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To: UNSOM- United States Assistance Mission in Somalia

From: Colleen Wachenfeld

Date: Spring 2017

Re: Education in Somalia
The Situation

Somalia has been one of the most problematic failed states in the world. It has little to no government or opportunity for those who live there. The young people of Somalia are seriously suffering as violence consumes their country and there is little opportunity for education or work. A whole new generation of Somalians is being denied the rights or opportunities to contribute and help their society. One of the major factors that perpetuate this violence and lack of opportunity is the state of schools and education. The education system in Somalia has seriously suffered. The adult literacy rate is only 25.8% for women, 49.7% for men, 37.8% total (“Effective Literacy Programmes › Somali Distance Education and Literacy”, 2017). And over the last 20 years more than 75% of public schools in Somalia have been destroyed or closed (“Somalia | Global Partnership for Education”, 2017) Only about 30% of children are in school and of that only 40% are girls, furthermore in the rural areas only 18% of children are in school (“Education in Somalia”, 2017). Additionally, those who are in school lack proper teachers, curriculums, or classrooms (Somali and American Fund for Education, 2017) This also leads to the staggering youth unemployment rate; almost 70% of the population is younger than 30 but the unemployment rate for that age group is up to 67% (“Education in Somalia”, 2017). Instead of being in school, many kids are forced to pick up guns and be involved in the civil war and violence tearing apart the country. Additionally, the lack of women represented in schools perpetuates inequality and abuses against women in the country, as well as preventing development and increasing the large birth rate.

How Did It Get That Way?

History: The violence in Somalia stems from a history of upheaval and changes in Government. After gaining independence from colonial rule in 1960 they only lasted until 1969 when a military coup overthrew the government. Since then a war with Ethiopia in the 1970’s and a civil war beginning in 1980 caused the collapse of the Government in 1991. This has made the country extremely unstable and since then Somalia has been in the throes of violence for almost two decades (Pike, 2017). After the collapse of the regime, there has been “turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy” (“Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016”, 2017). The country has been divided for many years since the Northern territories split off to create Somaliland, which although stable is not recognized by the World Government. Additionally, another region created its own semi-state Puntland which also governs itself (“The World Factbook”, 2017). This divide and instability have created massive problems for the region. Now Somalia is also combating Al-Shabaah, a terrorist group who are allied with Al-Qaeda who has taken control of territories within the country.

Effects: The almost constant state of violence in the country has led to large scale problems in regards to the economy, human rights abuses, and the quality of life of citizens. People are taken advantage of and killed by both terrorists and the Somalia Government. There is a staggering amount of sexual violence and inequality against women. Many people live in abject poverty, especially in the rural areas. Furthermore, necessities, like clean food and water are often unavailable. These factors lead to low life expectancy for the fast-growing and young population. Additionally, as there are little options for young people to attend school or get a job, many end up taking part in the violence. Political infighting and clashes between the Government, Militias, and terrorists have led to abuses against citizens, particularly affecting women and children. Because of this situation, Human Rights Watch says that “Children continued to be killed, arbitrary detained and recruited into the armed forces” (“Somalia”, 2017).

What is Currently Being Done: The United States and the UN are already helping the Government of Somalia with peacekeeping efforts and military but don’t nearly spend enough time on promoting education. The United States state department describes their mission as addressing problems of drought, famine, and refugees. They are also supporting economic and political sectors as well as the military, police, and justice sectors (“U.S. Relations With Somalia”, 2017). The UN’s mission in Somalia has focused on “peacebuilding and state building in the areas of governance, security, sector reform and rule of law” (“Mandate”, 2017). They also mention the development of a federal system, democratization, women’s empowerment, child protection, and preventing sexual violence. While these things are, important and needed in Somalia neither the United States or the United Nations seem to be focusing on education.

Policy Options

As the situation in Somalia is so complicated and multifaceted, there are many options and approaches that involve many aspects of life in Somalia. From military and police support, protection against human rights abuses, and humanitarian aid, Somalia is a place with a vast range of United Nations programs and interests. Here are some approaches the UN might take:

One of these may be to back off and spend less time and money in the region. reducing entanglements in Somalia could benefit the UN. One could argue that countries efforts in the region don’t do enough to truly help and is a waste of money and time, and risks lives of UN personnel and peacekeepers. Additionally, the UN has been present in Somalia but the situation has yet to improve. However, if Somalia was left alone there would be no safeguards against human rights abuses from both the terrorists and insurgents but also the Somali government. The UN also does work outside of supporting peacekeeping, they engage in humanitarian efforts for clean water and food. Without UN support the country may destroy itself and its people.

A second possible approach is to increase personnel to guide and train the military of Somalia to help them combat Al-Shabaab, as well as continuing to support and fund the African Union peacekeeping mission. If the UN provided weapons, training, and economic support to the main Somali government it could allow them to fight against terrorists and insurgents more effectively and develop a less ineffective role leading the country. If a strong central Government can maintain power it may be able to create infrastructure, schools, and an economy that would benefit its civilians. The downside of this is that it exacerbates violence as the current Somalia Government is not particularly stable or democratic. Also since Somaliland and Puntland don’t recognize the authority of the Government it could provoke more violence and war. Additionally, funding the military could backfire if they become an authoritarian regime that doesn’t protect their citizens and use the training to increase their power beyond a democratic level. The main Somali Government also commits human rights abuses, and civilians “don’t have the ability to change their government through free and fair elections” (“Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016”, 2017). They also commit violence and discrimination against civilians, and can’t be trusted to truly support their civilians and engage in democracy.

The third path is an increase in humanitarian aid and aid to develop communities and protect children. The UN already works to provide clean food and water, which they should continue to do, but another humanitarian venture they should expand is providing and protecting education. By incentivizing education and providing good teachers and safe schools, especially in rural areas where less than a fifth of children are educated, the UN can develop young thinkers who could promote democracy and resist violence. Also by keeping children in schools, they could prevent children from picking up guns and being involved in the violence as well as reducing child marriage. Furthermore, by ensuring that girls also attend schools in equal numbers they can provide more opportunities for women in Somalia. Promoting female education is also “a strategic development priority. Better educated women tend to be healthier…participate more in the formal labor market, earn higher incomes, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and enable better healthcare and education for their children” (“Girls’ Education Overview”, 2017). These are all attributes that are necessary for Somalia to develop. Although it may seem premature to focus on rebuilding and development before there is peace, these efforts can bring about a longer-term peace and a democratic society that doesn’t abuse its citizens. This approach might be the most prudent for the United Nations to pursue as it is less risky and focuses on the rights and needs of the innocent civilians, allowing them to improve their situation and country.

To Wrap It Up.

There is a litany of problems facing Somalia at this moment, but now the action that will bring about the biggest long-term change is improving education. UNICEF discusses how “peacebuilding is a process that does not end with a ceasefire or peace accord; it is about transformation processes within societies that have experienced violent conflict” they also discuss how short-term humanitarian efforts to protect children is not enough but that long-term development in education and engaging children to promote skills and attitudes will result in longer lasting peace (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2011). Education is a way to transform the society and build peace beyond just the end of the conflict. The United Nations mission in Somalia should focus more on bringing in teachers, build and protect schools, and encourage families to give their children an education. The schools in Somalia are poorly made and lacking proper curriculums and teachers. The United Nations focus on education will allow the fast-growing young population to avoid violence, as well as give them the skills and knowledge needed to make informed decisions, promote political change, and resist violence. Furthermore, they should educate young girls and make sure there is equality in the schooling system. Educated women are essential for the development of a stable and strong country and economy. The UN should continue its current efforts in Somalia but make sure to spend more time and focus on providing schools, teachers, and a curriculum to give the new generation of Somalis a better chance of enabling change in their country.



Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016. (2017). Department of State. Retrieved 2 April 2017, from

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Mandate. (2017). UNSOM. Retrieved 31 March 2017, from

Pike, J. (2017). Somalia Civil Retrieved 2 April 2017, from

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SOMALIA’S EDUCATION CRISIS. (2017). Somali and American Fund for Education. Retrieved 31 March 2017, from

The World Factbook. (2017). Retrieved 2 April 2017, from

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United Nations Children’s Fund,. (2011). The Role of Education in Peace Building (pp. 5-9). New York: United Nations Children’s Fund. Retrieved from