Somalia On The Edge


Somalia On The Edge

October 2, 2007

“When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers most.” The truth of this African proverb is painfully apparent in Somalia, where, for the past 15 years, turmoil been the only constant and where ordinary people suffer the most.

AJWS first began supporting community development organizations in Somalia after the 2004 tsunami struck the coast of East Africa. In the face of recent natural disasters and a flare-up of violence in Somalia, AJWS continues its support of organizations that are building civil society in the country, helping people to find solutions that are peaceful and sustainable.

Since 1991, when Somalia’s dictator Siad Barre was ousted, the country has been locked in strife. Rival clan warlords have regularly vied for power, while famine and disease have stricken the population. Finally, in 2004, the warlords and politicians signed a deal to set up a new parliament, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). However, for two years the TFG was unable to take control of the capital. In June 2006, relative peace was restored in Mogadishu when the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) took over, albeit a peace that came with strict social regulations.

In December 2006, Ethiopia, in conjunction with anti-Islamist government forces, launched a major attack on the transitional Islamic government in Mogadishu. On December 28, Mogadishu was captured and the Islamist militia fled the city. As a result, Somalia is now in a transitory state, ruled by an unpopular government while the UIC threatens a retaliatory attack. Insecurity lingers in the capital, a city dogged by roving gunmen and warlords. The atmosphere of insecurity was intensified in early January 2007, when the U.S. launched air-strikes against rural villages in southern Somalia in an attempt to target those implicated in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-Es-Salaam.

On top of all the political upheaval, throughout 2006 Somalia suffered a severe and crippling drought. The lack of water killed thousands of cattle and brought 1.8 million people close to starvation. Then, in December of 2006, Somalia experienced the worst flooding in 10 years: almost one million homes were destroyed, and vast tracks of crops and roads were washed away. People fleeing from either political or natural disaster are still trying to find safer areas within the country, creating a large number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and an influx of new people into refugee camps in Kenya.

AJWS’ support of Somali organizations, which began with the tsunami, continues. The AJWS strategy, “from disaster to development,” links basic disaster relief with long-term support for community development and strengthening the role of grassroots communities in promoting peace and good governance.

One AJWS partner working in Galkayo, a region of northern Somalia, is assisting more than 1000 displaced persons with food, shelter and clothing. They have also established a counseling system to support families with psychological and emotional trauma. In addition, they are seizing the “opportunity” presented by the large number of displaced people living in one area to advance civil society through workshops in conflict resolution and peaceful problem-solving skills.

In Somaliland, another AJWS partner that normally focuses on supporting women to establish small-scale enterprises is using AJWS emergency support to target communities that have become internally displaced and are now living in temporary camps in the bush or around villages. With AJWS support, an estimated 300 families are receiving basic support like food and water, and lessons in sanitation and health.

Other AJWS partners in the country are equally engaged in relief, development and civil society activities. A major focus is on strengthening women's roles as active stakeholders in building peaceful societies.

Ethiopia has said that it will withdraw its troops from Somalia by the end of January. There are plans, but as yet little support, for an African Union peacekeeping force for Somalia. Overall, Somalia’s future remains unclear. Regardless of the political situation, AJWS will continue its support of Somalis on the ground. When people are given the opportunity for civic discourse, they are much less likely to turn to violence in an attempt to resolve their problems.