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In Somaliland, Political Legitimacy Comes from Contributing to Peace

Caroline Rusten's picture

"I am selling my ears" (Dhagahaan iibinayaa), Abdillahi says, laughing.

The sharp light glimmers through the small opening in the tinted window, the wind is audible. It is early morning in Hargeisa, the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland, occupying the north-western territory of what the international community defines as Somalia. Somalia and Somaliland could not be further apart in conflict resolution experience and relative stability.

Abdillahi is still looking at me, his smile widens, his eyes sparkle. Chuckling, he leans towards me to emphasize his point. He had been telling me about the peace conference between the Somaliland clans in Borama in 1993, and had interrupted himself with the expression about selling his ears.

"That is what we say today about daily allowances from donors," he explains. "Our society is built on contribution, people here gets legitimacy through contribution. Everyone donated to the Borama peace conference. I gave 2,000 blankets. The clans competed over who could contribute the most militias and weapons to the new Somaliland army. We did it by ourselves. There was nobody to sell our ears to."

Abdillahi Mohamed Hersi is the Director of ALGASL (Association of Local Government Authorities in Somaliland). We were talking about space for political and social engagement, and about legitimacy of elected local government officials. That legitimacy in Somaliland comes from being able to contribute, he said.

He proudly narrates the tale of the Borama peace process, which brought an end to Somaliland’s engagement in the bruising civil war against the Siyad Barre regime that left Somaliland in ruins. Since that time, Somaliland has been ruled by its own governments under separate legal jurisdiction and has embarked on a slow process towards recovery.

South Central Somalia fell deeper into fragility and chaos, and despite 20 internationally sanctioned peace processes ranks as the most failed state in the world, without a functioning central government.

In contrast, Somaliland has had four democratic elections with the 2010 presidential election monitored by the EU and deemed free and fair. With peaceful transition of power, Somaliland can compare itself to countries like Ghana and Botswana. While facing extensive challenges, in particular border disputes and insecurity threats, it trades livestock across the Gulf of Aden, its seas are free of pirates, and it strives to provide security and basic services to the Somaliland people. It is a parliamentary democracy with an Upper House of Elders (Guurti) which plays a significant conflict resolution role, and is ruled through a pragmatic combination of customary and common law.

"We all wanted peace," Abdillahi said. "But peace could not start with discussing power sharing. There were so many grievances.

"We started at the grass-roots level, and then worked ourselves up through the clan system. We solved conflict after conflict. We talked for 5 months. Every male had to contribute money to the peace process. We also counted all our Diaspora. They had to contribute too."

He pauses, still smiling, his eyes serious now. "What you see today," he says, "is strive for balance, for equilibrium between the clans. I trust my own clan but I also depend on the other clans. I must respect the mayor of that clan today so they can respect the mayor of our clan tomorrow."

On the process to establish peace and security in South Central Somalia, the tale is still being written. It is not one of own contribution, conflict resolution, and grievance redress. It is one of power sharing. It is about defining who has the right to rule over whom, and who is included and who is excluded. What ingredients will make it work this time?


Photos: Borama residents nearly two decades after the peace conference. Credit: Caroline Rusten.



Submitted by Guled Hagoog on
Thank you very much for post such an important insight. It is my pleasure to know Somaliland is in the World Bank blog. There are a lot to be learned from Somaliland. We hope that the world reconsiders its position in Somaliland issue.

Submitted by Anonymous on
The story is a very good example on how own initiatives can create peace and stability compared to a peace process fully paid by donors in the name of “peace”. When do we learn to step back when donor funds are not the leverage or entry point for “peace”?

Thank you Guled and Anonymous for your comments and engagement on the important lessons from Somaliland's peace process. I think Somaliland's peace process was more manageable at that time than many current peace processes as it involved no external actors pressing for any particular solution. Also, they had the insight to address grievances before power sharing, I think that was fundamental too. Herein is a key lesson for other countries. Also, the stakeholders that negotiated peace were seen at that time as legitimately representing the population.

Submitted by Duale on
The peace slogan that Somaliland elders chose was "we want to leave a better life for our grandsons/daughters and future generation". They had the choice to think of themselves only but chose to consider the interset of others.

Submitted by Abdillahi M. Hers on
Thanks caroline for quoting me in writing your article. keep-up the good job and let me know when will you back to Somaliland. Best regtards

Somaliland a little country that peace is believed to be beyond the reach of criticism, attack or impeachment, we share and experience past and vision for a brighter future day after day. An indigenous bottom up peace building approach has been established. In Somaliland peace is everything.

Submitted by ahmed on
Somaliland is based on great clan tradition as well as adhering to common law. The fact of being educated is also valuable asset and the northerners which is somaliland are more cultured than the Southerners (Somalia). The people of somaliland got the freedom, established their constitution, own flag, government without the support of outsiders. Somaliland has zero debt due to not be recognised. Somaliland will survive and has recognised itself and doesn't need UN to say so, our destiny lies with our creator. The world needs to respect the wishes of people of somaliland who voted 100% for separation from the South. Independent Somaliland will enhance the peace and security of region. Somalia is trying to stand on its feet and the neigbouring governments should use hands off policy, ie countries like Kenya and Ethiopia who are vultures to Somalia progress.

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