Al-Shabab: Mediation Matters


A series of deadly explosions echo in Mogadishu killing dozens of innocent people and wounding many more every day. Even Villa Somalia, the presidential palace, and the parliament building have not been spared. These car bombings are the latest in a campaign by al-Shabab militants seeking to undermine the African Union peacekeeping mission and fragile government’s efforts to maintain security across the country.

Some Somali political analysts claim that the al-Shabab’s frequent car bombs and suicide attacks, part of a series of stepped-up attacks since last year, aim at undermining Somali’s led government ahead of a crucial vote in 2016. Today the group is targeting public areas and government buildings more than ever.

Many political pundits argue the violence has surged in Mogadishu because the Somali government’s unyielding stand on al-Shabab has never changed. The deliberate labeling and continued military force created physical obstacles to solving Somali problems. Although the foreign troops brought relative security to some certain areas in and around Mogadishu, their presence generated additional barriers to the Somali owned solution, escalated deadly attacks and truncated the chance for Somalis to resolve their own problems. Given all these attacks, what steps that need to be taken to reduce the scourge of al-Shabab? Are there other alternative methods to mitigate the constant daily deadly blasts?

In order to find a solution to al-Shabab problem, one should understand the core ideology and the composition of this group. The al-Shabab militancy has multifaceted agendas. Some members principally covet for power, positions and prestige while others desire economic gains. Some militants are secretly supported and financed by external spoilers such as neighboring countries whose main objective is to disrupt peace and continue the chaos in Somalia. Some radicals are transnational jihadist groups while others are unemployed and uneducated Somali youth who were forced or brainwashed to join the network.

Since the Somali government came to power in 2012, no formal or informal mediation was held so far. Instead of calling for mediation, the Somali government requested the international community for military assistance to defeat al-Shabab. Has the continued military force brought a sense of peace and stability back to Somalia? To answer this question, the military force has not yet brought sustainable peace. The presence of regional troops rendered the Somali government to heavily rely on African Union (AU) troops in maintaining security. This dependence forced the government not to resort to the use of the traditional mechanics of conflict resolution and customary practices in mediation.

In order to break the cycle of vicious violence and series explosions, the Somali government should allow the elders to steer locally owned peace initiatives and mediate between the government and al-Shabab. The current military force has not mitigated the threat of the radical group to the country and the region.
Some critics might argue that Somali clan elders have been a part of the conflict in the past two decades. Although some elders were accused of being drivers of the conflict in some regions, a council of elders known as “Guurti” brought sustainable peace to Somaliland and Puntland. The Guurti had the total ownership, and their mediation was based on a bottom-up approach. In contrast, elders who hail from the Southern regions of Somalia in the past didn’t have had freedom to reach a decision or launch independent mediation efforts. The main challenges they faced were a foreign intervention, lack of resources and mediation ownership. To address and mediate between Somali government and al-Shabab, mediation should be locally driven, locally owned and be based on a bottom-up formula.

Legitimacy of Somali Elders
In order to address the al-Shabab conflict in Somalia, a local third party intervention between the government and al-Shabab is crucial. Why are Somali elders considered as legitimate mediators in the eyes of Somali people?

The Somali elders should be the core mediators between warring parties because they are considered as neutral and impartial. The local clan elders are familiar with the conflict settings, and can employ indigenous conflict management mechanisms. The elders are elected and entrusted by their respective community because of their immense expertise in bringing peace. These attributes give them a reputation for fairness, hold an immeasurable amount of power and influence in Somali society. Thus, elders’ mediation is a voluntary effort in which the consent of the parties is critical for a viable process and a durable outcome. The role of Somali clan elders unlike external mediators is influenced by the nature of the relationship with the parties.

Another factor that makes Somali clan elders enjoy legitimacy to steer mediation is that they utilize an indigenous mediation that continues for a while until a solution is found, and the solutions are often satisfactory to all parties. One of the most successful mediation that yielded a result was Borame Peace conference.

In Somalia, elders have had traditional jurisdiction in facilitation, arbitration, and monitoring outcomes. During the mediation, the elders possess moral status, seniority, neutrality and respect of the community. Another reason why elders are important in mediation is they are acceptable to the parties in conflict and demonstrate competent leadership capacity. In order to ensure elders are incorporated in mediation, it is important for the international community, regional and local authorities to respect the roles clan elders can play in mediating the parties in conflict. Therefore, Somali government should acknowledge the role and reliability of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms. These clan elders are local actors who can organize meetings with al-Shabab. The government should develop a strategy for identifying conflict intermediaries within the community and generating opportunities for their interaction with other parties in conflict.

Somali government should prioritize the stability and progress of the country and hold an informal mediation with al-Shabab through the good offices of elders. The Somali government should refrain from the reliance of military force that has so far destabilized the country. Today the world realized the use of military force is not a solution.

In order to reach free and fair election in 2016, the Somali government should prioritize mediation instead of militarization and call for peace dialogue with al-Shabab. Moreover, Somali government should re-humanize and incentivize members of al-Shabab who are willing to engage in peaceful dialogue.

Hudda Ibrahim, an MA International Peace Studies, Policy Analysis and Political Change at the Kroc Institute, Notre Dame University. She also holds B.A. Degrees in Peace Studies and English from the College of Saint Benedict and University of Saint John’s. She is an independent researcher and writer stationed in Indiana. You can reach Hudda at

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the nor its editorial policy.

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