Establishing a communication bridge between warring parties to help bring reconciliation and peace can be a vital stage in the process of transition from war to peace. It is a role women are well positioned to take on due to their position within the clan structure, and for which women are politically valued.14

Women are however excluded from the other stages and traditional mechanisms involved in securing an end to a war in a Somali pastoral setting. These include dialogue and mediation by elders chosen for their specific qualities or skills relevant to the situation, such as wisdom, knowledge of genealogy, clan contracts or xeer, and politics; religious sanctions and intervention by men of religion, wadaad, who traditionally do not take part in and are protected in war; compensation demands and if necessary, the use of military strength convening of open councils or shir attended by elders from both sides to discuss grievances and agree the grounds and means for reconciliation. Thus traditionally it is men, the elders, who have the means to make peace a reality and women who have a significant role in making it a possibility.15


1. A saying used by men to confirm that Somali men sought the advice of female relatives in issues of importance. Quoted by Amina M. Warsame in Queens Without Crowns: Somaliland Women’s Changing Roles and Peace Building, Horn of Africa series 4, Life & Peace Institute/Somaliland Women’s Research and Action Group, 2002.

2. See Introduction to this book for definition of Somali ethnicity.

3. Christine Choi Ahmed notes how some historical linguistics research has pointed to the possibility of Somali pastoral society having been matrilineal/matriarchal focused in an earlier age. Christine Choi Ahmed (1995) Finely Etched Chattel: The Invention of a Somali Woman (Trenton NJ: Red Sea Press).

4. Faiza A. Warsame (2001) ‘The Role of Women in Rebuilding Puntland’, in Rebuilding Somalia: Issues and Possibilities for Puntland (London: War Torn Societies Project/Haan).

5. Contributors to this book felt that referring to clan names, including their own, could be divisive. Where they refer to specific clans they do so in order to describe aspects of their experiences relating to clan identity.

6. Sultan (among the Isaq), Garad (meaning ‘wisdom’, among the Darod) and Malaq (among the Rahanweyne). Where they exist they are a symbol of the unity of the clan over its constituent lineages and enjoy respect but not reverence. Their position above sectoral lineage differences enables them to function as arbiters and peace-makers. Mark Bradbury (1994) ‘The Politics of Vulnerability, Development and Conflict: Exploring the Issues with Reference to Somalia and Somaliland’, unpublished thesis for the School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham.

7. Faiza Warsame, personal communication.

8. Maps attempting to define clan territories or deegaan are often disputed by Somalis for there is little consensus about boundaries, which are by necessity fluid, depending on seasonal grazing availability and the movements of nomadic pastoralists. Nevertheless, as the war has clearly shown, and reinforced, a concept of clan territories and boundaries does exist and if anything they have been hardened by the conflict.

9. I. M. Lewis (1961) A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa (Oxford: OUP). Lewis’s ethnography provides detail of the different forms of household location a man may adopt and their corresponding levels of protectiveness and responsibility.

10. For a full explanation of traditional codes and conventions of warfare in Somali society, see Spared from the Spear – Traditional Somali Behaviour in Warfare, Somali Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, February 1997.

11. Faiza Warsame points out that ‘in the case of inheritance a woman also receives half the share of a man. The reason is based on the ideal practice that a man’s share must be shared among the whole family, including his sisters who he is expected to protect and provide for until they marry, a woman’s share of an inheritance is for her alone. This is the ideal; in practice men do what they want.’ (personal communication)

12. I. M. Lewis (1962) Marriage and Family in Northern Somaliland (Kampala: University of Glasgow and East African Institute of Social research).

13. Mohamed-Abdi Mohamed, ‘Somali Kinship and Relations Derived from it’ in Adam & Ford 1997: 153.

14. Lewis (1962) refers to men being able to play this role when their wife is from the opponent’s clan. He refers to married men having ‘dual status’ in both their own kin group and that of their wife’s male relatives.

15. Mark Bradbury (1993) The Somali Conflict: Prospects for Peace, Oxfam Research Paper No.9.