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A CLOSER LOOK AT SOMALIA After two decades of war in Somalia, there are renewed hopes for lasting peace, and a new constitution was adopted in August 2012. Hope is an extraordinarily powerful force. A lot of attention is paid to conflict and disaster in Somalia, but little light is shed on its vibrant people and beautiful landscape. Somalia is rich in history and culture, with poetry and literature embedded in its heart. Somalia is a nation of poets and storytellers. For generations Somali poetry, song and proverbs have been avenues through which language and culture are transmitted and historical events, stories, customs, lineage and customary laws are passed on. Puns, word play, poetry or songs are used for courting, political rhetoric and the expression of life. Through the years, Somalia has remained true to its cultural heritage. The Somali people still have a clear sight of their dreams - they carry with them innovation, entrepreneurship, resilience and strength.

Photos: Petterik Wiggers

Cover page: The Somali people have a rich oral culture to express ideas, emotions and culture, but it was not until recently that the Somali language became the official language of the country. A commission was formed to study and decide on a script for the Somali language in 1971. Within a year, the commission concluded its study, recommending the adoption of the Latin script. The recommendation was accepted in January 1972, making Somali the official language of the country. Three hundred students ranging from six to 25 years old attend General Daud School in Mogadishu. Attendance is free for students. School principal Sayed Farah Dirie, 25, says all the teachers are volunteers. Sayed earns an income from private tutoring in the evenings so he can buy second-hand schoolbooks and materials for students to use. “We teach history, geography, social studies, maths, Arabic, science and English. At the moment we have more girls than boys, and we hope they all go to high school and university from here.� Opposite page: A young woman walks across the Dollo Ado refugee camp in Ethiopia. There are still over 1 million refugees from Somalia in neighbouring countries.

Pastoralist Aden Barre rests his camels for refreshment at a watering hole on the Kenya-Somali border. Somalia is home to six million camels, the largest camel population in the world. In the rich legacy of Somali oral traditions the camel has become symbolic of the people’s tenacity and strength. An essential beast of burden, source of milk and meat and a means of transport during times of drought, peace and war, the camel is viewed as a blessing.

Bosasso port. The export of livestock is one of the most important means of income for people in Puntland. Bosasso, Berbera and Mogadishu ports are the main ports used for the export of livestock. The Mogadishu seaport officially reopened its doors for livestock export in March 2013 for the first time in almost two decades.

Catch of the day off the coast. Somalia boasts 3,300 kilometres of coastline – the longest stretch in Africa. Over the last two decades, instability on land has greatly restricted the development of the country’s fishing industry, but now that Somalia is enjoying more peace, there is large-scale potential and opportunity to harvest the bountiful waters off its coast. Revenues from fishing are an alternative source of livelihood for many Somalis.

A young boy having a fresh cup of Somali yogurt made from cow’s milk. Milk is one of the staple foods in Somalia.

Helping her mother with the shopping, a young girl chooses from an array of goods at the market.

Shukri Abdul-Kadir Ahmed, a nurse at a health centre in Badbaado camp, listens to a baby’s heartbeat. Badbaado shelters 28,000 people who have fled conflict or drought. The health centre is run by a local NGO, Humanitarian Initiative Just Relief Aid (HIJRA) . Trained medical staff care for more than 100 patients a day. For pregnant women, the health centre provides a safe place to give birth.

Abdi Ali Celue arrives with his son, Liban Abdi Ali, for the baby’s first day of treatment at a therapeutic care centre in Mogadishu - one of 17 run by local agency SAACID for malnourished children and mothers.

Oxfam is working with local partner, the Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee (HAVOYOCO), to help agro-pastoralist communities prepare for and cope with drought by improving access to water resources and pasture, and improving livestock health.

Hussein Mohammed listens to the BBC Somali service on his radio while his camels stop for water. Radio is the most popular form of mass media in Somalia and there are many local stations. Radio is often the main source of information for people in rural areas. Phone-in programmes are extremely popular as they allow people to make their voices heard on issues that concern them.

Key Messages

There are still an estimated 369,000 people living in camps for internally displaced people in and around Mogadishu. Despite the challenging conditions, children manage to entertain themselves - in this case by making fun of the photographer!

Primary school students in Galkayo. The first university in Somalia was established in 1954. In the past, education was free in Somalia from primary to university.

Circus practice at a boys school. Oxfam and local partner HAVOYOCO support circus groups to organise and perform intricately choreographed shows. These shows are used as a tool to share health information, discuss governance issues, and promote an understanding of social problems among Somali communities.

The Central Mosque in Hargeisa. Islam is a central part of Somali life and its teachings form an important aspect of community life and culture. During the civil war in 1988, Hargeisa was reduced to rubble and 80 per cent of public utilities and services were completely destroyed. Somalis are making enormous strides in rebuilding infrastructure, opening up major towns for business and investment.

Somali weddings are joyous occasions of feasting and poetry that bring together families and friends in a celebration of life lasting several days. Sitting pretty. It’s a long day for the girls at a wedding ceremony.

OXFAM’S WORK IN SOMALIA Oxfam works through local Somali partners to rebuild livelihoods, provide humanitarian aid, advocate for education for all, and promote active citizenship and gender justice in Somalia. Oxfam works across emergency responses, long-term development programmes, and campaigning for lasting change.

A young boy drinks fresh camel milk. It is greatly valued for its health benefits and medicinal properties. “A mouthful of camel’s milk keeps you going for half a day.” Axmed Cali Abokor, The Camel in Somali Oral Traditions.

OXFAM’S FOCUS Humanitarian assistance Oxfam supports people affected by drought and conflict in Somalia by providing safe water, public health campaigns, treatment for malnutrition, and cash for vulnerable families. Sustainable livelihoods Oxfam helps to strengthen the resilience of communities to shocks. We support the livestock sector through veterinary training and drugs, provide seeds and training to farmers, and help communities manage their natural resources and better adapt to climate change.


2013 is an important year for Somalia. The Federal Government and its international partners are coming together to debate how to support the country. The voices and concerns of Somali people must be central to these discussions. It is important to remember the complexities of politics and conflict in Somalia, and that each region has its own dynamics. Peacebuilding efforts need to be long term and take this into account. There is an urgent need to strengthen Somalia’s justice system so that the human rights of its people are upheld. Those who commit abuses must be held to account, and those who have suffered must receive justice. The new government must take responsibility to ensure the safety of Somali people, with support from the international community.

Governance, accountability and women’s participation Oxfam promotes active citizenship and gender justice by empowering women and men to advocate for their rights. We work to strengthen social organisations and support stable and accountable local institutions that are necessary to tackle the situation in Somalia.

Efforts to tackle financial corruption and guarantee that money goes where it is intended are welcome. However, more action needs to be taken to ensure transparency and accountability in all areas.

Education Oxfam supports the next generation of Somali people by building classrooms, training teachers, and running vocational skills courses to give young people more options.

Somalia still faces a humanitarian crisis and donors must continue to provide sufficient aid to all those in need, wherever they may be. We need to work hand in hand with Somali people to address the underlying causes of crises. This is essential if sustainable peace and development in Somalia are to be achieved.

Left and Previous page: On the way from Hargeisa to Berbera a dry river bed that only carries water during the rainy season.

Newly-constructed tents for refugees from Somalia at the Dadaab camp, the largest refugee complex in the world. Dadaab was set up at the start of Somalia’s civil war in 1991. Designed to accommodate 90,000 refugees, it is now home to nearly 500,000.

We must all increase our efforts to make sure that aid to Somali people is more effective. Accountability to donors is important, but it is essential that Somali communities receive the assistance they need and have asked for.

Contact Person: Ed Pomfret - Policy and Campaigns Manager, Oxfam Somalia Email: The Atrium, 3rd Floor, Chaka Rd, Kilimani P.O Box 491-00606 Nairobi, Kenya Tel: +254 20 282 0000 Website: Oxfam, A just world without poverty

Somalia: a different perspective  

After two decades of war in Somalia, there are renewed hopes for lasting peace, and a new constitution was adopted in August 2012. Hope is a...

Somalia: a different perspective  

After two decades of war in Somalia, there are renewed hopes for lasting peace, and a new constitution was adopted in August 2012. Hope is a...