Talking over a cup of tea is the main drive for job creation in Somaliland.
It is the way Somalis do business, the way they build on the new opportunities that can deliver badly needed jobs in a land where three out of four people under 30 are unemployed (*).
“Talking means trade, and trade generates work,” says Mustafa Othman, member of the organization Shaqodoon (Somali word for job-seeker). “Jobs generate income, so we can sit over a Somali tea and keep on doing business.”
But talking can also be cheap if nothing comes out of it, if it does not contribute to tackling the social, economic and social costs attached to the high rates of unemployment, underemployment and insecure employment across Somaliland.
“We need better roads, so farmers can reach buyers. We need to add value to our economy and manufacture more goods, increasing trade with our neighbours throughout East Africa. We are the gateway to that part of the continent,” adds Othman, one of the participants in the National Employment Conference recently held in the capital Hargesia and other towns.
The goal of the Conference was to understand and remove structural and non-structural constraints to job creation and develop an economy that generates opportunities for investment, entrepreneurship, skills development and sustainable livelihoods.
The Government, entrepreneurs, workers and other stakeholders have committed themselves to a national strategy of employment generation based on the Decent Work Agenda promoted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), aimed at creating jobs, guaranteeing rights at work, extending social protection and promoting social dialogue.
“The Decent Work Agenda is the basis to develop our projects working with youth at risk, under the program Youth for Change, and to enhance not only government capacity, but also local economic performance,” says Mohamed Hassan ‘Dhere’, the ILO’s representative in Somaliland.
Although the economy of Somaliland has been growing over the last two decades, it is evident the structure and pattern of this growth has not been able to absorb newcomers into the labour market.
Sitting to the north west of Somalia, bordering Djibouti to the north-west, Ethiopia to the west and south, and the Gulf of Aden to the north, the 3.85 million inhabitants of Somaliland are eager to work, learn new skills and improve the quality of life for them and their families.
Somaliland is a territory with a young population. According to the Somaliland National Youth Organization (SONYO), 65 to 70 per cent of the population is under 30 years of age. They were children when Somaliland, internationally recognized as an autonomous region, seceded from Somalia and declared independence in 1991 after three years of civil war.
Unfortunately, many of these youngsters have lost hope to build their future here and join “tahreeb” (arabic word for illegal migration). They want to reach Europe or the Gulf States, with tens of thousands crossing every year the Sudan desert or the Red Sea, paying large amounts of money and exposing themselves to human trafficking, exploitation, forced labour and even death.
Often, the dream ends up in a sweatshop.
“Many, nearly three quarters of the people under 30 have no real job and struggle to find something to do. Among them, there are mainly two categories: University graduates searching for a ‘suit and tie’ job and migrants from rural Somaliland or Ethiopia ready to do whatever allows them to put a Somaliland Shilling (SISh) in their pockets,” says Nimo-Ilhan Ali, a researcher of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London.
You can also see them working in any little fruit stand in Hargesia, Berbera, Burao, Borama or Erigavo, bargaining with clients over the price of a melon. The surprising element of this scene comes when the price is settled (around 2 US dollars). The payment is done through a mobile phone transaction. The deal is done, without cash but with a combination of the old traditional Somali trading with last-generation money transfer technology.
Nowhere else have people embraced so passionately the opportunities new technologies have to offer.
Next thing I am expecting to see in the local market is a 3D printer. I know it will happen sooner than later – a new way in Somaliland to manufacture and trade.
Over a cup of tea.
(*) Somaliland Youth Status Survey Report