Galkayo: Flourishing civil society and improving security

I am familiar with Galkayo, having spent time previously studying the Galkayo peace agreement and contested commerce in the town. An initial, exploratory visit on this occasion gave me the luxury of casually delving deeper into the city’s current situation and recent past and, unlike my previous trips, I was not chasing interviews across the city borders and meeting places.

Galkayo is the physical, political, and cultural centre of Somalia, equidistant from the main ports of Berbera, Boosaaso, and Mogadishu and, as a result, it is a cultural bridge between North and South, a business hub, and politically very influential. The downside of its geography is that it is a city that straddles the infamous Tomaselli line, which the Italians drew to keep apart two warring Somali clans, and which is still a dangerous fault line today. Even after years of incremental security improvements across the city that allowed limited freedom of movement between the South and North, I had to base myself on one or other side of the divided city at a time as frequenting between the two sides was deemed dangerous.

I arrived at the northern airport (Puntland side), stayed in the North for half of the time, and then moved to the South (Galmudug side), finally exiting the city through the airport in the south. Galkayo is the only city in Somalia that is administratively divided between two federal member states (Puntland and Galmudug). Before the formation of the new states, it was the capital city of the Mudug Region but has been divided since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991.

The local youth are very pleased with the progress the city has made since the 2017 Galkayo agreement. They see significant improvements in the security situation, pointing to the fact that they can cross the borders within the city without fear of being immediately targeted and are very proud of this achievement since they have contributed to it. They are striving for further improvements. It is not only the youth, but the women’s groups I also met that share this optimism and sense of change and progress. Women have also contributed to achieving this peace. At the signing of the local agreement for peace in 2017, both youth and womens groups refused to sign under any clan name and signed the agreement as the youth and women of the whole city. They see this as a new beginning where militias, politicians, and elders are no longer the sole representatives of communities. The youth, with their own forum – the Peace and Integration Forum – have made strides in bringing the city together and breaking the cycle of fear and suspicion. They hold functions and activities with the aim of bringing people together on both sides and are now very visible across the country. They dream of an administratively unified Galkayo with its council that is a federal entity of its own rather than a city divided by state boundaries. This is a dream that will be difficult to sell to the leadership of the states given the economic, military, and political significance of Galkayo. It is nevertheless a dream demonstrating the new thinking of the youth of the city who now have a growing influence.

Members of the youth took me on a long walk in the city every night to show me how security is continuing to improve. On my last visit a year ago, long walks were out of the question even during the day. I remember vividly being driven past the bombed car of a high-ranking Puntland police officer in the north of the city. At that time, Al-Shabaab were closing in on the south of the city and the elders had to make a deal with them to protect the city elite from assassinations. Thanks to a crackdown on Al-Shabaab cells in the north that saw the execution of 17 of its members and the arresting and sentencing of 50 more who are now awaiting execution, as well as the FGS and Galmudug assault on the group, that has pushed them back further away from the city, both sides of the city now feel a breeze of safety and security that was not felt in three decades. Notables who were prisoners in their homes and well-protected offices are now sitting in cafes and walking in streets without being accompanied by armed guards.

I met some of the commanders of the combined police force that was created after the 2017 agreement who are now keeping the peace, mainly in the countryside, making sure camel thefts are dealt with on both sides of the north-south border so conflict is kept to a minimum and doesn’t move from rural areas to the town, as can easily happen. The two police force vehicles were being repaired after a collision and both sides of the city were contributing to the cost of the repairs. This is another sign of increased cooperation between the two sides to keep the peace. The local courts are also working together, cooperating on disputes involving both sides of the city. The PeaceRep Somalia research team will sit in courts on both sides of the city and will publish findings at a later date.

All these improvements are encouraging and emboldening the civil society who stress repeatedly their wish for their city to be recognised as the capital of peace in Somalia. It is abundantly evident that the residents of Galkayo feel very positive about their future and what they have achieved so far. However, an outsider coming to the city may feel different. The city is still vulnerable to revenge killings, as both authorities are weak in policing and dealing with murder cases effectively. Murderers seek protection from neighbouring clans, and without effective policing and thus justice, the whole clan is targeted by the victim’s clan members, causing recurrent clan conflicts and creating an environment of fear and insecurity across the city. This is beyond the capacity of clan elders and needs effective policing across the region. This task can only be achieved by politicians whom the youth accuse of having different priorities and not sharing the passion for progressing peace and unity in Galkayo. This is a problem shared by youth across the country, but the youth of Galkayo believe they are at the threshold of a revolution that may bring sweeping positive changes in Somalia.

On an entirely different subject, it was surprising that during my discussions in Galkayo and Mogadishu, the issue of the drought was rarely raised, maybe an indication that security issues are now more pressing in towns at least. It also says something about the actual severity of the drought. In the several times this was raised, the answer was always that the situation isn’t good but is manageable until the gu rains (the spring rains). In previous research I have been involved in we found that those most affected by famine primarily come from the historically marginalised populations who live along and in between the Juba and Shabelle rivers. My colleagues and I have been raising such issues for some time. Populations in and around Galkayo have strong connections to business communities, urban populations and diaspora, which may well account for the relative lack of noise on this subject during my stay.

Galkayo should prove a fascinating centre at which to develop our understanding of peace processes and their links to security and justice.


About PeaceRep Somalia

Our Somalia research aims to deepen understandings of the country’s fragmented predicament, ten years after the establishment of the Federal government and in light of the continued pervasiveness of conflict and political instability, both domestically and regionally.  PeaceRep’s Somalia research will explore a number of themes, including how to build on the Galkayo agreement; checkpoints and sub-national governance; and justice and security.

The PeaceRep Somalia team is led by Nisar Majid and Khalif Abdirahman (LSE Conflict and Civicness Research Group), and builds in part on previous research from the Conflict Research Programme at LSE IDEAS.

Learn more about PeaceRep’s Somalia research

Dr Nisar Majid leads the PeaceRep Somalia research team. Learn more about Nisar

Khalif Abdirahman is the PeaceRep Somalia research team’s senior field researcher. Learn more about Khalif