Aid to Somalia goes directly into the pockets of warlords – right, Ikali Karvinen?

Ikali Karvinen, Finn Church Aid country director in Somalia, has spent a lot of time dealing with the question why people don’t simply move away from places where life is difficult. Now he also responds to tough claims that also appear on FCA’s social media channels.

Ikali Karvinen, you’re currently the head of the FCA office in Somalia. Previously, you’ve been the country director in Cambodia, worked in Eritrea and travelled in places like North Korea. It seems like you’re chasing misery.
FCA’s strategy is to work where we’re most needed. People living in these places are having a hard time in many ways; they might not have a livelihood, or the state can’t provide them with an education. It’s a challenge to work in these states, of course, but it’s also an opportunity to learn more.

You’re a Finnish country director in Somalia. That sounds a lot like Finns telling Somalis how things are done.
Development co-operation has changed in the past decades, and we international employees have become something comparable to consultants. From Finland, we can bring knowledge and understanding about the immense power education has to change the dynamic of a country. We’re not telling Somalis that this is how you must do things; instead, we tell them about our experiences in Finland that might be useful for them, too. It’s more about offering information. Also, it’s not emphasised enough that we also learn a lot ourselves. What I’ve learned so far in Somalia might improve Finland when I return.

You have a PhD in health science, and you’ve studied subjects like disaster preparation. In Somalia, drought is no longer a surprise to anyone. It’s strange that people aren’t better prepared.
In Somalia, a long-running civil war and conflict have made the state collapse. The government isn’t able to maintain even the most basic services. When basic services are lacking, it’s immensely difficult to look into the future and prepare for it. Another important factor is education; it’s not only knowing about the past, but also teaching people to prepare for the future. It’s good to bear in mind that many other countries are very weakly prepared for the rapidly intensifying effects of climate change. Somalia is one of the countries that suffer most from climate change. Together we must ensure that people living in Somalia don’t suffer disproportionately from its consequences.

Somalis on the brink of famine are being supported with cash allowances. That sounds weird, because at the same time we keep hearing about their lack of food – what are they using the cash for?
This is an excellent observation. Cash allowances have become more and more common recently, and in addition to FCA, many other organisations deliver them to Somalia. Cash allowances work for as long as there’s a functioning market, and at least currently there are no signs of the market not functioning in Somalia. In other words, if people have money, they can purchase commodities when there’s still food available. The problem is that people living in extreme poverty can’t afford the market prices. People relying on cash allowances have had to leave their homes and practically lose everything they once owned. In their new home, they have nothing, and that’s where a cash allowance can have a significant impact.

Aid makes no sense, because it just goes into the pockets of warlords.
This is the kind of critical thinking that’s particularly important in fragile contexts, which is also where FCA works. Somalia is at the bottom of the corruption index, and we can’t close our eyes to the possibility of misconduct. At FCA, financial matters are closely monitored. It’s important for us to have a country office with sufficient staff; this way, we can ensure that the aid goes where it’s supposed to go. For example, in the case of cash allowances, we make sure that the recipients have been registered, and after that, we check that the mobile money has been delivered to the intended recipient’s phone number. This way we aim to ensure that the money goes to the right place.

The best way to battle a drought is to dig a well. 
Unfortunately this isn’t the case. We have research on how, in the regions most affected by climate change, digging a well might be extremely harmful due to the contamination of groundwater. In Somalia, the best way would be to collect water when there’s rain. A smart thing to do would be to innovate efficient irrigation systems and grow crops suitable for the climate.

Somalia is a textbook example of a country that will never see peace.
I understand the feeling of desperation when it comes to Somalia. There are conflict areas where, after a short period of peace, violence breaks out again. To me that means that the reconciliation process has been superficial and ignored some of the parties of the conflict. Finn Church Aid supports a national reconciliation process in Somalia, and we want all civic groups on board; including young people, women, and disabled people from ethnic minorities. That’s how reconciliation is built on solid ground.

Why do people have children, if there’s not even enough food for oneself?
Here, having children is in some way a form of social security. We know that in Finland we used to have much larger families, which was partially due to the lack of elderly care or childcare services. In other words, when there are more people in the family, there’s hope that some of them will be able to look after the others. I do agree that the issue is critical for Somalia. It’s crucial that Somalia moves in a direction where children aren’t the only form of social security.

It seems that life has been hard for Somalis decade after decade. They should just leave the country to solve their problems.
I have, from my own perspective, wondered what the best place to live is. To many Finns, Finland is the best place. Your home and loved ones tie you to the country you were born in and where you lived your first years, and even difficulties might not make you leave your home.  I’ve met Somali women who’ve said that leaving is the last means of survival. In some way it’s a positive thing that people want to believe in a future in their home country. They can see positive things despite huge difficulties, and they believe they can build their society and make the country liveable.

Text: Björn Udd
Translation: Anne Salomäki.