The Heritage 2020 Conference: The Takeaway

Despite some of the venomous and outlandish conspiracy theories about who funds or who is behind it, Heritage Institute is a Somali Thinktank that is doing well in terms of having access to funding and, or as a result, collecting what its current director, Abdirashid Hashi, called, “convening power.” In other words, the Institute has developed access to who is who in Somalia’s ever- “transitional” politics.

For those who wants to know about the money sphere of the institute, they maintain an accounting office that keeps accounting records for their funders as well as for transparency. It is a public entity and therefor can not be that of a secret.

Assembling five (500) Somalis, mostly men, in the era of Covid-19 is not an easy task. It requires to be agile, experienced in convening large conferences, and massive tolerance, especially for Somalis who are known for less adherence to order and schedule.

One can only wish that the Garowe event is not Somalia’s “supper spreader.” Although no one observed the three CDC and WHO sanctioned mitigation steps, the Institute and Puntland state have done an excellent screening to the extent possible.

Observing what went through in the three days of open conversation between belligerent parties, the Heritage-provided space is much superior to the so-called State-leaders’ annual meeting often branded with city names like Dhusamareb, Baydhabo, Kismayo, etc.

Simply put, this space did not have what contemporary Black writers call “rage walls.” Nothing was separating between combatants. As a result, face to face, they vented, they philosophized, and they showed no fear to get their points across.

They did all these in a public and open space – something Somali politicians never did in the past. I reveled on watching when they cited poetry, a role Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi played well, or a heavy weight political punch line (like “we may as well bring back All Somali Socialist Party where all of us can re-elect THE MAN!) delivered by Ahmed Islam.

As the host of the event, President Deni attempted to chart a roadmap for the future, and former President Hasan Sheikh was “adult in the house” to defend when the constitution was vilified. But the allegorical speech of the conference belongs to Abdikarim Guled who told the deaf actor who lost track when to act and when it is real. In other words, he told the current government and its lieutenants to not always remain deaf but hear the sirens for change.

Positive takeaway: It was refreshing to see Somali politicians, mainly men, undress each other and talk real politics in a safe but public space.
Advise to Heritage: Day two’s panelists could have been improved. Also, it would have improved the facilitation of the conference if Heritage partnered with local institutes in Garowe, a city that houses some of the oldest Thinktanks in Somalia. Those are logistical issues to be addressed in the future at a different venue.

All in all, with this #Forum4Ideas2020, Heritage pivoted to a higher level. It could improve on this to create a safe and regular space for open conversations for political figures and office seekers in the future so that the Somali public can see, hear, and evaluate them in real time. Good job to the entire #Heritage Team!

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