29 December 2014: There has been welcome progress in the NGO sector in Somalia during recent years, with many new organisations setting up around the country. However, questions have been asked about the degree to which they are helping to support peace and development work, with international aid money flowing in and the potential for corruption increasing. Abdiwahab M. Ali reports on the situation in the Horn of Africa.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, with Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening. Image credit: DFID Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, with British Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening. Image credit: DFID

After the 1991 downfall of government led by Siad-Barre, a new era of great decadence began in Somalia, which continues to this day. The country found itself in the midst of an intense struggle for power, featuring prominent Somali clans and warlords. The bloody civil war which ensued was followed by several humanitarian crises, with an estimated 350,000 peopel dying as result of f ighting, kidnappings and other problems linked to conflict.

Although more than 20 peace-building conferences on Somalia have been held since the demise of Siad Barre, none has brought lasting peace in Somalia. They have failed because of a lack of local participation, and the influence of clan-based interests where there has been. Regional and international interventions in Somalian affairs have further complicated matters.

However, in the wake of disintegration of the Somalian state in 1992, numerous NGOs were formed. This upshot of the civil war has helped to bolster the strength of indigenous voices, and contributed to the rise of self-help groups aimed at improving people’s lives in the absence of government.

Somalians have seen tremendous growth in the size, scope, and activities of the non-profit sector. They all claim to be dedicated to improving people’s lives and livelihoods, curbing poverty, fighting against injustice and exploitation.

They have often been established with the backing of international actors, including the UN and several other international agencies, which work to implement relief and humanitarian interventions with local partners.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, with Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening. Image credit: DFID. Mogadishu harbour in 2012, a year after the forced withdrawl of Al Shabaab. Image credit: UN Photos.

The credibility gap

But as the sector develops, so do arguments over the actual impact it has on the lives of those it claims to serve.

Indeed, when I visited Somalia last year, I was very worried to see that many local NGOs have disappeared, with few replacing them.

Problems but potential: the status of NGOs in Somalia

Research has shown that NGOs experience a number of common problems and dilemmas, including internal decision-making processes, recruitment, retention of staff, layoffs, and accountability, evaluation, structural growth, and fund raising activities.

From my experience and observations of local people and organisations, it appears the much of the decline of Somalian NGOs is self-inflicted. Below are four common challenges facing then:

Donor dependency

NGOs are non-profit generating organisations, and must offer their services for the greater cause of Somalis. However, some community organisations are driven less by vision, morals and beliefs, and more by the need to generate earnings. Such money-minting behaviour is an indication of the presence of vested interests, and erodes the local credibility of such organisations. It is also typical for the founders of NGOs in Somalia to be their chief executive as well. Often, what they do is establish an organisation, develop a donor-recipient relationship with foreign NGOs, take photographs of supposed work which has taken place, and use these as false evidence for having completed a project, in order to gain access to donor funds.

Corruption and poor leadership

These problems are a nation-wide hindrance not just to NGOs, but to democracy and good governance generally. As youth specialist Mohamoud Yosuf says:

Some NGOs in Somalia put their principles into practice, but too many are becoming part of the problem, instead of the solution. They’ve last their public image of being honest brokers. Some locals dub them ‘brief-case’ NGOs – organisations which exist only on paper, in order to make their owners money. They need to work for the sake of their community

Gender bias

Many who claim to be helping minorities and vulnerable groups in Somalia, including women, children and the elderly, actually ignore those very same people. No properly inclusive process can function in this way.

Geographical location

A great fault, which has surprised me a lot during my research, is how many local NGOs run very similar projects, with the same objectives. And these are often in the same, usually urban, areas. Clearly there are disadvantages to working in rural settings, but it is important not to neglect people living and working away from towns and cities.

A youngster in Somaliland. A youngster in Somaliland. Image credit: Teresa Krug

Correcting the trend

The general growth in Somalian NGOs is to be welcomed. They provide vital services, and reach sectors of the population who otherwise would not be able to access services.

But the private actions and public image of these local NGOs is far from positive. By taking the following steps, they will be able to regain the full confidence and trust of local people and international organisations in Somalia.

First, efforts should be made to formulate good organisational structures: being flexible, innovative and inclusive of all those relevant to the issue they are working on.

Second, the accountability, transparency, and efficiency of NGOs needs to be improved. Although a large undertaking, establishing an independent authority to assess actual and claimed NGO achievement would be one step towards doing this.

Third, and most importantly, the civil society sector in general and local NGOs in particular should turn to grassroots communities and evaluate themselves and their performance. They should work collectively, wherever possible avoiding competing for resources and sharing technical know-how.

And last but no means least, donors should think twice about to whom they give aid, providing funding based on the reality on the ground, not merely for the sake of funding.

Trying to avoid past mistakes will make it much easier to promote social justice and development, across all of Somalia.

Comments

Mohamoud on Jan. 6, 2015, 7:04 a.m.

You have a point there. Hope it attracts wider readership

Farah on Jan. 6, 2015, 8:26 a.m.

Well done, a thought-provoking with nice analysis article of which you have raised the right point was to look forever and got it

jibril on Jan. 6, 2015, 9:32 a.m.

I hope to be focused on accauntancy measears scentificly rather than givijg opionion when it comes to fund giving to local NGOs.

Abdulaziz on Jan. 6, 2015, 10:21 a.m.

A well written article. Thumb up for you buddy. Hope the recommendations are straight and to the point.

abdi on Jan. 6, 2015, 3:29 p.m.

We need to talk and examine the role of the big INGO’s. I have been travelling into Puntland and Somaliland very often and i am not seeing any tangible buildings or institutions that has been built by one of the bigger INGO’s. for example. When a donor country want to give fund for Somalia. First the Somali NGO’s has no chance to win the project. Second the decision makers(Direct Generals from ministries from EU countries) are not Somalis and never travel to Somalia, normally those DG’s from the ministries of Foreign Affairs have very good relationship with the big INGO’s who are active in Somalia. Third if the big INGO’s win an project from the donor countries, they give first sub-contract to another big INGO’s. that means the available amount is already less than the original amount. because the sub-contractor has also a local and international employees. these employees should be paid. eventually the available amount become very small and sub-contract gives a contract with his local Somalia NGO’s. it is not easy environment to work as NGO in Somalia. but we need to talk and to write the role of the INGO’s excluding the UN NGO’s. hope you will write another article about the role of I NGO’s.

Abdiwahab M. Ali on Jan. 7, 2015, 5:13 a.m.

Thanks Mr. Abdi. You do really made quit important points , and, as far as we are aware, the International NGOs-with all its ups and downs- are the rapid respond unit of humanitarian disasters(both natural and man-made) all over the world not only in Somalia. Honestly, their efficiency and effectiveness are subject to continuing local, regional and international debates. and, it is my belief that, through such interactive discussions, we could be able to break the iceberg and reach a sustainable solutions. please feel free to send your thoughts via My Email: waberi444@gmail.com

ahmedroble on Jan. 7, 2015, 10:20 a.m.

this is a wonderful analysis. in particular I couldnt agree more on the challenges bedeviling LNGOs. Thumps up sxb. Such pieces r great for acountability

Mohamed Soulaimana Azhar on Jan. 7, 2015, 1:17 p.m.

My personal point of view is that we need to change the Somali peace building plan. the UNASOM and the NGOs in Somalia are there for too long and i believe that the mandate given is now out of the real situation. what the NGOs are realizing for the time being is not the right road to take into a sustainable peace building in somalia. I would rather suggest the NGOs and any other institution seeking to see a lasting peace in Somalia to go and listen these mentioned local NGOs and the communities itself on what and how exactly we can set platform of a real peaceful mechanism in Somalia. Happy New Year Azhar Soulaimana Executive Director Association Salam Moroni, Comoros +269 322 88 16

Kwabena on Jan. 7, 2015, 8:25 p.m.

Even In Western Africa, I try to accept at face value of most NGO's , besides, I have to question whether these organisations are really having an overall positive impact on development. Make no mistake, these Organizations are as diverse as Africa itself- Good ones/ Bad ones. Let me remind u one BIG thing: the problems are neither the culprit of International NGOs nor LNGOs, it is about FOREIGN AID, or DEAD AID , from the words of Dambisa Moyo. donors just pour millions of AID to Africa, causing dependence, conflict and corrupted leaders. Africa's Solution is for the Africans! Kudos for writing such wonderful piece. Cheers, Kwabena.

Sakarie AhmedSahal on Jan. 8, 2015, 11:11 p.m.

thump up friend. it is thoughtful research

Hamdi on Jan. 10, 2015, 9:06 p.m.

Well written

Dr. Samuel Mahaffy on Jan. 12, 2015, 3:29 p.m.

<p>This critical assessment of the value of the role of NGO's in Somalia is of great value and should be cause for a pause and reflection on the development work and aid we provide in the Horn of Africa.  The pitfalls cited by the author, are precisely the reasons why neighboring Eritrea has rejected 'business as usual' with NGOs.  Eritrea is committed to building self-reliance for the Eritrean people and not dependency and avoiding the corruption that is too often endemic to outside aid.  It is time to look critically and reflectively on how the West has sought to benefit countries in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere and seek a new paradigm.  I thank Adiwahab Ali for bringing forward these hard questions and important conversation.</p>

Dr. Samuel Mahaffy on Jan. 12, 2015, 3:29 p.m.

<p>This critical assessment of the value of the role of NGO's in Somalia is of great value and should be cause for a pause and reflection on the development work and aid we provide in the Horn of Africa.  The pitfalls cited by the author, are precisely the reasons why neighboring Eritrea has rejected 'business as usual' with NGOs.  Eritrea is committed to building self-reliance for the Eritrean people and not dependency and avoiding the corruption that is too often endemic to outside aid.  It is time to look critically and reflectively on how the West has sought to benefit countries in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere and seek a new paradigm.  I thank Adiwahab Ali for bringing forward these hard questions and important conversation.</p>

Abdiwahab M Ali on Jan. 12, 2015, 6:45 p.m.

<p>Thanks <span> </span><span style="text-decoration: underline"><a href="http://www.internationalpeaceandconflict.org/profile/DrSamuelMahaffy" class="fn url">Dr. Samuel Mahaffy</a></span> for Your  Kind comment , I am sure, we can do better.</p>

Robleh on Jan. 12, 2015, 7:56 p.m.

Thanks Abdiwahab M. Ali for posting this useful information about NGOs and their work in this country. This is one of the best articles I have seen in the last 10 years. I remember in 2010, we discussed the same issues in a conference on humanitarian accountability about role of indigenous people in programme cycle, and the conclusions were same. what Abdiwahab M. Ali raised in this small paper is about missing part or pillar "indigenous people participation, impacts, and sustainability" in humanitarian operations, and the UN agencies as well as UNOCHA and donors need to learn from this post, and review their interventions and contributions, and rethink impact of their resources and programmes on local contexts, and come-up with new paradigm shifts in their funding and implementation approaches.

ibrahim Bashir on April 16, 2015, 7:41 a.m.

the UN oversight Monitoring team last report indicated that Millions of people died during the last drought of famine while the money allocated these people by the donors have gone to pockets of individuals. the conflict in Somalia will be difficult to end because the country has become the base for so many NGOs to misuse funds by creating dubious NGOs. Take projects like Turks with short time the schools, health centers and the Airport are feasible than the billions of money spent UN on Somalia without bearing any fruits.

Nawaal Caalin on April 19, 2015, 8:03 p.m.

to my point of view, NGOs are the medium who gains vast money donated by international communities while most of them are officeless and the authority is unable to examine their achievement in the country. the duplication of the activities and projects is waste of resource because all money will go in a same and one direction thus the development will be unrealistic to be sustainable and attainable .

Torgeir Sandquist on Nov. 2, 2016, 5:45 p.m.

www.daaos.org Stsrted in Norway, and aproved as an NGO in Somalia. 25/10-2016

Nuur Ahmed Afrah on Jan. 21, 2017, 12:10 p.m.

‘Afrah Relief and Humanity Standby Center’ (ARHSC)was established mid 2013 and founded by Nuur Ahmed Afrah but became functional and operational late 2016. ARHSC is the dynamic soul and heart for humanitarianism matters which focuses current and very difficulty problems most Somalis face everyday. ARHSC is non-political and non-partisan working to improve the conditions and well-beings of the susceptible communities. As though an elephant is in the room, ARHSC found out that Civil war, spontaneous disasters, prolonging droughts, subversion and lack of medical care set the country and its population back. The appraisal of somalia casework and reflecting situations on the ground attracted the attention of local, regional as well as international community. Thus, ARHSC mitigates and constrains such issues by taking different approaches to alleviate poverty, minimize drought consequences and finally ensure healthcare affordability. When pigs fly and Somali community feel helpless, ARHSC forestalls malnutrition and thirst by urging international community, business people and philanthropists for donations/funds. Our core principles manifest transparency, accountability and equality across our disciplined work and responsibilities. So that every coin or penny you donate to ARHSC will reach the intended beneficiaries. Thirsty and sick beneficiaries are digging holes in semi-arid areas; as they go without water for days. Chronic patients also can’t afford to buy drugs hence patient dumping is on the verge. ARHSC has plans to streamline its activities and work with a set of timelines:deliverying your donations or funds to the beneficiaries timely and mannerly means as donars observe transparently. Our areas of focus and operations are divided into three categories:mainly drought, malnutrition and patient dumping. See our vision below and how ARHSC is quintessential to tackle such miserables. ARHSC Vision, goals and objectives are: 1. Reduction of poverty by education, creating jobs and opportunities for the youth. 2. Intermediations and reconciliations among the neighboring sub-clans spearheaded by community elders, educated women and peace lovers. 3.Digging pure water wells: twenty wells, ten pools and Five watercourses or channels will be built in Galgadud region where scarcity of water as well as severe drought hit people and animals hard. 4. In case water sources and wells keep drying, ARHSC will establish water storage facilities like water bugs. 5. Where no water, ARHSC will rent water tanks to save the lives of thirsty persons. 6.Availability of affordable medicine and nutritional foods are priority for those who suffer malnutrition and malnourishment 7. Attempts to supply drugs to chronic patients who are most vulnerable are underway. 8. Awareness and termination of the practice of patient dumping where ARHSC will redress such unfair practices and detriments by harmonizations

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