Peace Direct has been funded by the EU to launch a new project in Somalia, one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Years of civil war, famine, piracy and attacks by extremist groups have made Somalia one of the deadliest and poorest countries we have worked in so far.
Project manager Tom Gillhespy explains: “Our new project aims to bring peace and stability to local people’s lives. We’re tackling the problem on two levels – training people to prevent violence when it erupts, and helping them to create jobs for a better long-term future. As in so many countries, much of this conflict is driven by poverty, and a functioning local economy is a key step towards lasting peace.”
Over 3.5 million people in Somalia have been affected by war and famine in the past 20 years. There was no functioning national government for nearly two decades from 1991 to 2012. Fighting between rival warlords has destroyed the infrastructure and forced over 1 million people to flee their homes for the safety of neighbouring Kenya. The activities of Islamic militants like Al-Shabaab have complicated the situation further.
Peace Direct’s new project will be based in the city of Kismayo in the south-east. The city is home to some 40 rival clans and 2,000 militia members, all competing for political and economic power. Such complexities bedevil Somalia’s prospects for peace. But there is a window of opportunity just now.
A newly elected president in 2012, and the withdrawal of Al-Shabaab whose main base has been Kismayo, hold out a hope of political stability, on which we are keen to build.
Our project is funded by the European Union for three years. It aims to help young people – a key group for preventing violence and rebuilding civil society.
The first element of the project is to train 1,460 young men in leadership, conflict transformation and organisational management. This will give them the skills to manage and defuse tensions before they spark into violence.
Participants will go on to train and encourage other young people to get their voices heard in local decision-making. This peer-to-peer approach has already been successful in our youth programmes in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The second element is to give participants vocational training and apprenticeships, so that they have solid job skills to earn a living. Some will also be given micro-loans to set up their own small businesses. This will reduce poverty and alienation, so that young people do not turn to the black market or violent extremism for their living or their sense of identity.
“Grassroots peacebuilding like this is vital,” says Tom Gillhespy. “In a complex crisis, where outsiders have little understanding and even less access, the best hope is to work through local organisations, as we do. It’s the best chance there is for lasting peace.”
This is the kind of change we champion: practical action at the grassroots that makes a lasting difference to people’s lives.