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Getting the Elders Onside

7 April 2020

Getting the Elders Onside

Why you need to know your clans in Somalia. 

If you want to get business done in Somalia, understanding how the clans and cub-clans work is key. Alisha Ryu, Operations Director at Mogadishu-based Pbi2, argues that only happens when you go native. 

Alisha Ryu and her husband David Snelson, founders of the security/ development nexus company Pbi2, have been operating in Somalia for over 18 years. Alisha was East Africa Bureau Chief for Voice of America before that and worked as a security analyst for the UN in the region, so she has deep experience here. 

After working in the region for many years, they formed Pbi2 back in 2011. Its aim was to help development agencies and NGOs to go about their business. 

Alisha explains: “You can’t have development without security. And you can’t have security without development. We realised that if we could help the people involved in development projects stay safe, their projects could make Somalia a safer place for everyone.” 

"...being closer to the right people is the best way to operate." 

“It’s a clan-based society, which can make it hard to navigate who needs to be involved and how they could work with others. We get results because we have made every effort to become part of that society. Whether we’re consulting on justice-related international development programmes, overseeing a construction project, hosting foreign nationals in our villas or route planning for meetings, being closer to the right people is the best way to operate. 

“Over the years we have established contacts with a network of elders who help us to keep clients and staff safe, and give us an understanding of what is really happening on the ground. 

“They may also have different perspectives on the attractiveness of specific aid or infrastructure projects. And they may have certain conditions that will need to be met if these projects are to be implemented smoothly and effectively. Understanding that landscape can make a significant difference. 

“We’ve based ourselves outside the international Green Zone, right in the heart of Mogadishu, which is a statement in its own right. 

"...the elders can see our commitment to the people here." 

“We employ upwards of 90 local Somalis in our accommodation, security and business operations, so the elders can see our commitment to the people here. Not just in terms in of jobs, but also in training local people so that they pick up new skills and prospects. 

“One young man who came to work for us nine years ago, is about to leave to set up his own restaurant. Another used the first aid training we had given him to use the Heimlich manoeuvre on a colleague who was choking, possibly saving his life.

Alisha Ryu is Operations Director at Mogadishu-based Pbi2.

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