Somaliland: Somalia: A new political role for Somali traditional leaders


Somali traditional leaders at a meetingBy: Liban Ahmad

(Somalilandsun) – Somali traditional leaders tasked with endorsing the draft constitution and selecting MPs who will elect a president in August 2012 have appointed an arbitration committee made up of elders. The extent to which the committee members are independent of politicians’ interference or influence is not clear.

Elders’ services will be used to give legitimacy to the post-transition institutions– a model used in Somaliland ( Guurtida -council of elders) and in Puntland ( Isimada- traditional leaders). The drawback to this approach is that elders will have less time to address traditional roles with which they have long been associated ( e.g. solving culture-related disputes ” marriage and wealth” and blood-related cases ” murder, accidents or grievous bodily harm” ). Between 1960, when Somalia attained independence and 1991 when the state collapsed, elders played a minimal role: only when parties involved in conflict or dispute agreed to application of the customary laws were elders given a role. The military regime called them ‘nabad-doonno’ (peace-seekers).

Among disputes the new arbitration committee will seek to address is disputed appointment a given MP. What about if a traditional leader appoints an MP without consultation with his constituency? What about if members of the constituency protest against the decision of a traditional leader?

Legitimacy for new institutions has to be sought at the local level: whatever is agreed on in Mogadishu will not bear fruits at the local level if a community is divided because of an elder’s divisive decision to appoint an MP. Will the arbitration committee put on hold appointment of the MP to give the two sides a fair hearing or will it let the elder’s decision go unchallenged?

The role of of elders in post-1991 Somalia was backed up by collective decision by some communities to fall back on Somalia- pre-state customary laws after coercive role of the state came to end. Elders’ role was strong in areas where clan militias were not the strongest force. It will be a retrogressive decision if an elder is made to believe his new role is to give support or letter of reference to prospective MP or a candidate for a civil service job.

Liban Ahmad