University expansion a signal of stability and growth

In a move widely welcomed as a signal of future growth, national unity and stability, the Somali National University (SNU) is setting up its first new campus outside the capital Mogadishu in a semi-autonomous region of the country.

Construction is now under way in Abudwaq town, in Galmudug region, central Somalia, following Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo’s laying of a foundation stone on 21 January, alongside Galmudug President Ahmed Duale Gelle Haaf.

The campus, Gelle told the ceremony, will not only spur education but promote economic development in his region.

SNU is the oldest and only government-owned university in Somalia. Set up in 1954, it reopened in 2014 after being effectively shut down from 1990 because of a civil war whose winding down has also seen a proliferation of private universities across the country.

Professor Mohamed Ahmed Jimale, the rector of the state-owned university, told University World News the planned campus will be the university’s fourth centre, but the first outside Somalia’s capital.

Historic expansion

“To us as a university and a Somali people this is historic,” he said. Among the SNU’s mandates are to expand and spread throughout the regions and play a role in rebuilding the country after decades of war. “With the Abudwaq campus in place we are meeting a part of our decentralisation plan. Soon, Inshallah [God willing], we will be reaching out to many more regions,” he added.

Jimale said the land where the campus is being built was donated by local communities. Sixteen classrooms and lecture rooms were under currently construction as well as a mosque. The campus is expected to welcome its first intake of students in September 2018.

Once complete, the new campus will be able to teach more than 1,000 students, said Jimale. “But the students must first all pass our pre-entry exams. We want to keep and maintain our tradition of only admitting the best on merit,” he said.

The primary focus of the campus will be livestock production studies which will help to train experts for Galmudug’s important meat sector. The campus branch will include a modern veterinary laboratory, which will be part of the university’s veterinary medicine and animal husbandry faculty.

It is anticipated that the laboratory will generate cutting-edge research on animal husbandry, boosting regional livestock production and increasing incomes for local farmers, and promoting Somalia’s economic growth, he said.

Meanwhile, the campus branch will also help the livestock sector by fighting drought and environmental degradation through reforestation. Tree nurseries are planned in the agriculture and environmental science faculty and saplings will be donated to local farmers and landowners.

Reaching out to local communities

“Other than lectures and providing hands-on experience for our students, these facilities we are setting up will benefit local communities too,” said Jimale. “The vet laboratory will help provide solutions to improve livestock farming whereas the tree nurseries will help in reforestation,” he said.

Other faculties operating at the new campus include those for education, economics, and Islamic studies.

He said the campus will serve central regions of Somalia, saving parents and students the cost and difficulty of having to travel to Mogadishu, in the country’s south, to seek higher education.

“This university is owned by Somalis, therefore we are bringing the university to them,” said the rector. Other campuses would be established in other Somalia regions, but for the time being the Abudwaq campus would serve all of central Somalia, and even northern and border regions neighbouring Ethiopia and Djibouti, he said.

“It reduces distance and gives students nearby the advantage of saving costs and living with their families as they study,” he said.

As with the rest of the university, it will be regulated by the Mogadishu-based federal government, while being supported by the regional administration.

More opportunities for youth

Adan Khalif, a Somalia-based independent policy expert and former education officer with the International Rescue Committee, hailed the establishment of the campus, arguing it will expand opportunities for young people, enabling them to participate in nation building as well as chart their own paths away from violence, which has often been an option for youths during the civil war.

He said until now would-be students in Galmudug have had to rely on the semi-private Galkayo University, based in Galkayo town, which was opened in 2002.

“With only one university in operation, many students were being locked out because of the cost and lack of space. With SNU, access to higher education will be expanded and will address issues of affordability, ensuring high quality education which can be benchmarked for new private and even public establishments in the future,” he said.

Khalif said the expansion also indicates how the Mogadishu-based government is expanding its authority outside the capital to the rest of the country.

“It will also bring harmony as far as education policy is concerned, bringing uniformity in the higher education system and strengthening standards in turn, making our graduates competitive in the global job markets as well as helping them acquire knowledge that is aligned to national aspirations,” he said.

Abdullahi Sagaf, a farmer who herds goats and cattle in the region for export, said he was confident the new campus will have a positive business impact, stressing how the livestock laboratory “will help livestock production, which is our mainstay”.

He said he hoped it would develop meat processing solutions so that farmers could stop exporting livestock and so that value addition would become part of the production chain.

“There will be positive social, economic and political growth here,” he said.

Jimale anticipates that the university’s courses will help boost the regional real estate market and make it easier to expand hospitals and other public facilities, with the university attracting investment. He called on the international community to proactively promote such positive steps to unify and stabilise the country.