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Last Updated: 07/01/2013Reconciliation…One More Time!
Abukar Arman argues for a meaningful national reconciliation strategy in Somalia -- not led by the government, any foreign government, or special interest group, but by the Somali people themselves.
Ironic as it may seem, it is a statement of controversy to assert that a genuine national reconciliation is needed in Somalia. To some, that has already happened; to others, there is no need for it since the country has emerged out of the transitional period and the current government is the officially recognized representative of the state; yet, to others, now is the time for genuine national reconciliation.
Because the first two groups’ argument support status quo, I would spend the rest of this article highlighting the third group’s argument, which is also this author’s.
Before attempting to sketch what an organic and holistic national reconciliation actually looks like, allow me to acknowledge the following for context: In the past two decades, sixteen different projects painted as “national reconciliation” were held in various foreign cities. Each one of them, save Arta, was engineered by one foreign nation or interest group or another. Yet, invariably, each one of these costly conferences ended up with the same failed formula of haphazard power-sharing aimed to accommodate various armed actors or clans that did not last long. Future reconciliation, needless to say, must be driven by counter-historical vision and a strategy.
Reconciliation is a complex concept of settling conflicts and eradicating perpetual grievances and its consequences. There is no one-size-fits-all model. It is a highly coordinated public process of dialogue, compromise, and peace-making. In our case, it may include evacuation of private and public properties, apology, repentance, restitution, etc.
Who Needs It and Why?
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed; an estimated one million are still refugees in Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen; another 1.2 million are IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons,) yet, not a single perpetrator has been tried and convicted nor has a single “reformed warlord,” self-appointed or elected leader has offered a public apology or a symbolic mea culpa.
In the absence of reconciliation, the direly needed patching-up of the broken Somali state and rebuilding the national army to provide essential security proves an impossible task. Though they did not have a say on it, some groups have openly opposed the recent partial lifting of the UN Arms Embargo on Somalia, lest that government appeal was a conspiracy intended to wipe them out. Perception is reality, especially in clan politics!
The glittering façade of certain X-Lands aside, each is a duplication of the very same failed political system or a particular clan’s overt or covert domination of others- the very same system that caused universal grievance against the military government.
Strategic Obstacles to Genuine Reconciliation
First, there is a lack of political will by elites who occupy seats of powers and find status quo very convenient, and others who consider the complexity or the multifaceted nature of the overall Somali problem as too difficult of an undertaking. Second, there are those who, either as individuals or as part of a militia, have partaken in criminal activities. Third, profiteers who, directly or indirectly, benefit from the dismemberment of the state and lack of wholly functioning system that negates impunity. Fourth, political myopia of clan politics [I shall expand this as most of the grievances are routinely expressed through the clan prism] Fifth, Machiavellian foreign interventionists and their ghost-lords who exploit these conditions for their own zero-sum gains.
Impunity of Clanism and AJV Politics
Clan-based wars have been part of the Somali culture since time immemorial. These wars were often triggered by disputes on grazing territories, access to water, and by random criminal acts of clansmen, though throughout the civil war, it was the latter cause that triggered most of inter-clan conflicts and clashes.
By and large, within the clan structure, individual criminals have absolute immunity. The Somali clan culture emboldens the criminal as it, by default, shelters the criminal from facing justice and paying for his or her own crime. The consequences of the criminal's wrongdoings are routinely absorbed by the entire clan. The entire clan donates for blood money to pay off crimes committed by one of its own. Hence, there is no a direct connection between the criminal and his actions. The larger the clan, the more protection one has from justice.
Moreover, when it comes to politics, there is no middle-ground in clanism; it is a game of winner takes all. The preferred method of dealing is what I call the AJV, or Aim for Jugular Vein. In recent months proponents and opponents of “Jubbaland” have been holding various rallies to energize their respective clannish bases. These events are often spearheaded by various diaspora-based intellectual militias who specialize in tossing Molotov rhetoric to enflame clan-based wars.
Paving the Way
The government cannot claim monopoly on the entire reconciliation process. Those spearheading the process must be independent of the government. Ideally, the engine of the process should be a collection of visionary patriots from every critical sector of the Somali society: political, religious, and social- especially, poets, playwrights, and composers.
The healing process can start as soon as our individual and collective traumatic experiences are affirmed and the process for psychological closure is put on tracks. This, needless to say, would not be achieved overnight as it is a process that, among other things, requires great deal of sensitivities and relies on clans curtailing their typically self-affirming narratives of meek righteousness and exclusive victimhood.
The government’s role then would be to initiate massive, well-coordinated educational campaign to synthesize our collective narrative as a nation and weave our commonalities back together by neutralizing the prevalent narratives of distrust, hate, and division. Of course, this would be like chasing a mirage so long as the citizen rights are weighed by the current immoral 4.5 clan system. Therefore, the Parliament must demonstrate its commitment to overhaul the current (highly controversial) constitution…and reassure the average citizens that he or she will be granted full citizenship rights and be protected by the law.
As a legal mechanism, the law is primarily designed to protect rights of individual citizens claiming injustice against specific individual(s) and also to protect the public interest or common good. That is to say it is not designed to litigate inter-clan grievances and counter-grievances. The Somali customary law or Xeer addresses such problems, though it has not entirely been safe from the caustic effects of post-civil war anarchy.
Just Say Them and See
Affirmation of victim’s grievance and offering healing words of empathy and sympathy are very rare in the nomadic culture; open display of such emotions are perceived as weakness.
Universally, words are arguably the most underestimated power in the world. They are mightier than any military might. They can heal any wound and bridge any divide. Yes, the same words that are made of letters that are assigned certain sounds in each language. In and of itself, each letter has no meaning. It is the deliberate arrangement of a given number of letters that make up powerful words; words such as justice, peace, and reconciliation. That is why, throughout history, it is words that formed reformed and transformed societies and their systems of governance.
The Somali psyche is broken; but, not beyond repair. In order to repair our collective psyche, we must look deep into the Islamic and the Somali cultural values to find the right framework. In both of these complimenting value systems, reconciliation of the tongues—or empathic engagement—precedes that of the hearts and minds.
Imagine the power of these words “I am very sorry for what I (we) have done” and “I (we) have forgiven you for it,” if they were sincerely expressed by the right individual(s), at the right place and the right time. Imagine the tradeoff when we resist our ruthlessly self-absorbed attitudes and express simple words of healing!
We need reconciliation in order to treat our collective trauma as a nation and set on the healing process. We need such closure in order to fix our broken relationships, rebuild our damaged identity and rekindling our sense of nationhood. We need the sense of hope that the worst is behind us, and that the future is very promising for all of us.
Now that most are incrementally becoming aware of (and are weary) how we drifted into a dangerous political wilderness that is full of all sorts of predators that stealthily monitor and at times influence our moves, should we not collaborate for our collective survival? Should we not negotiate how best to make space for one another; especially those in the peripheries who often get the short-end of justice and enfranchising them as citizens with full constitutional rights? Should we not learn to separate the individual criminal acts from clan-coordinated ones?
Lastly, being mindful that there is no conventional reconciliation model that perfectly matches every aspect of our needs, I hope this piece would provoke good-faith dialogue and debate on what may be the best (holistic) reconciliation model for our deeply traumatized society.
Nothing should be rushed for political expediency.
Abukar Arman is a former Somali diplomat and a widely published political analyst.