Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ground-Breaking Work in Somalia - A Report

Somalia is again in the news and, as the executive director of an organization with significant “stakes” in "the horn", I feel I need to provide an overview of the great work HRI and affiliates are doing there, with the hope that the timing is good for donors to make the sort of commitments they always do when Somalia gets some news coverage. (Meanwhile we remain hopeful that the consolidated appeals will facilitated more much-needed funding for HRI)

As a measure of our organizational standards, in spite of all the hardship, HRI staff remain committed to our work in Somalia and continue to put up with the hassle of living in Nairobi on Somali hazard pay while their bravery stories of flying rusty An-24s throughout Somalia remain popular as ever with the crowd at “Crazy House” as well as with trophy spouse circles sipping lattes at Java House.

In Somaliland for example (a place that we officially prefer to refer to as “the north” fearing that any acknowledgement of an almost two decade reality will turn us into the odd-organisation-out and have negative consequences on our funding) we run a very “broad portfolio” of workshops and capacity building activities, striving to build the appalling capacity of our local partners. As elsewhere in Somalia, any very obvious failure that cannot be window-dressed in our reports is swiftly and naturally addressed by the “Clan Complexity Defense”, which is HRIs Somalia-adapted version of the reputable and irefutable Chewbacca Defense.

Our most successful program (part of our income generation package) is building the capacity of camel herders in “the north” to transition from herding camels to herding “shoats”. “Shoats” is HRI shorthand for “Sheep and Goats” and it is a term that we had to coin because no-one on our staff knew the difference between the two (they really taste the same with spaghetti and rice). One of our livelihood consultants gave us a PowerPoint presentation pointing out the differences but she presented it in the afternoon over our state-of-the-art video-conferencing facilities and everyone fell asleep due to a post-lunch combination of heat and lack of interest in the topic. An intern in Nairobi was then tasked with “following up” with the consultant and making a brief of the presentation and share it with all of us but then the email server crashed and, due to clan complexities, could not be restored for three or so weeks and all some of us remembered was that one of them had a black head but we couldn’t agree which (voting, in the democratic traditions of HRI led to a draw).

Then there are the “capacity building” activities aimed at dealing with market imbalances caused by an expected increased demand in “shoats” and decreased demand in camels that may have “complex trigger effects”. People affected negatively by these effects will have to be exposed to various “vocational trainings” and are taught how to start a business that does not involve buying an old Hilux and transporting khat. (Although irrelevant in context, we are making reference to khat because that will increase our chances of obtaining funding from donors interested in showing a commitment to fighting drug trafficking).

Then, in Puntland (referred to in HRI official documents as “the North-East”) we are working mainly out of Nairobi with short and expensive trips to Bossaaso meant to keep the spending going while we combine the Clan Complexity Defense with the application for more funding. We have three staff who exclusively deal with making and cancelling bookings at the only HRI approved guesthouse in town, run by one of our close affiliates. “Piracy” remains the magic word here, which is also why all our funding has to do with capacity building and mitigating effects of piracy in Bossaaso, while the rest of the country remains only relevant to us in as much as regular trips to Garowe are required by our concern with keeping appearances about collaborating with the local authorities. We have also hired a retired prosecutor from Wisconsin who is leading our “Law Enforcement Capacity Building to Combat Piracy” program out of Nairobi. Naturally, most of our work here happens in Nairobi, where we implement additional workshops of significant complexity, attended by “Somali officials from Puntland”.

Which brings me to our ground-breaking work in “South-Central Somalia”, a vast area that is mostly off-limits to everyone at HRI. For reasons of Clan Complexity we do not trust any of our local staff with any decisions, which means that most of our work in “South-Central” is about spending money in Nairobi “building the capacity” of whoever is referred to as “the government” at the respective moment. This is a sustainable activity because, due to high turnover in the government teams, we manage to run the same trainings again and again, giving us an opportunity to develop templates, manuals and other tools and become even more cost-effective.

The occasional international staff flying into Baidoa for a day or so give us the necessary street cred, while our affiliate doing overpriced exclusive Humanitarian Flight management gets us kudos in the Logistics Cluster (LCF).

Which reminds me: our decision to have water for sale in these flights a few years back has gone down as one of the most innovative decisions in recent memory, and has been quoted extensively as a positive example of “lessons learned” from the private sector.
I’d love to tell you more about the fantastic results of all this work (well acknowledged in the sector) but I need to attend a video-conference about some funding in the Seychelles and anyway, you wouldn’t understand the clan complexities.


  1. Love this blog, keep it going!

  2. Keep going please

  3. Nice one, bit unfair you forgot all the great work happening in djibouti, plus the occasional reference to war economy / FGM etc. When is the next input coming?

  4. You are such amateurs! The United Nations is so way ahead of you, having managed to persuade donors to pump literally millions of dollars annually into the same scam, and currently employing several tens of dozens of "professionals" in Nairobi. Their time is basically divided between real hand relief "workshopping" (apparently they do it in groups) and filling in per diem forms. Somali's have a word for this but I cant repeat it here!

  5. and even if the clan complexity line fades over time regarding access - we can always rely on UNDSS or NSP! No go means no go. Let’s sit back, relax and maintain the status quo. Who’s for another latte and years office rental in Gigiri?

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