Dialogue Sessions – the new panacea to social cohesion, peace building & HLP issues

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Somalia has experienced almost constant conflict since the collapse of its central government in 1991. It is experiencing both unabated armed conflict and worsening climatic shocks across different regions, a dangerous combination that has prompted populations to flee and this has resulted in massive displacements within Somalia. There is an estimated 2.6 million IDPs who have self-settled in over 2,000 sprawling settlements\sites in urban and peri-urban areas across the country. Banadir Region hosts a huge number of the displaced persons (721,000). The need for space, food, water and shelter places strain in resources in urban areas. The capacities of host communities with limited systems in place are then stretched, leading to virulent forced evictions and extreme vulnerability among displaced populations. Evictions are rampant and happen with abandon, putting further stress on displaced families and limiting their ability to integrate into social structures.

The protracted nature of the crisis coupled with housing, land & property issues has infinitely deepened divisions and as a result created massive chasm of mistrust, indifference and entrenched grievances that widens the schism and fissure making it harder to start any useful lines of communication. At the community level, a myriad of issues and concerns is affecting people and they are often incapable of addressing it.

In October 2020, NoFYL began a 6-month community Dialogue initiative in 2 districts of Banadir region (Kaxda & Deynille). This was done to strengthen community engagement through dialogues with community leaders on housing, land and property issues, social cohesion and peace building.

HLP dialogue committee was established in the 15-selected sites in both districts. Each committee had 15 members selected to represent different groups within the community. These groups included religious leaders, women leaders, the youth and the elderly. The main criteria for selecting participant were based on their motivation and commitment as well as their interest in exploring community issues. Identity, social and cultural belonging, gender and age were also considered when selecting the participant and forming the groups.

Dialogues sessions is designed to provide communities with the opportunity to freely raise issues of concerns and exploring possible solutions and decisions on issues that affect them. Dialogue brings together and facilitates communication among people and groups in order to build trust and pro-social interactions. Each dialogue session lasted for two hours.

In the 1st week of October, the group members started to discuss their dreams and aspirations in terms of safe and peaceful community free from forceful evictions. In all the sites, the group members had different responses showing prospect and sheer determination. For most of them, they dreamt of leaving the IDP site and owning a piece of land. For others, however, starting a business and educating their children was the ultimate goal.

Siteey Xassan from Yaqle IDP site in Deynille is always optimistic that one day she will leave the IDP site for a rosy life in the city far away from the endless evictions. “What’s my dream and aspiration?” She asked briefly, using hand gestures, and then continued: “I dream to be integrated into the host community and have a normal life free from evictions. That is my dream.”

Daaliya Osmaan from Wanagsan IDP site in Deynille had this to say: “I wish there was peaceful co-existence in the camp, protection from armed conflict and forced eviction. That day will come.”

Fadumo Ibraahim from Waranle IDP site in Kaxda was silent before she began to speak.  “I dream of returning back to the place I used to live before displacement.” She paused a bit, and then continued, “I dream to have my livestock and my farm back. I dream for a lot of things.”

Noor Macalin Hassan from Rabisuge IDP site and Nuuro Hassan from Bananey site in Kaxda district were also hopeful of going back to their homes when peace prevails. For all of them, they are waiting to go back and reclaim their housing, land and property.

Abdulahi Amiin from Alle Suge IDP site in Deynille dreams of owning a house and hopes that his children can have education. “A house and education for my children,” He began, when asked about his dreams and aspirations. “I dream to live a life with no fear of evictions because I worry a lot for my children.” Cabdikheir Maxamed from Iskaashi IDP site also says he dreams that his children can get education.

In the 2nd week, the group members delved deep into values of social cohesion which included peaceful co-existence, equality, fairness\justice, and non-discrimination.  This topic generated a lot of visceral emotions, impassioned discussions and disagreements. In the camps, the majority and minority make up the displaced populations. Some group members felt that the minorities are being discriminated and treated unfairly and other members denied it. The members were asked what they understood by fair\just community in relation to HLP.

For Ruqiyo Cabdule, women leader from Cosoble IDP site in Deynille, fairness\just community stems from good leadership in the camps. “Majority & minority clans can co-exist if there is a just & fair leadership in the camps. We must eradicate the discrimination of minority groups when dealing with lands and housing. Equality for all is required to bring peaceful co-existence.” She concluded, amid mutters from other members.

Shacbaan Issaq from Shidane IDP site in Deynille said: “Being given a notice prior to eviction is fair\just. It means I will have enough time to prepare before the eviction comes.”

Asli Cusmaan from Awbaale IDP site in Kaxda added that if 2 or more people have dispute over a land, it should be settled amicably. This was also echoed by Saciid Xusen from Bacaad IDP site: “Fair\just trials and hearings on land issues mean there is no conflict. There will be peace.”

The group members were also asked what they understood by equality for all in relation to accessing HLP and non-discrimination against vulnerable people in the community in relation to HLP.

Adan Mohamed from Waranle site in Kaxda said laws should be put in place for the minorities.

“If we have laws that prevent discrimination of minority people in accessing housing and lands in the camps then there will be equality for all. I am sure of that.”

Ruqiyo Abukar from Wanagsan IDP site was indignant at the plain inequality in the camp and had this to say: “As women we are not involved in HLP dispute resolutions even if it directly concerns us. It’s only men who make decisions for us and many times there is discrimination and no equality.” Her statement was met with tumultuous disagreement from men who thought she was overreacting. She was nonchalant and happy to have spoken for women.

Mama Maano Abdi from Iskaashi IDP site said: “Housing and land is to be given equally. There should be no favoritism and no discrimination.”

In the 3rd week, group members discussed on human rights and what the law says with regards to right to adequate standards of living, right to adequate housing and right to property ownership.

Isaaq Abdi from Yaqle IDP site in Deynille says he has a right to be settled in a good place. “I know my rights to be settled in a good place to live, without evictions and with my needs covered.” This statement was echoed by Qaali Maxamud from Bacaad IDP site. She says she has a right to have basic needs to sustain her life.

In Bananey IDP camp in Kaxda, Saynab Mohamed added that she understands the laws of Somalia and what it entails. “The laws of Somalia state that everyone has a right to live in dignity. I can tell you many things.” She was adept, to the amazement of her fellow community leaders.

Nuunow Noor from Wanagsan IDP site in Deynille said something important on the right to adequate housing: “I have a right to a housing that is near the market, school, and health center and water points. It should also be near to the mosque.” All the other members nodded in agreement. The same statement was echoed by Caasho Cabdi from Bacad IDP camp.

Jibril Maxamed from Shidane IDP camp says he has a right to buy and own property from any one and sell it to anyone. “I can buy property from anyone and sell to anyone. It is my right.” Mulki Barshi from Yaqle emphasized that people have a right to be protected from other people who are claiming and want to take away other people’s property.

The group members also discussed on the land tenures types and they collectively said they know it is rented with 5-year agreement.

In the 4th week of October, the group members sat for hours discussing the pros and cons of acquiring property\housing trough formal and informal agreements. Majority of the group members agreed that they prefer formal agreements in lieu of informal agreements. They felt that the informal agreement could easily be forgotten and with no proof it would be easy to lose property. Ahmed Ronow from Mudan site in Kaxda says he prefers the formal agreement. “Acquiring housing\property through informal agreements can cause forced eviction because the agreement is unwritten and easy to forget. There is no proof of anything.” Raaxo Maxamed from Alle Suge site however feels that important documents can get burnt in case of fire outbreaks. Others preferred informal agreements citing illiteracy and time as the reason while some group members said informal agreements build trust between them and the land owners.

Group members were also inquired no who was prone to be affected when these agreements are not honored. They all agreed that women, children and persons with disabilities are the most affected. There were also discussions on the power dynamics in the community and decision-makers in terms of HLP issues. Majority of the group members said it was the land owners and the camp leaders. In all the sites, Awees Sharif from Bananey IDP site was the only group member with a different answer. “I believe the government has the power to decide on HLP issues especially lands.”

The dialogue groups developed affable relationship that enabled them to build trust, to allow different people to raise their concerns, to consider people’s opinions, to raise difficult topics for discussion, to find ways forward as a group and to initiate some actions for change. In addition, dialogue groups were able to reach some level of understanding on issues that were quite convoluted.

Group members were thankful to NoFYL for the meaningful and interactive dialogue sessions. Ambiyo Hassan from Ramaas IDP site in Deynille said she was always shy to speak in public but thanks to the dialogue sessions she is confident now. “Before I did not know how to speak in public in front of men but since I joined the community dialogue I have gained confidence and ability to express my opinions fearlessly.”

Cabdinasir Muqtar from Cosoble site in Deynille said: “Not all participants were aware of different issues in their community and through the dialogue sessions we learnt a lot and understood more. It has now become normal to talk about difficult issues. We learn to value and respect our differences. We create relationships.”

Macalin Abdullahi Ibrahim from Mudan IDP site in Kaxda said he has started sharing the discussions with people in his camp and they liked what they are doing and asked him if they could join the group. “A lot of people in the camp have shown interest and they want to join the dialogue group and contribute. They like it.”

Muslimo Mohamed from Awbaale site said she has gained a lot from the dialogue sessions. “We always look forward to the next sessions. We learn different things because different people have different experiences. We come together in the afternoon or evening after the dialogue sessions to talk more.” She concluded.

The Dialogue Sessions enters its second month in November, 2020.