First graduation in 30 years signals peace and progress

The Somali National University (SNU) this month held its first graduation and convocation ceremony since the breakout 30 years ago of the civil war that wracked Somalia.

The 24 June ceremony, attended by Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and the Italian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Emanuela Del Re, among others, was hailed as a symbol of progress in the higher education sector.

Faramajo, a graduate of SNU, Somalia's oldest university, which is based in the capital Mogadishu, said the graduation ceremony marked one of many transformations the country has been through as peace takes hold and its economy and society recovers and develops.

Difficult circumstances

He hailed Somali academics and other university staff who have worked through difficult circumstances to revive the university and nurture young people who will, in turn, take centre stage in rebuilding the country.

"Our country has been through various stages. We now have students who have graduated from this university of a Somali nation. It is an indication that if we all work together as a people, we can reach great heights," Farmajo said during the ceremony.

He said the university was creating a path for growing Somalia, so that it could compete with other countries. "Through these graduates we are... getting the necessary skills that will be beneficial to exploiting our natural resources, starting from livestock, farms, the ocean and minerals," he added.

Criticisms of government

At a time when criticism has been levelled at the government over its failures to move ahead with a detailed higher education plan, he used the ceremony to pledge support for educational institutions and funding for training, challenging the graduates present to use their knowledge to serve their people.

The representative from Italy, a country that was once the colonial controller of much of Somalia, and with whom there are still strong links, said: "It is a historic moment. I couldn't miss it." Del Re said the efforts of university staff and graduates in recent years "and your future success will inspire the next generation of young Somalis, who will make Somalia prosper."

Del Re, a member of the Five Star Movement political party in Italy, said her country has been partnering with SNU since 2014, funding projects worth €6 million (US$6.8 million), and promised the Italian government would continue to support the university.

Farhan Isak Yusuf, a political scientist and lecturer at Mogadishu University, a private institution also based in the capital, said the ceremony sets a milestone for the university.

"The graduation means our higher education institutions are growing and peace dividends are paying off," he told University World News. SNU, he said, has been a pioneer institution, serving as a benchmark for higher education in the country.

Expansion of the sector

He hoped the ceremony would inspire the further expansion of Somali higher education, so that more graduates receive degrees next year, and "so we have the needed numbers of highly skilled graduates to run our higher education institutions to stop over-reliance on foreigners".

Other universities should emulate best practices developed at and used by SNU, he said. "They shouldn't feel shy to benchmark and learn, because SNU is a public resource that should be utilised by everyone for the good of the country.”

As it stands, SNU is the only government-owned and funded university in Somalia. It was set up in 1954, and reopened in 2014 after the civil war effectively shut it down in 1990.

Professor Mohamed Ahmed Jimale, SNU rector, told University World News: "A total of 131 students graduated with various degrees ranging from education, veterinary medicine and animal husbandry to engineering, law, social and political science, among other disciplines."

He also welcomed the ceremony as a sign of progress. Among those who graduated was Yusuf Abiikar Shadoor, who fled the country at the height of the civil war. "I had enrolled for a civil engineering course in 1990 but had to flee when the war broke out. I came back when the guns started going silent and enrolled again," he said.

"I am impressed that I have completed the journey that started 30 years ago. It's a dream come true," he said, predicting that through education, Somalia will be able to stabilise and grow faster.