Social security impossible without stability

Social Watch Coalition in Somalia

The meagre social protection mechanisms which existed during the 21 years of scientific socialist rule in Somalia have yet to be replaced since rebel groups overthrew the regime in 1991. The country continues to struggle with stability and civil conflict, making the establishment of social security programs particularly challenging. However, with 43% of the population living on less than USD 1 per day this social void will be difficult to ignore for much longer.

Somalia is a country on theHorn of Africa, occupying an important geopolitical position between Sub-SaharanAfrica and the countries of Arabia and southwestern Asia. With an area of637,000 square kilometres, it is bordered on the north by the Gulf of Aden, onthe east by the Indian Ocean, on the west by Kenya and Ethiopia and to thenorthwest by Djibouti. The capital is Mogadishu (Relief Web, 2006).

The Republic of Somalia was formed on 1 July 1960 when the former Britishprotectorate and the Italian colony of Somalia joined to form a unitary state.Since that time, a multi-party democracy has flourished in the Horn of Africacountry.

Two multi-party elections were held between 1960 and 1969, during which twopresidents and four successive cabinets served the nation. On 21 October 1969, amilitary coup took place which overthrew the civilian government. The officersin charge of running the country called their ruling body “the SupremeRevolutionary Council”. They eventually chose scientific socialism as thesystem of governance for Somalia and abolished the Constitution that had beeneffective since the 1961 referendum.

A single party state ruled Somalia for just over 20 years with the rulers tryingto emulate the type of socialism applied by the former Soviet Union and easternEuropean countries. The main notion was to initiate rapid development throughcommunity-based structures and programmes.

The chosen scientific socialism, however, did not bring the perfect governanceit promised and only led the government into a militarization programme andcontinuous conflicts with its neighbours. This is particularly true of Ethiopiaand the war which took place with Somalia between 1977 and 1978. Badly neededresources for social welfare were diverted to the empowerment of the militaryleading to public discontent and the formation of rebel groups during the 1980s.

The clan-based rebel groups that defeated the socialist government in January1991 could not agree on power-sharing, instead turning their guns on each otherand initiating a devastating civil war which brought destruction and anarchy, inaddition to the erosion of the meagre social welfare being offered by the state.

Nonexistent pension system

In 1960, the country’s population was estimated to be 3.2 million, withpastoralists in semi-arid regions representing 55% of the population, otherrural inhabitants representing 27%, and urban dwellers 18%. Approximately onethird of the urban population was working for the government – the mainemployer – at that time through social welfare schemes. Private companiesmainly managed or owned by European and Asian settlers had reasonable humanresource development policies and practices including provision of adequaterewards and health schemes.

During the 1960s, the civilian government had strict fiscal policies which didnot encourage widespread employment. However, when the military junta took overthe country, it created several programmes which required a mass recruitment ofpersonnel.

When private companies and entities, including commercial farms, schools, banks,and import and export businesses were nationalized in 1972, the government usedthem as employment centres. The military rulers also promoted large farmingestablishments under what was then known as the Crash Agricultural Programme.These large commercial entities such as the Agricultural Development Corporationand the National Trade Organization were known in the Italian context as EnteNazionale di Commercio.

Although the socialist government encouraged greater employment in varioussectors including the army, social pension hardly existed and few top rankingofficers received some kind of pension payment upon retirement. The overallimpression was that higher employment under the military rulers provided incomefor various households but there were no coherent policies to guarantee socialsecurity or meet international standards and commitments, except perhaps aworkers’ health service under an entity known Cassa per AssicurazioneSociale della Somalia.

Instant privatization

Following the collapse of the military government technically all stateinstitutions and parastatal entities ceased operations. Properties were quicklylooted and infrastructures mostly destroyed. Therefore, all that remained inoperation were privately owned entities.

This new condition created a situation whereby production of goods and provisionof services fell solely into private hands. Therefore, since January 1991 a typeof spontaneous, haphazard privatization of public properties and services hastaken place in the country.

As the nation began recuperating from the loss of central rule through copingmechanisms, private initiatives started to respond to market demands. Newschools, colleges, clinics, hospitals, electricity and water supplies and otherservices have all been provided but consumers must pay for all of these servicesand they are in general exorbitantly priced.

Few people can afford school enrolment, medical attention and other socialservices in the absence of a central government, whose role is to collect taxesand duties and convert the revenue into community development and publicwelfare.

Scarce public health services

Except for a few regions, health services are provided by private clinicsand hospitals. Some of them even use former public properties from before thecollapse of the government in early 1991 (

The few facilities that offer a semblance of a public health system did belongto the former government and they have been rehabilitated and run through theefforts and assistance of international bodies such as the InternationalCommittee of the Red Cross, Red Crescent Societies from some Middle Easterncountries, International Medical Corps and other institutions.

Nevertheless, most of these health amenities are run through cost-sharingrequiring patients to pay for beds and medicines at subsidized rates while foodis generally provided. Some of the hospitals operating under such schemes inMogadishu include the SOS Hospital, Madina Hospital, Keisaney Hospital andBenadir Hospital.

Traditional unemployment insurance

In Somalia, there has never been social welfare or even institutionalizedcoverage against the effects of unemployment. It has neither been a majorgovernment policy nor a widespread initiative. Therefore, no cash or in kindpayments from the public sector have existed in the country.

Nonetheless, Somalis have always used a traditional means of supporting eachother, especially through clan associations. Clan members who find themselvesdestitute are exempted from contributing to the clan contribution system and mayeven qualify for assistance through collective means.

This contribution-based welfare is basically voluntary but it helps communitymembers to survive together. This is why the impact of the civil war was easilyabsorbed through clan-based help. It derives from a centuries old culture ofpeople living in nomadic pastoralism and in relatively harsh environments.

Somali Revolutionary Youth

During the former government, the state machinery occasionally createdspecial camps for orphans. These could only admit a few hundred children throughunclear selection criteria, but they were nominally considered to be childrenwho lost their parents and had no guardians to care for them.

The military regime was happy to have such camps because it guaranteed thegeneration of future revolutionaries and that is why the children at theorphanages were called the Somali Revolutionary Youth, which was supposed to beassociated with the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party, the then single rulingparty.

Today’s youth, and especially those from poor families, face many threats.Child rape victims, especially in internally displaced people camps, are notuncommon, with 12% of adults and 6% of children admitting to having first handknowledge of this type of violence. Children continue to be involved in militiagroups with 5% of children reporting that they or their siblings had carried agun or been involved in a militia. Meanwhile, 19% of children report that theyor their siblings had worked on the streets at one time, with poverty being thereason for doing so. These children are far less likely to attend school and aremore often exposed to drug use on the street. With 25% of the populationregarding themselves as disadvantaged, children resorting to this type of workis not surprising (
World Bank, 2006).

Ensuring access to education in Somalia continues to be a problem. Althoughprimary school enrolment sharply increased from 1999-2004, it still lags belowthe rest of the world. According to UNESCO, at 19.9%, it is the only countryregistering a value lower than 30%.

Girls’ access to education is limited with females representing only 35% ofstudents. Among African countries, only Niger has a lower percentage of girls inprimary school. The reasons cited for this low enrolment by parents and teachersinclude a preference to educate boys ahead of girls in cases where resources arelimited, the need for girls to help with the household labour, the insecurity ofgirls travelling long distances to reach school, few female primary schoolteachers, the continued use of corporal punishment, and the lack of separatelatrines for girls and boys. Other reasons for low enrolment includedisplacement, the nomadic lifestyle of many populations, and the continuedconflict
(World Bank, 2006).

Unregulated labour environment

Even during the military regimein the 1970s and 1980s, there were no laws to effectively protect people inbusiness activities. This is especially true of the informal economy because therulers always viewed all initiatives outside their control as not in line withthe socialist principles. Labour laws and other directives, including scaledbasic salaries and other benefits meant to help state workers, were not extendedto the private business sector.

Asylum for neighbours

Between 1960 and 1990, the successive governments welcomed immigrants and peopleseeking asylum from neighbouring countries. The majority of these came fromEthiopia and from Djibouti when the territory was a French protectorate beforeindependence in 1977.

The National Refugee Agency was established to take care of those running fromwars and other forms of hardship in neighbouring countries. It usuallycoordinated the efforts of the Somali state and the international bodies willingto help the refugees.

Although most of those refugees were camped outside urban centres, more credibleasylum seekers were offered reasonable accommodation and a means of livelihood.Those who received such hospitality include the current prime minister ofEthiopia, Atto Meles Zenawi, and former Burundian president, Michael Bujumbura.

Only the promise of social benefits

Today, 43%of the population lives below the poverty line of USD 1 per day at purchasingpower parity, which is equivalent to SOS18,000 at the current exchange rate (World Bank, 2006). After 16 years of civilwar, it is hard to imagine the new government embarking on a programme to helpthe people living under the poverty line. However, the leaders of theTransitional Federal Government are always promising to develop a politicalagenda that supports the poor, especially through the achievement of theMillennium Development Goals (GCAP, 2006).

Stability first step towards social security

Somalia is currently at a very crucial stage whereby forces are battling forthe rebirth of the lost statehood. Unfortunately, conflict continues to take itstoll on the civilian population as warring parties resort to settling theirdifferences through the barrel of a gun.

The international community appears to be urging Somalis to come to thenegotiating table and clear their differences through peaceful means. Only astable country can embark on a quest for sustainable development and theprovision of adequate social welfare, including the right to social securityservices, a social pension scheme, health care, child care, maternity care andthe protection of immigrants and asylum seekers.

Civil society activists in Somalia firmly believe that there are sufficientresources available but what is needed is good governance, appropriatetechnology and human-centred development policies to overcome the chronic lackof social security services.

TABLE 1. Key social and economic indicators



Average life expectancy (years)


Population (million)


Internally displaced persons (‘000)


Refugees (neighbouring countries (‘000)


Per capita household income (USD)


Extreme poverty (%)1


Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births)


Under-five mortality rate (per 1,000 live births)


Maternal mortality rate (per 100,000 live births)


HIV/AIDS prevalence (%)


Population with access to health facilities (%)2


Doctors (per 100,000 persons)


Adult literacy (%)


Gross primary school enrolment (%)






Population with access to safe water (%)


Population with access to sanitation (%)


Unemployment (%)


Source: UNDP and the World Bank, SomaliaSocio-Economic Survey, 2002; UNDP Somalia Human Development Report, 2001
1 Share of population with per capita income less than USD 1 PPP perday
2 Access to at least one health facility, available and affordable
* Data for 2001


GCAP (Global Call to Action against Poverty) (2006). Press release.

Relief Web (2006). “Factbox: Tensions in the Horn of Africa” [online].Available from:<>.

SOCDA (Somali Organization for Community Development Activities) (n.d.).
“Health Care Welfare System”. TheMonthly Watch, Mogadishu, Vol. 2, Edition 20, p. 11.

United Nations and World Bank Coordination Secretariat. Somali Joint NeedsAssessment website: <>.

World Bank (2006). “
Somalia: From Resilience Towards Recovery andDevelopment. A Country Economic Memorandum for Somalia” [online]. Report No. 34356-SO. 11January. Available from: <>.


* There are no data availableon BCI and GEI components.

The Secretariat of the Social Watch Coalition in Somalia (SOCDA) is in Mogadishu. Tel: +252-1-216188; +252-5-930625; Email: , ; Website: .