After the collapse of the state in 1991, Somalia entered a new era in its long history. This period has exposed the vulnerability of the postcolonial state and durability of the local culture based on clanism and Islam. The ensuing civil war instigated by the armed factions devastated the country in all aspects. Since then, the talk of reconciliation was coming to the fore as a jargon without substance. The conflict in Somalia was depicted as a clan conflict and all peace and reconciliation efforts, therefore revolved around that simplistic diagnoses. Based on that, various so called reconciliation conferences were undertaken since 1991. These conferences fluctuated between warlord conferences (1991-99) to a civil society-driven endeavor (2000) to a warlord-dominated process (2003-04) and finally it morphed into a mixture of Islamism, warlordism, civil society and their derivatives (2008-2016).
Rethinking the Somali Reconciliation
The first successful reconciliation conference was the one driven by members of civil society in Djibouti in 2000 which laid the foundation for the concept of reconciliation between the state and society through adopted transitional Charter. In the Djibouti conference, political elites accepted the role of traditional elders and the role of Islam, and adopted a system of clan power sharing known as 4.5 formula. However, since then, the process has devolved into a mere power sharing system for political elites which in turn relegated the issue of reconciliation from its central position to the peripheral.
Reconciling the state and society requires abandoning the singular conception of modernity for one that incorporates multiple modernities and replacing extreme strategies of westernization or indigenization. This conception is based on moving the state and the society towards each other to a middle ground acceptable to all sides. In the history of Somalia, approaches to state building utilized two extreme models. The first model was founded on moving society towards the state that was tested during postcolonial state-building. This model was intended to transform traditional society into a modern society, and was ultimately derailed by various factors. It was the model championed by the collapsed Somali state in its liberal democratic era (1960-1969) and socialist oriented periods (1969-1990). The second extreme model was based on moving the state towards society, which means building modern state institutions on primordial clan affiliation and traditional structures. This indigenization approach was used as an interim arrangement since 2000 during Djibouti Peace Conference and proved unsuitability in building modern state institutions. That is why a new model for state-building which combines modernity and tradition is required as the only way out from the current Somali conundrum.
The proposition of this article is that the main trouble with Somalia lies with the nature of the postcolonial state and the political culture of its elites. Additionally, the genesis of the state’s collapse and subsequent catastrophic civil war in Somalia is the conflict between the postcolonial state, political elites and the basics of Somaliness: clan and Islam. Therefore, until the source of the conflict is addressed properly, the conflict will remain effective. This doesn’t mean however; local reconciliations are not important. On the contrary, it signifies only the unsustainability of the local reconciliations without establishing responsible and stable state institutions. Moreover, this proposition does not deny the conflicts between clans but consider them as a secondary conflict which has been present in the traditional Somali society in the absence of the state.
Even though reconciliation through the state-society model has been accepted conceptually since 2000, its practical application and appropriate mechanisms have not been developed. To do so, shared spaces and separate zones of the state and society should be identified, agreed upon and respected. Moreover, legal foundations, appropriate institutions and structures should be established and implemented in a transparent way. The conception of this article refutes that the Somali problem is simply clanism and its motivated local conflicts. It refutes the essentialization and exceptionalization of the Somali conflict based on the recycled old jargon entertained since the beginning of our liberation movement. Furthermore, it also refutes that modern state should be necessarily secular adopting Ibn-Khaldun’s theory that “Arabs [nomads] can obtain royal authority only by making use of some religious coloring, such as prophecy, or sainthood, or some great religious event in general.” Finally, in fact, true reconciliation does not stand alone, it should be part of a Transitional Justice (TJ) mechanism that so far has not been incorporated as part of the international plan for peace-building in Somalia.
In general, TJ is referred to a set of judicial and non-judicial measures and a set of approaches to address massive human rights violations. Its measures promote civic trust, build peace, foster national unity, and strengthen the democratic rule of law through measures that ensure accountability. TJ mechanisms include four processes: a justice process, to bring perpetrators to justice; a reparation process, to redress victims of atrocities for the harm suffered; a truth process, to fully investigate atrocities so that society discovers what happened during the repression/conflict; and an institutional reform process, to ensure that such atrocities do not happen again. Transitional Justice is not a new process of conflict resolution invented in the modern history. It was employed by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) after conquering Makkah (Fathu Makkah) in the 8th year of Hijra. Prophet Muhammad offers us an excellent example of amnesty, reconciliation, retributive justice after the mass violence and reforming the institutions of oppression based on the clan supremacy. The new institution established by the Prophet was based on the concept of one Islamic community “Muslim Ummah,” on equal citizenship; and no supremacy of one race/clan upon others and that all are brothers and sisters in Islam.
In conclusion, this article negates the concept of Somali exceptionalism that focuses on clan conflict. The Somali conflict is similar to other conflicts instigated as elite conflicts competing for power and resources. Thus, reconciliation in Somalia should focus on changing the culture of governance (changing institutions of injustice and corruption), and addressing past grievances (transitional justice). Unfortunately, Somali political elites are repeating the same previous approaches to politics which had caused our state failure and collapse, and international community are recycling failed approaches of state-building.
Dr. Abdurahman Baadiyow