Painful but healthy: There is a need for a narrative change

by Abdul Fatah M. H. Nero
Monday, March 29, 2021

Fugitive former Jubbaand security minister (L) shakes hands with State Minister for Transport Abdirahman Dheere in Belet-Hawo March 24, 2021. Photo: SNTV

Abdirashid Janna’s rejoinder of the Somali government, and the overall accord covering this issue, was a necessity to achieve some kind of diffusing tension in the Gedo region and, possibly, lasting peace in Somalia. As of now, the government has shown the urgency of compromise, eagerness to extend an olive branch, and the audacity to stop recurrent conflicts in the region. It is a praiseworthy act.  Already, Gedo is crippling with many other challenges; prolonged drought, a mass exodus of IDPs, and the loss of many lives, in addition to the substantial economic crises related to the conflict.


No doubt, AJ, as he’s widely known, was among thousands of culprits from a criminal enterprise in the wider Somali conflict context. He played a significant role in many human rights violations in the region. As the figurehead of the proxy conflict, he was also loyally answerable to his boss as he was charged with the security docket of the Jubba administration; implementing orders, executing directives and contributing to the wider negative policy towards the Gedo region. This call for a change of narration; from one of painful but healthy in the long run kind of narrative to a new line of narration: an end to the culture of impunity. This means that punishing him alone can be viewed as a form of political revenge that will sabotage ongoing peace-building processes in today’s Somalia. 


Within the context of Somalia’s fragility and the re-emergence of a new, more assertive national government after a 30-year of lawlessness, dealing with widespread human rights violations raises a number of practical difficulties. As we speak, the country’s political balance is in an extremely sensitive trajectory. The central government is, maybe, unwilling to pursue wide-ranging retributions that would somehow put national security and stability at risk. It also explains the international community’s past tacit acceptance of former warlords to be the building blocks of the reformation of the Somali state; for example, past peace talks in Kenya. Many of those, including controversial figures with blood on their hands, are sitting parliamentarians, senators and official government staff members; some of whom served as former ministers in past transitional ‘federal’ governments.


Under international law, there is a significant difference between the terms ‘accused’ and ‘guilty.’ While you can be accused for anything, you are not guilty unless there is proof of evidence in a court of law and beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the fact that such a transparent process is way too far to be seen in a country like today’s Somalia, this does not free one from responsibility, and a day will come when each and everybody has to answer to cases; specifically to those crimes against humanity whether committed directly or indirectly.


The too many problems Somalia carries from its past abuses are often too complex to be resolved by any one action. Judicial measures, including trials, are unlikely to be enough. For example, if there are thousands or hundreds of thousands of victims and perpetrators, how can they all be dealt with fairly and through the nascent judicial system of today’s Somalia? As the ‘federal’ government is trying to re-establish law and order in the country, the complete reconstruction of the legal system requires an effective and efficient administration of justice within Somalia’s divided society and equally. This, also, has to apply to all levels, central government level, Benadir administration, and regional levels.

For now, however, the central government must consider an ad hoc process with the sole intention to address past systematic abuses and human rights violations through transitional justice without endangering ongoing political transformation and peace-building processes. These approaches are — and must be — shaped by historical experiences such as past UN initiatives and tribunals; for example, those of former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is also another superb example; one that would immensely help today’s Somalia, especially with the oral society context of the country. Islam and Somali customary law will also play a major role since everything Somalia is grounded on these two and their values.


At this juncture, there are three (3) major recommendations; judicial investigations of those responsible for human rights violations, the possibility of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Somalia, and reparations programmes: –


i)        Judicial investigations of those responsible for human rights violations: Enable prosecutions of those suspected of responsibility and provide justice and reparations for the victims, including the families of those who were killed;

ii)      Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Somalia: Such commissions of inquiry have the primary purpose and responsibility of investigating and reporting on key periods of recent abuse. Often being official state bodies, their recommendations will help remedy such abuse as they can also help prevent its recurrence;

iii)    Reparations programmes: These are state-sponsored initiatives that help repair both material and moral damages of past abuse. They typically distribute a mix of material and symbolic benefits to victims, benefits that may include financial compensation as well as official apologies.



In conclusions, whether you are rejoicing in the Janan accord or grieving with the victims, we can understand that emotions are raging high, in any case and, on both ends. While victims are sad, angry, frustrated and disappointed, others are cheerful, happy, and exuberant of the possible peace that may follow. Regardless of which side you sit, however, it is now time for the healing process to re-start. Painful in the eyes of the victims to see Janan and his forces paraded on the streets of Beled-xaawo and Doolow, others see peace in the long run. In the bigger picture, however, there are also other benefits that may not be visibly seen for now. But, life – be it political, socio-economic or otherwise – must continue and we must attend to all other equally important national issues we have on the table, including elections.

Abdul Fatah M. H. Nero is the Director at Daryeel Relief & Development Organization DRDC.

He can be reached at: [email protected] and on Twitter: @FatahNero

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