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Will Farmajo take Somalia to the Promised Land?

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Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Photo: Reuters)

By Florence Gichoya

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was elected the 9th president of the Federal Republic of Somalia. World leaders hailed the peaceful transfer of power from former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. The new president also goes by his nickname ‘Farmajo’, a word referring to ‘cheese’, his childhood delicacy.

Farmajo emerged winner in the historic elections held on February 8th 2017. Somalia had not held elections since 1985. The members of parliament voted from a pool of 21 presidential candidates, in a poll that was riddled with voter bribery allegations. After he was declared winner, he stated his vision for Somalia, “this is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation, the beginning of the fight against al shabab and corruption,” he said.

But during his inauguration, Farmajo told the Somali people to be hopeful, but also to be aware that it may take many years to fix Somalia. “Multiple challenges are ahead of our government. Therefore, I am telling people that because of the limited resources we have, our achievements will be limited,” he said

President Uhuru Kenyatta attended the inauguration event in solidarity with a neighbor emerging from decades of instability. He supported the Somali people in the ongoing efforts to rebuild the country. “The successful elections and peaceful transfer of power are a clear demonstration of the desire and ability of the people of Somalia to strengthen governance structure and build sustainable peace,” President Kenyatta said. Other regional leaders who graced the occasion were Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, and Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh.

An American citizen, Farmajo has lived and worked in the U.S since 1985. His previous job was in the New York Department of Transportation, and he was an active member of the Republican Party. This unique arrangement, of foreign passport holders vying for political seats in Somalia is acceptable. According to Politico magazine, diaspora Somalis constitute a third of Somalia’s government.

Interestingly, out of the 21 presidential candidates, nine had dual citizenship of Somalia and America. Four candidates were British Somalis and three were Canadian Somalis. Former presidents Sheikh Shariff Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud have dual citizenship of Kenya and Somalia.

Farmajo served as Somalia’s Prime Minister between 2010 and 2011. In one year he won the hearts of Somalis for his zero tolerance on corruption. He downsized the cabinet to improve efficiency, and ensured the salaries of the army and police officers were paid promptly.

 Farmajo’s strategy on Alshabab

Somalia has seen a fair share of conflict since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was deposed in 1991. For 25 years, factions of warlords and Al shabab terrorists have controlled some territories, making the country ungovernable.

During his inauguration speech, President Farmajo offered an olive branch to the Al Shabab, and appealed to the belligerent group to join him in transforming the country.

President Kenyatta echoed that both Kenya and Somalia are threatened by many “foreign terrorists actors and agents” and “transnational and cross border crimes.”

Kenya and Somalia have suffered the blunt of Al shabab. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was set up for the purpose of stabilizing Somalia. KDF moved to Somalia in 2011 after increased cases of kidnappings of tourists and foreign aid workers by al shabab in the country. Kenya has about 3,600 troops in Somalia.

War and conflict leads to displacement of human population. Kenya has carried the burden of hosting Somali refugees for 25 years, and intends to shut down the Dadaab refugee camp, which hosts more than 200,000 Somali refugees. Kenyan government maintains that the camp is infiltrated by al shabab terrorists, and poses a threat to national security. “We will continue to provide a safe haven for refugees, but that generosity will be balanced, against the imperative of keeping Kenya safe,” President Kenyatta said.

Intelligence reports revealed that the Westgate Mall attack in September 2013 was hatched in the Dadaab camp. Two years later, the al shabab attacked Garissa University College killing 148 people.

Deputy President William Ruto accentuated Kenya’s position at the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit in 2015, “Kenya has been faithful to her international obligations of humanitarian assistance, but no country can shoulder humanitarian responsibilities, at the expense of the security of her people, and the refugees themselves,” he said.

Farmajo will certainly engage Kenya and Ethiopia in the repatriation process of refugees. There is also the issue of Puntland that refuses to go away. Puntland, is an area in Northeastern Somalia that claimed autonomy in 1998.

Somalia has also suffered economic hardships for decades. According to the World Bank, Somalia is the fifth poorest country in the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates Somalia’s economic growth rate will be at 2.5 percent, down from 3.7 percent growth rate experienced last year.

The country lacks a monetary policy and since 1991, Somalia has never printed its national currency, Somalia Shilling. This year, the Somalia Central Bank Governor announced plans to print its own currency, a project that will cost 60 million dollars. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) country director in Somalia, Samba Thiam said that, “98 percent of the currency circulating in the country is fake.”

Somalia on the rise

Somalia is a country of many contrasts. It has a heritage of a people who speak one language, but are divided along clans. The clans wield a lot of power in the governance of the country.

Since 1991, millions of Somalis have immigrated and settled in different countries around the world. The Somali diaspora has excelled in the business, health, sports, and academia and governance sectors.

Despite the security challenges, Somalia is on the rise of making a mark in the region. Last year Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched the largest Turkish diplomatic mission in Mogadishu. Schools, hospitals and markets have re-opened and Somali Diasporas are steadily returning to their homeland.

The country has the longest coastline in Africa and has potential of becoming a leading tourist destination. Farmajo has a big task ahead. To rebuild and stabilize a fragile state, and improve Somalia’s standing in the community of nations.

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Can African Languages Unite the Continent?

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Some of African languages (photo credit: readerscafeafrica.com)

By Florence Gichoya

On February 21st, every year, the world celebrates the ‘International Mother Language Day’ (IMLD). In that day, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), advocates for multilingual education for children in formal learning environment. This year’s theme for IMLD is to promote sustainable futures through multilingual education. The theme anchors Sustainable Development Goal number four, which in part, promotes all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, to achieve literacy and numeracy.

A few years ago, Kenya government released sessional paper 14 of 2012, instructing teachers in all public schools, to teach children below eight years in their vernacular language. The education policy elicited heated public debate. There was divided opinion on the benefits of using ‘Mother Language’ as a mode of learning instruction in schools. Others supported the policy quoting research findings on vernacular education in formal schools.

Still, there are genuine concerns on how curriculum on vernacular languages can be standardized, considering there are numerous distinct languages across the nation. A big challenge would be changing the society’s attitude towards teaching vernacular language.

According to the Cheavens report (1957) on Vernacular Languages in Education around the World, children who learn vernacular language before switching to a second language tend to develop better social skills.

A research study conducted in Philippines, showed students that were initially taught in English only, fared poorly compared to students that were first taught in their vernacular language before they were introduced to the English language. Dr. John R. Rickford opined that the second group of students caught up and outshined the students who started with English language only. They performed better in mathematics, English and social studies.

In 2014, South Africa government issued a similar directive to all public primary schools to start teaching a vernacular language to the students. Other African countries that have adopted vernacular language as medium of instruction in schools include Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

Learning other languages helps to shed off stereotypes. Learning a vernacular language will help the learners to have an identity by connecting with their cultural backgrounds hence creating holistic individuals.

Africa divided along Language lines

There are more than 2,000 languages spoken in Africa. It is the highest number of different languages in any continent. But despite the high number of languages, colonial history obligated countries to adopt English, French and Portuguese as official languages. The languages are used in the education, judicial, and governance system.

In post-colonial era, African states are still divided along language lines. Anglophone countries – states that were colonized by Britain gravitate together on common issues. On the other hand, francophone countries – those that were colonized by the French, are united in issues of common interest.

The division evidently played out in the recent elections of African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson. After a grueling 7 round of voting, the race had narrowed down to francophone countries supporting the winner Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, while the Anglophone countries rallied behind Kenya’s Amina Mohamed.

This is based on the unwritten rule of rotating the AUC position between Anglophone and francophone countries. The former Chairperson, Dr. Ndamini Zuma, a South African was from an Anglophone country, and the French speaking countries were determined to have one of their own take the seat.

Amina observed that we live in a continent that is divided along foreign languages, “Africa is divided along language lines, even though the languages don’t belong to us. Yet the authors of those languages do not fight among themselves.”

The AU recognizes Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Kiswahili and other African language as the official language. However, the institution only identifies Arabic, English, French and Portuguese as the working language.

Power of language

Language can be used as a tool of oppression. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame led his country in joining the Commonwealth, leaving La Francophonie bloc that constitutes French speaking countries. Kagame maintains that France played a role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. France has denied the claims.

The infamous students’ riots that took place in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976, were as a result of the Apartheid government imposing the Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction in all schools.

Still, today there are countries with internal divisions that are driven by historical ties to the languages of their colonial rulers. Cameroon is currently embroiled in an internal strife, after the national government curtailed internet freedom in two provinces, which are predominantly English speaking. The two Anglophone provinces were under the British colonial rule, while the rest of Cameroon was colonized by the French. The two regions unified to form the state of Cameroon and recognized both English and French as the official languages.

But, last year the Anglophone regions protested against the government’s directive to impose French as the language of instruction in education and judicial systems. President Paul Biya’s government retaliated by shutting down internet connection in the two English speaking provinces.

Could the solution be found in adopting African languages as national languages? Kenya’s national languages are Swahili and English. South Africa has 11 official languages, making it the country with the most official languages in the world. Having African languages as national languages promotes inclusivity, bolsters peaceful coexistence and a sense of national unity.

Vernacular languages have brought opportunities in different fields including arts, theatre, publishing and media. However, some of vernacular media stations were used to spread ethnic hatred during the Rwanda genocide and Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence.

Renowned Kenyan scholar, Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, has written award winning books in his native Kikuyu language. He implores Africans to embrace their indigenous languages remarking that ‘English is not an African language.’

Africa’s diverse languages should be the bridge that unites all communities. Research has shown that children can learn different languages at the same time. People who are multilingual are more receptive of other people’s customs and norms, and as a result, promote harmony. The appreciation of different languages will raise a generation of young people that are not bound by colonial history, but see themselves as Africans first.