By Abdinasir Mohamed (Ilays)
Tuesday January 23, 2024
The rapidly growing population of Mogadishu and most regional headquarters pose a significant challenge in terms of providing adequate education infrastructure for the increasing number of school-aged children. With families often having dozen or so children, the challenge on the limited educational infrastructure becomes increasingly apparent. This piece presents a compelling argument on the need for preserving existing public lands in Mogadishu, and indeed, throughout Somalia, to address the imminent education crisis. Also, the piece proposes a redirection of existing, vacant public lands for use from non-educational purposes to education-centric development, providing an alternative and a viable solution to accommodate the imminently expanding school-aged population.
Mogadishu is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and rightly so following decades of devastating wars. The current basic education infrastructure in the city consists of roughly one hundred public schools built prior to 1991, supplemented by scores of small-sized schools operating from private homes. Additionally, Mogadishu, with a population of about three million, is home to approximately 1.5 million school-aged children and young people. According to population trends, the city is poised to double its population in less than 20 years, exacerbating an already critical situation. The looming challenge is that the current provision of land for basic education falls woefully short of accommodating approximately 30% of the existing school-aged children in the city. The problem is even more compounded in the regions.
The pressing need of the significant number of children lacking access to education, coupled with the projected surge in population growth, demands urgent attention and intervention. Hence, the current shortage of educational infrastructure is not only untenable but also poses an impending threat to the future, which is bound to worsen given the prevailing trends. Recognizing the urgency of this reality demands a paradigm shift - a strategic and sustainable solution that centres on optimizing available public lands, irrespective of former allocations and land uses, for the current and future development of educational infrastructure.
During the last military government, significant portions of public lands were allocated for various national and regional development projects, including the national exhibition, the Ministry of Tourism lands, the Ministry of Public Works, and numerous other national land assets. However, these lands have either been squatted on or have been leased or sold to private businesses. Many have already been transformed into hotels, shopping malls, office buildings, private residential areas, and privately theme parks, among other private uses.
The underlying idea here is that while developments such as hotels and shopping malls are positive in terms of creating employment opportunities and contributing to the economy, the severe lack of educational infrastructure is jeopardizing the future opportunities and well-being of hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of children in the nation. The challenges arising from insufficient educational facilities are considered so significant that the positive impacts of private businesses cannot adequately compensate for them.
A word of caution: it's imperative to underline that the premise of this piece is not to discourage entrepreneurship or private business ventures. Instead, its aim is to highlight the dire shortage of educational infrastructure, the millions of already out-of-school children, and the phenomenally growing school-aged population, without undermining the importance of entrepreneurship and private enterprises.
Given the currently limited educational infrastructure and the anticipated burgeoning population in the near future, one cannot help but wonder where the millions of out-of-school children in Mogadishu and across Somalia would go to access basic education. Therefore, out of use public lands not currently designated for educational purposes, represent an untapped resource that can be harnessed to alleviate the education crisis; and the solution would be a bold government policy to immediately suspend not-yet-signed leasing and selling of all public lands to non-educational businesses. Such a policy would be a crucial step in ensuring that these lands are repurposed for the benefit of the current and future young generations.
Amidst the temptation to sell or lease public lands to private sector entities for ventures like hotels and malls, it is crucial to weigh the long-term benefits for the nation. Rather than catering solely to short-term economic gains, the president and the Minister of Education can leave a lasting legacy by choosing to invest in the intellectual prosperity of the Somali nation. The educational infrastructure built on these public lands will not only address the immediate crisis but will also lay the foundation for a more educated and empowered citizenry, fostering sustainable development and progress for years to come.
After all, it is imperative to underscore that as citizens of this State, these out-of-school children are not just bystanders; they are the true owners of these lands, and the State owes them the responsibility to educate them. Their potential and future contributions to society underscore the critical importance of reserving these public lands for their education. By doing so, the government not only invests in the individual growth of these children but also nurtures the collective intellect of the nation.
A notable aspect to consider in addressing this educational crisis is the current leadership's background. Both the incumbent president and the Minister of Education hail from the education sector. This unique position places them in an advantageous point to recognizing the urgency of the situation; and it is incumbent upon them to repurpose public lands, currently not in immediate use by the government, to basic education. This strategic move will not only fulfil a national obligation but also serve as a testament to the commitment of the government to prioritize the education of its future generations.
The proposal to suspend the not-yet-signed leasing and selling of public lands to non-educational private entities is grounded in the belief that these lands can play a pivotal role in the development of much-needed educational infrastructure in a city desperate for adequate school facilities. By redirecting these lands towards basic education, the government can ensure that every child has access to schooling.
However, critics are likely to argue that suspending the not-yet-signed leasing and selling of such lands could deprive the government of essential funds. However, it is vital to reiterate that investing in education provides a greater return than any other business activities, and that investment in education is indeed an investment in the future of the nation. A well-educated population is a cornerstone for growth, immensely contributes to economic advancement, social stability, and overall national development.
The assertion that ‘these public lands are already in the hands of private entities’ lacks justification when considering the fundamental principle that these lands inherently belong to the public. The essence of public ownership implies collective ownership, and while the government is entrusted with the responsibility of managing public properties on behalf of its citizens, the argument for leasing or selling hectares of land to private entities becomes untenable. Particularly when faced with the stark reality that over 70% of our children lack adequate space for schools, any competing arguments in favour of non-educational private entities lose relevance.
Furthermore, it is imperative for the Ministry of Education to embrace a proactive stance by strategically planning and allocating lands for education in areas poised for integration into the expanding cityscape over the next two decades. Engaging in such forward-thinking initiatives is crucial to ensuring a seamless transition for future education leaders. By securing suitable land now, the government can pre-emptively address potential. This positive and anticipatory approach not only safeguards against future complications but also demonstrates a commitment to the enduring welfare and educational prosperity of the Somali nation.
To ensure the success of this proposal, a thorough assessment and registration of available lands is a first step, while prioritizing areas with the highest need. Such move will establish a transparent and accountable process for land use reassignment. To further garner public confidence and support, the government should involve civil society groups, professional organisations and the higher education institutions; fostering a sense of ownership and support for the initiative.
It is essential to emphasize that the urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. As citizens and stakeholders, our call to action is directed towards the President, to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Education. The critical need for educational spaces for our children demands immediate attention and decisive measures. Allocating public lands exclusively for educational purposes is not just a pragmatic solution but a moral imperative. By prioritizing the educational needs of our youth over commercial interests, the government can lay the groundwork for a more enlightened and prosperous future for the Somali nation. Excellencies, public lands are meant for the benefit of the many, not the few. The time to act is now, not tomorrow.
Abdinasir Mohamed (Ilays)
The opinion on this piece is that of the author. Comments: [email protected]