As World Cities Day is observed on 31 October, two of Somalia’s largest cities are experiencing an impressive renaissance more than 25 years after law and order collapsed across the country.
Mayor Thabit Abdi Mohamed of Mogadishu and his Kismaayo counterpart, Ibrahim Mohamed Yussuf, described the rise of the two cities from the ashes of civil war and the hard work that has gone into modernizing them.
The Mogadishu Mayor acknowledges that the capital can currently offer only basic public services to its residents. But he has plans to increase his administration’s revenue and budget through innovative methods.
“We have a district-based system that provides the basic services, like education, basic health and emergency interventions. We also have a plan and annual budget. We hope in the near future that, due to the confidence we have built among residents, tax collection will increase to enable us to deliver better services,” says Mr. Mohamed.
He notes that during the many years when the city lacked a functioning government, key utilities like water and electricity were taken over by the private sector. The Banadir Regional Administration is now moving toward public-private partnerships that can deliver more efficient services that are also affordable to residents.
“We need to collaborate on how to improve charges for services and hygiene or controlling prices for services rendered to residents,” the mayor adds.
Mr. Mohamed was appointed by Federal President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo in April of this year, and he describes his position as mayor of a fast-growing city as a challenging job.
“I have to meet the demands of more than three million people. It is equivalent to working 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” the mayor adds.
Mr. Mohamed wants to bequeath a better and functioning city to his successor.
“It is important to have a legacy for the city. My personal ambition is not useful. What is useful is to develop the lives of the residents. What matters is to save lives of the people, to create job opportunities for the youth to become useful citizens,” the Mogadishu mayor concludes.
In the port city of Kismaayo, Mayor Yussuf is presiding over massive growth that has seen the construction of new roads and buildings.
“Government institutions have increased, roads have been built, governance has improved, and different ministries working on their own buildings arose. The day we came here, there was nothing, we created this system and the offices we are working in. The government has done something tangible,” says Mr. Yussuf, who credits the private sector with playing an instrumental role in changing Kismaayo’s cityscape.
Kismaayo was liberated from the control of al-Shabaab in 2012, but it is located in a region that harbours one of the largest number of Islamist militants.
The mayor says the Jubbaland state government has put its energies into developing a competent police force to enhance the security of residents.
“This town initially had no good police force, but we made efforts to train 600 police officers, together with former police officers [of the central government]. The police force is doing a great and commendable job,” he adds.
Mr. Yussuf says Kismaayo’s biggest challenge is the scarcity of water.
“Previously, the government used to bring water from the river that the town used to consume after passing through different complicated processes. That system is difficult to use, it needs resources. Therefore the town has no fresh water,” the mayor says. He notes that the private company Caafi tried to provide water by bringing industries and drilling wells but was unable to cover the needs of the people.
Yussuf singles out security and land issues as the main challenges that have held back Kismaayo from becoming a modern city. To make the city more attractive for investment, he plans to lower the cost of electricity, which is one of the highest in the entire country.
“Electricity is a problem, it is expensive, and people cannot afford to pay the electricity bill because a kilowatt of electricity costs a dollar,” the mayor notes.
World Cities Day is observed every year to promote interest in global urbanization, encourage cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities, address the challenges of urbanization, and contribute to sustainable urban development.
In 2017, the United Nations aims to focus on innovative governance and open cities in order to highlight the important role of urbanization as a source of global development and social inclusion.