should not be assumed that these Somali leaders have given up their national ambitions. They have, however, decided to use this tactic in order to build political entities, which, just a few years ago, they would have found unthinkable.

One symptom of globalization is a retreat of sovereignty in a market-driven global environment. Sovereignty operates in the context of political solutions to problems, but the market imposes economic realities that often assume primacy over national laws and the wishes of the citizens. In this case, national laws (if they exist), become invalid, or are overridden by multinational business interests. An example of this was the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) that would have given investors rights to compensation by governments if their actions (for example, to protect their workers or the environment) undermine investors’ ability to reap profits. In a global counter-effort, an array of international groups were able to stop this particular measure, but the World Trade Organization has provisions that are equally worrying, in this case for Somalia (see section on Environment and Economy). The MAI and WTO issues fall within the realm of legal business interests. However, illegal international commercial activities often involve exploitation of resources, or other activities within the boundaries of other countries that are ignored unless international force is brought to bear on the culprits. One example of this, which has affected Somalia, is illegal fishing within territorial waters (although it is possible that some of the fishing companies had received permits from faction leaders). Another is the dumping of toxic wastes along the Somali coast, possibly by Swiss and Italian firms who specialize in this business. The countries involved in dumping and illegal fishing are reported to include Italy, Russia, Ukraine, Spain, Portugal, Romania, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Pakistan, India and Kenya. Ironically, the combination of illegal dumping and fishing can pose health hazards to consumers in other countries, as there is no regulation of either activity. In the end, it might be Somalia’s fishing industry whose reputation is damaged if the fish stocks are contaminated by toxic or nuclear waste.

Somalia’s lack of a ‘legitimate’ government in the worldview aggravates this situation. The response to illegal activities is ineffective and weak, the country lacks representation in various world bodies, is thus unable to plead its case, and must rely on an international network of interested individuals and organizations to bring the matter to the world’s attention. The situation with Somalia’s landmines and unexploded ordnance is especially serious. Somalia receives comparatively little money for de-mining, although Puntland and Somaliland have publicly endorsed the Landmines Treaty, which they have not been permitted to sign. As a result, the commitment of both regions to abolishing landmines is not recognized.

Another threat to sovereignty is the printing of banknotes. Since 1991 there have been a number of attempts by factional leaders to print new banknotes, with which they could fund their rise in power and influence. Somali currency was printed, especially during UNOSOM’s presence, but traders were usually aware of its existence, and the amounts printed were never enough to cause major concern. In 1994, Somalia started printing and issuing its own currency, the Somaliland Shilling (SlSh). In 1996, Mohamed Farah Aydiid struck a deal with a Canadian printing company and a Malaysian intermediary for a massive number (165 million) of new banknotes. He received the first consignment, and used this to maintain the strength of his alliance. More recently, his son, Hussein, tried to do the same. He was less successful as he had to be satisfied with what the Air businessmen were willing to part with - another symptom of globalization, with sovereignty held at bay and the upper hand held by economic forces rather than the clan, or superior weaponry. Other faction leaders have plans to print banknotes, and if they succeed, the Somali currency may soon collapse. Privatizing the national currency in this way can eventually have serious negative impacts on the economy, especially if it means dollarization. At present, there is complete freedom of the foreign exchange market, the Somali shilling rules between Kenya and the Horn, with only a small part of the Northwest region using the SlSh. Therefore, apart from this area, there is a common market, and monetary union. If the Somali shilling is destroyed, there may be a delay before the dollar takes over. On the other hand, a new currency may be introduced. Replacement of the national currency with dollars, or a new currency will, therefore, have a negative impact on business (by destroying the unity of the market and raising the cost of transactions), and on the poorest sections of the Somali population (due to inflation first, and the indivisibility of the US dollar in the country). There are also political costs to creating a new monetary union, which can hardly be afforded at this time.

Globalization’s weakening of sovereignty enters the political realm when international bodies put pressure on governments to curb abuses of human rights (such as UN attempts at humanitarian interventions by international coalitions). This has, to some extent, taken on the characteristics of a North/South confrontation. The North argues that it has a duty to intervene in the case of war crimes, or crimes against humanity. Countries in the South tend to see this as a form of neo-colonialism, or interference in internal affairs. They also argue that this pressure is not applied consistently. When criticized on the treatment of their citizens, many Southern countries tend to adopt a more absolutist view of national sovereignty. In the case of Somalia, the accusations of genocide against Siyad Barre in 1988, and the withdrawal of foreign assistance was an early attempt at putting international pressure on the government to stop its violation of human rights. The actual intervention by the UN occurred after the collapse of the state, so, in the strict sense, there was no violation of a sovereign state. The issue does come in, however, in the problem of the international lack of recognition of the authorities of Somaliland, or Puntland. The idea that a national government does not ‘exist’ unless other governments say it does (and that this actually makes a difference) is an interesting development in the globalization process. Nobody claims to be the "Government of Somalia" at this stage and therefore, the issue of non-recognition does not arise.

Globalization and society.

One aspect of Somalia that must be taken into account when considering the impact of globalization is the social heterogeneity of the country. Somalia has always been considered a society of nomadic pastoralists. It is true that 40% of the population are nomadic. The remaining 60% of the population are made up of agropastoralists, agriculturalists, fishing communities, urbanized groups and others (some belong to "low caste" strata in other social groups) who engage a variety of occupations. These segments of the population have traditionally had little representation, lacked articulate spokesmen and effective leadership. Globalization works on societies in a number of ways, affecting social status, economic hierarchies, gender relations, and so on. One interesting effect of the civil war was the emergence of collective rights for many of these "minority" communities, and recognition that nomadic pastoralism was not the only type of social grouping to be found in Somalia.

The civil war has also been the cause of massive internal migrations, and of an exodus to other countries. The process continues due, in part, to the low-intensity conflicts in some parts of the country, and the inability of certain areas to provide basic services (such as health and education) for children. It would be wrong, however, to assume that this is exclusively a post-civil-war phenomenon. A significant number of men left the country to work elsewhere after the first oil crisis, when Somalia joined the Arab League. At that time, the migrants were mostly from the North (what is Somaliland today). In addition to this exodus for opportunities to earn wages, Somalis also went abroad for other reasons. Education has always been cheaper in Pakistan, and others wanted to settle with relatives who left the country under British rule to live in Yemen, Oman and other Gulf States. In the 1980s, changes within and outside Somalia began to affect migratory patterns in significant ways. Saudia Arabia was no longer able to absorb large numbers of workers from Somalia, in part because of the state of the economy, and also because of the preference given to Asian workers who were more easily controlled by the Immigration Police. Repression within the Northwest region of Somalia increased, causing more people to leave their homes. The exodus from Southern Somalia also increased, spurred by the general degeneration of security in the region.

After 1991, Somalis increased their efforts to leave the country, using any means available. For example, the US set up a program of resettlement for the Gibil Cad ("light skinned"), mostly refugees, in camps near or in Mombasa. Many of these people then sold their right to leave the camps to other Somalis who went instead. Years later, the Australian government offered a similar opportunity to the Rahanweyn from Bay, and the same thing happened. Some Somalis have established networks to bring their countrymen to Italy, or the UK using false documents and visas. There have been a number of shifts in preferred foreign destinations. In 1990, the Italian Parliament introduced a new law, which offered one-year’s residence to any Somali arriving in the country. Up until 1995 Somalis were numerous, especially in Northern Italy. In 1998 most of them left for other destinations. The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries were popular at one time, but at the moment, Canada is the preferred destination. It seems that Australia will soon come into fashion.

These changes in destination are difficult to explain. Italy is a hospitable country, but access to welfare is limited. The migrants also view Italy as a country suffering from parochialism. This may have something to do with the language, and the fact that, for the first time in their history Italians are facing a serious increase in illegal immigrants from the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe as well as Ghana and Nigeria. In contrast, the Netherlands, Scandinavian countries and Canada offer the refugees a higher level of support through welfare. The way of life in Canada, Australia and the US has room for Somali migrants but Somalis encounter a certain amount of hostility in some Scandinavian countries, notably Finland.

The behavior of Somalis in their new countries is interesting, unfortunately there is no extensive comparative research on the subject. After years of indifference or opposition to education, they now see it as a major asset for their children. Of course, the value put on education correlates highly with the educational background of the parents, but the changes observed are impressive, and positive. The major explanation for this is probably the present stalemate in Somalia, and the need to have at least an elementary education in order to find a job. In this sense, the Somali community is behaving much like the first generation of Algerian immigrants to France.

The weak educational background of most Somali adult immigrants means that socialization in a new country can be difficult. Whereas other African nationalities have well-developed communities in their adopted countries, Somalis have been slow to achieve this. Regional and clan rivalries continue to frame their relationships, even when they are abroad and parents tend to become more religiously conservative and more clannish. This is, in part, dictated by the cultural changes they see in their children, and the links they have with their family members who remain in Somalia, who keep them abreast of events at home. Once out of Somalia, they do not engage in the permanent clan compromises that are now necessary in order to live and prosper in the country. The alienation of men seems to be a common phenomenon once Somalis migrate, as women are more adaptable and find work more easily. This response is typical of changes observed in other cultures affected by globalization. For example, many studies on the Turkish community in Germany have shown that immigrants are often more conservative than their relatives at home, although their economic situation is slightly better.

Marked changes are occurring inside the country as well. During the first years of the civil war, education was not valued highly, except as a way to channel international aid into fictional NGOs. The view has changed radically. The lack of any educational structure is a concern for parents from what was the middle class, many of them having spent large sums of money to send their children out of the country, not only for reasons of security, but also to give them a good education. This has provoked a good deal of criticism from the media, who underline the fact that almost all Somali politicians have their families living overseas. In the absence of any personal cost due to the lack of security and educational infrastructure, they don’t feel any pressure to settle these issues politically. The impact of UNOSOM’s presence, and the existence of Somali communities living overseas have altered the image Somalis have of themselves in relation to the rest of the world. Although they remain proud of their own language and culture, they now need to find well paying jobs in Somalia, or to travel overseas for work or trade. Many language schools have opened throughout the country. Arabic and English, more than Italian are seen as the most useful languages to learn these days.

There has been an increase in exposure to the media, especially foreign television and videos. Satellite dishes are found in all areas of Somalia, especially now that the price has gone down. Originally, only CNN and some Arab and Indian channels were available. Now, in Southern Somalia at least, MNet (a South African channel) and other African and Western television channels are received. The BBC Somali service is still popular, but is no longer the only foreign radio station. Videos are imported, without restriction, and are translated into Somali. Newspapers have mushroomed (as they have in other parts of Africa). In contrast to the lack of censorship and regulation of the electronic media, the local print media may come under scrutiny of the warlords. One newspaper in Mogadishu North was shut down after it published a list of Ali Mahdi supporters, and the countries where their families were settled. Aydiid jailed an AFP correspondent. He escaped, and then got into trouble again, so he had to leave the country entirely and move to Kenya. In Somaliland, the police arrest the editor of the main newspaper three to four times a year, for criticizing the cabinet, or corrupt rulers. In Puntland, a journalist was briefly detained when he published a checklist of the pros and cons of Mssrs Egal, Aideed and Yussuf, finding the last most wanting. As in many countries, the level of professionalism of the journalists varies. Some blindly support factions, others simply collect rumors going around town, and publish them without verifying the facts. On the whole, however, the process is definitely a positive one.

There has been a dramatic improvement in telecommunications technology, and a decrease in costs. There are currently 12 operators, some working locally, others at a national level, which is a vast improvement over the previous situation. At the time the civil war broke out, it was only possible to make international calls from the central post office in Mogadishu. Even this could be achieved only if one had friends in the right places, and could pay heavy bribes to the employees. Now, people can call anywhere in the world from their own homes. There are two reasons for this. The first is the changes in technology, and the consequent drop in costs. The second reason is the need for remittances from relatives overseas which drives the market for telecommunications. Remittances are the largest source of income for Somalis, and most customers are calling overseas to ask for money. One telephone operator in Somaliland estimates that 80% of his customers are calling relatives overseas, to inform them of events in the country, and to ask that money be transferred to them. The other customers were business people (10%) and international staff from NGOs or other international agencies (10%). Somali operators have mixed feelings about providing Internet services. They find the technological aspect very exciting, but they are worried that they will lose the enormous profits they currently make on international calls.

Before the 1990 civil war, Somalia had made some commitment to improving its health services, adopting as its own a WHO sponsored universal health access programme). Development plans were drawn up for basic health services, most of which were to focus on rural and nomadic populations. Almost all health care provided in pre-war Somalia was either heavily or completely subsidized by external sources. Poor economic management and security problems meant that even these facilities were not operating at reasonable levels. Somalia ranked near the bottom then, in indicators such as infant mortality rates and life expectancy. Since 1990 the situation has worsened considerably. Most of the facilities were damaged and looted, and most trained healthcare workers left the country, or moved to more secure areas. At present, international donors finance public health care almost entirely. There is still a shortage of public health facilities, however, and this has opened the door for a rapidly growing private sector, especially private clinics and pharmacies. It is estimated that in some areas of the country, over 90% of curative care first contacts are in private clinics. The private sector is, therefore, playing a significant role in supplementing government health care. Unfortunately, the lack of regulation has a serious downside. Many physicians and nurses who pose as trained health professionals are either partially trained, or not trained at all. Furthermore, pharmaceutical drugs (purchased by businessmen who have no medical background) are available on the open market. They may be expired, of poor quality, or discontinued by the manufacturers for various health reasons. Patients diagnose and treat themselves, which means that dosage regulations are often ignored, creating a climate for misuse, and the spread of drug-resistant organisms. The overwhelming financial contribution of major international donors to Somalia’s health care system means that the donors have influence in the definition of health care policies. As a result, health care issues can either take on a "global" aspect, or still be defined by local priorities. Certain issues, such as vaccination campaigns, are not left to local authorities, and are managed at "global" levels of care, by outside agencies. The absence of a central state led donors and international agencies to form the SACB Health and Nutritional Sectoral Committee, established by the Somalia Aid Co-ordination Body (SACB). The SACB is composed of donors, UN Agencies and NGOs operating in Somalia. This Committee has proposed the development of national health policies as well as program development and management.

Other health issues tend to be local. In some areas of Somalia, communities have created district or regional health boards, which aim to give local professionals and communities a voice in setting priorities for health care needs and in, policing the allocation of funds and the partnership with international donors.

If there is one area that illustrates the complex and contradictory nature of the effects of global contacts on Somalia, it is the clash between emerging gender issues and the rising importance of political Islam in the country. Both areas of Somali life were deeply affected by the political ideologies of Siyad Barre, and the subsequent civil war. Gender discrimination is deeply rooted in traditional Somali socio-cultural structures and remains a barrier to the ability of women to participate in decision-making processes, and to their access to and control of resources. Under Siyad Barre, women’s rights were improved as part of the Socialist agenda. Literacy and equal employment opportunities for women were promoted, helping to narrow the gender gap. More importantly, these issues were legislated (although not always rigorously enforced). The Family Law of 1975 gave men and women nearly equal rights in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance. The Labour Code of 1972 gave women equality in the workplace.

Under the party system established in 1976, Somali women received equal opportunities to participate in government and to reach positions of leadership. The Constitution of 1978 gave male and female citizens equal rights and duties, and increased women’s roles in high governmental positions.

At the same time Siyad Barre was making radical changes that reduced discrimination against women, he was taking severe measures to contain the spread of political Islam. Lest this be viewed as the actions of a modern, enlightened dictator fighting backward, political Islam, it should be noted that the regime actively discouraged the proponents of more liberal or democratic values. This clash of values reached a critical level when he executed ten Islamic sheikhs who had publicly opposed the policies that had given equal rights to women. This and other repressive actions caused bitterness in many young Muslims who equate foreign and anti-Islamic influences. In their minds, foreigners were implicated as anti-Islamic by their support of the regime. The growing number young religious scholars who studied in conservative Muslim countries fueled this attitude. Developments in the Sudan, the Gulf and North Africa have also fostered a growing tendency to see Islam as the source of solutions to political or other problems. The civil war and its chaos have also encouraged people to look to Islam, which, with its emphasis on resignation and piety, provides hope and solidarity to cope with the situation. Moreover, Islam provides a social context for believers, and like the tariqa in the 19th century, is used by traders to build trusted commercial networks, thus the current influence of an association like Al-Islah in the main markets of South Central Somalia, or the sterling reputation of Al-Barakat as a bank and money transfer agent. When these networks of commercial trust are expanded internationally, Islam (which has been strengthened as a reaction against globalization) becomes a facilitator, of sorts, in the globalization process. The relative ease of conducting commercial operations in the Gulf and North Africa is evidence of this process.

Another visible sign of this trend is the growing influence of Islamic courts in Somalia. They are widely appreciated by local communities (more out of desire for law and order than because of support for re-Islamisation per se), dispensing justice based on shari’a in zones where customary law fails to maintain law and order.

Needless to say, these new directions taken by Somali society constitute a serious challenge to the opportunities previously provided to women by Siyad Barre’s legislative changes. With the collapse of the central government, women’s rights can not be enforced by a central authority, and the rise of Islamist politics promotes very retrogressive views on the position of women in society. On the other had, the civil war has promoted the rise of women in the petty business and commercial sectors. According to a recent estimate, 80% of Somali households rely exclusively on income generated by female members of the family. Also, as men succumb more and more to the addiction of qat, women bear an inordinate share of the financial responsibilities.

During Somalia’s stateless period, its commercial economy has survived, and in some ways flourished, generating a class of merchants and business people who are beginning to constitute a political and social force in their own right. It is increasingly recognized that this business class has shown the greatest creativity in adapting to and overcoming the obstacles posed by the collapse of the state, as well as profiting by it.

Western apparel and food are now available in the main urban centers. Nike shoes, T-shirts and Ray-Ban sunglasses (either real or fake) can be found easily. People wear these items for a number of reasons; the most common being that they see these items as part of the global, urban culture they wish to emulate. In 1992, residents of Mogadishu joked about the young men walking around in shirts, trousers and sunglasses (even at night!), trying to behave like urban settlers. It was pointed out with much amusement that these youths were actually mooryaan (thugs) who, in spite of their appearance, did not know enough to avoid the cars in the streets, and moved as if they were still wearing the traditional husgunti (ankle-length wraparound skirt worn by men). The adoption of new types of food is very much a signal of growing globalization. Pasta and rice can now be found in the countryside. Bush restaurants serve pasta with sugar at breakfast, pasta with tomato and meat for lunch. Meat in town is now more often roasted than boiled. Some bars serve hamburgers, as well as the now traditional cappuccino. Sodas are found everywhere, although cold ones are available only in the most expensive places.

Globalization, environment and the new Somali economy:

Globalization is increasingly affecting developing countries, either directly, or indirectly, through changes in major markets. National policies are becoming less effective in the face of increasingly integrated global markets, economic activities, investment, and financial flows that are moving fast across the globe. Key indicators of globalization include rapid expansion of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), dynamic changes in trade and revealed comparative advantage, rapid advancement in communications, transfer of technology, rapid capital movements and transmission of crises across the globe.

The main actors in this process are business entities, not governments. Firms must keep adjusting to world market changes if they want to retain or increase their international market share. To do so, many transnational corporations are relocating to various countries to survive the competition, or respond to incentives provided by various governments. The policy implication for countries is that, though governments may not be able to control these trends, they must facilitate and manage them for their national economic interests. Thus, government policies are becoming more complex, but similar in content. Generally, countries that are mostly liberal, with deregulated markets, and which possess a minimum degree of human capital and basic physical infrastructure, will gain.

It would appear that Somalia, in its current condition, has little chance of meeting any of these objective measures of economic globalization. Paradoxically, however, the collapse of the Somali State has resulted in a globalization process that goes deeper, and has proceeded more rapidly than in any other African country. It is, in a way, deregulation and globalization by default, a rapid and extreme form of structural adjustment with the disappearance of "government" intervention in the economy. If there had been a strong government, tariffs and other impediments to deregulation would have had to be rationalized or cut, which could have slowed things down. The process of deregulation seems to have been achieved, however, automatically with the collapse of the state. There are other ways in which Somalia is highly integrated into world markets: telecommunications, for instance, and the completely free exchange rate, making the Somali (and Somaliland) shilling a fully convertible currency as well as widespread circulation of foreign currencies, led by the US dollar. In addition, the absence of distortions and the negotiability of taxes could make for an efficient, non-distorted incentive framework in due course (when a new state possessing such positive attributes has been created). As Somalia undergoes this transition, it will be interesting to see how a country without even a minimum level of economic and social infrastructures, a competent labour force or a conducive policy environment can make its way into the global economy.

Another global effect that often exists outside the scope of national governments is environmental degradation. Although globalization can aid in environmental management (through the promulgation of environmentally-friendly technologies), it very often increases pressure on the environment by creating export-led demands for resources or cash crops that might be harvested in environmentally unsustainable ways. It should also be noted that in many cases, traditional methods of land and resource management were, in fact, "environmentally-friendly technologies" (although their sustainability when both human and livestock numbers are high, is unknown). These traditional management structures were frequently disrupted by changes in land tenure resulting from colonization, and the demand for export crops, as well as an increase in population pressure. There are now calls for a comprehensive framework of environmental governance, in which people (at the global, regional, national and local levels) can have access and use of environmental goods and services, in ways that support sound ecological stewardship. Many of Somalia’s communities have always struggled with a lack of certain basic resources, such as water. Global effects, such as changes in climate which could affect rainfall patterns, are of importance to Somalia, and could further limit the ways in which natural resources are used.

As mentioned, the collapse of the Somali State seems to have hastened the globalization process. In some areas of the country, there have emerged administrative bodies but their role seems limited to raising taxes at the major ports. In most cases, the administrations are plagued by corruption. Where there are administrations, economic policies don’t always make sense but, fortunately, they aren’t implemented either. In areas without administrations, there exists an economic state of nature, which is not necessarily worse than the (rather poor) governments in many African countries. Deregulation seems to be the most prominent characteristic of globalization in Somalia, although it falls short of free-market economy (lack of security, lack of an operational legal and regulatory framework, and access to all regions hamper this). The investment climate is not particularly favorable to foreigners, although the potential for competition is there (except for Somaliland where the business community is small and has a stranglehold on markets).

One of the factors contributing to an acceptable level of existence to many is the large amount received in remittances from relatives living abroad. This money reaches more individuals than international aid. By some estimates, it could amount to $350 million per annum. One interesting financial innovation is the hawilaad, or remittance, company. The larger companies possess nation-wide and international networks of Somali agents and offices, moving hundreds of thousands of dollars daily across clan and factional conflict lines. They charge a commission of 3% to 7% for the transfer of funds. They use a mixture of telephone, fax and HF radio to do this, and, using their worldwide network of agents, can transfer money instantly from Somalis overseas to their relatives at home. This is one of the businesses that drive the telecommunications sector. The companies are also increasingly beginning to transfer money between businessmen within Somalia, and internationally, allowing merchants to make fast purchases of commodities. Some are now issuing vouchers, (like travelers’ checks), allowing merchants to travel for their business purchases, without carrying large sums of money. In the absence of banking systems, they are beginning to take on a number of banking functions. One negative aspect of remittances is that they have allowed the factions to survive without delivering anything to the people. By making things appear better than they were before the civil war, this source of funding takes away the sense of urgency that might otherwise be felt by the population to push for the creation of a national government.

Businessmen fear the return to previous style of government, which, if it is dominated by clans (which are, by definition, hostile if not one’s own) could make access to markets, permits, and business transactions difficult.

Another area in which private (local) investors have benefited from the collapse of state structure and the lack of regulation has been in the area of power generation. In Hargeisa, for example, the destruction of the central power supply has meant that the owners of power generators who have surplus electricity can sell it to their neighbors, for a profit. They supply about 10,000 households in the city, for a flat daily uniform rate (SlSh 1000, approximately 35 US cents at the current exchange rate) charged on each light bulb. Some of the private generators have taken the step of organizing themselves into an association, and are looking to outside organizations for assistance in setting up a more formal infrastructure for power supply to the city. UNDOS is taking a leading role in assisting this private sector initiative.

Somalia’s partial integration into the global economy has meant that it has been somewhat less susceptible to global crises than other countries. Because of the importance of migrant labor to Gulf regions (spurred on by the oil boom in the 1970s), the amount of income from remittances rose and fell with the fortunes of OPEC. However, even in years of low oil prices, remittances remained an important source of income for many Somali families. The financial crises that affected a number of Asian countries in mid-1997 and then spread to other developing and developed countries had little effect on Somalia. This is also true in other Sub-Saharan African countries (with the possible exception of the Republic of South Africa). In Somalia, there are no foreign (private) capital inflows that could have suffered as a result of the financial contagion from the Asian crises. Somalia’s financial system is rudimentary, there are no banks, only money transfer companies, and the economy, because of the war, attracts no foreign capital. The export market is limited. Somalia’s free market exchange rate movements (recorded in Mogadishu, Hargeisa and Bossasso) did not indicate any correlation with the massive short-term capital flows and the consequent sharp exchange rate changes in the Asian countries. The Somali shilling, being perfectly flexible and, thus, perfectly convertible, and without benefit of a central bank to intervene, does not permit the emergence of any sustained disequilibrium, thus obviating the need for any correction (such as the one that took place in Asia).

Somalia may have benefited somewhat from a decline in the price of imports, notably oil, of about 30%. Due to this sharp decline (because of the effect of the declining demand in Asian countries for oil), the net impact of the Asian crisis on Somalia’s terms of trade and its trade balance (other things being equal), may well have been positive.

Somalia’s key export commodities have been affected by other, more important, influences: the Saudi livestock ban (February, 1998 to May 1999), the insecurity in Southern Somalia, and the recent change in the EU’s banana regime. The livestock ban, in particular, was associated with the decline of domestic livestock prices, as well as a crisis in public finance in the Northern Regions. Anticipating a sharp decline in revenue, the Hargeisa Administration asked for help from the SACB, a fairly standard, global response (given that the International Monetary Fund, which can compensate for externally caused drops in export earnings, and the World Bank, are not active).

The availability of the EU quota for bananas to Somalia has guaranteed lucrative profits, and sustained competition between two international food companies operating in the country. The banana trade has managed to continue despite the insecurity and fighting in Southern Somalia. Faction leaders there know the importance of this trade and have largely allowed it to continue. Recently, however, the liberalization of trade, the World Trade Organizations’ rules and the interests of powerful competing countries have threatened access to the EU market for Somali producers. A change in quotas, or the imposition of tariffs could increase competition with other suppliers, and cut profits. This, in turn, would make it harder to justify the risks involved in exporting bananas out of Somalia. Even if the EU and the WTO tried to provide assistance (or compensation) to poorer countries that are adversely affected, Somalia’s lack of a central government means that it would be in no position to accept such aid, were it to become available. The discontinuation of banana exports will upset the delicate relationship between the "protecting" militias, the farmers and the export companies, destabilizing security in the region. In addition, without some sort of a safety net for a transitional adjustment period, it will be extremely difficult for the poorer farmers who inherited this business from older generations to make the adjustment. This will also mean a loss of 60,000 to 80,000 jobs for people in the region, with predictable effects on poverty levels and security.

Another striking aspect of globalization in this country is the transnationalization of trade infrastructure. International deregulation of airlines, the breakup of the Soviet block and the lack of overall government control in Somalia have allowed a diversity of international players to participate. Different airlines operate between Dubai, Jeddah and Nairobi, using aircraft acquired from several former Soviet Republics. These aircraft would not meet standards in many countries, but once people get to Dubai, they can travel further afield on regular airlines. The same process is occurring in the ports, which are used by all kinds of vessels coming from Eastern Africa and the Gulf countries. This has allowed the development of an informal economy whose networks reach Eastern Africa (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda) as well as other countries in the Horn (Ethiopia and Eritrea).

Many Western countries do not recognize Somali passports. This has caused a reorientation of travel and trade towards the Gulf region, and Asia. This trend away from Italy as a main commercial partner was already noticeable in the late 1980’s. But Dubai has played a strategic role in the process. Every Somali can get a two week visa for UAE, and, from there travel to many Asian countries, like Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Hong Kong (Malaysia is still too expensive). Former Western partners are not completely out of the picture: in 1997, Somali exports to the European Union represented about 17 million ECU, but imports to the EU need to meet certain standards, among which certification may represent an insoluble problem. Saudi Arabia is now the main customer, because of livestock exports.

Land ownership issues and problems of access to natural resources have been aggravated by changes that began with colonization. Somalia’s ability to feed itself has declined over the past four decades. In some cases this has been due to changes in traditional access to land for pasture or agricultural production. Somalia has a fairly unstable environment prone to periodic crop failures due to prolonged drought, floods, pest infestation, and outbreak of livestock disease. Nomadic pastoralists and small-scale farmers have developed a range of coping mechanisms for this. Farmers employ a variety of cropping systems, which tend to ensure a harvest even in cases of flood or drought. Pastoralists adjust the size of the range (not herd size) by moving their herds to new pastures, and varying the composition of the herd to be able to exploit as much vegetation as possible. Pastoral lands have always been a common good, with ownership residing with the clan, and not individuals. Land conflicts in pastoral areas are usually resolved between clans. Agricultural land has traditionally been allocated to households by village elders. Although technically not "owned", this land is passed from one generation to the next, and could be rented or sold. Land ownership patterns and practices have changed dramatically since the 1970s. Much of this results from western ideas involving private ownership of land, and its monetary value. A modern land tenure law was passed during the Siyad Barre period, decreeing that land title had to be acquired from the State (which "owned" all the land), in order to claim usufruct rights. At the same time, riverine farmland which had been held by Bantu and other farming communities for over a century became extremely valuable, as a result of major irrigation projects and a revival of the banana export business in the 1980’s. This led to an epidemic of ‘land-grabbing’ by civil servants and other well-connected individuals who were able to register large tracts in their names, even though the land had been historically farmed by villages. Few smallholders could afford to register their land, and even if they could afford the trips to Mogadishu, and the necessary bribes, they often discovered that more powerful individuals could gain title to the same land, and then pay the police to back up their claims. At the same time, the state was expropriating large areas of prime riverine land from farming communities, so as to establish internationally financed state farms. In the process, many smallholders went from being subsistence farmers to becoming landless, semi-landless sharecroppers, or rural wage laborers. In some cases, pastoral lands were enclosed, and access restricted which led to new confrontations between nomadic pastoralists and newly settled farmers (even of the same clan or lineage). Livestock movements were disrupted. The end result of these changes is that many of the coping mechanisms developed to live with droughts have been disrupted or undermined, and many communities in Somalia are now more vulnerable to the effects of drought and crop failure than in the past. An increasing population may also be a contributing factor to these difficulties.

The civil war accelerated this struggle for land. Semi-automatic weapons replaced title deeds as the method of expropriating land from weaker groups. The militias involved do not actually take up farming, however they lay claim to the harvests. In some farming areas, smallholders are coerced into sharecropping by militia overlords, who take up to 50% of the harvest. They can also be forced to work for powerful landowners. Powerful clans are also pushing their herds into the pasturelands of weaker clans. Not all relations between militia and local communities are this hostile, in some cases militias are trying to integrate in more positive ways into the local communities.

The effect of much of this disruption, however, is declining food production (helped along by large-scale annual delivery of donated food, which depresses local prices). Bad weather may also have played a role, notably in 1992, because agricultural output did grow in 1994 and 1996. Also, the disruption of range management practices, resulted in overgrazing and land degradation.

One of the most negative effects of globalization is the rise in illicit commercial activities, such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling, prostitution, money laundering and other forms of international crime. The electronic and rapid transfer of funds provides assistance, and camouflage, to this type of global crime. In Somalia, illegal charcoal exports, drug trafficking and arms smuggling have increased. Some of the massive numbers of arms available in Somalia have been exported to neighboring countries, where they can be purchased at prices affordable to practically anyone. One recent consequence of this was the closing of the Kenya-Somalia border by Kenyan authorities in the latter half of 1999. In the 1970s and 1980s, heavily armed Somali bandits were notorious for cattle rustling in Kenya, and gained international prominence for their slaughter of elephants for the international ivory trade. In 1986, Somalia set its ivory quota at 17000 tusks. It only had 6000 elephants at this point, and was very obviously exporting tusks from elephants poached in Kenya, or otherwise illegally acquired.

In addition to depletion of wildlife resources and land degradation, Somalia has a host of environmental problems created, in part, by international agents. As discussed earlier, the dumping of toxic wastes into the sea (and possible dumping of toxic wastes into the country) and illegal over-fishing by foreign vessels, are infringements of sovereignty that have been widely criticized. The illegal production and export of charcoal to the Gulf, resulting in wholesale destruction of acacia forests in parts of the Northwest and the Kismayo area are internal environmental problems that haven’t featured quite as prominently. But Somalia, with its semi-arid environment, can ill afford such a loss. The overwhelming environmental problem in Somalia is water supply. The big question is how this will be affected by changes in vegetation cover and global climate.


This paper has attempted to highlight some of the more obvious impacts that globalization has had on Somalia. We have also tried to explore some of the ways in which Somali people have responded to the pressures brought to bear on them through their exposure to recent global trends. We have tried to stress the fact that the civil war has played an important role in the globalization process, not as a separate phase, but as a catalyst for changes that were already beginning to take place. In some ways, Somalia has suffered severely from global events, the most extreme result being the collapse of its State. The resulting deregulation has fostered the spread of certain technological and business innovations that are found in many countries which are highly ‘integrated’ into global systems. Somalia’s lack of integration in other sectors has shielded it from some of the crises that have had serious negative impacts on countries that are economically better off. Somalia is, therefore, a very special case, whose reactions to globalization can provide us with important information on the nature of this process, and how it affects countries that do not fit into conventional political and economic models.

Although this is not an in-depth study, we feel that it provides important lessons for those who are involved in the management and/or mitigation of the ‘side-effects’ of globalization. International bodies and organizations must bear in mind that the global application of economic, political and fiscal plans, policies and programs can have unexpected and negative effects on societies and their abilities to sustain themselves. In many cases, globalization has been allowed, encouraged (or suffered?!) to proceed without serious consideration of potential impacts in countries that are socially, environmentally, politically and economically different from each other. Although ‘globalization’ is frequently assumed to confer positive, and progressive attributes on the countries affected, Somalia’s experience shows us that this is not always the case, and that globalization can result in a mixture of a technologically sophisticated infrastructure and socially conservative political movements. The environmental results can also be quite mixed. It is imperative that, from now on, new global initiatives be examined carefully for potentially negative impacts on societies, weighing these against the benefits that are so frequently taken for granted.