After decades of decline, there are signs that Somalia is finally turning a corner.
Much of rural Somalia remains under the control of militants, and the country’s security situation remains precarious, but in the capital, Mogadishu people are beginning to rebuild their homes and business premises. Government offices are being refurbished, and new restaurants are being opened – a sign the country could finally be turning a corner.
Although the limited stabilization has meant Somali nationals are beginning to return home, they face a variety of challenges. Returnees are finding the properties they abandoned during the conflict now inhabited by internally displaced persons (IDPs), many of whom fled rural homes for the relative safety of urban areas.
Land disputes are now the biggest source of conflict in Somali towns. In Mogadishu, land registers have been destroyed and buildings abandoned. Maps are out of date, and a functioning tax system is only now beginning to be implemented. According to UN-Habitat, “Almost everything [in Mogadishu] is up for grabs (or at least for sale), and transparency, equitable access to services and respect for human rights are the first victims in such a context”. Somalia’s “towns are a bundle of casually, haphazardly laid-out buildings, and a multitude of users fight over the same unorganized public spaces,” the agency’s website says.
Now a mapping exercise to register businesses and infrastructure aims to give the government an opportunity to engage in urban planning, raise revenue to fund civic programmes and help settle land disputes, which are increasing as people return to their former homes after decades of conflict. The Sustainable Employment Creation and Improved Livelihoods for Vulnerable Urban Communities in Mogadishu (SECIL), a joint project between UN-Habitat and the government, is developing a geographical information system (GIS)-based inventory of public, institutional and economic infrastructure in all 17 Mogadishu districts. It provides district-level detail about businesses, where they are located, their size, the number of employees and access to basic infrastructure.
It also gives a description of goods sold or produced, or services provided, as well as the source of the goods. The programme uses satellite images and prominent persons, who help to identify business owners and abandoned buildings in the districts, to assist in mapping the businesses. A SECIL newsletter said the programme is expected to “maximize employment opportunities and customers’ access to improved infrastructure, and to stimulate a chain of economic activities.Management structures such as vendors’ associations or cooperatives will be set up and their capacity built to guarantee sustainable management that, among other tasks, will be responsible for organizing cleaning, maintenance, fees/licenses, and comprehensive waste management solutions such as composting”.
Traders and businesses will pay an annual license fee of US$135, collected by Mogadishu Municipality. The mapping exercise will help enforce payment, and will help also to identify any abandoned public assets such as libraries, schools and health facilities. Although tax revenues are slowly beginning to emerge, insecurity remains a big threat. Mohamud Hassan Suleiman, the Minister of Finance and Planning told the UN humanitarian and news analysis service, IRIN: “We collect $6m per month [mainly from the port], but the previous government used to collect $2m per month. We want to raise this figure progressively, but the government is not in full control of the country so we cannot collect as much revenue as wished to do.”
However, he says the government is planning to build institutional capacity, and he remains optimistic that revenue collection methods will continue to improve.
The government wants to use the money collected as a result of the mapping scheme to fund services such as the provision of water, roads and solid waste management.
“If the city is comprehensively mapped with assets and deficiencies determined, and this system is accessible to a variety of stakeholders, then we can create viable strategies for development, management and governance. Until then, any aid initiative will be somewhat arbitrary because there is no way to clearly identify and assess those areas most in need, let alone produce desired project outcomes,” Mitchel Sutika Sipus, an urban planning expert at the American University of Afghanistan and adviser to Mogadishu’s mayor, told IRIN.
Somalia will also need to stem corruption if its citizens are to benefit from the new tax revenues. A recent report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea indicated that while the Mogadishu port – the country’s biggest source of internal revenue – generates an estimated $3.8m monthly, just $2.7m was deposited in the country’s central bank between August 2012 and March 2013.