Somaliland Exchange Fosters Peace

By Tom Mitchell, Daily News-Record | August 15th, 2008

Jan Jenner, right, with Hargeisa dean Mohamed Aw-Dahir Abdi

Becoming Catalyst for Change

EMU and a university in the African nation of Somalia are collaborating on an exchange program as part of a plan to boost peace efforts in the troubled nation.

EMU and the University of Hargeisa in Somaliland, a region of Somalia, have agreed to a cultural exchange of faculty. Somaliland lies within the physical borders of Somalia, but declared its independence from the nation in 1991 due to broad civil unrest in the rest of the country. Though it held elections and has a democratically elected government, the international community still considers the region a part of Somalia.

Experience Helped Win Grant

The partnership between the two schools will involve visits by instructors from both universities to each other’s campus over the next three years, said Amy Potter, associate director for the Practice Institute, a branch of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU. At both sites, staff from each school will teach classes in conflict resolution to faculty and students, said Potter.

The project will use funds from a $400,000 grant from Higher Education for Development (HED), a program sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Potter. EMU received the grant after responding to a notice by HED earlier this year seeking a university willing to participate in the exchange program.

EMU’s past involvement in similar projects made the Harrisonburg school an ideal choice for the exchange program with Somaliland. “We had some good experience in helping other programs get started in other countries,” said Potter.

Somaliland ‘Quite Peaceful’

Initially, the project will not involve the rest of Somalia, according to Janice M. Jenner, director of the Practice Institute.

Jenner spent a week at Hargeisa in August discussing the feasibility of an alliance between EMU and the Somaliland school, and left impressed with the region’s political climate.

“Somaliland is quite peaceful,” said Jenner. “The people there are very proud of their elected democratic government. I felt completely safe there.”

The vast majority of the 3.5 million people of Somaliland are Sunni Muslims. A little more than half of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic, with the rest living in urban centers, like the city of Hargeisa, and small towns.

Cultural Bonds

Barry Hart, associate professor of trauma and conflict studies at EMU, is one of three instructors from EMU who will go to Hargeisa in the spring of 2008 to teach and work with faculty from the latter university.

Staff from EMU, said Hart, will help officials at Hargeisa create a curriculum that, they hope, eventually will teach Somalians how to resolve their differences.

Hart and others from EMU involved in the exchange program hope that their initiative in Hargeisa will enable the university there to help pave the way for peace throughout Somalia.

Citizens of Somalia have enough in common culturally to make peace possible, said Hart, adding that he and other EMU officials hope that the people of Somaliland “can, over time, become a catalyst for change.”

[Reprinted from a November 6, 2007, article by Tom Mitchell of the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record]

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