Puntland, between a road and a hard place


Chief Technical Advisor in Somalia

To the outside world, the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland is largely known – if at all – for its pirates. But it has a lot more than that to offer.

Demands from leaders to deliver are high; rightly so. The ILO evidently has a key role to play in the region: every conversation turns to jobs and how to use whatever natural resources there may be in the barren landscape. There is a high probability of gas, if not oil, either inland or offshore.

I recently chaired a meeting in Garowe – the capital of Puntland – of the UN Joint Programme on Local Governance and Decentralised Service Delivery, JPLG. This programme supports good governance and effective management in district councils with complementary work on decentralisation and administrative strengthening at other levels. It is increasing public investment in basic services and strengthening civic awareness and, as a result, participation in local decision-making and development.

After the meeting we walk along a road the ILO is helping the municipality upgrade in Garowe. People are effusive in their praise, saying improving the road raises the quality of life and opens up opportunities for more business. There are already a few extra workshops, more investment in setting up retail outlets and a tea shop. A common trend when such upgrades are done is for those with road frontage to convert a room into a small “duka” (shop). But what next when everyone has a shop of their own? So we are now also trying to help people become more competitive.

A car carrying khat – a plant chewed by many Somalis for its stimulant effect – zooms past at breakneck speed. With better roads comes the need for social responsibility toward driving.

Whilst in Garowe, I chair a second steering committee meeting on a project in Galkayo – a town split between rival claims by would-be states in their own right or as part of the emergent Federal Somalia. It is also a place where pirates and criminals spend their money, taking advantage of the trade which flows through the town.

There is a feeling that much division and manipulation is going on. The contention could be made that we, in the international community mirror this. We need to constantly coordinate, yet there is competition for resources all meant to be supporting Puntland. The Minister of Environment reflects on this point. There are funds flowing in to address environmental issues; degradation is destroying the very basis for the pastoral subsistence economy. But we are not creating new work as the pastoralist world evolves. The Minister of Labour once again presses me to seek further support. We agree we need more and, with all colleagues in the Puntland Government, agree the ILO will be integral to uplifting the Puntland Development Plan and making sure the international partners have an opportunity to invest in delivery to Puntland’s people.

My day finishes with a dinner with the Minister of Livestock. I ask him why his ministry has not been fully involved in the work in Galkayo so far. He explains how he and several colleagues feel they are bypassed by the international community. We talk on these issues and we agree on a way forward which holds people accountable for delivery. The Minister sums up by saying, “Thank you for the open discussion, we appreciate how you and the ILO team are working and want to see more of this.”

We all reflect on the massive needs and the divisions that go against so much of Somali society. Here, more than anywhere else I have worked, you can, or rather must, engage in forthright debate. There may be disagreements but there is always an openness to work toward delivery whenever the greater good is served.

Our Puntland Government colleagues thank the ILO Team for delivering and being open to talk through issues we still have to address. We will make it work, is the parting sentiment from the Minister of Environment. But we need more technical support, is the rejoinder from the Minister of Labour. How can any of us disagree with a positive, work-related, intent?

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