From Missed Opportunities to Genuine Partners in Peace and State Building: The UN’s Engagement with Somali Civil Society

Village elders in a town outside of Mogadishu. Credit: UN Photo.

Village elders in a town outside of Mogadishu. Credit: UN Photo.


Executive Summary

This research attempts to highlight the dynamics between the UN and Somali civil society by exploring existing partnerships and challenges that have been encountered on both sides, as well as missed opportunities and potential future collaboration.
The findings show that core issues evolve around the lack of a strategic engagement from the UN, lack of coordination and organised forums on the side of civil society, and poor transparency of focal points and programming on both sides.

Recommendations include using platforms and umbrella organisations as vectors for project tenders, partnering with civil society organisations (CSOs) for primary research, linking up with local key players and networks for implementing in rural areas, reporting and M&E. All of these should form part of a more strategic approach to the UN’s engagement with civil society.

The main crosscutting issue throughout all meetings relates to the perceived preference, on the part of the UN, for an established circle of international NGOs (INGOs) or large CSOs over smaller, local CSOs, including grassroots organisations.

Smaller CSOs have managed to operate with resources from mostly the business community, including diaspora investments and funding from non-traditional donors, such as Turkey and the Gulf States. However, local actors noted that larger international NGOs are the contract holders and subcontract the implementation of some or all the activities to smaller local organizations.

As a result, many CSOs believe the New Deal has made the UN choose larger and international NGOs instead of local ones. From their perspective, the New Deal has led to larger programmes, which come with larger budgets, excluding many smaller CSOs who don’t have the capacity to deliver a full project but might have comparative advantage in delivering part of the project. This common issue could be partly solved by contracting via civil society networks and platforms.

2016 will be a challenging and critical year for the relation between civil society, the UN and the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS). With key upcoming milestones, such as the design of the National Development plan and the election process, how can the UN ensure that civil society will be involved in an inclusive and sustainable manner? What role can civil society play in restoring the social contract between the political leadership and the Somali people and what would consequentially be the UN’s contribution to this relationship?