Sunday, March 26, 2006

Expelling CARE isn’t the Answer; Firing the Minister is

Evidently international nonprofit/non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that operate in Sub-Saharan Africa provide a great deal of much deserved charitable work in times of conflict and in times of ecological disasters, they are known for that; but they are less known for the aid they provide daily in times of peace specially where central governments have either collapsed as in Somalia or where they are weak and corrupt as in Somaliland. Such diligent effort is praise-worthy and we ought to thank them for that but there is an emerging consensus that either by collusion or by complacency, NGOs are contributing to the political patronage that corrupt government officials stack on their favor to change the land escape for selfish or clannish reasons. Admittedly, NGOs didn’t create the game of the jungle but they might have played a role and to assess their role without demonizing them is valid, in light of a typical case that is playing out in Somaliland.

In Somaliland government discriminates on political and clan grounds and NGOs perpetuate or play the game. Government employees are sanitized for political affiliation and anyone suspected of being sympathetic to the opposition or having family members in the opposition is fired. Human rights organizations have chronicled many instances and the list is long, very long. Government employment is a way President Riyaale buys loyalty; that is one of the reasons he presides a cabinet as many as of that of India – over 50. Influencing the NGO’s to hire his kin and political cronies is an extension of that policy.

In weak and poverty ridden nations like Somaliland, outside the government, NGOs are the primary source of employment only more lucrative, and whenever opportunities arise the dogma of keeping it in the family like any other jungle dominates the kingdom. In kingdoms like Somaliland the head of the State is the lion; the law is that of the jungle; the motto that of domination; the message that of only the politically connected survive. And that is a powerful message in a country where opportunities outside the sphere of the government is limited and hunger is a daily threat to many families.

Who gets government jobs and the relatively high paying NGO positions is part of economic weaponry Riyaaale administration systematically blockades the opposition to surrender, and surrender they do in alarming numbers. The lion share of the highly sought NGO positions are filled by the relatives and cronies of the family of the President. It is alleged that on some estimates, as high as 80% of the NGOs are manned by people who are from the same sub-clan. Dejavu. This corrupt practice created a system similar to what once was prevalent in the collapsed former Somalia where the majority of one department or an NGO were from the same sub-clan. That there is interference is known but the recent revelations exposed the extent this administration meddles, and some say, controls the international organizations. Corruption, nepotism and cronyism are all the hallmarks of this administration; transparency and fairness are rarity; that is known. But what is not known is how much the mushrooming NGOs contribute to this infested climate.

Did international institutions become part of the problem? Be the judge. Recently Care International (CARE) has advertised a Team Leader position for its office in Hargeysa in which four short listed applicants were interviewed rigorously. Three of the four were from Somaliland and the other was a Kenyan who was also the acting Team Leader for the position advertised. The result: Amina Sheikh Mohamoud came in on the 1st place. Before CARE officials announced the outcome, the Deputy Director consulted with the Foreign Minister of Somaliland, Ms. Edna Adan Ismail, if there were any objections to the appointment of Amina Sheikh Mohamoud as the head of Care International in Hargeysa, since Amina is the wife of the opposition leader, Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud (Siiraanyo). Without consulting the close confidante of the administration, Edna, an outsider, has given unequivocal approval to the appointment. Some of the accolades Edna used were, “the best person for the job, highly qualified...” Further, Edna assured to the Deputy Director of Care that she is speaking, among other things, as a former teacher of Amina Sheikh. Everything seemed fine, so thought the officer from CARE and offered the job to Aminaweris as expected. The officer from CARE later found out that Edna wasn’t speaking for the administration when the Minister of planning Mr. Ahmed Haji Dahir, a close relative and confidante of President Riyaale approached CARE and made it known the administration’s objection to the appointment as Haatufnews (Issue 1058, March 8, 2006), a daily newspaper in Hargeysa, has reported. Few days after, CARE moved the starting date from 20th March to 2nd April and has subsequently withdrawn the appointment on 21st March and the reason was “internal issues in the Hargeisa office”. With this evidence, it is reasonable to deduce undue influence affected negatively the decision. But many say CARE lost an asset, a valuable potential employee.

Mrs. Amina Sheikh is affectionately known as Aminaweris in Somaliland. Professionally she has extensive experience in program and project management and has held senior management positions in developmental, poverty reduction and refugee resettlement areas in both international and national level. In her most recent job, she supervised nine (9) team leaders, coordinated and managed a fund of over twenty-three million dollar in the UK, which is interestingly as big as the budget of Somaliland. All in all, professionally, Aminaweris has a proven managerial track record of employment, which the Minister of Planning as well as other senior administration officers glaringly lacks.

Personality wise, Aminaweris is engaging, urbane and knowledgeable but more importantly she is a decent person who carries herself with wholesomeness and modesty, and firmly upholds the values that the society cherishes. It is due to her personal attributes, Aminaweris commands the respect of the people of Somaliland irrespective of political affiliation where she is affectionately known as Aminaweris and less as the wife of opposition leader.

Aminaweris is a leader of her own. Unlike some who tout the prominence of their husbands, true to her culture, Aminaweris is a private person who shuns publicity. She is a role model to many aspiring young girls who would like to have a profession and a family at the same time. Like many other mothers from Somaliland, Aminaweris has sacrificed a lot and many admire her resilience and resourcefulness in nurturing and schooling her children while her husband was in the bush for over ten years fighting against the repressive regime of Siyad Barre. Indeed, many consider her one of the jewels of Somaliland. I wonder how her husband feels trading one dictator to another.

To its credit, CARE has followed a transparent process. It advertised the position, short-listed the most qualified applicants, interviewed rigorously, announced the result, offered and appointed the winner for the position. The fact the Acting Team Leader, an insider, lost the position to an outsider partly affirms the integrity and the transparency of the process. Here, it is important to mention that CARE officials brought up the issue of Aminaweris being the wife of a prominent opposition leader during the interview and how that would affect her operations, which Aminaweris gave assurance that political activism wouldn’t in any way play a role on how she conducts her job. The fact that she got the offer confirms CARE was satisfied with her professionalism. However, to its fault CARE has bowed to pressure and in the end it violated not only its ethos of fairness, excellence and the right person for the job but has also violated the basic right of the citizen.

NGO’s were partly created to combat corruption. It is common knowledge donor nations lost faith particularly in Sub-Saharan governments such as Somaliland to deliver aid to the needy and have in lieu utilized NGOs as a conduit to reduce waste and corruption. Unfortunately some NGOs like CARE are bowing to unwarranted pressure from the government and that sets a precedent where they might be forced to change staff every five years as administrations change and that would be a dilemma not to wish for. The CARE debacle may be the most infamous but it isn’t the first and sure wouldn’t be the last. For example, the European Union (EU) representative was expelled by resisting the government interference; the head of the UNHCR in Burcao loaned the transportation of the agency to the UDUB candidates (government party) during the parliamentary election, the UNDP office in Hargeysa acts as the campaign headquarter of UDUB party.

CARE is to be blamed but only partly. As reported it is in hot water; twenty-two parliamentarians have requested to expel CARE within one week unless it reverses its decision. By bowing to political pressure, it was forced to take sides and that is against its mission of neutrality, transparency and fairness but for the members of the legislature to blame it solely on CARE is cowardly. The process CARE followed was transparent but it was due to the government external interference that forced CARE to withdraw the offer and that is where the blame is due; the root cause is the government interference. The legislature should first remove the external pressure and then counsel the affected NGOs accordingly but to throw the baby with the bad water is ill-advised. Expelling CARE isn’t the answer; reining the administration is. While it is appropriate to rebuke CARE, it is unwise to take an action as drastic as expulsion. After all CARE provides valuable developmental assistance that the government is unable to provide and Somaliland should be thankful. If the legislature has to step-in, it has to demand the resignation of the Minister of Planning and then enact controls.

Mistreating, bashing expatriates and evoking nationalism isn’t the answer either. Somaliland is a nation that lives off the dole that its refugees and immigrants remit monthly. You don’t want your sons and daughters in overseas be mistreated in any way. You ought to respect the rights of the few that earn a living in working Somaliland. Finally, it goes without saying NGO’s should be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

By the way for any body interested a synopsis of the NGOs, please read this great article from Ismail A. Ismail:

Ali Gulaid, San Jose, CA

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