Students in Somalia do well despite anarchy

MOGADISHO - Overcoming huge odds, 20 doctors and dozens of teachers will graduate from university in Somalia this week, the first graduation ceremony for almost two decades in the failed Horn of Africa state.

Somalis are renowned for their entrepreneurship, resilience and plain ability to survive the anarchy they have endured since the early 1990s. Those skills have been tested to the limit by an Islamist insurgency that erupted nearly two years ago.

"We could be a leader among African universities if it were not for the security problems," said Abdirizak Yusuf, head of the medical students' association at Mogadishu's Benadir University, which will hold the graduation ceremony on December 4.

Two classmates were killed in the crossfire of recent clashes, and expensive equipment was damaged as the campus was forced to move out of the dangerous city centre 18 months ago.

This week, a car on the route used by the university bus hit a roadside bomb and caught fire, then a gun battle broke out.

"The bus had to turn abruptly... We risked our lives and missed our lessons," Yusuf said. "There's no mercy in Somalia. A whole bus full of students can just be blown up at any time."

The need for doctors in Somalia has never been higher. The fighting has killed 10 000 civilians since the start of last year, wounded many more and driven one million from their homes.

Combined with drought, the fighting has triggered a humanitarian crisis that aid workers warn is the worst in Africa.

"We're very proud to be able to produce qualified doctors and teachers, despite the insecurity and lack of funds," said Mohamed Maalim Muse, president of Benadir University.

Twenty doctors - 12 men and eight women - and several dozen teachers will graduate on Thursday from its medical, education and computer science faculties. Many are already working in schools or have started internships at clinics.

The ceremony will be just the latest example of a Somali trait that has allowed a semblance of normal life to continue for many despite the bullets, bombs and feuding politicians.

Ingenuity - and the absence of taxes - has let many small businesses thrive, especially mobile phone services and the ceaseless export of livestock and charcoal from Somali ports.

Many young men have also sought rewards in less constructive ways: a wave of pirate attacks at sea and the kidnappings of foreigners for ransom onshore. - Reuters