Elman Peace in Somalia: peace is so much more than weapons falling silent

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Cheerful youngsters in the sea

Ocean therapy clearly increases the mental well-being of traumatised young people. © Elman Peace

Every 2 years, the KBF Africa Prize is awarded at the Royal Palace in the presence of the royal couple. The award has become a monument through which the King Baudouin Foundation honours African individuals or organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to Africa's development.

Past laureates have been most prestigious. For example, Nobel Laureate Dr Mukwege – the man who restores dignity to survivors of sexualised violence in eastern Congo – won the award in 2011. The Ethiopian Bogaletch Gebre received the award for her successful battle against female genital mutilation. The most recent laureate (in 2019) was Wecyclers, a company dedicated to collecting and recycling plastic waste in Nigeria. The prize comes with the sum of 200,000 euros.

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Ilwad Elman

Ilwad Elman © Elman Peace

Hope for a better world

This year's award went to the NGO Elman Peace, which has been working for more than 30 years to bring peace to fiercely ravaged Somalia in the Horn of Africa. The country is barely in the news these days, though it should be. For years – pretty much from 1992 to 2005 – the country was being torn apart by civil war. Terrorist groups were and are also active there.

Fortunately, things are improving, says Fartuun Adan, wife of the late Elman Ali Ahmed, founder of Elman Peace. She is in Brussels with her daughter Ilwad Elman to receive the award. 'You can see the changes in the city. People are returning, a lot of houses are being built.' 'We just had elections in May,' adds daughter Elman. 'The new president is bringing hope for change. We also note a growing awareness that NGOs like ours have their part to play in rebuilding the nation.’

Yet Somalis still do not always feel safe. 'The fear remains that a bomb could explode at any time anyway,' says Adan. 'Moreover, we are also facing a biosphere crisis,' Elman stresses. 'Every 5 years, we have to deal with famine because of drought. Climate change and the security crisis are mutually reinforcing. It is so important that the Somali issue remains on the international agenda.'

This international community has already made some serious efforts to improve the situation in Somalia. For example, AMISOM, a peacekeeping mission by the EU's African Peace Facility, has been active in the country since 2007. But Elman Peace herself has certainly done more than her fair share as well.

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Student electricity

Teaching young people a trade gives them the prospect of a new life, far away from armed groups. © Elman Peace

Social entrepreneur

Founder and businessman Elman Ali Ahmed has always been a social entrepreneur, says daughter Elman. 'He was always on the lookout for helping street children and orphans. He trained young people up and employed them.' He continued that work during the civil war beginning in 1992. When wife Fartuun Adan fled her country with her 3 daughters, he stayed behind to continue his mission. In 1996, he was murdered for his efforts.

Adan returned from refuge in Canada 10 years later to resume his work, followed by the daughters. The eldest daughter also lost her life in the process in 2019. Despite the severe setbacks, Elman Peace has continued to grow. Today, it is an NGO with over 200 staff in the capital Mogadishu and 8 regional offices throughout Somalia.

Drop the Gun, Pick up the Pen

Young people remain at the core of the activities. One of the most successful programmes is Drop the Gun, Pick up the Pen! 'Terrorist organisations are trying to squeeze people so tightly that they have no choice but to join them,' Elman says. 'For example, they poison water sources and set fire to farms.'

In order to draw young people away from armed groups, Elman Peace aims to provide some perspective. It does so by offering them the opportunity to learn a trade. 'We are rebuilding the cities, but we lack professionals like electricians to do the work,' says Adan. 'In Somalia, we only have private schools that train engineers and doctors. Therefore we are committed to free vocational education. The young people learn a trade there, with which they can get jobs easily.'

Every year, Elman Peace manages to extract some 750 child and teenage soldiers from the armed gangs. The organisation is also supporting 35 schools in Mogadishu with 100 students each. Through other programmes, around 15,000 people are reached per month. The impact of Elman Peace is significant!

Water meditation

Elman Peace has since developed a wide range of activities, including assistance to women. The Sister Somalia programme, for example, provides support to victims of rape. She Will focuses on education for teenage girls. And with Equal Voices, the NGO is aiming to provide women and young people with tools for participating in the political process.

Mental well-being is also crucial for people traumatised by the conflict. This was why Elman Peace came up with Ocean Therapy. Beach and ocean activities – yoga, water meditation, water games, love circles, etc. - literally heal trauma.

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Human chain

Human chain in the sea: beach and ocean activities literally heal traumas. © Elman Peace

Enabling environment

Elman Peace articulates the core of its approach as follows: peace is far more than weapons falling silent. Of course it is important to lay down one's weapons, but real peace takes more than that. 'You also have to create an enabling environment, an environment that makes a lasting peace possible,' she says.

'And that can be through job creation, education, protection, a justice system that works, addressing environmental issues and so on. That's how you build an environment where people can develop their true potential and have the opportunity to present their best selves. Real and lasting peace can only be achieved when people are also at peace with themselves.'

In a torn-up, polarised society, it is also essential to restore trust. Elman: 'Trust in systems, trust in government, impartial trust between people who have no other connection to each other. Young people who are ostracised from the community, who are labelled as dangerous; we offer them confidence by including them in our programmes, while they trust us by going through the different initiatives that we prescribe.'

Momentum

Meanwhile, Elman Peace's approach has already been introduced to grass-roots organisations in many other African countries, including DR Congo, Burundi and Nigeria. 'It is SO important that when new conflicts arise, they don't fall into the same trap we did with our 30-year conflict!' Elman stresses. The UN and EU also recognise the importance of their approach.

It is not easy to work in a fragile country like Somalia. Yet Elman and Adan do not lack the energy to persevere. 'When you see so many people changing, their lifestyles improving, it gives you that extra motivation to do even better,' Adan says.

Both are fervently hopeful that the current momentum of great hope can be harnessed for a real and lasting peace. 'It's more at our fingertips than ever!' Elman stresses. Hence the plea to keep Somalia on the international agenda. In any case, the KBF Africa Prize meant an extra boost for both women to continue tirelessly with their peace work.

KBF Africa Prize

Every 2 years, the KBF Africa Prize is awarded for outstanding contributions to the development of Africa by and for Africans. It highlights initiatives that excel in their field, significantly improve the population's quality of life and give local communities the opportunity to take their development into their own hands. At one stroke it informs the wider public of the many inspiring stories of hope, effort and success that Africa has to offer.

In addition to the prize money of 200,000 euros, the winner will have the opportunity to build up contacts and partnerships around the world. The prize is awarded by the King Baudouin Foundation in the presence of H.M. the King and H.M. the Queen. The Minister of Development Cooperation, Meryame Kitir, was also present at the ceremony with Elman Peace. The Chair of the selection committee is Koen Vervaeke, a senior diplomat at the FPS Foreign Affairs.

The list of all the laureates can be found here.

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