WARARKA BARAAWEPOST Arbaco 23 december 2009









The Somali diaspora are perhaps one of the most widely studied diaspora communities in the West. They are the subject of a number of past and present research studies, ranging from migration (Gundel, 2002), refugees and remittances (Horst and Van Hear, 2002), and the role of diasporas in civil war, peace-building and development (Menkhaus 2006; Horst, 2007).


These research studies present two main analytical observations about the role of Somali diaspora groups. First, the latter are able and capable of mobilising resources for warring parties in Somalia by acting as fundraisers for clans militias. Menkhaus (2006, UNDP 2001, 132) has documented cases where, at times of inter-clan fighting, Somalis in the diaspora are pressured by local clan representatives to support their clan. The author notes that this practice has been on the decline since the early 1990s, although it still remains a present-day concern.


According to a study conducted by Mohamoud (2005)

in which 20 diaspora organisations were interviewed, similar patterns were found. The study findings suggest that some individuals might be perceived as opportunistic as they donate funds to faction leaders and militia in order to buy themselves favours. This is in the hope that they might obtain a position in a future Somali Government when the faction leader that they are currently supporting becomes a president or minister. (Mohamoud 2005, 8.) The various motives behind the support of militia and warring parties are not, however, very well documented within the existing literature.. The support could be due to the fact, for example, that diaspora members do not have up-to-date information about the conflict situation and, when they do actually become involved in homeland politics, this only furthers the chaos. It could also be because diaspora members are frustrated about the failure of ongoing peace negotiations, and may have become disillusioned with the use of democratic means to achieve peace over time (Ibid., 31).


The second observation is that diaspora members are able to act as promoters of peace, good governance and development. The role of diasporas in both peace building and conflict perpetuation is central to the case of Somalia, not least because many of the political elite in the Abdullahi Yusuf government have previously been diaspora members (Menkhaus 2006). Additionally, diaspora members constitute a large portion of both the current Sheikh Sharifi Sheikh Ahmed’s government and the Somali parliament. It has also been reported that the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) recruited some of its leaders from the diaspora (see Bell 2006). Similarly, diaspora members comprise a sizeable and influential proportion of the current opposition, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) in Eritrea.


Additionally, Somali diaspora have also been active in undertaking peace building initiatives, which have played an important and effective role. The expertise and knowledge of diaspora members have been used to mediate in national reconciliation conferences and workshops around the country. Some of the more practical examples where members of the Somali diaspora have been actively engaged include organising two peace-building workshops between 2007 and 2008 on the "role of religion and conflict transformation." These were held in Hargeisa and attended by prominent Somali religious scholars, traditional leaders and female representatives from all over the country.33


It should be acknowledged that Somaliland diaspora have provided vital support to the Somali National Movement (SNM) which was established in London in 1981. The SNM has received substantial support in the form of funding, medicine and other supplies during their struggle against Siad Barre’s regime. Nevertheless, the role of Somaliland diaspora has shifted from conflict perpetuation to nation building.

34 For example, the diaspora have contributed to reconciliation and peace-building in Somaliland since early 1990s by establishing forums such as the Somaliland Peace Committee; carrying out a range of development projects; making significant investments in Somaliland; and, actively engaging in the political realm (Bradbury 2008, 174-179; Hansen 2004, 9; see also Lindley 2006). In fact, within the political realm, Somaliland diaspora have been a part and parcel of the political process and reconstruction efforts in the country (Horst 2007, 6). The Justice and Development Party (UCID), which is currently the third largest party in Somaliland, was established by the Somaliland diaspora and is locally known as the diaspora party.


The activities of Somali diaspora have also included social remittances and lobbying. Key Somali diaspora groups in the West, such as the Somali Canadian Diaspora Alliance (SCDA), Somali American Peace Council (SAPC) and Somali Diaspora Network (SDN) have heavily lobbied their respective governments for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and for an increase in humanitarian aid. In addition to their lobbying activities, diaspora members have both formally and informally collected money to meet humanitarian and development needs. For instance, Somali diaspora in Scandinavia have launched an initiative to collect 5-20 Euros per month to support development programs in different parts of Somalia.35


Diaspora Somalis have also been active in shaping the political debate back at home by writing articles, as well as launching and contributing to newspapers, TV channels, radio stations and email distribution lists.

36 They also have set up businesses that cross clan and regional lines. This can be crucial to building trust and developing better communication between communities (Menkhaus, 2006).


The downfall, however, is that diaspora members are not direct stakeholders of the activities that they undertake. As they have foreign passports, diaspora members can easily ‘walk away’ from any difficulties that they might face (

ibid.). Furthermore, clans and political divisions make it difficult for diaspora members to become meaningful players. Deep divisions, for instance, have recently emerged between the supporters of the Transitional Federal Government and those who support the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). It is claimed that the Somali diaspora have welcomed the rise of the ICU and provided them with substantial funds and expertise. Some members are even reported to have joined the ICU militia (Farah 2006; Bell 2006).


However, according to Menkhaus, diaspora support for the ICU has more to do with anti-Ethiopian and proto-nationalist sentiment than it does with any support for the establishment of an Islamic state (Menkhaus 2006). According to a study by Horst and Gaas37 (2008, 11) on Somalis in Norway and their transnational political engagement, diaspora support at the national level (e.g. through actors such as the TFG and ICU) is often more ideological than it is material. When remittances are sent for political purposes, they are often directed at the sub-clan level since "the impact of sending money to this lower level is much more likely to be felt by family members than when the money is sent to overarching political actors like ICU and TFG" (ibid., 17). Remittances directed at the clan level are designed not only to support warring purposes, but also to support reconciliation processes between clans (ibid., 18-19).


The Ethiopian invasion and the subsequent presence of Ethiopian troops on Somali soil were seen by some within the diaspora as a conspiracy to humiliate Muslims. Internet websites and popular Somali cafeteria discussions suggest that some Somali diaspora members have taken a more hard-line nationalistic stance on the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia.

38 Additionally, US support for the Ethiopian action and the lack of criticism from the European Union is seen as an indication of support for Ethiopia. As a result, anti-western feelings are strong among the diaspora and the ICU has capitalised on this popular uproar to actively engage the Somali diaspora.




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