For better results in Somalia, traditional methods preferred

Wednesday March 13 2019

kdf in somalia

Kenya Defence Forces soldiers under Africa Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) patrol Kismayo town on November 22, 2015. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

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Reconstruction and peacebuilding in Somalia will take even longer if international partners continue to ignore the country’s traditional mechanisms.

For example, the imposition of modern statehood and Western type of democracy clashes with Somalia ancient pastoral and culture.

This is one of the key observations in Conflict management in the Horn of Africa: Emerging dimensions, actors and challenges in reconstruction and peace building in Somalia, a recently published book by Kenyan scholar Fred Jonyo.

According to Dr Jonyo, who is the chairman of University of Nairobi’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Somalis give greater political and emotional loyalty to lineages, a situation that is best exemplified by clans, sub-clans, lineages and sub-lineages down to the “diya-paying group.”

“This factious system is such that the Somalia, despite their cultural, language and religious homogeneity, never came under the rule of a single political authority prior to the colonial period,” writes Dr Jonyo.

This means that any efforts in reconstruction must have at its core grassroots religious, cultural and clan leaders.


As it is, he adds, some efforts are seen as marginalising and undermining the traditional authority in some locations.

Political nature

What is more, Dr Jonyo writes that most international actors have been shying away from the political nature of the problems by concentrating on institutions of governance, security and humanitarian affairs.

While clan-based militias and warlords that were motivated by war economy such as arms and drug dealing to money laundering have significantly reduced, Al Shabaab remains a threat.

The 190-page book starts by narrating the various peace processes that have been tried in Somalia since the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1991 and the reasons why they collapsed, including the United Nations Operations in Somalia in the early 1990s.

The main challenge is that a lot of programmes aimed at reconstruction are coordinated outside Somalia given the high level of insecurity.

This increases operational costs making Somalia’s reconstruction process quite expensive.

For example, until the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) took over Mogadishu in 2011 that allowed presidential elections to be held in Mogadishu for the first time, most of the activities of the transitional government were conducted either in Jowhar, Baidoa or Nairobi.

In essence, most of Somalia had no linkages with the government or its election into office.

So, what is the way forward? According to Dr Jonyo, locals should to direct the reconstruction process while external assistance should be mostly back-up support, providing mediation between local and international actors involved in the reconstruction.

Though the book was written before the current efforts by President Farmajo to acquire a resemblance of a conventional government could start showing, it makes a good summary of the background of the politics and culture of Somalia society before the final crisis in 1991.