EDITORIAL | For more than 30 years, Somalia has been accustomed to things like war, drought, displacement and floods. Then came the new coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19.
Globally, it has killed more than 90,000 out of more than 1.5 million infected people. In Somalia, it had infected eight people Thursday night and killed one.
Except there’s a problem: COVID-19 did not start in Africa or Somalia, as those who like to mutilate the Horn of Africa country might have expected. It started in Wuhan, China. Now it kills more Americans than anywhere else on earth.
If Americans sneezed, Somalia had a cold, this time in terms of COVID-19 and accompanying problems.
On Thursday, for example, Somalia’s health minister Fawziya Abikar reports how an official known as Mohamed Mohamud Bulle reportedly diverted public health funds in the midst of the virus’ spread. He was arrested, she said.
The arrest or infections in Somalia may have little to do with what is happening in the United States, where more than 462,000 people were infected and 16,444 killed by the virus. But it tells you what Somalia needs to worry about: the capacity to deal with the disaster needs to increase.
Abdirashid Hashi, director of the Heritage Institute in Somalia, claimed that Somalia was facing a threat it had never experienced before and had no capacity to counter it itself.
“As Somalia and its economy face a clear and present danger, if not an existential threat from COVID19, it is important that the federal government, federal states, opposition parties, business and civil society now develop a common survival strategy.” wrote on his Twitter page.
“Time is the essence!”
This ‘common’ strategy had been lacking in Somalia as it squirts against elections later in the year. The question now is whether another form of emergence can force creativity out of leaders.
“We should start this conversation right now. An overwhelming number of Somalis live in a state that makes it so difficult to follow the standard procedure that the world practices now. So we should think of a way to help ourselves minimize the catastrophic impact it can have, ”said Sagal Bihi, a Somali federal MP.
Somalia is weak and different because it has stood for over 30 years without a strong government capable of running services across the country. For the past eight years, successive governments have been more stable, but they have also faced the constant threat of al-Shabaab.
When the coronavirus began earlier this year, few hoped it could reach the Somali shores, though everyone had hoped it would not because of Somalia’s vulnerability: five million displaced, more than half the population illiterate and a similar number considered as bone poor.
In fact, Somalia’s 40 percent of the population of 15 million for years relied on remittances from abroad to survive. Annually, the diaspora sent in 3 billion. $. With coronavirus, a paper published last week says these remittances have been halved because banks and wire services have either been shut down or affected by lockdowns.
In fact, the diaspora itself, which often sent money in from the comfort of countries with better medical care, has precisely the problem that they would naturally be interested in helping relatives at home.
“A COVID-19 pandemic is an event of radical uncertainty: we do not know the dynamics of the pandemic in different contexts (especially in Africa) or its wider economic impact,” researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science said in a joint blog last week.
“We do not know whether this shock will amplify other stresses affecting Somalis (such as war and food insecurity), or whether the resilience of Somali society in response to these shocks will also serve them well under the pressure of the pandemic,” they wrote after an organized meeting. by the Rift Valley Institute and facilitated by the Center for Humanitarian Change.
In order for everything to be done, however, the experts argued that it would depend on politics: what Somali leaders think is best for the country, or whether the leadership in donor countries thinks it is wise to send donations when they themselves are struggling to survive. It is only in April that Somalia began its local test for COVID-19. Previously, samples could be sent to Nairobi for analysis.
So how will COVID-19 affect the political scene? A report from the Somali public agenda, a think tank in Mogadishu, warned that the spread of the virus could stop almost everything else in the country.
“If a major outbreak occurs, it is very likely that this will affect the planning and preparations for Somalia’s transition in 2020/2021,” said a report entitled The Road to Somalia Elections 2021.
Coronavirus has demanded a ban on international flights, control of public gatherings and strict social distance. But this is a country that needed to sit down for dialogue so that stakeholders can determine the election calendar.
Before the virus arrived, the federal parliament had set up a committee to draw up rules on how to allocate special seats as well as the fate of the Benadir region. That committee can no longer sit now, but its 45-day mandate is still running.
Whether it is to postpone elections or extend the current administration, however, it remains a hot potato, even in the midst of the pandemic.
A senior senator allied with the opposition coalition forum for national parties told Axadlethat he did not expect the virus to force a postponement. But he said the group was against delays anyway.
“Coronavirus or no coronavirus, any enlargement is illegal,” he argued on Thursday, asking to remain in the background as he is not the official spokesman for the coalition, whose patron is former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
A controversial Article 53 of the current electoral law provides a legal loophole for parliament to decide its own fate if elections cannot be held in time. When the law was discussed in parliament earlier, the FNP had opposed it. It worked anyway.
Still, some of the policy challengers believe that delay should be approved by stakeholders.
“In the absence of a political agreement with key stakeholders, including the FGS, political parties, federal states and civil society, it will remain unconstitutional and create political uncertainty,” said Idd Bedel Mohamed, who wants to fight for the presidency in the forthcoming votes.
What will happen now may not be known now. But it seems that any plan in Somalia will depend on how COVID-19 behaves in the country.