I was at a restaurant in Mogadishu in 2014 when a man approached me and unexpectedly confessed to having been part of the gang that attacked my home in Mogadishu in 1992 in which my 18-month-old daughter, Yasmin, was brutally killed.
The man then fervently and remorsefully begged for my forgiveness, saying the matter had troubled him for many years. Initially, I felt so much anger with memories of my lifeless daughter flooding back to my mind. I felt like killing him on the spot to revenge my daughter’s death.
But after some moments of silence, I felt some calm return to my heart. I then told him I had forgiven him. The man hugged me and we both couldn’t hold back tears. Immediately after the incident, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt whole again. This personal incident, if nothing else, strengthened my conviction about the need for reconciliation to heal Somalia.
No doubt, Somalia is making modest progress in rebuilding itself from the destruction wrought by decades of catastrophic civil war but the crucial agenda of grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation is not receiving the attention it desperately deserves.
The civil war not only precipitated the meltdown of state institutions and destruction of infrastructure and the economy, but also the unravelling of the social and cultural fabric of the country. Without deliberate efforts to rebuild the shattered trust and goodwill and address deep-seated grievances between individuals, families and communities at the grassroots level, reconstruction efforts will not be sustainable and durable.
Somalia is one of the few countries in Africa with a homogenous population that shares language, religion, bloodlines and culture but the widespread violence, human rights violations and injustices during the civil war exacerbated social divisions and disharmony mainly along clan lines.
Until now, not much has been done to repair those relationships, build bridges and address underlying grievances thus eliminating common spaces for dialogue, accommodation and coexistence. There have been many conferences since the early 1990s ostensibly to bring about reconciliation between various segments of the Somali population but they have hardly had any impact in the grassroots.
This is partly because the initiatives have largely been dominated by politicians and clan leaders, including warlords, without much involvement of the people in the grassroots who should be the main drivers of such initiatives in a bottom-up way. In fact, the conferences have been more about power-sharing between clan leaders than fostering genuine grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation.
The searing impact of the Somali civil war has been so widespread that it is difficult to find a Somali national who is not nursing deep-seated grievance and trauma due to the killing of loved ones or loss of property or dignity. That’s why the time for Somalia to have its own indigenous process of truth, justice and reconciliation is long overdue.
The process will give space to the people to explore the full extent of the crimes and violations that occurred in the civil war and continue to occur; come to terms with the pain, anger and grief as well as look into appropriate avenues of justice, compensation, forgiveness and reconciliation.
When the incident was reported by local media, similar incidences also emerged in various parts of the country. That’s why since then I have been keen to use that personal story with a hope of promoting grassroots reconciliation in Somalia. However, there is a pressing need for a more structured process so that the Somali nationals can explore the dark past together and come to terms to it.
Somalia can benefit from the experiences of countries such as Rwanda which deployed traditional methods of justice and reconciliation to address the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Somalia too has rich traditional and religious systems that can be tapped to successfully address to rebuild the shattered social fabric in the war-torn country.
Before Somalia can take its rightful place in the community of nations, it must bravely face and address the horrors and dark corners of its history during the civil war through a grassroots truth, justice and reconciliation process.