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Last Updated: 06/01/2010
From Conventional Peacebuilding Paradigms in Post-Conflict Settings and Reconstruction to Systemic Multi-Foci Approaches: The Case of Somaliland
Muhyadin A. Saed

Building on the work of Dr Victoria Fontan and others, Muhyadin Saed challenges conventional methods of peacebuilding, with specific reference to the experiences of Somaliland. Saed proposes a human-centred, rather than institutional, approach which considers the local people to be vital assets in the design and implementation of such projects. In order to achieve sustainable peace, Saed argues, the local people must be actively involved and considered to be more than recipients of outside assistance.


This paper builds on a peacebuilding course taught by Dr. Fontan[1] that challenges conventional conceptions of peacebuilding and focuses on new aspects pertinent to the context, culture and dynamics of conflict arenas; discarding the myopic view of a “one-size-fits-all” strategy of conflict intervention. The course delineated in depth the precarious failures of peacebuilding operations in the past and what needs to be changed to address future conflicts in the search for a peaceful world. The course delved into development and humanitarian aid aspects, looking at them in a fresh perspective, propounding that local people are not just recipients, but should be seen as active and capable agents.

This paper aims to connect much of the theoretical and practical notions covered by Dr Fontan, and ground them to local examples from the case of Somaliland. Relevant examples will be applied in what I have encapsulated from the course sessions, explaining different concepts and the innovations that are underway in the society but has little on or no attention to people entitled as “peace builders”. This paper will try to conceptualize precisely to the would-be changes in this post-conflict polity that current or previous peacebuilders were working restively to intensify and bring to surface for fruition.

Challenges of post conflict settings and reconstruction – Somaliland

Rebuilding a country after civil strife is not only about re-building visible infrastructure but one could envisage the myriad activities and challenges that need to be addressed to restrain the possibility of war-relapse. Peacebuilding cannot be viewed simply as a “quick-fix-strategy” applied to people saw unrest or have failed states experiencing dysfunction in their structures and strategies; conversely, it is a multi-faceted approach working to achieve “positive peace” in every aspect of social life. After the cessation of hostilities, people who arguably were fighting for the pursuit of justice and had high expectations of better experiences and life unfortunately meet with different realties on the ground, and Somaliland is not an exception.[2]

Somaliland has been a relatively peaceful enclave since the collapse of the Somali Central government in 1991. Notwithstanding, the tranquility that this region has been enjoying, there is a plethora development work that has to be executed for the pursuit of sustainable peace and to achieve a viable government of strong institutions that replaces the major ethnic and racist divisions of the society and establish an egalitarian and classless meritocracy – be it a long term vision.

Strong government institutions that internalize the rule of law coupled with the promotion of socio-economic and cultural aspects that had been disrupted and altered by the wars are schemes that do not need quick-fix approaches and policies, but need to be planned for generations.

Sharing much of the general truths and experiences that societies in conflict share, the people of Somaliland took some time to break the cycles of internal violence and civil wars and reconcile the different clans that inhabit the country in close proximity with each other, sharing both rural and urban resources. The country is now facing the challenges of reconstruction, where everything needs to be ameliorated –from schools and public health care to alleviating the chronic poverty that is an ingredient to civil unrest and violence.

The social structure of the people of tribal organizations also requires special attention, as traditional society needs to be harmonized with the modern systems in place - Somalilanders agreed to embrace and adapt a political system of democracy and multi-party representation, while keeping their endogenous system of “xeer” of traditional ruling; making a hybrid government system that needs much learning and internalization.

Social fabric Interconnectedness and dynamics

Looking at society as fragments that are separated straightforwardly by interests or castes or other divisions has led to social catastrophe, including wars, environmental degradation and resource depletion, poverty, and world-wide economic and political disorder.[3]

Society is interconnected in a very complex, chaotic way that one could not delineate, even painstakingly, into neat divisions – how and what separates one standing from the other? Peacebuilders with the vision of this new approach need not to compartmentalize the people and communities they work with, but rather rummage around for connectors and capacities for peace to amplify their effects of sustainable peace[4] and do no harm.

Focusing on the interconnectedness of a society will not only increase the augmentation of community betterment and positive change, and shift from a hostile to a peaceful environment, but will serve as entry point for deconstructing and reshaping latent, structural and cultural violence embedded in the structures, attitudes and traditions of the society. It will also bring to surface the latent violence that needs to be addressed nonviolently. For instance, women in Somalia are borderless and can serve as neutral peacebuilders. This is so, as the Somali woman has both the identities of their family of birth and family of marriage. Looking at this fundamental interconnection will serve as an opportunity for building bridges between people. At the same time, women face inequalities and injustices that are structurally or culturally accepted, which can be overcome by engaging their clans – of birth or marriage or both – to address and commit these practices to come to an end. Peacebuilders, therefore need to open up the fractals in the society, and make them their entry points.

Next, we will attempt to explain some of the visible segments in the society that need urgent and long term consideration in Somaliland, so that its fragile peace stays solid in the future.


The population of Somaliland is estimated at 3.7 million, with approximately 70% of the population below the age of 35 years.[5] The Somaliland youth share much of the problems with the wider community, but they exclusively face many challenges that need to be addressed.

High unemployment rate, Khat addiction, high illiteracy rate and limited participation in community activities and lack of sports and recreation centers and facilities are among the many other problems that they have to confront in their daily lives. As a result of this, immigration and trafficking became rampant among Somaliland youth of both sexes, while many young men and women risk themselves in a long route of journey in their search of better life. There are unpromising signs of internal violence recently in the main cities of Somaliland where youngsters are attacking people to grab their mobiles or jewelries from people. This is a clear indication that a complete part of the society has been neglected and that conflict is building itself up waiting for little cause to be overt, and thus lowering the synergy of the components of the society.

The “Shaqadoon program”

One of the projects targeting these youth, especially those graduated from universities but still wondering the streets unemployed, is “Shaqadoon” which means “Jobseeker.” Funded by USAID and implemented by EDC (Education Development Center), the programs aims to build the expertise of youth and provide them skills and training needed by the employers. It also helps train the youth to create self-employment opportunities. This project bridges local companies that hire people and the youth by working with the businesses and employers to provide internships and jobs[1]. The University of Hargeisa, which is one of the partners working with EDC for the successful implementation of the program, hosted 60 of its alumni to give them capacity building and training. The next batch comprises 100 of its fresh graduates who need practical grounding and training in their job search and working environment. This is a bottom-up approach enabling the youth to help themselves.

Projects like these will provide short-term remedies for the problem, but the government working with the youth organizations and civil society needs to put in place long-term strategies and clear policies for the improvement of youth status.

Gender- from symmetrical to complimentary

Understanding gender as the roles that society ascribes to both men and women, while not seeing it as issues only related to women, is a beginning basic foundation that civil society groups can strengthen. Gender issues are not exclusively about sex or biologically defined attributes and gender awareness does not entail feminism.[6]

In Somaliland, the issue of affirmative action concerning women´s participation in the decision making of the body needs to be sensitized. There are only three female members in the two houses of Somaliland parliament; two members are in the lower house of parliament, directly elected by the constituents and one member joined the upper house of elders after the death of her husband in a terrorist suicide bombing.

Current endeavors of women´s empowerment are seen as alien concepts by many people and the need for women´s representation, women teachers and doctors is pressing. Most of the youngsters who migrate and take risky journeys are young women who have lost hope of any possible positive transformation of the society they live in. These women meet harsh experiences along the way and even after their arrival. Education is the essential aspect Somaliland women are lacking. The illiteracy of women is engendered in every domain in the society, and men remain to dominate.

There are some local women who are working in the development of the community, despite the social, economic and political limitations.

Civil society as watchdogs

Civil society can be defined:

[…] as a broad range of organizations and groups which are different from government and business, and which exist to promote the interests of their members and the issues they seek to address. Civil society includes local, national and international organizations, trade unions, academia, faith groups and non-profit media.[7]

Somaliland civil society groups work with different parts of the community to contribute to and strengthen peace in Somaliland. Their involvement needs to be connected so that any disconnect between them and their beneficiary is eliminated. Areas of minority group marginalization and respecting rules and policies need to be the primary focus.

There is also a need for Somaliland civil society organizations to make networks with international organizations to maximize their potential. They also need to use their leverage at times of internal disputes and conflicts to thwart the possibility of returning to war. Somaliland civil society organizations need to learn extensively and obtain experiences from places that witnessed similar conflicts and consider how civil society groups are handling peacebuilding activities to broaden their horizons and learn lessons.

Peacebuilder pathways

Here, we will be looking at some of the important pathways that peacebuilders working in Somaliland need to consider so that their operations are fruitful and do not inadvertently cause negative outcomes and suspicions by the community over what the real motives of their work entails. Designing with the people, but not for the people, is a paramount pre-requisite for any intervention, so that people get a sense of belonging in peacebuilding operations and guarantee their sustainability. Other alternatives include:

· Giving meaning to the intervention and listening to the emotions and actions of the locals.

· Embodying the values of humility, trust, will, love, esthetic and symbolism in the work of projects to suit the distinct viewpoints of those targeted.

· Embracing the magnitude and importance of process, dialogue, passion, complimentary relationships, art and analogical communication oriented work.

· Understanding the need for re-evolution, so that self-sustaining and self-generating networks and social fabric are created.

· Nurturing collective leadership over the “winner-takes-all” view.

Conclusions & recommendations

Though it is impossible to encapsulate all the salient reflections of the course in this precise paper, I have tried to explore some of my understandings on how the course convictions can be pragmatically applied in my context.

Knowing that peacebuilding is extended work intended to bring about change, it is important to notice that experiencing of the failures of conventional peacebuilding aspects, there is a need to adapt and rethink our strategies and intentions to transform the intractable conflicts in the world and Somalia in particular. It is also important to reflect on our approaches to post-conflict reconstruction and development, understanding how man, ecology and their activities are intertwined and interconnected.

[1] The course has been offered by Prof. Dr. Victoria Fontan of UPEACE as a visiting professor to IPCS in Hargeisa, Somaliland

[2] See Academy for Peace and Development, (1999) – A Self-Portrait of Somaliland,

[3] See Bohm, David. “Fragmentation and wholeness”

[4] Do No Harm, Anderson, Mary B.

[5]“Somaliland National Youth Policy”

[6] See Fontan, Victoria, “Voices from Post Saddam Iraq”. P105/6

[7] Adapted from Fisher and Zimina “Just Wasting our Time, Provocative thoughts for peacebuiders”