Conflict resolution and peace-building

Traditional peacemaking in Somaliland

A series of grassroots reconciliation conferences have been held since early 1992 in the cities of Burao and Berbera. The elders embarked on a peace-building endeavor aimed at resolving all major outstanding issues between communities across the country. Conflict resolution in the north has always been the responsibility of elders who have the authority to represent their clans. Unlike the tribal chiefs in many African societies, elders in Somaliland are `chosen by virtue of their personal attributes such as age, expertise in the political arts of compromise and persuasion, powers of oratory, skill as a poet, religious knowledge, piety, wealth, generosity, courage and reputations for fairness’.42 In other words, not all old men are elders, nor are all elders aged. The assemblies, or Guurti, promote democratic participation and their deliberations are held publicly. Because of their dual kinship, women are engaged as `clan ambassadors’ and play a key role in the mediation of disputes. They are often the only means of communication between warring groups.


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Soon after the ending of the war significant differences over trade access and land, grazing, and water rights emerged within and between the Isaaq clan family and the Dulbahante and Warsangeli clans in Erigavo.43 The elders managed to resolve the conflicts in Erigavo and Burao and, up to a point, the differences within the Isaaq clan family. These local-level peacemaking efforts reduced the tensions between clans, restored trust and harmonious relations between communities, increased interactions and trade between clans and re-established the traditional means of resolving disputes.44 In some areas joint committees were formed to resolve minor disputes and prevent freelance banditry, ensuring to some degree that peace agreements between communities were observed. It is worth underlining the role of the Gadabuursi (non-Isaaq) elders from Borama, formed for their peacemaking in conferences in Somaliland. While the UN-sponsored conferences were highly publicized, the grassroots peacemaking process was out of the limelight. With the exception of some very limited logistical support for the Borama conference, the UN and other agencies did not provide support for (in fact opposed) many successful local-level initiatives.

`Forging a settlement: UN-style reconciliation in Somalia

The UN has organized over 10 highly publicized and costly reconciliation conferences since 1993. Faction leaders, who have played the central role in these reconciliation conferences, have dutifully signed agreements at every meeting. But each settlement collapsed soon after it was agreed, sometimes within hours. The central tenets of UN-brokered peacemaking are fundamentally different from local peacemaking techniques employed in northern Somalia. Virtually every UN reconciliation conference was held outside the country with agendas often set by their sponsors. Conferences have been held in each of the neighboring countries Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013. In recent weeks, they have carried out a spate of attacks in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen and Egypt. A major problem with these high profile affairs is that legitimate representatives of the affected communities, such as elders, merchants, women’ s groups and other genuine stakeholders, are not included. Furthermore, cost considerations have often determined the duration of these conferences; consequently, they are short with fixed timetables. While the Borama conference lasted four months, the longest UN-brokered conference lasted well under two weeks! Although the mandates of these conferences have been termed `peacemaking’ and `reconciliation’, they often focus solely on reconstituting a central state. Promoting `quick fix’ solutions, they `faltered where it mattered on the ground. Problems were to be “solved” before UN officials understood the nature of the problem’.46 The first reconciliation conference in Addis Ababa in January 1993 was held less than a month after the UN troops arrived in Mogadishu.

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