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Somalia: Books versus the bullet

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Mogadishu (Alshahid) -Seventeen year old Mohamed Fatih Ali sat attentively in class. He was closely following what the lecturer was saying while he scribbled down notes very fast. But Fatih is not your normal idea of a student; many a times, he has dodged bullets while trying to attend class and has managed to stay at the top of his class for the two years he has been studying at the university.


Somalia’s lawless and anarchic capital, Mogadishu, is battered and burnt out, the result of incessant shelling and fighting that has been the norm since 1991. Gun-wielding insurgents, clan fighting, a dilapidated economy, and a messy political situation coupled with weak transitional governments have decapitated the country over the years. The hope of peace and tranquillity seems to have been lost long ago, leave alone the hope of education.


But with the more than a dozen universities that have sprung up here since 1991, there seems to be a role reversal in how the young generation are building a better future. “It is like a dream come true,” says Fatih, a second year Sharia and Law student at Mogadishu University, the first private university to open its doors in the city in 1997.


Filling the knowledge gap

Since the outbreak of the civil war in 1991, the task of setting up and running schools and universities in Somalia was taken up by community education committees, who tried to provide essential schooling to dislodged children. Besides, organisations such as the United Nations, International Islamic Relief Organization, the Islamic Development Bank, and the Red Crescent, have been financing projects to elevate the status of education in the war-torn nation.


However, as students reached the end of their high school studies, they were forced to go out of the country for further studies, while those who couldn’t afford the expenses stayed back to find alternative ways of making an income. This created the necessity of establishing colleges and universities that would cater for those in dire of higher education provision.


Two decades into the civil war and with no government support, this has created a renewed sense of hope in many families, who are now able to send their children for further studies within the country. This has sparked the burning desire for education, and has formed the attitude that it is never too late to learn.


Statistics speak volumes in this case: in a single English-teaching college that we saw in Hargeisa, close to 800 registered students substituted each other in classes; more than 8,000 students have enrolled at Mogadishu University for the last 13 years it has been operating; Somali students’ enrolment in master’s and PhD programs both with local and international universities has increased; and provision of tertiary education is now at its highest in Somalia than even during Siad Barre’s regime.


“The failure of Somalia is the failure of the education system itself,” says Abdurahman Abdullahi Baadiyow, who serves as the chairman of Mogadishu University’s Board of Trustees. Mr Baadiyow believes that by providing qualitative higher education, this creates “a new environment for the youth where we promote dialogue and teach peace and at least save the new generation of Somalis.”


Living true to this dream of dialogue and progress, the varsity held an event to get sponsorships for 1,000 Somali women to join the varsity free of charge. And as if setting the trend for her female counterparts, a Somali mother with 8 children, whose high school credentials date to Siad Barre’s era, has even enrolled for a degree course in education at Mogadishu University’s local branch in Bosaso. (African Review)


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