12 September, 2012

Somalia: The Safest City

Somalia: The Safest City

This country is well known for its efforts to promote study of the sciences, making the reasonable wager that once the number of professionals trained in the sciences hits a critical mass, we'll begin to see technological progress.

On these people shall be built the much vaunted 'knowledge-based economy'. These leave us social scientists feeling a bit like step-children. We're the fallback option for those who have little aptitude in physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics. If you can't be a physicist, you can try your luck at being a historian.

For those who step-children who did social sciences, some comfort can be taken in the fact that if current trends continue they will soon become a scarce and very valuable resource. This 'science first' policy is going to make us all rich. There is one field of study that does not fit neatly into either the science or social science boxes. Statistics.

Dealing with the raw data and coming up with the figures themselves could be considered science but from that point on it enters the subjective territory of social sciences. There is a demand for context and rightly so as a statistic without a context is one without meaning.

Last week, I landed on a document put out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC] that set out the homicide rate for nearly every country in the world. The standard measure is the number of people murdered per 100,000 people in a given country.

Just looking at our immediate region the numbers for 2008 were an interesting read. The most violent countries in our region were Uganda and Ethiopia with 36.3 and 25.5 homicides per 100,000 respectively. Next time it is said that the DRC is one of the deadliest places to visit in Africa, it should be noted that at 21.7, it is just as safe as Burundi and safer than Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania (24.5).

Rwanda topped the East African Community as safest with 17.1 with Kenya as runners-up at 20.1. In the wider region, if UNODC is to be believed, Somalia has the lowest homicide rate with a paltry in 1.5. This figure is cited for 2008 when Al-Shabaab was taking on all comers not last month when things had become considerably quieter.

So you see that a statistic without context does not tell the whole story. It will not say that there is hardly any law enforcement in Somalia, where it exists few homicides were reported to it because Somalis rightly perceived that there was not much it could do and that as a majority Muslim country, the dead are buried within 24 hours affording very little time for reporting or investigation. All it will say is that 138 homicides were reported and that translates to 1.5 homicides per 100,000. Somalia by this measure is just as safe as Algeria and Morocco and even safer than Canada [1.8]. Kigali is a crime-infested haven by this measure. We would all do well to pack our bags and fly to Mogadischu.

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