The Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), the first domestic armed group formed in opposition to the Barre regime, was centred on army officers hailing from the north-eastern region of Somalia. After some initial success, the SSDF collapsed in 1985. After the fall of the regime in January 1991, former members of the SSDF held a conference in the city of Galkayo and agreed to re-establish the organisation to defend the people and interests of the north-east. Just two weeks later, militia from former opposition groups attacked and seized control of the city. With the situation across Somalia rapidly descending into a complex armed conflict that created widespread famine and displaced swathes of the population, there was every likelihood that the north-east would follow suit.1 Faced with a growing spectrum of threats, SSDF leaders and local clan elders held another conference in the city of Garowe in June 1991 to address the rapidly evolving situation. The delegates agreed to form an interim administration to provide basic services and vowed to defend the vital logistical lifeline for northern Somalia: the port of Bosaso and the road leading from it to Galkayo.2
In the ensuing years, armed conflict continued in the north-east, largely between the SSDF and the armed groups from the south trying to assert their authority across the country. The 1993 Mudug Peace Agreement ended this conflict, allowing trade between north and south Somalia to resume.3 By the end of December 1993, the SSDF and its supporters had disarmed, integrated, or come to terms with all other armed groups in the region. In this context, another conference was held on “Peace and Life” in the north-east incorporating delegates from across what later became Puntland. Between 1993 and 1995, several provincial administrations were established across the region with the endorsement of large conferences of local elders, who also employed traditional peacemaking practices to resolve conflicts. Faced with ongoing failures to find a national solution to the situation and cognisant of the relative security that these bottom-up processes had provided to the region (not to mention the apparent success of neighbouring Somaliland), the 460 delegates of another major clan conference taking place over the summer of 1998 elected to establish the Puntland State of Somalia to guarantee security in the region.4 By providing basic services to the population, consulting the clans, and employing traditional peacemaking methods, the people of the north-east were spared the conflict that tore through southern Somalia throughout the 1990s.