Conference attendees at the Somalia Civil Society meeting in Istanbul, Turkey. A recent conference bought together Somali civil society to discuss the future of Somalia. (© Zainab Hassan)

The conference really did provide space for Somalis to come together and to talk about our collective issues
I attended the Somalia Civil Society meeting that took place in Istanbul from May 27 -30, 2012. The meeting was hosted by the Government of Turkey. The participants included 135 elders who would select the new Somalia parliament after the end of the transition period on August 2012 and the rest were members of NGOs, religious elders and diaspora from a wide variety of countries. There were also former politicians, and members of political associations including Hiil-Qaran and Tayo.

For Somalis, by Somalis

The meeting was intended to create a space for Somalis to come together and to talk about the post-August transition. Unlike previous conferences, held outside of Somalia,  and billed as a conference for Somalis and by Somalis, the conference hosted in Istanbul proved different in several important ways. Especially if compared to the Somalia London conference, which was a hollow performance by the international community, in that the outcome was pre-determined - the conference communiqué was released weeks before the conference was held - and promises made by the international community have not been fulfilled.

The conference opened with a speech by the Foreign Minister of Turkey Ahmed Davutoglu who traced the long history between Somalis and Turks, dating back to the Ottoman Empire. Although Mr. Davutoglu's speech was interesting, what caught my attention was his description of how Somalia had been isolated and that Turkey would no longer allow Somalia to be alone. This struck me because despite extensive external intervention in Somalia, in reality Somalia has been alone. Somalia has been surrounded by countries that routinely violate its sovereignty, send in their military to commit human rights violations with no consequences to them, fund the further disintegration of Somalia through the formation of regional states and have in reality become the cause of the conflict they purport to solve. The continuous intervention in Somalia has been driven, not by any concern for Somalis or Somalia, but by the national interests of those countries. For example, Kenya forced the hand of the Somali government to retroactively approve their military intervention in Somalia.

Finding solutions from within Somalia

Somalis can talk about their future and come to an agreement on vital issues affecting their country
The other thing that caught my attention was that generally conferences hosted by foreign countries and in outside of Somalia, have the agenda set. But this conference really did provide space for Somalis to come together and to talk about our collective issues. As such, we saw no-one from the Government of Turkey telling Somalis what to do and how to do it.

The initial agenda, which had had been a series of panels examining various issues, was tossed out on the first day. Instead, the elders requested that they wanted to have a discussion alone, without the diaspora. The rest of the participants attended three other workshops - on security; development; and economic development - to come up with concrete recommendations.

During the four days we spent together, during the conference and after, we got the opportunity to get to know each other, to argue with each other, to laugh together and to come to some sort of an understanding. For example, the elders were quite suspicious and in some cases hostile to what they perceived as too much diaspora control over the conference. But as the agenda was changed in response to feedback from the elders and other participants, people began to have some sense of ownership over the outcome. And towards the end, some of the elders were even inviting the diaspora to come back home.

Turkey faced overwhelming negative reactions from various actors including the TFG, the UN and countries who up to now had had a free hand in how they dealt with Somalia. But Turkey provided an important space for Somalis to briefly come together and discuss the future of their country. In the end, out of the many important issues discussed, the participants agreed to all except for two issues - federalism and whether people could vote in regions where the clans do not reside - which was referred for further discussion.

As Somalia heads towards the end of the transition period, Somalis can remember the lessons from the Istanbul conference, that Somalis can talk about their future and come to an agreement on vital issues affecting their country.

Istanbul gathering of Somali civil society - Communique

Contact: Wednesday May 30, 2012

We, the participants of the Istanbul Civil Society gathering, consisting of Somali traditional elders, religious scholars, academics, organized polities, activists, women, youth, business and diaspora representatives, came together to discuss and evaluate the difficult conditions and existential threats facing our nation. The main objective of this gathering is to bridge the divisions within our society and focus our efforts and energies in building a sovereign, united, just, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Somalia.

Somali participants have been able to gather in an environment free of political pressures, interventions, candidate interests, and manipulation by foreign special interest operatives.

During the four day conference, the participants have identified and discussed many important issues through an interactive process designed to facilitate the expression  of thoughts and ideas. The conference examined issues such as security, the constitution, economic reconstruction, social development, transitional justice and reconciliation. Eight groups  representing  varieties of perspectives   discussed and debated each of these topics. Each group  presented their recommendations to the plenary sessions where their suggestions and ideas were further scrutinized,  discussed and agreed upon .

The conference resolved that:

We are immeasurably grateful to the Turkish government and its people and we encourage the Republic of Turkey to continue its support and solidarity with the Somali people, to realize a Somalia that holds itself up to international standards and reclaims its position as a respected  member of the family of nations.

We are appreciative of the role of Turkey   in convening this gathering in an environment that was  constructive and  fully supportive of the resurrection of the Somali state and the dignity of its people.

We unequivocally support the conclusion of the transition period  by August 20, 2012.


Establish an inclusive and effective national security forces under a civilian command; create  a National Defense Commission to ensure continuity regardless of any changes within the government; implement  effective training programs and space within the country to train Somali forces; inaugurate  an allowance and salary commission to make sure that members of the security forces’ welfare is budgeted and protected; request the lifting of the UN Arms Embargo as soon as an inclusive and disciplined army is established; create an independent judicial system  to examine the injustices that have occurred in Somalia; improve correctional institutions to meet the international human rights standards ; and request that AMISOM be converted into hybrid UN peacekeeping force and that includes additional forces from Muslim countries to counter Al-Shabab propaganda that Somalia has been invaded by non-Muslim forces.

Economic reconstruction

Developing effective, transparent, mutually accountable, and coordinated foreign aid policy to reduce dependency; build an effective taxation policy and administration; establish effective business regulation and enforcement system; convene  a comprehensive conference on recovery and development that should be held as soon as feasible; adopt an effective accountability and transparency in all financial resources management; encourage private and public partnerships (PPP); institute  effective poverty alleviation programs for the most vulnerable groups to reduce poverty; establish skill-building projects and focus on equal opportunities in order to reverse the massive brain drain of the past two decades; and  create rural development programs that are essential in ensuring sustainable means of livelihood.

Social development

Institute a national education policy that standardizes the curriculum of the current multiple educational systems; provide free primary and secondary education for all; identify youth development programs as national priority area for sustainable peace; provide social development programs including adult and vocational training for the youth;  health care and health education programs; clean water; establish national policies to address the continued marginalization of women in all sectors of society; and provide  incentives for highly skilled Somalis to return and contribute to the reconstruction of the country, create an independent National Somali Diaspora Association.


The participants identified several causes that have perpetuated the violence in Somalia such as injustice, repression, land-grabbing, tribalism, corruption, and poverty. Therefore, the participants recommend the following solutions; give the Traditional Elders a vital role in the reconciliation process; end the culture of impunity and pressuring those who committed crimes to accept their responsibility; offer confidence-building measures in order to attain peace and reconciliation; engage all opposition groups; abolish the 4.5 formula and replacing it with 5 formula until a one person one vote system is achieved; form a second chamber for the traditional leaders; establish multi party-based politics and electoral system in which each party must have supporters in all regions; establish a truth and reconciliation commission to resolve the outstanding grievances.


A social contract of this magnitude could not and should not be endorsed in haste, while blind-folded or in contention or under a cloud of suspicion. Therefore, sufficient time must be given to the Constituent Assembly and the Somali people to scrutinize and digest any and all additions and omissions within the new constitution. The Conference participants welcome the efforts to establish a constitution for Somalia and view it as a necessary national imperative; express grave concern about the prolonged and the unnecessary secrecy surrounding the progress of the new Draft Constitution; urge the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to release the latest version of the Draft-Constitution to the Somali public as soon as possible in order to ensure inclusiveness, and broad based participation and consensus; underline their firm resolve that the Somali Constitution must be based on the basic sources of Islam, namely the Quran and Sunna; call upon the TFG to make the constitution-making process transparent and a Somali owned process; call for the creation of permanent and institutional role for Somali traditional leaders in the governance system. Moreover, there is a controversy on the issue of “u-dhashay-ku-dhashay” and the conference recommends further discussion and consensus on the issue. The conference supports that women should get 30% representation in the parliament and all select committees; Participants did not reach a consensus on the “Federalism” principle  and there was a recommendation for a broad national debate and discussion.


The transition must end on August 20, 2012 and be replaced with a durable and democratic state that is based on Islam; there is a need for functioning,  strong, national and just government.; all government institutions must be led by competent people; traditional leaders must be the reference point (second chamber); the participants call for the establishment of multi-party-based politics and electoral system and each party must have supporters in all regions; Somalis are equal and therefore favoritism, tribalism and nepotism should end;  the Somali language consists of two - May and Maxaa Tiri. National media outlets should broadcast in both; the government must fight against corruption; the committee proposed  increasing the number of the parliamentarians from 225 to 275; the terms of reference for the technical committee must be revised.