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Somali Reconciliation Conferences: The unbeaten track

Professor Mohamed H. Mukhtar

Since 1991 there has been 15 major national and an uncountable number of regional and clan reconciliation conferences, most of which took place outside of Somalia. Ethiopia hosted four, three in Addis Ababa in 1992-93 and one in Sodere - a hot spring resort about 100 kilometers southeast of Addis Ababa -  in January, 1997.  Djibouti hosted three, two in June-July, 1991, and in May 2000 in Arta, a summer resort near Djibouti.
What strikes one the most are the similarities in the way these peace and reconciliation conferences were conducted. Each conference attempted to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive peace, and each supposedly represented the entire nation. Most were hosted by a friendly neighboring country, supported by the Somali public, the United Nations,  international organizations and nongovernmental organizations or NGOs. Key participants included representatives of armed factions, collaborators of faction ‘leaders,’ and former civilian politicians and army officers who clearly helped put the country in the position where it is today. At the start of each meeting, there were great expectations and hopes that there would be no more missed opportunities for peace. But these conferences were all doomed to fail leaving Somalia without a functioning government.
The time has come to reconsider the basic ingredients of peace and reconciliation. According to Somali tradition, “Ol nebeda ku dombooyty,” every war gives way to peace. “Dagaal wiilbaa ku dhinta ee kuma dhasho,” war results in the death of a son, but not in the birth of one. “Nebeda naas la nuughy leh,” it is only peace that can give you milk. I will argue that for durable peace, the following  conditions are necessary:[1]
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For stateless societies recovering from periods of massive atrocities, reconciliation efforts can easily be doomed by disputes over who has the right to represent whom in the peace talks. It is necessary, therefore, to ask what would it take, and what do the current or imagined institutions, need to do, to help Somalis come to terms with the past, to help heal the victims, the bystanders, and even the perpetrators of violence? What could build a nation capable of preventing future massacres and the rise of new regimes of torture? The most effective way is to embrace the rule of law and to set up a tribunal. Somali victims are entitled to full justice, namely trials of perpetrators and adequate punishment for those found guilty. There must be due process.
The Rwandan massacre trials of 1994 in Arusha, Tanzania, in December 2003, almost a decade after the massacre, convicted many Rwandans of genocide and crimes against humanity.[2] The prosecutors called the verdicts an historic victory of good against evil, and Rwandans started to pursue their life regularly, and to forgive and forget. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of 1995 is another good example of positive recovery of a society from a  horrific past, deeply divided community to a future founded on a peaceful coexistence for all South Africans irrespective of color, race, class, belief or gender.[3] Imagine World War II without the Nuremburg trials, what would have been the fate of Europe?
Somalia has not conducted its own tribunals of reconciliation, but the door is still open. Such a procedure has the added advantage of identifying or “short listing” the number of potential participants in any future peace negotiations and gives the public a clear conscience as they choose future leaders. The United Nations and friendly nations should assist Somalia to implement this process.
Impartial or disinterested negotiators:

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