Contextual Overview

The level of dynamism and variability that defines the operational landscape in Somalia has remained consistent over the first two years of the EAJ project. Somalia continues to be marked by significant and destabilizing contestations between local, regional, national, and international powers. The tenuous compact between the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and some Federal Member States continue to deteriorate. State authority remains clustered in predominately urban enclaves and government services (including justice services) remain poor or absent in much of the country. Violent extremist insurgents such as Al-Shabaab (AS) continue to control significant territory, resources, and expand their influence in areas under titular FGS control. As EAJ sets out to support USAID’s stabilization objectives for Somalia, the proposed project redesign will take us into new, less secure, and more transitional territory. Our focus narrows to Benadir Regional Administration (BRA) and South West State (SWS).

Using the prism of stabilization, it is helpful to define the Somalia context along a stabilization continuum. At one end are early recovery areas, including communities in Lower Shabelle that are coming out of recent AS control, marked by high levels of social dislocation and low levels of social trust. Not only are government services weak to non-existent. In many cases, customary and religious authority has broken down or is discredited. Communities remain traumatized, in part due to the very real threat of resurgent conflict. Indeed, many communities witness nominal control of the state by day and AS return by night.

There are profound challenges to the expansion of justice services in early recovery contexts. Many communities were without access to functional, formal courts well before influence or occupation by AS. Xeer-based customary forums and even shari’ah courts frequently lack credibility as respected elders fled or were killed, and many of those who remained were coopted by AS. Communities, local authorities, and government must overcome mutual distrust and continued fear to reconstitute justice pathway – in a context in which serious crimes continue to be committed by non-state and state actors, including members of the Somali National Army, who are disinterested in or hostile to functional justice institutions.

Toward the other end of the stabilization continuum lie intermediate recovery areas, which enjoy significantly higher levels of security, stronger state presence, and access to at least basic services, but which may have a large presence of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) as a result of conflict as well as natural disasters. Intermediate areas include municipalities and communities such as Baidoa in SWS, which also host a larger range of social institutions, including civil society organizations (CSOs), and universities. Violence and insurgent attacks are an ever-present threat, but do not represent as deep a hinderance to community engagement and social relations as in early recovery areas.

Service delivery, including in the justice sector, remains weak, despite greater state presence, but often due to a lack of capacity or simply willingness to perform services. The statutory court system struggles with basic tasks, such as effective case management, reasoned adjudications, and enforcement of rulings. Other justice institutions and authorities enjoy greater popular legitimacy and are more accessible and affordable. However, aggrieved parties have limited resources or support for navigating the complex legally plural system in Somalia. Thus, even in intermediate areas, aggrieved parties often choose not to pursue claims or drop them in the face of social pressure or ineffectual justice processes. Enforcement remains exceptionally weak, further undermining the credibility of justice forums.

These conditions in both types of areas enable AS to effectively compete with other justice actors. In particular contrast to the fledgling statutory courts, AS courts have earned a reputation for providing efficient and fair justice services, especially with regards to women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups. and enforce judgments without delay. Combating this narrative, which is a critical component of AS’s efforts to contest state authority, will require immediate, comprehensive, and visible improvements in the provision of basic justice services in both early recovery and intermediate recovery communities.