|The Somali Conflict (Oxfam)|
|Part V: Somaliland: peace-building|
The Boroma Grand Conference on National Reconciliation has been described as a 'make or break event' in the creation of the Somaliland nation, a process which was severely set back by the conflicts in Somaliland during 1992.
The conference was opened on 24 January 1993. It is significant that Boroma, a Gadabursi town, was chosen as the site for the conference. The Gadabursi had helped to mediate in the conflict within the Issaq in 1992. Boroma provided a relatively secure environment away from Hargeisa, Berbera, and Burco, where security was, still fragile. It was also a non-Issaq town, which gave non-Issaqs a more active role in determining the future of Somaliland. Boroma also had an active police force to provide security for the conference.
The conference was attended by 150 voting delegates, comprising elders from all clans in Somaliland. They were accompanied by a further 150 observers and advisers. During the four-month conference an estimated 2,000 people participated in the meeting at different stages.
The strength of the Boroma Conference arises from the fact that it was largely financed by communities in Somaliland, with additional support from external sources, including Community Aid Abroad, the Mennonites, Life and Peace Institute, Somali communities abroad, and the French and US embassies in Djibouti. The conference was also well supported by Somali NGOs. UNOSOM provided no support.
The Boroma conference lasted nearly four months. Given the Somali penchant for oratory, and the jealously guarded right of all not to remain silent, and given the issues discussed, it is not surprising that it should have taken so long. One observer commented, 'It was nothing compared with your Maastricht debate'.
Peace-making is a long, painstaking process. The Boroma conference was the culmination of previous peace meetings at Hargeisa and Sheikh in 1992. The Boroma conference succeeded, to the extent that it did, because time was allowed for issues to be thoroughly debated and for flashpoints to be dealt with on the way in order that consensus could be achieved.
The conference had two agenda items: reconciliation and security; and state formation.
2.1 The National Peace Charter
The outcome of the deliberations on reconciliation and security was the formulation of a National Peace Charter (Axdiga Nabadgalyada ee Beelaha Soomaaliland). The Peace Charter, as stated, is an attempt to 'rectify past mistakes' that led to a situation of insecurity and ineffectual government and 'to promote the strengthening of security and stability [and the] peaceful co-existence among all the communities of Somaliland.'
This Charter establishes a national security framework. It details the mechanisms for the registration and storage of weapons, the demobilisation of militia, the disarming of bandits, the formation of local police forces and judicial institutions, and the securing of roads. The Charter also defines the responsibility of elders in ensuring that these security arrangements are put in place. The Peace Charter requires every community to take 'a solemn oath not to attack another community', and defines the responsibilities of elders in mediating and settling outstanding disputes and any conflicts that might occur in the future.
The Peace Charter sets out a code of conduct for the people of Somaliland, in 'accordance with our traditions and along the principles of Islam'.39 In effect, the peace charter represents a national xeer.
2.2 National Charter
The discussions on state formation produced a decision on the structure of national government enshrined in a National Charter, which will be the constitution of the Somaliland government for a two-year period. The government is charged with drafting a full national constitution to be ratified by referendum within two years. The National Charter was signed by 150 delegates.
The National Charter reaffirms the independence and sovereignty of Somaliland, as obtained on 26 June 1990, and 're-possessed' on 18 May 1991. The Charter sets out the transitional structure of government for the following two years. This will consist of:
The Council of Elders (Upper House)
The Elected Council (Constituent Assembly)
The Executive Council (Cabinet)
The Charter also defines the functions of those councils, and the qualifications for election. Significantly, the Charter defines the role of the elders, 'to encourage and safeguard peace [and] creating new or enforcing existing Code of Conduct [xeer] among the clans', thus institutionalising their role as peace-makers. The authority of the elders is also confirmed in their right to appoint the members of the Constituent Assembly.
According to the Chairman of the national guurti, Sheik Ibrahim Sheik Yusuf Sheik Madar, the elders are confident of being able to keep the situation in Somaliland secure, because 'we have our eyes on the politicians ... we have the constitutional right to dismiss them'.
The charter also separates the judiciary, Auditor General, and Central Bank as independent agencies from the government.
2.3 Councils of Elders
The Boroma conference is an impressive example of an indigenous Somali reconciliation process in practice, in which the responsibilities of the function of elders as mediators in the internal affairs of the communities are clearly displayed. One commentator described it as 'a triumph of discourse over armed conflict' (Omar 1993).
There has been much debate on the future role of elders in Somaliland and whether they have the ability to play a constructive role in modern government. There is a concern among intellectuals and politicians that the continued presence of elders always brings things back to clans, and that a modern government needs to overcome those divisions to be effective.
The authority of the elders arose from the failure of the first SNM government and a country paralysed by the conflict in Berbera. In the absence of credible government, elder committees became active in all regions of the country in resolving disputes and establishing nascent administrations; in Boroma in July 1991 a permanent Guurti of 21 elders was established by the Gadabursi; in Burco a committee of elders was established in January 1992; in Erigavo a regional guurti of Issaq was established in January 1992; in February 1993 a regional administration (called the Khussusi40) was established by Dolbahunte elders in Sool region.
Interestingly, many of these councils have been formed in response to a particular crisis: the Boroma guurti in the face of retaliation from the SNM; in Burco as a result of the conflict in that town; in Erigavo to prevent conflict spreading from Burco; in Las Anod following several security incidents over foreign aid; in Sheikh in response to the Berbera conflict. The Somaliland National guurti has its origins in the 19881991 war, when elders were responsible for supporting the SNM militias. Sheik Ibrahim, now Chairman of the National Guurti was also instrumental in organising the evacuation of Issaq from Hargeisa to Ethiopia in 1988. The origins of these committees are therefore firmly rooted in conflict-resolution. The question arises as to whether they have any further role than that.
In recognition of their contribution and the continuing need for their skills, the National Guurti was written into the first constitution of Somaliland. With the National Charter their role is much more clearly defined. The separation of the elders and politicians into two houses explicitly recognises the division between domestic clan politics and national and international politics. It implicitly recognises 'clanism' as a source of potential conflict, particularly in this post-war period, and the need to have an institutionalised mechanism to deal with potential conflict. The elders do not see themselves as having an administrative role in government. As Sheik Ibrahim has remarked, 'Our task is to ensure security and reconciliation. The government's responsibility is management, administration and development ...' (Omar 1993). At the same time, they explicitly recognise the realities of the stressful environment in which they live, and the need to work with that in order to form a stable government.