Somali Studies International Association (SSIA) Congress 2012
Envisioning the Future: Building on the Past - Utilizing the Strengths of Somali Society and History.
The 11th SSIA congress will be hosted by the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue, Lillehammer, Norway, 11-13 October 2012, in cooperation with IFTIIN, Somali-Norwegian Knowledge Centre. Knowing the variety of competence the congress attracts the congress will look at Somalia’s rich culture and history, its values and how these factors shape the future of the Somali nation.
The title of the 11th SSIA Congress is Envisioning the Future: Building on the Past - Utilizing the Strengths of Somali Society and History. Numerous peace and reconciliation conferences, workshops and political meetings have taken place over the past decades, mostly led by non-Somalis, and with the best intentions. Nevertheless, the expressed intentions of these gatherings have not materialized on the ground. We believe the key to a successful future lies with the Somali themselves and consequently finding a solution to the conflict in Somalia must resonate with the Somali nation and build on Somali experience.
The 11th Congress of the Somali Studies International Association (SSIA) will focus on the many functioning aspects of Somali society. Contrary to popular belief, many local communities in Somalia function well at the basic level and their inhabitants enjoy relative stability. According to a recent International Crisis Group (ICG) report, which condemns the present government in Mogadishu in no uncertain terms, for corruption and failure to show any positive results, there is another side to Somalia:
Yet, the situation is not as bleak as it may seem. Some parts of Somalia, most notably Somaliland and Puntland in the north, are relatively stable, and as the ill-fated Union of Islamic Courts demonstrated in 2006, it is possible to rapidly reestablish peace and stability in central and south Somalia if the right conditions exist. Contrary to what is often assumed, there is little anarchy in the country. Local authorities administer most areas and maintain a modicum of law and order. Somalis and humanitarian agencies and NGOs on the ground know who is in charge and what the rules are and get on with their work (ICG 2011: ii).
Putting Somali traditions and interests in the forefront of the debate is particularly important now as Somalia is facing a crossroads – the TFG mandate is about to expire, radical groups continue to terrorize the civilian population and the Horn of Africa has been experiencing a severe drought with devastating effects for several communities in the region. However, despite gloomy prospects, war and drought are not new phenomena to the Somali people. For example, the drought that affected Somalia in 1974-75 saw many ingenious solutions to overcome the challenge by combined efforts of traditional, local, national and international authorities. Time and time again, local and traditional mechanisms have proved – and still prove – to be resilient and able to address problems as they arise. Local and traditional values remain crucial to the Somali understanding of reality, but can these factors be shaped into forces for peace under the current state of fractionalization and extremism?
The strength of traditional and local values is vital for understanding why a number of local and regional communities across Somalia are functioning and stable. Moreover, Somalia was one of the more prosperous countries in Africa for decades and the current failure to bring peace to the Horn may indicate that we are looking for the solutions in the wrong places.
For the international community to be able to act positively towards Somalia, understanding the Somali culture and the real root causes of Somali conflicts are essential.
According to our understanding, most Somali peace processes lack legitimacy in the eyes of the constituencies they claim to represent. The top-down approach that is used in all Somali national peace processes has contributed to failure. Most of them have been held outside the country and have looked for quick solutions rather than responding to the real conflict. There is lack of continuity and consistency. It is important to reduce the influence of external actors, and allow enough time to discuss fundamental issues relevant to the Somalis.
Therefore we invite you to take up our challenge and address to the issues we set before you in the program.
We invite the 11th Congress of the Somali Studies International Association to look not at failures, but at the strengths of the Somali nation.