Heritage Institute Convenes the first locally held national political conference in Garowe, Somalia

Despite the critiques levelled against Heritage Institute, let's applaud them for organising such event as national dialogue is vital for peace building and good governance

Heritage institute for policy studies, a leading Mogadishu-based think-tank, has concluded a three-day conference in Garowe, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Somalia.

The conference brought together the bulk of the Somali political elite as the significant diversity of the participants was notable—government, political opposition and civil society.

Previously, such events were held in neighbouring countries, most notably Djibouti. Heritage pulled off to organise the event despite coming under a barrage of criticism for alleged financial contribution and political influence from the Puntland administration which hosted the event.

The Somali political landscape has seen a surge in disinformation and conspiracy theory as rival political factions compete for the clan-based electorate ahead of a feverish political campaign.

Panellists discussed four major issues confronting if any political progress is to be made: security; finalising a national constitution enactment; the fledgling federal political arrangement of the nation; and the upcoming general elections.

The upcoming elections dominated the conference as significant number of potential candidates attended the conference. Differences in opinion on how to elect president were evident as some support an indirect election through the clan system while others propose a popularly elected leader.

The Somali government has been battling the ferocious militant organisation of Al-Shabaab for control over a large swath of southern Somalia. The participants discussed the best way to approach the conflict whether militarily or thorough a political dialogue.

A previously drafted national security plan, in which the international community and regional organisations were involved, outlined a transfer of total control of security matters to the Somali national army by 2021 with the hope of increased military capacity.

The federal constitution, whose initial drafting was done some 15 years ago, is yet to be finalised, a topic which the conference discussed at great length. Participants seemed to generally agree that any constitution need be ratified by a national referendum, which can prove challenging given the nation’s security situation.

Despite observers critiquing Heritage Institute for under-representing women and leaning towards the opposition, they praised the think-tank’s ability to host a 700+ participants, something that is largely believed to boost a new democratic culture in a country where political violence has been the norm for nearly three decades.

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