Fighting ‘frontline culture’

In Dollow, a small town in Somalia on the Ethiopian border, weapons are traditionally a standard household item. War has ravaged this part of the world for decades and generations have been born into conflict, revenge, fighting and insecurity – a frontline culture, explains Danish Demining Group’s Community Safety leader in the area.

‘People feel they only live when they fight – that is the mentality here,’ explains Abdilarim Mohamed Noor. Being born and raised in Dollow in South Central Somalia, his battle today is about addressing the ‘frontline culture’ through his job with Danish Demining Group’s Armed Violent Reduction programme.

‘If not making people lay down their arms, then at least we attempt to teach people to better understand the risks and dangers when there is a weapon in the house.’

Danish Demining Group’s vehicle is crossing through town surfing potholes and bumpy roads to get to an area where Somalis displaced by war and drought, have settled. The big four wheel drive and the Danish Demining Group staff are well-known sights on the outskirts of Dollow. Dollow and neighboring districts are among the areas of Somalia where Danish Demining Group runs Community Safety projects, in this case since 2012. For those who are internally displaced and fleeing war and armed conflict, the little luggage rescued often includes the family’s weapon, says Abdikarim Mohamed Noor.

‘It’s for protection. People here see it as necessary to be armed, or as prestige. They even disregard people who don’t have a weapon.’

Danish Demining Group’s vehicle parks outside a small house, a one-room shelter made of corrugated iron sheets. An extra cover of branches with dangerous looking thorns and spikes keeps the house cool when the sun is burning and has a deterrent effect on anyone trying to get too close. This is where one of the families involved in the Community Safety project lives.

Dressed in blue and with a strong face hardened by life and loss, Halima Noor Warsame sits on a white plastic chair outside the house. She has lived here since 2001 when the family had to escape fighting between their clan and another. Halima Noor Warsame is a mother of eight children, four sons and four daughters. Her firstborn is a son who is 30 years of age, and the youngest a six years old boy born in Dollow where they live now.

‘My husband was part of the fighting and was threatened. We had to leave everything behind - our animals and our farmland. We went first to one village, but had to leave from there shortly after. So, we ended up here in Dollow where safety is good and we felt welcome. We were given a small piece of land and have built this house. We are not going back anymore. Now, this is home.’

Halima Noor Warsame is aware that they have to address the culture of war and weapons, and explains how the fighting and clan conflicts have left them like many others in Somalia, with permanent fear and skepticism. People here need to be able to protect themselves, she tells.

Danish Demining Group’s Community Safety project helps mitigate the risks associated with the weapons and explosive remnants of war found in the area, as well as enabling the community to manage minor conflicts before they escalate. This is new to many people in Dollow, including to Halima Noor Warsame and her family, but it is needed, she says. Some time back, a conflict near their home ended with Halima’s daughter caught in cross-fire. She survived but spent seven months in hospital recovering from her injuries.

Changing attitudes
When Danish Demining Group launched a Community Safety project in their area, the community here received information and education for the first time on how to minimize the risks associated with the small arms and light weapons, mines and explosive remnants of war scattered in the area and on the former frontline.

‘Our community needs to realize the effects from weapons and explosives. It is essential that we learn about this as individuals, but also collectively as a society. Otherwise, real change will never happen,’ says Halima Noor Warsame who now shares her knowledge with a new generation – her grandchildren who sits around the white plastic chair and listen to the warnings and advice. They already know too well what weapons look like and what damage they can do. Soon, these children will reach an age where owning and using a weapon will be within their reach.

Abdikarim Mohamed Noor is hopeful though that a change in attitude and behavior is underway, but he knows that it is a struggle that will take time and persistent efforts.

‘We have experienced several times that some members of the communities where we conduct the training, have approached us afterwards and said that they would rather hand in their weapon. But their concern is falling victim to conflict and clan issues without being able to defend themselves, or losing status and prestige if they are unarmed – and the weapon instead remains in the house.’

Danish Demining Group is a unit within Danish Refugee Council. The Community Safety project in Somalia is funded byUKaid, SIDA, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, EuropaAid and Danida.