Tuesday, June 19, 2018
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Reflections on Heritage’s Djibouti Conference

By Faisal Roble

Djibouti at its best

I arrived in Djibouti on December 17, 2017 to participate in the conference organized by the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS). An uncharacteristically cool weather plus a noticeable festive and celebratory mood in the air due to the city-state’s 40th anniversary of independence made my one weak-long stay for the conference all the more pleasant.

AFI conference (December 18-21), Djibouti, Republic of Djibouti

Following a long and tiring flight from Los Angeles, upon arrival at Djibouti airport I was led to take a brief respite at the modest VIP launch; it was there that I was received by a wonderful HIPS officer, Mursal Snay, an imposing tall man with easily recognizable Somali features. Inviting me to a cold bottle of water was the perfect overture and a lead up to a short drive to the cool and comfortable Sheraton Hotel – the site of the conference participants’ accommodation.

How did I get to Djibouti was equally interesting.  At about mid-July, 2017, having a typical American dinner’s breakfast at a cozy boutique hotel near Constitution Avenue, Washington DC, Abdurrahman Aynte, one of the board members of HIPS, asked me if I would be interested to participate in a conference his team was planning.

The goal of the conference was to draw participants from all Somali speaking regions in the Horn of Africa, as well as from the bourgeoning diaspora communities. With such a pan-Somali conference, he wetted my appetite right away.  At that eventful breakfast, Aynte additionally informed me that his colleague, Abdi Rashid Hashi, executive director of HIPS, who was at the time in Hargeisa doing the final touches of planning, will hopefully get in touch with me. It was not until I went to Djibouti that I met their other colleagues, Abdi Karim Guled, Mursal Snay, and Deqa Abdulahi Moallim.

The conference was a “high level” discussion of issues that face Somalis.  Without any comparison, it was truly historic, unique and remarkably one of a kind in my life time; a Somali-owned conference both in content and in the mix of participants.

Dubbing the Conference “the State of Somalis: Towards Stability, Peace and Prosperity,” HIPS has taken upon itself the gigantic task to probe into what has been historically, politically and socially ailing the Somali people. This is an attempt to foray into complex areas of research about all things Somali.

After witnessing what it had put together, i.e., organizing such a massive and complex conference (and all the more for Somalis) without a single hitch, HIPS is well-equipped than a government to put together a Somali summit of this nature at this juncture – It is so precisely because often governments are saddled with both politics and bureaucracy – sources for inefficiency.

Hitting on target Somali diversity Indexes

Debunking a recently favored Somali complaint – often an offshoot of paranoid and mostly invoked when appraising conferences and meetings – “looma dhameyn,” meaning it was not inclusive, the Djibouti conference was the opposite; it was an inclusive conference, or “waa loodhamaa”). It satisfied any number of diversity indexes.

Participants came from as far as Malaysia and Australia, from US (California, Virginia), Europe and the Nordic countries; over 80 percent of the participants came from Somalia and the neighboring countries.

There were outstanding scholars, academics, politicians and diplomats.  Those who support the government and others who are members of the budding opposition groups had equal presence.  Some of Somalia’s most influential and vocal women were also in attendance.  By far, this was the most inclusive, albeit high caliber, Somali conference one could attend. Whether it was by   design or accident, participants who hail from Puntland were the largest single group at the conference.

Icing on the cake was that the entire proceedings were conducted in our own language; some of the speakers took the Somali language to new heights where advanced terminologies for economics, political, social and diplomacy were employed.

Moreover, the white man’s favorite tool to probe into the Somali condition – clan concept as a unit of analysis – was never mentioned at once.  By far, the participants were extra careful to not focus on the retail politics in the region, but rather look at long term sociopolitical challenges facing Somalis in the Horn of Africa.

Read more: Reflections on Heritage’s Djibouti conference

Faisal Roble

Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division

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