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International cooperation

Somalia: addressing the root causes of piracy and warlordism

Faced with a dramatic increase in piracy off the Horn of Africa, countries have stepped up their efforts to protect shipping in the region. However, attention is now turning more to the question of why people turn to piracy to make a living and what can be done to provide an alternative. ILO Online reports from Somalia where an ILO programme financed by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) seeks to provide a visible peace dividend to poor communities by engaging them in large scale employment-intensive projects, together with enterprise skills development and the promotion of social dialogue.

Article | 13 October 2009

MOGADISHU, Somalia (ILO Online) – After 18 years of civil war and state collapse, Somalia’s youth face chronic unemployment, clan conflict and warlordism resulting in a lack of prospects.

There have been more than 150 pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa this year, a 50 percent increase over last year's total, according to Masafumi Ishii, a Japanese Foreign Ministry ambassador to a meeting at UN headquarters on 10 September.

“The risk of taking your chances on the Indian Ocean, or fighting for a warlord, must seem well worth taking if the future offers no chance of making a secure living”, explains Paul Crook, Chief Technical Advisor of the ILO Somalia Programme.

Whilst the navies of several countries are a major part of international efforts to counter piracy around the Horn of Africa, an ILO Employment-Intensive Job Creation Programme seeks to address the root causes of piracy and warlordism.

The ILO Programme engages communities in large scale employment-intensive projects improving access and infrastructure, reviving local markets and building local skills and capacities. The ideas are generated by communities and the process, where ever possible, is managed by the communities themselves through well established community contracting methodologies. The dialogue around these initiatives has helped communities to break confrontational attitudes and exchange them with agreements around development efforts to the benefit of their communities, and at society at large.

Immediate temporary employment – such as small scale work on road construction and environmental conservation to increase agricultural productivity - has already created nearly 150,000 worker days across Somalia. These are equivalent to some 1,900 newly created jobs held by Somalis being continuously employed for at least three months. What’s more, for every job created, the jobholder will support five to nine people within a household.

Thanks to the roads created by the scheme, travel times linking the Allula and Baargaal districts on the Puntland coast - where most pirates operate from - have recently been cut from 24 to 2 hours allowing the fishermen to export their catch to wider markets as fresh product.

“Jobs created in various localities in this area provide an important earning opportunity for young people, who with few other options are readily drawn into piracy and other divisive ways to earn a living”, says Paul Crook.

According to Mr. Crook, the ILO programme seeks to create sustainable jobs in terms of providing skills and entrepreneurship capacities which can be used after the initial period when donor funds are flowing in.

“Another important aspect is that job creation activities also fit to the periods when times are most difficult: the long dry season when other forms of employment within the local economy simply do not exist”, he adds. Importantly, the Programme also evaluates whether the jobs created generate funds simply going into people's ongoing expenses or allows a surplus to be created. If the latter is the case, new enterprises can be set up or existing ones can be reinforced ensuring the local market expands.

The programme aims at developing a nucleus of trained Somali people who can plan, manage and implement employment-intensive projects, placing them in a position to play an active part in the future Reconstruction and Development Programme for the country. Doing so, it draws heavily on ILO experiences in other countries coming out of conflict.

Intensive training programmes for engineers run by the Mt. Elgon Labour-based Training Centre of the Ministry of Works in Mbale, Uganda have recently trained 30 Somalis who now work on infrastructure projects in their own country.

“This training was instrumental for us. The newly learned techniques and skills are just what we need to rebuild our country and put our people back to work,” explains Abdi Ali Jama, an engineer from Burao.

Capacity building initiatives are also geared towards women and the community at large. Local Economic Development (LED) forums in Salahley, Qool-Adey and Habaswein in Somaliland provided literacy training for women running their own businesses. Also in Somaliland, an essay writing competition in 2008 provided youth with a platform to freely express their ideas on how to create employment opportunities.

Through study tours, the ILO has been able to further support social dialogue as well as capacity building efforts for the social partners. A study tour to Uganda was part of ILO’s facilitation for the interim Decent Work Country Programme. The tour provided partners with a broader understanding of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda through learning from its East African neighbour, Uganda, who has come a long way from the civil war in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The Somali people have seen the added value of a tripartite approach, with respect to promoting economic development with a human face. They have seen how skills can be a powerful tool to unlock the entrepreneurial spirit the Somalis are famous for; a spirit which has taken them to trade in probably as many countries as are members of the ILO,” concludes Paul Crook.