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Somalia’s youth: A generation spent dreaming of unity

By Mohamed Sheikh Nor
Posted on Saturday, 3 July 2021 11:23, updated on Sunday, 4 July 2021 23:37

Youth at Somalia's 61st Independence Day 28 June - 1 July 2021. Photo by: Mohamed Sheikh Nor

This year, Somalia’s 61st independence day was celebrated over six days. First to commemorate its independence in the northern region from Britain on 26 June, and then again on 1 July to mark the reunification of the Somali republic. The younger generation – people under 30 – make up about 70% of the population today, and they have only ever known a country marked by its scars from war. Do they see a future for Somali?  

This year’s independence celebration was nearly marred by the continued delay of the national elections. But with a new timetable in place, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

No matter who wins the vote, though, there are major challenges like taking on the Al-Shaabab Islamist rebels, providing security so that millions of refugees and internally displaced people can return home and supporting the economy to create jobs and deliver on development.

Back on track?

Somalia is once again stabilising and Mogadishu is experiencing relative calm after a turbulent start in first four months of 2021. The delayed national elections put the country on edge, and there was fear of a return to civil war.

In Mogadishu, the six-day festivities saw the city turned into a sea of blue, as Somali youth in their thousands were draped in the national flag. The national colours surrounded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the capital, a symbol of the country’s struggle for independence.

For the young Somalis who assembled at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, excitedly taking selfies, this year’s independence day celebrations appeared to present new hope.

Vote optimism

Hassan Ali, a youth activist his early twenties, was overly optimistic about the future of the country and the upcoming elections.

“We celebrate the union between south and north regions that gave birth to the republic of Somalia in 1960. This also coincides with [today] when the country is preparing for elections that will pave way for a united Somalia, once again.”

Unrest in the country erupted after parliament voted in a proposal in April to extend President Mohamed ‘Farmaajo’ Abdullahi Mohamed’s term by two years. Chaos hit the streets of the capital.

Given the country’s status quo and our fragmented society, I will not lose hope that our country will unite as it was before 1991.

The tumult forced residents to seek refuge outside the city, with some fearing for their lives. Tensions escalated between pro-government forces and those opposed to Farmaajo’s bid to extend his term. Some 100,000 people in Mogadishu are thought to have fled their homes.

Story time

A Somalia of stability and peace seems a far-off idea for many in today’s young generation, who have only heard stories about their country united.

Nimco Muhydin, 21, is a university student. During her lifetime, she has only been told stories and read books about the previous unity of the two Somali regions.

“I was born in the middle of chaos and do not know much about the importance of unity. But there is a feeling inside me that tells me united we stand, divided we fall,” says Nimco.

Many of the youth out on the streets celebrating independence day were hopeful the country may finally return to its earlier days.

“Given the country’s status quo and our fragmented society, I will not lose hope that our country will unite as it was before 1991,” says 24-year-old Mohamed Amin.

Will elections unite the country?

After a protracted elections impasse, Somalia political leaders agreed on a timetable that will lead to the election of a new president on 10 October. These elections will respect the terms of the 27 September 2020 Mogadishu agreement, which is viewed by some as non-inclusive.

Since 1969, when Siad Barre seized power, Somalis have not had a direct ‘one-person, one-vote’ election to choose their leaders. Many Somalis look forward to the day the country will allow eligible citizens to elect officials. In the upcoming national elections, clan elders will appoint special delegates who are responsible for choosing members of parliament for the lower house. Senators are nominated by federal state presidents and ratified by regional legislatures.

Muhydin, the university student, also hopes that one day she will vote in national elections. “Despite the unusual things that happened at the beginning of the year due to political turmoil [that] could have led the country to another civil war, the future looks bright as elections are now on the right track and we expect to elect a new government,” she says.

When unity was not a dream

It has been 61 years since Somalia attained independence, and a few Somalis still recall vividly the events of that day in 1960. Nur Adam, who is celebrating his 80th birthday this year, says that day 61 years ago remains forever burned into his memory.

“I was among the thousands of youth who witnessed the Somali Army Band hoisting our Somali flag at Fisha Guberno, in Mogadishu. They lowered the Italian colonial flag and what followed was sheer jubilation and celebration,” he says.

During this year’s independence day – a day nearly ruined by strife – the city was once again engulfed in a mood of festivity and joy, as the majority of those celebrating were the youth, who want more than just a dream. Many of them view the upcoming elections as an opportunity for new beginnings and ultimately, a united and peaceful country.

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