Bashir Abdulkadir Mohamed ‘Suuleey’: Youth as a cornerstone of peacebuilding in Galkayo
Galkayo – Until recently, Galkayo had been known for its history of conflict and displacement. For decades, the city was divided in half due to long-running hostilities between clan militias from the neighbouring Federal Member States of Puntland and Galmudug.
Some five years ago, that began to change.
Traditional elders, local business people and residents, the Federal Government of Somalia and the authorities in Puntland and Galmudug, with support from the United Nations, came together to find a way to end the violence in Galkayo. This effort culminated in a peace agreement between both Puntland and Galmudug administrations, and reached under the auspices of the international community, in 2016.
A key stakeholder in the peacebuilding efforts was the city’s youth, who played a fundamental role in Galkayo’s transformation, success and recovery, through formal avenues, such as the Joint Galkayo Youth Committee engaging with the elder-led peace talks, and informal initiatives such as campaigns, projects and safe spaces for dialogue and trust-building.
Among the youth representatives driving this change was activist Bashir Abdulkadir Mohamed, also known by his nickname 'Suuleey.'
Just as the city had transformed after the peace agreement was reached in 2016, Mr. Mohamed’s experiences before 2016 transformed him too into an activist.
“I was in Galkayo during its fiercest and bloodiest confrontations. At the time, the city was divided by the ‘green line’ with roadblocks that barred movement in the city. I witnessed many people get killed, injured or displaced,” the 31-year-old says.
“There were times when elders would come together and agree on a ceasefire today, but it would be a fragile one and fighting would start again the week after – the situation remained like this for a long time. It affected me, my education and my career choices,” he adds.
As hard as daily life was, those hardships also inspired Mr. Mohamed to try to change the situation in Galkayo so that its residents could move about freely without militia-controlled roadblocks nor gunfights putting them at risk, and so that schools could be re-opened for local children to resume their education and normal life.
“The biggest number of casualties in every clash in Galkayo was being experienced by its youth, so I asked myself, ‘Why don’t youth in Galkayo, regardless of where they live or what their clan is, try to play a role as agents of peace?’” Mr. Mohamed says. “So, with the help of some friends, I came up with an initiative to advocate for peace and raise awareness among youth to change them into agents of peace.”
“What I saw and experienced during the fighting instilled in me a long-held dream to establish a youth organization that could help Galkayo’s youth to come together and discuss issues affecting them,” he adds.
Agents of Peace
In 2015, along with ten friends, Mr. Mohamed began setting up a civil society organization – the Haldoor Forum – with a focus on bringing local youth into local peace efforts. The Haldoor Forum came into being in 2016.
It was not an easy task.
“We faced many challenges. I remember how I was warned not to cross into the other side of the city; family members said that I would be in danger. Another one of the challenges was finding a place where our organization’s members could safely meet; there were transportation challenges because there was no transport to allow us to move between Galkayo's neighbourhoods,” he recalls.
But, with his colleagues, the young activist was determined to overcome the challenges that the nascent civil society organization faced.
“It helped us, Galkayo’s youth, recognize our role in ensuring peaceful coexistence in the city. We managed to bring youth together from the north and south of Galkayo,” Mr. Mohamed continues. “We started get-together meetings, lunches and dinners in each side of the city to create confidence and harmony among Galkayo’s youth.”
“Galkayo is safe now,” he notes. “People are moving around, business is going on as normal. It is a united city where people can go wherever they want – taxis can take you from south to north and vice versa, without hesitation. There is a tranquillity in the city that did not exist a few years ago.”
With peace having come to Galkayo, the Haldoor Forum’s focus has expanded since 2016.
“It’s a social activism platform,” he notes, “that now focuses on progressive social issues – such as peace and security and socio-economic development – through discussion, debates and research. Our goal was to help change the mindset of society, and our work has been able to successfully bring about integration among Galkayo youth.”
Mr. Mohamed was not born in Galkayo. He hails from Laanmodow, a small village in the Mudug region. However, he spent his schooling years in Galkayo, attending secondary school there from 2008 to 2012. For his tertiary education, he moved to Basaso, where he graduated from Mogadishu University’s Bosaso campus in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in education.
After graduation, he returned to Galkayo in 2017. While there, he studied online for a master’s degree in business administration from Amity University in India, while working full-time, and which he completed in 2020.
In 2019, he joined the Dhulmaal Stone Company, a local construction company specializing in cutting, reshaping and designing stones, as its Chief Executive Officer.
He balances his work with activism, with social media providing a useful platform to reach youth in Galkayo and beyond with articles on reinforcing the goals of Galkayo’s peace agreement and encouraging civic spirit among its inhabitants, especially its youth.
“Social media can help spread peace and encourage dialogue among people,” he says, adding that he has 17,000 followers on his Twitter account. “I like to write about social issues, and publish articles and short messages through online and social media platforms.”
In 2017, he started a social media campaign, pegged on the Twitter hashtag of #IsbaaraduWaaqalbiga – which means ‘Invisible Roadblocks’ – in reference to barriers that may have arisen in people’s minds after years of becoming accustomed to physical barriers.
“It aimed to discourage the segregation that was caused by the ‘green line’ within Galkayo,” Mr. Mohamed says, referring to the line that was used as the dividing point between the two administrations of Puntland and Galmudug that now run the city.
“I encouraged people to go everywhere in the city without fear. I and my friends have started to roam around the city, do daily shopping from any corner of the city. This has really worked,” he adds.
Away from Haldoor Forum, Mr. Mohamed has organized other campaigns that have benefited his adopted home city. In 2018, he began a door-to-door and online fundraising drive to help 400 children orphaned by the conflict that Galkayo had experienced in its recent past.
“There were many children who lost their providers, their fathers and mothers. I collected donations from Galkayo residents, which benefitted dozens of orphans by providing them with food and clothing," Mr. Mohamed says.
Galkayo Peace Book Fair
Mr. Mohamed’s activism is not limited to the digital world. He was one of the main organizers of the first Galkayo Peace Book Fair, which brought together local communities, along with hundreds of people from across Somalia, to highlight the benefits of peace and community in the city.
The inaugural event was held in October last year, and is scheduled to take place annually. Participants included officials from the Federal Republic of Somalia and the governments of Puntland, Galmudug, Jubaland, Hirshabelle and South West State, as well as traditional elders, religious leaders, peace-building experts and committees, scholars, politicians, graduates, women and youth representatives, and officials from the United Nations.
The event was organized by Galkayo youth activists, the Puntland Development Research Center and Interpeace, with support from the Galkayo district administrations of Puntland and Galmudug, and its theme was ‘Sustainable Peace.’ It centred on strengthening community peace efforts, enhancing cooperation between the two administrations, reinforcing social integration, developing economic opportunities, and improving local literacy rates.
The purpose of the book fair was to encourage peace and coexistence in Galkayo and again to recognize those who played a positive role in the Galkayo peace process: among others, the Puntland and Galmudug administrations, joint peace committees, joint police force commanders, youth and women.
“Galkayo is now peaceful, and our major aim in organizing the event was to bring peace to life and show the people the dark histories of the city to avoid going back to the same footsteps,” he says. “It has become a working platform that brings together many people. Awareness meetings were held on both sides of the city to create an atmosphere of brotherhood and enjoyment.”
UN and youth
Somalia is one of the youngest countries in the world, with more than 4.6 million people between the ages of 15 and 35.
However, opportunities for youth to obtain an education and gainful employment are limited. Avenues to engage politically, economically and socially remain weak or non-existent, due to stereotypes and stigmatization, social and cultural norms and institutional exclusion.
According to the United Nations, improving young people’s lives and enabling their active role in society is crucial to ensure sustainable peace in Somalia and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone everywhere, and were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda, which sets out a 15-year plan to achieve the SDGs.
"Galkayo youth remarkably demonstrate how young people's transformative leadership paves the way for sustainable peace and reconciliation in Somalia – if and when they are meaningfully included, supported and protected by duty-bearers, elders and international actors,” says the UN’s Youth, Peace and Security Advisor for Somalia, Julius Kramer.
Also adopted in 2015, the Youth, Peace and Security agenda celebrated its sixth anniversary in December last year. Established through Security Council Resolution 2250, the agenda aims to support young people’s transformative leadership and meaningful participation in politics and peacebuilding, and the protection of young peacebuilders and activists in conflict.
Since 2015, two additional resolutions have been adopted by the UN Security Council – resolutions 2419 and 2535 – mandating the UN and governments to ensure youth participation in peace processes, the protection of youth civic spaces, and build partnerships with and for young people for peace and security. Guided by these resolutions, the UN in Somalia endeavours to advance young people’s rights and agency through all efforts for peace and security, with and for young Somali women and men.
This week, world leaders have convened a High-Level Global Conference on Youth-Inclusive Peace Processes to discuss how all peace processes can be shaped by and supportive of young people. Co-hosted by Qatar, Finland and Colombia, and co-organized with civil society and UN partners, the event includes young Somali peacebuilders both as speakers and participants.