People Centered Security in Somalia: Lessons for International Programming

by Salim Said · May 25th, 2023.

Credit: UN Photo/Mahamud Hassan

A people-centred approach (PCA) is key to tackling fragility, conflict, and violence in Somalia, as stated in the World Bank’s Strategy for Fragility, Conflict, and Violence and the Sustainable Peace Agenda focusing on a bottom-up approach from the local to the global level. Similarly, the OECD-DAC highlights, in the 2018 States of Fragility report, that “people-centred development has the best chance at enduring sustainable results”. Particularly for conflict prevention and peacebuilding interventions, aiming to address inequalities, exclusion, and discriminations that fuel grievances, as such a people-centric approach is essential for sustainable results. In the context of Somalia, I see the prerequisites for implementing a people-centred approach within SSG/R programs as follows:

  1. Multi layered programming (State is engaged with as a provider and regulator, non-state actors as providers, and citizens as recipients to increase their voice and accountability).
  2. Involving community grassroots (engagement with grassroots such as Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) to take the lead on implementation as they know better the realities of their communities).
  3. Trade-off Based Planning (focus on certain projects instead of sporadic interventions that can only provide drops of funding).
  4. Rethinking Sustainability (PCA faces a sustainability challenge as the state focuses only its state-centric interventions).
  5. Rethinking the time frame of PCA programming (PCA interventions call for long term engagement).
  6. Cultural and religious sensitivity (avoid imposition of top-down human rights or feminist tenets).
  7. Political will (government should show commitment to fund PCA initiatives and that should reflect on the budget).
  8. Context analysis (examination of the broad political, social, economic, and cultural situation in which it operates to understand drivers of injustice, insecurity, and marginalisation).
  9. Accountability and Transparency (PCA programming in security and justice should have high levels of transparency and accountability to ensure the integrity of the interventions and curtail corruption and rent seeking activities)

These prerequisites would also need to be accompanied by the involvement of key stakeholders in Somalia to enable the incorporation of the voices of different actors in the SSG/R program, design, implementation, and monitoring:

  1. Community Based Organizations (CBOs):  Examples are   IDPs committees, Youth organisations, women groups, professional groups (association of teachers, doctors, midwives, businesspersons) at local level
  2. Traditional elders and religious scholars: ADR centres’ committees, ad-hoc Shari’a court Qadis or judges and ad-hoc traditional elders
  3. Local political authorities: district councils, mayors, district security committees and village committees.
  4. Professional associations: examples are trade unions, media associations, Bars, women law associations
  5. Regional or state authorities: governors, regional security committees
  6. Security institutions: Ministries of Security, police commissioners at federal and state levels
  7. Justice Institutions: Ministry of Justice, office of the Attorney General, higher judiciary council, custodial corps at federal and state levels
  8. Private sector: businesspeople
  9. Private security companies and commercial consulting companies
  10. Gate keepers of IDPs camps
  11. Independent oversight bodies, namely human rights defenders and commissions at the federal and state levels
  12. Legislative bodies at federal and state levels: parliament members of the State and the federal
  13. NGOs operating at the international level, including research or policy institutes and university departments
  14. States that provide bilateral support for SSR programs;
  15. International and regional organisations such as the UN, AU and EU;

The involvement of the above stakeholders means active engagement in the SSR and justice reform process from inception through design and implementation, where active engagement means participation in decision-making processes, and it should result in security and justice sector institutions which are accountable to and responsive to the needs of the people. Such inclusive, active engagement in the SSR process can continue alongside efforts to build capacity, to reach consensus between groups with competing interests, and to reconcile local norms and values with international human rights, rule of law and democratic norms and values.

Once the key stakeholders are involved, there must also be specific programmatic activities included for SSG/R programmes to be considered people-centred in Somalia. As an example, several internationally supported initiatives have sought and are working to support, strengthen, and open up community-based institutions. For example, Saferworld has been implementing a project targeting working with the Somali Women Development Centre, Somali Women Solidarity Organisation, and Isha Human Rights Organisation in three regions of Somalia – Banadir, Jubbaland State, and South West State – to tackle the mistrust that leads to violence and conflict within and between communities. The project supported the creation of community groups, led by dedicated volunteers, that identify safety concerns affecting their communities, including for marginalised people such as internally displaced people. The project worked with local partners to establish state-level Police Advisory Committees, made up of civil society representatives, former police officers, lawyers, and government officials. These committees visit police stations to assess their work and to give feedback on ideas for improvement. In the same vein, UNDP has implemented a community conversation project in Somalia from 2019-2021 through which the community conversations follow a cycle of different stages: building trust, identifying concerns, exploring concerns, making decisions, implementing decisions, and ‘reviewing/reflecting’ on actions taken. Communities identified common concerns, which included sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) issues, high rates of crime, land disputes, and the lack of effective and trustworthy local justice and police services. The community facilitators then encouraged the participants to further explore these shared issues to unpack the root causes. Since it was difficult at first for the communities to go beyond superficial factors and not rush into decisions, the master trainers were advised to slow down the process to allow more reflection about the underlying social dynamics and cultural norms.

Aside from the above examples in Somalia, there are overall various flagship activities that must be included in an SSG/R program for it to be considered people-centred and these are first and foremost mobilisation activities (social mediation) and inclusive and participatory dialogue. The key programmatic activities I would suggest be included in an SSG/R program are:

  • Activities to build relations (engagement with district or provincial security committees, community safety councils, local security forums or citizen security councils)
  • Democratic oversight activities (engagement with parliamentarians and civil society actors)
  • Activities promoting conflict prevention (police advisory committees/security-community dialogue)
  • Inclusive dialogue activities (Reconciliation)
  • Community driven security activities (support of Committee on the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice and neighbourhood committees)
  • Activities promoting social cohesion and peace (forgiveness, mediation/arbitration)
  • Legal empowerment activities for the poor and marginalised (legal aid initiatives, law scholarships)
  • Activities supporting the formation of local governments (district councils)
  • Activities promoting police deployment (training police force, construction, and equipping of police stations)
  • Activities promoting the establishment of a civilian police force under close oversight of civilian institutions
  • Activities promoting advocacy to gains popular support for SSR

These conclusions come from lessons learned from previous SSG/R programs in Somalia. Overall the main lessons from past engagements are:

  • The SSR programming could more impactful when it’s based on long-term programming to ensure the systemic transformation of security and justice institutions, with an emphasis on legitimacy, inclusion, and accountability
  • The public oversight component is crucial for effective SSR (either engagement with the legislative, executive, or with the civil society including traditional and religious institutions) to avoid corruption, elite capture, and rent seeking
  • Sustainability of the SSR programs hangs on the political will to ensure the continuation for SSR after the donor funding phase. For instance, legal provision could not continue after UNDP suffered a shortage of funds amid the lack of government funding or commitment
  • The SSR policing and justice programs are usually seen as separate in the communities, particularly the rural communities, and that is why both can fail unless they are carefully designed in a manner close to rural community
  • Where the legislative organ or the other independent organs of the government fail to oversight the work of the SSR, such function should be handed over to the community-based institutions, namely traditional elders and religious scholars
  • The consent of all political actors in the country is key for the success of SSR in Somalia
  • The militarisation approach of the SSR breeds community distrust of SSR in Somalia
  • Allegations of elite capture, rent seeking, and corruption have undermined the effectiveness and efficiency of the SSR in Somalia

The lessons learned also emphasise the importance of having necessary coordination levels and bodies for PCA within SSG/R initiatives in Somalia. These are located at the local level, at the national level, and at the international level. At the local level, it is necessary to rely on the local authorities and the technical services of the State so that the people-centred approach is in conformity with the national reference systems. At the national level, it is above all necessary to align with national strategies and national sectoral policies, which themselves are inspired by the National Economic and Social Development Plans. Thus, the key coordination bodies needed would be the ministries in charge of internal security and decentralization, defence, justice, humanitarian action, and social cohesion. At the international level, particularly with regard to the UNDP, the level of coordination is the United Nations cooperation framework, in addition to national bodies.

These coordination levels are key to create a better link between local and national processes in terms of SSG/R. However, I believe other elements can also contribute to this linking in Somalia including:

  • The capacity to establish effective democratic interdependent oversight at national, state, and local community level (legislative, executive oversight, and district level oversight by the civil society and local administrators) - accountability
  • The capacity to develop and enforce comprehensive rights-based legal frameworks that guide SSR
  • The capacity to establish effective mechanisms to hold security and justice personnel accountable to their actions when they violate the law (Rule of Law)
  • The equalisation of opportunities of SSR for all community members, such as employment and tendering activities
  • The focus on the political neutrality of security and justice providers
  • Ensuring the transparency with communities and safeguards of freedom of expression, association, and gathering
  • The capacity to establish effective checks and balances to prevent executive abuse and corruption
  • Striking a balance between the community-based values and international human rights values, in a way that does not interpret the community values and beliefs as inferior and primitive
  • The financial discipline to control expenditure and balance government spending priorities
  • The taking into account of environmental factors such as floods, recurrent drought, and other natural disasters

Ultimately, with the right prerequisites, the involvement of key stakeholders and key programmatic activities, the right approach based on lessons learned, and the necessary coordination levels that strongly link local and national process, international programming can adopt a people-centred approach.

Salim Said is the Executive Director of the SIDRA Institute.

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