Somalia : The Changing Discourse and the Need for Reconciliation

“Heshiis gacan qaadid ku iman maayo, wada fadhina ku iman maayo,wuxuu imanayaa marka dhabta la wajaho ee xaqiida dhabta ah la wajaho”.

“Peace does not come from meetings and handshake, but it comes with the intent of good faith and will.”

– Professor Abdiweli. M. Ali Gaas.

By Farhia Ali Abdi

Almost twenty-five years have passed since the collapse of Somalia’s central government, and the country continues to move through many phases, including: imperfect peace deals, the meddling of neighbouring countries in the internal affairs of the country, and the presence of foreign troops from mainly African countries (AMISON), that were initially deployed for peace-keeping purposes, but who have since lost the confidence of the people. Somalia is still grappling with regaining control and re-establishing a degree of normalcy. Further, the absence of a clear, concise and binding constitutional mandate has created, or perhaps exacerbated, a non-cordial coexistence of the federal government and regional states. The country’s lack of effective leadership has protracted the misconstrued unity and the botched international interventions. However, as I have said in a previous article, there is still a ray of hope “to bring the nation together and achieve national consensus, which will require an extraordinary leadership, and a new way of promoting a national unity that can bridge the gap between various sections of the Somali society.”

The Changing Discourse

Somalia understandably has undertaken a historical process of change intended to inspire peace and stability after the decades of violent conflict that has ravaged the country and resulted in widespread suffering. These worthy intentions, however, repeatedly evaporate along the way as the ghosts of the past keep haunting the country with real conflicts and proxy wars playing out, pitting one clan or region against another. This vicious cycle of civil war is proving hard to escape. In the absence of clear and coherent national policy, that can usher the country away from political pandemonium and leadership mistrust, unity appears to be out of reach.

The provisional constitution that was adopted in 2012 lays out federalism as a system of governance for the country. The introduction of the concept of federalism has created heated debate, with opponents arguing that the system is wrong for Somalia due to historical clan divisions, and with advocators countering that, because of the country’s clan institution, federalism is the only system that would give people control over their development. While there is merit to both arguments; federalism was the system adopted in the constitution that was approved by representatives, and as such it needs to be respected regardless of any other considerations. The concept of federalism can still be strengthened since the constitution is in draft pause. Above all, the concept needs to be better delineated and explained to the people, highlighting both its merits and drawbacks.

Although international financial and military support is helping to keep the country afloat, Somalia should not wait or look for a rescue from outside of its borders. The international community cannot be expected to solve Somalia’s internal problems; they can only support Somali initiated processes and agreements.

Somalia’s fundamental problem and volatility were recently demonstrated during the dispute in Gaalkacyo, Mudug, between Puntland State and Galmudug administration where past ills resurfaced.

The Gaalkacyo dispute clearly revealed how much the country remains fragile despite twenty-five years of talking peace and stability. No sooner had the fighting in Gaalkacyo ended than another inter-clan war started in the neighbouring region of Hiiraan. As if that wasn’t enough, the Bakool section of the recently created South-West State seceded, citing injustice in the sharing of power.

Their claim is that the area was under-represented in the regional parliament having been allocated only three seats. Other states agreed. These events have cast doubt on the unity of the country.

Somalia, however, keeps marching to the drum of a supposedly united country, disregarding the country’s social clan complex.

The Somali people are very proud and internally optimistic, their apparent disunity notwithstanding, and though these qualities can sometimes be barriers, there is an urgent need for discussion to turn this country around. Rebuilding Somalia’s withered institutions with a stable government and a proper parliament representing the people will take longer and will require patience and fortitude. Somalia needs national reconciliation that, if done right, can bridge the deepening gaps of mistrust and bring stability closer.

The Need for Truth and Reconciliation

To the untrained eye, the Somali people share ethnicity, culture, language and religion, and so should be a prototype for an excellent cohesive society. Somalia, however, is far from such an image of harmony. Clan fissures fracture the society and it is clan attachment that is the most intimate feature of Somali identity, which has deepened during the civil war. This strong part of Somali identity has put the whole country at crossroads and calls for serious and honest revaluation and redress of what has gone wrong. Unless the clan issue is addressed directly, the country will remain stagnant and even runs the risk of disintegrating further.

Furthermore, in recent years, the well-established tradition of clan leadership has diminished and has been hijacked by those who use clan as a paradigm for personal worth. Somali leaders employ clan politics to manipulate social cohesion in order to further their ambitions. This has resulted in the loss of many customary laws and conflict resolution mechanisms that were in place to settle clan conflicts.

Thus, there is a mismanagement of clan and institution in Somalia, which is hastened by dependency on external forces and policies. The Somali people must recognize the need for reconciliation if the country is to regain its unity. The way a society deals with its past, particularly injustices and atrocities, has a major impact on long-term peace and stability.

Reconciliation may seem to be a daunting process to some or tedious and tenuous to others, but it is inevitable. The country needs to look at no further than the products of its civil war; the unscrupulous leaders, the clan atrocity claims and counterclaims and the resultant slow progress forward.

Recognizing past ills through reconciliation can prevent future abuses and will help repair damage that has been done. One of the most difficult problems for any government, particularly one transitioning to democracy, is to deal with the political past. How leaders address the past is of equal importance in the transition process, as it will influence the likelihood of successful democratic change and social unity. Healing and justice for the socio-moral aftermath of civil war or sustained violence varies between cultures and even nations over time. The domain of social recollections plays a role, but so does silence about the past.

Somalia’s ills are not about federalism, centralism, international community or clan disputes; it is the lack of genuine reconciliation, which, if not addressed properly, may put the future of the country in doubt. Somalis need to recognize their history of commonality instead of the focus on clan divisions.

Understanding the past needs to be taken seriously as“those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” Reconciliation is a complex process that entails difficult tasks, including reforging of social connections and rebuilding community. As the country moves into 2016, to start a new chapter of Somalia’s political landscape, it is crucial that future political leaders and clan elders begin working on genuine reconciliation so that elements of the past can be consigned to the dustbin of history, eschewing the nuisance of foreign involvement and opening a new page of hope for Somalia.