Applying SPA’s Human-Centred Approach for Amplifying the Voices of Somalia’s IDP Minorities: A Reflection

Reflections From Our Team

I had the privilege to lead a project that explored ways to empower displacement-affected and marginalized communities in influencing and participating in decisions that affect their lives. This was my second opportunity to lead a project that focuses on empowering and supporting vulnerable groups, particularly those who belong to minorities and marginalized communities within wider displacement-affected communities. Although I had the chance to coordinate a project for vulnerable groups ten years ago, it was only a short-term project lasting several months. The current project focused on various issues affecting displacement-affected communities in Mogadishu, Baidoa, and Kismayo. It involved a wide range of actors, including IDPs, governmental and non-governmental organizations, gatekeepers, civil society organizations, and host communities. Furthermore, the project involved creating a human-centered solution, which was a novel idea for addressing the issues faced by minoritized people, especially those within displacement-affected communities. In this blog post, I reflect on the experiences I gained and my learnings as a project coordinator.

Previously, I have never been involved in work on minority groups at the same level as this project. One crucial insight I gleaned was that a significant number of Somali people exhibit a reluctance toward discussions about minority issues. This could be attributed to a lack of awareness or a deliberate denial as a result of the long-standing indoctrination about the supposed homogeneity of the Somali people.

As I facilitated discussions, some participants from the major clans refrained from acknowledging the existence of minorities. They thought that discussing minority issues was pointless, as all Somalis are Muslims and, according to the Islamic religion, all Muslims are brothers and sisters. They contended that there is no need to distinguish between Somali Muslim brothers and sisters as minority or majority groups. Another argument was that some of the members from the major clans often saw acknowledging the existence of minority groups within the IDPs as a call for special treatment regarding their inclusion and participation in decision-making processes and the allocation of resources for their assistance. They believed that this is unnecessary because they think that all Somalis should be treated equally when it comes to the delivery of humanitarian aid and other support.

Another insight I gained during the project was the lack of clarity on who constitutes minority and marginalized communities. I found out that some communities are associated with majority clans but possess distinct differences in culture, physical features, and oral traditions, and are not considered as minorities. Some participants in the discussions mentioned that they were affiliated with some majority clans. However, they are never recognized as full members of the group because they are seen as a low caste, perceived as Boon, Habasho, Midgaan, or former slaves of the majority group.

Issues relating to minoritized communities, particularly those affected by displacement, can be complicated. It can be challenging to distinguish between minority and majority communities, as members of a once dominant community can become minorities when displaced from their regions. However, in this context, I am referring to minority communities within the Somali population in general. It seems that the minimal discussions about minority issues under this project were influenced by the efforts of the local civil society organizations that represent these groups. But even their efforts would not have been influential without the support of the international minority rights groups, who also pushed their agenda to the donors. 

When I think about the participation of minoritized IDPs in crucial decision-making processes that impact their lives, one of the events we held springs to mind. I came to know that a camp leader who belongs to the majority group manages a camp where the minority groups are dominant. The man is not an IDP and lives with his family in the city center while the camp is located on the outskirts of the city. The man is called when the camp leaders are invited to events like the one we held, or aid agencies arrive at the camp for conducting surveys or distributing aid. People, including the IDPs at the camp, accept him representing them because of his familiarity with local authorities and NGOs. In the aid sector, such a man is called a camp leader, or a gatekeeper, while Jutta Bakonyi and Peter Chonka use the term ‘humanitarian entrepreneur’ in their recent book ‘Precarious Urbanism: Displacement, Belonging and the Reconstruction of Somali Cities’.

Besides, we invited representatives from minority IDP communities in the targeted federal member states to participate in discussions in Mogadishu. During the discussions, a leader of an IDP minority community shared that he had been arrested multiple times and was replaced by a member of a majority clan. For him, being invited to Mogadishu to discuss IDP minority issues was a dream come true. Even months after the project ended, I still receive calls from him expressing his gratitude to SPA for the opportunity to participate in the event and enabling him to present the concerns of the minority IDPs. This experience highlights the exclusion of minority IDPs from managing their own people, let alone higher-level discussions on IDP issues organized by government institutions and local and international NGOs.

Before discussing the inclusion and participation of minoritized IDPs in key decision-making processes, it is essential to allow them to manage issues among themselves. While a small number of camp leaders come from minority communities, the majority of leaders hail from dominant groups. I think this has a significant negative impact on inclusion and participation and should be addressed.

On the other hand, it is important to note that while managing their own affairs can be beneficial for minority IDPs, it can also pose risks. For example, a person from the minority community was appointed as the deputy social affairs commissioner of a district in Mogadishu since a significant number of the residents are IDPs from minoritized groups. The district could effectively deal with and engage the IDPs through a representative who belonged to the same community. Sadly, as I was told during the discussions I facilitated, this person was killed, possibly after he started to speak up and advocate for minority IDP rights (although the exact reasons remain unclear). This serves as a reminder that inclusion and empowerment of members from minorities can sometimes have serious consequences and could easily be a target for those who want to maintain the status quo.

Nonetheless, our project involved creating a people-centered approach, which means developing policies and solutions foregrounding the views of the end users. To achieve this, we sat with IDPs from minority communities. We listened to their personal stories in group discussions and one-on-one conversations. We learned how these people work together, their views on inclusion and participation, and the practical ways they help each other and solve their daily challenges. Based on our conversations with them, we conducted a service design workshop using an evidence-based design approach. We produced a comprehensive human-centered service design report on inclusion and participation.

Additionally, the project provided me with a chance to know more about the lives and experiences of minority and marginalized communities in the country, particularly those who are IDPs. Throughout the project, I was able to help them convey their message, which I believe is a small contribution when considering the challenges they face daily.

In general, addressing minority issues in Somalia requires a comprehensive review and a multi-faceted strategy to effectively tackle the challenges faced by these communities. Here are several recommendations to consider:

First, the ignorance or denial of minority issues has been a part of Somalia’s previous administrations’ constructed history. To deconstruct that history, there needs to be awareness campaigns to educate the public about the existence and rights of minority groups. Additionally, information about minority groups’ histories should be incorporated into the educational curriculum. These efforts can significantly improve the lives of minority groups and foster a more inclusive and equitable society.

Second, it is essential to develop policies and enact laws that protect minority groups from discrimination. Civil society organizations advocating for minority rights should be supported by providing funds, training, and platforms to voice their concerns. Also, fostering partnerships with international organizations will help strengthen their local advocacy efforts.

Third, there is a need to utilize a human-centered design approach to develop policies and solutions that reflect the needs and experiences of minority IDP groups. Human-centered policy-making and programming involve engaging them regularly, gathering data and feedback, and adjusting programs and services accordingly.

Finally, it is crucial to establish clear guidelines for minority groups within IDP camps to prevent the exclusion of minority voices from leadership and advisory roles. Appointing individuals from minority groups to key leadership positions within IDP camps and local government structures is essential for ensuring their inclusion and participation in decision-making processes that affect marginalized communities in the IDP camps. These leaders should receive the necessary support and protection to effectively and safely carry out their roles.

Aweis Ahmed is the director of the SPA Policy Lab.

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