The name Somalia remains synonymous with conflict, violence, warlordism, famine, refugees, terrorism, jihadism, and piracy. As this report shows, despite this image, it is not a lawless and ungoverned land, but one where Somali people over the past two decades have forged systems of governance to manage conflict and provide security and law.
With minimal international assistance, Somalis have also rebuilt their cities and towns, built new schools, universities, medical facilities, developed multi-million dollar enterprises, created efficient money transfer systems and established some of the cheapest and most extensive telecommunication networks in Africa. It is this Somali talent and capacity that the international community needs to foster and tap into.
At the heart of the Somali crisis is an unresolved problem over the nature of statehood. Since the collapse of the state, power and authority has been fractured and radically decentralised among the clans and political elites. While international diplomacy continues to adopt a statebuilding approach aimed at restoring a sovereign national government, Somalis themselves have been re-establishing systems of governance.
What sets Somali and internationally-sponsored peace processes apart is that they are locally designed, managed, mediated and financed; in other words ‘Somali-owned’. They work with the grain of the clan system, are based on consensus decision-making and focus on reconciliation and the restoration of public security.
Somaliland and Puntland demonstrate the potential and sustainability of ‘home-grown’ peacemaking and reconciliation. They show the desire among Somalis for government and a capacity for self-governance given the right conditions.
Local reconciliation has proved much more difficult in south central Somalia, where a combination of local structural inequalities and greater international attention has made conflict more intractable. Even here local initiatives have achieved a great deal, but they are vulnerable to national and international dynamics. The demobilisation exercises organised by women, the neighbourhood security arrangements that flourished in Mogadishu and the security brought briefly by the ICU to parts of south central Somalia all foundered as a result of national and international pressures.
No single factor can explain the causes of the conflict and there is no consensus among Somalis on how it should be resolved. The nature of the crisis has mutated and efforts to resolve it have been frustrated by a host of domestic and external actors. Islamist militancy has brought a new dimension to the twenty-year conflict and has become one of the most pressing issues for international actors. Somalis are themselves grappling with how to respond to this as much as the international community. It is time for the international community to find more effective ways to move the country out of this protracted crisis and to develop methods that are more responsive to Somali realities.