The Boroma Grand Conference on Reconciliation was described as a make-or-break event in the creation of the Somaliland state. Opened on 24 January 1993, it was attended by representatives of all Somaliland’s clan families. It had an open time frame and in the event lasted nearly four months. The main items on the agenda were reconciliation and security between parties in conflict, and state formation. The open time frame allowed issues to be exhaustively debated and for flashpoints to be dealt with so that consensus, an essential ingredient in traditional Somali political processes, could be achieved. A national committee of 150 Somaliland elders comprised the official voting delegates at the conference. This committee was later to become the upper house in the Somaliland National Parliament. During the four months, however, an estimated 2,000 men took part in the meeting in some way. Compared with the internationally sponsored peace conferences convened to resolve the civil war in the south, the Boroma conference was an indigenous process and the costs were mostly met by Somalis, a major factor in its success. Some funding was provided by a very few foreign donors including the Life and Peace Institute, but no support came from the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM).10

Just ten women, representing two organisations (Somaliland Women’s Development Association and Somaliland Women’s Organisation – see Chapter 9), were allowed to take part in the conference; and this was only after petitioning by women. This was an historic win as traditionally women are excluded from such clan meetings. Tradition still ensured that none of the women represen­tatives had voting rights. Women’s interests, if they were considered separately at all, were still decided on by the elders, all of them men.

Although excluded from the formal decision-making, the ten women presented their views in front of the conference delegates and they worked hard to ensure that they influenced the conference. Advocating for peace and lobbying their male clan representatives on the need to reconcile their major differences with the other clans, for the sake of the country, the ten women with support from others, created and delivered speeches, pamphlets, songs and poems, buraanbur. Below is an extract from one of the many poems they composed for the occasion:

Men had been our shelter but they have thrown us outside.

We are now buffeted by winds and rain, being thrown here and there.

You have made us flee from Mogadishu;

you have made us flee from Burao;

you have made us flee from Berbera,

we will not allow you to move us from Hargeisa.

Below is an example of the messages women were communicating, comprising a speech delivered to the male delegates by Zeynab Mohamed Hassan on behalf of the women’s groups:

Chairman, guurti members, Honorary members, clan delegates and observers, Good Morning. I greet you on behalf of Somaliland women’s organisations.

According to Somali traditions, you may be surprised to find a woman speaking in this male congregation. You may also wonder what compelled them to perform this untraditional act.

Traditionally men served as a defensive umbrella for women and children. Today men have failed in this responsibility; and women and children are subject to all kinds of hazards, social, economic and environmental. As a result of this, women have to fend for themselves. That is the reason for our breach of the traditional code.

Over the past ten years men, through their violent actions, displaced women, children and old people from Hargeisa, Mogadishu, Burao and Berbera. Today you intend to drive us from Hargeisa.

Somaliland women demand that their partners, brothers, uncles and sons, give this tired population a rest from armed conflicts.

Boroma Grand Conference on National Reconciliation, 1993

4 Hundreds of clan elders exercise the traditional voting powers of men and select a president during the 1993 Boroma Grand Conference on National Reconciliation. After intense lobbying, 10 representatives of two women’s organ­isations were permitted to attend the conference. They could speak and lobby, but they were not given voting rights. (Hamish Wilson/Panos Pictures)

In conclusion, women demand that:

i. Peace and peaceful coexistence must be achieved among

Somaliland clans

ii. This conference shall be in session until all suspicions that may

create conflicts are resolved

iii. A solid foundation must be laid for a better future for

Somaliland’s population.

The women who attended the conference say that it was they who suggested that the committee of 150 elders which presided over the Boroma Grand Conference should become a House of Elders, or guurti, within a bicameral national parliament; and the elders’ mandate should be to bring peace and reconciliation – a suggestion, based on the structure of the SNM, which was subsequently taken up.

As with the Sheikh conference in October 1992, numerous women played crucial roles behind the scenes, as food providers as well as logistical and financial supporters for the hundreds of men from all over Somaliland who were taking part.

By the time the participants of the Boroma conference had concluded their debates all but one of the existing clan grievances had been settled and inter-clan reconciliation had been achieved.11 A new president had been chosen and the Somaliland Communities Security and Peace Charter developed. This charter established a national security framework, detailed mechanisms for demobilisa­tion of former combatants, the formation of local police forces and judicial institutions and the securing of roads. The charter defined the responsibilities of elders in mediating and settling outstanding disputes and future conflicts; and it set out a code of conduct for the people of Somaliland, in accordance with their traditions and with the principles of Islam.

Discussions on state formation produced a National Charter to act as the constitution for Somaliland for two years. The incoming government was to be charged with drafting a national constitution to be ratified by a national referendum within two years.12 The National Charter established a government structure with a bicameral legislature. This comprises an Upper House of Elders (guurti), and a Lower House of Representatives. Members of both houses were selected by the clans rather than standing for election. All the members are men. Together these two houses make up parliament.

Although later generally seen as a token gesture, the appointment of Mrs Deeqa Ol-u-Joog as a Minister of the Presidency (but not a par­liamentarian) was appreciated by women’s rights and peace activists.13

NOTES

1. An expression used when one is related to both warring parties.

2. The city of Hargeisa is divided by a dry riverbed. The two sides are referred to as the two banks and roughly divide the city on a clan basis.

3. Amina M. Warsame 2002.

4. Alex de Waal (ed.) (2002) Demilitarizing the Mind: African Agendas for Peace and Security (Trenton NJ: Justice Africa/Africa World Press).

5. On 31 October 2001 Resolution 1325 was passed unanimously by the UN Security Council. This is the first ever passed by the Secuirty Council that specifically addresses the impact of war on women, and women’s contribution to conflict resolution and sustainable peace.

6. UNIFEM (1998) Somalia Between Peace and War: Somali Women on the Eve of the 21st Century.

7. The first mass demonstration by women in Somaliland had been in 1991. It was spontaneous and occurred as a response by women to the prolif­eration of arms in the country. Thousands of women and children walked in the streets of Hargeisa shouting anti-arms slogans and attacking any man they saw carrying a gun. Eye-witnesses reported that women were angry and emotional and that many men who were carrying arms fled for their lives (reported by Amina M. Warsame in The Impact of the Civil War on Somaliland Pastoralists, Especially Women and Children, The Hague: NOVIB/Institute of Social Studies, 1997).

8. Buraanbur is the name given to the poetic form used by women. For more information on women’s use of poetry as a means of resistance see: ‘Somalia: Poetry as Resistance Against Colonialism and Patriarchy’ by Dahabo Farah Hassan, Amina H. Adan & Amina M. Warsame in Saskia Wieringa (ed.) (1995) Subversive Women: Historical Experiences of Gender and Resistance (London: Zed Books) pp 165-82.

9. This warning against international military intervention came at the time when the US was preparing to send troops to Mogadishu in Operation Restore Hope. Some people in Somaliland believed that the US wanted to send troops into Somaliland as well.

10. For more, see Mark Bradbury (1997) Somaliland Country Report (London: CIIR).

11. In June 1993 the National Guurti appointed Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal – Somaliland’s first prime minister in 1960 and Somalia’s last civilian prime minister in 1969 – as the new president of Somaliland, replacing Abdulrachman Ahmed Ali ‘Tuur’, the interim president since 1991 and former chairman of the SNM. This outcome left the Garxajis sub-clan of the Isaq with grievances about the treatment of their clansman ‘Tuur’, and with their share of seats in the two Houses of Parliament. These grievances were to lead to Somaliland’s next internal conflict in 1994.

12. Although much later than originally intended, a national constitutional framework was drafted by January 1997, and the constitution itself by 1999; a national referendum took place in May 2001 which returned a vote of more than 90 per cent in favour. Women’s organisations played an important role in mobilising women to seize their first voting opportunity in more than a decade.

13. Deeqa Ol-u-Joog lost her job after a year and a half and no other woman held a ministerial office until the appointment in August 2002 of Edna Adan.