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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 17:18 GMT
Organisation amid chaos in Somalia
Somali schoolchildren Education is one of the tasks performed by voluntary organisations

Leaders from the Horn of Africa meet this week to discuss a peace initiative for Somalia. Africa reporter Virginia Gidley-Kitchin looks at how Somalis have organised themselves since central government broke down.

When the Somali state collapsed nine years ago amid civil war, insecurity was not the only nightmare: Somalis were also left without a health service, schools or judiciary.

Gradually, voluntary groups emerged to try to fill some of the gaps, particularly in the south where the fighting was worst.

As well as local charities, they include a human rights body in the capital, Mogadishu, intellectuals and professional people who tried to administer the port town of Merca, Islamic courts financed by the Mogadishu business community, and the Somali Olympic Committee which still sends Somali teams to world sporting events.

Perhaps most remarkable are the women's groups which have sprung up all over the country. As well as advice on women's health issues, they provide literacy lessons, handicraft classes and even computer training for Somali businesswomen.

Halima Abdi Arush, founder of the women's group, IIDA, says that women have had to learn to fend for themselves: "The women lose husbands and sons, so they have a new role: they are the breadwinners.

"As IIDA, we try to give them skills because they hadn't enough training."

Peace plan

It is groups like these which Djibouti's President Ismael Omar Guelleh has identified as Somalia's new civil society.

President Guelleh, who in September launched a new peace initiative for Somalia, argues that Somali people's organisations should form the basis of the next attempt to restore a Somali state.

Unlike the 12 previous international peace agreements, which tried to secure a deal among the country's tribal warlords, President Guelleh wants the warlords to take a back seat and allow what he calls Somalia's civil society to shape the country's future.

The question is how to persuade the warlords to give up power.

President Guelleh is relying on a combination of pressure from the weary Somali public and the threat of international sanctions against stubborn individuals.

The plan is expected to be discussed in Djibouti on Friday, at a summit of the regional grouping Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

IGAD comprises Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda, though Eritrea has threatened to boycott the summit because of tensions with Djibouti.

Although there is still scepticism about whether President Guelleh's plan for Somalia is realistic, it has picked up unexpected momentum, with even some warlords voicing support.
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See also:
17 Nov 99 |  Africa
The boring life of a warlord
28 Jun 99 |  Africa
Eyewitness: Rule by the gun in Mogadishu
17 Sep 99 |  Africa
Somalia aid workers in peril
26 Sep 99 |  Africa
Protesters call for peace in Somalia
30 Sep 99 |  Africa
Somalis demonstrate against warlords
06 Apr 99 |  Africa
Gunning for the money in Somalia

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