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In Somalia, communicating about reforms is just as important as implementing them

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Somalia’s government can generate revenue for public services if regulations and reforms are put in place. Photo: Hassan Hirsi/World Bank

Reform communications explains and promotes reforms to all concerned audiences, and ensures consistency, balance, and participation, all the way from a reform’s design to its implementation. It can also make sure that audiences understand the reform, contribute to stakeholder inclusion, and hold the owners of the reform accountable.
What does that mean in a country like Somalia? More importantly, what does that mean for a country like Somalia right now?

Somalia’s narrative is frequently characterized by weak institutions, vulnerability, and conflict. Development partners’ tendency of presenting Somalia as intrinsically vulnerable, though, is particularly worrying—too often, those same practitioners place their interventions as small solutions to Somalia’s supposedly axiomatic weaknesses, with little mention of Somali capabilities.
Despite this practice, the fact remains: The Somali government has made remarkable progress since the World Bank reengaged with it in 2014. The Ministry of Finance has established a digitized financial management system. Transparent and merit-based recruitment is becoming the norm in government institutions, rather than an exception. Through the World Bank Multi Partner Fund alone, the Government of Somalia has implemented projects worth $80 million since 2014.
Major trends can also be seen in how communications shape socioeconomic and cultural advancements in Somalia. Mobile phone penetration is amongst the highest in Africa. Several social media-based movements, such as Caawi Walaal and Abaaraha, were created to provide homegrown solutions to the drought. Another group of young entrepreneurs opened the first innovation hub in Mogadishu, reflecting an increasingly tech-savvy population.
With all of these advances in the political, socioeconomic and cultural identity of Somalia, I have to ask myself: why is the most accessible narrative often so dismal? In a steadily evolving information and communication era, it makes no sense to reduce the Somali narrative to conflict or vulnerability. The rapidly changing media landscape should lead to alternative narratives.
If anything, it indicates that, for too long, the narrative has been dominated from the outside.

Hugh Riddell, Country Representative, and Abdiaziz Abdullahi, Somali journalist. Photo: Hassan Hirsi/World Bank

Communicating Reform
These conclusions guide my communications work with Somali authorities. Taking charge of the reform narrative and producing content that is accessible to Somali audiences needs to hallmark how authorities and development partners communicate their efforts. More Somalis have better access to information, making the primary audience more accessible than ever.
Empirical evidence—captured in academic research—suggests that targeted communications activities can play a critical role in translating reform objectives to actual results on the ground. Research also shows that communication can lead to improved governance through citizen engagement in different types of political systems.
In other words, the success of reform hinges on how well it is communicated.
To this end, we are supporting Somali stakeholders in effectively communicating reform. The influential media is also included in my work; connections must be addressed between strategic communication, behavior change campaigns, and independent media development to avoid low-impact or counter-productive programs.
One good example of this is how Somali media partners have improved the quality of reporting on those recurrent cost mechanisms that are supported by the Bank.
Through consultations and workshop with the government, civil society, and media, we identify challenges and opportunities for communicating reform more effectively. The Government of Somalia agrees that it needs to inform its audience more often, with content tailored for the diverse Somali public.
This is the first step in developing, centralising, and disseminating a government-wide reform storyline based on job-creation, investments, infrastructure, and strengthened institutions, which can help ensure a wider audience understands the reform being made.
Civil society and media stress the need for more interface with authorities to access more information and boost public confidence in public institutions. Every stakeholder emphasizes the need for translated articles, reports, and documents.
The World Bank will continue to support capacity-building opportunities for journalists, which will contribute to higher quality reporting on urban development, financial news, and economic reform.
We will also strengthen the communications capabilities benefiting institutions to reach Somali citizens with a narrative more aligned to their realities.


Hassan Hirsi

Communications Consultant

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