The Elman Peace and Human Rights Center are a Canadian registered NGO based in Mogadishu Somalia. It was established by Fartuun Adan in honor of her late husband Elman Ali Ahmed who was a peace activist. His daughter Ilwad Elman now runs a programme to rehabilitate and integrate former Al Shabab Fighters, including children, back into Society.
In recent years, Al-Shabaab has suffered major setbacks in Somalia, losing territory and support. Splinter factions have emerge, further disintegrating a once powerful group. Ideological differences within the group, the sustained military campaigns by the Somali National Armed Forces and AU forces as well as the decline in support from communities has led to an increased number of combatants defecting from Al-Shabaab. While defections have increased, Al-Shabaab’s appeal has wanted but not entirely dissipated. Hundreds of youth are still drawn to its appeal within the country and beyond within the Somali Diaspora. A bigger number live in fear within communities that reluctantly let them in and brand them as outcasts, they face continuous threats and extortion from a myriad of actors and live in extreme poverty. A bigger group of fighters remain engaged in Al-Shabaab, despite realizing the group’s misplaced claims and false ideology. It’s a pragmatic reluctance driven by their uncertainty of what awaits on the other side and a lack of visible success stories of their peers who have disengaged and have been reinserted and reintegrated successfully into society with opportunities to rebuild their lives.
Through the “Drop the Gun, Pick Up the Pen” initiative, a pioneering intervention developed by the organization’s founder and name sake in the early 90’s, the center has been successful in disarming, rehabilitating and reintegrating thousands of young women and men who were being co-opted into clan militias by the warlords and Al-Shabaab, and reinserting them back into their societies with non-violent behaviours and alternative livelihoods.
Potential defectors are discouraged from disengaged even if they no longer adhere to Al-Shabaab’s ideology, objectives or methods, because they do not believe communities will accept them or they that will receive fair treatment from the security services. By changing communities and security services attitudes towards disengaged combatants – re-humanising them, showing that in the long run the risk of not reintegrating is greater than the risk of reintegrating and creating tangible opportunities for them to positively contribute to society; Potential defectors will be more confident about life after Al-Shabaab. Ultimately, a successful reintegration program is the strongest counter narrative and a disengaged combatant who has gone through the full process of the disengagement to reintegration into society; Will be the most credible voice.
The organization built off of its lengthy experience in DDR to design a 3 tiered model to disengage, rehabilitate and reintegrate Al-Shabaab combatants; a community based model which has been tried and tested in numerous regions of Somalia.
The organization is implementing a project for the socio-economic rehabilitation and reintegration of disengaged combatants from different affiliations in Banadir region, Lower-Shabelle region, Middle-Shabelle region, Bay & Bakool region and Jubba regions. For 6 years, operating in parts of the country most vulnerable to Al-Shabaab violence, EPHRC has been tireless in its work in rescuing child soldiers, keeping communities affected by violent extremism together, and building relationships grounded on a peaceful co-existence.
A significant part of the work of EPHRC is dealing directly with the disillusioned youth who want to stop fighting but are unable to see any opportunities outside of the armed groups.
The cater center caters to thousands of young men and women who receive practical life skills, religious literacy and theological empowerment, vocational skills training, psychosocial support, peer-to-peer mentorship, business management training as well as financial literacy skills and business start-up grants.
The project is ongoing and is now scaling up. Given the innovative community-based approach is unique, UNDP plans to work with Elman to replicate this model in other contexts in Africa.
Programme Specialist – Justice and Human Rights
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Regional Service Centre
Governance and Peacebuilding in Africa
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Tel: +251 929907382