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Exchange of ideas comes to strife-ridden Mogadishu

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

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The short talks by artists and intellectuals at events known as TEDx have been held 7,500 times in more than 150 countries, but there may not be an event more challenging or dangerous as the TEDx talk that was held in Mogadishu last Saturday.

Then again, there may be no city in the world that needs its strongest voices heard as much as Somalia's capital, which is clawing its way forward to move beyond its bombs-and-bullets past.

Baghdad and post-conflict Tripoli have each hosted recent TEDx talks. But Mogadishu is probably the most challenging place for the talks, according to Nate Mook, co-organiser of the event.

Originally the second TEDx talk in Mogadishu was to be held in June. But that month al-Shabab rebels attacked a United Nations office centre, killing eight UN employees and five Somali civilians.

TED's theme this year was "Ideas Worth Spreading." Saturday's lineup showcased Somalia's budding stars. Iman Elman is a 21-year-old commander in Somalia's military in charge of a battalion of nearly 100 men. Mohamed Mahamoud Sheik, a 25-year-old entrepreneur, noticed in 2012 that Somali men were hand-carrying their suits on flights from Mogadishu to Nairobi. Why? Somalia's capital had no dry-cleaning services, so he started one.

Security was the "No. 1 priority of the day", according to Mook. Audience members at the talk passed through security checkpoints and were individually searched. Before the event, they didn't even know where it would take place.

"We don't announce where the event is taking place," said Mook, a 31-year-old from Washington, D.C.

Arranging Internet access to beam the English and Somali language talks to the world was a big challenge. But Mook helped with Mogadishu's first TEDx talks last year, and says he was much more excited about this year's event.

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