Since the collapse of Mohamed Siad Barres’ authoritarian regime in the early 1990s, the Sa’ad and Suleiman sub-clans of the Habar Gidir clan have repeatedly fought over grazing rights and political dominance. At first, fighting revolved around the control over parts of the Madug area in central Somalia, a major centre of trade and commerce. In the following years, the conflict died down. Between 2004 and 2011, clashes over access to wells and grazing areas opposed both communities against the background of severe droughts. Fighting between the two sub-clans, which has involved the use of heavy weaponry and violent attacks on civilians, has claimed over 300 lives and is likely to resurface in the wake of severe drought (UCDP, n.d.).
Droughts and armed violence in Somalia
Due to its geographical location and volatile environment, Somalia is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events such as droughts and floods. In particular, droughts have increased as a crucial factor fuelling local conflict in Somalia over the past decades, with 2011 being the most destructive drought in the last 50 years. The ensuing famine killed over 250,000 people (Hove et al., 2011; Howden, 2013). Research has found that droughts in Somalia have an indirect impact on the number of local conflicts. By limiting the availability of essential resources, they frequently drive local communities such as the Sa’ad and Suleiman of the Habar Gidir into fierce competition for access to wells and grazing land (Maystadt & Ecker, 2014).
Moreover, droughts decrease the income of pastoralists by lowering livestock prices, thereby creating incentives for conflict participation. Extremist groups such as al Shabaab profit from these developments as they can provide food or payment. Thus, their recruitment numbers increase sharply in times of extreme environmental hardship (see Droughts, livestock prices and armed conflict in Somalia).
Favourable conditions for conflict escalation
The impact of droughts on the life of Somalian pastoralists is further heightened by Somalia’s high dependence on the livestock sector. It contributes to approximately 60% of the national GDP, provides food and income to about 70% of Somalia’s population and makes up 85% of the country’s export earnings (Godiah et al., 2015). Furthermore, the political instability in Somalia has played an aggravating role. There has been no effective central government in Somalia between the collapse of the Barre regime in 1991 and the inauguration of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) in 2012. The absence of a central authority, which provides basic services and security, facilitates the escalation of drought-induced conflicts (UCDP, n.d.).
The Sa’ad and Suleiman sub-clans held several peace conferences between 2004 and 2007, when a final peace agreement was reached. Funding for these conferences and the resulting measures were provided by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, the Puntland administration as well as the governments of Sweden and Norway through the International Organization for Peacebuilding (Interpeace) (Amber & Habibullah, 2008).
Preliminary meetings between in 2004 and 2006
A first peace conference was held in 2004. The outcome was a settlement in which both communities agreed to an unconditional ceasefire and the establishment of a joint committee of elders. However, negotiations were interrupted as the Suleiman delegation of the joint committee was ambushed by Sa’ad fighters later the same year.
In 2006, a conference was organised by elders and politicians of both groups in collaboration with the TFG. It was attended by high-level representatives such as the President and the Prime Minister of the TFG, highlighting the interest of the TFG to pacify both groups. Later the same year, two smaller conferences were held in Bandiradley and El Hur. During these conferences, issues concerning access to water points and grazing areas were addressed, and mechanisms to deal with grievances and avoid revenge killings were established. These mechanisms include increased communication between the two communities, a ceasefire, the constant monitoring of the peace process by joint committees, and regular meetings in conflict-prone areas. Overall, these conferences were used to build trust and confidence in light of the main reconciliation conference at Adado in February 2007 (Amber & Habibullah, 2008).
The Adado settlement in 2007
At Adado, hostilities between the two groups were settled. It was agreed upon that stolen property was to be returned through a joint property dispute committee, which was created at the conference. Furthermore, free movement and access to pastures by both communities was agreed upon. To ensure the sustainability of the peace and to monitor any wrong doings, a joint elders’ council and a joint local judiciary were initiated. The conference was attended by 230 participants, including religious and traditional leaders, women and observers of the TFG and the Puntland administration (Amber & Habibullah, 2008).
Obstacles to a lasting peace
Despite these efforts, relations between both groups remained unstable, and violence re-erupted in 2011, claiming more than 30 lives. A lasting solution to the conflict seems difficult to achieve. Unlike certain other groups in Somalia, the Suleiman and Sa’ad sub-clans lack an established “xeer.” A “xeer” is a customary law that defines compensation in the event of the killing of a clan member, and it establishes the foundation for collective resource use and local conflict resolution (Amber & Habibullah, 2008).
Reconciliation efforts are further hampered by the absence of a strong national authority. Inaugurated in 2012, the FGS is struggling to establish functioning state structures against major security and development challenges. Furthermore, the question remains if the government will have the necessary capacities to reduce pastoralists’ vulnerability against increasingly frequent droughts and floods (Amber & Habibullah, 2008). Due to Somalia's fragile political situation, national drought adaptation strategies remain limited (see Droughts, livestock prices and armed conflict in Somalia). Finally, the involvement of international aid organisations in the central regions of Somalia remains limited, due to persistent insecurity and the lack of adequate infrastructure (UCDP, n.d.).
Resilience and Peace Building
Both communities agreed that stolen property was to be returned through a joint property dispute committee.
Mediation & arbitration
To ensure the sustainability of peace and to monitor any wrong doings, a joint elders’ council and a joint local judiciary were initiated.
A peace agreement was reached between the Sa’ad and Suleiman sub-clans after several peace conferences held between 2004 and 2007.
Coping with uncertainty
National drought adaptation strategies need to be strengthened in order to reduce pastoralists’ vulnerability against increasingly frequent droughts and floods.
Resources and Materials
- Amber, I.A. & Habibullah, S.I.H. (2008). Community-based Peace Processes in South-Central Somalia. The Search for Peace. Somali Programme. Interpeace/Center for Research and Dialogue.
- Godiah, L.M. et al. (2015). Enhancing the provision of livestock marketing information in Somaliland. ILRI Research Brief 44.
- Hove, H. et al. (2011). Review of Current and Planned Adaptation Action: East Africa. Adaptation Partnership.
- Howden, D. (2013). Somalia: UN’s late declaration of famine in 2011 cost lives. The Independent.
- Maystadt, J.F. & Ecker, O. (2014). Extreme weather and civil war: Does drought fuel conflict in Somalia through livestock price shocks? Journal of Agricultural Economics, 96(4), 1157-1182.
- UCDP (n.d.). Somalia. UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia.