It has been amazing period of one year that I worked and lived in Garowe town, the city of Puntland State of Somalia. Coming to Somalia was one of my imaginings since I was young. It was late last year that the opportunity has risen in to my life. I was interviewed for a job opportunity by an NGO based in Garowe, Somali Family Services- an amazing local organization that operates in Puntland.
Initially, I didn’t had any clue on where I was heading to, but I had some confidence that encouraged me, first I was on the knowledge that Puntland was a peaceful state as compared to other parts of Somalia, same as Somaliland which is also safe. Second, I had some friends whom I thought will meet them in Puntland.
We landed in Garowe, a place that looked calm and settled from my first aerial view. It didn’t took me time to interact with the locals as they are very welcoming people. As a Somali I was never treated as a foreigner. In fact the town is lived by Somalis, regardless of who they are and where they come from. Days passed while I felt more safe and comfortable.
No attack or security issue
Anyone who is heading to Somalia for the first time has a perception that Somalia is war-torn and there are a lot of insecurity, attacks, lawlessness, this is because people out there are misinformed by two major things; first, the media which in Somalia there are a lot of uncontrolled media that report and update wrong and exaggerated negative information that paints bad picture about Somalia. For instance international media will hardly report development progress but talk about and exaggerate a bullet sound and will try as much to find a ‘freelance journalist’ or eye witness who will then overstate stories or incidents.
The second thing that misinforms those heading to Somalia is NGO reports and information. An NGO will put together regions and areas that need interventions; they would then capture poverty stricken people, conflicts, diseases, vulnerable groups’ images. They would capture severe situations in Somalia regions. They need funding for these reports and obvious no one will fund them if they report positive developments. One will come across this information and reports in their websites as he/she searches information on Somalia.
In point of fact, it is incredible to reveal that in Garowe, no single attack (blast, militant, suicide) that has ever occurred during the last 4 years. The people living find it almost impossible for attack to occur in Garowe.
Security is everyone’s priority and responsibility. The communities and people together with the government have invested in the security. One notable achievement is that one can freely walk during even wee hours of the night without fear. The state has a disciplined police that won’t manhandle people but rather assist.
Self reliance during natural catastrophes
I witnessed the tropical cyclone that hit Puntland coastal areas (Eyl, Haafun, Iskushuban, Dangoroyo) during November 2013. The cyclone had resulted to deaths and destructions. It has claimed deaths of approx 50 people, almost one million livestock, countless wildlife to mention but few. During this unfortunate period Puntland people gathered all they had and intervened the situation; they expected little from the other world.
Upon the fateful days of the cyclone, I attended a meeting called by ministers; interior, health with international NGOs and other Local NGOs that operated within Puntland. They were supposed to make their part in the emergency interventions. This was when I learnt that the NGOs cannot intervene during times of need. They talked of communicating to headquarters and sending assessment reports to get go ahead to engage. Wasn’t it peculiar on how NGO to assess an emergency situation that required a quick an urgent intervention? When affected people are in dire need of help! The ministers gave an ultimatum of 48 hours for the NGOs to intervene or would face consequences. This serious statement had caused alarm and soon some contributed.
The biggest initiative of intervention was made by Puntlanders; opening Dahabshiil, Amal and several Golis Sahal accounts for monetary donations. Religious leaders were tasked to lead the collection of the contribution and later distribution to the affected people. In few days superb contribution was made not only on monetary but also on livestock, foods, clothing, Etc. It is worth mentioning that good contribution was made by Puntland diasporas. It was such a great, admirable and estimable effort made by Puntlanders that had put smiles in many victims whose life and properties were greatly affected by the calamity.
The typhoon has also damaged a backbone bridge that connected Garowe to Bosaaso. The collapse of the bridge near Sinujiif has resulted to disconnection of transport of goods, services and commuters to Garowe or Bosaaso for a period of months.
Moreover, months after the victims were settled, it was time to put up the collapsed bridge so as to connect Garowe, the administrative city to Bosaaso, the commercial city. Through the same initiative and inventiveness, Puntlanders pooled their resources again and within a short period a great contribution was collected and a classic bridge was constructed. This has however portrayed the effort made by Puntlanders to squarely rely on themselves and avoid dependence on aid.
Peaceful electioneering process and fair elections
By the time I arrived the atmosphere was tense with the presidential election slated on 8th January. The election was due to take place on 15th July through democratic means of one man-one vote of citizens voting individually for their preferred candidate. This could be realized but unfortunately did not come about due to small dispute that erupted between the contesting parties. Nevertheless, all parties and contestants have agreed that the election be done through the traditional means, where (66) members of parliament all nominated by their clans to vote for president.
There were campaigns here and there as clans endorsed their preferred MP to represent for the coming 5 year term while they are would vote for the president of the clan’s preference. As well, some candidates have declared their interest to race for the president and vice president posts.
However, during this period Garowe has attracted more visitors. Locals noticed the arrival of new faces and others that came and joined the election campaigns and lobbies. The police and other security team would ensure maximum security and made sure no stone was left unturned to certain security. Garowe remained peaceful and there were no reports of tension or fear.
I admired how each citizen of Puntland worked towards keeping peace during the election process. Leaders, elders, traditional and religious leaders, men, women and children all preferred and contributed to peaceful process.
I remember the media took their part to promote peace, calmness and tranquility; radios TVs and websites all displayed neutrality to their best, however less to say that some could side some candidates because they are either paid, owned to candidate or related. Besides, some radios played patriotic songs that instilled love, peace and unity among the communities.
8th January marked a historic day in Puntland. I witnessed the day, from the voting process to the announcements of the winners. Such fair election process will hardly be found in Africa! It was televised and aired live.
The process that went to the 3rd round had been implausible. The last two candidates were each others’ neck on the last count until the winner (incumbent president Abdiweli Ali Gaas) won by only one vote against his opponent (former president Dr Abdurrahman Farole) who conceded defeat on the spot and congratulated the president-elect.
Puntland has shown the world the level of its democracy.
Fast growing city
Garowe is a fast growing city; a lot of developments are currently in progress in Garowe town. You will notice quick expansion of the town, several roads constructed and businesses on the rise. You will also notice that many diaspora are coming back to invest in the town where many have already bought bigger plots/spaces in the outskirts of the town. New roundabouts have been put in place with traffic lights to ease jam. Puntland government has also started the expansion of Garowe airport just the same with Bosaaso airport.
I can’t imagine a period of a year has just swept so quickly, I enjoyed my Friday outings to ‘Hawdka’ and beautiful places like Dareeyle. I took the pleasure of joining friends for ‘Caweysi’ drinking tea at the Library, Kalis, Goobsoor, Reys Qaboobe, Spagheti, the famous “barxadda and several ‘biibitos’. Not forgetting the new modern Puntland Fitness Center, to mention about the blooming city but a few. I have also built my Somali language too.
What a pleasing city!
The writer is the Media and Peace building Institute Director – Somali Family Services, Garowe Puntland Somalia.