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Somaliland elders play key role in blending traditional and modern governance

Page history last edited by Rosemary 12 years, 7 months ago

Somaliland elders played a key role in creating peace and governance system that blends traditional and modern systems

After 30 years of centralized government had left northern Somalis politically and economically marginalized, many in Somaliland saw Somalia’s 1991 collapse as a chance to develop a system that better met peoples’ needs. Elders played a key role in creating a transitional governance model that combined constitutional democracy and the traditional Somali clan-based system, and eventually led to a fully-elected multi-party system in northwestern Somalia.

This process has brought peace and stability to the former British colony, which had joined with the former Italian Somalia shortly after independence in the hopes of creating a country for Somalis divided by colonial boundaries. Somaliland took back its independence in 1991, after three decades of underdevelopment and a decade of internal war waged on the north by Said-Barre's Mogadishu-based government.

Traditional forms of Somali leadership (which the British, unlike the Italians, had partly incorporated into colonial governance) were part of the long northern struggle against Barre. In January 1991, the Somali National Movement asked the Guurti to lead peace and reconciliation in Somaliland.

Two major conferences were convened over the next five months, and in all, 24 smaller local peacemaking conferences funded by communities and clans themselves were held in the two years leading up to the watershed 1993 Borama conference. At Borama, the SNM transitional administration transferred power to a civilian administration that included an elected House of Representatives, a Senate made up of the elders or Guurti, an elected president and vice-president, and an independent judiciary.

Institutionalizing the elders’ conflict resolution role in government through the House of Guurti checked the divisive tendencies of political leadership throughout the transitional post-1991 decade. The House of Guurti played a crucial role in resolving conflicts and provided a buffer as Somaliland experimented with more challenging aspects of governance, such as decentralization and multi-party governance.

People in Somaliland (including refugees who had returned because of peace) were able to vote freely for local councils in December 2002, the Somaliland president in April 2003, and members of the Somaliland Parliament in September 2005, all using the multi-party system and all observed by international observers.

Even in the south, the elders helped restore law and order when their role was respected, and their interventions have stopped fighting between militias a number of times over the past decade. However, the elders have no official role within governance in either of the two internationally-supported attempts to recreate central governance in Somalia that have taken place over the past decade.

This story was primarily summarized from several reports prepared by the Academy for Peace and Development (APD) in Hargeisa, Somaliland. APD was established in 1999 as a research institute in collaboration with the War-torn Societies Project (WSP) International (now Interpeace). APD has focused on peacebuilding using Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology, bringing together different sectors of Somaliland society to identify priorities in rebuilding Somaliland, and facilitating dialogue on issues of human rights, democracy and good governance. APD's participatory methods encourage consensus building among key actors with respect to strategic political, social and economic issues, leading to practical, policy-oriented recommendations and guidelines.

 

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