Kenya’s neighbour Somalia is making modest progress in rebuilding itself from the destruction wrought by decades of catastrophic civil war. The crucial agenda of grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation however is not receiving the attention it desperately deserves.
The war precipitated the meltdown of state institutions and destruction of infrastructure and the economy; the social and cultural fabric unravelled.
Without comprehensive action to rebuild the shattered trust and goodwill and address deep-seated grievances at the grassroots, reconstruction efforts will not be sustainable.
Somalia is one of the few African countries with a homogenous population that shares language, religion, bloodlines and culture. But the widespread violence, rights violations and injustices during the war exacerbated social divisions and disharmony – mainly along clan lines.
Not much has been done to repair those relationships, build bridges and address underlying grievances, thus eliminating common spaces for dialogue, accommodation and coexistence. There have been many conferences since the early 1990s ostensibly to bring about reconciliation, but they have hardly had any impact at the grassroots.
This is partly because they have largely been dominated by politicians and clan leaders, including warlords, without much involvement of the people at the grassroots, who should be the main drivers of such initiatives in a bottom-up approach. In fact, they have been more about power-sharing between clan leaders than fostering genuine grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation.
The impact of the war has been so widespread that it is difficult to find a Somali national who is not nursing deep-seated grievance and trauma due to the killing of loved ones or loss of property or dignity. That’s why the time for Somalia to have its own indigenous process of truth, justice and reconciliation is long overdue.
The process will give safe spaces for people to explore the full extent of the crimes and violations that occurred in the war and continue to occur. It will help them to come to terms with the pain, anger and grief as well as look into appropriate avenues of justice, compensation, forgiveness and reconciliation.
I have always felt the need for such a process, and a personal incident in September 2014 strengthened my conviction. I was in a restaurant in Mogadishu when a man approached me and confessed to having been part of the gang that attacked my home in Mogadishu in 1992 in which my 18-month-old daughter Yasmin was brutally killed.
The man then fervently and remorsefully begged for my forgiveness, saying the matter had troubled him for many years. Initially, I felt so much anger, with memories of my lifeless daughter flooding back to my mind. I felt like killing him on the spot to avenge her.
But after some moments of silence, I felt some calm return to my heart. I then told him I had forgiven him. The man hugged me and we both couldn’t hold back tears. Immediately after the incident, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt whole again.
When this was reported by local media, similar incidences emerged in various parts of the country. That’s why since then I have been keen to use that story with a hope of promoting grassroots reconciliation.
However, there is a pressing need for a more structured process at the grassroots to realise truth, justice and reconciliation so Somali nationals can explore the dark past together and come to terms with it.
Any such process should not be led or controlled by politicians or clan leadership, but the people on the ground, without interference and manipulation.
Somalia can benefit from the experiences of countries such as Rwanda, which deployed traditional methods of justice and reconciliation to address the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Somalia too has rich traditional and religious systems that can be tapped into to successfully rebuild the shattered social fabric.
Before Somalia can take its rightful place in the community of nations, it must bravely face and address the horrors and dark corners of its history through a grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation process.
Ambassador Mohamed Ali Nur (Americo).