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Diminishing Influence of Traditional Elders on Peace and Reconciliation in Somaliland

However, a few of them are working on their original mandate(s) and have the trust of the wider population, whereas majority of them are no longer working with the values and customs of the people. Barkhad Batun, a senior political and civil right activist, once said, “It seems that society have lost their trust to the traditional elders as public institutions are getting strong to take the role of conflict resolution, arbitration and problem solving.”

It is pathetic to note that the shifting of the majority of traditional elders’ role didn’t occur overnight, but the main reasons contributing includes the following:

1. Politicization of membership: For the last two decades, many elders have been elected without considering their knowledge, experience and leadership qualities. Previously, elders were elected based on unbiased selection criteria which ensured that every leader meets the minimum requirements to traditionally lead that clan. However, nowadays most of the newly elected elders are wrongly position and have not come through the unanimous vote to represent their community. This has questioned the legitimacy and representation of the elders, and this is why most so called traditional elders act out of the norms and values of core Somali society.

2. Insufficient Knowledge: Majority of traditional leaders had rural background and didn’t come through the formal system of schooling. Hence, this makes hard for them to adjust to modern democratic governance systems, and become unable to cope with the desired changes. They remain seated with traditional way of dealing conflicts and are reluctant with democratic values and principles.

3. Economic Opportunities: the Ministry of Interior provides inadequate budget to finance the operations of the traditional leaders and their personal needs, so they always seek other sources of income to counterbalance their needs. They shape the politics in any manner that suits their interests and use politics as a source of money. This is where the new name of “Koofiyad Bacle” originated describing that they are money oriented rather than providing leadership to their followers. “Previously, when the traditional elders were elected, they were given number of livestock as source of wealth but now that habit is no longer common. Most of traditional elders are now involved in politics as economic shelter and as source of wealth.” said by one the Aqils who resides in Hargeisa.

4. Misrepresentation: About 98% of Somaliland politicians always use the traditional elders as a tool of passing their message to the community and engage them in wide and bastardized politics to serve their interests. In fact, Politicians finance the traditional leaders to mobilize the community to get acceptance and convince them on their ideologies and principles. Both ruling and opposition parties heavily rely on the traditional elders to convey their message, and even sometimes involve them in issues which could have otherwise been officially handled and solved by an institute under formal governance systems. In a nutshell, it seems that majority of traditional elders are a point of extremely standing with one party which has actually divided their followers.

Way Forward

It is obvious that there are still few traditional elders who are working on the basis of values and norms of Somaliland c
ommunity, however there are significant unpalatable changes when compared to the trend of traditional leadership in the past. The government institutions need to be strengthened to limit the role of elders in the decision making processes, and direct their operations toward peace, security, justice and development of the state. In addition, Somaliland traditional elders should be selected on the basis of defined leadership criteria to positively influence their followers and guide them toward the right direction. More so, the government should organize education programs of conflict resolution, peace and Justice to the traditional leaders and train them on their ideal roles and responsibilities to align the informal Justice system with that of formal system. Lastly, Elders must play within their mandate and desist from acting as politicians who negatively engage through dividing the community and fuelling conflicts. This would help the nation to create peaceful and just societies in accordance with Somaliland National Development Plan II and global Sustainable Development Goals

About Author

Mohamed Raygal, MA Candidate in Governance and Leadership at University of Hargeisa

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