Entrepreneur talks display alternative vision of war-torn Somalia

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Somalia’s troubled capital Mogadishu hosted TEDx talks Saturday, as academics, activists artists and entrepreneurs gathered to challenge the negative images of the infamously dangerous and war-ravaged city.

The talks, held in a conference hall in Mogadishu under tight security but also broadcast on the Internet, examined “the ideas, innovations and traditions that once built and will again rebuild this country.”

The TEDx talks are an offshoot of the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conferences that began over 30 years ago in California as an annual haven where elite thinkers got together to explore life from challenging or unusual perspectives under the slogan of “ideas worth spreading.” TEDx talks are independently planned and organised on a local level.

Despite ongoing violence, the Somalia talks - the second year held in Mogadishu - showcased the best of the capital, while still recognising how far Somalia has still to come, with over two decades of war still raging.

Somali forces and an 17,700-strong African Union force have made significant gains, but the hardline fighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab are still able to carry out deadly attacks in Mogadishu.

One speaker, 25-year old Mohamed Mahamoud, set up Mogadishu’s first dry cleaners in the rubble of a building destroyed by fighting, after seeing businessmen and politicians were taking suits abroad to be cleaned.

Another speaker was Iman Elman, a female military commander aged just 21.

Zainab Hassan, a poet, spoke about efforts to restore Somalia’s national library, while musician Mohamed Kabanale spoke of returning to play in the capital after the retreat of Islamist forces who imposed draconian bans on his tunes.

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