The COVID-19 pandemic imposed unprecedented challenges to global health systems and economies and transferred to Somalia one of the poorest and susceptible to crisis economies of the world. The economy of Somalia was already severing due to structural deficiencies and lack of unity. The federal-level economic institution such as the ministry of finance, ministry of trade, and central bank are mainly residing in Moqdisho and have no capacity to extend their services to other regions. The central bank is not yet ready to function properly. It does not have the capacity to innovate suitable economic policies to stabilize the country’s currency value, prevent hyperinflation, and keep unemployment lower. In addition, the nation’s taxation procedures and revenue collection policies are not unitary. The regional states have autonomous economic and political institutions with different taxation and revenue maximation policies. In terms of employment, the state employs to a small fraction of the nation’s labor force compared to the private sector. Therefore, considering all these facts one may conclude state plays a negligible role in the economic activities of the country.
The nation’s economy has been massively relying on foreign aid, remittance revenues, and import. The budget of the federal government and running costs are mainly financed through budget supports and other forms of assistance from donors. Almost every Somali household receives income from her overseas family member, especially Europe and the USA. Hence, remittance revenue is the lifeblood of the Somali household’s economy. On the other hand, Somalia is one of the countries with the largest trade deficit in the world, imports extremely surpass over exports. Since the livestock industry, the nation’s export backbone has been blemished by continual export bans from Saudi Arabia, the nation ended up an entirely import-dependent economy.
The foreign aid, remittance revenues, and import are not reliable sectors because they are prone to global shocks such as political clashes, trade wars, and pandemics. For instance, COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected Somali remittance firms. The Somali remittance firms source funds from western countries where COVID-19 is massively damaged both human and economic. These countries have been executing a complete lockdown to fight against and attenuate the spread of the virus among the community. The business, schools, universities, and public transportations were completely closed. So, this instigated Somali immigrants in Canada, the USA, and EU countries to lose their jobs and not able to send money back home. Remarkably, Somali immigrants in Europe and the USA are one of the highest deadly effected diasporas by COVID-19.
The World Bank estimates show that Somalia receives nearly US$1.4 billion remittance annually which contribute 23% of the nation’s GDP. Although Somali remittance firms in western countries have been victimized by money laundering and terrorism involvement allegations, however, still remain dominant in the nation’s basic financial service and recently annexed to banking and real estate. The lockdowns in western countries due to COVID-19 have reduced the smooth follow of remittance funds and this may have a deleterious effect on household’s livelihood, families may not able to pay utility expenses. The reduction of remittance funds means people will have no cash to buy things and small business which employ a significant share of the nation’s formal and informal workers will face critical financial crisis.
Most affected areas
It is very difficult to capture the impact of COVID-19 on economy like Somalia where financial data is hardly available in public. However, the World Bank expressed concern that the pandemic may reverse decades of economic progress and poverty alleviation in the world’s poorest regions like Sub-Saharan African countries. World Bank recently estimates projects that the Sub-Sahara region could lose around $79 billion in output in 2020. In fact, Somalia will be one of the highly affected states in the region. Somalia could not impose a complete lockdown strategy, but schools, universities, local and international flights have been closed. The Khat or Qat (stimulant and flowering plant native to East African and Arabian Peninsula) import was temporarily banned.
The education sector of Somalia which is 95% private has been extremely devastated by Corona Virus (Covid-19). The primary, intermediate, and secondary school teachers have lost their salaries since tuition fees are paid monthly. The Madarasa (Koranic School) teachers also have lost their jobs and the lives of their families are endangered to die for hunger and underfeeding. There are no safety packages, food, and cash distribution to ameliorate the deteriorating economic situation of Somali teachers.
The Federal government of Somalia has banned the import of Khat in a bid to reduce the spread of Corona Virus across borders with neighboring countries, this sends a paroxysm of anger and frustration to thousands Khat traders, and street based Khat small business. The Khat is a paradoxical business, on one hand, it employs a significant share of the nation’s informal workers, and it is the only source of income for many destitute and vulnerable families like internally displaced families, and widowed women with children. It is also the mainstay of the government’s source of tax revenue. On the other hand, anti-Khat campaigners argue that Khat drains the economy and destroys the family. In fact, the ban of Khat import policy immediately impoverished thousands of families whose livelihood depends on directly or indirectly to Khat business. The government has not yet come up with any initiative to refurbish the lives of these hopeless families and workers.
The health impact of COVID-19 on Somalia is not as nasty as predicted and expected. Somalia has confirmed only 2944 cases and 90 death cases so far, although the testing rate is very limited and some of the fatuous test result cases were reported in the media. However, a country like Somalia where social protection programs, unemployment insurance benefits, and other welfare schemes are not even in the dictionary of the society deep economic downtown is imminent and unavoidable amid COVID-19 pandemic. As long as the 23% of the GDP of the country is remittance revenues from the west so any possibility of second wave pandemic that can outburst and prolong lockdown in western countries will have a catastrophic short- and long-term impact on Somali Economy.
China is the Africa’s main trade partner, especially Somalia’s business community extremely depend on Chinese markets. The full lockdown on Chinese economy and ban of international flights significantly reduced imports from china to Somalia. This skyrocketed the most of food and basic stuff prices. Somalia cansimply face food insecurity, if second wave of COVID-19 hits China again and Chinese officials prolong lockdown period. By the time I’m writing this opinion essay, china is struggling a new swine flu virus. This is not only bad news to Chinese economy but also to Somali economy.
Possible options for economy refurbishment
COVID-19 pandemic presenting aberrant challenge to the Somali Economy amid Somalia is expecting full debt relief from the international creditors. The debt relief program will enable the country to get developmental aid, and non-concessional loans. The government should speed up the debt relief program to get loans and developmental aid to improve the lives of citizens impoverished by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government should consult with individual donors and international financial institutions to design the kind of foreign assistance Somalia needs for economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era. The government should allocate a significant amount of foreign assistance it received to income generation projects for internally displaced people (IDP). The government cooperating with local business communities and international NGOs should set food distribution packages to vulnerable workers such as teachers, unskilled construction workers, widowed women with children, Kat workers, and so on.
Policymakers should direct international NGOs to implement small business development and income generation projects in villages, districts, and regions where poor and susceptible communities are inhabited.
The government in partnership with international donors and local investment banks should prepare soft loans and investment mechanisms suitable to poor farmers to promote local production efficiency. Small business development, fishing and agriculture, training and skill development, and empowering women and poor farmers oriented international and local projects will lead to favorable economic growth in the post-pandemic era.