On the Road to Reconstruction: Somalia Looks to Rwanda for lessons

 Since the early 1990s, Somalia has experienced cycles of violence that fragmented the country, destroyed legitimate institutions, and created widespread vulnerability. However recent security gains made by the Federal Government and the African Union have brought stability and a hope that Somalia is finally turning the page on two decades of turmoil.

The Knowledge and Experience Exchange Study Tour delegation visiting the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission Headquarters in Kigali.
The Knowledge and Experience Exchange Study Tour delegation visiting the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission Headquarters in Kigali.

Many observers call the transition a real break with the past, and the best opportunity for achieving lasting peace. Slowly but surely, members of the Somali diaspora are returning, and national reconstruction and reconciliation are the top priorities of the Federal Government in Mogadishu.

The processes of national reconciliation and peace building will bring a whole new set of challenges, especially given the easy access to weapons and presence of armed groups in Somalia. Guided by the Somali Compact—an overarching strategic framework for coordinating political, security, and development efforts for peace and state-building activities—the Government of Somalia is implementing the National Programme for Disengaging Combatants, which establishes a “comprehensive process through which fighters can disengage in conformity with international law and human rights and provides targeted reintegration support.”

Traditionally known as DDR — disarmament, demobilization and reintegration — these programs are implemented to help facilitate security and stability in post-conflict environments so that recovery and development can begin to take root. Given the tenuous security situation in Somalia, the government is advancing with caution and rather than implement a traditional DDR program right away, it is focusing its efforts primarily on building the capacity and the technical expertise of its institutions.

One of the ways in which Somalia is doing this is through knowledge exchanges with countries that have faced similar crises. Twenty years after a civil war and genocide, Rwanda has obtained stability and security at home, in part due a remarkably successful DDR program. In an effort to help Somalia learn from Rwanda’s experience, the World Bank initiated a “Knowledge and Experience Exchange Study Tour” enabling a delegation consisting of Somali officials from the Federal Ministry of Interior and National Security, African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) to visit Rwanda and its Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC).

“It is very encouraging to see that Rwanda has implemented such a difficult program with great success. Rwanda was confronted with similar challenges to those that we face today, and we are convinced that learning from their experiences will help us,” noted Mr. Said Sudi, Director of Somalia’s National Programme for Disengaged Combatants.

The delegation embarked on a dynamic five-day workshop coupled with site visits to a number of DDR centers. Led by the RDRC, Rwanda’s agency for implementing demobilization and reintegration efforts, the study tour allowed the participants to have a bird’s eye view of Rwanda’s demobilization program.

Following a visit of several agriculture and livestock cooperatives jointly managed and worked by ex-combatants and community members, the participants were able to sit down with the former combatants themselves to understand firsthand their experiences.

Jean Bosco Rurangirwa, a disabled ex-combatant who received support through the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Project, said with the support he has received, he along with other ex-combatants and community members “have formed cooperatives and raised livestock, allowing them to develop a trade and be productive.”

“We realized that as much as these programs target individuals, it is also important to keep in mind the community aspect. Our meetings with these former combatants emphasized the need to promote social cohesion within the programs we create,” said Ms. Zahra Samatar, Somali Human Rights and Child Protection Officer.*

Over the course of the workshop in Kigali, participants discussed the key elements of demobilization and reintegration programs, explored the various stages involved in the process, and provided a space for detailed exchanges of ideas. “We assessed the National Programme for Disengaging Combatants and DDR in Somalia. We looked at gaps and challenges, and we agreed on a number of steps to be taken. Some of these are now being shared by our brothers in Rwanda,” said Mr. Ssebirumbi Kisinziggo, Senior Political Affairs Officer at the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM).

Discussions focused on pre-DDR activities, program planning, stakeholders, communications, raising awareness, and reinsertion, with a particular attention to vulnerable groups such as women and children, psycho-social cases, and medically disabled cases. “The experiences of other countries like Rwanda provide applicable programming lessons for vulnerable groups. We were able to witness what the program here achieved, and we heard from those who implemented the activities,” noted Mr. Farah Abdiqafar, National DDR Officer at the Rule of Law and Security Institutions Group at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).

Participants identified a number of best practices that can be adapted and transferred to Somalia’s situation, and discussed the way forward for collaboration with Rwanda. In his closing remarks, Mr. Sudi expressed the delegation’s appreciation of the Rwandan government’s and the RDRC’s warm welcome and attention given to the knowledge exchange.

“The next step now involves developing a capacity-building strategy that will guide national projects and programs in collaboration with international and regional partners, so their successes can help inform our reconstruction efforts,” said Mr. Sudi.


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