Somalia: Local conflicts must be resolved to achieve peace in Somalia

A complex land dispute that displaced thousands of people prompted the people of Jowhar, Somalia to take up arms. But support from Sida-funded peace organisations helped the conflicting clans to negotiate and reach a peaceful solution. Solving local conflicts is key to creating a lasting peace in Somalia.

Barre Omer Abdi is a farmer and father of eight children who lost everything in 2013 when his clan Shidle got involved in a serious land dispute with the pastoralist clan Abgal.

Thirteen villages were destroyed in the fighting. The Shidle clan was displaced and settled in a refugee camp. Barre Omer Abdi decided to take up arms.

“In the camp there was no shelter, no food or clothing. It was really a very difficult situation. I bought a gun and joined the clan fighters. All I wanted was to revenge. I believed this conflict could only be settled with guns.”

One day one of his clan elders invited him to a peacebuilding training. This is where he met representatives from other clans, including the militia.

“I came to realize that the problem can be solved through dialogue and negotiations. I decided to sell my gun and restart a normal life.”

External support led to a break-through in peace negotiations

Sheikh Mohamoud, an imam from the Shidle clan, explains that many elders had tried to broker peace but that the breakthrough came when the organisation Life & Peace Institute (LPI) and their local partner Somalia Peace Line (SPL) provided their support.

“The project brought an end to a conflict in which about 60 people lost their lives, and where there was great insecurity and displacement. The facilitators gave elders confidence that negotiations were possible, and we gained negotiation skills.”

After three years of dialogue under the guidance of LPI and SPL, the participants agreed that both clans would jointly use the contested land, and Abgal paid money to those who had lost family members.

Traditional peacebuilding under pressure

Somalia has been hit by war and conflict for the past 25 years and lacked a central government for a long time. Local conflicts related to land, natural resources and political influence have often been over-shadowed by the armed conflict between the government and the armed extremist movement Al-Shabab.

Traditionally, local communities had their own conflict management mechanisms. But decades of war have put a severe strain on the system, and as the conflicts have turned more complex, external support has become necessary.

This is where Sida-supported LPI and their local partners play an important role. The role of the facilitators role is to enable a dialogue between the clans involved, to find a common understanding of the roots of the conflict and its possible solutions.

Women play an important role in peacebuilding

While traditional peacebuilding is often led by elders and religious leaders, LPI works to include all of society.

“In order to reach a sustainable peace we need to consider all perspectives. That is why we also strive for the involvement of women and youth in building peace, says” Jody Henderson from LPI.

In 2016 LPI developed a new partnership with the Somali Women’s Solidarity Organisation (SWSO), a women-led local organisation in Kismayo in the south of Somalia. Together they launched a women-centred peace process amongst women from conflicting clans in the region.

“This project is the first of its kind in our country. Now we have a space to develop a unified voice for peace. We have a lot to do! says Halima Godane from SWSO.

Peace at the local level is not just a prerequisite for the well-being and development of the people – it also affects state-building at the central level. In the conflict-affected areas where LPI works it would be very difficult for government agencies to gain any influence if the clans don’t agree on how power should be shared.