Peace and Reconciliation in Somalia

In late October and early November this year, I spent time in Mogadishu conducting research and attending two prominent gatherings. The first was a conference entitled ‘National Civil Society and Government Institutions Cooperations Forum’ (23 – 23 October), organized by the Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation. The second conference was on ‘the Role of Religious Scholars in the Process of National Reconciliation and Maintaining Peace’ (31 October – 2 November 2023), organised by the Maqasid Centre for Research and Studies.

Both meetings were well-attended with over 100 participants. The government-hosted meeting had many NGOs present, in particular those who work in the fields of governance, peacebuilding, reconciliation and stabilisation. The Maqasid-hosted meeting had participants from around the country, the region, Africa and the Arab world, including Somali scholars and senior government representation. Both had similar themes, related to broader issues of governance, peacebuilding and reconciliation.

There were a number of important differences between the two meetings. The first meeting was internationally funded and was therefore widely perceived as being influenced by the availability and requirements of international funding and projects, as well as the strategic positioning to access these resources. Discussions during the meeting were largely superficial and many participants questioned its real value.

The Maqasid meeting was the third annual meeting held by the group. Maqasid Centre is a religious institute that focuses on aspects of Islamic law, particularly the purpose and rationale of the law. The theme for this year was related to the acute need for reconciliation given the offensive against Al Shabaab. It was entirely funded by domestic resources, raised from the business community as well as a significant contribution from the Federal government. Interest in the meeting seemed high, with prominent Ministers, including the Prime Minister, in attendance, as well as senior government advisors. Interestingly, there was a strong role for women in the conference as presenters, panelists, organisers and scholars. This was surprising to me and appears to be a new feature of Islamic conferences in Somalia where women usually play a limited role. That said, many of the papers presented were far removed from the realities on the ground and self-regulation meant there was little (constructive) critical discussion of the role of government. I was invited to present as a long-term researcher on Somalia and representative of LSE PeaceRep. I was able to draw on my extensive field experience and raised a number of issues that I will summarise below, reflecting themes concerning governance, justice and reconciliation:

Galkayo town

I have been involved in research and advocacy on peace and conflict in Galkayo for several years now, analysing the Galkayo Local Agreement and more recent developments in both peace and conflict, much of which is in the public domain. Galkayo town is interesting in that it is a divided city with two administrations, one representing the Puntland government and one the Galmudug government. There is a joint police force that deals with inter-state crime. Notably, there is a relatively active sense of civil society, with elders, youth and women all active. In recent weeks, all have been lobbying in support of peace in response to the outbreak of revenge killings that we reported on some weeks ago.

There are limits to this peace activism and to the confidence activists feel in criticising government, but nevertheless this activism is evident. Unfortunately, the lack of political will to support an effective police and justice system is limiting the relatively healthy peace activism in the town. One of the key limitations in this regard is the prevalence of heavily armed clans in these central areas of Somalia. Police don’t have the capacity to act on the revenge killings, for example. Elders do attempt to intervene but the history of conflict in this area means that the usual claims for diya compensation generate further claims from the opposite parties. One solution suggested by many is for murder cases to be settled by immediate execution of the aggressors (as takes place in Kismayo – see below).

While militarisation of clans in Galkayo is problematic, it has also generated a kind of equilibrium, making more serious warfare less inviting. This is in contrast to many other areas of southern Somalia (see riverine areas example below) where heavily armed groups attack others with impunity.

Kismayo town

Kismayo provides an interesting contrast to Galkayo in terms of justice, security and civil society. Kismayo falls under a single authority which has been able to consolidate justice and security, and under which we have previously reported the relative effectiveness of the justice environment. This is nevertheless a victor’s peace, based on a weak political settlement and within a wider context of fragmented security at the state level.

However, one important practice in Kismayo is that murder and rape cases are dealt with under the President’s office to ensure that cases of murder or rape do not escalate and undermine the security of the city. In a prominent case several years ago, when a murder took place by Government soldiers from the President’s clan, the soldiers were executed. This demonstrated to the population at large that there would be no favouritism when it came to such cases and perpetrators would be dealt with immediately. This has arguably contributed to the relative peace in the town.

The strong control by the state authority has benefits but also limitations, in that there is little or no space for meaningful civil society or criticism of government. The ruling regime is highly authoritarian in nature, but within this setting, there is a relative peace and recourse against abuses committed.

Riverine areas

The riverine areas of Somalia, including Belet Weyn, Dolo and Johar, are highly complex and governance issues are difficult. In these areas, marginalised and minority clans occupy valuable agricultural and pastureland and live in close proximity to powerful, well-armed clans who dominate their respective government authorities, and where these groups continue to aggressively take land from the less powerful. Some of this background is covered in previous work under my LSE programme; food and power in Somalia.

The most valuable land along the riverine areas is a strip of a few kilometres of wetlands that the river floods reach. The people who live in these strips are generally the smaller clans and marginalised groups such as the Somali Bantus and others. Their villages and farms are normally on the land closest to rivers, known as ‘jiin’ (riverbank). The few remaining kilometres are used as pastureland for their animals since they don’t move around like the nomads. They call this land the ‘maag’ (intention) as they plan – or intend – to expand their farms into this area as their population increases. The higher ground found at the end of the strip, away from the river, is used to escape floods and mosquitoes in wet seasons. So, their livelihood depends on the use of all these areas – the riverbank, the inland wet strip and the higher land.

Since the early 1990s, the stronger clans who traditionally avoided these wet strips as disease prone areas have started pushing into these areas, pushing out the smaller clans in order to expand their political control within these districts. These larger clans tend to dominate the aid agencies and NGOs in these areas and, whether inadvertently or not, international resources – cash, agricultural inputs, schools, clinics, storage facilities – often end up supporting this expansion of territory by some groups at the expense of others. This can damage or destroy the livelihood of those who were often the actual target of the aid resources in the first place. This process takes place through a combination of diaspora, aid workers and businessmen’s interests, and is one of the reasons many smaller clans see government control of their areas as a complete disaster; they see it as their old tormentors in new suits.

These areas need far more than just reconciliation and policing. The first step is to understand that riverine towns have different problems of governance than the likes of Galkayo and Kismayo, which will require different solutions.


When I presented these three cases and their implications for justice, peace and reconciliation at the Maqasid conference, I was warmly applauded by many participants. I think the same would have been the case if I had presented these issues at the Government-hosted gathering. This is because these dynamics are understood by many Somalis but participants in conferences do not have the field experience or confidence to raise them in public. Neither, arguably, does the government have the will or capacity to promote discussion of these issues or follow-up on them. Talk of reconciliation is therefore questionable.

Importantly for me, in the case of the riverine areas, NGOs (local and international) are either weak or complicit in enabling many of the abuses I mention to take place.