Somalia: The role of NGOs in the peace process

The chaos that has gripped Somalia for so long has many causes and effects. Examination of  recent history can lead to a greater understanding and hopefully teach us a lesson for the future. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) were not always active, but they play a crucial role in the peace process.

During the first two governments after independence, traditional and indigenous methods were put in practice to manage conflicts and govern the country. In every area of Somalia elders were an important part of the community. They were respected for their wisdom and the role that they played in society.

However, the military Junta used its military power for governing and weakened the traditional elders influence. The failure of this policy spread quickly and the country was once again gripped by instability. Although many people thought the military had secured the country, they were unaware of the slight difference between peace and security.

NGOs were established in the early 1990s, a period of rampant anarchy and lack of government. Thereafter they have been part of civil society organizations that played crucial roles in conflict resolution and in the process of pacification, deploying both modern and traditional methods. NGOs have been capable of digging wells or building schools in rural areas as well as share their counseling with the traditional elders in the area. This increases the sustainability of their products and services and prevents conflict.

One of the memorable peace building exercises that NGOs achieved was the 2000 Arta Somali Conflict resolution held in Djibouti, when Abdikassim Salat Hassan was elected transitional president by various clan leaders. Other crucial and sustainable peace building activity occurred in Northwest Somalia, influenced by several actors  This region, that declared itself as the independent country of Somaliland on 18 May 1991, blew up when different clans started to fight. The peace and administration that they have today were achieved through traditional mechanisms with elders (Guurti) leading the process.

NGOs also played a crucial role in peace building in this region. Their actions included negotiation, facilitation, mediation, etc. For the sustainability of peace in Somaliland NGOs built strategies to increase the capacity of civil society organizations, including women’s groups, elders, youth and students.

In the South Central region, where anarchy and conflict became part of life, NGOs used a strategy of inclusion of different social sectors. Some NGOs such as Somali Peace Line started peace developing workshops in schools and trained students and teachers in peace and conflict issues. Other organizations striving for the same goals include Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC), Reconciliation and Dialogue Center (RDC), Women’s Development Organization (IIDA) and Peace and Human Rights Network (PHRN). SOCDA’s (Somali organization for Community Development Activities) role includes holding workshops on peace for students and youth in Mogadishu and Bosaso, advocacy and campaigning. All of them campaign to raise awareness of the importance of peace, as well as to eradicate poverty and inequality which are also the root causes of Somali conflict.