By Dr Hussein Nur
Immediately after defeating the government troops and capturing of the entire regions of the North, the SNM administration embarked on initiating processes of reconciliation to settle outstanding scores of differences between the different clans in Somaliland. The SNM chose to engage with the different clans through peace negotiations aimed at the reconciliation and cessation of hostilities to avoid destructive acts of retribution.
The ultimate principle was the achievement of a lasting peace, security and stability, the first and foremost strategic goal. That was an important challenge the SNM leadership faced. With sheer determination, patience and perseverance of the SNM leadership, the clan elders as well as the people that was eventually achieved. But it was accomplished through staged and long processes. The main architect pillar used was the traditional structures of the communities. Traditional elders, chiefs, sultans and leaders of the different clans in Somaliland played a pivotal role. Without that the peace and stability Somaliland enjoys today would have been substantiated.
Consensus indicates that the reconciliation process which took place in Somaliland was rather a unique one in Africa. How the traditional institutions were used was distinctively exceptional to Somaliland in a way that no other African country which came out of a civil war has ever employed it. Meetings were immediately organised exploiting the local traditional institutions and structures of the society positively for reaching resolutions for the standing clan conflicts and differences. Mutual contracts and treaties (‘Heer’), a form of social and political contract in which there is a sense of democratic organisation in the local community meetings or councils (‘Shirar’), was reviewed and revisited.
The councils are held on ad-hoc basis by the Council elders (‘Guurti’) to discuss the standing issues and the pressing needs of the local community. The Somali ‘heer’ or the social contract which covers a wide range of issues such as homicide, injuries and wounds, fighting between groups of the community ,i.e., as well as relations during crisis in resources management (water, land, pasture) etc. was used as being essential for the multi-level application of conflicts and for the solution at different levels of the socio-political organisation of the Somali society.
The utilization of this social instrument was exactly what Somaliland resorted to and used in a positive and advantageous manner. Through this method Somaliland has achieved a successful and fruitful reconciliation processes by way of a series of conferences, summits and public meetings to secure security and acquire a successful peacebuilding process.
The peace building process
The sustained inputs of the local lineage elders made possible the creation of favourable environments for reconciliations. The elders of Somaliland people meant to preserve the peace. That firmly set the ground work for an encouraging tendency in which peaceful dialogues were favoured as a means of settling legitimate grievances and old scores in lieu of the use of force. That in return produced the promulgation of legal contracts through a series of consultations and conferences that ultimately defined the political and socio-economic relations between local clans in contemporary Somaliland. Somaliland takes pride of such efforts and events as part of its modern history.
Throughout the decade liberation struggle by the SNM, the traditional Council of elders (Guurti) and their advice was always at the forefront to the specific roles of socio-cultural inputs and roles in all activities: a) fundraising for the struggle or war efforts; b) mobilisation of recruiting fighters to contribute to the SNM fighting with the Government; c) mediating the SNM military wing Officers and civilian politicians when problems arise; d) maintain dignity and respect within the communities by not accepting bribery or corruption in the functions for the society.
At the end of the war, a series of conferences at national level were then held. The council of elders ‘the Guurti’ of the SNM, which was nominated at the 6th Conference of the SNM at Balligubadle in 1990, added members of elders from other clans to the Council to form all-northern clans ‘guurti.
The SNM rank and file were mature and conscious of the real politics at any stage. They were highly politicised and reconciliations for securing the peace became a cardinal objective. The SNM officers and politicians started individual peace meetings with the intellectuals from the other regions where SNM was not supported from. Peace summits were organised at Oog, Las Anod and Yogori with Sool and Sanaag intellectuals. Colonel Mohamed Kahin and others were at the fore front to accomplish that. They met colleagues from Sool such as Garaad Abdulgani, Suleiman Dahir Afgarshe, Yasin Ahmed, Ahmed Haji Nur, Said Ali Gir and others.
A series of conferences and consultations were organised between the various clans and within clans so to speak. The main objective was the reconstruction and rebuilding of the country but first and foremost to bring back the disintegrated society back to a single fabric.
A string of meetings and consultations at grass roots levels that involved the SNM leaders and liberation fighters, the various clan elders, Sultans, Garaads, tribal chiefs etc., intellectuals, religious leaders, women, youth etc. were held across the regions of Somaliland. Diverse methods of traditional conflict mediations have been widely and successfully used. The role of the tribal or clan elders were given respect, positively used and reinforced for purposes of reaching a lasting peace and stability. External or outside intervention was evaded. Outside interference was never allowed in the arbitration processes. This sharply contrasted to the complex activities in Somalia whereby thickened and entrenched warlords took out war on each other openly and played on each other to settle old scores which marginalised the peace that would have been the possibility and still not achieved. In Somaliland disputes were resolved at grassroots level, using the proper and existing traditional social organisation of the society without resorting to externally organised mediations. This is a new phenomenon in the history of conflict resolution in the African continent. This situation deprived politicians or those with conflicts of interest to dominate process and inject possibilities of inciting conflicts for own interests. It is exactly this peculiar characteristic that helped Somaliland to accomplish peace and security. This type of conflict resolution sets as a universal operational model in the future of conflicts in the world in general and in Africa in particular.
Berbera peace summit
As the SNM leadership and politicians took control of some parts of the North, the SNM administration called for a national congress for all Somaliland elders and clan leaders in the different regions (Northwest, Togdheer, Sool and Sanaag) to be held in Berbera which was held from 15 to 27 February 1991. The theme was how to achieve reconciliation with the purpose of restoring the trust and confidence between the different clans who fought the opposite sides in the conflict and, thus, to settle any old and outstanding score. The Berbera conference achieved a touching success. It laid the foundation for a broader plan for a major all-clan conference to reconsider the union with Somalia situation and the independence of Somaliland which was forfeited and sacrificed for its union with Somalia. It was decided to hold a broader conference to be held in Buroa to be participated all clans of Somaliland.
The Grand Buroa conference
This conference was held in Buroa from 27 April to 18 May 1991. It was a historical conference. The conference was organised by the SNM leaders, chaired by the Vice Chairman of the SNM, Hassan Essa Jama.
The conference was attended by representatives of clans in the north and the elders asserted themselves as an autonomous force and fully established its role as an institution in the leadership. The conference was the starting point for the new potential powers of the Guurti in Somaliland. The decision makers were the clan elders. No one was at a gun point to endorse the withdrawal from union with Somalia. In fact, politicians had divergent ideas whether it was the right time to declare independence and what approach to take but the majority of them were for the reclamation of independence.
The purpose of the conference was the reaffirmation and cementing of the peace across all regions of the North (SomaIiland). Throughout the period of the conference, extensive consultations, deliberations and wide discussions were not spared. The conference was attended by representatives of all clans who inhabit in Somaliland as well as all the categories of the Somali society.
The conference finalised and formalised the peace agreement earlier made in Berbera as a starting point for unity among all people in the north. The final outcome of the conference was declared on 18 May 1991 and a declaration of independence was signed. The conference participants overwhelmingly agreed to restore Somaliland’s sovereignty and borders by declaring withdrawal from the union between Somalia. They also agreed to continue the peace building process.
Another important issue discussed was the vitality of preparing for setting up of civilian government and whether that civilian government should have an executive president or a constitutional president and a prime minister. The former chairman of the SNM, Abdirahman Ahmed Ali, was chosen by a majority vote in favour of the first executive provisional president and Hassan Essa Jama as the Vice President for a term of two years.
The overall majority of the Convention consisting of the representatives of the people and the SNM fighters and commanders fully supported the declaration of independence and regaining of the territorial integrity of Somaliland. The representatives 17 clan elders signed a document ‘declaration of independence of Somaliland’. The conference agreed that extra efforts for peace had to be made in Erigavo and Sool regions.
The SNM leadership took the mandate to draft a constitution and prepare Somaliland for elections in the future.
The memorable Borama conference
This conference was held in Borama from 1st February to 23rd May 1993. All clans were represented. The conference was attended by a 150 –member Council of elders and 500 representatives drawn from a cross-section of the society consisting of elders, religious leaders, politicians, ex- civil servants, intellectuals and businessmen. The conference coincided with end of the two-year term of the government elected at Buroa in 1991 led by the late president, Abdirahman Ahmed Ali (Tuur). At that time there were different factional alliances rooted in previous differences by different sects within the SNM. The conference was held at a popular public school in Borama, Sh Ali Jowhar Secondary school.
The intention of the conference was to set grass roots based peace and to place effective reconciliation initiatives in place. That target itself stimulated the impetus of holding the grand conference in Borama for representatives of the different clans. The conference marked a special defining event in the landscape of political history of Somaliland. It formed a watershed for the inception of the natural reputation of Somaliland and of the formation of statehood. The issues of representation and power sharing were dealt with decisively through the institutionalisation of the clans and their leadership into the system of governance. The conference was a touching success. The principal achievements were: a) that a peace agreement and a security framework was reached in consensus; b) that a final peace was struck among the communities in the West; b) that a national constitutional charter was produced.; c) that Mohamed Ibrahim Egal was elected as the president and Abdirahman Aw Ali as the Vice president. A cabinet of 17 Ministers were chosen; d) that a 30-point Transitional National Charter was drawn; e) that a Council of elders ‘Guurti’ and the House of Representatives were established forming a bicameral Parliament. 75 members for each were nominated though the number was later increased as described below to 82.
A hybrid system of political representation was decided to be in place, i.e., mixing the traditional system and western form consisting of an executive president, an independent judiciary and bicameral parliament comprising of an upper House of Elders incorporating the ‘guurti’, and a parliament made up of aa lower House of Representatives (‘Golaha Wakiilada’) the members of which were nominated on clan basis by an electoral college of elders was taken.
The conference oversaw a peaceful transfer of power from SNM leadership to a new civilian administration headed by Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, a widely respected politician, and a statesman since the independence of Somaliland in 1960.
The conference produced a Transitional National Charter and an Interim Peace Charter. The conference defined the political and institutional structures of a three-year administration until the promulgation of a constitution. The Peace Charter entrenched the use of Somali traditional ‘Xeer’ as the basis of the law.
During the conference rival clan members accepted a deal in power sharing treaties and agreed on the representation in the government and the legislature of the 82 members in each of the senate house (Guurti) and house of representatives or parliament (Golaha wakiilada). Egal immediately announced a non-clan pluralist system to propel the political process (Kibble, 2001:15) and aspiring parties were introduced to adopt an inclusive platform in an attempt to avoid clan and religious affiliations and loyalties.
The system of Government established in Borama was a community-based kind of ‘beel’ system, a power sharing coalition government between all clans that inhabit in Somaliland. The ‘beel’ system was meant to be in place for three year but Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, the president, was re-elected for the next two years. This was because at the end of president Egal three-year term in early 1996, an advantage was taken of an emergency clause ratified at Borama agreement which resulted in Egal’s term being extended until the end of 1997 after which a convention was called again along the same lines as the Borama conference.
In 1994 during Egal’s term there was a conflict between two clan militias that broke loose around Berbera and Buroa. The situation was serious and fear of a civil war was felt imminent. However, once again the traditional conflict resolution and peace reconciliation efforts, Somaliland style worked again and saved the country from another disaster that hovered around. A peace summit was organized at Sheikh.
The period of presidency under Egal was difficult. But nevertheless, tangible achievements were made. In February 1994, Egal’s government and the Guurti (the Upper House) initiated a process of demobilising and disarming the armed clan-based militias roaming at will. The process of demobilisation was extremely successful in laying firm for the foundation of peace, security and the stability of Somaliland. That was followed by another peace summit at Sheikh.
The peace summit was organised to mediate differences which resulted in serious rift that emerged in 1994 between two major groups within the Isaaq clans of the SNM alliance around Buroa and Berbera towns. Somaliland drifted into a crisis and was then on the verge of conflict. This conference had the purpose to bring those clans together closely. The conference was named as the brotherhood summit (Shirkii Walaalaynta Beelaha). What is Interesting here is that it was specially initiated and encouraged mainly by the elders from non-Isaaq clans who took the responsibility to intervene and called for that meeting. The mediation was very successful.
This conference was held from October 1996 to February 1997 at the Labour House (Guriga Shaqaalaha) Conference Hall, Hargeisa. The conference was attended by 315 delegates from across Somaliland (164 were members of the elders ‘guurti’ and representatives, the rest from the different categories of the society and 100 observers). The conference was chaired by Sheikh Ibrahim Sh Yusuf Sh. Madar; the vice Chairs were Dr Mohamed Abdi Gabose and Suldan Abdirahman Sheikh Muhumed and attended by most of the traditional chiefs and elders, Sultans and Garaads of Somaliland. The panel consisted of Suldan Esse Suldan Hersi Ghani, Suldan Mohamed Suldan Abdulqadir, Garaad Abdulghani Garaad Jama, Garaad Ismail Ali, Suldan Mohamed Suldan Farah).
The main achievements of the conference were: a) agreement of on show of a signal for formal ending and conclusion of the civil war in the North. b) Successful ending of conflicts between clans was reached; c) election of President M I Egal with majority for a second term while Dahir Rayale Kahin was chosen for the Vice President post. Suleiman Adan Mohamoud and Eng. Mohamed Hashi Elmi were the other contesting candidates for the presidency. Egal immediately appointed his cabinet of ministers. This time the term for the presidency was agreed to be 5 years rather than the 3 year as was previously agreed at the Borama conference. d) During the conference the existence of some values and trust between the clans were confirmed even more strongly; e) demobilisation and disarming of clan militias was made peacefully. It is often considered that the day Somaliland set the foot on the road to nationhood was actually the 23rd of February 1997.
Inter-clan peace summits
It is important to mention that even after the major and grand peace conferences a series of both inter-clan negotiations were held across Somaliland such as Oog (February 1991), Yogori (March/April 1991), Hudun, Garadag (November – December 1992), Shimbiraale (August, 1992), El-Gohle (1992), Borama twice (1991 and 1992), Sheikh (October 1992), Hargeisa (October 1992), Dararweyne (Jan.-February 1993), Jiidale (October 1992), Garadag (November 92- Feb. 1993), Ainabo (April 1996), Gashaamo (June 1996), Duruqsi (July 1996), Warabeeye (August 1996), Camp Abokor (June 1996) to settle differences in the past and for purposes of consolidating peace and security in Somaliland. Without the Somaliland elders (Guurti) who were the organisers and the vanguard in implementing, all those negotiations would not have taken place.
The road to peace and stability in Somaliland was not set at ease but took a long winding path and a tedious process but with patience, perseverance, honesty and commitment of the people of Somaliland. In other words, the peace relished today did come overnight.
Nothing of the kind of peace summits, conferences and consultations and efforts in search of reconciliations and peace building processes took place in Somalia despite a countless number of externally organised peace conferences despite the international community support, promotion from transitional governments to the presently recognised government of Somalia s=dominated by lack of security, stability and democratic principles. No effort of reconciliation and intermediary between the different clans and groups who are were/still at loggerhead since after the collapse of central government in 1991 was attempted. Countless number of superficially cosmetic peace conferences (about 20 in total), all of which were externally sponsored organised, were held outside Somalia (Sodare, Djibouti, Asmara, Nairobi, Eldoret, Embagathi ) save two of them (Garowe I and II) which were also externally sponsored. Such conferences and meetings were all organized, hosted and funded by outsiders, i.e., the international community and the neighbouring countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti. Not a single one of them was organized by the Somalis themselves. Comparatively, however, indigenously organised negotiations in Somaliland led to peace, reconciliation and finally formation of the essential democratic structures.