When Somalia appeared top in the list of the happiest nations in Africa, the report disconcerted some media houses so much that they ran articles with bold exclamation of amazement. They did not refute the finding or the methodology used to determine happiness. The source of their consternation is justifiably understandable.
When the war broke out in Somalia in 1991, the country fell with a big thud hitting rock bottom like no one ever imagined. This dismal failure was formally declared and accepted by all including the Somalis themselves. Somalia officially became the face of failed states in modern history. The Somalis lost so much, most of which was their state and all its institutions. They became associated with all things bad: violent conflicts, terrorism, piracy and corruption among others. Their status went even beyond being described bad. The term “Somalization” was coined to describe any symptomatic condition that combines state failure, anarchy, tribalism, fiefdom and balkanization – all at the same time.
As such, when Somalia was associated with happiness, some media houses and media consumers – including political analysts – were sceptical. They were convinced that Somalia was so bad that there was nothing similar or worse that could be compared or associated with it. They conjured up an image of a desolate and bereft nation. The World Happiness Reports defied that typecast.
The reports revealed that Somalis are happy in spite of the hardships they endure. The reports also indicated that Somalia is one of the happiest nations in continental Africa. This was surprising to many who have, for far too long, been bombarded with factually true negatives about Somalia but failed to pay attention to the other realities.
In 2016, Somalia was rated 76 out of 157 ranked countries, ahead of Turkey and Indonesia. The 2017 report featured Somalia in the list of the top five happiest nations in Africa even after it lost 17 points. At 5.15, Somalia is above average in the World Happiness Report ranking ahead of South Africa, Egypt, Brazil, India and China. For a dystopian nation that has endured so much for so long, this report card bears good news. Somalis are resilient and happy in the midst of famine, scarcity and anarchy.
But that is not all about Somalia. Somalia faired in other fraternities as well. In each of 2014 and 2015, the country exported livestock exceeding five million heads of animals to the Gulf Nations challenging Australia, one of the leading livestock exporters in the world.
The telecommunication sector, particularly the mobile business, is another area where Somalia is the best in Africa and faired better than some global leaders. The country enjoys some of the cheapest calling rates in the world. The Somali currency (the Shilling) weathered deathly difficulties and retained trust and value without a central bank or ministry of finance. It did not reach the level of Zimbabwean dollar or the Venezuelan bolivar. For whatever reason, it remained honored and tendered without a central government.
These gravity-defying successes, which did not get enough media attention, show the potentials and promises in Somalia. In the 2017 Happiness Report, Somalia became 93 globally and five in Africa
The first happiness report was released at a time when the country emerged from the 2011 famine. Also, the 2017 report came when Somalia is on the verge of famine. Technically, Somalia is in the grips of famine and drought. So, the reports show that a nation can be happy in the midst of calamities.
While the World Happiness Reports evinced surprise about Somalia, it did not evince anything unusual about Africa, just a gloomy image. Somalia being in the top of the list of the happiest nations says it all. Seriously, Somalia is not happy: It is optimistic. Being the happiest in a continent of unhappy nations does not necessarily make Somalia among the happy and certainly not top in the list of the happiest nations in the world. When a dystopian Somalia is among the happiest, Africa is indeed an unhappy continent and has a lot to achieve.
By Osman Abdi Mohamed
Minneapolis, MN, USA