Division in Somalia: A Failed Math Test

When most Americans hear the name Somalia, their first thoughts would probably be of violence and instability. This is no surprise when you consider the way blockbuster movies like Black Hawk Down and Captain Phillips portray the country. In both films, Somalia is shown as a lawless country, filled with heavily armed militias and desperate pirates that will do anything for power and control. Unfortunately, that portrayal is frighteningly accurate aside from the piracy issues, which have declined to the point of being almost nonexistent since 2012. However, the problem in the mainland of Somalia remains the same; the country is divided into separate autonomous regions, militias with varying loyalties are fighting for power, and terrorist attacks make focusing on the rampant humanitarian issues nearly impossible. It’s a situation that the United States likes to deal with from the controls of a Predator drone.

Sometimes drone strikes aren’t enough. For situations involving either additional precision or personal involvement, the United States provides between 200 and 300 special operations troops for assignments in Somalia, thereby putting boots on the ground in a hostile region. Regardless of what the American public might think about having their troops fight for the people of some far away country again, the special operations forces have been successful in assisting the meager Somali forces and the troops of the African Union.

The largest force helping to stabilize the country are those African Union troops, numbering about 22,000.  They are made up of people from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, with each nationality operating in different sectors around south and central Somalia. The Somali government forces are based mostly around the capital Mogadishu. In the north, the autonomous region of Somaliland occupies the coastline to the west of the Horn of Africa, and the autonomous region of Puntland occupies the tip of the Horn and some land to the south. The rest of the country is left to deal with the presence of al-Shabaab, a terrorist group that has declared allegiance to al-Qaeda. The group is responsible for attacking and bombing various civilian targets in Somalia, as well as taking some of the heavily fortified strongholds of the African Union troops. They were also responsible for the 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall, and almost succeeded in bringing down a Somali airliner last February. The map below shows areas where al-Shabaab attacks have been concentrated in recent years.

untitled

Even with all this division and destruction, there is still some hope for the Somali people. The government promised the population in 2012 that they would have their first democratic poll in almost 50 years in 2016. Unfortunately for the Somalia, “a combination of poor security, chaotic politics and a devastated infrastructure” has caused these first democratic elections to be postponed. The new system is an improvement, but it is inherently flawed. It is overly complex, and at its greatest extent only 14,025 people will be allowed to choose the new president, and even those people will be chosen by clan elders around Somalia. Consisting of less than 0.2% of the population, that group of about fourteen thousand people is remarkably small, and it is therefore difficult to call the new process democratic. Regardless of how the new administration is chosen, the administration itself will face a tough task of securing, governing, and developing a struggling country.

Let’s Not Tie the Knot

Imagine this: you’re a twelve year-old girl living in the Central African Republic, and your father tells you that you have to marry a 50 or 60 year-old man who is old enough the be your grandfather. You will be forced to stop going to school, and you will be expected to produce and raise children, around 6 on average. It is unlikely that you find any kind of job, since you won’t be able to finish your education. This is your life. It is the worst fear of most young girls in Central Africa, and unfortunately, it’s not just a fear. It’s a very real possibility. In fact, 40% of girls marry before the age of 18 in sub-Saharan Africa. 17% of the world’s child brides are in Africa, or an estimated 125 million child brides. Out of these girls, one out of three are married before the age of 15– an estimated 40 million girls. Of the 20 countries with the highest child marriage rates, 15 are African.

child-marriage-2-750x410

There are several reasons that child marriage rates are so prevalent in Central Africa. The number one factor driving the trend is poverty. Girls from low-income, rural areas are twice as likely to marry before age 18 than girls from rich households. Many families rely on marrying off their young daughters for economic survival. Families are relieved of the expenses to educate and feed their daughters when they are married. They also receive a dowry from the husband, often livestock or money. Another factor is the absence of laws that would prevent child marriages. Some countries do have laws that set the minimum marriage age at 18, but the law enforcement cannot adequately enforce these laws, and there are loopholes that allow for earlier marriage. Religious beliefs also drive child marriages in Africa. It is seen as a way of protecting the family honor by preventing girls from getting pregnant out of wedlock.

Child marriage poses a number of consequences. Girls are forced to have children at an age so young that their bodies are not fully developed for pregnancy and giving birth. In fact, the leading cause of death for girls age 15-19 is complications from pregnancy and childbirth. Girls who are married young end their education early, limiting their choices and opportunities throughout the rest of their lives. Girls also face sexual and domestic violence within their marriages and don’t receive help, as it is regarded as socially acceptable to abuse women. When asked if a husband beating his wife was a justifiable action, 46% of African women said yes.

It is clear that the trend of child marriage in Africa is dangerous and needs to be stopped. Efforts have been in place for years, so why hasn’t the trend declined as hoped? Organizations outside of Africa alone cannot stop the problem. The issue needs to be combatted on a number of fronts and by multiple groups coordinating to work together. The focus has to be on a start in ending child marriage. As Westerners, we may think in terms of the girls needing an independent career and work life. What these girls really need are healthier marriages at an older age with a husband of their choice. To start this process, there needs to be economic growth at the national level. This will then allow more local level leaders to unify around a comprehensive strategy to remedy the issue, perhaps starting with the girls choosing their husbands, and then focus on marrying them at an older age. Of course, the families and their children will need to cooperate in ending child marriage. It poses an opportunity for these young girls to find their voice and lead themselves and other girls towards a more secure future.

How likely is it that this will happen? Well, since 1990, child marriage among the rich in Africa has been cut in half, although the trend among the poor remains the same. This shows progress on the issue is possible, but economic growth needs to occur. In September 2015, leaders from Africa pledged to end child marriage by 2030 under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The African Union released campaigns and initiatives addressing child marriage. Africa will need to work much harder in order to accomplish their 2030 goal. If no progress is made to end child marriage, the number of married girls will increase to 310 million by the year 2050, almost doubling the current numbers. Africa will become the region with the highest number of child marriages, surpassing South Asia.

“Here Comes the Sun Da Da Da Da…”

In the past hundred years, electricity has gone from being a luxury to a necessity. It has become the foundation of successful countries and the envy of the developing world. Without adequate power, a country has little hope for economic advancement and improvements in quality of life. In a country like Rwanda, where more than 7 million live without power, this stark contrast is particularly evident. In the spring of 1994, a horrific genocide ravaged the small country, killing approximately 800,000 people — seven percent of the total population. Extreme nationalists within the Hutu majority government began the Rwandan genocide and targeted the vulnerable Tutsi minority. This horrible event set back all social and economic progress, as the country struggled to regain control domestically. Twenty years later, the man who commanded the movement to end the violence still holds power, and is looking toward solar energy as a method of pulling his country out of the darkness.

Paul Kagame is a benevolent dictator. He walks the fine line between dictatorship and democracy. Although he seems very well-liked among locals, he is not typically receptive of criticism. Kagame has garnered a lot of support from foreign powers such as the United States and Germany because they think his aggressive efforts for change make his country a promising candidate for a desperately-needed African foreign aid success story. Kagame has used his autocratic methods to bring Rwanda into the twenty-first century. By 2020, he would like to bring the country from a low-income, agricultural-based economy to a knowledge-based, service-oriented economy with a middle-income country status. The essential foundation of these lofty goals is adequately accessible electricity for the millions who need it.

The most tangible evidence of Paul Kagame’s work is the solar farm erected on the land of the Agohozo-Shalom Youth Village, an attempt by Jewish philanthropists to house and educate orphans of the Rwandan genocide. Rwanda draws six percent of its power from the new solar farm which lights 15,000 previously dark homes. When seen from above, the 28,360 solar panels form the continent of Africa, representative of the project and its goals. Some have called the plant the fastest developed infrastructure project in African history, going from agreement signing to full production in only one year. The venture clearly demonstrates the efficiency of the Rwandan government when taking action on electricity. With its demand for power and a government that is willing to work quickly and productively to bring change, Rwanda makes a great case for foreign investment. But what about the numerous countries that are not as capable as Rwanda?

Fortunately, large-scale solar projects aren’t the only answer to the power problems of Sub-Saharan Africa. Small-scale solar power is making incredible progress all over the world. An industry that didn’t exist a few years ago now provides power to 600,000 houses in Africa. Many predict that off-grid options will leapfrog their on-grid counterparts, creating a more reliable system that does not depend on the expensive infrastructure of power grids. This rapid progress is due to three factors: the fall in the cost of solar panels, the innovation of the “pay-as-you-go” financing for solar panels, and the development of the lights, radios and cell phones that use the electricity. The emergence of “solar-preneurs,” entrepreneurs who work towards advancing solar technology, has made small-scale solar power in Africa much more of a reality.

Rwanda acts as a beacon of hope for its power-starved neighbors and the investors who would love to bring light to Africa. Two decades after a horrific genocide, the Rwandan government has shown incredible resilience and is on the path to becoming the long-awaited foreign aid success story. With the help of the thriving and progressing solar market, cleaner and cheaper answers are becoming a reality.