Academics built university out of the ashes of war

The civil war that devastated Somalia also closed down Somali National University in the capital Mogadishu. But thanks to the determination of a group of academics a new institution arose out of the ashes, the private, non-profit Mogadishu University. From an initial student intake of 225 in 1997, the university has grown to 6,000 students.

According to the university's President Professor Ali Sheikh Ahmed Abubakar, since then the institution has established 29 departments across seven faculties and has climbed up African university rankings.

It has joined five regional organisations and signed bilateral agreements with numerous other universities, he says in his message on the university's website.

Firdowsa Ali Farah, Mogadishu University's communications officer, told University World News by email that staff of Somali National University had migrated or been displaced during the conflict, which broke out in 1991 and has continued in various forms in the intervening years.

Consequently, "the hope for a new generation of Somali's to attain higher education was severely dashed and, along with it, the future of the Somali nation".

Somalians, who had grown accustomed to free education from elementary level to university, "began to see their children playing with bullets and bombs and joining organised gangs, thugs and clan militia.

"University facilities were occupied by displaced people and some of them were converted into warehouses and business sites. The few remaining academics and professors were idle and unemployed."

Higher education suffered, but some intellectuals were determined not to simply stand by and watch the destruction of higher education.

"It was during those difficult times that the idea of establishing Mogadishu University emerged along with reviving basic education with community initiatives," Farah said.

Hundreds of schools were opened including primary, intermediate and secondary schools. "The first batch of 20 students graduated from secondary schools in 1995, four years after the civil war in Ummul-Qura in the Bondhere district in Mogadishu."

The creation of Mogadishu University

The story of Mogadishu University began in 1993, when the idea of establishing a non-state institution came about after professors from the former Somali National University and other prominent intellectuals met in Mogadishu to discuss the possibility of resurrecting some of the faculties of the destroyed public institution.

"Due to legal concerns, the group decided to form a non-profit and non-state institution for higher education under the name of the 'University of Eastern Africa'. The aim of that project was to provide opportunities for students of the faculties of Islamic studies and languages to complete their course work," Farah explained.

The initiative was founded in a privately owned house in southern Mogadishu. But the civil war spilled over into the new university site, and a week after its opening warring militia looted the property and took with them vehicles, furniture, books and documents.

The group met again on 20 July 1995, and concluded that the priority was to form a National Institution for Private Education, or NIPE, that promoted community-based education and developed further the idea of establishing a university by 2000.

They also debated establishing a teacher training institute, which had been proposed by a local non-governmental organisation. There was an emerging need for qualified teachers to staff the new community schools.

A committee under the NIPE was formed to study the proposal and report to the group at its next annual meeting.

A year later, Farah told University World News, the group met again and looked at the committee's reports and proposals, which were met with "enthusiasm, support and acclamation of all the founding members, and Mogadishu University was approved".

The committee was given a full mandate to work towards opening the university. "To explore the idea further, members of the committee visited many universities in Yemen, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Sudan and Egypt," Farah said.

"At the end of the trip, the committee was fully convinced of the feasibility of opening the university within a year and launched rigorous planning to meet the timeline schedule for opening Mogadishu University," Farah said.

It was not an easy task. Extensive planning, travelling and fund-raising were undertaken during the four years from 1993 to 1997.

University is born

Finally, on 22 September 1997, Mogadishu University became a reality.

It was officially opened in a small room in the presence of four of the founding members and five lecturers, with the mission: "To be the premier non-state, non-profit university in Somalia, providing affordable and accessible high quality education attuned to national values."

The first campus was located in the former Mohamud Ahmed Ali Secondary School. After the militia took over, the campus was moved to the newly renovated Sinai Hotel. As the university expanded, different locations scattered across Mogadishu were used.

The university moved to a new campus in the 2005-06 academic year.

It has continued to operate despite the country's fragile circumstances, Farah said. It takes a neutral stance regarding political parties and rival groups. "That neutrality has given the university the ability to continue its work at anytime, anywhere."

The university gives priority to the security of staff and students. It is seen as belonging to society, and so the Somalian people are partners and help to protect the university from harm.

Improving quality

The university accepts students who have graduated from secondary schools or have equivalent school-leaving qualifications, and who pass a qualifying entrance exam.

There are seven faculties - Shari'a law, education, arts and humanities, economics and management sciences, nursing and health sciences, computer science and information technology, and political science and information - and two languages of instruction, Arabic and English depending on the faculty.

To ensure the quality of its graduates, the university has developed a solid curriculum and made considerable effort to recruit qualified academics. If no academics with the required qualifications are available in the country, Farah said, they are recruited from outside Somalia through the university's office in Nairobi, Kenya.

There is continuous assessment and quality control, which helps to improve the standard of the education offered.

Mogadishu University has joined numerous international, continental and national associations, in order to be recognised among its peers, learn from their experiences and improve its standards.

Today, Farah said, Mogadishu University is proud to have more than 400 graduates who hold masters or PhDs from universities around the world.