Somalia’s history as a state has been beset by fragmentation along clan lines, particularly following Somalia’s period of totalitarian dictatorship (1969-1991). Moreover, Somalia has experienced near constant conflict, instability and displacement of certain parts of its population. Somali society takes place largely at the family unit (or clan), where one’s clan largely determines one’s relationship with their neighbors, as well as which security providers are available to them. This has led to a legally pluralistic society, where formal, traditional, and religious justice mechanisms are utilized – with the line distinguishing different actors being much more permeable than in other societies. Additionally, it is worth noting Somalia’s strong oral tradition, which strongly favors face-to-face communication.
Politics influence the availability and behavior of the Somali state police force (SPF) in each region differently, and the police is often beset by severe corruption. The repressive nature of the police during Somalia’s dictatorship, which was based on totalitarian legislation, left a legacy that continues to influence police behavior, leading to very low levels of trust among citizens. The police may operate alongside hired, often clan-based militias hired by district commissioners or businessmen – indeed, the boundaries between these police and militias are often unclear. In some areas, the police are considered an occupying power, while in rural areas they may be wholly absent. In general, politicians direct police focus upon addressing the presence of the armed factions such as militant Islamist organization Al Shabaab, resulting in a militant policing style that addresses immediate physical security. Al Shabaab, which emerged as a radical wing of Somalia’s (now-defunct) Islamic Court System, has been labelled as a terrorist by international governments and has wielded significant control over much of Somalia especially in rural areas. However, Al Shabaab also provides an element of security as some groups of the population turn to them for protection.
While Somalia’s courts are based upon Islamic Sharia law, in areas outside the control of Somalia’s regional administrations, clan law (or, xeer), serves as the primary justice system. Xeer describes a localized set of rules developed by clan elders to promote peace between neighboring clans and is often employed to regulate civil affairs. Despite the antagonism between the police and warlords, the latter may provide some degree of conflict resolution in the areas under its control, in instances where elders are unable to address a problem.
The pluralistic and divided state of Somalia has resulted in a situation where all groups are affected by insecurity, albeit in different ways, at an immediate physical level where there is an ongoing threat to people’s bodies and property. Al-Shabaab frequently deploys suicide bombers, car bombs, grenades and mortars against the public – often these are targeted at authority, figures, businessmen, state representatives, police and tax collectors, but indiscriminately kill civilians.
Women in Somalia face extreme physical insecurity, often in danger of physical assault, early forced marriage, forced female genital mutilation, domestic violence, domestic assault, lack of access to shelter, sexual violence, and rape. Meanwhile, young men in Somalia are excluded from political participation due to cultural custom of elder leadership and are often marginalized by their elders and abandoned by their clans if this is challenged.
These factors, along with the fact that 73% of the country falls under the poverty line and up to 54% of the population is unemployed, make these youth particularly vulnerable to recruitment by al Shabaab as they seek purpose and belonging. Finally, individuals who have been displaced due to conflict (IDPs) often lose any clan protection that they might have, rendering them particularly vulnerable as they may lack access to security provision.
There has been a lot of international attention toward police reform in Somalia. The EU, China, Turkey, Japan, the US, UK, and UAE have all had various involvement in technical police reform, yet the most present organizations in the region are AMISOM, DFID, and efforts by individual donors. The focus of this reform has been mainly on addressing the serious security issues in relation to Al Shabaab’s militancy. Police reform initiatives that have been implemented essentially amount to efforts to promote basic policing services. These reforms have had some positive results, and have improved the reputation of the Somali police. However, there is rampant corruption within the police, and the police is vulnerable to infiltration by Al Shabaab and other militant groups.
Although limited, there have also been reform initiatives to promote COP. For example, in the Waberi district, security is partially provided at the community level by locally developed Neighborhood watch schemes, which are involved in intelligence gathering and community safety.
Although neighborhood watch schemes had some success, they have since been hindered by local political dynamics. The Ministry of Internal Security’s ‘Know Your Neighbor’ campaign promoted local security collaboration, where community representatives were appointed to record suspicious activities – these were then fed to a neighborhood team, and then onward to the police.
Among the more effective initiatives are those that are locally-focused and operate at a small scale to address a specific need – for instance, in the late 90’s, community-based vigilante groups known as ‘madani’ were created, first by businessmen and later by civil society organizations, to address crime in residential areas of Mogadishu independently of police. These madani consisted of local residents (ideally in neighborhood units of 300 households) who paid a monthly fee into a ‘vigilante group scheme’ that would employ a militia to capture criminals and deliver them to sharia courts – however, today the number of functioning madani has dwindled considerably, possibly due to issues of funding.
There have been few initiatives based around ICT to promote COP – although Somalis are avid users of social media, the fear of calls being intercepted by either al Shabaab or Somalia’s national intelligence agency NISA, ICT is rarely used to contact the police. Additionally, links between the largest telecommunications company and the government have made citizens are reluctant to report sensitive information. Despite the existence of an emergency phone line and a rape crisis line initiated by NGOs, these have had seen limited use.