A Grassroots Approach to Peacebuilding and Reconciliation: A Practical Strategy in Solving a Three Decades old Somali Conflict.

Geedka Nabada

Somali people have the same religion, language and cultural background, but they have been forced to fight each other by inter-clan fighting at the cost of rule of law and statehood for over two decades. This paper, therefore, presents viable grassroots level reconciliation strategy to narrow down the social divide in Somali communities and to realize a lasting peace and reconciliation in Somalia.

Clan and sub-clan structures are the central identity to Somali people. From a young age, children are traditionally taught to memorize and recite their clan-based kinship genealogy, sometimes naming twenty or even thirty generations of their patrilineal ancestors.[4] Between 1990-91, different clan-based armed factions secured to overthrow the military government of late Mohamed Siad Barre. The clan faction powers that ousted Siad Bare were United Somali Congress (USC), Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA); Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), and Somali National Movement (SNM). The motive of these groups was not based on ideology but clan supremacy.

When Siad Barre regime’s government collapsed, inter-clan violence and power rivalries spiked among tribal factions as clan structures and identities filled the governance that left customary and religious laws void. Life became a living hell for selected clans or regions as hostilities were initiated against them, between them, or the innocent population. Trust among the Somalis reached its lowest ebb, and fear, anxiety and contrived hatred fed the insecurity of daily lives. The destructiveness of this process contributed inter-clan distrust and an enmity perception of clans that remains palpable today.

Historical Context:

Nevertheless, Somali society continues to be defined by clan identities, and clan rivalries frame the balance of power across Somalia. Somali clans and sub-clans are geographically intertwined rather than clearly divided between homogeneous clan territories, although certain sub-clans exert significant power in specific regions. This complex and interlocking system establishes the rules by which Somali politicians, warlords, and even terrorists must abide. For example, when the Islamist militia organization rose in 2006, the group claimed to “transcend clan politics,” based on Islamist beliefs and the goal of Shari’a law. But reality on the ground contradicts this claim, revealing that al-Shabaab seek out to manipulate local clan alliances and remains deeply influenced by clan politics (Terrorism Monitor, 2010).

After the collapse of central government in 1991, many efforts for peacemaking and reconciliation were attempted to reconcile rival armed tribal-militia groups. The reconciliation attempts backed by the international community in order to bring Somalia back to peace and stable state. The frontline mediators of all reconciliation efforts mostly were Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. The reconciliation processes were between clan warlords, special interest groups from domestic and foreign organizations, and self-appointed “traditional elders” (tribal leaders) that were sponsored by clan-politicians in order to expand their aim for political power over other clans. But all attempts were destined to failure. The main reasons of these failures are inter-clan distrust and every clan representative is afraid of a clan-lord and warlord-dominated central government, which might repeat the ugly events of the civil-war period. What followed was and continues to be the most harrowing, traumatizing and destructive experience in Somalia’s history. A Professor of international peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame, John Paul Lederach said on Somalia’s conflict “The conflicts are characterized by deep-rooted, intense animosity; fear; and severe stereotyping.” Considering this deep mistrust and suspicion between Somali clans, it cannot be surprising that adopting a centralized approach has been problematic in Somalia.

In 2000, the International community committed to call Somalia National Peace Conference in Arta, Djibouti. This conference was aimed to bring warring factions of Somalia together to end the civil war. From this conference, Transitional National Government of the Republic of Somalia was established to mostly deal with cease-fire, disarmament and security. This Transitional government was internationally recognized until August 20, 2012, when the current President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was inaugurated for Federal Government of Somalia.

With the endorsement of a provisional constitution on August, 2012 by Somalia’s National Constituent Assembly, the country formally embarked on the implementation of a federal formula of governance which allows the creation of regional member states (Balthasar 2014). Since then, clan-based development of mini-states emerged to rise that ignited hidden clan conflagrations. The dominant clans of the regional states play the clan-card to accommodate their kin clans by oppressing other clans. The most negative development of these mini-states is complication national unification.

Change did indeed occur. Unfortunately, none of the high hopes and optimism associated with that much-awaited change appeared. Tribal clashes still continue between rival tribal armed forces from regional administrations in almost every region in Somalia that continues to cause deaths and displacements to innocent people.

Policy Option (s) Government and the Civil Society Might Take to Resolve the Issue:

This analytical evidence shows that past and current behavior of Somalia and its politics remain deeply rooted in a clear clan dynamics. For policy-makers, a concrete reconciliation is the foundation that is yet to be built for sustainable peace to materialize in Somalia. According to former Minster of Education of Somalia Abdinur Mohamed, “Communities of conflict who did not genuinely reconcile their grievances cannot be expected to build a functioning social order that is unpretentious, stable and durable” (2013). The Federal government and its member states should consider traditional approach to peace and national reconciliation policy based on research that justifies economically and politically diverse faces of democracy. A policy that would vehemently allow every clan and its sub-clans get to the reconciliation process. Ordinary Somali people should be involved the process, rather than just politicians and tribal elders. And, must be a wider national reconciliation process of overcoming the legacy of beleaguered social relationships and forging a common vision for the future among all Somalis. This option will ensure correct exclusions and discrimination against a certain group; and provide participatory advantage to particular disadvantaged group(s) in the society.

A Policy Action:

A conflict that has been going on for more than two decades in Somalia, its reconciliation cannot take place in weeks or months, perhaps not even in a few years. It will take many years to fully recover. Yet progress can be made, and even incremental steps can have tremendously beneficial effects. Better yet, Grass-root peace-building and reconciliation approach has clear appeal to Somalia, when we look Somali traditional peace and reconciliation mechanisms called “Xeer.” “Xeer is a precedent-based social code which is understood to apply to all Somali people and serves as a necessary restraint and moderating guide in disagreements and feuds between groups and individuals. It is equivalent to an ad hoc village council and at which all males are ostensibly permitted to voice their concerns”(A. Khalif 2004).

Cross-clan and sub-clan reconciliation is the answer to enhance effective peace and stability in Somalia. Grassroots peace-building and reconciliation process is necessary for healing and trust among distrusted clans. Secondly, the reconciliation process must be heart-to-heart truth that would be devoid of any foreign interference. Ordinary citizens should be involved and mutually understand and be confident of the peace-building and reconciliation process. Ordinary citizens’ involvement will make it simple to understand the real problems, and help work toward their solutions. Obviously, reconciliation is a very difficult and slow process. Therefore, there should be no time limits during the reconciliation process because when rushed to peace-building decision, agreements of poor quality may result. The initiative should be concentrated upon what is common to Somalis, rather than what separates them. The primary objectives of this process shall be formalizing the process of apology and forgiveness with the common goods, commons interest, common values, common destiny, common sense, forgiveness, rationality; and shared common vision. The outcome of the reconciliation shall be regulated by parliamentary legislation or by presidential decree.

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