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When a road is not just a road: restoring relations through dialogue in Somalia

Violent conflict not only destroys lives, but also the friendships, marriages, families, and livelihoods that tie communities together. For two clans that had been divided by violence, re-opening a road marked their moment of reconciliation.

Galgadud state in Somalia has a reputation as a flashpoint for inter-clan conflict, and it has been the scene of some of the longest running clan disputes. As conflict and isolation between communities have persisted, opportunities to use traditional systems of reconciliation also faded. For communities from the Marehan and Dir clans, it reached the point where nearly every family had lost something or someone. “Both sides knew they were losing,” says Adan Kabelo, the Country Manager for the Life & Peace Institute (LPI) in Somalia. “But it also sparked a new impetus for peace, pushing people to question: How many more?”

The town of Herale, primarily home to members of the Dir clan in Galgadud state, is a well-situated rest stop for travellers, halfway between Balanbale and Abudwak. But disputes between Marehan and Dir clans over pastoral land, borders and water had contributed to years of violence, leading to mutual fear and suspicion between the two communities. This meant the smallest of individual slights was often interpreted as a group transgression requiring revenge. The formation of clan militias expanded the conflict into attacks on settlements, which ensured more and more families were drawn into the cycle of animosity.

In 2003, the road through Herale became impassable because of inter-clan violence. It remained closed for 14 years.

Zamzam Foundation (ZZF) is a well-known local NGO that had been doing humanitarian work in the area and had a reputation for providing much-needed assistance for communities, while LPI, a peacebuilding organisation with a head office in Uppsala in Sweden, had over 35 years of experience supporting conflict transformation programmes in a variety of countries. In August 2012, with funding from the European Commission and co-funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), LPI and ZZF came together to canvass communities on their experiences and perceptions of the violence and their ideas for peace.

Ten years after the road closed, the two partners decided to explore the possibilities of bringing the communities back together through dialogue with clan elders and community groups, in particular women, young men and women, and more marginalised clans.

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