Diasporas and Peace. Patterns, Trends and Potential of Long-distance diaspora Involvement in Conflict Settings. Case Studies from the Horn of Africa

Within this larger project, Markus Virgil Hoehne worked as coordinator for WP3 (Research in the Horn of Africa). He also conducted his own research project on The role of the diaspora in education and peacebuilding in Somaliland. Within this project, Hoehne looked at two newly founded universities in Somaliland, established through and with the help of diaspora actors in Finland and the UK. The first one, International Horn University (IHU), is located in the capital city of Hargeysa. The second, Nugaal University, is in Lasanod, a town in the east, in the contested borderlands between Somaliland and Puntland. The research concentrated on the history of the institutions and the founders, and looked at how both universities are currently (in 2008/2009) involved in peace-related activities in their respective locations. It turned out that some activities of the universities are directly aimed at conflict mediation and peace building, while others have only an indirect impact, which, however, has a great potential for long-term, social and political transformation.

The IHU is a clearly Islamic institution. It has been established by Somalis coming from the Finish diaspora in 2006. Through various outreach activities the university is involved in the local society and secures its ‘reformist’ influence. Through the Centre for Research and Community Development, a research centre that is part of the university, the IHU is involved in the mediation of an ongoing conflict in western Somaliland. Moreover, the university held seminars and meetings in Hargeysa at which representatives of the global civil society (NGOs) and local religious leaders came together and exchanged their views on conflicting issues such as women’s rights and family development in Somaliland. This can be understood as an exercise in inter-cultural dialogue and tolerance, which has implications for peace and stability in Somaliland, a country where many (mostly Western) aid organisations operate. Several lectures on the topic of minority groups and social marginalisation in Somaliland were included in the sociology course offered at the IHU. This again builds tolerance among students, and may contribute to bridging social divisions in the country. Finally, the IHU organised a public cultural event in spring 2009, which featured ‘camel poetry’ and other aspects of traditional Somali culture. This event arguable reconciled the strict Islamic moral codex in force at IHU with the non-Islamic Somali traditions. In this way, the university as elite institution with a visible religious touch showed its openness to the wider society, which is a precondition for mutual cultural ‘fertilization’ and dialogue.
Nugaal University is a remarkable institution since it was established in a peripheral and in fact politically unstable area of Somaliland. Its mere existence testifies to the will of the local population in cooperation with the diaspora to build a future for the young generation against the odds of economic problems and political conflict between Somaliland and Puntland, which have a strong impact on and split the local population. Nugaal University offers the usual courses in information technology and business administration. Additionally, the university leadership is eager to strengthen the institutional ties between the university and the government in Hargeysa, and also with international organisations involved with education and development. It can be argued that Nugaal University helps to stabilise an unstable region, and contributes to moving the margins a bit closer to the centre in Somaliland. This is a contribution to peacebulding in a generally volatile political environment.

In both cases, the relation between education and peacebuilding is often indirect, but nevertheless vital. It concerns first, the provision of options for a peaceful future. Education is a means to get the young people who have been socialised with violence during civil war ‘out of the streets’ and into an institution that ideally paves the way to a job and sufficient income (this aspect of course also depends on the general economic environment and the capacity of the local market); second, inside and outside of the university, lectures and seminars contribute to the teaching of tolerance and civic and religious values. In this way social and other tensions in Somaliland and between western and local actors can be minimised. Finally, universities in marginal places and conflict zones signal some degree of normalcy that gives hope to the locals and encourages them to work for the further peaceful development of their home region.
The research was based on open and semi-structured interviews with students, heads, teachers and other staff of the universities, members of the administration at the national and the local level, civil society agents, poets, and ordinary people who were not directly involved in education at the time. Also several group interviews were held with university students. Additionally several lectures and cultural events organized by the universities were attended.
Comparison between Hoehne’s individual project and the other projects within the larger DIASPEACE-project was envisioned. This resulted in a number of joint publications together with Dereje Feyissa, Mahdi Abdille and Clara Schmitz-Pranghe.

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