Agreement-making, New Technologies and Traditional Authority: Learning from Galkayo


Somalia has been termed a ‘transnational state’, where the evolution of its telecommunications and money transfer infrastructure provides the means for cheap financial transfers as well as the circulation of information, ideas and identities – financial and social remittances. Its considerable diaspora population, primarily acting through family and clan-based networks, support the regular household income of relatives and are a crucial lifeline in times of need as described in ‘Remittances and vulnerability in Somalia’. Diaspora populations are well-known political actors, active in relation to both peace and conflict, and we have previously written about transborder citizenship in this light.

The role of new technologies such as WhatsApp was recently highlighted in a review of the 2022/23 humanitarian response in Somalia, in which the authors were involved and which captured the following:

Mohamed is a businessman based in the UK, from the Galkayo area. His sub-clan have a WhatsApp group to support different initiatives. Mohamed claims that they were better organised in this drought than previous droughts. Previously, people lost all of their animals and had to settle in town, living with relatives. On this occasion, they focused on keeping the animals alive so the nomads were not forced to move to town and then depend on diaspora and other better off relatives to survive. This group provided US$150 per month for three months to their pastoral relatives that they identified as most needing their support. This funded water trucking, food for families, and fodder for the animals. Animal feed was available from Ethiopia during this drought where it had not been previously.

While technologies such as WhatsApp can lead to interesting innovations and support strategies that contribute to the resilience of some populations, they also raise concerns about the propagation of hate narratives through their ‘echo chamber’ effects, producing and maintaining the politicisation of identities.

Peace, Conflict and WhatsApp Groups

After initially providing a rather rosy picture of Galkayo town earlier in 2023, albeit with a cautionary note about the underlying risk of revenge killings, unfortunately we later had to report that a series of revenge killings were taking place, resulting in many people leaving town for their own safety. In trying to understand the reasons for these outbreaks, one of the themes repeatedly raised, particularly by elders, has been the role of WhatsApp groups in which money and inflammatory narratives are circulated – forms of financial and social remittances. The members of these groups include the ‘drunkards’ (‘cabtoy’ in Somali) that we mentioned in our previous blogpost on Galkayo. These cabtoy are part of wider groups of (mainly) men, with strong clan allegiances, from central Somalia, that have migrated to the West over time and have found employment; truck drivers in the US, for example, are reported to be important members of these groups. Many of these drivers, with plenty of time on their hands, are embroiled in clan-based tensions and conflict. These groups aren’t confined to younger men either; some women’s groups are also part of the WhatsApp groups, including those that harbour grievances from past conflicts in which they have been affected.

According to our research, Al Shabaab may also have influence or members within some of these groups, placed strategically (and often invisibly) in order to contribute to tensions and conflict and therefore distract from potential attacks on the group itself. Al Shabaab cells that have been captured in the area in recent years have revealed their role in propagating conflict; killings that have been blamed on inter-clan issues and revenge killings have in fact been propagated by the group.

Strains on traditional authority

In an insightful study, ‘The Predicament of the Oday’, carried out nearly twenty years ago, the authors point out how the influence of colonialism and the independent state have undermined the authority of traditional elders, including through their proliferation, and that traditional authority is being strained by the ‘rapid social changes that Somalia is undergoing (urbanisation, youth culture, and globalisation)’. While, the authors point out that traditional authority had something of a renaissance in the 1990s, including in its importance to peace processes and the establishment of Somaliland and Puntland, this renaissance was fragile as emergent forms of governmental (and other) authority manipulated and challenged the role of the elders.

The spate of revenge killings that has been taking place over the last 12 months has seen attempts at interventions by Federal, Puntland and Galmudug authorities, as well as respected elders, but to limited effect. Elders suggest that they have limited financial resources with which to intervene and that they struggle to have influence over the WhatsApp groups, which they see as problematic. Government authority has both undermined traditional authority but at the same time has not replaced it nor worked out an arrangement to work together. Our recent blogpost comparing justice and security in Kismayo and Galkayo discusses some of these issues.


Mitigating conflict and pursuing peace in the Somali context requires sensitivity to its transnational dimensions, as well as to the multiple and sometimes competing forms of public authority, including governmental and traditional – hybrid forms of governance.

Government and international actors should work to support the role of credible traditional authorities in relation to conflict mitigation in Galkayo.

See our Policy Brief on peace and conflict in Galkayo, Somalia.

Read previous blogposts about Galkayo here:

Explore all PeaceRep Somalia research here.