When Future Generations Graduate School Professor Firew Kefyalew was asked by a colleague to recommend a possible site for continued peacebuilding action research, his mind trailed to the Horn of Africa region (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia). This is a region he thought he knew well, for it has not been free from war and conflict for at least the last forty years. Currently, Somalia is the most affected country, plagued by a terrorist group call itself Al-Shabaab (meaning youth/youngsters).
Banner in Hargeisa showing former presidents of Somaliland.
Somalia is unique because it has a peaceful “country” within it – the Republic of Somaliland. Somaliland declared its separation from the greater Republic of Somalia in 1991, but it does not have international recognition as a separate country. Taking advantage of Somaliland’s peacebuilding efforts of the last two decades, and the presence of a Future Generations student in the republic, Kefyalew made a 3.5 day trip to Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital. “I have to admit that my knowledge of Somaliland, though a close neighbor to my country Ethiopia, was inadequate before this visit,” Kefyalew said. “What we often hear in Ethiopia is about Somalia, which has been stateless for a long time, and is now deeply troubled by Al-Shabaab. We do not hear about Somaliland – the self-declared state.
Kefyalew’s visit to Hargeisa was immensely informative and successful in terms of attaining the objective he had: learning from the ground about research needs in relation to peacebuilding by taking Somaliland as a case study. Thanks to Abdishakur Hassan-Kayd (Class of 2017), Kefyalew was able to meet with fifteen senior government officials, civil society/community leaders, and academics during his short visit. He is now exploring the possibility of coming up with a research agenda that is applicable to Somalia in particular, and the Horn of Africa in general.
“I found it insightful to learn about Somaliland’s hybrid approach to governance, which is the co-functioning of a clan-based structure represented by the House of Elders of the various clans of the country, and the formal government structure consisting of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. One other thing that caught my eye was a row of portraits of ex-presidents of this young nation. This is in stark contrast to what is commonplace elsewhere in Africa where incumbents almost always condemn their predecessors. Somalilanders’ choice to honor those who have served their ‘country’ regardless of their party affiliation is exemplary!”
Professor Kefyalew (L) and Abdishakur Hassan-Kayd (2017)
 The enthusiasm and resolve of the youth (fifteen to thirty years of age), which make up 70% of Somaliland’s population, to build a peaceful Somaliland against a backdrop of radicalized youth groups in the rest of Somalia is also noteworthy. The high value these youth place on education, and the respect for traditional systems and elders that seem biblical are some of the observations Kefyalew noted with admiration. He plans to systematically explore his observations further, and look at how they can be beneficial to the region and the rest of Africa.
An often-heard sociopolitical rhetoric in present-day Africa is about the role of the youth in the development of the continent. This emanates from the fact that over 40% of Africa’s population is within the youth age range. Paradoxically, Africa seems to have included participation in war and conflict among the developmental tasks of the youth. Somaliland’s efforts, and the spirit that surrounds their youth, defies this trend.
Following on this exploratory listening visit to Somaliland, Future Generations is now working hard to hone in on research questions and collaborations that build on its institutional strengths and history. Graduate School faculty are excited about the possibilities and look forward to sharing more information soon.