Augustine Mahiga: On Somalia’s aid and future

In the Horn of Africa, huge challenges remain as the international community continues to assist in providing food and shelter to millions in the aftermath of this year’s historic drought.

But there are also positive developments.

“There is an unprecedented momentum and moment of opportunity in Somalia,” Augustine P. Mahiga, the United Nations special representative to Somalia and head of the U.N. Political Office there, told Devex earlier this week.

Here’s what Mahiga said about U.S. assistance and the engagement of the Somali diaspora, as well as next steps in the country’s development.

Describe U.S. assistance to Somalia.

The United States has incrementally been very positively engaged […] starting from almost non-engagement, total withdrawal, after the downing of the Black Hawk, and incrementally it has been engaged beyond a war against terror in that it is one of the great partners, I must say, in the political process.

The U.S. has been the author of the dual task force, which addresses assistance into the transition of federal institutions, but also recognizes the specific demands of the regional administrations, the ones that are already there and the emerging ones. I know it is in some quarters a controversial policy that has to be managed very carefully, lest it leads to splintering of the country, but I think so far, the U.S. has been very very clear that it seeks to strike a judicious balance, and certainly at some point, as we embark on a constitutional process, there will be a constitutional framework where there is a meaningful relationship in the federal structure between the central government and the regional institutions.

And the United States really sets the queue, the tone, the path, defines the way other countries are relating and engaging with Somalia. And I’ve found that the United States really takes seriously the regional players and has established a partnership with the regional players. […] The U.S. is engaged, but there is always scope for doing more, in all fields – the humanitarian, in the security, and even in the polity.

What has been the role of the Somali diaspora?

There is a new generation altogether, a generation of people who have children that are professionals, have gone to school. I must say, unlike any other African diaspora group, I have never seen a diaspora that is so connected with what is happening in Somalia as the Somalian diaspora. It is probably one of the most organized […] and the most diversified. […] The diaspora has literally kept their home states in Somalia ticking. There is an annual transfer of $1.5 billion from the diaspora to their home states in Somalia.

And around this, they have developed two industries: The money transfer, and the telecommunications to transfer the money. Somalia has a much more developed telecoms system than most sub-Saharan African countries outside of South Africa, maybe Ghana. But having said that, this constant flow that brings in money – you can transfer $100,000 in three minutes from Washington to Mogadishu.

In terms of the roadmap, could you comment on what the roadmap means for aid workers currently on the ground? Generally, and then in terms of security?

In the implementation of the roadmap, we have a technical committee that will be based in Mogadishu – not in Nairobi, not in Addis, but in Mogadishu. And that’s why this guard force [which will protect U.N. and NGO actors in the capital] for me is very important.

The NGOs that are part of the civil society will have to be engaged, especially in the area of constitution-making and political outreach. We may not have elections – one person, one vote – we may not have a referendum, because with all the advance in the security, the area of al-Shabab may not be accessible. But we want, in areas that have access, to have political engagement at the community level in dispatching the constitutional forces.

We shall go through NGOs, we shall go through local structures in order to carry out these discussions. And that’s why, on [Oct. 15 in Washington, we had] a meeting with all the NGOs to see how they can participate in the implementation of the roadmap, especially in the two areas of constitution-making and political outreach.

Read our last 3 Questions with Oxfam America’s East Asia chief Brian Lund.

About the author

  • Lauren Brander

    Lauren Brander is a former Devex project associate and special assistant to the president. Her research focused on development aid business opportunities in various sectors and regions of the globe, as well as financial controls and customer satisfaction.