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close this bookThe Somali Conflict (Oxfam)
close this folderPart III: Mogadishu: peace-enforcement
View the document1. The internationalisation of the Somali conflict
View the document2. The politics of UNOSOM II
View the document3. Conclusions
View the document4. District councils
View the document5. Humanitarian issues: NGOs and UNOSOM II

4. District councils

UNOSOM is mandated by Resolution 814 of March 1993, to 'assist the people of Somalia to promote and advance political reconciliation, through broad participation by all sections of Somali society, and the re-establishment of national and regional institutions'. The Addis Ababa agreement commits the Somali political factions to the formation of transitional political and administrative structures.

Since the Addis Ababa conference, UNOSOM II, in line with its mandate, has moved ahead with a programme to form District Councils. This programme is the responsibility of the Political Division. The motivation to proceed with the formation of District Councils, while the future of the TNC remains in some doubt, comes from the view that a 'bottom-up' process of political reconciliation is the best way to build peace in Somalia. It is believed that the process will eventually marginalise the warlords. Problems have arisen, however, in the implementation of this programme by UNOSOM.

The constitution for the District Councils has been drafted by the Charter Drafting Committee. By this, the councils are to have 21 members, with a 'mixture of traditional and new leaders', and one woman. Three representatives elected from the District Council will go on to participate in one of the 18 Regional Councils. Each region is assumed to have five districts. The aim was to form 39 District Councils in southern Somalia by December 1993. Somaliland will be dealt with separately. As of August 1993 UNOSOM claimed that 21 district councils had been formed.

On 22 August UNOSOM started a training programme for those Councils, using the services of the Eastern and Southern Africa Management Institute (ESAMI) from Arusha. The training programme, which covers a wide range of topics on local government management, administration and finance, lasts for six days. The Life and Peace Institute (LPI) are funding the training programme and are considering establishing a liaison post in Somalia, to coordinate and monitor the work of these Councils.

There has been much criticism over the District Council programme by Somalis, from within UNOSOM, and from NGOs. Some of the concerns raised are:

· The legitimacy of the districts (some of which were formed by Barre as late as 1988).

· The legitimacy of the council elections: as one Somali said, 'The man who slaughters ten camels will have many seats'. (In some cases Kapungo is accused of having chosen the candidates himself.)

· The representativeness of councils, given the massive internal and external displacement of people.

· In some places UNOSOM are insisting that councils should be formed, even where there is a functioning local structure of elders (e.g. north-east Somalia).

· The legitimacy of UNOSOM's insistence on equal representation of clans in the council and the inclusion of one woman on the council. It is suggested that equal representation cannot be enforced, and the one woman on a council will have no more than token authority.

· There is an opinion that DCs should not be formed until the revenue-collecting potential of an area has been assessed and added into the plan.

· There is an opinion that 'political leaders' should be involved in the process, to give the councils some legitimacy. Without the involvement of the TNC, how will they relate to each other?

· There is a lack of clarity in the functions and authority of the Councils, and there has been no dialogue about the District Councils with the Somali population as a whole.

· The Political Division and DHRR have no resources to assist the councils, once formed, and donors are unwilling to support the political process. (The exception is Sweden, which has funded the Life and Peace Institute.)

· While it has been stated that UNOSOM and the NGOs will have to work with the councils, no information has been made available to NGOs, nor consultations held with them or with UNOSOM.

The District Council programme has largely been organised by one man (Kapungo) in a division that is under-resourced and under staffed, both centrally and at a regional level. Under pressure from New York, the time allotted for the formation of these councils is seriously inadequate. This is indicated by the attempt to provide local government management training to a District Council in six days. The lack of consultation with Somalis, and mixed messages about the role of the Councils and what resources will be available to support them, have confused matters further. It is not clear whether they are to be considered permanent or temporary bodies.

UNOSOM appear to have taken no time to study how District Councils might be formed. Although they claim that elders have been 'instrumental in electing councils',15 it is not clear how closely they do relate to indigenous councils or bodies that exist or are re-emerging. In the north-east and Somaliland, localised councils of elders have been acting with de facto and de jure authority for some time.

The speed at which UNOSOM are implementing this programme gives no time for local reconciliation to take place, which is necessary if stable and democratic councils are to emerge. The process used to form these councils suggests that UNOSOM have spent no time in trying to understand how localised political reconciliation can work in Somalia. In Somaliland, where local-level reconciliation has been going on for some time, particularly in the rural areas, the basic 'building blocks' in this process are the diya-paying groups.16 Among the Hawiye, Majeerteen, Marehan, and Ogadeni this is likely to be the same. Among the Rahanweyne, the building blocks will be at the clan level.

In some cases, the District Council programme has led to armed conflict. In July 1993 fighting over District Councils led to the deaths of 100 people in Brava. In Jowhar it is reported that the Councils have created divisions among the Abgal. In the first week of September fighting broke out in Qorioley, in which some 20 people were killed and the hospital ransacked. The fighting there is said to have erupted over the formation of District Councils. While not everywhere has suffered the same problems, the District Council programme is clearly not as successful as UNOSOM would like the international community to believe.

4.1 Conclusions

Two theories have been proposed to suggest how political reconciliation can be promoted in Somalia. One proposes that there is a need to reach a political settlement between the 'warlords'. The argument goes that one cannot distinguish between the warlords and the elders, politicians and financiers, and that Aideed and the other warlords are presently the de facto political leaders in the south. A political settlement in Somalia is therefore not possible without them, and one must find some way of working with them. The UN initially did much to legitimise the warlords, whom many Somalis see as criminals. They have ended up with a bias towards one rather than another.

The other theory suggests that reconciliation can be built only from the base, where localised, indigenous, and more democratic institutional mechanisms of conflict resolution can be empowered to bring about reconciliation. In this process the warlords will be marginalised. As implemented by the UN, through the District Council programme, this approach is failing and leading to more conflict. The bottom up approach threatens the interests of the warlords. As implemented by the UN, it has not been impartial or indigenous. Both approaches indicate the dangers of trying to impose an outside solution to the conflict in Somalia.

UNOSOM is a bureaucratic, centralist body in orientation. Constituted by governments, its mandate is to establish a central government structure, albeit with some emphasis on decentralised regional and district structures. Through the District Council programme UNOSOM are, in effect, supporting the formation of 'top-down', albeit localised, political structures in the hope that they will be a catalyst for a 'bottom-up', broad-based reconciliation process. This is risky. In many ways there is little difference between this system of district and regional councils and the one set up by Siad Barre during his regime. In the words of one Somali, the District Councils are 'just replicating the mess'. A centralised government structure is the very thing many Somalis have been fighting against.

4.2 Recommendations

District Councils: Agencies should commission an independent review of the District Council programme, in order that the concerns raised can be discussed openly, and provide recommendations on how the programme might be improved. This could be carried out as a joint agency initiative.

Agencies should also renew the way in which their own programmes are working with and strengthening local structures - elders, councils, political parties, NGOs - however defined in the particular locality. Some useful ideas might be gained from looking at each other's experience.

Advocacy: Agencies should emphasise to donors the need to invest in political reconciliation and the development of civic institutions.