Posted in Human Security, Somaliland, Uncategorized

What Makes for Security?

Outside the University is a Daabshiil Money Exchange. I am continually struck by how this bank is more like an ordinary block house with doors and windows wide open to the busy street in front of the university main gate. I once had to cash a check there and two guys, feet propped up on the counter, were lazily texting. Approaching them, I greeting in Somali language and they gave the obligatory laugh to the foreigner who uses broken and rusty vernacular. Cashing the check was as easy as countersigning it. They pulled open a drawer piled full of currency. Somali Shillings, USD and maybe other currencies from the Middle East and Euros. Having gotten my money, then  walking away, I turned and noticed them back in standard repose.  I am told that some of the money changers downtown just cover up their stacks of money and go to the mosque to pray when it is time. Security is that lax.


UoH Front Gate-sm

What kind of confidence does this place have that a bank or money changer can be so relaxed about security? Nowhere on earth do I know of another place like this. Could it be guns? There are plenty of old Kalashnikovs around Hargeisa from the days of war in the 80’s. But if it were guns that make for security the US would have NO crime. So it can’t be guns. Could it be prosperity? No it can’t be prosperity. Again, the US would be pretty secure and Somaliland would be the world of Mad Max. I think it has something to do with an intact social fabric that is eloquent and nuanced through an oral tradition. Somalilanders have a long history of clan interaction, recitation of connection through ancestry and an oral tradition as a conflict resolution mechanism.


At this time of stress over racial injustice, political insecurity, international terrorism, domestic shootings in the US, might we take a lesson from Somalilanders?  Next time we are tempted to become overwhelmed with all our nation’s problems, ask a simple question of ‘who is my neighbor’ and how are our lives connected and intertwined?” Then respond accordingly as we are so good at doing. We know how to do this people!

Posted in Crazy Ideas for Peace, Musings, Somaliland

Peacebuilding is all About Relationships

As I travel back into Somaliland for the sixth time since I began coming here in March 2013 I am taking stock in what, if anything, I have actually contributed toward the greater common good here. Is it only me as a trainer who walks away from an intense 4 days of grappling with the tough issues and interventions of conflict, wondering if he/she has contributed anything?


Yet I keep reminding myself that peacebuilding is fundamentally about relationships. Restoring broken ones, building capacity in others to resist injustice and networking so as create new initiatives. People also have relationships with social groupings and/or organizations.  So learning how to relate to others, be they people or structures is also a key part of the relationships of peacebuilding.


Institutions are notoriously NOT fond of funding relational initiatives. I think this is in part because relationships are hard to measure. I have been thinking about doing justice to measuring relationships and wondering what metrics might be helpful. I have toyed around with a ‘relational resilience matrix’ and associated benefits. I need to research who else has been thinking along these lines.


Posted in Education, Somaliland

Peace Education

I had the honor of addressing the Somaliland Ministry of Education staff. Invited by the Director General, I spoken on the strategic nature of peace education and posed a series of question as they shape their curriculum writing to include ways of Jon with Mohammed Hassen Ibrahim, DG of MoEstrengthening peace through primary and secondary schools. As an outsider, I can only ask key questions but the actual content of the curriculum must be generated through a strategic reflection process by those who understand the culture and country dynamics.


After my input, the discussion was animated around how to deal with the role of clan in Somaliland society. What does peace education mean in the context of increasing political manipulation of this cultural reality?


One comment in the discussion was that “some nations deal with tribalism, some like the US deal with racism. Here in Somaliland we have clanism.” The strengths of the Somali culture to promote peace are, in the same brush, the potential weaknesses. Those cultural facets include identity derived through the clan system, deference to the elders for important decisions and the unbelievable security (in a personal safety sense) most in the country feel.* Peace education’s primary task is to reinforce that which builds the greater common good and resist those elements that cause division.


*Somalia and Somaliland rank as the lowest on the HDI so human security, as measured by the basics of life, is sorely lacking.

Posted in Somaliland


One of the participants in my class on Designing Peace Education holds the rank of Major and is the commander of the 600 strong women’s police force. She is very interested in how to enhance the capacity of those under her charge through designing peace training.


When I asked her about the role of the police in Somaliland she immediately said “we have to do things differently because there are very few jails.” She proceeded to outline role the police play in mediating coDiscussionnflict once called in to a situation. There is a traditional system that vests an intermediary role and authority in the police. They are looked to as the front line in the justice system and only if they fail to bring sides together in mutual resolution, do the cases get passed on to the formal judicial system.


In light of current militarization in both mentality and ‘hardware’ by police in the US, this understanding of the police role is refreshing. Once again I am finding that the approaches of those with whom I work in the global south can offer wisdom to the current impasses faced by communities in the US.

Posted in Musings, Somaliland

It’s Hard to Hold My Head High Right Now

With the release of the Senate report on CIA torture right now it is difficult to be an American outside our borders. As the truth about torture comes into the light, US credibility continues to be diminished. Of course it is not as if persons in the global south did NOT know what was happening as much of the abuse has been shouldered by them.


Here in Somaliland people are as likely to watch Doha-based Al Jazeera and Iranian PressTV as they are to watch CNN and BBC for their news. Somalis, with a rich oral tradition and culture, thrive on the different perspectives to make sense of the world. One main theme I hear over and over again is how to understand an international political reality that has refused to recognize Somaliland’s achievements in political stability.


It is frustrating to think of US military clichés like “winning hearts and minds” in light of torture and the contravention of international norms of justice. Why are US foreign policies so often self-defeating? In light of a growing US interest in Africa, refusal to recognize Somaliland as a sovereign state is also self-defeating. While its southern brother, Somalia, is still struggling with security and stability, it would behoove the US to support Somaliland’s fragile stability with development and investment as an equal among nations.

Posted in Somaliland


When I first started going to Somaliland the issue of piracy was one of the few touchstones most people had with this part of the world. That and the now fading 1993 “Blackhawk Down” incident during which US soldiers were killed carrying out America’s humanitarian intervention that went awry in Mogadishu.


Tram steamer Berbera-sm

During the transatlantic flight on my way to Somaliland I watched the recent movie “Captain Phillips.” Set in 2009, it depicts an American ship captain and his encounter with pirates off the coast of Somalia. Somalia has had the dubious reputation as the pirate capitol of the world. With the longest coastline on the African continent, years of civil war, no centralized government and dire poverty many ships have been hijacked off the Somali coastline and held for ransom.


Policy makers would do well to look at the problems in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland in relation to the global factors that breed the kind of desperation and anarchy that encourages piracy. Somalia’s coastline has long been a dumping ground for toxic chemical waste. In addition, years of overfishing by foreign trawlers has decimated fish stocks in these rich waters and driven coastal communities into destitution.


I was struck, in the Hollywood rendition of the hijacking of Captain Phillips’ ship, the Maersk Alabama, just how much military spending the US is absorbing to counter a few impoverished men with their pirate bent and how little is spent on root causes.

Posted in Somaliland

11 Dec – Tree of Social Health

In an attempt to contextualize some of the conflict analysis models I re-imagined the tree of conflict to fit Somaliland better. Gone is the deciduous tree with apples hanging on it. An acacia tree with its roots, soil, trunk and foliage made a well received framework to understand the visible and invisible of conflict.


Tree of social health

When the tree is healthy then it provides shade, fruits, soil stability and other benefits. When it is diseased by toxic attitudes or violent behaviors, then it dies and provides kindling for a fire. One spark from an incident will ignite an inferno.

Posted in Somaliland

House of Elders

8 Dec 2013 – Hargeisa I went to the House of Guurti to pay a visit to Abdulihi Ibrahim Habane the Secretary General of this body, analogous to the Senate in the US. Analogous is a bit of a misnomer because this body, also known as the Upper House in Somalilands parliamentary system, is the traditional body created when Somaliland declared its sovereignty back in the early 1990s. These elders are supporting the government by ensuring that new things adopted are culturally sensitive and able to support the peace that Somaliland has achieved. House of Elders


Somalilanders are proud of this working hybrid system that blends modern and traditional into a political system that is based on an intact cultural system. This is the basis for the peace and stability in the north which is absent in the south.

Posted in Somaliland

A Soldier’s Memories

Abdi (not his real name) fought the government of Siad Bare in the 1980s. Now, knowing

Jon and Abdi
Jon and Abdi

how to handle a gun, he is a guard for the University. He was my armed escort around Somaliland on a number of occasions. The first time I met him was at the airport and as we drove back from Berbera. During the 2 ½ hour journey on nearly deserted stretches of road, he would point off to the distant hills and valleys, narrating battle sites in his years as a Somali National Movement (SNM) fighter. One story of surrounding southern fighters and killing 51 with only one of their losses, was told matter of fact.


The SNM staged hit-and-run battles up to the time when they knew President Bare was weak enough that they could take the cities of the north. They seized

Hargeisa MIG Statue
Hargeisa MIG Statue

the towns Burao, Berbera and Hargeisa in May of 1988. Bare hired Rhodesian mercenary pilots with Hawker Hunters as well deploying his antiquated MIG 15s, 17s to bomb Hargeisa to obliteration forcing local residents and fighters to scatter, fleeing across the border to Ethiopia. Refugee host became refugee source in just weeks as border areas swapped populations.


Visiting the cave paintings way off the beaten path, we were on a hill overlooking a remote valley. Abdi crouched with his battered AK-47 and sighted off in the distance. For what seemed like a long time, I watched him relive those days of battle in the silence of a

Abdi remembering in a fighting position
Abdi remembering in a fighting position

distance stare. What traumas does he still live with? What would give him total peace? This is the question for way too many men, women and children worldwide.


This is my last dispatch from the Somaliland trip. Stay tuned for my next venture to Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute in the Philippines in May.


Posted in Somaliland

The Guurti

Even though Somaliland, Somalia, and the Somali speaking parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti are all ethnic Somalis, they are comprised of different clans. The British, in the north, and Italians, in the south, had different approaches to colonization with respect to clans. The British asked each of the northern clans to choose a representative to interface with the British administration. This legacy was what enabled the northern clans to fairly quickly recover from the descent in to civil war beginning in 1988.


A multi-year peace process ending in a peace agreement in 1991, lead to the development of a hybrid western style and traditional governing structure. While there have been some setbacks, there has been nowhere near the chaos that has descended on the south which

Jon and Abdilahi Ibraham Habane General Secretary of the Traditional Elders
Jon and Abdilahi Ibraham Habane General Secretary of the Traditional Elders

is just now, after 25 years, emerging shakily from anarchy.


One of the political challenges for Somaliland today is how to transform the informal part of the government, the Guurti –a body of 92 clan elders, into a contemporary formalized structure with codified operating procedures. It currently functions as one half of the legislative body of the government just as the Senate does in the US system. However, it is still functions informally and as one government minister told me, the Guurti today can “decide to intentionally break the law for the good of the country.” This hybrid of formal and informal systems just well may be an example that many other places can learn from in trying to navigate tensions between traditional and western political systems.