In Somalia, Where The Black Market Is The Only Source Of Stability

No central bank or state authority to manage the country’s money supply, degenerating schools and universities, no way to know who owns land. Here’s a look at how a stateless country manages to get from one day to the next.

Money changing hands in Somalia
Money changing hands in Somalia
Béatrice Gurrey

MOGADISHU – A man is counting a big wad of faded cash. Inside Mogadishu's gutted cathedral, women with children are hovering around him. The scene could be mistaken for a man sharing the fruit of a hard day's work.

There is indeed a Somali currency, the shilling, but no central bank or state authority to manage the cash supply. Instead, a group of prosperous businessmen have taken it into their own hands to create cash. The currency was divided back in 1991 when six northern provinces seceded to create Somaliland. The Somaliland shilling was born as the currency of a country that is not recognized by the international community.

That same year also marked the end of Siad Barre's 24-year rule, a dictator who brought Marxism and secularism to Somalia. "Before he was overthrown, Siad Barre had ordered bank notes from a Malaysian company that printed in Canada, but it was never delivered, " says Marc Fontrier, an expert in African studies.

Warlords first tried calling the company, and then started ordering printed cash from everywhere. "The system slowly became illegal," says Fontrier. "What also contributed to the situation was the looting of humanitarian aid, and the lucrative deals NGOs made with militiamen in order to be allowed to work." After the death of general Mohamed Farrah Aidid in 1996, the main target of the US operation "Restore Hope" operation launched three years earlier, Somalia's wheeling and dealing turned into full-blown economic criminality.

Western observers often note the business "genius' of Somalis. "Somali entrepreneurs who've made it can get you anything, anywhere, at anytime as long as you can pay them," says one. Another notes that they have done deals with tribal warlords, the Islamic tribunals and even helped the Al-Shabab rebels.

The business of security

A few rich Somali businessmen based in the Gulf or in the US brought the idea of free market to its extreme by only catering to their own interests. "In Somalia, the only stability lies in business," says a humanitarian worker.

At the top of the market is the business of security. Landing in Mogadishu is no simple task. A private company, based in the Gulf, "holds' the airport, explains a regular traveler between Nairobi and Mogadishu. The company is specialized in high-risk areas, operating in Kabul and Baghdad, with the help of former British or American soldiers. "Every time we land we have to pay a tax, even though we're already paying it to the transitional government," says the international commuter who asked not to be identified. Though he's requested a copy of the contract between the transitional government and the company several times, he has never seen it.

Getting official documents in general is hard. For example, what if an NGO wants to hire a new doctor, how do they find out if she has valid diplomas? The school and university system has disintegrated over the past 20 years. Despite a literacy campaign launched under Barre's rule, most Somali children today can't read. Only the wealthy can afford to send their children to school – mostly private. Universities are also private and largely subsidized by Gulf countries that see it as a strategic sector through which they can expand their influence.

Renting a home requires real investigative skills. First, it should be confirmed that the person you're dealing with actually owns the place you're interested in. Land ownership is even more problematic since no valid cadastral maps exist with the outlines of the different pieces of property. Bantu tribes who own land around the two Somali rivers know that if they leave to find food, someone will have taken their land by the time they return. That is why women and children are usually the first to leave their villages for humanitarian camps. As for the number of Somalis who've fled their villages because of the drought, it remains unknown considering there hasn't been a census in 20 years.

Read the original story in French

Photo - expertinfantry

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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