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Issue 507/ 15th - 21st Oct 2011
No High-Pay Jobs For Somalis
By Saeed Balbal
It has never been anybody else’s duty to look out for another’s rights if that is not what you are expressly paid for: heads of states, higher government officials, government employees, policing/security personnel, etc. etc. The usual axiom in an opportunistic world such as this of ours had always remained look out for yourself or - in other words - eat or be eaten alive.
Simpler put, you do not sit back, hold out your hands – and lol! – they are brimming full with gold coins. Similarly, one cannot blame another for taking a job that you never showed an interest in in any meaningful or discernible manner; or, as is the case with many an unemployed youth these past years, keep sipping lukewarm, nauseatingly sugary ‘tea’ in front of small ramshackle teashops and expect the forces that are to teleport you to the job of your dreams without putting in the least effort to get there by your own devices. Neither would one be ever rewarded here or in the hereafter for wasting youthfulness, education, brains, ambition, desire, time.
Sadly, that is the case with the greater majority of the ‘literate’ and ‘educated’ Somalis. Not looking out for own interest. Not mapping out for society’s greater benefits with you on the wheel steering clear of the jutting, razor-edge rocks and sharper escarpments.
Another reason oft cited and a regrettably true one is that neither international NGOs nor UN organizations had ever been asked to justify the glaring dearth of high-pay jobs for true Somalis.
Several telltale facts and signs show through these august organizations’ visors spelling out unsaid, unwritten operational, recruitment policies. None of these, however, had escaped the attention of honest job seekers that had been turned away time and again form ornate offices whose wrought iron gates firmly closed after them for more times than they cared to remember.
“I hold a masters degree on a field relevant to reconstruction and social development. I went round the Nairobi, UN and International NGOs offices that hold the so-called Somalia-mandates. Wherever I went, I was met by a Kenyan at the front desk, at the middle-level office, at the top – or near there,” one of them re-told that story the other day in a Hargeisa cafeteria, the disappointment clearly showing through his fiery eyes, etched all over his lean, handsome features.
What was surprising, he said, was not that he was being received and turned away in Kenya by Kenyans but that the Kenyans were in an office supposedly to serve Somalis, and that they were deciding the fate of Somalis – and for Somalis – as Kenyans!
“I tried many a time,” he said “to put myself in their shoes and think for Kenyans as a Somali. I always failed simply because I was honest enough not to pretend that I knew more of Kenyans when it came to what would work and what would not work for Kenyans.”
I, myself, had had encountered a similar kind of shock during a short period of time I stayed in Nairobi in the 2002. I was not earnestly looking for a job, but I was certainly scouting for an opportunity. All the offices that professed Somali interests and mandates or had names like UNICEF-Somalia, SACB, UNESCO-Somalia, etc. were all staffed by Kenyans. In one of them, we found one Somali lady officer – albeit being not a powerful one. I still remember how much of a help she had proven to us and to missions deciding Somali fates.
I am told that it is much worse now than ever. Staff numbers doubled, tripled and quadrupled, but still the ratio of Kenyans to Somalis remains abhorrently disproportional as a whole. No comparison is possible, yet, between Somalis and Kenyans beginning from middle-level and upwards responsibilities up to now. Simply, numbers cannot hold against one another. That is, Somalis are a sprinkle within the hierarchy of some international NGOs. With some others, you have to use a magnifying glass to find even one tiny, intimidated Somali among the array of Kenyans, Europeans, Americans filling both sides of the conference table talking over Somali issues and daydreaming of the fees, stipends, gratuities, footed bills, various allowances and ‘field’ benefits they were earning by pretending to know what they clearly knew little about.
In the outside world, age counts, experience counts, qualification counts when taking on responsible officers. With UN organizations and international organizations, these qualities are fleetingly considered among Somali applicants only when other applicants from other nationalities are exhausted. Some organizations have even been known to have imported their office cleaners, watchmen and couriers from without!
“If a Somali applicant falls within either or all of those three qualities, he is automatically given a red card saying ‘too qualified for job’ – whatever the level of responsibility,” a friend of about my age lamented, returning from a job interview recently. And – mind you – I am much younger than the person deciding that.
“It is either that or no response at all,” he said.
It is not only in Kenya that Kenyans dominate the desks. In Somaliland, for example, the second and third rank hierarchies are so jealously guarded by legions of Kenyans and Ethiopians holding them - in this order. Walking into any of the International and UN offices, one realizes that the world has gone color-blind in flags – or so it goes in the case of Somali territories. All the important positions have reservation cards for those nationals visible only to the employer and the Somali applicant.
What is far worse than that is, especially in the case of Somaliland, the identity denial. All these auspicious offices that are funded by the world’s leading ‘democracies’ consciously collude together to deny the Lander identity. Letterheads, office mastheads, signboards, visiting cards all tell you that one is in an office in ‘Somalia’ denying twenty-above years of Somaliland’s restored independence and rivers of blood let, tears shed to attain it.
To remedy the ills suffered, the wrongs tolerated, the rights denied, the arguments eloquently tabled and unfairly lost and to re-establish own dignity on own turf, the said organizations must be, first, respectfully advised to cease flirting with people’s fundamental rights. They must start seeing Somalis as Somalis that have a right to apply for, hold and ferociously guard openings against unfair competition. If they do not, they must be tactfully warned that a foot may come down heavily and painfully tramp on smarting toes somewhere, sometime. If that does not work, a point blank confrontation is inevitable.
For Somaliland, particularly, congratulations are due. Hurray for taking the first step to create job openings for nationals! But, unfortunately, these only apply to the lower income brackets. The next step should be to complete the process begun and start looking behind the desks. ID the holder and see how soon you can replace them with the very able, very creative, so qualified nationals hovering on the peripheries and outside the perimeters of uncountable UN and international organizations’ premises.
Saeed Balbal ‘Somalilsomali’
Saeed Duale Balbal